I was born November 22nd, 1901 in the "big red house" in St. Maries, Idaho. My name, for which I have never had any enthusiasm, but with which I have learned to live, was given to me by my paternal grandmother, Jennie N. "Danna" Daggett. We kids had difficulty saying "grandma", hence "Danna". Danna hated Idaho. Hate might be too strong a word, but she definitely disliked what she called "the wilderness", and St. Maries really was in those days.
I have some fairly clear recollections of St. Maries during the first eight years of my life. I remember my dad building a new house. It was, and still is, one of the nicest houses in the town. I remember the big brick schoolhouse and fishing in the river. Steamboats coming from Couer d'Alene. Picnics on St. Maries Peak. The coming of the railroad and being helped to climb up to the engineers seat in the locomotive; And, of course, the big forest fire that came so close to destroying the town.
We kids did not have any, or very little, association with organized religion. The opposition of my mother's adoptive parents, or guardians, or whatever they were, to my parents' marriage because of religious differences served to alienate my mother and father from religion. As I understand it, my mother's adoptive parents, the Gays, were Catholic and my father's family had no formal church affiliation. The Gays went to great lengths to stop the marriage and, after the marriage, the local priest visited my parents and told them all of their children would be "illegitimate". That's the polite term for what he said we children would be.
My dad, like his father, thought the grass was always greener on the other side of the fence. That he could do better somewhere else. Following this reasoning, he decided his family would be better off on a farm in Canada. In 1910 we moved to 320 acres 16 miles east of Carstairs, Alberta. I was eight years old. How we managed to live in the small house that was on the farm I don't know. One of the first projects, along with everything else, was a new house. Dad took a wagon and team of horses west to the foothills of the Rockies, cut down trees, hauled them back, hewed them into timbers, and built a fine two-story house. It had a large kitchen with a coal burning cook stove, a parlor, and bedrooms. But no indoor plumbing. He and a hired hand also built a big barn, a new chicken house, and a long hog house. As I think of it now it seems a lot was accomplished in the short time we were there.
The winters in Alberta were severe. I remember once when it was 52 degrees below. It was a dry cold and it would make the telephone lines sing. We used coal for fuel and winter was the time to stock up. Dad would hitch the four horses to the bobsled, with a large box on it, and go to the coal mines near Acme, about 15 miles from home. It was a two-day trip. He had a mustache at that time and often had icicles hanging where his breath had frozen.
I remember the time he killed a hog one cold day, dipped it in barrel of hot water, scraped off the bristles, cleaned it, and hung it up to cool. That night it froze so solid that when he turned it upside down on a plank it was supported by just its ears and tail.
Spring was a welcome time of year. We would see a Chinook Arch in the western sky. A warm Chinook Wind would follow. It was a busy time of plowing and seeding. There were no eight-hour days. It was dawn to dusk. Coal oil lamps and lanterns furnished our light. The only utility we had was a crank telephone.
Everything would grow fast in the warm sunshine and rich soil. Dad would make trips to Carstairs with eggs and butter to be traded for other things; wearing apparel, foods, etc. Much of our clothing was ordered from a mail order catalog. It took about a month to get an order delivered and if I was lucky enough to get shoes I would wear them even if they were not a good fit. We had Rural Route mail delivery and one of the highlights was when our friends in Idaho would send a roll of the Sunday comics.
We kids attended Green Acres School, a two-room schoolhouse, about two and a half miles from our home. We usually walked but did have a pony, "Queenie", that we rode sometimes. It was a pleasant hike in the spring, with sunshine, green countryside, and the sound of meadowlarks. Groundhogs and gophers were everywhere. Farmers would put poisoned grain in their holes and kill large numbers. Sometimes, on the way home from school, we kids would dip water from a roadside puddle and pour it down a hole. When the half-drowned gopher came up we would whack it on the head. Cruel kids!
Summer was a good time of year, with fields of hay and grain. In this northern latitude the evenings were long. Daylight lasted till 9 P.M. and later. Sometimes we would have hail storms that were so heavy they would flatten some of the grain fields. During the bad storms we would hold pillows against the window panes to keep them from being broken by the hail stones.
Harvest time was very busy. We used a binder, which cut the grain and tied it in bundles. Later the bundles would be put in "shocks"; several bundles stood on end, leaning together. Threshing was a community activity. The huge steam tractor, with a separator and operating crew, would visit the various farms. The farmers would help one another hauling sheaves, or bundles, to the threshing machine and hauling the grain to the storehouse. The women would prepare mountains of food for their family, friends, and the crew. The steam tractor burned straw for fuel and it was quite a sight with smoke pouring out the stack and the long belt running from the engine to the separator.
After my mother died in 1912 we moved to California. Danna came up to Canada for a little while to take care of us kids, but she didn't like being away from her home in Santa Rosa. Dad sold the farm at auction. We came south on the train and made a stop in Couer d'Alene, Idaho to visit relatives. This is where I first rode in an automobile. It was a Buick. I also remember the stop at Shasta Springs, California, with the strong taste and smell of sulfur in the water. We made a stop at Napa where I saw a man in a straight jacket. I was told he was being taken to the "insane asylum". I also saw my first palm trees.
Danna had a small house on Sepastapol Avenue in Santa Rosa. Dad put up a tent house in the backyard as sleeping quarters for us boys. We were really living below what is now called the "poverty level", but we got along somehow. I sold San Francisco newspapers in the streets and saloons for spending money. The two years we lived in Santa Rosa were pretty carefree for me. My chores were to help with the bread making, and sometimes with cinnamon rolls, and wash dishes. Other than that I pretty much came and went as I pleased.
I never had a bike but my friend Dolphie Rickliff had one and we used to ride double. The wheels of a roller skate attached to a two by four with a handle (a forerunner of today's skateboard) was a popular way for kids to get around. We had a swimming hole in Santa Rosa Creek and tickets to the movies were earned by peddling handbills. Dolphie lived with his "Granny" and we often had picnics with sandwiches and some of her homemade root beer.
Dad worked for Lee Brothers for a while. They were a draying company. Later he got a "Reo Speed Wagon" and operated "Daggett's Quick Auto Express". He did light hauling, trunks to the train station, etc. I believe it was the first motorized hauling in Santa Rosa. It was ahead of its time and not successful. He also operated the "Idaho Grocery". That wasn't very successful either. My dad was a hard worker, but not a very good business man. He sold too many things on credit, and many people never paid their bills. I think it was early in 1915 when Dad went with Arthur to the recruiting office on Goat Island, in San Francisco Bay, and signed papers so that Art could join the navy. Art was 17. Later that year I met him in San Francisco and we visited the World's Fair. I still have pleasant memories of Santa Rosa.
It was about this time that Dad became interested in the lady that lived next door to Danna. Margaret Moore was a buxom woman about Dad's age. She was a widow with two daughters, Mossy and Tillie. They were actually her grand daughters, children of her daughter and son-in-law, both deceased. She had adopted the girls so they were her grand daughters, but also her daughters. We made quite a brood. Even with Arthur away in the Navy, we made a total of seven kids.
Apparently my father could see no future for his family in Santa Rosa so he started looking for "greener pastures". He and a friend made a trip to Oregon and when he returned we were packed up and moved to New Pine Creek, Oregon. We had a Maxwell vehicle, something like today's pickups. I don't know how we managed to ride in, or on, it with camping equipment and most of our earthly belonging. The only part of the trip I remember was from Redding to Alturas. It was rough going up the hills and, of course, all dirt roads. We kids would all get out and walk, or run, behind the Maxwell with rocks to put behind the wheels when Dad would stop to cool the engine. One night we stayed at Burney Falls, now a State Park.
New Pine Creek is right on the California - Oregon border. We lived in an old two-story house on the Oregon side of town. We must have hit the bottom of the financial barrel. Dad had no regular job, but I don't remember being hungry. We kids attended the two-room schoolhouse. I got the job as janitor. I would get to school early to build fires in the two stoves, when needed, and swept out the school in the afternoon. In the winter I would break a trail through the snow for the other kids to follow.
I don't know why we moved to New Pine Creek but I suppose Dad had a plan. For whatever reason it apparently didn't work out and we moved to Bend, Oregon after about a year. Bend was a booming sawmill town on the Deshutes River. My father got a job as "scaler" measuring the board feet in logs at the Shevlin-Hixon mills. Later he worked as a carpenter, his real trade, and helped build the "Pilot Butte Inn". Ernie got a job as "dogger", riding one of the steam carriages used to draw logs passed the saws. During school vacations I worked in the sash and door factory. It was hard work. 10 hours a day for 10 cents an hour. One day I really felt sick; sore throat, headache, aching bones, etc. I asked the boss if I could go home for the rest of day. He said, "Sure, go home if you want to. But if you do, don't come back." I didn't want to lose my job, even if it was only 10 cents an hour, so I stayed.
We lived in a small house, which Dad built, on Shasta Place, not far from the mills. We had a two-story garage with sleeping quarters in the loft for us boys. I had a paper route with the "Oregonian", a Portland newspaper. The paper was a morning edition in Portland but got to Bend in the evening. My route included the sawmill bunk houses and I always collected in advance there. The workmen were not very reliable. They would often leave town without warning. Lawrence would help me on Sunday when the paper was heavier. By now the United States had entered World War I, and Ernie joined the navy.
Restlessness, or shortage of work, brought on a move to Tacoma, Washington after about two years in Bend. The family made the trip in Dad's Overland. It was really loaded. I followed on the train after finishing the 8th grade. The first place we lived was on McKinley Hill. Dad worked at several jobs, including carpenter at Camp Lewis. I got a job at Wheeler-Osgood sash and door factory and went to high school at night. Transportation was by bicycle. Later I left Wheeler-Osgood and went to work at Todd shipyard building steel ships. It was war time and a 10,000 ton ship was launched every week. I worked as a rivet passer, a reamer's helper, and finished as a reamer and driller. It was hard, dirty work, with some danger. I wore "tin pants" and a jacket and crawled around in the bilge. On cold, wet days it was not very pleasant. When the Armistice was announced we all quit work and walked several miles into town to celebrate.
During this time we had moved to the Proctor District, out toward Point Defiance. Why, I don't know. Later we moved to 6th Avenue. Again, I don't know why. Eventually I went back to work for Wheeler-Osgood. We had always worked 10 hours a day, 6 days a week. When the 8 hour day was announced there was much jubilation. About this time I bought an "Indian Scout" motorcycle. It was much better than a bicycle for getting around. I had several spills, but none serious.
In 1922 things were not too good. All the younger kids were still in school, and Dad didn't have much work. We were still living in the rented house on 6th Avenue. My folks heard of the building boom in Southern California and decided to make another move. I was still at Wheeler-Osgood and it was decided that I should stay in Tacoma with Lawrence and Mossy until their term recess. The rest of the family traveled south in the car, camping along the way. We came later on a coast steamer, a "Dollar Line" ship.
It was while Lawrence, Mossy, and I were still in Tacoma that we had a narrow escape. I woke up in the middle of the night and smelled smoke. I aroused Lawrence and Mossy and we went out a window onto a porch roof. When we got to the ground I ran a few blocks to the firehouse yelling "FIRE!" They had the fire out pretty soon. Major damage was confined to the kitchen, but the whole house had smoke damage. The cause of the fire was never determined.
Shortly after the fire the three of us packed all our belongings and sailed for Los Angeles. The boat trip was enjoyable, after the first day. It took that long to get over being seasick. We made a short stop in San Francisco, then continued south. The trip between San Francisco and Los Angeles was the best. The sea was so calm it was like a big pool. After docking at Wilmington we rode the Pacific Electric "Big Red Cars" into Los Angeles to meet our folks. As I remember it was December 22, 1922.
My folks had rented living quarters over a grocery store on So. Main Street, near Florence Avenue. I had no definite idea of what kind of job I was going to look for, but I knew it was not going to be factory work. It was so nice being in Los Angeles at that time of year that I didn't hurry to look for a job. About mid January I saw a help wanted ad that interested me. It asked for "young men to do electrical work". I didn't know much about electricity, but the ad didn't say anything about "experience", and I was young, about 21.
When I went to the Boyle Heights address given in the ad I was surprised to see 30 or more men were ahead of me. I assumed they were all more qualified in electrical work than I was and I hesitated to join them. After walking around the block a few times, thinking it over, I suddenly remembered a story I read on the ship coming down from Tacoma. It was about a man who spent most of his life being afraid of "Ghosts What Ain't". He had fears of talking to people, and doing other things, for no reason. When circumstances forced him to do these things he discovered there was nothing to be afraid of. He had been afraid of ghosts that didn't exist. With this in mind, I joined the group.
Much to my surprise most of the applicants were hired. The company was Western Electric, the manufacturing and supply division of the Bell System (AT&T). In those days Western Electric also installed all the central office equipment. The conversion from manual switchboards and operators to dialing systems was just getting under way and a lot of new employees were required. Many of the applicants failed to return the next day. It may not have been the sort of work they expected, but I think many of them were afraid of learning the "color code" used in wiring. Actually, it was quite simple; blue, orange, green, brown, slate . . . blue, orange, green, brown, slate . . .
I hadn't the slightest notion of the kind of work I was getting into but it sounded interesting, and certainly better than the factory work I had been doing. After two weeks of "basic training", learning the color code, how to sew cable, make simple wire forms, and solder connections. I was told to report to the "Trinity, Van Dyke, and Tucker" telephone office at 716 So. Olive Street. The date was January 12, 1923.
This was a whole new world to me. I was impressed by the clean, tiled men's rooms with doors on the stalls, wash basins with soap, paper towels, etc. We worked five and a half days a week. Eight and a half hours five days, and four and a half on Saturdays. The pay was $17.46 a week, payable in cash. Some of the work was on a "piece work" basis. If the operation was completed in less time than had been allotted, the surplus was divided among those who worked on it. This was P.R.E. - Piece Rate Earnings. It was not very satisfactory. Too much shoddy workmanship and unequal earnings. It was abandoned about a year after I started work, and later the 40 hour week was adopted.
I had been used to hard, rough work, and even the more unpleasant tasks on this new job were not objectionable to me. These were busy times and we worked quite a bit of overtime. Sometimes we would work all day, through the night, and all the next day. More than once I fell asleep on the streetcar after such a stretch. We were subject to transfers to any of the many telephone offices in the city. I thought my own car would be much better than taking the streetcars all the time, so I bought a 1924 Model T Ford.
In 1925 the company had a temporary lull in activity and we were asked to take 2 weeks off, without pay of course. A friend, Kenneth Hattell, and I decided to take a trip. We loaded our camping gear in my Ford and headed for Yosemite. I wish everyone could get their first look at Yosemite Valley as we did. These were the days of dirt, one way, control roads. The road rounded a bend at "Inspiration Point", and the Valley came into view. "Inspiration Point" is above the present tunnel entrance to Yosemite, and is accessible now only by trail.
While camping in the Valley we hiked, actually more of a climb, up the "Ledge Trail" to Glacier Point. This trail is closed now. It is considered too dangerous. There were no guard rails at Glacier Point in those days and I had my picture taken standing on an overhanging rock. We watched them prepare the "Fire Falls", another event that is a thing of the past.
After a few days in the Valley we headed for Tioga Pass. Many people told us we wouldn't be able to make it in a Ford. The road was too steep. The Ford had the gas tank mounted under the seat and the gas was fed to the engine by gravity. On steep hills the car was at such an angle that the gas tank was below the engine, hence no gas. I anticipated this and had soldered a valve stem to the gas cap. A few strokes of the tire pump filled the tank with air, forcing gas to the engine. We no longer had to rely on gravity. I also had my Ford equipped with a "Ruckstell" axle which gave me additional gearing options. Steep hills were never a problem to me.
Soon after starting at Western Electric I met John Peterson, a "green pea" like me. We hit it off and spent many days hiking and fishing in the San Gabriel Canyon. Early in 1926 we were both transferred to San Diego and lived in a rooming house there. I have pleasant memories of trips to the back country around San Diego.
We also made a trip to the Grand Canyon. We drove my Model T Ford east to Yuma, Arizona, across the old "plank road". We visited Phoenix, Roosevelt Dam, and drove up the "Apache Trail", which really was a trail in those days. We stopped at the Petrified Forest and then headed on to the Grand Canyon. One day was spent riding mules down the "Bright Angel Trail" to the Colorado River. Later that year we were both transferred to Fresno. We made many trips to nearby parts of the Sierra Nevada; Yosemite, Sequoia, etc., and many trips over the old "Ridge Route" on visits to Los Angeles.
In August 1927 our job was completed. Most of the Installation people were sent to other locations, but I was put on temporary transfer to the Telephone Company for a few weeks until the new office was put in service. I was given the option of a permanent transfer to the Telephone Company as Central Office Switchman, or staying with Western Electric Installation and going to San Francisco. Maintenance work seemed a little dull and routine, so it was off to San Francisco. I got a room in a private residence and, on occasion, would get up at 5 A.M. on Saturdays and drive to the Ferry Building, board the ferry to Oakland, and then drive to Lake Chabot for a round of golf. Silly!
In November 1927 several men were asked to transfer to Minneapolis, Minnesota. One fellow I knew didn't want to go so I volunteered to go in his place. My willingness to go calls for an explanation. When we lived in Bend, Oregon I became a member of the "Lone Scouts of America", a kind of Boy Scouts for rural boys. The organization published a magazine and subscribers were invited to contribute writing, drawings, photos, etc. After we moved to Tacoma I submitted, and had published, several cartoons. Among the other contributors was a boy in Kings Mountain, North Carolina named Lloyd Falls. He wrote poetry, and we exchanged letters for three or four years. After we moved to Los Angeles I got no more letters and so I wrote him to find out why. After some delay I got a reply, not from Lloyd but from his sister, Norma. She gave me the sad news that Lloyd had died from a ruptured appendix. This was about 1923. Her first letter resulted in the exchange of many letters. When the chance to go to Minneapolis came up I reasoned that it was much closer to North Carolina, and perhaps I could go there to meet the girl who wrote such interesting letters.
I went to Minneapolis by way of Tacoma. My folks were visiting there at the time so I made the detour. Western Electric paid the expenses. I arrived in mid-November and it was snowing beautifully. But there I was, low shoes, light clothing, and no overcoat or hat. I soon corrected that. After a few days in a hotel I got a room in another private home. It was a very severe winter and we did little else but work. I had lots of overtime.
I was really happy to see Spring arrive so I could get out and see some of the countryside. Model A Fords had come out in 1928 and I tried to order one. I had my name in for three months but none were available. I bought a Chevrolet Coupe instead. A nice little car.
I was entitled to two weeks vacation, and tried to get two extra weeks, so that I could drive to North Carolina. My request for the two extra weeks was denied so I made the trip by train. Of course, Norma and I had continued our "mail order romance" and she knew and approved of my plans.
Our first meeting was on a street corner in Charlotte, North Carolina, where Norma worked for Western Union. We went to Norma's home where I met her father and sister, Ivy. As I think about it after all these years I guess we were kind of "nutty". I knew little about her and, of course, she knew little about me. Anyway, we bought rings and were married by the Justice of the Peace in the Mecklinburg County Courthouse on June 25th, 1928. I had to get back to work, and Norma couldn't leave on such short notice, so I returned to Minneapolis and she followed in a few weeks. Who ever heard of people meeting on a street corner, getting married, and parting all in one week? The whole thing was kind of crazy. But, as the saying goes, we lived happily ever after.
We lived in a tiny second floor apartment and started to put together some of the things needed for day to day living. After all these years we still have some of those things! In September I was told I was being transferred to Des Moines, Iowa. I was glad. At least it was south. But it didn't make any difference. The Winter of 1928-29 was one of the worst in Iowa's history.
We found a place to live in a large house that had been converted to apartments. It was near Drake University and a couple of other Western Electric families lived in the same building. One of these couples, Catherine and Warren Lester "Father" Merrill, became our close friends. In the Spring we were able to explore some of the surrounding country. It was in Des Moines that I joined the Methodist Church. Except for a few times in Sunday School, as a boy, I had no affiliation with any church. But Norma was a Methodist. We had picnics with friends and drove to points of interest. In the late Summer Norma made a trip east to visit her family.
As our job neared completion, there was a lot of speculation regarding our next move. I was surprised, and delighted, when asked if I would like to return to the West Coast. I notified Norma of our impending move, and learned that she was ill and would be unable to return to Des
Moines for at least several days. I did not want to miss the chance to get back to the coast, so we decided that I should accept the transfer and she would join me in Los Angeles when she was able to travel.
I left Des Moines in September. It was a very hot drive west. I made stops in Oogalala, Nebraska, Denver, Walsenburg, and Cortez, Colorado, and made a side trip to Mesa Verde National Park. I still remember how great it was to drive down Cajon Pass and through the Orange groves toward Los Angeles.
I stayed a few days with my folks and then Norma arrived and we rented a duplex on Hooper Street, near Manchester Blvd. and Central Avenue. After a few months on Hooper we moved into a "court" near Manchester and Vermont. We were living there when Rodney, Jr. was born. We made another move to a duplex in the same area, and then rented a house on 93rd Street, near Avalon. By that time Ann had joined the family and we needed more room.
The "Great Depression" hit the Installation Department of Western Electric in Southern California and I was among hundreds of workers who were laid off. It was April 1st, 1933, but it was no "April Fool's" joke. I received a "termination allowance" of several hundred dollars. Many years earlier I bought a lot adjacent to my folk's home on 109th Street and we decided to use the allowance, and money we had saved in AT&T stock, to build a house. Those were tough times and we wanted to be sure of a roof over our heads.
My Dad drew up tentative plans and ordered material. I remember a huge truck delivered sand, gravel, and lumber enough to build the house. All for less than $400. Dad and I did all the work except plumbing, plastering, and wiring. In about three months we moved in. The interior was not finished, but it was livable. And, we didn't have to pay any more rent. As time went on we installed cabinets, laid hardwood floors, and put in a fireplace. A garage and driveway were added later.
As soon as we moved in I began to look for work. In the meantime, like everyone else, I signed up for work with the WPA. One day our neighbor came home dressed all in white. He told me that due to the NRA the Borden Milk Company was putting all milk delivery men on a 40 hour week, down from 48. That meant they needed to hire additional men. The next day I applied for a job and was told to come back in a few days. Meanwhile I worked on a WPA project digging holes for storm drains.
I made several trips to the Borden Creamery and was told each time to see them later. Finally I told the employment man that I would return every day until he either gave me a job or told me not to come back. The next time I went there I was hired and assigned to a route in Hollywood. It meant leaving home about 1 A.M. every day, but it was a job. I had to borrow $250 from the "Morris Plan" to put up as a bond. Joe Warden, my sister Evelyn's husband, who worked for Weber's Bakery, co-signed the note.
The first week the Route Foreman rode with me while I learned the route and how to keep the books. I was not used to getting on and off the truck and, after a couple of weeks, my ankles got so sore I could hardly walk. I was treated at an industrial hospital and put back in shape. I didn't make much money but we were able to buy food and pay the bills. We got our dairy products at wholesale, which helped a lot, and I was able to repay the $250 loan. Some of my Western Electric friends were out of work for a long time. A few got jobs on the street car and bus lines, working split shifts. I felt lucky having the job I did.
After a year on the milk route I heard that Douglas Aircraft was hiring at their plant in Santa Monica. I went there and was hired. When I quit the milk business they returned my bond money. The loan was already paid, so we actually saved $250. It was a long drive from 109th Street to Santa Monica and the pay, $22 a week, was poor. But I liked the work, and the hours were certainly better.
A year later a bunch of us were furloughed for two weeks while Douglas retooled for the DC 2 airplane. During that time a neighbor of ours, who was an appliance salesman, gave me a note of introduction to the employment man at Northrop Aircraft, near what is now LAX. I told our neighbor that if I got the job at Northrop we would buy a stove and refrigerator from him. I got the job, and we bought an O'Keefe & Merritt range (which we used for about 40 years) and a Servel gas refrigerator. No more ice box.
The work at Northrop was similar to Douglas but was mostly on experimental aircraft for the military. And, it was much closer to home. Jack Northrop, himself, used to come around and ask how we were doing. There was a lot of overtime, and we had no rent, and no house payments. We did O.K.
About a year after starting work at Northrop I heard that Western Electric was rehiring some of the people who had been laid off in 1933. I wrote a letter saying I was available and would appreciate being considered for re-employment. A few days later I was invited to come to the office. I was told I could return to Western Electric with the same status that I had when I left. That is, over ten years service, benefits, sick leave, vacations, etc., and the same pay - 84 cents an hour. Not much by today's standards, but O.K. in 1936.
When I told my boss at Northrop I was returning to my old job he tried to persuade me to stay. I enjoyed working on aircraft, but the benefits of 10 years with Western Electric were just too much to pass up. So, after 3 years and 3 months, I was back at work in a telephone office. In the next few years I had many interesting assignments in, and around, Los Angeles. I even spent a short time in Ojai, California.
Robert Hale joined our family in 1937 and Richard Lloyd arrived in 1940. World War Two started, on December 7th, 1941, and this brought a lot of change; rationing of gasoline, tires, food, etc. These were an inconvenience, but we learned to put up with it. Communications were considered a vital industry so I was able to get enough gasoline and tires to keep rolling.
One of my most interesting assignments during the war was a six week job on the Alcan Highway communication line. The military thought the Japanese might invade Alaska and they wanted a telephone line built. A big job. There were no microwave stations in those days. Everything was on poles and wires, with "repeater stations" every few miles to boost the signals. I was one of twelve men from Los Angeles assigned to the job. There were hundreds of others from all parts of the country.
My group left Los Angeles early in 1943. We went by train to Seattle, Washington where we were outfitted with Arctic clothing and "briefed" about the job. From there we went to Vancouver, British Columbia and through the Canadian Rockies on the Canadian Pacific Railway to Edmonton, Alberta. We were quartered on an Army base and given additional winter clothing; blanket lined trousers, wool sox, over shoes, parkas, fleece lined sleeping bags, etc.
After three days we boarded a somewhat rickety train and headed north. About one hundred miles later, and an all night ride in a an old car heated by a pot bellied stove, a bunch of us left the train at the small town of High Prairie, near Slave Lake. We were met by Army personnel and taken into the woods, about ten miles from town. This was Station T, and would be our home for about a month. There were nine Western Electric men and four Army men (3 guards and a cook) at the sight. We worked every day but one for over a month, and then were sent home. After the war I was promoted to Installation Supervisor.
In 1941, before the war, we borrowed my folks utility/camping trailer and took a vacation trip to Tacoma. We had four kids, and had to put up a tent every evening. I thought there had to be a better way to travel. In those days most of the Central Office switching equipment was shipped in heavy wooden crates. I always tried to save some of this lumber and, together with other materials I was able to scrounge, built a real travel trailer. It took most of the four years of the war. The trailer had a basic lower section with beds, eating area, and icebox. The top could be raised while we were stationary, with folding canvas panels at the sides. This was a forerunner of today's tent trailers.
Between Christmas 1947 and New Year I was doing some work on our Buick's fuel pump. After fixing it I tried to prime it with a little gasoline. This was careless, but I'd seen mechanics do this many times. Unfortunately, the engine backfired, igniting the small amount of gasoline. The flaming gasoline then ignited my right shirtsleeve. In short, I was severely burned from my wrist to my shoulder.
Norma quickly wrapped my arm in a wet towel and Charlie Iler, my brother-in-law, drove me to the 77th Street police station. From there I was taken to the Georgia Street Receiving Hospital and then to Queen of Angels Hospital.
I was in the hospital for nine weeks. They had to take skin grafts from my legs to cover the most serious burns. The worst times were when they changed the dressings. I can't really describe the pain.
It took months for me to regain use of my right arm, but we had planned a trip to Mammoth Lakes with the Sperry family and I wasn't going to let my mishap get in the way. I put a "brodie knob" on the steering wheel so I could steer with one arm, Norma stacked pillows beside me so I could prop up my still bandaged arm, and off we went. The road down to Red's Meadows near Mammoth Lakes was very steep and crooked, but I made it without a problem.
In 1948 I converted our convertible "tent" trailer to an aluminum skinned, more conventional travel trailer. I used the same chassis and added electric brakes and a few amenities inside. We made many happy trips in this "rig".
In the Summer of 1950 we bought a seventy foot wide lot in Downey. The lot was right in the middle of an orange grove, and the smell of orange blossoms was wonderful. We had to remove some to construct the house, but we kept eight. Downey was a small town at that time, just beginning to experience a housing boom. I designed a nice three-bedroom house and we had a contractor build it for us. We moved in between Christmas 1950 and New Year.
Through the rest of the 1940s and into the 1950s I continued to supervise the installation of central office telephone equipment. In July of 1953 I was in the Cypress office when Norma called to tell me that Richard was complaining of severe neck stiffness. I returned home and we took him the doctor. The diagnosis was polio, and we were told to take him to the infectious disease ward of Los Angeles County General Hospital where the diagnosis was confirmed. Richard developed complete paralysis and was placed in an "iron lung". He was very sick.
These were not happy times for us. After about a month at County General Richard was transferred to Rancho Los Amigos Hospital, in Downey. This was good break for us because we were already living in Downey. We could visit him often and, when he got well enough, he could come home on the weekend. He was a patient at Rancho for almost three years.
1956 was the first year Richard was able to travel again. I took my vacation in September and we drove up highway 101 to the Seattle Tacoma area. We stayed in motels along the way. It was a pleasant trip, but we really enjoyed traveling by trailer better. In 1958 we sold the trailer I built and bought a 15 foot " Pleasure Craft" trailer. We used this rig for a trip to Canada in 1958 and Colorado in 1960. We also went to Yosemite, Sequoia, Death Valley, Bryce, Zion, and the Grand Canyon with this trailer.
In 1962, after 36 years and 3 months with Western Electric, I retired. I was 60 years old, and could have worked five more years. I liked my work, and I liked my friends, but going to work every day interfered with many of the things I wanted to do. We sold our home on Wiley-Burke, bought a new Buick and a new Airstream trailer, and hit the road. We went to the World's Fair in Seattle, then returned to spend much of Fall and Winter of 1962 in the Southern California desert.
Early the next year we headed east to meet with over 3,000 other Airstream families at a rally in Bemidji, Minnesota. From there we joined the Airstream Eastern Canada Caravan. After the Caravan we visited many points of interest in the Eastern United States. We returned to California after eight months, and over 24,000 miles.
In March 1964 we bought our present home in Downey. We looked at many areas before deciding on returning to Downey. We looked at mobile homes and houses. I'm sure we made the right decision. I've kept very busy, and I've kept a daily log of our activities since retiring. If you want to know more about my life you'll have to read the log.
Rodney Roosevelt Daggett, Sr.
November 22, 1901 - June 16th, 2003