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Finding its way back home
Dec. 10, 2012

After 56 years, a Dassel man was reunited with his motorcycle that had until recently been at the bottom of Big Swan Lake

By Kristen Miller
News Editor

DASSEL, MN – In December 1956, Dean Ailie fell through the ice on Big Swan Lake in Dassel. He made it out safely, but his beloved 1938 German motorcycle wasn’t as lucky.

Fifty-six years later, thanks to Ken Seemann, a commercial fisherman, the World War II motorcycle was returned to its rightful owner.

Seemann had been seining for carp on the south side of Big Swan Lake Nov. 29 when he realized he had caught something big and heavy.

When he got to the north side of the lake, he found the heavy object that was caught in his nets was an old, waterlogged motorcycle.

With his inquisitive mind, Seemann started asking around the following day.

One of the people he talked with was Warren Nelson, who recalled Ailie’s story and thought it may belong to him. Nelson suggested talking with Dale Nordstrom, Dean’s brother-in-law.

Dale went out to the site and took a photograph to show Dean, who then confirmed it was his long-lost motorcycle.

When he heard the news, Dean was pleased to find that after all of these years, his motorcycle had been recovered. “I didn’t think I would ever see it again,” he commented.

There had been several search attempts to try and find the motorcycle. Dean and his friends even took a rowboat with a trolling motor and dragged the lake bottom for it the following summer, and there were scuba diving attempts that proved fruitless.

Betty called a family friend, Steve Strolberg, for assistance in hauling the bike home.

“We finally found the kid’s bike at the bottom of Big Swan,” Strolberg said to Dean, giving him a hard time for how it got there in the first place.

As for Dean, seeing his motorcycle “put a pretty big smile on his face,” Strolberg said.

Strolberg also commented that he was surprised at what good condition the bike was in after all those years on the lake bottom.

History of Dean’s motorcycle

Growing up, Dean’s father, Wyman, bought the bike for him from a man from Knapp, who was selling it in order to buy a farm. The unidentified man had brought it home from Germany during World War II.

“He bought my brother a scooter, but he bought me something better,” Dean said.

It was a day in December, 1956, that Dean had been out driving on Lake Washington with his friends.

Dean had just fixed up his motorcycle and got it running so he decided to go home – he lived on a farm on the south side of Big Swan – and take it for a spin on the lake.

Starting on the south point, Dean noticed a crack that stretched across the lake and some “shuffling of ice.” Not thinking much of it, he continued driving, making it to the north side of the lake.

It was upon Dean’s return that he went over that same crack and the ice opened up.

His saving grace was likely his leather jacket which had elastic around the waist and acted like a life preserver, allowing him to pop above the water to pull himself out.

Two fishermen, who were close by, had tried to warn him of the unsafe ice conditions ahead, but Dean said he hadn’t seen them. They did drive him home after the incident, however.

Dean was undoubtedly happy to be alive and was a bit more careful on the ice after that.

Strolberg noted that Big Swan can be exceptionally unstable because there is often a current that causes thin ice in areas of the lake.

About the motorcycle

Before the newspaper became aware that Dean was the owner, it sought some expertise at Crow River Harley-Davidson.

This particular motorcycle was identified as a 1938 NSU Model 251-OSL, made at the NSU factory in Neckarsulm, Germany.

The factory began assembling this model in 1934, and “quickly became successful within domestic sales, and was supplied to the German armed forces between 1938 and 1940. . . It remained in military service through the Second World War for solo dispatch-type duties.”

The NSU factory was taken over in 1969 by Volkswagen Group, which merged NSU with Auto Union. This newly merged company became known as Audi.

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