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My Uncle Bill

    When Bill and Joe still lived on "The Farm", it was a kid gearhead's delight.  They were always building some sort of contraption or stock car so a good share of my time was spent admiring the latest creation.  One time they were putting together a Model A, for Bill to take out his girlfriend, they said. It made at least one trip down the road to the west corner.  I never saw it completed to the point it could be taken out on a date; the passenger seat was a board sitting on the gas tank or something like that. I don't know what happened to it, just one of their many projects.  The Modified race car they built was around for some time.  It was powered by a 292 Ford, I believe, maybe it was a big 312, anyway it was really neat, skinny tires on the front, big tires on the rear, a roll cage built of plumbing pipe and a ViceGrip shifter.  The only time I saw it run was a quick trip down to Struble's and back, Mom considered racing a major sin so us kids were never allowed to go to a real race track to watch our heroes. Somehow or other, I inherited pictures of the race car, I've included them below.

    Bill and Joe also drove around in a '62 Thunderbird for a time, really neat car, I don't recollect what happened to that one either, I think that was Uncle Bill's real dating car if I remember correctly.  They always had a couple of complete engines laying around the shop, and a couple of Dodge Hemi heads for an uncompleted project sat in the corner of the shop for years after they had moved on to other things. 

uncle bill    Things changed after Bill got married.    He and Gwenne bought a house in NW Grand Rapids and Bill became a Plumber.  We still saw him some, more in a work setting. He worked for Powell Plumbing, he and Alvin Houg made quite a team.  Since economic conditions were not the best in Grand Rapids, he moved to the Cities and started working for a company that installed fire suppression systems in restaurants. He would come up to the Rapids quite frequently and install systems here.  Eventually he got a job at Honeywell, or Honey Bucket as he called it.  Our wish was that he would retire out of Honey Bucket with a big pension and come back home, I think that was always in the back of his mind but it never transpired. 

    A landing spot for us when we went to the cities was the house on Oak Terrace, where Bill and Gwenne lived.  On our infrequent trips we would drive by, usually unannounced, stop in and hopefully not track in mud on the white carpet.  One time I stopped by after a long day of trucking and Gwenne could see I was a little famished.  She offered me some cantaloupe, previous to this I couldn't stand the stuff, but decided I could try it.  It was the most delicious thing!  Now I eat it every at every opportunity.  

    One year, Dad, Bill, Joe, Herman Suemnick and I made a trip up into Canada to hunt moose.  We weren't particularly successful but had a lot of fun.  Dad and I did get a cow, we shot enough shots at a couple of moose to make the others believe there was a small war going on, the big bull got away with some bullet burns but we managed to kill the cow.  The cow was downed four portages and a couple of hours away from base camp, Bill and I were the major workhorses in hauling the moose halves across the portages.  The man could carry his half of the load.  I stumbled once, but he never had any problems.  The other highlight of the trip was the great fishing, as Bill and I were canoeing across one lake I caught a muskie, it was about 10 pounds and was more like pulling in a little log than a fish.  He and I camped deep in the woods beside a stream one night, it was neat.

   Following Bill's footsteps, I did start racing cars.  I built up a couple of them and one race night Bill happened to be up and went racing with me.  My cars were never too fancy, I couldn't see spending much money on them but did have lots of fun.  I think Bill had a lot of fun that night, he served as pit man for me, I wish there had been a pit man's race and then he could have driven again.  It was a night I'll always remember.

    No discussion of Bill is ever complete without talking about tractors.  I remember the time Uncle Robert got stuck in the southwest field, Bill was part of the operation to pull out the Case, he drove Dad's John Deere to pull it out.  Years later, when I made the move to purchase a John Deere 70 diesel, Bill stopped by one day to look at it.  I fired it up and invited him to take it for a spin.  He drove it around the yard, then with that classic Bill Burt roar of a laugh, yelled out, "Give me a plow!"  I think he liked it.  He owned a wide front SC Case for a time, never saw him drive it, I think it had a broken front axle mount that his lack of northern time precluded him from repairing, would have been a neat tractor.    

    His visits to our home are always delightful.  The time he and Greg stopped by to hunt on the last weekend of deer hunting a couple of years ago was great.  The hunting was not so good, the woods had been worked over pretty good by that time, but the memories and laughter were indescribable.  Bill's roaring laugh was frequent as was the laughter of the rest of us.  I missed Bill's visit of a couple of months ago, Dawn enjoyed his visit immensely and Valeri still mentions "that funny guy," I guess he teased her a little, hard to imagine.

    There are lots of other memories, most good, anyway I’m proud of my Uncle Bill, he has provided a role model for me in many ways.    

The Modified

left rear view
It looks like it was a number 3, long before Dale Earnhardt... Jerry Can gas tank, transverse leaf spring front and rear suspension;  pipe bumpers fore and aft. They ran it in second gear, if I remember correctly. It had a vice grip for a shifter. A Y-block Ford for power, in those days it could have been a 272, 292 or a 312. The front axle looked like it was from a '30's Ford and the rear axle looks like it was relieved from a Ford pickup, but could have come from most anything. 

right side
Joe probably took these picture, he was being a bit original here. He was probably standing near the road when he took this picture. The bank from the road was much steeper then than it is now.

cockpit view
Cockpit view...double shoulder straps and a huge steering wheel. If ou look closely, you can see the fine screen in the front, to keep the flying rocks and mud off the face.

right rear
The drag arm for the steering ran on the right side; the steering box was located right behind the engine. The skinny front tires were problematic, Bill tells of a race at Hibbing that he started on the pole, led the field into the corner and spun out. They re-grouped, and he repeated the performance once more. That time, the put him in the back of the field. Now, the front tires on roundy-round race cars are more similar to the ones on the back of the car.

You can see uncle Robert's Greenbriar in the background in font of his house.

A Bodied Modified

Bill and Joe welded a Model A body on the modified and ran a few races. Here are some pictures of the car in this configuration. Joe told the story of being in MacGregor and Bill rolled it and the body flew off. They'd only tacked it on in a couple of spots. He said that the crowd started boo-ing because they saw the modofied race car once the A-body flew off. Joe said, "after I found out Bill was OK, I had a good laugh about that one!"  Joe always did like a good joke.

rear view

It looks like they changed the number on the car to 1. That was the number Uncle Al had on his car, also.

bill by racer

It looks like Bill leaning against the car. Scotsman was the type of ice making machine Uncle Al sold, so he must have had some money in this car, too.

racer on truck

The car loaded up in front of Grandma's house. The truck was uncle Al's. Later thay put a long bed on the truck and it was mostly used as a parade vehicle.