Saturday, June 25, 2011

Chapter 24 High School Hijinks

About this time I sold my Austin Bantam and bought a 1929 Ford Model A Roadster. I paid $45.00 for it, so it was a big step up for me. I worked on it and got it running real good, and then I painted it Packard Green clip_image001with Chinese red wheels. It had a rumble seat and a fold down windshield; you talk about a cool set of wheels, I was riding in style!

As usual I did everything by just jumping in and doing it. It had bad brakes, so I went to Sears, bought some brake lining, took the wheels off and relined the brakes with a screw driver, a set of pliers and a hammer. We had a small shop area in the garage where I had put a small vice that I used as an anvil to set the bands on and peen the brads over with a claw hammer.

That car did almost get me in big trouble-once again. We drove our Model A’s to school and parked in a lot on the west side of the school. The parking lot was loose gravel, and extended right up to the building where the music room was. The floor of the music room was about two feet below ground level, and the windows on the outside came down to the ground. During warm weather, the windows were always wide open, because there was no air conditioning in those days.

One hot day, Bill Kliene and I had backed our cars right next to the music room. We had backed them in so we could make a fast get away when school was out. When school let out, we all ran out to our respective cars, and since they had no tops, we just ran up the back of them and dropped into the driver’s seat. Well, we had learned that you could really have a lot of fun running the engine up then shutting the ignition off, waiting about 5 seconds and switching it on again, so the engine would give a loud backfire. When the ignition was off, the carburetor would suck up a lot of gasoline, and when it backfired, flames would shoot four or five feet out the tail pipe.

Well, this particular afternoon we went through our little testosterone routine, each of us trying to outdo the other. So it was BANG< BANG<BANG and so on with flames shooting out toward the music room windows. Then someone gave the signal, and it was a race to the exit of the parking lot. As we took off, our rear wheels were spinning on that loose gravel and throwing gravel out to the back-again towards the music room.

Well that was bad enough, but the rest of the story was that particular afternoon the Music room, which was normally vacant after school, was the location of the Parent Teachers Association meeting. A student who was picking up his instrument later told us that it was pandemonium, lots of screams, running around and chairs being turned over.

The next morning when I got to first period, the teacher gave me a note from Mr. Ivy. Mr. Ivy was the assistant principal in charge of discipline. I still didn’t have a clue as to why he would want to see me. We had been so busy making noise and having fun, we didn’t realize what havoc we were causing in that music room. Mr. Ivy gave me a stern lecture and sent me back to class, but Bill was required to park his car out on a street and had to walk about a block to school the rest of the school year. I don’t know why I got off easier than Bill except Bill sort of stayed in one jam after another, and I suppose I was classified as a non-repeat offender. I guess we were lucky not to be expelled!

In the summer of 1941 Dad and Margaret had moved to Corpus Christi, and Dad was building the Navy Base at Flour Bluff, just south of Corpus. They lived on Topeka St, about three blocks from the beach, and Bill, Mike and I went to the beach every day.

I returned to San Antonio in August 1941 because we lost Muggie, my grandmother. She had been suffering with ALS for some time. This was a hard loss for me because I was close to her. She was a very sweet and gentle person and a very devout Christian.

Photo of 1929 Roadster found here.

Photo of NAS at Flour Bluff found here.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Chapter 23 Builder, Sailor, Soldier, Sly

clip_image001[12]In 1941 a friend of mine and I were doing a lot of sailing. We were sailing a Snipe class sailboat that his dad had made for him. A Snipe is about 16 feet long with a Marconi rig-some call it a cutter rig-to the sails (Mainsail and Jib.) We won all our races on Woodlawn Lake in San Antonio and qualified to enter the Nationals that just happened to be on White Rock Lake in Dallas that year. After several days of racing the winners were announced. A gray-headed crew from Connecticut won first and a gray-headed crew from Seattle won second. Guess who placed third in the Nationals that year: two teenagers from San Antonio Texas, Frank and I. We were pretty excited as we walked away with that big trophy. Placing third out of about 40 boats from all over the US was quite an accomplishment!

My cousin, Mary Carolyn, wanted a playhouse so I volunteered to build her one. I built it in the back yard of our house on Meredith. I was real long on stoutness and a little short on delicate details, but I finished it and Mary Carolyn’s dad, Jim Hollers, sent some men over to pick it up. They could not lift it, as I had built it to last a long time. Dr. Hollers finally had to send a crane over to lift it over the back fence, put it on a flatbed truck and then repeat the process to unload it down at their home on Gramercy. Charlotte and I drove by there in 2000 (60 years later) and it was still in the back yard and looked good. I think if they ever want to get rid of it, they are going to have to dynamite it.

clip_image002Mom was still teaching at Edgewood school. I was heavily evolved in the Reserve Officers Training Corps at Thomas Jefferson High School. Charlotte was very busy with all things social and also a sponsor in the ROTC. Each ROTC officer had a sponsor, which he had selected from the senior girls. Then, the most amazing thing happened that changed my life! Of all the boys in that High School, Shorty Sawtelle asked me for a date! Girls did not ask boys for dates back then, but we had a Sadie Hawkins dance where that was the thing the girls were supposed to do. I was on cloud nine. I cannot remember what I said, but it must have been yes, because she was my date for the dance.

Back in those days we had a dance every Saturday night in the gym, sometimes with a live band, and sometimes with a jukebox. The best dancers always wanted to dance with Shorty, but I was not much of a dancer. I was, however, the one who always got to take her home after the dance. Charlotte and I were dating, running around with friends, and just hanging out. Charlotte’s best friends were Ann Ebert, Miki Pickering, Fern Keller, Patricia Dwyer and Kassie Jersig. We all double dated, triple dated, not always with the same date, but my date was almost always Charlotte. There were no drugs, but some of the wilder guys had an occasional beer, and most of us smoked cigarettes. This was before anyone knew that smoking could be harmful to your health.

I was working afternoons at the Hom-Ond Grocery store, and on Saturdays at Mrs. Gulledge’s flower shop making corsages for the Saturday night dance. Of course I imagealways made an orchid corsage for Charlotte. Her Mom complained that they were taking up all the room in the refrigerator. 

Charlotte and I dated almost every weekend. I can still remember the first time I kissed her. I had just stopped in front of her house one night after we had been to one of our Saturday night dances. I went around to open her door-all the boys opened the door for the girls back then. On sudden impulse I reached in the window (which was open, no AC) and gave her a kiss. She responded warmly and I guess you could say the rest is history. We were pretty much inseparable after that and, I can remember well the warm feeling that flowed through me when she would sit over by me in the car with her head on my shoulder. I still get the same feeling today 70 years later. This was a happy carefree time of our life that was going to end abruptly and soon on December 7 of that year.

Photo of Snipe sailboat on White Rock Lake found here.

Photo of Hom-Ond grocery found here.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Chapter 22 Jump, Jive and Wail

The school year 1939-40 was the best yet in my whole life, because it was the year I met the cutest, sweetest girl in the whole school. Her name was Charlotte Elizabeth Sawtelle and everyone called her Shorty. She and I were both about 5 feet tall. Shorty Sawtelle was very popular and was the best jitterbug dancer in the whole school. We had a dance in the school gym every Saturday night, and all the best dancers wanted to dance with Shorty. She was dating a number of the tall popular guys, and I could see this was going to take extra effort and skill on my part, if I had a chance to win her.

clip_image002I guess this was when I started developing some of my sales techniques. I became friends with her brothers and especially her older sister, Alice. I also began spending a lot of time at her house, supposedly to see her brothers. I remember one time one of her cool dates came to pick her up, and I answered the door to let him in. I put a mark on the wall, “one for me,” when I saw his consternation. Charlotte's mom decided early on that I was the one for her, and Alice was fond of me, too. They both became boosters of mine from then on. Charlotte didn’t have a chance, but didn’t realize it at the time.clip_image002[6]

In 1940 Mom purchased a new house at 378 Meredith Drive about three blocks west of Thomas Jefferson High School. It was really big, almost 1000 sq ft with two bedrooms and one bath.

That summer I spent with Dad in Kaufman. Dad was building a road from Kaufman to Scurry, right through the Trinity River bottom. We lived in a big Victorian home on about 5 acres. One afternoon, I was sitting on the big wrap around porch watching the rain. All at once there was a blinding flash and a boom that left my ears ringing for days. I had my feet on the railing, and it flipped me over backwards and nearly scared me to death. There was a big black streak down the trunk of the tree-right in front of the porch-where the lightening had struck.

Dad had a big shop at the edge of town, and I spent a lot of time there. He and I were starting to build a miniature sports car, using a four-cylinder motorcycle engine. We also built a motorbike for me to get around on. At first, we mounted the engine on a wheel and just put it on the back of the bike, giving three wheels in tandem. This, as in many new inventions, did not work. After we finished it, I took it on a test spin around the block. Every time I tried to turn a corner it would pitch me off in the street. I had to go through this several times before I got back to the shop. On the last turn, as I was picking the bike up, I looked behind me and Dad was following in his car and about to die laughing. I was not a happy camper, but I got over it and laughed about it too. We took the rear wheel off the bike and slipped the third wheel up to take its place, giving us just the two wheels. This worked fine and I rode the thing like that for years.

It was about this time Dad discovered that apparently the company office manager and bookkeeper back in Lubbock, a man named Fulton, had misappropriated funds, and Field Bros was broke. This was never proven, and the manager was never prosecuted. It was a very tough time for Dad, but he did not declare bankruptcy. In the next three years he paid everyone off. He went to work for Brown and Root Construction Company in Houston as a job superintendent and in three years rose to vice president of the company. He built the Goodfellow clip_image001Army air base in San Angelo and also the one at Big Spring. He built the ordinance plant north of Amarillo. He then built the Navy Base at Flour Bluff in Corpus Christi and was constructing the Irish Bend Shipyard in Houston when he died. He worked hard 365 days of the year and literally worked himself to death. I remember he did not even take Christmas day off. He would die in 1943 at the age of 42.

Photo of Corpus Christi Naval Air Station found here.

Listen to Louis Prima sing “Jump, Jive and Wail” here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Chapter 21 A Tale of Two Families

clip_image002It was in the fall of 1939, that Mom and I both started taking flying lessons. We went out to Stinson Field in San Antonio. We were flying J-3 Piper Cubs. We would get 30 minutes of instruction about once a week. I really loved it and thought flying would be my passion for the rest of my life. I loved flying between the white fluffy clouds and out into the blue sky again. I dove into the manuals and studied for ground school every chance I got. I worked at the grocery store after school and some weekends to help pay for my lessons, but Mom paid for most of it. My $5.00 a week did not help a lot. She was making $85.00 a month teaching school at that time.

1933 Austin BantamLater that summer I was in Harlingen with Dad and Margaret, along with her two sons, Billy and Mike. Dad was digging more irrigation canals, this time across the Valley. At the close of the summer Dad bought me a 1934 Austin Bantam. It was a neat little car, but I had a lot of trouble keeping it running. I also spent time at a crop duster’s airstrip at the east edge of town. He had built his son a bi-plane that was powered with a Model A Ford engine. It was really cool.

It was that summer that I saved Billy from drowning. We all were at a river crossing and decided to take a swim. The river went through a culvert under the road and was very swift at that point. Billy got too close to the culvert and the current clip_image001[9]swept him closer to the intake mouth. He hollered for help and I swam over and grabbed him right before he was about to be sucked into the tunnel under the road. I got him under the arms, but his body was inside the culvert. I had both feet against the concrete and was having a hard time holding on to him because of the force of the suction. I remember Billy saying to me “just let me go, there is nothing to do”, but I hung on for dear life and Dad heard us and jumped in and pulled us both out.

Photo of 1933 Austin Bantam found here.

Photo of Harlingen highway found here.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Chapter 20 Motorized Mayhem

clip_image002Mom and I moved again, this time to a rent house on Furr Drive. In January 1939 I was finally fourteen and got my driver’s license. Mom bought me my first car for fourteen dollars. (That’s right, $14.00). It was a 1925 Model T Ford, a touring sedan with no top. The Model T had three pedals, the brake, the clutch and middle peddle that was reverse. My “T” didn’t have very good brakes; so I used the reverse peddle for a brake. That worked pretty good unless you pushed too hard and it would stand on its nose.

This was before self-starters, so we had to crank it to get it started. I was pretty small for my age, so my buddy, Robert Holzschuher, would ride his bike over to my house each morning. We would both get on the crank and get it started. When we clip_image002[1]got over to Horace Mann Junior High, we would park the “T” on a hill and put bricks in front of the wheels. Each afternoon after school, about eight or ten of us would rush out to the “T” and I would get behind the wheel. Several of the guys would pull the bricks out from in front of the wheels, give the “T” a push, and away we would go down the hill. The “T” would start as we rolled down the hill. When you watch the Olympics and see the bobsled with one guy pushing off and running along the sled till it gets going before jumping in, that’s what we looked like going down the hill.

The first stop was at a gasoline station up at Bandera Road and West Woodlawn. We would all go into the station office, put our change on the desk, and the owner would count it all out. Gas was 15 cents a gallon and the gas pumps then were really pumps. They were about seven feet tall with a metal base that contained the pump and a lever on the side of it. On top was a glass cylinder about three feet high. On the side of the cylinder was a mark showing how many gallons were in the cylinder. The man would go out and pump the gas up in the glass top of the pump, as many gallons as we had money to buy, and then we would put it into the “T’s” gas tank, which was under the front seat. The gasoline would simply gravity flow from the glass cylinder to the gas tank of the car.

Then off we would go again and ride around till suppertime. I would drop each guy off at his respective home. Then, Robert and I would take the “T” back to my house, put his bike in the back seat and I would take him home.

One day when we were going down Lake Boulevard, as I was taking the guys home and Walter Bielstein was sitting astride the hood. There were two or three guys on each running board. All of a sudden, a car shot out of a side street in front of me, and I absolutely stood clip_image002[1]up on that reverse pedal. I was small for my age-a little under 5’-and had to sit right on the edge of the seat to reach the pedals. I was completely off the seat standing on the reverse pedal, and the “T” just about stood on its nose. The cap on the radiator had a winged ornament, and when I stood on the reverse pedal, Walter went sailing off the hood. I can still see him sort of vaulting over that hood ornament. I hate to think what would have happened to him if he had not cleared that thing! I shed kids all over the street, but believe it or not, no major injuries, just a few scratches and bruises.

Photo of 1930’s Texas gas station found here.

Photo of Keystone Cops found here.