Memories of Ira I. Boggs
California, Here I Come
They agreed with me and gave me a train ticket and meal tickets to Charleston. I got a ticket at the train depot and was ready to travel the next day. The next morning, I bid my friends at the hospital good bye and left for home. I had been away from September until May, and had been at home only once (for about three months) in about three years. I would surely be glad to see everybody at home. I would have to slip in on them because I didn’t have time to send them a letter that would get to them before my arrival date.
Even if I did have a berth and comfortable place to sleep and sit, I was plenty tired before I finished my forty eight hours of travel. I read the late papers and some magazines and met a few interesting people to talk with on the train. I was always interested in the affairs of state and the places I traveled through, and I especially enjoyed the scenery.
My travels made me more appreciative of what we have in our own back yard. With the possible exceptions of the high mountains of Europe, the scenery in West Virginia is as pretty as anywhere that I have been. A lot of it is right here in the wilds of nature on Porters Creek (Bomont, West Virginia). When you travel through the deserts for two days and never see any living vegetation, except a little grease brush and cactus, you can think of the lively vegetation in the greenest state of our nation and that’s West Virginia. In the spring, when day by day the vegetation is turning from a light yellow to a greener, and to a dark green when the weeping willow, then the river elm, the maple, the dogwood, and magnolia leaves appear and laurel comes alive when the wild lilies, blue violets, bluebells, and hundreds of white, yellow, or red flowers begin to appear and when the rhododendrons bloom here in the valleys and on the rugged mountains West Virginia is magnificently beautiful! Then, in the autumn, when the trees change colors into the pink, lavender, yellow, purple, orange, to deep red and when the weeds bloom their autumn colors (to match the timber), you won’t find any place with more beauty than the old rugged hills of West Virginia
In the winter when the snow falls on the pine and laurel, white oak and other timber, and the ice freezes in those swift, running streams, and the cliffs forming sheets of ice and rows of icicles frozen beneath the pines you can view the real beauty that artists try to capture on Christmas cards and Christmas trees. We have to have the awareness of a poet to see the beauties of nature. As pretty a place as I ever saw was in France when I traveled through the fields of Flanders, where poppies were in bloom as far as you could see, the color of solid red, and the green smooth lawn, white tombstones for acres and acres of soldier’s graves. Pretty but it’s sad to think that I could have been there, too.
I slipped in home unexpected, and I found all of my folks well and happy. I met all of the family in a day or two. I walked around and exercised for about two weeks, and I gained some strength and began to feel very well. I didn’t try to labor much for about a month, when I began to work a little about the farm at anything that didnÆt require too much hard labor.
I always had to visit my Granddad Estep, my only living grandparent. He was interesting to talk with. (I always enjoyed talking with old people.) He lived to be eighty four, the oldest of any of my grandparents. I liked to see him and one of his old friends get together and talk of their experience in the Civil War.
My Aunt Florence had got married, but she still lived with Granddad. She had two boys, the only children she ever had. My cousins, Uncle Robert’s children, had grown up and left home. It wasn’t like it used to be there. Times bring on great changes in very few years. Once more, I enjoyed seeing all of those who were still at home and it is sad that I didn’t get to see some of them again after that visit.
I stayed at home during the summer and worked a few days, now and then, in the oil fields about Porters Creek. I helped case a few wells and did just about anything there was to do in the oil and gas fields. I didn’t have much desire for staying here, on account of the climate. I thought it was detrimental to my health. I like the southern climate better.
I had written Mr. Langford. I told him how sorry I was that I didn’t get to come back there, and I asked him to ship me the baggage I left with him. I got my trunk from Ranger in a few days. I was planning to go to California later. I stayed until after the election in November, as Dad kept at me to stay and vote the Democrat ticket. Dad was a staunch liberal and County Chairman of the Democrat Party. Dad and Mother and the family, in general, didn’t want me to go so far away. I didn’t want to go so far, but I thought that would be much better for my health; and the oil industry business was good there. Other than farming and timbering, about all I ever did was to work around the oil fields.
Soon after the election, I took off for California. I bought a ticket to Charleston; and while there, I got a ticket for Colorado Springs, where my lady friend, Miss Barnes, lived. I went by rail through Kentucky, Cincinnati, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, St. Louis, Missouri, and Kansas City, Kansas. I got to Colorado Springs, Colorado in about three days. Kansas is a long state, and it took about all day to get through it. Colorado is a big state and almost as long as Kansas. The snow was flying as I went through the plains of Kansas, early in November. Colorado Springs is about halfway through Colorado. I got there at about nine a.m., and Miss. Barnes and her family were at the station to meet me.
Mrs. Barnes’ health was bad. She had tuberculosis, and they had moved from Wallback for her health. Mr. Barnes farmed there and worked some for an oil shale concern. They were mining a stone and shell formation that contained oil; and they were getting a good grade of petroleum by heating it to release the oil. It was just a business for survival, and I couldn’t see anything there that looked very prosperous. They were glad to see me. They had lived there for a few years without seeing anyone from West Virginia. I had a nice lovely time there, for three days; and they seemed to hate to see me leave for California. (That was about two thirds of the way to California -- from West Virginia.)
My train went through Pueblo, Elberta and on through Grand Junction (on the border of Colorado and Utah). We bypassed Salt Lake City and traveled on through Utah. I learned there was some oil prospecting going on in Nevada; so I decided to stop off at the railroad junction to see about the prospects of staying there a short while, on my way to California.
When I got off of the train, there wasn’t anyone at the railroad junction but the railroad agent, who batching alone. He showed me to a dwelling where there were two old couples experimenting with farming in the desert. When I learned that I would have to wait twenty four hours to get a train out of there to California, I decided not to go the few miles further, where I would have to go to see about work in those parts. It was too lonely for me miles and miles from civilization, but I didn’t begrudge my stay there. It was an exciting experience for me to be in the desert. I stayed overnight with those old people and had my meals with them. I walked around in the desert for a little while. When I walked to the top of a little knoll and looked down on the other side, I saw what I thought was a lake a short distance from me. When I came back, I started talking about it to those old people; and they said, “No, you saw a mirage. You saw heat waves rising from the hot desert.”
They were getting their water by drilling a little ways in the sand; and they were experimenting with corn, wheat, cabbage and other vegetation. They said there was a river, or vein of water, that ran under the ground through there and that they didn’t have to go very far down to get it. They thought I was prospecting, and they wanted to sell me their property (or their business). I doubt if they owned it. Anyway, I didn’t want to stay there in that hot desert place. I was certain about that. There didn’t seem to be any living thing there; but I learned that they had a few gophers, badgers, centipedes, scorpions, and tarantulas and that it was not far to go from there to see rattlesnakes. I’m sure I didn’t want to live amongst them.
The depot agent told me he spent quite a bit of his time trapping badgers and shooting gophers, and he seemed to enjoy his job there. He got away from his job and back out into civilization about once every three or four months. Twenty four hours was enough time for me there, in that desolate place but that was an experience I’ll never forget. It reminded me of some of the Zane Gray novels about the desert lands that I had read.
The next day, I boarded another train, which I never got off until I got to Los Angeles. We traveled through Nevada until dark. I saw a lot of sagebrush and some of the cactus was as large as trees as we passed nearby cliffs of red rock on the hilltops. We went clear through Death Valley, where so many old explorers started through years ago and never made it. (They perished from lack of water, and the hot air finally suffocated them.) At this time, 1920, there weren’t many settlements along the train route until we got close to L. A. The population of Los Angeles was only about 500,000; but it was growing by leaps and bounds as a tourist city. (In four more years it was 1,000,000 in population, including the suburbs.)
I stayed in L. A. for only a day or two. Then, I started south and went through Long Beach, a small town, to Huntington Beach, where the oil fields were rapidly developing. I found a hotel and rested from my travels for a couple of days. Then I inquired about drilling wells. I learned that they drilled there with rotary machines instead of the standard tools that I was accustomed to. I had never worked on this kind of a drilling rig; so I decided to take a job laying pipelines. That was hard work for me. I wasn’t strong, but I had done that kind of work before, and I knew the slant of it.
I picked a job I that I knew I could do. I helped lay gas lines. There were about twenty men in the pipe crew. In those days they laid all pipelines by screwing the joints together, no matter how big the line was. Welding hadn’t been invented; or, maybe, it just was not yet used to lay oil and gas lines. This was an eight inch line; and it was to be run about eight or ten miles, mostly through a farming section. They had about one hundred joints laid out and ready to go into the ditch. (They had to bury the pipe where it crossed over the farmland.)
After I worked for a day or two at laying the line, the boss said to me, “Come with me.” We went, for a short distance, back over the line we had laid. He gave me a pail of tar and a four inch brush and told me to paint the pipe. (That was something new to me painting a pipeline. We never did that in West Virginia or Texas.) He pointed out a big kettle and some drums full of coal tar. A 6 x 10 ft. piece of canvas with a handle wrapped around each end was laying nearby, and he described the process for coating the pipe. They put the coal tar into the kettle and heated it, by gas, until it was melted. They took a pail of it from the kettle; and, with the canvas under the pipe and a man on each end of the canvas, they poured the hot tar on top of the line and let it run down onto the canvas. The men dragged the canvas back and forth and tarred the pipe that had already been painted. Another crew came behind them to wrap the canvas around the pipe while the tar was still hot. I learned that they did this to keep the pipe from rusting. The ocean that had at one time covered those plains left salt in the soil; and, if the lines weren’t sealed, the corrosion would soon eat holes in them.
The lines running directly from the oil and gas wells carried the fresh crude and gas to small separator tanks that set over oil storage tanks. At about halfway to the top of the separator tank, the oil could flow into the storage tank. The gas seeped up through this tank and into gas lines, near the top of the separator tank. That way, the gas wasn’t wasted. We finished laying that gas line within about a month, but there were plenty more to lay in other locations in that oil and gas field. An oil well that was strong enough to flow from gas pressure was always a profitable one.
The new lines went through some orange groves where the oranges were at about the best stage of ripeness for eating, but we didn’t bother them because some women were watching us. Later, some men came by and told us to help ourselves to them as long as we didn’t break the branches. They were a superior grade of sweet oranges the best I have ever seen; and, fresh from the trees, they taste much better than any oranges you can buy from the stores. I must have eaten a half dozen of them.
I had a room in a hotel to myself, and because I wasn’t feeling too well I stayed in it quite a bit of my time after work hours. I read a lot, and I had begun to get letters from home, from friends in Texas, and from the Barnes woman in Colorado. The Wilson girl in Texas kept talking about coming to California. I wrote her for about a year, but she never came. I think she married the Moore boy we knew there. I still wrote the Barnes woman in Colorado, but she was too homely to travel so far or to stay away from her people. I heard she married her first cousin there where she lived. I thought, “I suppose I’ll have to be an old bachelor!”
I met several girls at Huntington Beach, but I didn’t date any of them steady during the two years I was there. There are nice people anywhere; and, in California, you could meet people from all over the United States or from mostly anywhere in the world. This was an ideal climate, and there were favorite tourist places mostly anywhere in the state. At that time, 1921, you were almost a pioneer in California. If you stayed there for a year, you were regarded as a native; and people didn’t often leave there to hunt for a better climate. One family told me they were afraid of earthquakes. They moved to Florida and ran into those terrible hurricanes; so they moved back to California.
The panic, after the war, had begun to take hold a little later there than in the East. I worked in the oil fields at Huntington Beach until spring, when business was beginning to get slack. By that time, I had received the results of my application for a pension the one I applied for while in the hospital in Houston, Texas. I was awarded a 35 per cent disability from the time I was discharged from the army, June 1919. They gave me a little money to invest in a business. I decided I had better take advantage of that and do something that would allow me to take better care of my health. I decided to go into the confectionery business on the beach. It was a profitable enterprise for about three to six months out of the year.
I had enough money to buy supplies and pay enough rent to get the business going. I had containers, three of them, for soft drinks. I bought mostly powdered grape, orange and cherry; and mixed it by the gallon. I made about 200 per cent mark up on this. I sold candies, nuts, cakes, gum, oranges and other things, such as a few gimmicks that attracted children; and I had a special flavored hamburger sandwich that sold very well. I sprinkled curry pepper over it when I mixed it. It gave it a good flavor and made it taste fresh. I also sold a fish sandwich. I sold a lot of soft drinks and ice cream. There was a good profit in them. During the school holidays, I made quite a bit of money; but there was about three months out of the year when there wasn’t anybody on the beach. Yet, I still had to pay rent to hold my building. I improved it, in order to have it for another season. I added a room in the back, where I could stay. That saved me extra from having to pay rent for a room; but the hotel people lobbied the lawmakers to pass a law against people sleeping in a restaurant establishment.
I fared very well there, and I made a little money. I hired some help while business was good, but I worked long hours during the summer months. Later, when business was slow, I would get up early and take a stroll along the beach. I collected a few nice clamshells and other beautiful seashells. I sold some of them, and I kept some that I later gave to people inland who had never been to a seashore. I brought some to West Virginia and gave them to my mother and my Aunt Florence. I also brought them some dishes decorated with seashells.
I enjoyed living on the beach, in that wonderful climate; and I met a lot of nice people there. Near my business, a fishing pier ran about a quarter of a mile out into the ocean. At that time, it was the nicest pier on the coast. I didn’t fish much, but a few people fished there year round. They caught mostly halibut and mackerel. For salt water fish, they were fine to eat. The mackerel swarmed about the piers in such big schools that you didn’t need to use bait to catch them. You could put a half dozen hooks on your line and just pull it up and down to snag them; sometimes you could snag more than one at a time. The halibut was a big fish, and you had to use bait to catch it.
They had a bowling alley on the beach and I bowled some, but I didn’t have time to join a bowling league. Occasionally, I went to the movies. The talking movies, from the first inventions, had begun to play there. I had seen a talking movie in Ranger, Texas, in 1920. It was the first one ever played in Ranger. Before they had the talking movie, they would show the picture and flash the words on the screen with it.
In 1922, I was living in Hollywood, and I often visited Culver City where they made movies. I saw Hoot Gibson, the comedian, act for some pictures; and I saw a lot of others that I can’t remember at this time Gloria Swanson, Fatty Arbuckle, Sid and Charley Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and Mary Pickford come to mind. I had a pass to the theaters for any day of the week, except Saturday or Sunday. Sunny Boy sang and acted there for his first show. He was one of the most popular singers. I usually went to the Hill Street Theater. I was in one oil field scene that they made at Huntington Beach.
While I lived in Huntington Beach, I bought fifty dollars worth of stock in Huntington Central Oil Company. They had a several acres of land between two good paying wells. At the time I bought the stock, they hadn’t drilled on their tract. When they did drill, the well that came in good, at 700 lbs., pressure. The price of the stock tripled; but I didn’t sell. They lingered along and didn’t drill any more. They changed their name and sold out. They went to Texas and got by with their outlawry. They were supposed to have gone broke.
I kept my confectionery business, while looking for a job in the oil fields. There was an oil company signing a group of men to go to Brazil, South America. I always wanted to go there; so I signed up to go. I had to agree to stay at least one year. It would have paid about three times as much as I could make in California; but they didn’t get enough men, or it all blew over. I didn’t go. Work was hard to find; but I just kept going to the Standard Oil office every morning; and they finally signed me on. I got a job setting boilers for drilling and pumping. I did pipe fitting for oil, gas, water and steam. I made top wages there, for about a year.
My first cousin from West Virginia, Andrew Boggs, came to Huntington Beach and was there with me a few months. We associated and boarded at the same place. He worked at pipe lining. The world’s auto race was going on the next Sunday at San Antonio. We went to see it at the time Millon and Murphy were two of the racing heroes. Jimmy Durante, Halsts and others I might mention, also raced there. One racer wrecked and ran clear over the wall. He was killed.
Russell Boggs, Andrew’s brother, came to California and stayed a month or two. We went to San Diego to see the West Virginia University play the world’s champion football game, with Gonzago University of Washington. West Virginia won by 21 13. This was when that little fellow Caradosa played. He was the most interesting one to watch. He was as quick as lightning. He would dart under and around the defensive players so fast that they couldn’t get hold of him. Football wasn’t so popular then. Fewer than a thousand people attended that event, but there weren’t so many people to draw crowds like the ones you see at sports events today. The population of California and the United States has grown in leaps and bounds since then.
There was always something of interest to see in Huntington Beach or in its vicinity. The Capistrano Motorcycle hill climb was interesting. It was very steep. Very few cycles made it all the way up the two hundred yard climb. They would bury in sand and wreck before they got to the top of that steep hill. The Orange County Fair was another interesting place to visit. There were many vegetables and fruits that a person from the East could never have seen before. They also had a World Exposition in Los Angeles while I was there. That was very exciting. The inventions of Thomas Edison were the most interesting exhibits. He was our greatest inventor. The electric light was his most, or one of his most, important inventions. There weren’t many electric motors then, except the Delco motor, which ran by an electric battery. Edison also invented the flashlight and the flashlight battery. Thomas Edison and Firestone, the rubber manufacturer, were great cronies. Edison said people slept too much to be smart or intelligent. He only slept about five hours in twenty four. He lived to be very old, and he was active up to shortly before he died.
Andrew went back home to West Virginia and got married. He had been courting a certain lady for sometime before he came to California, and I think he couldn’t make up his mind about whether to marry her. I think, as usually happens when a person gets so far away from his best girl friend, he got lonesome for her and decided it would be better to be with her. He wanted a home of some satisfaction, and so he went back home and married her; but he liked California too much to stay away from it; so, in a month or so, he persuaded his bride to come back with him. They lived in Monrovia, California and he continued to work around the oil fields.
I was still working for Standard Oil in Huntington Beach. I liked my job, and the crew I worked with, very well. I decided to stay there. In my spare time, evenings and Saturday and Sunday, I continued to work at the confectionery. When business got good, in the spring, I would have that to fall back on if my Standard Oil job gave out. A photographer built at one end of my confectionery. That blocked my end door space. He said he would give me room to come through the corner of his place, and that would save me from taking room for a new door. I needed all the space I had. I thanked Mr. Collins for his kindness and accommodation. He owned some real estate in Huntington Beach, including the building occupied by the theater. He was from Texas, and he had a farm there, where he had raised cattle. He and his wife couldn’t get along, and he came to California. His daughter was studying in Texas for a doctorate degree. He was a nice fellow to talk with, and I don’t understand why a woman couldn’t get along with him.
A young man had a ticket to take a ride in an airplane and wanted to sell it to me. He agreed to take some sandwiches for it. I traded with him and took the ticket to the aviator; he accepted it. He had a little Curtis plane to take people up for a fifteen minute cruses. He flew from the beach where the sand was packed, and it made a good field for a small plane. He took me up, and that was the first time I had ever been in a plane. We went up to about two thousand feet and sailed along close to the ocean and then over the town. He noticed that I wasn’t scared; so he made a quick turn and put his plane up on its side, at about a forty five degree angle. I got a good view of the town. An automobile looked like a 4 x 4 ft. box rolling along the street.
One Sunday, during the summer when I was in my confectionery, a little Curtis plane just like this one fell within a few yards of my business place. Everybody was running that had time to see it. I was among the first to get to the plane, and I met the ones that were running to get out of the way. The plane hit the corner of the bathhouse, and it fell on one man who had lain down in the sand and gone to sleep. He, no doubt, never knew what had happened. It killed him instantly. It hit eight other people and hurt some of them seriously. The pilot and his passenger were badly injured and unconscious. They were cramped between the wires that braced the wings and parts of the plane. It took several minutes to get them out. The pilot didn’t have a license to fly. He had tried some maneuvering and lost control of his plane. (He was making a nose dive and didn’t get out of it.) That wasn’t the pilot that took me on my first flight. (I associated with the pilot I flew with. He wanted me to learn to fly, but I couldn’t make up my mind and didn’t try it. I thought I was too nervous to undertake such a venture.)
The confectionery business was interesting work when business was good. I got acquainted with many good people, but I met very few people from West Virginia. There was a skating rink, a dance pavilion and a bowling alley nearby. I bowled some but didn’t try to skate. I later took lessons and learned to dance some. I tried to dance, a time or two, but I never cared to dance to any music except a waltz. My teacher said, “You keep good time in your maneuvers.” I said, “Yes, I like music.” I had sung some in a church choir, but I didn’t know too much about instrumental music. I liked to dance to good music; and you meet so many people and have a variety of people to choose your friends from. There were usually good looking ladies at the school and they were good talkers. Most of them were just as nice as the average, and they had all the traits of any other women that I met.
My dancing teacher was from San Francisco. She said she had met a lot of boys from Ohio and some from New York, but hadn’t met many from West Virginia. She said, “I like about all of those eastern boys.” I said, “West Virginia is inland and isn’t so heavily populated as most other states. In minerals, West Virginia is one of the wealthiest states in the union. My hometown (Charleston) has been classified as the wealthiest city in the U.S. for its population.” “Well, that sounds like you are wealthy.” “No, most of my people are poor, but I do have some pretty wealthy relatives.” “Were you in the war?” “Yes, I was overseas in France for about a year. I was in the Garadner sector and in the Meuse Argonne offensive. I didn’t see much action, but I saw enough to suit me. I got scared, and my serves are bad. That’s the reason I’m in California. I think it is better for my health. The climate is so regular here.” “I don’t blame you for getting scared.” “It’s when you are right on the minute of launching an attack that you get nervous. You forget about yourself to some extent. You are always looking out, to get your enemy.” I dated this lady some; but I didn’t write her; and I didn’t see her much after I quit the dancing school. I liked most of the people I met in California, and I met people from all of the states and a lot of foreign countries. The German people are a neighborly, kind people. It’s a pity they had such an image of themselves that they thought they could conquer the world.
While Andrew and I were at Huntington Beach, we met a couple of girls from Arizona. Their mother had died and their father had moved to Huntington Beach, where the girls could get work. We caught the Interurban electric car to Long Beach and went to Disneyland and to a carnival, where we rode the roller coaster. These girls had not been around much, and I don’t think they knew what they were getting in to when they got on the roller coaster. There was about a seventy five foot drop in the mile long track. They got so scared that they got angry with us. Andrew and I were full of fun, and we didn’t care. We just considered it a joke on the ladies, and a good lesson for them about what to expect in California. I imagine they hated to wait until they got home to change clothes!
I didn’t try to date the girl anymore. Andrew did see his girl a few more times. Andrew was a free spender. He and Russell worked in the harvest fields. They started in the south and moved northward, following the grain harvest. Andrew later married and he and his wife came back to West Virginia. Andrew got a job as a brakeman on the B & O Railroad and he stayed there until he retired. He worked on the northern end of the Elk River Road, from Gassaway north. His dad, Uncle Burn, was wealthy. Their family worked hard, especially in the growing season, and they usually had three or four hundred head of big, well bred cattle to sell every year. Somebody asked Andrew why he wasnÆt in on the dividing of his Dad’s wealth. He said, “I spent it having a big time when I was young.”
I worked at Standard Oil for about a year. Then, I had an opportunity to go to school to learn a trade. The government offered me a four year course at anything I might qualify for; and they would pay me $100 per month. I had a very good job, but I talked it over with my boss and thought about it for a short time. My boss advised me to take advantage of that opportunity to learn a good trade. He said things were slowing down and he couldn’t promise me a continuous job. (It was the beginning of one of the worst panics that ever occurred in America.) I worked for the rest of the month, before I decided to take his good advice.
I made arrangements with the government rehabilitation officials and started to school in Los Angeles on the first day of the month of April in 1922. The government didn’t have their own schools at this time, so they started us at high schools that already had the proper equipment for our courses. I enrolled at the Manual Art High School in L.A., located near the University of Southern California on North 42nd Street. I decided to take a machinery course. That was a very good trade, and I liked that kind of work.
The government furnished me books and equipment, and I started in the machine shop with the high school pupils. I also took a classroom course to review my general education and learn to read and make blueprints. To become machinists, we needed a good knowledge of mathematics. There weren’t many government trainees in my class. The high school teachers didn’t like to have us there, and they got a little overbearing with some of us at times. But it was the best the government had for us.
I liked the work. It was so interesting that I could forget about my dinner. I soon learned how to trace maps and to read them; and I learned about angles and directions, material classifications, etc. Although some things were rather complicated for me, I soon knew how to use my drafting set to copy maps or blueprints, and then to make blueprints for what I wanted to design.
I went to class three hours in the morning and to machine shop three hours in the afternoon. In the shop, I learned to shape metal on the lathe and other shaping machines and how to drill holes with the drilling machine and to cut gears on the milling machine. I liked the work. It was very interesting. I got trained to set my dividers within a small fraction of an inch and my caliper within three thousandths of an inch. I worked on the lathe, learning to sharpen my cutting tool to cut threads on bolts. I cut some threads and tried a nut on it; and it fitted just right. The next day I learned to dress angles on rods and cut inside threads on rods. I had to sharpen a tool to the right shape to cut the threads.
I found a place to board in a private home within about five blocks of the school. A widow woman had a big home and was keeping boarders and roomers to pay for it. It was a good place to board. I stayed home two and three nights a week to study and read. I usually went to a movie at least one night during the week and, at times, on Saturday or Sunday when I didn’t study or read.
I got acquainted with a young man from Arkansas, and we associated some. We would go to a show sometimes; and occasionally, on weekends, we would just go for a drive, touring around to see sights. He had a car. (I wasn’t making enough money to afford a car while going to school; but I bought one after I finished school.) One weekend, we drove about thirty miles to the coastal mountain range. We caught a rail car to near the top of Mt. Low. It went up a 60 per cent grade pulled by a wire line on the steep of the hill. We got off and walked a half mile or so around narrow paths. I said to my friend, “This is like being in the hills of West Virginia.” “Yes,” he said, “To me, it’s like being in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas.” We walked out to the top of the mountain and went into a hotel tavern. They had a big broad fireplace, and they were burning wood in it. There was about two inches of snow on the ground, and big flakes were still falling from the sky.
This was the first snow I had seen, close up, for three years. (From L.A., sometimes when the temperature there was ninety degrees, we could see snow at a distance on Mt. Low, Mt. Wilson and Mt. Baldy.) We walked a little ways further, to the top of Mt. Low., where Professor Low had an observatory. He had what was supposed to be the largest telescope in the world. It was a bright clear night, and it was focused on the moon.
Everybody took a peek at the moon. With the sun shining on it, it looked like ice. He made a speech about the science of the planets. He said people were learning so much about the heavens that he had to read several magazines a week to keep up with the times. He told us that it was 200,500 miles to the moon and that it was our nearest space object, but he didn’t say anything about the prospects for us ever traveling to it.
We could see snowy peaks on the coastal ranges and on the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It was an enchanting sight. When we started back off of the mountain, we could see the ôstars on earthö as they called the lights of L.A., Longbeach, and all the little towns for miles and miles. The air was very clear during that season. The stars, or city lights, were as pretty from the mountains as those snowy peaks were from L.A. when we could see them.
Well, I’d better get back to my machinist job, or my boss will fire me. I met a man in L.A., whom I knew when I lived in Huntington Beach. He was a poor man, but he had married a woman from a wealthy family. He gave me some good advice: Never marry a woman from a wealthy family. He said that when you were so poor you couldn’t support her lusciously, she would get dissatisfied. She had left him. She worked for the photographer near my confectionery business in Huntington Beach. The photographer asked me to date her, but I told him that I didn’t date married woman.
On Monday afternoon, my shop teacher gave me a piece of steel large enough to make into a one and one half inch cube. I clamped it in my shaper and went to work on it. I smoothed one side until I could place it in my vice on a level bench top. I kept turning it and dressing it until I had one and one half inch cube, as near as I could get it. He looked amazed when he measured it, and he showed it to the high school pupils. He gave it back to me and said, “You are a mechanically gifted person, and there’s not much use for a person to try to be a machinist unless he has the patience and ability to do things right.” He said, “You’ve done a good job at this and I want you to finish it to as close to one thousandths of an inch as you can.” I kept working on it for about two days, or six hours of shop work. I machined as much as I dared. Then, I hand filed it some. I put my dividers on it again, and it wasn’t quite exact. I honed it on a stone until I had it to from three to five thousandths of an inch within the exact measurements. My teacher looked at it, measured it, and handed it back to me; and he said, “That’s as close as I’ll ask you to do this job for the first time.” He took it to his pupils and showed it to them and complimented me on my work. Anything worth doing is worth doing well; and sometimes, in machinery, it has to be made to the thousandths of an inch. I liked mathematics and loved making blueprints; so I decided to stay with this work.
I kept using my drafting set until I understood it pretty well, and I liked the work even better as I learned more about it. I realized it was delicate and precise skill, but it was interesting. On a real job, you would have to get your measurements to a pinpoint, and you would have to punch your marks at the exact point to start the drills for a hole, or it would throw everything out of line. If it wasn’t right, you would have to do your job over; and that would be a lot of expense to your employer. You wouldn’t last long working on that job. If you got one small fraction of an inch off line and it got by the inspection, it could wreck a valuable piece of machinery and ruin the company’s business. The boss could soon trace the records to see who had made the mistake.
When I went back to the classroom the next day and went to work on my mathematics and my blueprints, my teacher handed me a sketch of a blueprint. She wanted me to make one like it, and gave me descriptive details of it. I worked on it for sometime before I decided that I needed some help on the plan. I just didn’t understand all of it. I kept waiting for her to come around to help me, and I noticed that she was reading a newspaper. I kept waiting and waiting, and I got impatient. It didn’t appear to me that she was properly interested in her job. She finally came around and asked me what my problem was. I told her; and then I said, “I’ve been waiting for half an hour, while you were reading that newspaper.” She got a little miffed about it, and she replied, “You aren’t running this place.” I replied, “No, and it don’t look like you are either. I think I’m more interested in my work than you are.” I continued, “You have a big class of young men who have put in their time in the war, and we are behind other young men who are rich and were in school while we were risking our lives and suffering on the battlefields. We are late now; and they are getting the good jobs. We are behind on our plans for life, and we have to take what those wealthy people have left for us, regardless of our ability.” I said, “There has been a lot of complaint of about the lack of a teacher here. We don’t want to get you into trouble, we want you to help yourself by helping us.” I always hate to cause a commotion about anything; but my friends said that she took more interest in the teaching from then on; and they complimented me. I said, “I imagine I did her a favor. Sooner or later, her boss would have noticed her disinterest.” After that incident, she seemed to want to help me more than the others in her class. She didn’t seem to hold any grudge against me.
“Well, it’s another weekend; and a very good week’s work has been finished.” I asked my chum, Bob, “What do you want to do tonight.” He answered, “Let’s go to the show tonight and see Sunny Boy at the Hill Street Theater. I want to hear that fellow sing.” “Yes, that suits me. Then tomorrow and Sunday we will take a trip out to San Bernardino, or ‘Sanberno’ for short, and on to Big and Little Bear Lakes.” We went to the show and saw Charley Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., Gloria Swanson, and others I might mention put on an act. Al Jolson sang “Sunny Boy.” That was a big hit, just out. That was a good show! Yes, I liked it! I liked the action, and that Al Jolson sure could sing. That “Sunny Boy” song was my favorite.
We got home a little early, so we could get up early and take the trip to Bear Lakes. It was about fifty five miles from Hollywood. The roads were not all paved in 1923, and cars sometimes got stuck in that dry sand. If that had happened to us, we would have been late getting back home.
We went through Pasadena and San Bernardino. San Bernardino was a small town or just a village. We drove on to the foot of Bear Mountain. There was a one way road, with a few places to pass, up the mountain to the lakes. It followed an old Spanish trail. Our ole Model T Ford puffed and boiled and steamed until we finally made it up the mountain to the lakes. This was one of the prettiest bodies of water I had ever seen. It equaled the beauty of Lake duBerdget, France, in the Vosgus Mts. It was so pure and clear that you could see the fish for several feet under the water. We went adrift in some glass bottomed boats -- to explore the lake. There were very few buildings on the lakeshores; but they were clearing the brush around the handiest places; and lots were for sale at $200 to $600. I thought about buying couple of business lots, but I hesitated. I decided that I had better wait until I got out of school to invest. I needed about all I was making to live on. (I imagine that one of those lots is worth $50,000 or more by now. That is, if it is unoccupied.) There was a strong breeze over the lake and the surroundings. (It must be a nice cool summer resort now.)
On our way back to L.A., we had to take our time going down the hill, as this was a one way road with only a few passing places along the way. As we drove back through Sanberno, we noticed some stucco buildings that were cracked so badly that they looked unfit to occupy. There had been an earthquake, and it did more damage there than to any of the other towns in the vicinity. (I felt it in L.A., but it did very little damage there.)
We had lots of time and took a roundabout way back to explore the scenery. We drove through the outskirts of the Millionaire City of Riverside, where there were big orange groves, all around, as far as you could see. They were pretty, but not so pretty as an apple orchard or a peach orchard. The bloom wasn’t so large and the trees were in full leaf. (An apple tree or peach tree blooms before it’s in full leaf. Riverside is inland, not far from Arizona; and it’s one of the hottest places in the state. That makes it a good climate for growing oranges. We drove back through Monrovia and on to Long Beach. We got back to L.A. in time to see the late show; but we decided to go home and get a good night’s rest so we could be ready for work on Monday. Besides, we had passes to the shows for any night except Sunday or Saturday.
On Monday morning, I got up early and studied my lessons and got to class on time. I had some pretty complicated math problems to solve and some blueprints to make. In class that day, we had some literature to read. My teacher had us to stand and read aloud. I was rather timid about reading to the class. I never could read orally like most people; but I told my teacher I would try. She said, “You get some of your letters out of place, before the others.” She thought my eyes were the cause of it (that I couldn’t read fast). She was always boosting me and encouraging me in my lessons; and, at times, she mentioned my fast learning abilities. She was an elderly lady. I could see she wanted me to date a young teacher there. I talked a little with the young lady; but I didn’t ask her for a date. I was always short of cash. I had just enough to get by on while in school. She was about six years younger than I and just a beginning teacher and she wasn’t too pretty. Also she was too small for my taste, and she was apparently as poor as I was.
At the end of my first year of school in L.A., an order came out to allow us veterans to take on the job training. I thought about it for a while. I didn’t think I was getting along too well in school; and it was a big temptation for me. I was twenty eight years old, and I thought three more years in school would delay my opportunity to make some money. This job would pay us well, for a year or more. The government would still pay us $100 per month and the corporation would pay us an additional $100. That was pretty big money in those days. I could see that my teacher didn’t want me to go; but she dared not tell me. I could have finished a four year course in school; and I probably made a mistake by not going on to finish; but I was pretty nervous and dissatisfied in my progression. The opportunity to earn more money was a little too much of a temptation for me.
My government overseer got me a job with the Willard and Wilson Oil Tool Manufacturing Company. I worked for a few days at chipping and smoothing oil tools, and they put me on a drill press for a while. Then, they moved me to another area where I learned to use a jig to hold tools while making measurements to drill holes in them. I used a punch to mark the exact locations for where the holes should be. They had to be very accurate. I would make a punch hole for the place to start my drill, and I had to be very careful to not let the drill slip to either side. That would ruin the tool.
At first, I started at chipping reaming tools for a drilling well. One old man that had worked there for four years could do just about anything but mostly he did nothing. He told me that I had broken the records on the number of those reamers turned out in one day. He said, “You’ve finished more than ever has been finished in one day.” I replied, “I just kept busy. I didn’t think about how many I had done.” They began to get low on work for us, and I noticed that they had lain off half of their men; but they hadn’t got to me yet. I thought it was just because I was a veteran, training.
Most of the time, I worked at the drill press about all day; but, after they had lain off several men, they got scarce of help on other jobs; and I helped with any job where they needed me. They had a foundry, and sometimes they would call on me to help take a large tool out of the furnace. There was a big strong Mexican that worked there, and he seemed to have a grudge against me or maybe he just wanted to be overbearing. When I helped lift a heavy tool from the furnace, he would shove my load against me. That was a little dangerous with a hot iron, as it might fall on you. Because I was smaller than anyone else, I think he thought I wasn’t lifting my part. I never complained or said a word. I just watched for a chance to catch him off balance. I thought, “Mister, I’ll get you, if you keep that up. I’ll shove you; and when I do you’re going down. If I have to, I’ll show you that I’m not so weak as you think” He must have been smarter than I thought, because he never did it again. I guess he saw from the look I gave him that he had made me angry. But, in general, we had a pretty nice bunch, or crew, of men working there. I never had any other trouble with any of them.
My friend, Earnest Schmidt, from Texas came to L.A. to see his aunt; and he visited me while he was there. He had never been in California before. We took a tour through the orange groves down next to the southwestern part of the state. He liked California so well that he said he was coming back, but he never got away from his people again. He was of German descent; and he had a fine lot of relatives, as nice as most German people I have met.
We went down as far as Riverside, where the oranges were so plentiful. They were getting ripe, and the orchards were beautiful with those nice big golden oranges hanging on them. We stopped where they were picking them, and we asked if we could pick a few with the crew. They agreed, and they gave us a few good ripe ones to take home with us. We told them we had never seen oranges growing in the fields before. They had English walnuts and pecans in Texas, but I never saw oranges growing there. When I was there, pecans were important to the economy. They grew in the forest, just as hickory nuts grow wild in the north. I have picked them there, and also in Mississippi. I understand that Texas is now a major orange exporting state.
Three of our biggest battleships were docked at San Pedro (L.A. harbor), and we went to see them. There was the Missouri, the Mississippi and the West Virginia. The Mississippi was a little longer than the others were, so we decided to visit it. We took a schooner to it, and one of the crew showed us around. There were some 16 inch guns on it. Those are large cannons. (They were dismounted onto railroad cars and used in the battlefields of World War I, while I was in France. They were a lot of help in winning the war. Where one of those big shells hit with high explosives, they left their mark. They used them to shell Metes, where the French had been fighting for months. We won that battle in about two days.)
“Were you with those guns in the battle of Metes?” I asked one of the men on the ship. “No, I enlisted after the war was over. Some of my buddies were there. I have heard them talk a lot about the battle. They were 15 miles from the city when firing. My buddy said he threw 105 of those G.I. cans (shells) at them.” They get their nickname from the 10 to 50 gallon waste cans that we used to carry food, such as rice and slumgullion (as we often called the beef stew), for the troops on the front lines.
“Earnest, we had better get back to shore before too late. We want to go to the Hill Street Theater and hear Al Jolson sing ‘Sunny Boy.’ Al is quite an actor; he’s a white man, you know; but he can act like a Colored person.” I’ll never forget the show the Colored soldiers gave my outfit when we were in that lonesome town of Poinsinet, France while we were waiting for a boat to bring us home. They sure could put on some monkeyshines. Those big, rough looking Colored men dressed in women’s clothes, and they had quite a party. I never laughed so hard as at them. That was the first show we had seen since eight months in France.
“Well, Ira, I’m going to Texas in the morning, but I hope to be back and see you again.” “Yes, I hope so,” I replied. “I’m going to continue working at the Willard & Wilson Oil Tool Shop. I will make some more oil tools.” Earnest said, “I’ve been working for a cotton gin company since the oil fields went dead at Ranger, but that don’t pay too much.” “If you come back, I’ll try to get you on at my company. Good bye and good luck. I’ll see you in about a month.” (But I never saw him again.)
I went back to work at making oil drilling tools. I had been working there for about six months, but we were expecting another layoff. They had already laid off about half of their men. The panic was just starting in California. It was already serious in the East. (It began to affect California about a year after layoffs started in the East.)
At the end of the week, my boss said, “Boggs, I hate to tell you. We just don’t have any more work for you after this week. We are not getting much to do. The supervisor has quit and left the layoffs up to me. I suppose he didn’t want to be here when we had to shut down. I’m keeping just a few of my oldest men, and I don’t know how long it will be before we will be completely out of orders.”
My veteran’s counselor came to see me on Monday; and he said he thought that he could find another job for me. He called me about the middle of the week to tell me that he had a job for me at a machine repair shop, but he didn’t know how long it would last. I would still be getting $100 per month from the government but hardly that much from the new company I would be working for. I went to work on a drill press at just anything they had for me to do. My boss came around and showed me where to oil my machine at the beginning of every shift, and he gave me a blueprint of my work.
I had saved a few dollars while making double wages for training with the government and the company I formerly worked for. I saw some good opportunities to invest in some real estate. I bought three lots in Alhambra, a suburb of L.A. That little town was growing fast. I had bought a dwelling lot, but the Realty Company had failed to live up to their contract. There was going to be some delay in getting the streets paved; so I decided to sell it. I wrote Dennis, my brother, in West Virginia, and explained the situation. It was good property, but I didn’t know how long it would take to get things moving again. We would probably have to go to court to get the Realty Company to do what they had agreed to do.
That was a hilltop track of land, with a beautiful view to the valley to the west and the high coastal mountain range to the east. Secretary McAdoo had bought the top of a knob just opposite the hilltop where my lot was. (McAdoo was Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.) I thought if he could invest money there, I could take a chance, too. To get my money out of it, I sold my lot to Dennis at just what I had paid for it. I invested in another three lots at Alhambra. I bought one 40 x 100 ft. business lot on a corner for $1,200, one dwelling lot for $1,000 and one dwelling lot for $800. My payments were about $70 per month. My business lot was one block behind the main thoroughfare through town. I made a few months payments on those lots and tried to sell the two dwelling lots; but business was getting bad all along. I failed to sell them even at cost. I wanted to hold the business lot indefinitely. I knew it was a good investment.
I worked for the Repair Company for about three months. A new boss, a young man, was put over me. I went to him to ask him for a blueprint, or a little better description, of a job he had given me. He was busy talking to another employee. He looked around at me and said, ôYou go tell your veteran boss we are not running a hospital here.ö I knew I had been doing satisfactory work for my former supervisor. I thought, “If you are that kind of man, I’ll never get along with you.” So I didn’t come to work the next morning. I still had that nervous war fever and I knew that if he made me angry I would let him have all I had. (If I can’t get along with a person, I want to get along without him.)
That was in the spring of 1924. For some time, I had been thinking about going home to West Virginia. I hadn’t been home for going on four years. My mother kept writing me. She said, “I’d rather see you coming home than anything I know of.” I wasn’t feeling very well, and I was getting a little anxious to be with my friends and relatives once more. Although I had been away from home about all the time, all told, for about seven years, during and after the war, four years was the longest I had been away from West Virginia at one stretch.
I had only a short while to finish my training job, and I decided to go back to Huntington Beach and see my old friend Mr. Collins, the photographer. I had been acquainted with him for the duration of my stay in California. I met with Mr. Collins and told him I was going home to see my folks. I mentioned that I had invested some money in real estate in L.A.; and he said, “Boggs, you’ll be worth something some of these days. That’s a good investment.” I tried to sell him two of my lots; but he wasn’t interested. He owned the theater building in Huntington Beach, and he was very busy running a photo business. Mr. Collins said, “You’ll be back.” “Yes,” I answered, “When the cold wind begins to blow and the snow begins to fly, it will be pretty hard for me to stay there in those mountains. I suspect I’ll be thinking of the sunny, warm winter days here in California. This is a wonderful climate, and California is a good place to make a living.” “I suppose you will bring a woman back with you.” “No, I don’t have any intentions of that, but a lot of fine ladies live there.” I visited with my best girl friend and saw a lot of the old friends I had associated with and worked with; and I went to say good bye to my former boss, the one I worked for while with the Standard Oil Co. He said, “It’s a good thing you decided to take that training with the government. I had to lay off most of my crew shortly after you left.”
I returned to L.A. that night; and, the next day, I went to the veteran’s office and told them that I was leaving for West Virginia “Well, you’ll be back?” “Yes, I don’t intend to stay more than two or three months.” I bid everyone good bye. An old sea captain at the veteran’s bureau that I was acquainted with suggested, “Why don’t you go to San Pedro harbor and get a job on a ship sailing to New York? I’ll recommend you to an old friend there, and I think he will sign you get on.” I was a little short of spending money; and that was a good idea. That would be a nice trip through the Panama Canal. I had always wanted to see that wonderful job they did in building the canal.
I packed my trunk and expressed it to Porter’s station, near home. (I kept out the clothes and other necessities for my trip.) Then, I sat down and wrote my mother a long letter. I told her that she was getting her wish that I was coming home, and that I had shipped my trunk and was going to sail as soon as I could get a ship that way. I went to L.A. Harbor in San Pedro and applied for a position. While waiting for a boat going my way, I worked at loading ships and doing odd jobs. I stayed there for about a week.
On the first day of May, I got assigned to an oil tanker that was going to New York City. I sat down and wrote my mother that this was a happy birthday for me. I would start home tomorrow. It would take me about twenty days or more to make the trip down south, on the Pacific, to Panama and through the Canal, across the Caribbean Sea and north on the Atlantic Ocean to New York. From there I would come on home by train.
I helped load the oil tanker. They had four big oil lines with hoses connected to the tanks on the ship. After we got our pipes connected and everything ready, it took another 35 hours, or so, to fill the tanks. I looked after the oil pumps and kept them going as fast as it was safe to run them, and we got it done in a reasonable time. By about midnight the next day, it was full and heavily loaded. There wasnÆt more than 12 feet from the deck to the water. It was a big tanker, and we had around three hundred thousand barrels on it. It was named Dixie. During World War I, a German submarine sank it on the Atlantic Coast. But they got it up and refurbished it.
We wasted no time in getting started for New York City. This was a fine big tanker ship, and it hadn’t been back in use more than a year or two. It was painted black, red and white mostly white. It was really a pretty boat. By noon the next day, we were ready to sail. We disconnected our lines, finished loading our supplies aboard the ship, and lifted our anchors. The engineer blew his whistle, “Good bye.”
We got under way and were soon out to sea, but we didn’t get out of sight of land until sometime during the night. With the exception of a few uninhabited islands, we didn’t see any more land for about eight days. I wanted to get a job at oiling those big engines on the boat; but the captain said, “It’s not worth while unless you are going to stay on the ship. That job takes training. You might get your arm cut off.” “Well, I want to be honest about it. I’m just making this one voyage to go east.” He says, “I’ll get you a job waiting on the officers’ tables. There’s about six of us, and that will be a good job for you. It won’t take much of your time, and you can view the sights as you go along.” I thanked him for his help and kindness. I was well pleased to get that job and thankful for the privilege of having more opportunity to see the territory along the way. I don’t like service work of that kind That’s a ladies job but it suited me fine for this short run.
That was the longest voyage I ever made on the waters. It’s nearly 6,500 miles from San Pedro to N. Y. City. It’s about 4,000 miles from Brooklyn harbor to France, by Halifax, N.S., Canada. Although, in zigzagging from New York to France by Halifax, it took us about the same time to make that trip. In going to France, we sailed out to sea at New York about 500 mile or more in order to get away from the coast, where there was more danger of the enemy’s subs attacking us. It took us 23 days to go to France and the trip from San Pedro to New York harbor took 22 days.
To get lined out for my job as a servant or waiter on the tables, I got up early the first morning of our voyage. I told my boss I didn’t know much about this work and that I was afraid I would embarrass someone. He showed me how to set the table in style and how to wait on the customers and the crew. I carried the food to the tables and placed it as near to its proper place as I knew how. Then I stayed nearby, to do anything I could to wait on the table. When they got through eating their meals, I carried the dishes to the sink and washed them. Then I put them away, in shape to set them on the table again. I cleaned the table and swept and mopped the dining room. I kept it shinning and in good shape, as best I saw how.
I got along very well in learning my job; but one of the crew made a nasty remark about something that I did in a hurry. It didn’t look so polite. He was Danish. He was a man who liked to boast about how he did things and how they managed things in Denmark. He thought he was a man to be looked up to. There’s no American who likes a proud boaster. He bawled me out. As far as his being Danish, I was just as respectable of myself, as an American, as he was about his ancestry. I had as much to say as he did. He wanted to slap me, but he held back. I didn’t want to hit him either. He wasnÆt much heavier than me, but I realized I shouldn’t hit him without him hitting me first. I could be charged with sabotage at sea (mutiny), but I didn’t have to keep my expressions too modest a bit more than he did. I thought, “I’m not in the army now.” I wasn’t afraid of him. I was so angry that I wanted him to slap at me. Then I could give him all I had. I was pretty strong for a little man, and I was as agile as a cat. That was the last trouble I had with him, and he was the only person I had any trouble with on the voyage. I always tried to be good to everybody, and I didn’t have any intentions of mistreating anyone. If my boss heard about our trouble, he never mentioned it to me.
We had been on our voyage for two days; and, each day, we were getting into a warmer climate. We saw a lot of porpoise, in big schools, at this time and throughout our journey; and we could see flying fish most any time we looked out to sea. They are about six or eight inches long, or longer, and they slip out of the water and sail like bats. I had the same chores daily, and I had some time to spare. I spent most of my spare time on deck. I met the signal, or radio, man on the ship. He learned that I had never sailed much, and he seemed to take an interest in telling me about the sea and the things that he had experienced.
We were about two weeks getting to the Panama Canal. We were getting nearer it daily, and it was about the middle of May. It was getting so hot that one could hardly stay in the sunshine. You could look out over the ocean and see a shower of big drops of rain going or coming mostly anytime. The shower would pass by; and, for a few minutes, the steam would fog the deck as though it was a furnace. It would dry up for a short while, and then another shower would hit us, on an off, all daylong. The showers kept the temperature down some. Without them, a person could hardly stand the heat. Those sailors worked right ahead, at their cleaning and painting, as though the heat didnÆt bother them. We saw very few other ships on our way. We were too far out to sea to get sight of the coastal ships.
We finally came into Panama Bay, and that was as far south as we went. That’s about five or six hundred miles from the Equator; and that’s as close to the Equator as I have ever been. As we sailed into the bay, it was hotter than ever. We were no longer getting so much of that good sea breeze. A camp of U.S. soldiers was stationed near the entrance to the bay. I suppose they were there to protect the Canal, in case of war. They were living mostly in tents.
We passed through the cut in the hill that they had talked about so much when it was being excavated. It was about 45 or 50 feet high. That’s just a shadow of some of those 500 foot cuts through the Appalachian Mts., near White Sulfur Springs, where Interstate 64 goes through. But it was quite an undertaking in 1904. We didn’t have the machinery then that we have today. They did have a steam shovel. I suppose they used the first steam shovel ever made in America. It was about like one of our ordinary ditching machines, and it took a year or more to finish that small ditch through the knoll. I was surprised to see such a little cut. There was so much discussion of it in the newspapers, and they had so much to say about it that I expected it to be much more spectacular than it actually appeared to me. But that was a very big undertaking in those days. The St. Lawrence Canal is now the biggest canal we have. It was just finished a few years ago, from the Great Lakes to the Hudson Bay and out to the Atlantic Ocean. There’re plans to build a canal from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Some of it is already built toward the Ohio, in 1970.
We sailed on through another lock into an artificial lake about a mile wide and six miles long. The stumps, or snags, of the trees were still standing in the lake. Crocodiles and boa constrictor snakes were squirming all around the shorelines. It was a wild jungle through most of the Canal. In places, we were near the bank and you could see those big snakes in the trees, almost over your head. There were monkeys in the trees, too. I noticed they kept clear of those big snakes! There were all kinds of pretty yellow, green, red, blue, and about any color of birds. They were very pretty and they looked better to me than those big snakes. We didn’t see any gorillas, but some of the sailors said that they had seen them. This was a real wild jungle. There were a lot of pretty ferns, trees, and vines. Some of the wildflowers were as beautiful as any I have ever seen anywhere on a voyage. That was the best trip I ever had, especially through those wild jungles.
We sailed on to our last lock on the Atlantic side of the Canal, and we were soon ready to go across the Caribbean Sea through the Gulf of Mexico. Balboa was a small town in 1924. There were only about half as many people in America, in those days as there are now, in 1970.
We passed through Balboa Bay into the Gulf of Mexico. This is usually a stormy body of water. I got a little seasick. The cook said, “Boggs, how would you like for me to get you a piece of fat meat on a string? You can swallow it again after it comes back up.” He was trying to make me vomit, but I wasn’t that sick. The sickness didn’t last me more than a day or two. The sailors said the Caribbean Seas was as quiet as they had seen it. It’s usually a rough sea.
We went through the Caribbean Sea, and up between Cuba and Puerto Rico. I was standing on the deck with the radio signalman; and he said, “Look at that big man eating shark. They follow a ship to get the garbage; and, if you should fall overboard, they would ram that sharp dagger in you as soon as you hit the water.”
We sailed to within sight of Puerto Rico and continued back out to sea. We didn’t see much more land until we were near New York City. The weather was getting cooler as we sailed north; but the sun was bright. The air was blowing at about twenty five miles per hour, and we began to feel a little chilly after being in those tropic climates. I had gotten pretty handy at my job by this time; and I was free, most of my time, to stay on deck and see all of the scenery. There were several ships sailing in our vicinity. We were near land and in one of the busiest coasts of the ocean. I saw the George Washington passenger ship that I had seen on the coast of Brest, France, when I embarked for New York in May 1919. (It had brought President Woodrow Wilson to the peace conference at Versailles, France.)
We were getting near the harbor. A lot of ships were coming in and out. We got to New York harbor on May 22; we had left San Pedro on May 1st. Everybody seemed to be happy at least the engineer of the boat. He kept blowing the whistle until the captain told him to stop it. We could be fined for making unnecessary noise in the city.
That was a fascinating voyage, even if the weather was a little too warm! For a nice ship, some conditions weren’t too good. Our rations weren’t exceptional; but that is usually the complaint on a boat. People who have never sailed much don’t usually feel too hardy, and they usually get some nausea for a day or two during the voyage. No food tastes good when you are seasick. The boat was in good shape and up to date, as you’ll usually notice about equipment operated by a big corporation like the Standard Oil. This was a jolly crew. We were pretty busy at games and recreation, when off duty; and that made the time fulfilling; but I don’t think more than half of the crew signed up for another voyage. We were mostly just travelers on the trip for sight seeing. The core members of a crew, who make sailing their livelihood, usually don’t change much.
The boat pulled into the docks and anchored at New York City harbor at about noon. I had my belongings packed and ready to disembark, and I was one of the first to get off. This was my first trip to that city. I was in Brooklyn in 1918 and we camped on Long Island for about two weeks before sailing to France, but I didn’t get into the “Big Apple”at that time. We weren’t allowed any vacation so near the time for going to war.
Before we got off the boat, the radioman told me a lot about the city and how to get around. He showed me some of the skyscrapers. The tallest building in the world was the one remembered best. I caught a cab to the Pennsylvania Rail Road Station and got rid of some money by buying a ticket to Charleston, West Virginia. I had some twenty dollar gold certificate bills, and they would look too tempting to a thief if he got his eye on them. I left my baggage at the depot and walked up Broadway. I saw some of the city’s main buildings and sights that I had always read about. Then I got a hotel room and put up for the night.
The next morning, I boarded a train to Washington, D.C. and I got there in the late afternoon. This was my first trip to Washington. I stayed there overnight and saw a few sights. Then, I caught a train to Orlando, West Virginia. I had to wait there for about four hours for the next train. That was a small town you might say only a village. I got restless while waiting so long. I was so tired of traveling and anxious to get home once more, after nearly four years, that it seemed more like a day than four hours.
I met a few hillbillies and spent my time very well. I enjoyed talking with people of my native state and learning what had taken place all those seven years I’d been away. I learned that my old home state wasn’t so far behind times, at least not as much as some people claimed it was. There are too many people who think of West Virginians as an ignorant lot of people, but I’ve met more ignorant people in mostly any of the 31 states that I’ve been in. Mountain folks usually have more vigor than the people of the plains or the coastal states. They take West Virginia to be a very poor and lackadaisical state, but it is very active in business and recreation; and it has more natural resources than mostly any other state. Charleston, West Virginia is recognized as one of the wealthiest cities in the U.S., according to its per capita income.