Monday, April 12, 2010


My Grandpa Norbo never met Mario Andretti, the famous Italian race car driver. I don't think Grandpa had ever even heard of the man. But Grandpa and Mario had one thing in common - they both loved speed. Legends abound in the Norbo family about Grandpa's driving exploits.

These include the many trips from Idaho to Canada where tires would blow, engines would overheat and Grandpa would pilot their old '39 Plymouth like it was some sort of overland rocket ship. It wasn't unheard of for Grandpa to head out across a farmer's field if he thought it might be a shorter route. There's one story my Mother told where, on one of the trips from Idaho, the entire wheel fell off the car. The family all got out and looked for the missing tire. When it was finally located, it had taken a bounce and was up in a tree!

When my brother and I were quite young, we would often accompany Grandpa on his various treks around town. These trips might be downtown to pick up supplies, over to the PBI carpenter shop where Grandpa sometimes worked, or to visit friends. One of his good friends was Emil Bruck. Mr. Bruck lived in a small hamlet on the north side of town called Ruarkville, named after Mr. Archie Ruark. There was another hamlet on the east side of town called Grantville named after, you guessed it . . . Mr. Will Grant!

These hamlets were curious little settlements, that by nature of their being in the county, escaped the bylaws and zoning of the town. A cross between east Tennessee and the wild west, they were a veritable explorer's dream for a young boy. In these hamlets you could find everything from goats and peacocks to the odd cow. Junky yards abounded and the dirt road made things pretty boggy in the spring rains. We would often see Mr. Marz in his old Model A coupe coming into town from Ruarkville.

One day, when I was eight, my brother six and cousin Timothy ten, Grandpa asked us boys if we would like to go with him to visit Mr. Bruck. A machinist by trade, Mr. Bruck had a small shop to the east of his house. This small green edifice held all sorts of fascinating bits and pieces to boggle our young minds. Inside was a small metal lathe along with a large assortment of tools and parts. Grandpa loved this type of thing, so he would often go out to the Brucks, have a coffee and chat about the latest project Mr. Bruck was working on.

We walked out of the house, down the sidewalk and into the small garage where the car was kept. My cousin Timothy and I sat in the back and my brother Dave climbed into the front. We began with a word of prayer. There was a long standing tradition in the Norbo household to have a word of prayer before going anywhere in the car. In retrospect, I can see why! Many times these prayers lasted longer than the trip itself. Grandpa would thank God for the protection and safety of the Norbo family on the roads these many years. He would pray for that trip specifically and for pretty much anything else that came to his mind. We would fidget, peek out from our squinty eyes and hope he would wrap up the prayer service so we could get the show on the road. Starting the engine, he would back the car out of the garage and into the alley, always narrowly missing the Prairie Tabernacle just to the north. Straightening the car, we were off.

Turning onto 6th Avenue heading north, Grandpa laid into the gas and the rocketship was launched. About a half mile down the road, 6th turned onto 7th Street or Dawn's Street as it's now known. There was no corner or intersection then, just a curve in the narrow road. Grandpa always like to take that curve like he was on his final lap at the Grand Prix. That day was no different. The big old Plymouth fishtailed on the dirt road as Grandpa cranked the wheel, clouds of dust billowing in its wake. As we rounded the curve, the door flew open on the side where I was sitting. My little bottom slid across the vinyl seat and I was headed out the open door. In a flash, my cousin Timothy reached over and grabbed the waistband of my pants and pulled me back into the car. I had just come within a whisker of flying right out onto the road! As Grandpa rounded the corner, the door slammed shut and we headed east toward our destination. Unaware of what had just happened, Grandpa focused on the task at hand which was getting to the Brucks in the fastest time possible.

After we arrived at the Brucks, Grandpa would have a coffee and a good yak with Mr. Bruck. We played outside in the trees with a couple of large black crows keeping an eye on us. Occasionally one would let out a squawk, scaring the liver out us. We climbed on the mountains of wood and scrap that Mr. Bruck kept on hand for his projects. Sometimes he would show us what he was working on. I was always fascinated how he could take raw steel and make something useful out of it.

When Grandpa was ready to return, he would honk the horn on the old car. This was a signal for us boys to gather for the trip home. We would then retrace our route, hanging on for dear life. Arriving home, Grandpa would roar back into the garage. Somehow he would manage to stop the car before it went right through the back wall. Safely inside, Grandpa removed his wool cap, bowed his head and thanked the Lord again for all the travelling mercies to the Norbo family over the years.

Not only was I thanking the Lord, I was thanking my cousin Timothy that I was still around and able to take another trip with my race car driving Grandpa!

And kids . . . wear your seatbelts.

© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.


  1. I had heard of the prayer sessions...but not how well they worked. This was good. :-)

  2. How vividly this all comes to life! And just in time for Three Hills' Cruise Night 2011.

    The more things change ...

  3. If he had lived in South Carolina - he would have been a Nascar driver or a moonshine runner or both!!!

  4. Just hearing your mother's maiden name brings back memories of my times at Prairie. Wow that was quite a few years ago. Back in the 60's.

  5. Wow! I haven't thought of the Brocks in years. Or the Rurarks. How do you remember all these things? Quite remarkable. Mr. Brock and Mr. Rurark, in my memory, were rather quiet; but they both had lovely, friendly wives. I don't remember in peacocks in Rurarkville. What family had them? And who was Mr. Marz?

    Will Grant? I always called him Uncle Bill.