California here I come!!
One day I got a letter from Bill Beardsley who asked me to come to California to take advantage of a ‘big deal’ he was ‘cooking up’. He had a horse rental stables near Griffith Park. There was a small café next to it which was doing a fair business with the trade he was manipulating. I had just a few bucks (about $600) left now from my army fox hole savings. I had bought the truck. This all happened before I bought the 1947 Chevrolet and hauled the manure and from other jobs. Don’s crop was planted and coming up. We were irrigating and I hated to leave him. Jim Graves had a 1939 Ford Convertible and wanted to go with me to California. We left one day to stay with Bill Beardsley and his wife. His wife Thelma was a teacher and probably subsidized Bill’s horse rentals. They had one little boy named Cordy.
I hated to have to board with them. Jim and I stayed there mooching and looking for a job. Jim became discouraged and drove home. I stayed and found a job at Lockheed. I actually worked for Lyon’s van and storage which company had a contract packaging parts for Lockheed Aircraft. Thelma took us to work on her way to her teacher’s job. I really was starving because I didn’t want to gorge myself on their food even though I would be paying. At the job they had a cafeteria where you could eat a hearty meal and deduct it from your pay. I made up for my hunger there.
One day after I worked for several weeks and was eligible for a 10 cent raise – (I was being paid $1.10 per hour). I was helping my foreman to build a large package to hold a wing for an airplane. It took lots of lumber as if building a barn. I was drilling holes with a three wire drill when the drill chuck began slipping. There was no chuck wrench attached to the drill. On another drill close by was a chuck wrench taped to the cord. You must realize now that three wires means that these drills used higher voltages and the third wire is a common ground wire. When you plug it in, the third wire has a bayonet which is wider and will only fit in its correct slot in the receptacle. It was a bit of a challenge to plug in the cord and hit it right the first time. On this drill I plugged it in the first time. I didn’t see that some wise guy had used his side knippers and clipped off the wide prong. It would work BUT look out! The hot wire goes to the body of the drill. As long as you don’t touch anything else, it’ll work. I needed the other chuck wrench so I reached down to lift the drill off the floor and since I was holding another drill, I made a complete circuit. I was being electrocuted. As I fell I thought, “I went through the war and here’s where I ‘get it’. That’s exactly what I thought. I had one last breath and I made some sort of attention getting sound. It reminded me of the last sounds that Guyer, my first buddy, made when he expired after stepping on a mine. The foreman saw me go down. The drill bit punctured my leg a bit. The foreman—a man from Arkansas—yanked the cord from my hand. I could NOT let go, I got a terrific headache and came up off the floor very angry. I cussed out the roving electrician. I decided that this job wasn’t for me. This incident was a bad omen and I gave notice that I would quit in a week. I learned my lesson about just walking off a job without notice when Jim Graves and I walked off the green chain at the lumber mill. When I went back after the war to see if they’d honor the law to hire a returning GI, they brought out my card. On the back of it was written, “Unreliable do not want again”—Of course we should have given notice. It’s the decent thing to do to your employer. I learned as a farmer hiring workers how mad it made me when a guy would quit.
So I told Bill and Thelma that I would ship my Guitar and Amp back and I’d first try to buy a car. Bill and I went to a used car dealer. I saw a ’41 Chevrolet convertible I would have bought. The price was up above a new price and somehow he was able to get by the OPA price limit. I told him there, too, that I was using my GI savings. I called it foxhole money then too. He said, “You think you had it tough in the war, we didn’t have any cars to sell”—so help me, that was his retort. Bill grabbed me by the arm and led me out of the used car lot. I was fuming.
I owed Bill and Thelma a few bucks for board and room. I promised to pay when I got home. I boarded a train and went home. I came home just in time to help more on my brother’s potato crop. That year was a bonanza for him. He bought a new Woodie Chrysler convertible. He didn’t pay me for my truck though. So it was back to hauling. I hauled his potatoes. I even bossed his workers and was signing his name to the checks. You’d never have known I could sign his name to the worker’s checks with the same crinkles and quirks.
One year, I helped Daddy and Don build a great big cellar. Potatoes would be stored and sorted during the winter. With my savings I bought a small potato sorter for them which the family was able to use sorting the potatoes. Don was meticulous in selecting number ones and twos etc and knew the limits for the inspection. Each load had to have a clearance from the Agriculture Dept. I hauled the sorted spuds over the Snoqualmie pass about every other day on my 6×6 1941 Army truck. It was about a 100 mile trip. I got to keep that money which I saved. Donald was ‘cutting out’ the middle man in this operation. Once some big union goons wearing typical turtle neck sweaters stepped on my truck platform and asked if I owned the truck. I said, “Yes”. They asked, “Are these your spuds?” and I said, “Yes”. They said, “Okay”. I wondered, “What all that was about?” It was a couple of dock workers union goons checking me out. If I didn’t answer correctly, I’d have to hire them to unload. I learned another lesson and about Union Goons.
When I finally bought my car I also bought a third partnership in an old John Deere “D” tractor plow and disk. I had three pieces of property. Don asked if I’d like to be a partner with him in farming this next year. I didn’t hesitate too long. I was now quite familiar with this type of farming. When I was growing up, it was a lot different. Don was becoming a farmer with big ideas. He had more gumption to venture than most guys I knew. My Dad dropped out because he couldn’t stand to be in debt. Don would buy a tractor or a car or truck, or a house at the drop of a hat. He might have been a CEO of GM if he hadn’t dropped out of school. He used the bold capitalist ideas.
I went to my favorite banker Jake Bizyak and was able to borrow $3500, on all my collateral. WOW! Now I was in deep debt—that’s another word for farming—debt. We rented some fine farm land for $50 per acre. We bought potato seed and fertilizer. We plowed and prepared the ground and were planting. We were about three fourths through planting when a little old well-dressed man came out in the field to see us. He had black horn rimmed glasses and a derby hat. He looked like Doc Holiday. He had his thumbs in his vest which was just like in the movies. He had a railroad watch in one vest pocket and a gold chain draped to another pocket. He wore a derby type hat. Gee, I thought maybe he was a Hollywood scout.
The Man said, “Boys you might as well stop planting”. I was aghast! “What?” I asked with my GI haughty language and attitude. He repeated. “You may as well stop planting. We’re buying the land”. He added, “There’ll be no more irrigation”. He was an agent of the Milwaukee Railroad. He explained that over irrigation caused the big Land slide the year before. The whole hillside slid down over the rails and dammed up the river. Damaging The Milwaukee rails as well as the NP rails on the other side. He explained that if we refused that the land would be condemned under the eminent domain laws. I was really showing my indignity by that time. I had my car and my truck and share of the tractors and machinery invested in this truckload of fertilizer and potato seed. The railroad Agent explained that an arrangement could be made to pay us some money back for our investments
I asked the agent, “But what about our hopes for this crop”? “This might be the year to hit it big”. He didn’t seem to care about our investments and hopes. This was another lesson I was learning. I now had to seek advice about what recourse we would have to recover our investment. It’s a different story to plant a crop and to lose your butt. This eminent domain thing was new to me. They did have the power to buy the water rights and the land whichever the owners would choose to do. If an owner balked it would mean that a judge in a court of law would rule over the case. Whether he’d be sympathetic to Don and me was a question. We were being forced to sue the big railroad company. Who wanted that hassle?
We went to various other farmers for their ideas. We met with the Railroad agent at a motel. We presented to him whatever figures we had. It was an argument most of the time. I knew that if we went to court the jury made up mostly made up of rural people would most likely award us the amounts we for which we asked. It was not too much.
Our figures were considered and the agreement finally was reached that they’d pay us as if we harvested the potatoes. We also could finish planting but that we could not irrigate. We accepted that deal. We raised the crop without irrigation which resulted in much smaller potatoes but they might be good enough for seed.
I took my share and went directly to the bank. I paid off my notes and had a nice nest egg left over. It gave me the whole summer to enjoy my new car. Before the new car I had to bum rides with Jim Graves and his brother Francis. My neighbor friends would take me on trips to the “big town” to chase girls and to dances and to stop at a tavern or two. Now I had time to get acquainted with civilian life. This is the life which a lot of the guys lived who were able to avoid the service. They had the run of the field. But as the old song said, “They’re either too young or to old” “what’s here will never harm me”. They could still write “Dear John letters” though I’ll bet.
Donald and I were on a quest now for land. We had the money to plunk down on some farm land. Don built a new home near Yakima—Selah where I now live. We cruised around looking for a suitable piece of ground. I always let Donald choose these things because I respected his judgment in such matters. While I was gone there was a new irrigation project under construction