T.J. Sparks is likely the only working-everyday 90-year old man in Campbell County
By Jim Freeman
SPEEDWELL, TN (WLAF) – One bay door was up with the sound of WLAF radio blaring out of it when I pulled up to Sparks Garage on Monday about lunch time. That signaled that 90-year old T.J. Sparks was busy at it like he has been for more than 50 years.
TOP PHOTO: T.J. Sparks is back at his garage after his Monday lunch break.
T.J., named after his papaws, Tippy and John, did not become a mechanic until after he gave up trucking; hauling gravel, dirt and such. “Not long after I did, Harold Johnson told me I should go back to trucking,” laughed Sparks.
Marion Claiborne was Sparks partner in the trucking business. “I weighed 125 pounds, but I was able to carry a 130 lb. bag of fertilizer,” said Sparks.
Sparks used to have a junkyard back here with more than 300 cars on it. Now days, a couple of 18-wheelers park on his lot a few times a week.
Sparks daughter Jennifer Seiber recalls memories of her dad’s big truck. “I rode with him every time I could. He’d drive up in front of Valley View School to pick me up. But his truck was so big, he couldn’t drive it onto the school grounds so he’d pull that air horn when he got there,” said Seiber.
There was one scary time when T.J. was afraid his big dump truck was about to flip over. He was laying down gravel on a steep hill, and one wheel came off the ground. “I told Jennifer, she musta been about eight or nine, to get out of the truck,” said Sparks. “I did what he said. I just slid out and watched. Luckily, he didn’t tip over,” said Jennifer.
Sparks and his daughter Jennifer pose at Bill Seiber’s ATV. Bill is Jennifer’s husband.
“I’m here, but I can’t do much these days because of my eyes. It’s sorta self service when folks come by for a battery or oil. They even write out the ticket for me,” said Sparks.
He was born into a sawmill family at Blue Spring Hollow, Union County, in 1933, and he first became a lumber hauler. Sparks finished 8th grade at Blue Spring School; a one room school house for 12 grades.
The Sparks Garage is just a few yards from T.J.’s house.
From Blue Spring Hollow, he and his family moved to Noetown at Middlesboro operating a little store and a filling station, both next door. His sister and mom ran the store, and Sparks delivered groceries all the while running the gas station.
T.J. and Jimmie Sue are pictured on their 1958 wedding day with a photo of their daughter Jennifer Seiber to the right.
Sparks met his wife of almost 70 years, Jimmie Sue Parrott, at Knoxville. “The weather was awful, storming and such, and I wasn’t about to drive back that particular night. So I stayed at this boarding house and ended up meeting Jimmie Sue,” said Sparks.
Though T.J.’s road sign suffered some paint damage by his own doing, folks still get the idea.
“My pal Carl Claiborne didn’t have a car, and I’ve always had a car or a truck,” said Sparks. Always having some kind of vehicle dates back to the time Sparks sold his dad’s truck without his knowledge. “I sold it, and I bought a brand new Mercury Monterey,” said Sparks.
Sparks tends to have a doctor’s appointment or two now and then and leaves his customers a note.
“Jimmie Sue and I had a double-ring wedding ceremony at home with Carl and Louise (Myers) Claiborne. After the weddings, and since Carl didn’t have a car, he and Louise rode with us. We all honeymooned at the Smoky Mountains,” said Sparks.
“The old barn blew over during that storm we had here a while back,” said Sparks.
And so today, here on this Thursday, WLAF radio is playing loud again at Sparks Garage, and 90-year old T.J. Sparks is back on the job right there at the shop a stone’s throw from the Claiborne County line. (WLAF NEWS PUBLISHED – 11/16/2023-6AM)