DAD'S LAST RIDE
GETS SEND OFF
FIT FOR A
Left: Warren Chambers, truck operator and nephew who adapted and transported the innovative PVC pipe "casket." (top right)
All Photos and text by Mary Catlett.
Truck driver Warren Chambers of Oakley carried precious cargo last Friday -- the remains of his late uncle Roscoe Catlett of Madrid.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
Chambers has been driving semis since April 1995, following in his uncle’s footsteps.
“He always told me,” recalled Chambers, “as long as you have a CDL you'll always have a job." And it seems Catlett was right. Chambers’ most meaningful job was April 23 when, in accordance to his late uncle's wishes and with enthusiastic applause from the family, Chambers transported his uncle’s cremains from his home in Madrid to his final resting place at the family plot in the Nevada Municipal Cemetery.
Though known in Madrid, Ankeny, Des Moines and Boone for his long-time business Catlett Shoe Repair, R.E. Catlett -- or Tiny as he was known to his friends -- also spent many years as a trucker for Harold “Heavy” Nelson of Boone and Schwerman Concrete in Des Moines.
During his later years, he often joined his young nephew on the road as a co-driver and mentor, the last time in 2002 just about six months after his diagnosis and major surgery for bile duct cancer.
“He’d tell me stories, warn me about the dangers of ‘black ice,’ and taught me the finer points of backing up in tight spots,” recalled Chambers. “How many people get to take their uncle with them, learn the finer points of driving, have as much fun as we did and actually make money at the same time?”According to his niece Judy Lowe of Nevada, Catlett desperately yearned to get back in a tractor cab one more time, but succumbed to the effects of cancer last November 26.
"Dad loved truck driving and in his final days often spoke of wanting to go out once more. He just couldn’t hold on any longer, but the family is grateful for the kindness of one of Warren's friends which made this last trip 'home' a memorable one for all of us," said Catlett’s daughter Robin Borton of Boone.
Chambers drove a 1989 white and red Volvo semi-tractor with an 8 speed Fuller-Eaton transmission courtesy of CS & RMS Farms of Lacona. The ride not only honored Catlett, but provided a unique treat to the younger children in the family who never got the chance to experience a semi before -- and a few adults, as well.
Heartbreakingly, this was the last semi-tractor Catlett ever drove.
Another semi-tractor that Catlett loved also figured prominently in family farewell ceremonies which began with an early afternoon graveside ceremony in Nevada and Boone-based private family lunch, Open House and Memorial Service.
“Dad’s remains came to us in a lovely box but burying it would have required the purchase of a vault,” explained Catlett‘s oldest daughter and caregiver Mary Catlett of Madrid. “Lacking funds, we were forced to get creative. Luckily a sealed section of PVC pipe is also acceptable at our cemetery.”
TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL
Under Chambers’ caring eye, a section of lowly PVC pipe was transformed into a miniature version of one of Catlett’s favorite trucks “The Blue Angel.” Chambers carefully painted the pipe Catlett’s favorite blue color, partnered it with a plastic toy semi-tractor painted to match, added additional toy wheels, trimmed the end caps in red and detailed the grill and tires with a dulled chrome finish that echoed the age and use of the real truck.
Continuing the transportation theme, the “casket” also featured a scrapbook store set of stickers with special, raised lettering that mimic a license plate. One plate announced Catlett’s nickname “Papa C,” and the other, larger label showed an expiration date of Nov. 2003 -- the month Catlett died. The county was replaced by his birth year, the name “Tiny” was hand-lettered on the driver’s door, and the front of the truck was labeled “BLUE ANGEL.”
“Driving was his life,” said Chambers.And so, agreed the family, there could be no better honor in death.
This memorial took place April 23, 2004.
Cards and memorials may be directed to the family in Madrid.
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