Nolans savor their long, sweet journey together
A sense of adventure and a curiosity about people took Bob and Marian Nolan on many trips across the United States and North America.
On two, sometimes three wheels.
Nothing like experiencing the open road from the backbone of a Moto Guzzi motorcycle or better yet, a two-seater under the hull of a Morgan Triking replica.
The vintage cyclecar – a fascinating motorcycle-powered machine Bob practically built from scratch – remains in the Nolan garage at their charming West Hill home. It’s still licensed, ready to roam.
For a pair of Auburn octogenarians, the three-wheeler serves as a reminder of where they have been and how far they have come in a search for wonder, harmony and study.
They traveled the many miles
their own way at their own speed, standing out as easy riders clad in leather blues.
While Marian has seen much of the country, Bob has visited 49 of the 50 states. “And to this day, I don’t know why I missed Maine,” he said.
The Nolans also have reached the Yukon Territory six times to visit friends and pan leisurely for gold. They stretched the map and made their way north to Alaska and south to Mexico in retirement.
Much of what they learned about
themselves they discovered from others. There’s nothing like seeing how others live.
“I guess I was always curious,” Bob said. “Every day is an adventure, an adventure to me.”
From the beginning, Marian came along for the ride.
“My life has been one event after another,” she said without hesitation. “And I have shared it with one terrific guy.
“I have enjoyed a great life, full of happiness, with a great man,” she said with a smile. “I can call it a perfect marriage and friendship.”
Compatible in many ways, the Nolans – both 81 – have come full circle in their extensive travels and life. A part of Auburn since 1958, the Nolans shared good times and hardships while raising a family and following career footpaths.
Not to mention their dreams.
The Nolans’ recipe for happiness and prosperity is simple, really.
“Enjoy life,” said Bob, who stays fit and active despite struggling with the effects of Alzheimer’s. “And you’ve got to have a good sense of humor.
“To this day, I hold no grudges and I try to treat everybody right,” he said. “Everybody has a different outlook on life, and I have a positive one.
“All I can say is I still enjoy life very much.”
Their life experiences are varied and interesting.
They met and married within the same week more than 41 years ago. Each had two children, a boy and girl, from a previous marriage, and each was willing to start this new chapter in their lives.
From the start, they clicked.
“What makes Bob the way that he is? I don’t know. I think he was made already,” Marian said.
Bob, born in Boise, followed his family to Washington at a young age. His father worked on the Grand Coulee Dam in the 1930s. They moved to Roy where Bob attended high school.
At 18, his search for adventure took root. He joined the Navy. He was at boot camp in San Diego in August 1945 when the Enola Gay dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.
What ensued was a 25-year career in the service, working as a repairman on ships at ports near and far. The seaman recruit eventually became a lieutenant commander.
He served a tour of duty during the Korean War and was deployed for four more during the Vietnam War.
Bay of antics
At Tonkin Bay in Southeast Asia, Bob was in charge of repairing swift boats for American crews.
“Our guys did more damage to those boats than the enemy did,” Bob said, shaking his head.
One of those guys was a skipper named John F. Kerry, now a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts. Kerry did not impress this “old, worldly sailor.”
Frustrated with the self-inflicted carnage on the fleet, Bob cut several swift boats loose, including Kerry’s, one memorable night.
“Then I woke ‘em all up and said, ‘OK boys, get your own boats,’” Bob said with a grin, satisfied with his antics.
It was during his time in Vietnam that Bob’s first wife died suddenly of cancer.
He rebounded, met Marian, retired from the service in 1970, and began an odyssey of travel and business stints.
Bob pursued the logging business, then went to work for 10 years as a repairman for his good friend and partner, Don Small, at his family-run oil company in Auburn.
Good with his hands, the self-taught man with the gentle and humble ways was good with customers, too.
“I always believed in doing things right,” Bob said. “Don sold oil, I sold service.”
Dan Small, son of the company’s late patriarch, recalls the resourceful Nolan. “He always had something going on in his garage,” he said.
That included his love for well-built motorcycles and a restored cyclecar.
“There isn’t anything he can’t build or fix,” Marian said. “You turn him lose in the garage right now to do something … and he remembers how to do it. There are some things you never forget.”
Marian raised the kids, worked in stores and restaurants and occupied the seat next to her husband during many years of travel.
Today, she cares for the man who has cared for her all these years.
They were meant for each other – one long-distance traveler to another.
“I could not have had a happier life,” she said.
Each stays active today. Bob visits friends at the Auburn Senior Activity Center and tinkers in the garage.
A common man, Bob enjoys history and often recites Robert Service’s poetry and the Gettysburg Address – to the letter. He often wears black, the “Johnny Cash in him, the man who favors the underdog.”
Marian maintains a tidy yard and is taking up piano lessons.
Each is quick to extend a helping hand, share a laugh and offer some wisdom.
“Be positive, be nice,” Bob said, “and look to the great things in life.”