Friday, March 27, 2015

The Summer of 1960

I had just completed my sophomore year at Redondo Union High School. Dad had told us that our family of 6 were going to go on a 51 day tour of the country and visit with friends and family. And, we were not going alone! One of Dad's co-workers, Elmer Leasure and his wife Virginia and daughter Judy were also going. Having read the previous stories, you know that dad was about the most handy person I have ever known. Construction, auto repair, it did not matter - he could do it or fixit. Elmer was just the opposite. He was not inclined to work on things or do other jobs beyond his duties as a supervisor at the post office. Our family were seasoned campers. This is not today's campers with motor coaches or large trailers. This is tent camping. All those jeep runs and trips to the desert in the 50's had honed our camping skills.  As word spread around our neighborhood about our trip Uncle Bill and Aunt Bernice wanted to join in for a few days and then Cal Pickens and his wife Vivian also wanted to tag along. Cal owned the local hardware store and was a frequent jeep run participant with our group.

Like a well oiled team (well not always ) we could set up camp while dinner was being prepared.  In the morning camp came down while breakfast was prepared and we could hit the road before the cook stove had completely cooled down. On the other hand, the three Leasures were always late to the starting line for the days journey.

For the trip, we had a 1956 Chevrolet Suburban Carryall that was surplus-ed from the power company. It was still the company Yellow and we had nicknamed it 'Ol Yeller. Uncle Bill had his new 1960 Chevrolet Corvair, Cal Pickens had his 1960 GMC pickup truck with an Alaskan Camper and Elmer Leasure had his 1960 Chevrolet Biscayne.

Uncle Bill Hamilton and Randy Sam Kerr and the Caravan
Before we go on I'd like to expand on the Suburban.  It had two bench seats allowing all six of us to ride 3 by 3.  Dad built a platform behind the rear seat back to the doors.  One of us could ride up there and sleep or whatever.  Under that was our camping gear and food storage.  The camp stove was a two burner propane stove with the bottle mounted under the rear bumper and the stove attached by a flex hose and stored on the outside of the rear door on a couple of hooks.  This allowed us to leave a campsite without waiting to let the stove cool down for inside storage.  Thanks to Uncle Bill we each had a CB radio so we could talk as we moved down the road.  This was at the very beginning of the truckers CB radio boom so there was not a lot of interference.
This little caravan left So California and headed East. Since this was a "See the USA" trip we would stop at just about every natural or man made attraction that was near our path.  Including road side zoo's with exotic "man-eating monkeys" or crocodiles.  Indian trading post?  But those with be future side stories.  Our first planned stop to visit friends would be in Missouri to see Anna June, Mom's BFF from high school and Mom's Maid of Honor at her wedding. Uncle Bill left the caravan somewhere in Oklahoma and returned home. So did the Picken's as they headed down to Texas to see one of their relatives before heading back to Redondo Beach.

Today we are going to jump to our visit with my Aunt Snow and Uncle Flem's home in West Virginia. I have rescued a few photos from this part of the trip and really wanted to share them with you. As we approached West Virginia, Elmer was always asking Dad where we were going. Dad's response was always “7 hills over and plum down the holler” in his thickest accent. That was always Aunt Snow's address as far as I was concerned. Where was it? Beats me. I know it was some where near Athens, WV but that is as close as I can get. 
The house with Judy Leasure and Tom Rose (sling)
The Rose family on their farm near Athens West Virginia

The farm is down in a holler in those beautiful green rolling hills of Southern West Virginia.  Today they would be considered "off the grid".  Cooking was done on a wood cook stove which of course heated the house in the winter months.  Water from a spring and no indoor plumbing.  Watching Uncle Flem using a two horse plow to till his farm was really interesting.  You would see that in movies on TV, but here it was real life.    

Here we have my Aunt Snow, cousin Martha Lu, cousin Irene, Uncle Flem and cousin Tom.  These are Aunt Snow's three youngest children.  She was always one of our favorite visitors to California and Las Vegas.  

I remember Dad telling Flem that he was a might dry.  And asked him if there was a source for some Moonshine in these parts.  Flem played it cool and acted like he did not know of any place like that.  The next morning Flem was not around and no one knew where he had gotten off  to.  After his return, he was working in the field and
Aunt Snow cleaning the bottoms of her cook ware
Dad went out to see him and returned with a mason jar of moonshine. 

Anyone who has cooked over a wood stove knows the black soot collects on the bottom of your pots and pans.  The removal of this soot is demonstrated in this photo of Aunt Snow just off the porch of her house.

From a genealogy stand point I have much to discover about the Rose family and most of the other relatives that are miles away. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Revisit to Dad's first job in Santa Monica

 This picture is from one of my first postings from March 2013 and has my dad Joe "JL" Kerr at the gas pumps of a service station in Redondo Beach, California in 1940.  While not part of his first job story, it is an interesting picture of the times.

Well, it seems like I left out an important part of the “Auto Laundry” story. My cousin Jim reminded  me about the story of what Dad went through to get his first job in California. I  looked in my OM Monk file and found his transcribed version of Dad's job hunt and added a rather long winded version of one of my job hunts.  Here it is as told by Dad's friend OM Monk:

"Seeing a Help Wanted sign at the Auto Laundry, JL inquired about the job. He was asked if he knew how to steam clean an engine? Of course he said yes, even though he had never steam cleaned anything. This answer seemed to satisfy the question and he was told to start the next morning. Now JL needed to figure out how to operate the steam cleaner. So he found another steam cleaning business and asked to watch the operation. A few hours of watching them fire up and use the kerosine burning steam cleaner and JL was ready for his first day of work."

And it seems that the apple does not fall far from the tree. I had a similar experience when I landed my first welding job. I returned from my job cooking hamburgers at Hamilton Stores in Canyon Village, Yellowstone Park in late September 1962. I had graduated the past June and returned to late to start at at our local Jr College, so I began to hunt for a job. My high school Mechanical Drawing teacher Irv Glushenko told me about a welding job with American Rolling that was run by a friend of his. I went for an interview and was hired. I knew how to arc weld and to gas weld, but he was looking for a Tig welder. I of course told him I could Tig weld even though at the time I did not know what Tig meant.

He surprised me by having me start that very moment by asking me to go with him to the welding supply house and help him purchase a Tig welder. Unknown to me was the fact that he had no welding equipment and one of my tasks would be to set up the welding shop. Luckily the salesperson was a hands on guy and he pretty much knew what was needed in the price range we gave him. He demonstrated the welder on some scrap aluminum and then handed me the torch. I was truly nervous but having seen that it was kind of like gas welding only with an arc, I proceeded to give it a try. After sticking the tungsten arc a couple of times I put down a short little bead and told my new boss that this piece should do the job.

I worked there until September 1963 when I enrolled in the Welding class at the Jr College so I could truly learn how to weld and prepare to get certified.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Western Journey

OM cooking breakfast near Little Rock Arkansas
 A month after his 20th birthday, my dad JL Kerr set out on a life changing journey with his friend OM Monk.  OM was less than a month away from his 20th birthday.  They planned to drive their 1931 Chevrolet from Etowah Tennessee to California.  Along the way they would see those things in the West that came straight from their school books.

JL Kerr at the Grand Canyon
The site of Dad's first job after arriving in California.

Places like the Petrified Forest, Grand Canyon, and the Mojave Desert.  OM took this picture of Dad standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon.  While not mentioned in his diary of the trip, OM loved to tell us about the fateful decision that was made while they were on the North Rim of the Canyon.  Looking at their map, they had a choice of roads to go Southwest to Los Angeles or due West towards San Francisco.  They agreed to let a coin flip decide -  Heads it is LA, Tails it is SF.  He always said that we were lucky that it was Heads.

On Sunday, April 2nd they were standing at the end of Wilshire Blvd looking out at the Pacific Ocean.  From his journal, OM wrote: "We drove hard all day today, Sunday, and came through Hollywood, down to the ocean front to watch the waves roll in.  The Oranges are very abundant and very cheap."  He continues: "Got a room at 711 Marine Street Sunday evening, and started looking for work Monday morning, April 3.  J. landed a job Thurs. and I try out for one on Friday."

This is the Santa Monica Auto Laundry that was JL's first job after arriving in Santa Monica.  It was a Mobil Oil gas station as well.  That is a new friend and OM talking as JL takes their photo.  The 1931 Chevrolet is also in the picture.

In less than a year, Dad and Mom would be married in Feb 1940 after meeting here at this service station.