Friday, July 17, 2009

You gotta know Jack!!!

Story and photos by Bruce Thorson

July 16, 2009, Crawford, Neb: It was a serendipitous moment in time. I met Jack Pelren as I was about to make a u-turn. We were looking for the local newspaper and I knew we had passed it. Before I started spinning the steering wheel to the left, I saw this man on the sidewalk in boots, blue jeans, with the cuffs rolled up, white T-shirt and a sky-blue cowboy hat.

Jack, 74, told us where the newspaper office was located. I gave him the quick version of our project. Kyle Bruggeman, one of the UNL students on the project, asked him about bumper sticker on his truck advertising the fiddle contest and did he play the fiddle. Jack said no but he could sing.

A moment later, Jack cleared his throat and sang a smooth rendition of an Eddy Arnold song. Then, he sang the same song in the manner of Ernest Tubbs. He was smooth, very smooth.

I asked him what he did for work and replied he has worked on Harley Davidson motorcycles just about all his life. I told him we were going to the newspaper and than I'd come see him see him a little later.

Leaving the newspaper office, I spotted Jack walking along the sidewalk. I asked him if he'd show me his machine shop where he works on the motorcycles. He was reluctant at first. "I need to clean it up first," he said. As a photographer, I hate it when people say they want to get their shop, home or office cleaned up before I can see it. I like seeing people and where they live, work and play as it really exists and not in the form of how they want it ready for pictures. That to me is fake.

Jack opened the screen door to his shop and I stepped in. The smell of cat urine hit me in the face like a cast iron skillet being swung by Barry Bonds for a home run.

He told me about the cats he has. "I take care of about 30 cats," he said. "The cops in town have been rounding them up. Then, they're killed."

Jack loves the cats he takes care of. Just about everywhere I looked about his shop and inside his tiny home, I saw bags of food. The cats looke healthy, too. But that urine smell...geeeeeesh!

He told me to come back tomorrow and he'd have it cleaned up. I came back the next day and got hit with the skillet again. "It smells better, don't it?" I replied no. He said he'd probably need to mop the floors.

Jack has been a Harley Davidson mechanic since 1964, had shops in Scottsbluff and in Crawford. He's retired now but still works occaisionally making repairs for special customers. At the time he was rebuilding a 1964 two-cylinder engine.

He has about 20 or so cats living in his shop and another "special" cats living in his home, which is attached to his shop. The more domesticated cats get to live in the house; the wilder, less friendly cats, ones are in the shop.

As for the job the president is doing to fix the economy, Jack said, "He's one of the worst ones we've had. Bush was one, too, but this is the worst."

Jack was about finished rebuilding that engine and when I left him he was filing away, smoothing off the edges of a valve cover bracket that was just a little out of whack.

At 74 years old, Jack might be a little out of whack, too, but he is a cat lover, a kind-hearted and friendly man.

We should all know Jack. I hope we meet again.


  1. GREAT! One of my favorite posts here. I can't decide which is my favorite frame.

  2. What a nice story, and that hat is great! I love the photo of him in the door. He reminds me half of my grandpa and half of an old cookie repair guy in my town.