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Crop duster flies high with business
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Photo: Paul Colletti
Garret Lindell has been flying crop dusters for 20 years. Mr. Lindell operates five crop dusters from his business in Aledo. The powerful plane behind him can hold 500 gallons of crop dusting agent.

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Photo: Paul Colletti
The cockpit of Garret Lindell's Air Tractor crop dusting plane is filled with flight controls as well as the devices needed to control the dusting agent.

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Photo: Paul Colletti
Bright yellow paint makes it easy to see Garret Lindell's crop duster when it swoops and skims above farm fields all over the Midwest.
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Photo: Paul Colletti
Small nozzles along the underside of each wing spray the crop dusting agent onto the fields as the plane flies overhead. Garret Lindell adjusts for wind as he maneuvers the plane just feet above the tops of the crops.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Paul Colletti
Garret Lindell has been crop dusting for 20 years. Mr. Lindell runs his business out of Aledo where he operates a fleet of five planes.
ALEDO -- He watches the sun rise in the morning and set in blazing red glory in the evening in a way few others do, flying a crop duster over thriving green crops just 5 to 10 feet above the canopy.

That is just one of the perks of Garrett Lindell's job. As the pilot and owner of Lindell Aerial Ag Service Inc., he is an integral part of the success of farming food, fiber and fuel in the U.S.

The company's seven pilots treat an average of 400,000 acres a year through the aerial application of products, working closely with farmers who grow everything, including corn, soybeans and cotton.

"I like to be able to help farmers be more profitable, to be able to produce more with less investment," Mr. Lindell said from the company's headquarters at the Mercer County Airport.

Mr. Lindell grew up in Jacksonville, Ill., about two hours south of the Quad-Cities. His interest in flying began as a student at Western Illinois University in Macomb. He got a job at a local airport pumping gas and washing aircraft. Then a friend asked him if he'd like to go on a little ride in a two-seater J-3 Cub.

Mr. Lindell was hooked and learned to fly.

"I soon found out I had a knack at it," he said.

At WIU he earned an agriculture business degree and decided to marry his knowledge of agriculture and flying into crop dusting. He and a partner started Kelso Aerial Ag near Macomb in 1995. After three years, he became the sole owner. The next year, Mr. Lindell bought an operation in Muscatine, Iowa, and the following year bought the operation at the Mercer County Airport.

All of his company operations are centralized and dispatched from the small airport just outside of Aledo.

When Mr. Lindell tells people what he does for a living, the question most frequently asked of him has to do with the danger level of the job.

He said when he flies above the crops, he is doing so at 150 to 200 miles per hour.

"It is a job as dangerous as a person lets it be," Mr. Lindell said. "I don't see it as dangerous, and I've been doing it for 20 years."

He said proper maintenance of an aircraft can help ensure safety. In addition, the pilots wear safety helmets and eye protection, and they are protected in the aircraft by a roll cage similar to what NASCAR racers have in their cars.

The aircraft are larger than they appear flying above crops. Mr. Lindell's bright yellow 750-horsepower, turbo-driven propeller aircraft has a 52-foot wingspan. The six aircraft he owns that his employees fly will hold between 400 and 630 gallons of product. He said it is not uncommon for the pilots to return to the airport 10 to 15 times a day to reload.

A typical day begins at 5 a.m. and flying ends at dusk. That is followed by two to three hours of paperwork. Mr. Lindell said it is not unusual for a workday to end at 9 or 10 p.m.

The paperwork he and his pilots must complete is mandated by the federal and state environmental protection agencies, which require records to be maintained for two years. They also complete paperwork for the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Transportation.

Mr. Lindell said the pilots have strict guidelines they must operate within or risk fines or loss of their license.

His pilots live all over, including two who live in Texas and one in Georgia, and they come together when it is time to work. He said pilots are hard to find, and they must be highly motivated, knowledgeable about the industry and have a willingness to work.

The job takes them from home for weeks at a time. Mr. Lindell spent a month in Texas last fall treating cotton crops and the pilots spent time in Wyoming last spring treating range land mired with a grasshopper outbreak of biblical proportions, he said.

In June, July and August, his flying crew works near the Quad-Cities.

They treat crops from March 1 to Nov. 1, but work doesn't stop for the winter. Each aircraft needs two to three weeks' maintenance and the support equipment needs maintenance, too. There are sales calls to make and public relations to handle. Mr. Lindell said he only gets two to three weeks off a year.

Crop dusting requires continuous training with chemical manufacturers, Mr. Lindell said. It allows him to work in tandem with farmers to pick out the best products for the situation at hand. He said a fungicide application he's been doing lately is showing a 15 to 40 bushel increase in crop production.

"This job is rewarding in a lot of respects. It is good to know what you are doing is working and is profiting the farmers," Mr. Lindell said.

He enjoys being a business owner. "I like the independence and getting to know my employees," he said.

During the busy season, he also employs a full- and part-time secretary, office manager and six loaders in addition to the pilots.

His business is a family business, as his wife, Jodi, helps in the office when she is not teaching in the summer. Mr. Lindell's 12-year-old-son, Austin, helps load product. His nephew, Reid Brown, is one of his pilots.

Mr. Lindell said he plans to offer to both his children -- his daughter, Brooke, is 8 -- the opportunity to take flying lessons. He won't pressure either of them to come into the business.

"This business is a very difficult one, and it is one someone has to choose to be involved in," he said.

But if they choose to learn to fly, he will get to share with them one of the biggest perks of his job. "You are by yourself, alone in the air, and it is peaceful and quiet," Mr. Lindell said. "You see a lot of neat things, from the sun rising in the morning to the sun setting in the evening."

Local events heading

  Today is Tuesday, Sept 2, the 245th day of 2014. There are 120 days left in the year.

1864 — 150 years ago: It is estimated that 300,000 people attended the recent Democratic convention in Chicago when Gen. George B. McClellan of New Jersey was nominated as a candidate for president of the United States.
1889 — 125 years ago: Alderman Frank Ill, Winslow Howard and Captain J.M. Montgomery returned from Milwaukee, where they attended the national Grand Army of the Republic encampment.
1914 — 100 years ago: Three members of the Rock Island YMCA accepted positions as physical directors of other associations. Albert Cook went to Kewanee, C.D. Curtis to Canton and Willis Woods to Leavenworth, Kan.
1939 — 75 years ago: Former President Herbert Hoover appealed for national support of President F.D. Roosevelt and Congress in every effort to keep the United States out of war.
1964 — 50 years ago: The Rock Island Junior chamber pf Commerce has received answers to about 65 % of the 600 questionnaires mailed out recently in a "Community Attitude Survey" to analyze sentiments of citizens towards their city's various recreational, educational, and civic service programs.
1989 — 25 years ago: The two thunderstorms passing through the Quad Cities last night and early today left some area residents reaching for their flashlights.

(More History)