Willmar Notebook: Wrench: A love story

Tex Warne is a born mechanic. He grew up on a farm near New London. At age 12, he installed a clutch in the family car. In 10th grade, he dropped out of school. Jobs were scare and the army loomed either as a draft choice or as an enlistee.

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Tex and Janet Warne were married on Dec. 27, 1958. Janet was in her senior year at Willmar High School and Tex, a soldier, was home on leave. Tribune photo by Rand Middleton.

Tex Warne is a born mechanic. He grew up on a farm near New London. At age 12, he installed a clutch in the family car. In 10th grade, he dropped out of school. Jobs were scare and the army loomed either as a draft choice or as an enlistee. 

 He signed up in 1958 and was shipped off to Ft. Carson, Colorado. At Christmas, home on leave, he married his sweetheart, Janet Rutjes from Spicer. She was still in her senior year at Willmar High School.

   Right after graduation, Janet and a brother packed up a car and drove to Ft. Lewis, Washington, where Tex was now stationed. The couple has been side-by-side since.

   Testing high in mechanical aptitude, Tex worked in the motor pool. He was on his way to becoming a master mechanic: out of the service he ran a filling station on West U.S. Highway 12, then went to work as an on-site heavy equipment mechanic with Duininck, Inc. road-building for 18½ years, followed by 15 years with the State Highway Department.

   All the time, he did garage work at home. He’s still twisting wrenches. On Tuesday, this reporter visited the Warne home, which the couple bought from Janet’s parents in the 1960s. There’s a big garage and a large lawn extending back to a wood lot on an 11-acre parcel on Long Lake Road. It was gravel and largely uninhabited 60 years ago when Janet attended a one-room school house at the intersection two miles south. A Ford transmission had just arrived from Oklahoma City that Tex was eager to install in a commercial van.


   The high, three-stall garage is a big step up from how he started. Janet points to the stub of an oak limb that her husband used as a fulcrum to pull engines. Later he used a singlestall garage, so small that the car, sans engine, had to be pushed back out so there was room to work.

   The reason for my visit was to obtain a photograph of Tex from his days racing stock cars on dirt ovals about the area.

   He started out, he told me, racing a ’37 Ford Coupe and later a ’56 Ford Wagon. But the racer remembered best is the No. 11 Candy Apple Red 390 ’62 Ford Fairlane hard-top.

   He listed the tracks, most now only a dusty memory: Paynesville (“Flat, out in thewoods”), Atwater (“In a cornfield”), Sunburg (“In a hollow that we called the ‘Soup Bowl’ ”), and the tracks at the county fairgrounds in Willmar, Montevideo, Bird Island, Howard Lake, plus races at Sauk Centre, St. Cloud and Jackson.

   He raced at Redwood Falls once. No. 11 cleaned up; the announcer said his results were under protest. Fellow Willmar race driver Ed Davis grabbed the trophy and put it in his station wagon, protected by a German Shepard. Tex was told not to return.

   In those days, Tex (given name Dallas) pulled his racer with his tow truck, lifting the back end and dragging the Fairlane on its front wheels. The pit crew of Danny Ogdahl and Mark Fostervold squeezed into the cab.

   The women drove separately. Janet brought the boys, Jeff and David, outfitted with No. 11 white T-shirts (Janet: “They both cried at Redwood Falls when the announcer said they were going to take back Daddy’s trophy. The fans around the boys were booing the track officials.”).

   When twin girls Kelly and Shelly arrived Janet arranged for a baby sitter.


   “I never missed a race,” she said.

   Janet points to a black-andwhite photo of Tex receiving the Willmar track’s “Sportsman of the Year” award from Charlie Nelson in 1969 at the post-season banquet. “His proudest moment,” says Janet, as Tex produces the silver trophy from another room.

   But he would soon quit stockcar racing because of the demands of the summer road-building schedule.

   The passion for stock cars and racing remained.

   At the end of May, Tex and his son Jeff, who lives in Memphis, attended the Coca-Cola 600 and toured the NASCAR HOF at Charlotte. Jeff is a 1979 Cardinal graduate who played football on Bill Hansen’s last of 38 teams and Deryl Ramey’s first at Willmar.

   Jeff has been CEO of Perkins Family Restaurants since March of 2012; he knew the HOF was high on his father’s bucket list. The Website shows the Memphisbased company has 410 restaurants in 33 states and Canada.

   Through a business connection that sponsored Richard Petty Racing, Jeff arranged a firstclass visit to the Coca-Cola race, which was won by Jimmie Johnson on May 25. Tex attended the driver’s meeting, went inside Petty’s hauler, got a ride in the pace car and sat in the pit box the first 100 laps.

   Tex met the sport’s biggest stars, including Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr, Greg Biffle.


   “I visited about 20 minutes with Kyle Petty,” Tex said. “We talked about the old days on dirt tracks. We had a lot in common.”

   They came from the same era of back-country racing: Tex will soon be 74, Petty is 76.

   Tex and Janet motor on in good health. They have both overcame bouts of cancer: his on the vocal cords, cured by radiation treatments with, miraculously, no loss of his voice; her’s on the lung, removed by surgery.

   “He’s my best friend,” said Janet, pointing to the lean mechanic. “Likewise,” he said smiling.

  Muriel McCarthy

   Muriel McCarthy passed away on Sunday at San Luis Obispo, California, three months short of her 94th birthday. She and her late husband Dr. Austin “Mac” McCarthy raised six daughters in their cozy ranch home on Rice Avenue Southwest with summers on Eagle Lake.

   Only the last girl, Katie, enjoyed the full impact of Title IV. Last October, Muriel attended Katie Ingram’s induction into the Cardinal Pride HOF, a proud moment for both Muriel and myself. Katie and Doc are the only people I have ever taken upon myself to nominate.

   Muriel, who grew up in Superior, Wis., was a terrific sports fan, enjoying many events on TV. Her later years were darkened not just by the loss of Doc but failing eyesight and the passing of most all of her long-time friends. She lived alone at home until this past winter when she moved to a rest home in the Los Angeles basin. She was near a daughter, Julie, but was homesick.


   At her request, her remains will be donated to the Anatomy Bequest Program at the University of Minnesota. A celebration of her life is scheduled for August.

  On the fly

   • The Lakes Tennis Association three summer tournaments are June 16-18, Willmar Fest (WCER 231-8490); July 18-20, New London Water Days (Chad Schmiesing 354-2771), and Aug. 1-3, Cardinal Classic (WCER).

   Summer programs include Quick Start (k-4), Advanced Beginners (grades 3-6), Cardinal Tennis Camp (June 16-19), Summer Tennis League (grades 7-12), Adult Tennis League, and Adult/Youth private or group lessons. Please see the WCER booklet or visit the office at Jefferson Learning Center.

   • Tyler Pendill has committed to the University of Utah Hockey Club. Tyler was the Cardinals top scoring defenseman (1-11-12) and was named All-CLC honorable mention. According to the Skatin’ Utes club website, practices occur from August through March and number 50 per season. The 36-game schedule includes out-of-state road trips in the Pac 8 and at least 14 home games at the Utah Ice Sheet, adjacent to the Salt Lake City campus.

   • Athletic secretary Barb Popp is retiring after working here 10 years, I believe, under three different athletic directors. She and Jerry, a retiring teacher and coach, moved here in 2004 from Bowman, N.D. Both are Minnesota natives. At Bowman, Barb taught pre-school and special needs, a classroom situation she “loved.” Her half-time job here was all detail work and much of it is time sensitive. Sportswriters depend on athletic directors for timely information, but if you don’t know the athletic secretary you often have only half the story. Barb, when asked or without being asked, never failed to help.

   • Another reminder that all those strange baseball uniforms seen about town this weekend are playing in the Willmar Summer Baseball Classic, some 34 out-of-town teams 10U-13U. 

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