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Smoke ‘Em if You Got ‘Em
If you have ever attended the “Cruise to the Farm” annual celebration, you’ll know how there can be smoke without fire. The event is a celebration for street rod enthusiasts held for the past nine years at Norm and Ethelyn’s rural acreage southwest of Edgerton, Minnesota. Attendees bring their rides to the farm for all to enjoy while also enjoying food and fellowship. Everyone is encouraged to “smoke the tires” on the burnout section of their driveway if they have what it takes. In other words, “smoke ’em if you got ‘em.” The burnout pit is an example of Norm’s passion for performance and his tendency to show off that performance.
Norm Fey has always loved cars. Born in California and raised in Edgerton, he is retired from the business that he and his family built, Fey Industries. “Dad was originally from Edgerton and was in the Army stationed in California when I was born,” recalls Fey. “My first car was a 1960 Plymouth convertible purchased new in 1960.” It was to be the first in a long line of vehicles he has owned in the past four decades. “After graduation from high school in 1960, I enlisted in the Navy. While in the Navy, I purchased a 1958 Ford Fairlane with a retractable hardtop. After being discharged from the Navy, I purchased a 1963 Chevy Super Sport two door hardtop and drove it from Edgerton to California to pick up some belongings I had left behind. While out there, I traded for a ‘57 Chevy two door hardtop that I drove home and immediately started taking the car completely apart. My dad said “that darn kid will never get it put back together again.” Dad liked cars, but wasn’t a car nut, but I guess I am and I did get it put back together.”
am and I did get it put back together.” The family business, Fey Industries, produces promotional products and media packaging for CD’s and DVD’s. Another division of the company manufactures the reflective tags you see on red highway cones. They are also used in the mines to help guide the miners. “We employ approximately 250 people in the area,” says Fey proudly. Dad started the business in 1965 and in February of 1966, I came back to help him run it after a brief stay in California.
Norm and Ethelyn were married in 1964. Ethelyn shares her husband’s love for cars. “The blue ’57 Chevy is her car as is the Prowler. She also goes with me to many of the car shows. She enjoys the shows and I know she likes cars because she writes the checks without any complaints.”
“Norm has always provided a good living for the family and if this makes him happy, I’m happy,” says Ethelyn with a smile. They have three children, all of whom have a love for cars also. Their oldest child, Michelle Mitchell, lives in Edgerton with her husband Tim and both of them love cars. Michelle has a 1965 Mustang convertible and Tim has a 1946 Lincoln Coupe. Their second child, Mike, lives in Edgerton and works at the family business. He has a ’55 Chevy and a ’73 Dodge Challenger. Youngest is Matt who lives in Phoenix, Arizona. He has a 1971 Plymouth Cuda.
“I was self-taught with vehicles. I took them apart in dad’s garage. Friends would come over to ‘help’ but mainly to drink my beer so I made it a rule that you had to work if you were going to drink my beer. It took about six months to finish my first project. That was the quickest I have ever finished a project. However, today’s projects are a little more detailed in scope and usually take considerably longer to complete. A ‘57 Chevy 2 dr. hardtop was the first frame off restoration that I did. That was done in 1964.
Thank God it’s Friday. That’s what local mechanic and business owner Mike Berghorst thinks every time he looks at the calendar and it shows it is Friday. Mike is a partner with his dad at J&K Auto Service. “I was born into being a mechanic,” says Berghorst. “I have been playing with cars since I was 14 years old. I was in between both of Norm’s sons in age. I met Norm at a car show and helped him with an overheating problem he had on his ’57. He said if you are not doing anything, you should come on out to the shop. That was nine years ago and I am still here and never leaving.” Both his father and grandfather were Chrysler men. “I was always impressed by Chrysler engines. The Hemi is built to develop a lot of horsepower and go fast. They were decades ahead of their time. I have always been a drag racing fan and drag cars have run Hemis for years. I love that I get the chance to work with them on Norm’s cars. Friday afternoons are my time to come out and work on these cars. This is my weekly therapy. I love working on old cars. We always have one or two of them sitting around our shop that customers bring in to have repaired. It is fun to make the old stuff work again. I come out in the winter time when Norm is gone but it is much more fun when he is here because I learn so much from him. My job is to make the engines go faster and perform better.” I built the Hemi in the ‘34 Dodge coupe with 600 Horse power and 570 lbs. of Torque. I could have built it with much more horsepower, but he wanted something drivable. “The engine is a 1958 392 Hemi. This engine was initially very powerful and we can easily increase the horsepower.” Mike’s favorite car he worked on is the ‘32 Chrysler Coupe with a 340 engine. “That was the first engine I built for him. The first car I worked on was his ‘57 Chevy, I remember leaning over that beautiful flamed fender and thinking this is just too cool.” At this time Norm and Mike are working on a number of projects including a 1934 Dodge truck. They are completely rebuilding the engine and when complete, it will be a really good running, reliable stock truck according to Mike. Mike is also very active working on many circle track race cars in the area.
“Mike is so good,” says Fey. “When he builds an engine, everything is perfect. He is extremely clean and is a perfectionist. I am a perfectionist and you tend to migrate towards people that are like you.” Another example of working with perfectionists is the graphics work on the ’34. Charles Armstrong (Auto Arts Studio) from Prescott, AZ painted the graphics on the car. It is real fire under traditional flames. If you look closely at it you will see a Ram’s head in the flames. When he was finished, he asked Norm what he thought and he said he loved it. Armstrong replied, “I could have done better.” Perfection.
Norm uses many local artisans to work on his collection. “Mike does all the mechanical workengines, transmissions, rear ends, etc.” Jeff and Sue Meendering at J&S Upholstery in Inwood, Iowa do all of the upholstery work for him. Norm uses a number of body shops so the work can get done in a timely manner. For example Randy Lauen (Lauen’s Hot Rod Shop in Watertown) built the ‘34 Dodge Coupe that features a blown and injected Hemi. The ‘49 Cadillac sits on a 1996 Eldorado chassis with a North Star engine. It also has front wheel drive. “It is a really neat car. We keep that one out in Arizona and I get a lot of stares when we drive it around out there.” The ’35 Chrysler was done by Kevin Brende at the Renner Garage. “I have known Kevin for over 30 years. He has done many other award winning cars in the area. Chuck DeVries (Chuck’s Body Shop in Chandler, MN) is another person that has worked on my cars. Chuck is another perfectionist. He is a fantastic painter.”
“I look at vehicles the way they are and see what I would like them to be. The craftsmen that work with me on my cars share that same vision.” A good example of this is our 1949 Cadillac. In 1997 “I did not know what I was going to do with it and then came up with the idea of putting it on an Eldorado chassis. I told some car guys what I wanted to do and got a call from Jerry Milady of Renner, SD saying he found one in Ohio. It was a 1996 Eldorado with 1583 miles on it. It was a GM Executive Car that had minor damage to the right front fender. Apparently GM does not fix these cars but rather sells them to salvage yards. I bought this $48,000 car for $8,000. After taking the ‘49 apart and media blasting the body, I looked at the task of putting these two cars together and knew I couldn’t do it. Rather than telling Ethelyn that I couldn’t do it, I told her I was too busy (saving my reputation). So I took it to Randy Lauen’s shop. The car was stretched 8”; the front wheel well was moved back 8” to accommodate the front wheel drive. The rear quarter windows were shortened 4”. The trunk lid was lowered 6”. The famous rear fender fins were removed. The exhaust was French into the bumper. It has Colorado Custom El Segundo Wheels and Cadillac Escalade “Infra Red” paint. The ’34 Dodge started out as a simple project installing a Hemi engine. The project just kept getting bigger. We chopped the top 1 1/2” and put a steel top in it. It has an art Morrison mandrel bent chassis with air ride, a Rootlieb hood, Blower drive Service Blower and Injection system with a Gen 6 fuel management system. A 518 4 speed automatic transmission and Dana 60 Rear end. Electric doors, windows and trunk. The windshield cranks out and that is our air conditioning.
When you see so many cars, you tend to be influenced by one or two things from each and you put them together for your vision. “Sometimes people think I am crazy, they must mean car crazy. In the end, I am the one that has to be satisfied with the project. An example of making my cars unique is my wife’s ’57. I stamped musical notes and the names of my wife’s favorite songs and put them on the dashboard. She likes it and that’s what matters.”
Many of our vehicles have been shown all around the country at car events like Winterfest of Wheels. Last year, we showed the ’33 Chrysler Imperial and this year Ethelyn’s ’57 Chevy at that event and next year I hope to show our ’34 Dodge. I have had a lot of cars in my lifetime, it is hard to choose a favorite. But if I had to choose, I would have to say my favorite car for just cruising is the ‘49 Cadillac. It has all the modern things but still looks like a 1949 Cadillac Convertible. The ’34 Dodge in a great street rod as is the ’33 Imperial. I do not build my cars to sell. I build them to enjoy them. Even the two Fords we did get rid of are still in the family. I love them all but I enjoy them most when I am driving them. I build performance cars and enjoy stretching the limits of that performance in the shop and on the street.” After taking photos of Norm’s vehicles, I heard a “tire squeal” and noticed a little smoke as Norm was driving them back to storage. Ethelyn looked at me with a smile and said “Boys and their toys.”
Ethelyn and Norm would like to invite anyone with a classic car, street rod, or muscle car to bring their pride and joy to their 10th Annual “Cruise to the Farm” held July 18, 2010 from 3-7 PM. Enjoy friends and fellowship with fellow car guys. You can enjoy the popcorn, burgers, brats, pop and beer as well as showing off by participating in their burn out contest. Your reward for burning off your tires is applause from others and the pride of your significant other. They feed 250 so don’t be late. TMM