Thousands of backpackers, canoeists and hunters have had a cozier time around the campfire thanks to Robert Dustrude.
The northern Minnesota man invented a lightweight, packable, folding camp saw — the Bob Dustrude Quick Buck Saw — that was a bestseller.
For decades, Dustrude made the saws in the workshop of his home on Swan Lake in Pengilly, Minn. He continued making them almost to the day he died March 10 at the age of 97. It was the end of a long, inventive life for an outdoorsman who rode motorcycles as a youth, flew a P-51 Mustang fighter plane during World War II, drove to Alaska for his honeymoon and used a homemade sail to speed across frozen lakes on ice skates as a senior citizen.
Dustrude, who was born in Oconomowoc, Wis., was always fascinated with aviation. During his 1938 high school graduation, he gave a salutatorian speech titled “We Need More Air Pilots.” During World War II, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps and became a decorated fighter pilot, escorting bombers over Europe. He flew 57 missions and was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross, an Air Medal and four Bronze Stars.
“He had a couple of close calls,” said his son, Jim Dustrude. “He did crash once. He said he learned a lot from that.”
Once while on leave from the Army, he went home to Hartland, Wis., and visited his old high school football coach, who told him he should meet the new physical education teacher. Dustrude ended up marrying her.
After the war he and his wife, Margery, bought a Willys Jeep and towed a homemade tent trailer to Alaska on the new Alaska Highway for their honeymoon. They were married 63 years.
After getting a mining engineering degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Dustrude worked much of his life for Hanna Mining in Nashwauk, Minn.
In his spare time, he designed and made new tools for mining, a redwood strip canoe, wooden airplane models, a raft with a high dive and a log cabin on Twin Lakes from trees he felled himself.
He modified a 1956 Ford two-door sedan, creating beds for his four children where the back seat had been. Then he got a 1960 Volkswagen microbus, which he customized to sleep the family of six. The vehicles were used on cross-country camping trips from the Florida Keys to Yosemite.
While he was camping, he devised a way to improve the folding camping saws available. He made several versions of his saw, then drove around the state to hardware stores to market his invention.
One of the places that started selling Dustrude saws was outdoor retailer Duluth Pack.
“It was a better mousetrap,” said Tom Sega, Duluth Pack president. “It’s so simple, lightweight and strong, and it worked like crazy.”
Dustrude continued making saws after he retired, even after he broke his hip and had to bump down the stairs to his basement workshop on his rear end.
On March 8, he was making saws when he called his daughter, Suzanne Dustrude Starr, and told her he was having a heart attack. He was airlifted from Hibbing to a hospital in Duluth.
“He was disappointed he couldn’t see out the window of the helicopter,” Starr said. “He loved to fly.”
Doctors put stents in his arteries and he seemed to be doing well, singing to his nurses and looking forward to getting back home. Shortly after taking a walk in the hospital, however, he collapsed and died.
His family plans to keep making Dustrude saws.
Survivors include his brother, John; sons Jim, Michael and Mark; daughter, Suzanne, and two grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Pengilly United Methodist Church.