An Ordinary Man: The Autobiography of Harold Cunningham by Harold Cunningham - HTML preview
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There was a small house located near Flag Lake with a boat dock nearby. The wardens had control of several row boats that you could check out and go fishing out into the lake.
I had a friend named John Stipe who loved to fish and at this time of my life I did also.
John asked me to go out to flag Lake one morning in the early spring to do some fishing.
We drove out to the lake and checked in with the wardens on duty. We signed out a boat and rowed out into the lake. We fished for a couple of hours and wasn‘t having any luck so John suggested that we take the boat and go on the other side of the dam.
We got the boat transferred over into the very slow running stream of water overflowing from the lake. There were several very large trees with limbs about ten to twelve inches in diameter hanging very low over the water. These limbs were approximately five or six feet above our heads We rowed down under these limbs and was fishing along when John all of a sudden told me, ―Harold, don‘t move too fast let‘s back this boat out of here.‖ I said, ―John what‘s the matter?‖ John said, ―Look above our head on those limbs.‖ I did. I never saw so many Cotton Mouthed Moccasins in my life.
They had come out because of the warm sunshine that day and were sunning themselves.
There must have been thousands of them lying on the limbs. There were so many they were laying on top of each other and we both knew the least little commotion could make them drop off those limbs right into our boat trying to get back in the water.
We got that boat eased back out where we were safe again and pulled it out and returned it to the wardens at the checkout station. That encounter with all those snakes made the hair stand up straight all over my body. No more fishing for John and me at Flag Lake.
• • •We deployed to Alaska, October through December 1952. We were on our way flying up to Elmendorf Air Force Base at Anchorage, Alaska. Alaska was still a territory had not become a state yet. While we were flying up on a C-124 Cargo Troop Transport the pilot informed us that he had to take the inland route and that we would encounter some very rough weather because he had been ordered to fly at ten thousand feet. Some of those mountains are much higher.
I had this young man who was a member of my flight named Jimmy Gordon. We were flying along and all of a sudden it would feel like the bottom dropped out. Then the next thing we would hit an up draft. I don‘t know how deep these up and down drafts were, but someone said they were two or three hundred feet deep. All of a sudden Jimmy sitting next to me ran his hand down into his pocket and brought out his dog tags and put them around his neck. I asked him what was the matter. He said, ―I want everybody to know who I am when I die.‖ We had a real good pilot and he made a safe landing at Elmendorf.
• • •I was stationed at Barksdale Field for four years, but only spent about eighteen months out of the four years at home. Then I received orders to be transferred to Ben Gruyere, French Morocco. Before I had to report to McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey I was allowed to take a thirty day leave. My wife Dorothy and I proceeded to take a trip around to see all of our relatives. We spent the last week with my mother and sister Ruth at 1322
Fannin Street Luling, Texas. My sister Mildred had already got married was the mother of a little girl, my mother‘s first grandchild. My mom had lived long enough to see the next generation.
Mom wanted some rich soil to plant some of her flowers in and I had always got her this rich soil mostly leaf mold out east of Luling on an old sandy road which I Don‘t remember the name or if it even had a name. This road was about halfway between Harwood and Luling. Dorothy and I took a couple of wash tubs and a shovel, drove out to where I had always got this leaf mold that mom wanted. I took the tubs out of the car and started to dig up some leaf mold, when I heard a voice tell me to just put the shovel down and turn around. I did what I was told to do and was confronted by a man with a 30/30
Winchester pointed in my direction. Dorothy was standing in the road next to the car.
I didn‘t know this man, but he told me he had taken the day off from work just to catch guys like me stealing his dirt. I assumed this was a county road. I started to try and reason with him as my wife was standing in the middle of the road by now with a 30/30 rifle pointed at me and her. I explained to him I was in the service and had not been out this way for several years and didn‘t think it was anyone‘s personal property.
He told me, ―Okay, but I want your driver‘s license to keep until you go into town and pay a fine for trespassing.‖ This was on a Saturday and I said, ―Okay, here‘s my driver‘s license.‖ That‘s when he told me, ―Lay it down over in the road and don‘t get too close to me because I‘ve heard all about you soldiers boys and how you know Jujitsu.‖
Anyway, I did what he wanted me to do then he let Dorothy and I go. We drove back home, me feeling low as a snakes belly, told my mom and sister what had happened. My sister Ruth told me to go see the Justice of the Peace. She said, ―His name is Judge White and he is a member of my church.‖ Well, I drove up town and found Judge White‘s office in a building upstairs, but I forgot the name of the building. Sure enough, Judge White was in his office talking to one of the Texas Highway Patrolmen, or Rangers as they were also known.
I told Judge White my problem and he told me that they had trouble with that man before.
That he would fence the road off at times. Anyway, Judge White told me he thought that where I was talking about was in Gonzales County, and he couldn‘t help me. The Ranger spoke up and said, ―I can go anywhere, so what I want you to do is lead me out there and I will take care of it.‖ So I led the officer out to where my tubs and shovel were still by the road.
The man that had threatened Dorothy and me with a 30/30 rifle was working a Bull Dozier down away from where we were. The officer drove down and in a little while came back with my license. The officer wanted me to stay and press charges on this man.
On Sunday, after this incident all of us, my mom, myself, Dorothy, and my sister Ruth made a visit to mom‘s brother, Uncle William who lived out on the highway east of Luling which took you on out to where all this took place. I told Uncle William about this man and Uncle William told me that he knew who I was talking about and that his name was Grady Grey. Uncle William said he had known the guy for a long time and that the man had been in prison for beating another man to death with a stick of cordwood. Since I was in the service and on my way overseas it would not have been feasible for me to be able to stay and press charges on this man even though I was mad enough. My feelings made me depressed about someone making me think mine and Dorothy‘s life had been invaded the same if someone had broke into your house putting you in a position where you can‘t‘ defend yourself. The next day on Monday, Dorothy and I left for Topeka, Kansas where she intended to stay while I was going to be gone for two years. We were not allowed to bring our dependents with us.
Harold‘s oldest sister Ruth, age 39
• • •When we started to leave I was saying goodbye to my mom and she grabbed me and kissed me right on the mouth which had always been a no-no ever since we came back from the T.B. Sanatorium. I was kind of stunned and didn‘t know what to do, but it was my mom and she looked so frail and she had to say goodbye so many times before to my brother and myself. Anyway, Dorothy and I proceeded to Topeka, Kansas on out to a little town called Ozawkie, where her mom was living having lost her dad about a year before.
I didn‘t have much time left so I caught a Greyhound bus out to New York City. I had always wanted to see New York as I had heard so much about the city from the men I had been stationed with. One of those guys was one of Sergeant Burrows ―eight balls‖
according to all the other flight sergeants. His name was George Bates. George was from New York City. Sergeant Burrows would turn all the ―eight balls‖ over to me since I seemed to be able to train or retrain them into good soldiers.
George and I spent a lot of time together while I was teaching him how to polish his shoes to make them shine. I started giving him some responsibilities such as going to the mess hall, picking up sandwiches, coffee, and whatever else we could get for the men
who were posted on guard duty and couldn‘t get anything for eight hours. He had to make sure the guys had coffee and milk all the time.
One day, at guard mount, George came up to me and asked me, ―Sergeant Cunningham, I want to know if it is possible for me to get the evening off so I can visit with my mother and dad.‖ They had driven from New York to Barksdale to see him. I often wrote letters to the parents of the younger men to let them know how their offspring were doing. This also helped me to work on these guys from both ends.
George wanted me to come over to the day room and meet his parents. I said, ―Okay.‖
We went into the day room where his mom and dad were and George was going to introduce me. He said, ―Mom, Pop, I want you to meet the best damn man that ever shit between a pair of shoes!‖ I was really embarrassed, but they didn‘t seem to think anything was wrong with this statement. Anyway, over all the years even to this day, I don‘t think I have ever had a better compliment than what George gave me that afternoon.
Mother Amanda and Harold last
picture taken as he was leaving for North Africa I arrived in New York, got off the bus at what they said was the 42nd street station. All I knew is there were a lot of real tall buildings and when you looked up towards the sky there was an awful lot of trash floating around up there. The streets were dirty, men lying around trying to find whatever shelter they could. After having seen New York City I came away with a somewhat different picture in my mind than what I had expected from all the stories I had heard.—I‘ll take the Lone Star State anytime!
• • •After looking around New York for one day, I took the bus out to McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey. That was our staging area for all the men who were shipping out to open a new base at Ben Gruyere French Morocco. This was a new Air Base that had been built out on the desert near Marrakesh. We were put on a troop transport ship to travel across the Atlantic to a base located at Sidi Salme where we had to stay for awhile until the contractors completed the building of the base at Ben Gruyere. Our records had not followed us; instead they went to the new base.
After about fourteen days after our unit had left the United States, the Red Cross caught up with me and gave me a telegram from my sister Ruth telling me that our mother had died and she needed me back home to help make arrangements. After the length of time it took for them to locate me it would have been impossible for me to get back in time to help with whatever arrangements were to be made.
One of the other sergeants that was being shipped to the same base saw me in a very distressed state of mind and offered to help. His name was Pat Blankenship. He went with me to the Red Cross office where the base commander was contacted. The commander gave me a thirty day emergency leave of absence.
Since our records were not with our unit I could not draw any money to use so we went to the Air Force Aid Society where they loaned me two hundred dollars. Then I got a ride on a military aircraft back to Westover Air Force Base Massachusetts. The Red Cross met me and another airman that was also on an emergency leave. The Red Cross furnished land transportation to New York where I caught a flight that would take me to Kansas City.
My wife Dorothy met me at Kansas City after I had made the trip with a delay in Chicago due to the grounding of all aircraft for two days. A lot of passengers slept on the benches and floor waiting for the weather to clear. Dorothy and I continued onto Luling, Texas by automobile.
My sister was alone and did not know what to do about her living conditions as she had never been anywhere except to stay at home and take care of our mother. My sister Ruth did go with our younger sister Mildred and her husband who was also an Air Force Sergeant stationed at Randolph Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas.
I don‘t remember any of the things that went on after that I just know my sister Ruth blossomed out and started making a place for herself not depending on anyone. She jumped in and found a job at Zales Jewelry store working there until she found how to get ahead in this world. She became the one in our family that made the world turn over for her. She never did want for anything after that. She was very successful and retired as one of the supervisors at the Unemployment Department for the state of Texas.
The day I received the telegram in North Africa was very devastating for me as I lost control and cried for a long time. The kiss that my mother had given me when I last saw her at our home in Luling had now become the full force of my being and I knew the meaning of it. My mother knew she would never see me again. There were things that I wished I had told her and above all I wished I could tell her how much I loved her for all the things she had done. Now it was too late.
I thought my mother wouldn‘t die. Other mothers might die, but not mine. I never knew how much I loved that lady until she was gone. My mother never had the opportunity to be around her two sons, my brother Olan and I. We both had to leave home at a very early age, but she left a permanent impression on both of us as to how to be honest and dependable.—You‘re only allowed to have one mother.
• • •After my emergency leave was up I had to report to Westover Air force Base to catch an Air Force Transport plane back to Morocco. By this time, my unit had moved on to our assigned base at Ben Gruyere Air Force Base. We had to share the base with the French Military. At all the guard posts there would be one American and one French guard.
The American guards always got hot or cold drinks and sandwiches about half way of their eight hour shift. The French got a bottle of wine and a loaf of bread. There was always a lot of trading going on. The American would trade the French their sandwiches for the wine. Never did see anyone drunk. My tour of duty was eighteen months, not the twenty four months it started out to be. I had to stay nineteen months to make up for my emergency leave. After my duty was completed I received orders assigning me to the military police unit at Forbes Air Force Base. I was assigned the duties of a flight Sergeant for a short while and then the Provost Marshal a lieutenant Colonel Barr put me in charge of pass and registration. In this position I had to keep records and issue security badges, Air Force ID cards, and register all private owned vehicles on the base.
I held this position for quite awhile. Then one night I got pretty drunk and couldn‘t or didn‘t go to work the next day. The squadron commander, who was new, recommended that I be given a summary court marshal. I went up to the court which is only one officer, usually a major or lieutenant colonel. He found me guilty which I didn‘t deny and I was reduced one grade down to staff sergeant. I knew that I would never make my stripes back in the military police so I opted to go to Lowery Air force Base, Denver, Colorado for training in radar and automatic flight controls. After six months of school I graduated.
Orders were issued for me to report to the 444th Fighter Inceptor Squadron for duty. This organization was stationed at Charleston, South Carolina.
The aircraft this fighter squadron was assigned was the F-86 D. After awhile I became quite proficient on this radar set. Like all things the F- 86 D was phased out and assigned to the Air National Guard. All of the radar mechanics had to retrain into another much more sophisticated system. The radar I was retrained for was installed on the F-102
Fighter. I completed the training for this system in about six months and was transferred to Niagara Falls Air Force Base, Niagara Falls, New York. This transfer was in 1959 and Dorothy and I took a thirty day leave. Dorothy and I went to her home town which was Ozawkie, Kansas. This is where Dorothy‘s mother was still living.
Our nephew Bobby Kuntz was a really good friend of mine. He had been to Korea and was back looking around staying with his mom and dad where they lived not too far from Ozawkie on a farm. They both were working in Topeka. I went down to see Bobby and we decided to go fishing down on the Delaware River not far away. We took a wash tub, went down to the little store and beer joint, and bought a couple of cases of beer and ice.
Dorothy and I had just bought this new 1959 ford Fairlane. We loaded up our supplies and headed to a place on the river we could drive down close to. This was on a Friday night. Bobby and I put out our fishing lines, two trot lines, and our pole lines. We made camp and started drinking cold beer. By Sunday morning we were out of beer, so we got into the car and drove down town where the little beer joint and grocery store was. While we were in the beer joint Bobby met a guy he knew. I don‘t remember his name, but everyone called him Rabbit. This guy owned a big farm not far from where Bobby‘s folks lived.
Rabbit‘s folks had died and left him this farm. He just bummed around all year riding freight trains and lived like a hobo. Once a year he came back home and collected the rent from his renters. As we were leaving, Bobby asked Rabbit if he would like to join us for some fishing and beer drinking. Rabbit seemed to like that idea so he got in the back seat with a fresh beer. Bobby was hungry so we decided to stop by his folk‘s house and fix up breakfast.
When we went in the house I saw a twelve gauge shot gun in the corner. I told Bobby,
―Let‘s play a joke on Rabbit.‖ Rabbit was still in the car drinking beer with his feet propped up over the front seats listening to hillbilly music. I told Bobby that I would run out the back door hollering, ―Bobby, don‘t do it! Don‘t do it!‖ Then he would follow me out with the shot gun hollering at me, ―I‘m going to shoot your ass off!‖
I ran out and Bobby followed as I got just about to the car, Bobby let a round off. Old Rabbit came alive! He was out of the car and headed across the field. Never did see Rabbit again.
• • •After I arrived at Niagara Falls Air Force Base, they needed someone to work on the automatic flight control only. I volunteered for this duty and there were only two of us doing this job. We had our own separate work space and both of us became quite proficient. The squadron was having a lot of trouble with the rudder amplifiers which provided the transformer that supplied the negative and positive signals to the left and right aileron amplifiers. The aircraft could not break the sound barrier if these three units were out of commission.
Every time one of them was out of operation we had to send it back to the factory to be repaired as it was not considered field repairable. This cost the Air Force about six thousand dollars each time it went out to be repaired. Plus the aircraft was red lined and could not be flown.
One day, I was messing around looking over the schematics and I thought up a solution to this problem and with no one‘s knowledge or permission to do so, I modified one of the rudder amplifiers on this one aircraft that seemed to be blowing this transformer quite often. After testing this for awhile and seeing it work, I went in with my drawings I had made and talked to the maintenance officer about what I had done. He told me he was going to ADC Air Defense Command and talk to them about it. I made up a schematic showing everything in colors and even printed my mane at the bottom of the schematic.
He came back the next day and told me to take any of the modifications out of the aircraft immediately, which I did. This modification only cost eighteen cents. Well, I never heard anything else about this modification. About this time the Air Force had a program that would pay a reward or bonus for any suggestion that would save money for the Air Force. The amount of the bonus was based on the amount the suggestion saved.
In late 1959, Niagara Falls Air Base was closed down, so all the aircraft were transferred to some other organization. Now came new orders for all the personnel to move to another assignment. I received my orders to report to Travis Air Force Base for transfer to Yokota Air Base, Japan. My wife Dorothy moved back to Ozawkie, Kansas with her mom. Eisenhower was still president and still would not allow dependants of enlisted men to follow their husband to an overseas assignment.
I reported into my new organization and was clearing in. One of the places I had to clear was the section I would be assigned to. When I entered the department there was some of the guys there that I had been stationed with at Niagara Falls. One of them told the sergeant that I was the man they were waiting for. Out on the flight line parking ramp was all the same F-102 Fighters I had been working on for the past two years. They did not have any personnel capable of performing the tests that had to be checked for the acceptance check each aircraft had to pass prior to the aircraft being given the O.K. for being flight worthy.
I was clearing in during the morning and pulling acceptance checks on the aircraft in the afternoon and evening. I was sure glad that I had a history of the flight controls for all these aircraft. It really helped me to perform these acceptance checks. I had packed all the notebooks I had for each one of these fighters. After all the aircraft were confirmed air worthy for all systems, our real job started. One day, Sergeant Knuoph who was the section boss or NCOIC called all the flight control men in for new instructions.
He told us we had a new modification to perform on each rudder amplifier. He handed me one of them, and I was dumb founded. Low and behold it was my modification even the exact same schematic! I told sergeant Knuoph that it was my modification. He didn‘t believe me so I told him, ―Come on, let‘s go down to my quarters and I‘ll show you.‖ So he did and I took out all the paperwork and drawings, and showed it to him. I still had the original drawing that I had made at Niagara Falls.
The thing that made me really angry was the fact that my officer in charge at Niagara Falls had high jacked my idea and took credit for this modification, most probably receiving a really nice bonus for it. This modification saved the Air Force lots of money as now the amplifier could be repaired in the field far about ten cents. That‘s all it would cost to replace a blown fuse. I don‘t know how many F-102 fighters were in the Air Force inventory. I know it had to be quite a number. After I had all the aircraft in my squadron flying really good, the commanding officer of my squadron asked me to go to Naha, Okinawa to instruct the flight control mechanics how to use the flight control test equipment. I was put on detached service for thirty days.
• • •In 1960, President Kennedy became our Commander in Chief, so he changed the ruling about dependents coming over. I sent for Dorothy and I‘m sorry to say it, but I was beginning to show signs of becoming a real alcoholic. I didn‘t even know what that was all about.
Dorothy came on over and we rented a little house off base. I don‘t remember how much the rent was, but when we paid the rent we had to go over to the owner‘s house and sit down at a little table that was about one foot off the floor. There was a big hole under the table that our legs hug down in. The landlady always had to have hot tea and sometimes roasted chestnuts. I hated both of those things, but went ahead and drank and ate so she wouldn‘t lose face.
My drinking began to cause a lot of trouble with Dorothy and she was such a really good and wonderful lady. She tried to help me in every way she knew how, but I just couldn‘t stop. Finally, our tour of duty was completed in November of 1963. We flew home by way of Alaska. Before we left Japan, Dorothy told me she was going to leave me when we got to the states. I begged her not to, and promised that I would quit drinking and smoking if she wouldn‘t leave.
After I got to the states I didn‘t drink anymore or smoke either. I got assigned to the 329th Fighter Inceptor Squadron, George Air Force Base at Victorville, California. The 329th had F-106 aircraft which were almost the same as the F-102 except they were faster with more sophisticated radars and flight control systems. It was not hard to learn the new aircraft.
Well, everything went along real great. Dorothy and I bought a new home in Victorville and everything was going so great. I was really proud of me and Dorothy was too. After about seven months there was a squadron party at the park on the base. At first I would not attend, but around two P.M. I told Dorothy I was going to the party. After all I proved I didn‘t need to drink anymore.
I sat around for awhile and the guys kept trying to get me to have a beer. So after about an hour I decided to have one cup full. Well, this triggered something in me and the next thing I knew I had a half gallon coffee can drinking out of it because the cups were just too small. I didn‘t get home for two days. I was so ashamed of myself. But the cycle had started. Now I started drinking full time causing my wife lots of heart ache and worry.
When I attended the squadron party on the base I had not intended to even take one drink.
Somehow old John Barley Corn keeps sitting on your shoulder whispering, ―Oh, come on now, you been sober for quite awhile, you deserve a little fun and relaxation.‖ So I let my guard down.
Of course I was back on the old trail again. Staying drunk and drinking all the time, not going home, and sleeping in my car. I had bought this 1956 Ford Fairlane for twenty-five dollars and another old Mercury for ten dollars that the man really wanted to give me just to get it out of his way. I had rebuilt the 1956 Ford from top to bottom and rebuilt the Mercury, 390 engine and added four on the floor.
After having been off on this drunk for two or three days I was down in the dumps big time. I was remorseful and ashamed of myself and hated to go home and let Dorothy see what a poor piece of humanity I was. It was after dark when I got up enough courage to call Dorothy. She answered the phone and I so wanted her to have sympathy for me. I told her I was going to take my car and get it up to one hundred miles per hour and drive it on over the side of Cajon Pass going into San Bernardino and that I had called her to say goodbye. She was silent for about ten seconds and says, ―Goodbye.‖ – I went home to see her and beg for her forgiveness.
• • •So you think you‘re an Atheist or an Agnostic. Go walking in New York City and one of those yellow cabs run you down you‘re lying in the street hurt and who do you ask for help first? The carpenter!
• • •It was the latter part of 1965 and I was supposed to retire January 31, 1966. Anyway, for the last six months I would drink as long as I could get a dollar and wouldn‘t go to work.
I was AWOL quite a bit. There was this sergeant in charge of our section. His name was Fields. He watched out for me and covered up for me. I wouldn‘t go home hardly ever because I just could not face my wife.
I started out first around August 1965 drinking beer at the Wagon Wheel Bar until about one thirty A.M. Not having anywhere to go I would buy me a couple bottles of Thunderbird Wine, go over between the double set of railroad tracks as there was a trench about five or six feet deep between the double track and sleep and drink wine the rest of the night. After a while it started getting cold at night so I found a telephone booth out front of this little market. I would stand up in it all night drinking my wine. One night the police pulled up and wanted to know why I was hanging out in the phone booth. I told them I was making a phone call. They told me to get it made and get out of the booth.
So now that I couldn‘t stay in the phone booth I had to find another place. There was this little two dollar a night hotel not too far from the bar, so about two A.M. I would go upstairs, get in the restroom, lock the door, and sleep in the bath tub. It wasn‘t long until I heard all these guys complaining about the bathroom being locked all the time, so I had to find me a new place.
The next night I got me two bottles of wine and started walking up towards the graveyard in Victorville, which is located in a little valley shaped like a bowl. I walked around the back of the graveyard where there was nothing but sagebrush on the side of a hill. Since it was real sandy soil I started using my feet to kick the sand and to make a hole so I could get down below the cold wind.
After a few nights I had me a hole about six feet long by three feet deep. I started digging small holes in the sides and storing my wine in them. Next, I started bringing beanie wienies and crackers and storing them in the side also. I had made myself an apartment in this hole in the ground.
During the time I was spending some of my nights and weekends in my hole in the ground I remember during the Christmas holidays. One Sunday morning I got out of my hole walked down to the liquor store about seven blocks to get me a bottle of wine.
There was a Catholic church on a small hill about two blocks up behind the liquor store.
They would ring a bell I suppose whenever mass was about to take up. I walked out the side door where the church was located and I heard the bell ringing. I walked around the corner in front of the liquor store and I couldn‘t hear the bells anymore.
So, I started walking back to the corner to see if the bells were ringing. They were. So I set about trying to sneak up on the corner and catch the bells not ringing. I had gotten myself into a state of paranoia that I now believed that nothing was happening unless I was right there present before anything could happen. The man who ran the liquor store knew me and liked me for some reason. He had been watching me so he and another man took me by the arms, put me in a pickup with me in the middle, and drove up to this Pentecostal church where they took me into the church and they along with the pastor and two other men prayed over me, and laid hands on me this lasted for about 45 minutes.
I remember thinking I sure will be glad when they get through for I want that bottle of wine I have in the pickup. Anyway, they took me back down to the liquor store and turned me loose and I started back up to my hole apartment. I started laughing thinking them dumb guys didn‘t do me any good.
Time went by and after I had moved to San Jose, I was attending a meeting known as the End of the Line. This meeting was located in the basement of an old church off of Alameda Street.
There was this old guy by the name of Max Graham and I was telling him about this experience with the guys at the church in Victorville and I made a smart remark like,
―They prayed like hell over me, but it didn‘t do any good.‖ Max looked at me and said,
―How the hell you know it didn‘t help you?‖ He said, ―You‘re here and it may be the right time for God to release the answer to those guy‘s prayers.‖ ―Besides if it didn‘t do any good why are you thinking about it still yet?‖ I had no answer only I came to believe that the power works in strange ways. Max had a heap of knowledge about the AA program and he and I became very good friends. He‘s gone, but he did lots of good.
Anyway, it came around about New Years Eve and I had been AWOL for about three days, but it was payday so I got myself out to the base. I went into the room where everyone was talking and having a good time, but leaving me out of it. After awhile, Sergeant Fields came into the room and told everyone to take off for the holidays. He came over to me and said, ―You can‘t take off.‖ I thought, well, he is going to make me stay here to answer the phone or clean up or do something because I had not been around for two or three days.
When all the guys had left and it was just sergeant Fields and me he started telling me off. He says, ―Cunningham, I don‘t like you, you son of a bitch!‖ ―No!‖ he says, ―I‘ll take that back, for I don‘t mean any reflection on your mother, you are a self made son of a bitch.‖ ―I‘ve covered up for you all these months because I knew you were close to retiring.‖ He said, ―I want you to take off this whole month of January and just drink and get as drunk as you want.‖ ―You do not have to report out here anymore.‖ ―I‘m putting you on the green grass and I just want you to be out here on the 31st of January to pick up your retirement papers.‖ ―Get your ass out of my sight!‖ ―I no longer care what happens to you!‖
Well, I had never been hurt as bad as this in my life. It was seven miles from the base to my house in Victorville. I walked all the way home so depressed and crying so bad because this was not the picture I had always carried around for the day I would retire.
When I got home my wife was crying also. I told Dorothy, ―There‗s an AA meeting tonight over in Apple Valley, and I‘m going to it and try to get some help.‖ I got down on my knees and said, ―God f you are real I need help real bad.‖ After awhile I seemed to have a peace come over me I went to the meeting and met this man named John P.
Mitchell. John started to work with me and he was a tough sponsor. He ran an old auto junkyard in Oro Grande, seven miles from Victorville. He didn‘t have a car that was any good, so I usually would pick him up to go to the AA meetings. He was always checking on me in some way. We were good friends.
There was only three meetings close around Victorville at that time and maybe about twenty-five or thirty AA members. So John would want to go to another meeting on a night we didn‘t have one locally. He would call me up and say, ―Harold, I got a new member to take to a meeting and the only place there is a meeting is in Barstow.‖
Barstow was about twenty-seven miles across the desert. I would get so mad because I would think that old bastard was using me as a taxi. I would drive out to Mitch‘s place ready to let him know how the cows eat the cabbage. Then when I got out to his house I‘d say, ―Okay, where is this guy at?‖ Mitch would say, ―Well he couldn‘t make it, but since you‘re here, we may as well go anyway.‖ I never did tell Mitch off, but I usually would feel a great deal better when I got back home.
The day I retired, I went out to the base to pick up my retirement and discharge papers. I suppose the commanding officer didn‘t want to see me as he had his adjutant come out and hand me my certificates. No one said goodbye, go to hell, or wish me good luck.
Anyway, I had a month under my belt and I never did get to use that month of January Sergeant Fields had given me to stay drunk. Sergeant Fields doesn‘t know this, but I do…. He saved my life.
• • •I had a good job waiting for me the very next day as a laborer for a construction company. The construction company was Jelco Incorporated out of Salt Lake City. The reason I got the job was because the superintendent for Jelco was a member of AA and I had met him at a meeting.
Jelco was building a very large electric substation about eight miles out of Victorville off of Highway I-15. I was the first laborer hired onto the job and the last one to be let go after they had finished building the substation. They had me digging ditches for the electricians and I would go over and read the blue prints, and dig a ditch where it was supposed to go. Some of the old electricians would get mad at me and say, ―How in the hell do you know where to dig those trenches?‖
Well, I had gotten the knowledge for reading prints while I was in the service. It just so happened that it was very hard to get into the electrician‘s union since they had made it almost a closed union. About the only way you could join was if you had a brother, uncle, or cousin that was already a union member. I found out a whole lot about unions while looking for work and I promised myself if there ever came a time I could do unions some hurt, I was going to do the maximum hurt I could. Now that it‘s 2010, the unions have almost disintegrated. Lots of other men I have been associated with have felt the same way.
One day, this union member for the electricians was welding up some real simple brackets. I watched him for awhile and after he left I asked the union steward on the job whose name was Parrot, ―How much does that guy welding make an hour?‖ He said,
―The same as an electrician.‖ I told Parrot, ―Well, I can weld a whole lot better than that guy.‖ He asked me what I thought was wrong with the man‘s welding. I told him that his welds looked kind of like a bull‘s ass sewed up with grapevine. Parrot told me to go get certified and he could get me in the union as a welder since they needed welders real bad.
So I went down to the welding school at the Victor Valley High School to bring my welding skills up to where I could pass the tests to get certified. That was no problem. I continued to work as a laborer until the job was completed. The superintendent for Jelco had become a good friend and he was getting transferred to San Onofire, where they were putting in a nuclear power plant. He told me after he got down there he would contact me so that I could go back to work for him. I couldn‘t go without a job, so I went down to Fontana, California and applied for a job at the steel mill run by Kaiser.
The only way you could go to work there was to complete six months on the labor crew then you could transfer to some other department. We were getting paid two dollars and thirty-eight cents per hour. You could get all the overtime you thought you could handle.
I was working two shifts a day driving forty miles one way. That was the hardest job I ever did have, but I was intent on completing my six months so that I could then transfer to the maintenance shops. One evening, I was home and I attended a meeting at the Odd Fellows Lodge. I had been an Odd Fellow for quite a few years and had transferred my membership to the Victorville Lodge. There was this member by the name of Neal that worked as a welder for the only welding and machine shop around Victorville.
Neal knew of my needing a job close to home and asked me if I thought I could weld small things and repair them, such as bicycles, chairs and all kinds of things like that. I told Neal I could, so he says, ―You go up to Wiese and McBeth‘s Welding shop tomorrow see the owner Pete Wiese and ask him for a job because I‘m quitting to retirement.
The next evening I got off of work at the steel mill and headed for Victorville. It was about four o‘clock. Pete closed his welding shop about five P.M. I raced over Cajon Pass and got to the welding shop about five minutes before Pete had closed the doors. The doors were not closed all the way and since the door was unlocked I pushed it open and walked in. Pete was in his office counting up the day‘s receipts. He had a Dutch door going into his little office and the top part was open.
I walked up to the door and introduced myself to him. Before he could say anything I started talking. I told him about Neal saying he was quitting and Pete said, ―Yes, that was the plan.‖
Then I proceeded to tell him how I could weld, read blue prints, and do a little bit of drafting. I talked for about five minutes and I finally said, Mr. Wiese, ―If you don‘t hire me you are going to miss the chance to hire the best son of a bitch in this world.‖ He looked at me for a few seconds and says, ―Do you have a hood?‖ I told him I did and he told me to come down the next morning, which was a Saturday, and he would check me out.
The next morning I was there before time to open. Pete had several pipe columns that he was fabricating. He had this little welder working there by the name of Stubbs Crawford.
He told Stubbs to help me set up one of the pipe columns and then check me out for my welding skills that I had told him I passed. We set the columns up and I welded about half way around the bottom plate when Stubbs hollered and told Pete ―He‘s O.K.‖ Pete said, ―Well, I‘ll hire you at two dollars and fifty cents an hour.‖
This was more than I made at the steel mill. I then told Pete I thought I should go and give the people at the steel mill at least a two week notice. He agreed. I would find out later that Pete was most likely the best and most honest person I have ever met.
• • •Welders have been known to repair
• • •The next Monday when I went to work I told the super at Kaiser that I was giving him a two week notice. The day came when my two week notice was up so I started to go to the various places to check my tools in and wherever I went the super was following me all around talking to me trying to get me to stay. He told me, ―You will go a long ways up the ladder because of your work ethics." Anyway, it was not to be, I had made my mind up, and it was set on that welding job. I was tired of shoveling coal around the blast furnace.
The Monday I was supposed to go to work for Pete I was there early. He started me off by showing me how to work the oxygen and acetylene dock, make out the invoices and so forth because all the welders took care of the customers for oxygen and acetylene.
After working there for two weeks, Pete raised my pay fifty cents an hour. Then after another two weeks he raised my pay another fifty cents an hour. This made me getting the same as everyone else. That was journeyman‘s work and wages. As time went by, Pete started to give me more and more things to do; how to run the office, how to bid the work, who to send out on the field work. We only had three other welders working in the shop. About three months later, he put me in charge and gave me the key to the shop so I could open and close every day.
This allowed Pete to sleep a little later as he was beginning to get up in age a little. He was also the fire chief of Victorville. Pete asked me to join the fire department which I did. The fire department was all volunteer. We trained on some part of fire suppression each week. Sometimes we had to go to school on our own time with other fire departments to get better acquainted with equipment and methods to control fires that had different fuels for the fire.
Our record from the reports I saw and was familiar with, showed we were as good as or better in some cases than a paid fire department. One thing for sure it didn‘t cost Victorville and arm and a leg for their fire protection. Pete had a lot of hats to wear; he was also on the water board. Pete was a hunter and about twice a year he would go over to Showlow, Arizona for deer and dove hunting. He had a friend of his named Jack Anderson that usually went with him.
One of his trips came up so he told me how to take care of the receipts. He was going to be gone for about a month. He instructed me to take all the cash money for the little jobs like five, ten, or twenty dollars that were paid for without writing a ticket and to keep that in one envelope and not let his wife Paula deposit it on Fridays when she came by to take care of the banking.
She came by the first Friday and as she was making up the bank deposit she saw the envelope with about two hundred or so dollars in it. Paula asked, ―What‘s this?‖ I told her she was not supposed to do anything with that money as it was Pete‘s.
Paula didn‘t say anything except, ―Okay.‖ When Pete returned he checked the safe and picked up the envelope and counted it out. It was about eleven hundred dollars. He looked at me and said, ―That‘s the most money I ever had when I got back from a hunting trip.‖ He said that most of the time he only had about one hundred fifty dollars. I‘m sure this gave him a positive feeling about my honesty.
• • •There was this contractor that came in quite often. He was erecting metal buildings and one day asked me if I would like a job where I could have my own crew and travel all over erecting buildings for him. He offered me a new truck with all the tools and twice the salary I was making with Pete.
I told him I would think about it. I went home that Friday night and talked it over with my wife. After sitting down and having this talk with Dorothy it was decided that I should take this new job.
It was still early and I knew Pete would probably be at home, so I got in my truck and drove down to his house and told him I would like to have a talk with him.
I then told him about the offer this man had made, and Pete didn‘t seem surprised at all.
Pete said he had expected someone to offer me a job. There were other contractors we were doing work for also. Anyway, Pete said, ―Well, that‘s the name of the game, go where the money is.‖ After we talked a bit I went on back home.
I started to remember all the good things that had happened to me in the last three and a half years. How Pete was always giving me a little extra cash or bonus. He was also letting me run the shop without any interference. I also thought if I took the job I would have to start traveling again. I had already traveled all over a hell of a lot of planet earth and I was tired of traveling.
That Sunday afternoon I told Dorothy I wasn‘t going to take that job. By this time I had almost four years sober on the AA program and I‘m sure Dorothy was relived also. So, I drove back down to see Pete that afternoon and told him I wasn‘t going to take that job.
Pete then told me, ―I have been wanting you to buy me out.‖ I told Pete, ―That‘s nice, but I couldn‘t buy out anything.‖ It was left at that and on Monday I went about taking care of business as usual.
About ten o‘clock, Pete came by and told me, ―Let‘s take a ride.‖ This was nothing unusual as Pete often did this. We would go out to some place that had called him to do a job for them. We would measure it up, get all the information we needed, and then go back to the shop and fabricate it. However, this morning Pete drove down town to the Bank of America parking lot, parked his pickup and said, ―Let‘s go in.‖ I followed Pete in and he walked up to the bank manager who was a friend of his and introduced me to him.
Pete told the bank manager he wanted to conduct a little business, so we all sat down at the manager‘s desk. Pete said, ―I want you to write this all down, we don‘t need lawyers or any legal experts.‖ ―Now, Harold here is going to buy me out, that includes the business, the trucks, the two lots that the business is located on, all the equipment, and the six lots I own across the street.‖
―I‘m going to sell him everything for forty thousand dollars.‖ ―The first twenty thousand dollars he will pay me four hundred dollars a month, with no interest.‖ ―The second twenty thousand dollars he will pay me four hundred dollars a month plus five percent interest on the unpaid balance.‖
Pete then told the banker, ―Harold doesn‘t have any money so I want you to put his name on my business account which has about thirty six thousand dollars in it.‖ ―He will be able to use this money until he can get his own account going.‖ Then he looked at the old banker and says, ―What do you think of that?‖ The banker replied, ―It is a bit unusual, but those kinds of deals make out pretty good most of the time.‖
I was totally dumb founded. Pete turned everything over to me and there were a lot of big accounts Pete didn‘t‘ want to mess with. I‘m sure Pete was quite wealthy as he only wanted to do about forty or fifty thousand dollars a year net profit. So, I proceeded to take on all those accounts and it was just like the whole box broke open. I started to get really busy as Victorville had started to break loose and expand.
Since I had the only welding shop and machine shop within forty- five miles the flood gates were opened. I was suddenly making more money than I could spend. I had eighteen welders working for me with three portable rigs for field work. The business went from forty thousand dollars a year to one hundred and fifty thousand the first year, then past two hundred thousand the next year.
About this time, Ed Kuntz, Dorothy‘s brother in law passed away in Topeka. I took Dorothy to Las Vegas where she caught a flight back to her home for the funeral. So, here I was alone at home with our two dogs.
I started having those old thoughts again. Like I said, old John Barley Corn is very patient and he does not want anyone or anything to have to compete with. He is very jealous. I went down to the liquor store and got me a six pack of beer and that was the beginning of the end.
At first, I tried to hide it from Dorothy, but she had seen and heard me go through those same old lies too many times. I bought me a fifty foot water hose and kept it hanging in the garage where I would fill it up with whiskey, so I could go out and get me a shot and she didn‘t have any idea where I had it hid. I started hanging out at the same old bars.
The main one was the wagon wheel in downtown Victorville.
Then I hung out at the bowling alley. I started getting so ashamed of myself that I wouldn‘t go home. Instead, I would sleep in my truck somewhere. Several times Dorothy would drive around until she found my truck and make me come home. There were never any ladies involved with me, just old man Barley Corn.
Anyway, things started getting really bad so after six years sober and making a name for myself I was letting it go down the drain.
I know now I should have had someone that knew how to handle money to take care of it for me because I also got the big head. My memory is a little bit foggy about this time. I finally got so bad that I lost all hope and I didn‘t want Dorothy to have to put up with a drunk any longer.
I told Dorothy I would like to have a divorce. I really didn‘t want one, but I was not going to put her through another bunch of crap. She did not deserve anything like that.
The business was beginning to go downhill also. Anyway, she agreed to this reluctantly, so I gave her our home, new car, and all the furnishings. I also agreed to pay her two hundred dollars a month alimony. She later told me over the phone that she did not want anything that I didn‘t owe her anything. She just wanted to know where I was at and if I was okay.
• • •I still kept the business going, but I was spending the money as fast as I made it. A lot of people tried to help me, but it just didn‘t do any good. I felt like the whole world had caved in on me. My will to live had been broken. I had always prided myself on not ever letting anyone or anything break my spirit. Some of the training I had taken in the service was meant to break or make you. I never did break. Now, a little old bottle of wine was stronger than I was.
I met this lady that worked at the bowling alley and we hit it off. After three months or four months we decided to go to Las Vegas and get married. We partied for quite awhile, I had bought another home in Apple Valley, California where we resided for about a year. Since I knew this marriage was doomed unless we did something to stop our drinking I told her we both needed to go to AA, so she agreed and we both were successful in maintaining our sobriety.
I had this friend Tom Felkins and his wife Emma invited me and my wife Leone to go pheasant hunting down in Southern California around the town of El Centro. He had some friends that lived there that had several alfalfa farms located near the Imperial Canal. Every year they had these large fields planted with pheasants about two months before pheasant season. You were allowed to hunt them during pheasant season and we came down for the opening day.
I never saw so many men lined up almost shoulder to shoulder along the bank of the canal. About eight A.M. someone fired a shot across the way in a field from us and sounded like it was a mile away and did all hell break loose. There were a lot of birds and everyone was shooting everywhere. I remained on the bank of the canal and the pheasants were flying back over me so all I had to do was stand still and get my quota in about five minutes which was two birds.
This friend of Tom‘s that invited us down to hunt had an Australian Sheppard he had trained to hunt birds. The only thing was the dog had been in an accident and had only three legs. The right rear leg was missing. Anyway, the guy was so mad because when the dog flushed the birds he would jump and catch them before the man could shoot. The dog caught his quota and he didn‘t‘ get in a shot.
That evening Tom, me, and our wives left to go back to Victorville. We arrived in Victorville about midnight. The sheriff pulled in behind me at my house, got out, and asked me if I owned a Black Angus steer. I told him that I did, so he wanted to know where I had him. I told him he was in a pen out back in the neighbor‘s fenced in garden.
He wanted to see so I led him out to where the pen was. The steer was missing so he told me it had caused a wreck over on highway 18. The only thing he wanted me to do was to get the steer off the road as soon as possible. I didn‘t have any idea how I was going to get this steer which weighed about eleven hundred pounds in my pickup to haul him away.
Anyway, I called Tom and he said he might be able to help. Tom and I met on the highway where the steer was. Tom had a friend who owned a garage and towing service.
Tom had an AAA card and this friend of his named Murphy, serviced AAA accounts in and around Victorville. Tom called him and asked him to bring his wrecker out on highway 18 where a wreck had happened, but didn‘t‘ tell him what the circumstances were.
Murphy came out, stopped, and asked Tom what had to be pulled in. Tom told him we didn‘t need a tow we need a steer loaded into my pickup truck. Murphy said that this was the first time he had ever heard of AAA moving a bull form the highway, but he would fix the paper work up. He loaded the steer in my truck and the next morning I drove out in the desert where we knew an old mine shaft was. I backed up to the edge of this hole in the ground that went straight down for I don‘t know how deep. We pulled the steer off and let him go down the mine shaft. We could hear him for a minute or so before he stopped falling.
My homeowner‘s insurance took care of the man‘s car that hit the steer paying for all the repairs, a rental car, and motel fees. I never have been in the cattle business since.
• • •This lady‘s name was Leona Mary Blankenship. She was a very nice woman also. We were sober for about a year and my business was beginning to pick up again. Then one Saturday Leona went to work at Joe‘s Restaurant since she knew them and they needed a waitress temporarily. I always worked at the shop from eight until twelve noon on Saturdays. I closed the shop and since Leona wouldn‘t get off until two o‘clock I decided to get me a haircut, after getting my haircut I drove over to the restaurant. Leona was just getting off of work and she was walking out to her car and she told me she didn‘t feel so good. We drove on out to our house. I followed her all the way.
After getting out at the house she said I think I‘m having a heart attack. I put her back in the car and rushed her out to George Air Force Base since I had full medical benefits. The doctor‘s took her in, made some preliminary check and informed us that she was having a heart attack. They kept her in the base hospital so they could make more tests. I went out to see her about ten in the morning and she seemed to be getting along okay. I went on back home and about two in the afternoon the hospital called me and told me she was having another heart attack and they didn‘t‘ think they could save her. I rushed out to the hospital, but it was too late she had passed on before I could get there.
• • •
Soon after the death of my wife Leona I began the same old program again drinking and hanging around the bars. There was this woman who was a part time bartender at the Rustic Inn in Victorville. She had worked with Leona for a long time at the bowling alley. They were good friends I think. Her name was Mildred O‘Brian and her nickname was Mickey.
One night while setting in the Rustic Inn drinking, Mickey walked in. She had been bowling and had on an old dirty t-shirt along with no shoes. I hollered at Mickey and said, ―Let‘s you and me go to Las Vegas and get married!‖ She said, ―Okay!‖ One thing led to another, so we got into my pick up, drove out to my house where I changed into a western style suit and boots. We got into my brand new Buick LaSabre and headed for Las Vegas.
We got to Vegas about day light, went down to the court house, got a marriage license, then into one of the judge‘s office, and got married. Mickey was still dressed the same way she was when she met me in the Rustic Inn. Dirty t-shirt and bare footed. We were both in no condition to know what the hell we were doing.
After we got married I told Mickey, ―Look lady, we got to get some shoes on you.‖ There was a shoe store across the street. We went into this shoe store and I told the man that I wanted him to get her a pair of boots.
It was a Jewish man and his son. He came back with one pair of boots that would not fit.
He tried several pairs, but they were all too small. Mickey had big feet. I told the guy,
―You get a pair of boots on her and I‘ll give you an extra fifty dollars.‖ The old man and his son were trying to get this pair of boots on anyway that they could. The old guy was pulling up and the son was pushing her leg down. Both of them got the boots on. I paid him and we went on about our way. We spent the day in Las Vegas and left the next morning for Victorville. I thought that those two guys trying to get those boots on Mickey was one of the funniest damn things I had ever seen. After we got back to Victorville, I realized how insane this was. Anyway, we got the marriage annulled. I had to pay for her to go to beauty operator‘s school. It cost me six hundred dollars and that was the end of that!
In the meantime, I was trying to run the business in the day time and trying to party at night. The business was still making money, but I didn‘t know how to handle money.
Hindsight, I now know I should have had a person or company to control my money or assets.
I got a job in Martinez, California erecting a good sized metal two story building. I took two of my best welders that knew a lot about erecting buildings. The man that I was putting the building up for gave me a free hand and didn‘t bother me on the job. I hired several contractors to prepare the building site and do the grading and cement work. We roomed at a motel in Martinez for five days then on Friday night we drove down to Victorville.
To get the job started on the building in Martinez there was some dirt work that had to be prepared first. This was the grading and leveling of the building pad plus the footings had to be excavated for the trusses as depicted in the architecture‘s drawings. I found this one backhoe and dozer contractor in Martinez owned and operated by a man in his sixties.
This old gents name was Hampton, but he preferred to be called Hamp. Anyway, Hamp was hired and he knew what he was doing for he graded the pad off perfect then took his backhoe and dug out the footings for each of the several supports for the trusses.
During the time Hamp was performing this work he would take a break and we would all sit around drink coffee or eat lunch. We all took breaks whenever we wanted to. Hamp told us all about where he came from. It just so happened that he had migrated from Arkansas during World War II and had worked at one of the defense plants close by.
Hamp had purchased fifteen acres outside of Martinez on the North side of Highway number 4 and had also purchased another two acres on the opposite side of Highway number 4 where he built his home and shops.
By the time we had met Hamp he had built a very good business and had become wealthy enough to be independent of having to worry about any living expenses. Where Hamp bad built his home a new development had been erected and sold off. Hamp said that he had just bought his wife a new Volkswagen and she kept it parked in a car port next to the house. Anyway, he said one of his neighbor‘s from the new housing area had a big old bird dog and that every evening about five o‘clock this dog would come down the street and piss on the wheels of his wife‘s car.
He said he had tried several things to make the dog quit, but couldn‘t get the job done. So one of his friends that was an electrician told him that he could fix that old dog. So that he wouldn‘t put his mark on his wife‘s car. Hamp said the guy took an electric wire, stretched it all the way around the Volkswagen, stripped the wires clean where it was across the wheels and offset the wire where it couldn‘t touch anything. The electrician plugged it in an electric socket in the wall next to the driveway and they sat down in the house to watch and see if the old dog would come by.
Sure enough, here came the old bird old down the street, turned into the driveway, came up heisted his leg, and let loose. Hamp said, ―You ain‘t never heard such squalling!‖ The dog headed back up the street sixty miles an hour. He said the dog hasn‘t‘ been back and if we didn‘t believe him he would take us down to his house where he could show us the claw marks in the concrete where the old dog took off.
Then one day Hamp came by the job site, sat down with us to have a cup of coffee, and told us he had been stopped by a California Highway Patrolman. Hamp had an old Chevy dump truck that he used to pull a trailer to transport his backhoe with. The old Chevy dump truck was really beat up, but Hamp said it still did the job.
Hamp said while the officer was inspecting his truck for safety, he looked inside the cab to check things out. Anyway, Hamp said he had a two by four with a notch cut in each end of it so he could put one end on his brake pedal and the other end under the seat so it couldn‘t fall out. The officer asked Hamp what the stick was doing jammed into the brake pedal like that. Hamp was all upset and said that any damn fool ought to know that was his emergency break.
Hamp also had himself several coon dogs that he still went hunting with. He was telling us about one dog he had been training to hunt coons, but the dog would run across the trail of a deer and chase it.
So, to break the dog from chasing deer he said he got a 55 gallon barrel fixed the lid so it could be locked into place, cut several holes in the ends then went to a store where he could buy some deer musk. He then sprayed that deer musk inside the barrel, put the dog inside the barrel and rolled it down a little hill. He said when he got down where the barrel had stopped, and got the dog out it had pissed and shit all over the barrel, but the dog never ran or chased anymore deer.
I don‘t remember what ever happened to Hamp. I know he sold his property to Safeway Market and they built a small mall on it. I‘m sure he kept his house. I‘ve been by his place several times, but all the property he owned had been built up into stores so I guess he made out alright since he said he had paid twenty-five dollars an acre for the property back in the 1940‘s.
• • •Usually on Sunday evening we drove back to Martinez. This job went along real good until we got the steel frame all in place. We left it for the night, but when we got back the next morning someone from one of the unions had come by used the tractor or skip loader I had rented and pulled all of our steel frame work down.
We had some trouble with the unions then. They would drive up on the property, start taking pictures of my trucks, and anything else they thought would intimidate us. They also put a picket out front to try and keep any deliveries being made to the job site.
I found out that one picket by itself is not a picket line. They have to have at least five pickets standing out in front before it becomes a picket line. The union representatives from several different unions kept coming by and harassing me and taking pictures, so I got me a camera then when they would drive up I started taking their picture and each morning I would take a picture of the new picket they had posted. One picket is just an information picket. After about three days of my taking all their pictures the pickets were gone and I didn‘t see any more of the union bosses again.
• • •One weekend after work I drove back home and was sitting at home on a Saturday evening feeling sorry for myself. I knew there was this guitar picker over at Roy Rogers Apple Valley Inn. It was also a dude ranch. This guitar picker‘s name was Glenn Rogers (no kin to Roy). On Saturday evenings after dark they had a big steak Bar-B-Q and a hay ride. I went over to see Glenn and have a steak. Glenn was working as a walk around troubadour. I sat down for a few minutes with Glenn and he told me to stay around that he had met two women who were available to go dancing for the evening. He said he would be off work at ten O‘clock and to meet him in the lounge area. So I did. About ten thirty Glenn showed up with these two really good looking ladies. He introduced me and the one that was supposed to go with me. Her name was Vangie L. Butterfield.
We sat down in a booth, had a drink, danced some, and I asked Vangie if she would like to go over to Victorville where the famous lounge and motel the Green Tree Inn was located. She was agreeable so we left, went to the Green Tree Inn, danced, and talked a lot. She said she was from San Jose and had to go back the next day. She was going to catch the bus back. I told her I was going right by San Jose on my way to my job in Martinez and why not ride along with me.
She seemed happy about that so the next morning about ten A.M. I went over to her motel room at the Apple Valley Inn. She was ready so we took off. It is about a six hour drive from Apple Valley to San Jose. I told her I would like to see more of her if she wanted to. I took her to her home in a mobile home park next to another mobile home park where her mother and dad lived.
Vangie and I started seeing each other on a regular basis. I knew she was interested in me because she would drive sixty five miles from San Jose to Martinez to see me out on the job site. After awhile, I decided to get rid of all my property in the Victorville area and move up to San Jose with Vangie. Victorville had too many negative memories for me to deal with any longer.
• • •Sometimes, life is like a wagon wheel. In the movies when it‘s going forward it looks like it‘s turning backward.
Old Harold 2010
• • •I got into trouble with the income tax people. I owed them fourteen thousand dollars and had no way to pay it, so I borrowed three thousand dollars from Tom Felkins the friend I went pheasant hunting with. I told him he could buy into my business if I didn‘t pay him back. Anyway, I didn‘t‘ pay him back because of not attending to my business like I should have, so Tom became a partner in the business. I had to get away from Victorville if I was to ever regain my sanity. The business did not mean that much to me anymore. I told Tom to give me two thousand five hundred dollars and I would take the best portable welding rig and he could have the business. So that‘s what I did.
I also owned a house on two and a half acres in Apple Valley with a swimming pool and lots of extras. There was this couple who ran a café in Victorville by the name of Paul and Mary. They had always been very nice to all the AA people. We used to go there after our meetings to eat and talk. They had always wanted to buy themselves a home. I went out to see them and told them they could have my house for free, furniture and all.
Since I was moving and didn‘t want anything to remind me of my life in Apple Valley and Victorville.
They said no, they couldn‘t take the house and all for nothing. They gave me a thousand dollars and I gave them the title. That‘s how I left Victorville making a geographical change hoping to regain some sense of stability and be happy again.
• • •Vangie and I got married in Reno. She worked for the telephone company and had almost enough time to retire. She had a lot of friends where she worked and they all went together and gave us a real nice wedding. I didn‘t have a job and Vangie didn‘t like for me to not work and bring home a check. I tried to tell her to give me a little time until I could make some contacts for welding jobs and everything would be okay.
There was a fellow named Louie that had a garage. He had a small room where he had been trying to do some welding. He didn‘t know anything about welding. I got a couple of jobs while in the meantime I had started looking for a steady job. Louie got this job for some wrought iron for Apple Computer. They wanted to dress up there new buildings with wrought iron between columns along these walkways with gates going into these entrances and exits. They wanted all the gates and each panel to have an apple design made up to look exactly like there logo with the bite out of it.
This was a big job as Apple Computer had just got started and on its way up. I had ideas that this could be my big break. With my equipment and knowledge, I made up jigs so that all the apples looked exactly alike. I built the fence panels and gates for all of Apple‘s building in Cupertino, California. At that time I think it was about five buildings that they occupied. After I got all the gates and panels fabricated, we both installed them.
Louie collected the money and paid me the same as if I was an employee that was working for hourly wages, when I thought we were partners in this project.
I left him and started looking for a steady job. Ever since I had met Vangie I had stopped drinking and was attending AA meeting again on a regular basis. I had a clear mind again and was setting myself some goals to work toward. I knew it would not be easy.
• • •After I moved to San Jose and I had got married to Vangie I started going back to AA. I was still very depressed and feeling all alone. One night, while attending an AA meeting and I had found out I could live again without drinking by attending the AA meetings, I met this guy by the name of Jack Holt in San Jose and he became my sponsor. This meeting where I met him was located at a restaurant which was also known as Jack‘s.
Jack Holt had no interest in this restaurant. Anyway, Jack for some reason spotted me and asked if he could talk to me after the meeting. I agreed and we found a booth and we talked for a very long period of time.
Jack saw that I was depressed and down in the dumps. He asked me if I had a sponsor to which I told him I did not. Jack then told me he would be my sponsor and so without my asking him to be my sponsor he adopted me. After having talked for awhile Jack told me,
―I think you‘re ready for me to give you the golden key.‖ He said the golden key is nothing more than a positive affirmation; he gave me an example which went like this:
―I am now going to golden key myself to be relieved of my depression for God is with me.‖
He said use this affirmation and say it to yourself ten times a thousand time a day. Say it constantly. Whenever you think of it and things will happen for you because you will become to believe. He said, ―And besides by that time something else will come along that will upset you so golden key it also. Soon your life will make a change and maybe if you are not too stubborn you may by happy. Well, at least half of the time.
To give you an example of what I‘m talking about somewhere around June of 1991, I had just bought me a new F250 Ford pickup and I took off for Texas. I stopped off in Ls Vegas and gambled until about midnight then went to bed because I had to get up and go on down the road the next day. Along about four A.M I had to use the bathroom and I had left the bathroom light on the same as I do at home or on the road.
I looked in the mirror, but everything looked fuzzy. I shut my right eye and I could see pretty good with the left one, but when I shut the left eye I couldn‘t see anything just black darkness. I became fearful since I didn‘t know anyone in Las Vegas, so I got all my things together went up to the garage where my pickup was parked, got in and headed back for San Juan Bautista where I had my fifth wheel trailer parked in an RV park and called this lady Patti that I was going with at the time. She demanded I come get her so she could take me to a doctor in Gilroy. I did as she asked and the doctor sent me to the hospital.
They made several checks on me and decided that I had experience a mini stroke. The eye doctor named Richard J. Harper who was an eye physician and surgeon checked my eyes and told me that I most likely would never see out of my right eye again. I made the statement to him that he was wrong that I would see out of it again because I had the power with me. I had to see Dr. Harper every two weeks for about six months, all the time golden keying my right eye to be well again. After about six months, Dr. Harper told me, ―I don‘t know what you are doing, but you have 20/20 vision again, so keep on doing whatever it is.
He said, ―I didn‘t believe you would see again because I looked behind your eye and I know those blood vessels that are supposed to feed that eye were blown up like a bomb had hit them. Anyway, your eye sight is very good again.‖ It is now April, 2011 and I still see Dr. Harper and I still don‘t need glasses. The power won out.
• • •There was this ad in the paper for a welder. I went out to look at what they had to do and it was a job with a rental company. The name of this rental company was Four Points Rents. I applied for the job and the office manager interviewing me asked me how much my wages had been before applying for this job. I told him I had been self employed, owned my own business, and had been making approximately one hundred fifty thousand dollars a year. He told me, ―Man, you‘re not going to make that kind of money here.‖ I told him I didn‘t expect to, all I wanted was a job. He told me to go back to the rear of the rental yard where all the maintenance shops were and see the foreman whose name was John Hammon.
After having been interviewed by John he said, ―Okay, you got a job, let me call Ted.‖
Ted was the manager I had talked to already. Ted wanted to see me again since I would have to fill out and sign a bunch of papers. Ted told me, ―We can only pay you four dollars an hour.‖ I said, ―That‘s okay, maybe after you see what I can do you will give me a raise.‖
I started work the next Monday. We were working ten hour days, five days a week so I was getting in some overtime. Anyway, I was the welder and painter. They had a real nice paint booth so I had to paint all the new equipment and old equipment that needed it along with repairing all the broken equipment.
I was a busy man. I had to repair everything from back hoes, skip loaders, down to lawn mowers and anything else including fabricating and installing hitches on trucks. This was the same as a job shop like the one I gave away in Victorville.
The man that owned Four Points Rents had never came around and I really didn‘t even know what he looked like. The only thing I could go by was what the guys in the shop including the foremen John was telling me about him. They told me he was a big guy about thirty eight years old and was real hard to please. I was there for about two weeks and had made a friend with the purchasing agent whose name was Don Marler.
There was six new large generators delivered to the company. They had to have draw bars so they could be towed, a rear bumper, along with fenders, and ovals with company logo on each oval. Then they had to be painted the company colors.
The name of the boss or owner was Charles Johnisee (AKA Chuck). I had been given the understanding that he was a big man and had a short temper, also that he would come back to the shops to check out the equipment that had been repaired. If he checked a lawn mower out when he pulled the starter rope it had better start with one pull or he would pick it up and throw it across the yard.
Chuck was the president of the California Rental Association at this time. He had to leave to attend a weeklong conference in Southern California. He arrived back on the Monday after the conference. All the guys in the shop were all worried as they said after he was gone for awhile when he returned the first thing was to come back to the shops. Sure enough there comes CHUCK down across the yard from the office. All the guys were standing around looking at me as they knew from past experience that he would pick on the new guy first.
He was a big man, about six feet five inches and weighed about two hundred sixty pounds. True to his past history he came into my little shop first. I was working on the last one of the generators. Chuck asked me how long it took me to do one of the generators. I told him that it took me six hours. This was where he started to put me down or try and intimidate me by saying, ―Oh shit, you‘re good, you should do one of those in one and a half hours.‖ ―I know cause your really good.‖ All the other guys were standing around watching what was going on. I had faced a lot better guys than this guy thought he was.
I looked up at Chuck and said, ―Mr. Johnisee, I‘m not the best welder in the world and I‘m not the worst, but there is one thing I do know and that‘s what my capabilities are, and I don‘t need a big son-of- a-bitch like you to tell me what they are!‖ He turned bright red, headed back up to his office. I figured he was going to get my check. I kept on working and about eleven o‗clock my new friend Don Marler, the purchasing agent came back and walked into my shop. He asked me, ―What the hell did you say to Chuck when he was back here?‖ Don said that Chuck had called a meeting for all the section heads, yard managers, and any other bosses for the weekly business meeting. Don said the first thing he told everyone was, ―Don‘t any of you guys go back there and fuck around with that old welder leave him alone!‖
Not long after that, Chuck started coming by my part of the shop to visit and talk over things. He wanted to talk a lot about his personal problems with me and would ask me my thoughts on what was going on in his life. I think he needed someone who he could trust to unload what was going on in his life. I didn‘t ever lie to him or take his side on everything. I told him what I thought, and he understood it was my way of doing things if I had to handle some of the situations he had got himself into. We became very good friends and still are to this day. He has retired to Arizona and we don‘t keep in contact much anymore.
It wasn‘t long before I was making higher wages than the yard managers. I was saving him a lot of money by building or fabricating a lot of the things he was renting; trailers for equipment, car trailers, furniture dollies, and lots of other things. I worked for him for about five years or until he sold out to U.S. Rentals. He wanted to be a millionaire before he was forty and he did.
• • •I continued to work for U.S. Rentals and the local manager, Chris, put me in charge of all the maintenance shops. There were nineteen mechanics on the payroll. I had watched them and their boss over a long period of time. They were smoking dope, drinking beer, and punching each other‘s time cards in and out. There wasn‘t much maintenance going on. I called them all together and told them I would be standing by the time clock morning and evening. No more lunch in the parking lot and no more hanging around out back of the shops. The first time I would warn them, the second time, bye-bye!
On the third day, I fired the first man and just about every morning I would walk a man up to the office and tell the girls to give him his check. The office girls started calling me
―The Slasher.‖ I finally wound up with nine mechanics and got more equipment back on line than the other guy did with nineteen mechanics.
Everything went along very good after all the men that were left did an excellent job.
Then one day, we got a new district manager. He had control of all U.S. Rental yards in California and Oregon. He was a little red headed guy named Alexander. He told Chris, the manager of all the yards in San Jose that he would have to get rid of me and replace me with another man since I didn‘t have a college education. Chris came down to the shop and informed me of what he had to do. He told me he had to replace me with another man that had a college background. Chris felt bad about this situation, but it was out of his hands. The new manager wouldn‘t let Chris give me any severance pay.
I had just completed building a new portable welding rig with all the tools necessary to do most any type of on the job repairs. I asked Chris if I might buy the welding truck since there was no one around that knew how to use it. He asked me how much I could pay for it. I told him five thousand dollars. Chris said to go back to the shop and find him the company unit numbers for the truck and the welding machine. I got the numbers and brought them back to Chris and he looked them up on his inventory and said I could have it for four thousand dollars.
Harold right after being laid off from US Rentals 1980
This gave me a break to be able to start my portable welding service. Chris also gave me my first job to design and fabricate ten heavy duty equipment trailers for U.S. Rentals.
Chris allowed me to build those trailers in the shop where all the welding was performed for the company. One of the reasons for letting me go also was because the company did not want any of their personnel to build or repair their equipment. Chris gave me this job to make up for my not being paid any severance pay. He bought all the materials already cut to size according to my own design.
Chris paid me two thousand five hundred dollars for each trailer. I had two of the men who were welders and had been laid off also to help me. We had all ten trailers completed in about twenty days. I picked up a check for twenty five thousand dollars, cashed it, paid the two men working with me, and I was on my way once again. The trailers must have been sturdy and put together the right way as I was on vacation driving through Texas on my way to Austin when I saw one of them being towed down I-20 right out of Midland Texas. This made my heart feel so good.
• • •The Thinger
Some glad, some sad, some good, some so bad you can‘t escape cause the thinger knows.