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My Early Years in Cleveland

Bob Luzier & Lew Swope were the race car builders that lived two doors down from Joe’s house, and this is the 1948 Anglia (English Ford) that they Drag Raced. This photo was taken in 1964, and Joe was 17 years of age. (MP Photo/Joe Novak)

By Joe Novak

The first person I met when my family moved to E. 177th Street on the East side of Cleveland was Jimmy Barker; we are still friends to this day. Our political views are on opposite sides; however, our friendship is worth more than our differences; we agree to disagree.

Jim lived directly across the street and we soon became fast friends; we had each other’s back and the neighborhood bullies found out quickly we were a team. Having Jim as a friend also came with some nice perks; Jim’s dad was a policeman who worked the Cleveland Stadium events, so we had access to the Browns’ locker room and Indians behind the fence dinners. Sitting in the locker room next to Jim Brown after a win was exciting. He showed me his knuckles that were bruised and bloody from fighting his way for every yard. 

Life back then was stress free with a new adventure right around the corner. We had plenty of friends, ballgames and war games in the local woods. When the wild concord grapes were ripe you could bet they were ammunition in army games with staining results. My mother scrubbed the grape juice from my hands and face with Ajax detergent; I am surprised any skin remained. I believe she invented “exfoliation”, if only she had known how to market it!

During the summer months we played outside until the street lights came on; that was our curfew time and missing it got you sent straight to bed. This was a time when your friend’s dad slapped both of you if you misbehaved; telling your parents got you another slap or two. Parents did not spare the rod and spoil the child; discipline was doled out by any adult within arm’s length! 

One summer I shot out our neighbor’s garage windows with my B-B gun. Not only did I get a physical whooping, I had to replace each window with my own money. I also had to knock on their door and apologize for my actions – humbling at best.

Then there were the two race car builders, Bob and Lew. I was their Go-for, fetching coffee, hamburger’s and auto parts. The up side was I got to drive some pretty hot cars, from a Corvette to a supper quick ‘57 Chevy. They always treated me with respect and taught me a lot about cars, engines and just a bit more about girls than my father would have approved. 

Traveling to the dragstrips was always a treat, although I never got to actually race a car. Walking through the Pits and talking to the other racers was a young man’s dream. One of those was Gene Schwartz who held several NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) speed records; we both had black 51 Chevy’s – mine was just a bit slower.  

Joe Joke: I am getting a new car for my wife; my neighbor thinks it will be a great trade!

Joe Novak retired from PGS,Inc., a manufacturing company he sold in 2005. He has written more than 140 articles for The Middlefield Post and is active in his community and church. Joe’s articles are based on his life and business experiences and though he tries to be as accurate as possible, he recommends you contact an expert or professional when in doubt.

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