Bob Carling wouldn’t have minded being called a garbage man, said his daughter, Nancy Cowell.
There was much to be proud of for this self-made man who built his business from its humble start with a borrowed pickup truck to become Eden Prairie Trashtronics, the city’s first citywide garbage hauler, with 12 trucks and 12,000 customers.
Along the way, there were awards to be won, friends to be made, smiles to be shared and songs to be sung. Carling, 97, died May 1 after a lifetime of hard work and civic involvement with a song in his heart. He belonged to two church choirs and sang for more than 50 years.
“Oh, he loved to sing. He was always walking around the house singing,” Cowell said. “Music was his life.”
Carling was born in Minneapolis on March 17, 1919. As a boy, he delivered Minneapolis newspapers in the same neighborhood as the Star Tribune’s Sid Hartman. As a teenager, he rode his bicycle to Richfield to work on a vegetable farm there. He went on to graduate from what is now Dunwoody College of Technology as a tool and die maker.
During World War II, he served in North Africa and Italy with the U.S. Army’s 34th Division, repairing artillery.
In May 2013, he shared a story with the Eden Prairie News about his troop ship convoy crossing the U-boat-infested Atlantic Ocean. Carling told the newspaper that ships in the convoy had to zigzag every seven minutes — it took eight minutes for a German submarine to line up a good shot.
After a storm, Carling’s ship was separated from the convoy. “I’ve never seen so much tension,” Carling recalled. “Everyone was out with their field glasses looking out for the telltale periscope of a submarine.”
After the war, Carling worked as a machinist, his daughter said. But one job wasn’t enough. Every Christmas, he worked part time at the post office. Then he found the extra job that became a career.
Carling’s brother-in-law had a business hauling garbage in Bloomington. Carling, who had moved to Eden Prairie in 1968, wanted his own business. So he borrowed a pickup truck and started hauling trash on Saturdays. He recruited customers by going door to door and handing out handwritten business cards.
The venture would grow into Trashtronics, with a fleet of 12 garbage trucks painted in Minnesota Vikings colors. Carling was named Small Business Person of the Year in Eden Prairie and in the state in 1982. Eden Prairie High School even awarded him an honorary diploma: Doctor of Garbage-ology. Over the years, he was president of the Lions Club and was part of the Mixed Nuts fishing group and Norske Torske Klubben.
He retired after his wife of 57 years, Bette, had a stroke. She died in December 2003. About the same time, he met Frances Volz, whose husband also had passed away. She played the piano, he sang. They began performing at area senior residences. Cowell said her father’s favorite song was Sinatra’s “My Way.”
The family plans to play a recording of Carling singing “My Way” at the funeral.
“There won’t be a dry eye in the house,” Nancy Cowell said.
Carling was preceded in death by wife Bette and sister Harriet Wick. He is survived by his friend Frances Volz; his children, Larry Bergquist and Nancy Cowell; six grandchildren; eight great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren; sister, Norma Mecay, and brother, Harvey Carling.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. Friday, May 6, at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Eden Prairie, with burial at Fort Snelling National Cemetery on Monday, May 9.