Picnic tables with a local touch

Published 9:45 am Saturday, July 23, 2011

Graphic by Kathy Johnson/Albert Lea Tribune

For about three decades Albert Lea’s Olson Manufacturing Co. made two versions of folding picnic tables and even a bench. The era for the local creation of these products used for picnics (outdoor dining) and other outdoor uses was from approximately 1950 to the early 1980s.

Another handy product once produced by the Olson firm was this small bench. It was also based on bent tubing and hardware items and sold to the customers so they could add the wooden portions for the back and seat. -- Andrew Dyrdal/Albert Lea Tribune

This firm at 720 S. Broadway Ave. was better known as the maker of farm-related products for most of its existence. These products included stalls, stanchions, pen work, farrowing stalls, barn cleaners, ventilation equipment, hay forks, hay carriers and (square) bale conveyors. One of the firm’s mottos was “everything for the barn.” However, the Olson firm also made and sold other non-farm products including a glass washer for restaurants and the picnic tables and benches.

The Olson picnic table had the name of “Bar-B-Nic.” This table folded flat for storage and was advertised as being able to be moved across the lawn like a sled. Thus, it could be moved around fairly easily. It had what was termed as having a walk-in or slide-in design for seating. The table was described as easy to construct and could be folded up or erected in 60 seconds.

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These tables and benches were made with steel tubing that was bent on a special machine in the Olson plant. Also, an important part of the tables was the two center braces. The packaged hardware consisted of metal clamps, bolts and nuts and wood screws. All the items for a single table, plus assembly instructions , were placed in a large box for sale to customers as kits. Olson never sold completed picnic tables or benches.

The Bar-B-Nic picnic table once made by Albert Lea’s Olson Manufacturing Co. was a very popular part of summertime life for many families in the area. These tables could be collapsed for storage during the colder parts of the year. -- Ed Shannon/Albert Lea Tribune

Some lumber yards sold the kits with the lumber cut to needed dimensions so the customers could make the final assemblies. Other firms sold the completed picnic tables and benches, either painted or unpainted, to their customers.

Suggested lengths for the side bench and table top portions of the picnic tables were 8 feet each.

Besides the once popular Bar-B-Nic tables, the Olson firm created a smaller picnic table for use by children. These kidie tables could also be used as outdoor play items.

Still another Olson product utilizing bent tubing was a bench. The suggested length for this bench was 40 inches to 4 feet. This bench consisted of two bent pieces of tubing for the frame, back and seat, plus eight metal clamps and 16 wooden screws. Again, it was sold by Olson as a kit for final assembly with the wood portions by then new owners.

Today, the Olson Bar-B-Nic picnic tables, kiddie tables and benches are somewhat rare. They have been replaced with all wooden, plastic or metal picnic tables. Then there are the non-collapsible regular wooden and heavier steel tubing tables now used in parks and campgrounds.