Friday, October 14, 2011

The Road to California

The 1930's were tough years for America. Times were hard and jobs were scarce, especially for young Iowa farm boys.  Mom's oldest brother, Joseph "Toby" Noss, was 17 years old in the summer of 1933 when he made his first trip to California.  He accompanied his older sister, Gert, and her finance, Don Lines. He served as chaperone and helped Don with the driving.  They drove an old Model T Ford Coupe.

When they arrived in Sacramento they stayed with their mother's sister, Mary Albrecht Smith in Sacramento near 14th Avenue and 44th Street.

At the end of the summer, Toby decided to head back to Iowa. Aunt Mary made him some sandwiches, sewed $5.00 in his pocket for emergencies and off he went.  He hitched a ride on a produce truck to Reno and helped the driver unload his produce in payment.  Then he walked three miles to Sparks, Nevada and hopped a train where he rode the walkway on top of the cars.  At one point, he fell asleep and almost rolled off the roof, but managed to crawl back to the walkway.  When he arrived in Ogden, Utah, he heard a rumor about someone being killed in the train yard; so he didn't wait around, but grabbed the next train going east and rode all the way to Mason City, Iowa and never had to use the $5.00 that was still sewn in his pocket. All he spent was 35 cents for a meal in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

In 1936, he went back to California to stay. He went to work for Aunt Mary as a truck driver.  Later he was a dispatcher and driver.  He soon married and started a family.  The young Iowa boy had found a home in the West.

Aunt Mary had no children of her own, but she helped several of her nieces and nephews by giving them a bed and jobs until they could get on their feet and off on their own.  Toby was the oldest son in a family of 11 children. Over the next few years, two brothers and a sister joined him in California.

In 1944 it was decided that the rest of the family would leave Iowa for California. This included Toby's parents, Bill and Tillie Noss, sisters Gladys and Mary, along with brothers, Jim, Jack and Kenny.  Grandpa Bill had a wee problem with alcohol and never seemed to be able to provide much for the family.  If they moved west, it would be possible for Toby, as the oldest son, to help.

Again, Aunt Mary came to the rescue and helped finance the move.  Toby purchased an old moving van in Minnesota for $1100.00 and the family proceeded to load their goods ... including an old Plymouth!  Reminds me of Ma and Pa Joad and the family in The Grapes of Wrath.  

The morning of departure, they stopped at our house for breakfast.  I was only two years old, so have no memory of the momentous occasion.  My mother, Julia, would be the only member of the family staying in Iowa.  By that time, she was married with two small daughters.  She fed them all and waved goodbye.  Mom was devastated as she watched her entire family drive away not knowing when she would see any of them again.

Toby and Jim took turns driving.  Jim was barely 16 years old and probably didn't even have a driver's license.  Aunt Gladys told me how the younger kids would get out and walk when the truck was slowly crawling up a mountain.  It gave them a chance to stretch their legs and enjoy a bit of fresh air.

After several years, Toby and his younger brother, Jim, joined forces and formed Noss Brothers Trucking Company.  As always Toby continued to help younger members of his extended family by providing a bed or a job to get them started on the right foot as Aunt Mary had done for him back in the 1930's.

Toby & Mary Noss - 1996

Today, Uncle Toby is nearing his 96th birthday and lives on 5 acres in Elk Grove, near Sacramento, California.  For many years, he and his beloved wife, Mary, hosted the annual Noss family reunion at their home until her death in 2001. Toby loves to be surrounded by his family and friends.

He's been a California resident for about 75 years, but if you dig out your pocketknife and scrape away a bit of his tough old hide, underneath you will find an Iowa farm boy born and bred.  His values are unchanged ... frugality, family and hard work.

Now, again, we find America in tough times.  Perhaps we should all take a page from Toby's rule book and see if we can get on down the road.

(Thanks to Toby's daughter, Terry Noss Walker, for helping me with this story about her dad.)


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  6. Wow. I just happened upon this story. I met Toby a few years ago, his house is less than a mile from mine. He had some great stories and he missed Mary so much.