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Motorcycle rider makes sidecar run at 91

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Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Pioneer
(218) 333-9819 customer support
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

CASS LAKE -- Molly Gehrke Norenberg grew up with 10 motorcycle enthusiast brothers and a father who rode a Pierce Arrow and Harley-Davidsons.

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So, it was natural for her to hop on a motorcycle herself when she was a girl. But during the 1930s women motorcycle riders were an unusual sight.

Norenberg said her brothers bought a used Harley and she decided one day that she would teach herself to ride it.

"I asked my brothers how do you start it, but I asked them first how do you stop it," she said. "When I worked for the forestry, that was my outfit to get to work and go home. I liked it. My family didn't mind. I'd still ride one, if I had one."

Earlier this week, Norenberg, now 91, had that wish answered. Jon Romer, who owns a 1982 Honda CB 900 custom with a sidecar, took her for a spin in rural Cass Lake.

Norenberg's daughter, Julie Norenberg-Dunning, arranged the outing after she found an old photo of her mother, at about age 19, astride her Harley, with Olga Gehrke, Norenberg's sister-in-law, preparing to climb into the sidecar.

In the photo, the girls were wearing identical outfits -- trousers with appliqué stars and side seam stripes.

"We were buddies," Norenberg said. "We always dressed alike."

She added that they bought the clothes at the Federated Store in Cass Lake.

The trip with Romer brought back memories for Norenberg of speeding west to visit a friend in Bagley on her birthday. She said speed was a thrill.

"As fast as it would go," she said. "I wasn't afraid of speed at that time. You aren't much afraid when you're young."

"Mom said they raced the milk truck to Bagley," said Norenberg-Dunning. "They had to stay ahead because it was a dirt road."

Lamphere said the 1930s-era Harley was difficult to ride. He said the springer front end could bounce the motorcycle out of the driver's control on a bumpy road. It also had a foot clutch and hand shift lever. "You had to take your hand off the handlebar to shift it," he said. "You had to have really good coordination."

Norenberg said the only danger she can remember is the possibility of tipping the motorcycle over if she turned sharply and lifted the sidecar off the road.

Norenberg said she was delighted by the opportunity to enjoy the freedom of a motorcycle ride again.

"A beautiful trip,:" she said. "One thing when you're old, everybody takes good care of you."

"Totally my pleasure," said Romer.

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