The following is a letter from Norton Knedlik to his grandchildren in Guam.
Dear Dave and Chris:
May 5, 1999
This is a story about something that happened to me when I was in high school.
Our family has always been involved in some form of music, either singing or playing a type of musical instrument. My great grandfather was a professional musician in Bohemia and played the bagpipes in a local orchestra in his hometown. My father played the tuba in our town band and all my brothers and sisters either played an instrument or sang in the high school glee club or the church choir. I played the trumpet in both the high school and the town bands. So I guess our love for music came to us naturally, an inheritance from our ancestors. This story is not about music though. It’s about the event that occurred because we were involved in high school music.
The year I was seventeen our high school band was to play a concert in Washington, Kansas (our county seat) as part of a celebration being held there by the city. I don’t remember the reason for the celebration, it was probably the Fourth of July or something like that. Whatever the reason, the celebration is not important to this story anyway except to explain why we were involved. . What is important was what happened that day. My memory of the event is very clear about the most important aspects of it, as you will see, because it was pretty exciting for us! And scary too! I hope you two will find it interesting and maybe even a little amusing though it sure wasn’t amusing to us at the time.
Our farm, where we lived, was located about sixteen miles from Washington, so that meant we would have to drive there to play in the concert. I had started to drive cars when I was about thirteen. Usually though, I drove just around the farm hauling things (And that reminds me of another story which I will tell you about some other time.).
This time however, I hoped Dad would let me drive the car to go to the concert on my own. My sisters also played in the band and would go along to the celebration. I didn’t think Dad would go since he was so busy with wheat harvest that he wouldn’t want to take the time off. At least that’s what I hoped.
I really wasn’t very experienced as a driver. Driver’s training in school had not been heard of in those days so we learned to drive mostly by trial and error. I wasn’t a bad driver, I just hadn’t done a lot of it.
We had a “jitney” we drove around the farm. It was just an old touring car that Dad had converted into a type of small truck. We used it to haul things around the farm like farmers use pickups today.. He had removed most of the seats, replacing them with a sort of box that had sideboards. Our “truck” wouldn’t go very fast so it was pretty safe and was a lot of fun to drive.
I rarely got to drive our “good” car so I hadn’t had a lot of experience driving on good roads or in traffic having never gotten to drive very far at any one time. So here was my chance to gain some experience if Dad would let me take the car to the concert.
As it turned out, I did get the chance. Dad was too busy that day to take us so he told me I could take the car and drive my sisters and myself to the concert, though he was a little reluctant to let me do it alone. He thought I was still pretty young to drive that far with the car but when he finally said it would be all right if I would promise to be careful and not drive too fast. I was really excited! This was a dream come true and I could hardly wait for the time for us to leave. Of course, I felt pretty proud he had confidence in me and that he would trust me with the car on my own for such a long trip. It was a great feeling when I got my hands on the steering wheel to drive us to the concert. I was real excited!
I might not have been so excited if I had known what was in store for us before we would get there.
When we were about half way to Washington, our car suddenly died. It just stopped right in the middle of the road and I couldn’t get it started again. There we were, stopped with no way to get on into Washington. It looked for certain we would have to miss it the concert (Later, we found out it was the coil that had quit working, a pretty critical part of the motor.).
While we were standing there on the road feeling disappointed and a little desperate, not knowing what to do next, a traveling salesman came along. He stopped and asked what was our problem. I told him I didn’t know, the car had just stopped running.
“Where are you going,” he asked me? I told him, “We are on our way to Washington to the celebration they are having tonight. Our band is to play in the concert there at the park,” “Get in your car.” he said, and “I’ll push your car there with my car.”
Those sounded, to us, like a good solution to our problem and we jumped at it feeling very grateful.
My sisters and I climbed back into our car. He drove his car up behind ours to see if the bumpers matched and, when he saw that they did, he started pushing us. Soon we were moving along at a pretty good clip toward Washington. As we went along he gradually kept increasing his speed and ours of course too. We finally were going faster than I had ever driven before and I was beginning to get nervous.
There was a creek running alongside the town that we had to cross and as we got closer to it we saw that the road dipped down into a little valley through which the creek ran. As we went down into the valley, we began to pick up more and more speed.
There was a bridge across the creek we would have to use to cross the valley and I was beginning to get a little more nervous because of our speed. I got even more so when, as we got closer to the creek, I saw that the bridge across it appeared to be pretty narrow. We were going even faster now than I had ever driven before and the salesman pushing us didn’t seem to be trying to slow down.
Then I saw a car coming pretty fast toward the bridge from the other side of the creek! It looked to me that we would have to meet the car right on that narrow bridge!
It didn’t appear to me there was room enough for two cars to pass each other on the bridge. By this time we were moving even faster. Since our car was being pushed, I couldn’t control our speed. I tried to apply the brakes but we were traveling too fast and the brakes could only slow us down some but not stop us. He had been pushing us too fast and we had gained too much speed.
Now, I was really scared! It was white-knuckle time for sure! I had no choice but to try my best to miss the oncoming car so I hoped for the best.
The driver of the other car still didn’t appear to be trying to slow down either as he approached the bridge. I guess he knew the bridge better than I did. He must have known that the bridge was wider than it looked to me and knew that two cars could pass each other on the bridge but I sure didn’t know that!
What he couldn’t have known was that I was young and not an experienced driver or he might have reacted differently and not driven on the bridge at the same time as I did. Or else he may not have known that I was being pushed by another car and had no way to slow down or stop. I was at the mercy of the “kind hearted” salesman and was helpless to do anything about it.
I don’t actually remember much of anything about crossing that bridge except that we both entered it at about the same time. How we passed by each other will always remain a mystery to me. We very easily could all have been killed and at that moment, I was sure we would be!
Obviously, we did manage to pass on the bridge, and we did it somehow without even a scratch or I would not be sitting here writing about it to you. There had to have been more room on the bridge than there appeared to me to be.
The salesman pushed us on into Washington to a garage where we were able to get the car fixed and after the concert we drove home. I wasn’t going to tell Dad about our experience but my sisters thought it was too good a story to keep and could hardly wait to get home to tell him.
After I told him all the circumstances, Dad only shook his head and said he was glad that we had made it. The important thing to me was that I didn’t panic and was able to somehow manage to miss the other car! And I am glad to be here to tell you about it!
A very close call, though!
This is a true story
Love, Grandpa Knedlik