Carver County made its mark on aviation history thanks to local aviation pioneer Elmer Sell. Owner of the first airplane in Carver County, Sell founded Sell Airfield and had a flying career spanning four decades.
Elmer Sell, son of Carver County Historical Society founder Otto Diedtrich (O.D.) Sell, found his love of aviation serving in the Air Corp during World War I. In 1919, Sell began taking flying lessons and assisted in organizing the Minnesota Observation Squadron. The first of its kind, this group later became the 109th Squadron of the Minnesota National Guard. On August 6, 1922, Sell had a landmark day in his aviation career, flying solo for the first time.
In the following years, Sell continued to accumulate flying hours, adding stunts like wing walking and barnstorming to his skills. Then, in 1928, Elmer Sell teamed up with his father, O.D. Sell, to start Sell Airfield. The original hangar and airfield were located on the Bleedorn property, at the intersection of Highway 25 and Highway 30. The airfield was later moved to a property south of Mayer on the east side of Highway 25. An old log house and barn on the new property were converted into hangars.
Sell Airfield remained in operation for over a decade, except briefly during World War II. Near the start of the war, the National Guard, or Minnesota Home Defense force, took over many private airfields with a fear of enemy infiltrations after Pearl Harbor. Sell Airfield was taken over in 1941 for a short time. After reopening, due to the stress of gas rationing, other restrictions, and new paperwork each trip, Sell chose to sell his plane and close the airport for the duration of the war. After the war ended, with restrictions lifted, Sell purchased two new planes. He reopened the airfield and continued giving passenger rides. This business offered these rides until 1959, when flying passengers from farm fields became illegal.
Along with running the airfield, Elmer Sell shared his love of aviation through teaching. Rather than serving in World War II, Sell served as a civilian instructor at the Wold Chamberlain Field and at East High School in Minneapolis. In his later years, he taught aviation and auto mechanics at Tracy High School in Tracy, commuting by plane from his home in Mayer.
Over the years, Sell owned many early airplanes. Among them were a Great Lakes Special, a Piper Cub, a Piper Special and a Jenny biplane. His passion for flying spread to his son Charles and grandson Charles Jr., who was president of the St. Cloud State University Flying Club in the 1970s. The Sells set a record in 1961 during a June 25 breakfast flight from Mayer to Hector. Elmer Sell was the oldest pilot at the event, his grandson the youngest at four years old. All three generations participated in the flight.
Elmer Sell continued flying until illness forced him to quit in 1962. Even then he still flew with his son at the controls. He died in 1965. A hangar from his field was sold to the Ziermanns in 1972, and used on their property for a number of years, continuing Carver County's place in aviation history.
"Army Takes Over Airport at Mayer." Waconia Patriot, December 18, 1941.
Carver County Historical Society Research Library subject files: O.D. Sell. Aircraft license.
Centennial Book Committee. Mayer Centennial, 1886–1986. Mayer, MN: 1986.
"Sells at Mayer to Establish Airport." Waconia Patriot, April 26, 1928.
"3 Generations of Sells Attend Flight Session." Carver County News, July 6, 1961.
Elmer Sell has his first flying lesson in 1919, starting a nearly forty-five-year flight career.