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Refueling with new ownership; Wilson Oil sells to Minn. company

Mike Wilson, left, spoke with David Renshaw, chief engineer aboard the Joseph Patrick Eckstein while refueling the vessel with 15,000 gallons of gasoline. The towboat from St. Louis was hauling grain down river. Wilson recently sold his family owned oil company to Dehn Oil out of Ramsey, Minn., but will remain active with the company during the transition to train new staff on the river industry refueling. Samantha Bengs / RiverTown Multimedia

For the first time since its inception in 1945, Wilson Oil Company will be transitioning out of the Wilson family.

"I was born and raised in this business," owner Mike Wilson said. "It was time to step out of it."

Wilson recently sold the company to Dehn Oil of Ramsey, Minn. He said the decision to ink a deal began several years ago.

"I had been approached by several companies interesting in buying. The timing was right with Dehn," Wilson said.

Mike's father Wilfred started the family business after moving to Red Wing in 1945. Mike bought the company when his father retired in 1980.

"When my dad started this, he was selling home heating oil," Wilson said, explaining the shift from coal to oil in the late 1940s.

"There were 15 oil jobbers in town in the 1950s," he said. "We are the last local one — through acquisitions and retirements."

Beyond the pump

Today, in addition to fuel sales at their gas pumps, Wilson said a good portion of their business comes from the river industry — refueling riverboats and barges.

"We have river business in Red Wing all the way down to St. Louis and the Ohio River," Wilson said.

Wilson has worked closely with the American Queen Steamboat Company, servicing their vessels from Memphis, Tenn., north to Red Wing.

"We typically pump 30,000 gallons for the American Queen once a week," Wilson said.

A refuel of that quantity takes approximately four hours.

Wilson also delivers petroleum products to area farms and commercial accounts, and deals racing fuel throughout the Midwest.

"I will be phasing out of the business," Wilson said. He said he plans to help with the transition through the end of the year and continue to help Dehn Oil employees learn the ropes of the river traffic.

Similar to the Wilson family, Dehn Oil Company is a fourth generation family business.

"The only change is the routing number at the bank," Wilson said. "Everything is staying the same."

Dehn also bought the Wilson Oil Company name, which was very important to Wilson. "That continuity was a big point for me," he said, "as well as the community support, making sure that continues."

Taking to the river

As Wilson begins to slowly step away from the company, he said he plans on spending more time working on the Red Wing Marine Museum he founded in 2013.

"It's important to keep that history alive and keep telling its stories," Wilson said.

The museum showcases some of Red Wing's earliest manufacturing — the boat and motor industry.

"It will be nice to be able to continue and enhance the museum," he said.

Wilson will continue to act as a first responder for oil spills in the area.

"With the railroads and river industry, we're on call 24/7," Wilson said.

With a wealth of projects on his proverbial bucket list, Wilson said he will have plenty to keep himself busy.

"We plan to do some traveling and explore some areas of the United States," Wilson said.

Among his travel plans? A trip on the American Queen — no fuel required.

"They want to have us on the boat for a cruise," Wilson said, having built friendships with American Queen staff over the years. "We're looking forward to it."

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