California Council for the Humanities
California Stories Initiative
Years of Valor, Years of Hope
Tulare County and the Years 1941-1946
Tulare County Library
The Friends of the Tulare County Library
And the Tulare County Historical Society
Interviews in 2003-2004Interviewee: Maureen Anne Anderson
Date: March 11, 2004
Place: Tulare County, CA
Place of Interview: Visalia, CA
OUTSTANDING POINTS IN LIFE:TULARE COUNTY FROM THE EYES OF A PRIMARY SCHOOL CHILD. FURTHER HISTORICAL INFORMATION ABOUT TULARE COUNTY, AN AGRICULTURAL FAMILY IN TAURUSA, 7 MILES NE OF VISALIA
JW: This is Judith Wood, and I am here at the Tulare County Library on March 11 2004 with Maureen Anderson. We are about to do an oral history interview on the subject of Years of Valor, Years of Hope, Tulare County during World War II. Maureen, to start out this interview, I’d like to ask for your name, particularly your maiden name, and your date of birth.
MA: My date of birth was August 9 1935; my name was Maureen Anderson. My grandparents came to Tulare County in the early twentieth century. Their name was Jacobson, so that is the family name that’s here.
JW: Your maiden name was Anderson?
MA: I’m sorry, Thorpe. I was legally adopted by my stepfather when I was seven years old.
JW: And your grandparents’ name was?
MA: Jacobson, because the immigration changed it to "son:" Frederick and Clara (Olsen) Jacobson. Frederick was from Oshkosh, Wisconsin and Clara was from Racine. They moved out to Tulare County.
JW: Where were your parents from? Were they born here also?
MA: My mother, Edna Jacobson, was born in Visalia. She went to high school in Fresno, because my grandparents sold the ranch in about 1920 and moved to Fresno, but moved back because when the Depression started, the people lost the ranch. They moved back. My two uncles Arden and Freddy Jacobson farmed, as well as my grandfather.
JW: Where was the ranch?
MA: It was about three quarters of a mile south of the Taurusa School, that’s about seven miles north of Visalia on Road 140. My grandfather Jacobson was one of the ones who built the school in 1910 and was on the school board for a number of years.
JW: Is that school still running?
MA: No, it became part of the Visalia Unified District when they unified all the County area schools. It was used for a while and now it is private property. Somebody’s living in it.
JW: That’s very interesting. Well, how old were you then, when World War II began?
MA: I was six and in the first grade.
JW: Oh, so very impressionable years, I would think. And you grew up just here in Tulare County then?
MA: Yes, I was born in Fresno, but my mother moved back to the ranch when she divorced, when I was two.
JW: When you were two, so you lived in Taurusa, just north of Visalia at that time. So, then, to get right into the war, where were you and do you remember even when Pearl Harbor was bombed?
MA: Yes. I don’t remember the radio broadcast so much. Maybe I remember that because I’ve heard about it so many years. But I do remember Monday when we were all in school and the kids were all talking about it. My classmates were all talking about it and, of course, at six, we didn’t really understand too much about what was going on. We all heard what our families said and we compared notes to that. So, I do remember that there was a lot of confusion.
JW: Was that an actual assignment led by your teacher at that time in school, to talk about it?
MA: I remember we were out on the playground. I’m sure the teacher must have explained a little bit to us, but I remember more about talking out by the swings.
JW: Did you talk about where Pearl Harbor was?
MA: I don’t remember that. I remember us talking about all the bombing and people being killed. You know, you wonder what all this is about and what’s going on.
JW: Do you remember how you felt as you were learning about all that bombing?
MA: I was scared about that.
JW: You were scared as a first grader?
JW: That was the first time you were hearing. . .
MA: Yes. And it was the first time most of us had experienced any, or knew about, violence at that level. My grandfather always had the news on and I suppose I must have heard about what was going on in Europe, but I was probably too young when that started to remember much.
JW: Is there any one event of the war that really stands out in your memory?
MA: Not really of anything military. I remember the day Roosevelt died, but that really wasn’t part of the war. I remember things that happened in local events, but they weren’t the military ones.
JW: Can you tell me a little bit about what was happening here in Tulare County? The local events you say you remember.
MA: Well, I remember, you know, things like rationing and things like, my mother was a plane spotter. She remarried to Harry Burney Thorpe in 1942 and my step-dad had been in the military, in the Army, in Alaska, in Anchorage and Sitka, but he was hurt in an accident. I think that was before the war. He had worked on Wake Island in military construction and he was injured on the job there and came home after that tour. He went into the Army but his back injury caught up with him and he was finally discharged on a medical discharge.
JW: So, he was home during the war.
MA: He was home during the war.
JW: That’s interesting. So, your stepfather and your mother were here in Tulare County.
MA: Yes, we were here in Tulare County, yeah. He had a small carpentry business in Visalia.
JW: All during the war?
JW: Okay, that’s very interesting. So that’s kind of the events that stand out in your memory, your step dad coming home.
MA: Well, yeah, and them getting married. But, you know, I remember a lot of things: the air-raid warden who was appointed in our district, and the fact that Sequoia Field was near by. I watched the planes and all sorts of events. My mother was a plane spotter at nights.
JW: Can you tell us a little bit more about your experience watching the planes at Sequoia Field?
MA: Well, we lived about three miles, two and a half, three miles across country from Sequoia Field. So when they started the pilot training program out there, my grandfather’s house was an old house built in 1889, and it was surrounded by great big trees, tall trees. The house up the road, up north, was also from that era and had great big tall trees, and the training pilots used those two clumps of the trees as their pivot points, practicing figure eights, which they started doing about daylight and went on most of the day. I was fascinated by the airplanes. I developed a great love of flying and even took lessons way after the war from Sol Sweet, who was one of the instructors out there.
JW: That’s really interesting; I don’t suppose your mother felt the same way about that.
MA: Well, probably, it did get a little old with all that roaring overhead. They didn’t fly very high either.
JW: (Laughter) Well, just to talk a little bit more . . . this is more a personal question. Do you consider that World War II was a just war?
MA: I think so. I am a history major and have a Master’s Degree in
history and from all the reading I have done and things that I have seen and
watched, I think it was. I mean, we had
been attacked and we were already supporting
JW: Okay. Well, where were you when you heard that the war had ended and can you tell us a little bit about events in Tulare County at that time?
MA: Well, that’s really strange because I remember the day Roosevelt died and I remember the day the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima a little bit. The one dropped on Nagasaki occurred on my birthday. I should remember that better, but I don’t. I don’t remember there being a celebration or anything. I remember Pearl Harbor better than I remember the end of the war.
JW: That’s interesting. You’re so much older at the end.
MA: Yeah, it seems like I should but I guess Pearl Harbor made a bigger impression on a six year old than a 10 year old, who…
JW: There weren’t fire works and parades?
MA: There may well have been; I don’t remember any of it.
JW: That’s interesting. Well now, we’ll get a bit into family, your family life. Were there changes in your housing situation? Did you have people that were outside your immediate family that lived with you during the war?
MA: No one outside of our immediate family lived with us. There was a family who lived at my uncle’s house, which was in the same place, but that was because they worked on the ranch and I think they had been there before the war too. It was a Mexican family. They stayed there quite some time. My uncles each had part of the ranch, and my grandfather. But they all worked it together, so it was a family ranch, so they all ran part (chuckle) of our ranch.
JW: Did your family have to find other people to help them at harvest seasons and other times, where the young men that had been working in the fields, many of them had gone to other areas of California or enlisted?
MA: Well, we raised cattle, pigs, and we had sheep for a while. They raised some crops, but there was mostly hay; I don’t remember them raising grain, so there wasn’t a great deal of harvesting. It wasn’t like we had raised vegetables. My grandfather had an enormous garden and because of the ranch, we raised almost everything we needed except for sugar and clothing and that kind of thing. We had cows for milk and butter and a vegetable garden and we raised beef and we had pigs and chickens. So we had plenty of eggs and meat. Flour we had to buy and sugar.
JW: Well, now that’s getting into my next question in asking how the war affected your economic circumstances and difficulties, possibly in getting food, which evidently you had no difficulties, but also clothing and other consumer goods.
MA: My grandfather had, I guess she was a cousin, Effie Buerkle who was married and lived in the Bay area. Her husband’s name was Ed. And she had two daughters, probably my mother’s age. They both joined the service, one, Jane, in the WAVES(ed: Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service,United States Navy), and one, Marguerite, in the SPARs, (ed: Women’s Coast Guard Reserve,Semper Paratus,Always Ready) and lived at home. I think they were both stationed at Treasure Island. Cousin Effie Buerkle went through the closets periodically and cleared out everything and she boxed it off to the "poor" folks in the country. So, my mother and grandmother re-made all these clothes that came and we had wool coats and wool pants and all sorts of things due to war effort I guess. It was like Christmas when those boxes came. I remember when my mother made skirts for me out of flour and feed sacks that came printed. So, I had all those very pretty skirts.
JW: You had flour sacks. And how did your family get flour, if it was such a hard time?
MA: Well, you could get it; it was rationed and you could get it if you saved up your coupons and got enough. They made the feed sacks too for the chickens.
JW: Yes, well, was there any change in your diet because of the rationing or do you remember there being any or hearing about any black market activities?
MA: No, I don’t know about black-marketing personally. I know that up by the school, across from the school, which was about three-quarters of a mile away, there was a little neighborhood store and they would save things for neighbors and special customers. They took your ration coupons up there, but they would tell somebody else, "No there was no margarine," or whatever, they didn’t have any sugar. They would save it back for their close customers. So, I know that happened.
JW: So, they were quite selective to whom they sold it to?
MA: They would say, you know, that they sold out so much, but they’d save you some.
JW: That’s interesting.
MA: Well, neighbors helped neighbors too, back in those days.
JW: (Chuckle) that’s interesting. I’ll tell you about something else, if I think of it, when we’re through with this interview, that involves someone that’s totally unrelated to this.
Did your family participate in war bond campaigns or other savings programs and was this encouraged when you were in school?
MA: Well, I know my family bought war bonds. And my grandfather’s sister, Christina Jacobson Benson, was very independent and quite comfortable; she lived in Long Beach and she would send war bonds as a present on birthdays and Christmas. At school, everybody who could afford a dime brought a dime every week and bought a savings stamp. Then when the little savings stamp booklet was full, you could put that with, I’m not sure how many, and trade them in for a bond. The bond, I think, was $20 for a $25 bond.
My grandfather’s other sister, Kate, moved to Visalia with her husband, James Nelson. Their son, Lawrence and his wife, Elizabeth, followed them here from Berlin, North Dakota. Lawrence delivered mail in downtown Visalia until he retired. One of their sons, Carlyle, became a musician with Harry Owens Orchestra and married Hilo Hattie, a singer with that orchestra and was very well known in the ‘40’s and ‘50s.
JW: Was there any kind of a celebration when someone had saved up enough or did the school do it as a classroom, where they buy them or how did that work?
MA: You took your dime to the teacher and she gave you a stamp, which you then pasted in your booklet and she kept the booklets until your booklets were full. And then she sent them home with you.
JW: So, when the bonds came out, it was one that you owned.
JW: It wasn’t the school’s?
MA: Well, actually, I still have a bond and a half filled booklet of stamps.
JW: Oh, that’s interesting. That’s very interesting.
MA: I should cash that bond in because it isn’t getting any interest anymore.
JW: Well, it may have a very much historical interest. Among the things that were shared with us by the Tulare County Museum, they did not have a half-filled book of stamps.
MA: Oh, they don’t. Well, I should send it on to them.
JW: They might like that. And by the way, for this interview, I need to explain that I’m the Project Director for this Oral History project as well. So, that’s why I can comment on these other things. Were there any other family efforts to support the war? Were there crafts that you did at home or volunteer activities or victory gardens that were shared outside your immediate family?
MA: Well, I remember you saved everything. You saved any fat and oil. And it went to the war effort. We saved tin foil in balls and they got quite large and you saved string, but that wasn’t collected. My mother worked as, volunteered as a plane spotter at night. Not that any Japanese planes ever came near (chuckle) the San Joaquin Valley, that I know of. They had the cutouts and silhouettes, so they could tell Japanese planes from American planes. They sat out on a platform in somebody’s walnut grove.
JW: Well, I think there was a well-founded fear in Tulare County where the submarines had actually sunk some ships off the coast, off of Santa Barbara, which is just to the west of us.
MA: Well, I don’t think they sank a ship, but it was off of the point that’s just north of the university there. I think that men on the shore fired shots at the sub that surfaced. He was kind of patrolling, I guess, with a rifle.
JW: At a Japanese sub that surfaced there?
MA: Um hum, yeah, that was north of Santa Barbara.
JW: Well, I understand they found the hull of a ship that was sunk during the war.
MA: A fishing boat? It was a very serious matter, I mean, they didn’t go out and sit there just for fun. I don’t think they ever saw anything, but maybe a few American planes.
JW: What about the garden, the large garden that you said you had, was any of that shared outside of your family?
MA: Well, it was shared with both of my uncle’s families and my mother’s.
JW: So, just kind of kept inside the family.
MA: Yes, my mother and dad, when they were married, lived in just kind of a little two-room cabin that was on my Uncle Arden’s part of the ranch. He and my other uncle had used that before the family moved back down to the ranch to stay in when they came down to do things. They had no running water, but there was a windmill outside. And it had no indoor plumbing.
JW: This is where you lived.
MA: No, I stayed with my grandparents. These were newly weds and you could not get materials to build houses during the war. I mean, all of that was used someplace else, plumbing, pipes, lumber, most building materials, wire, any electrical wiring, any of that kind of thing. It was not really readily available during the war for private use and so it wasn’t until the end of the war that they were able to get their house finished. And, even then, my dad was contracting and building other places and helping remodel. I remember a fireplace wall, a wall of half-cut logs, or supposed logs, that he had taken out of some saloon someplace and when he got them, they were a horrible sticky green. They took all the paint off of them and refinished them. That was the living room wall around the fireplace. You also scrounged plumbing where you could. But about 1946, they were able to build the house.
JW: You said your stepfather worked as a carpenter during the war.
MA: He had a carpenter shop in Visalia.
JW: If wood was hard to come by, how did he survive?
MA: He got a little bit. He made things like . . . well, he helped fix things. I remember he made a wooden shopping cart that had wooden wheels. It was about two and a half or three feet high with a handle, and maybe twelve inches square. It had a handle so you could pull it and he made the wooden wheels so you could haul things from the market. You didn’t drive your car unnecessarily. To get back and forth, he had, it was about a 1932 Model A coupe, which he drove until probably the end of 1943, when it died, finally.
JW: Then what did he do, I understand it was hard to find cars?
MA: Yes, you couldn’t buy a car, but he knew somebody he had worked for who had a car he wasn’t using and he loaned it to him. So we had this nice car, which was a 1940 Dodge Coupe. It ran so much better than that Model A.
JW: (Chuckle) Very interesting. Was there anyone in your immediate family, in that group, that you are talking about, that was separated because of military service or war?
MA: The older of my two uncles, Arden, was single by that time, and he and his wife, Flora, had no children, so he had no dependents . . . his former wife. He was drafted at the age of 40 or 41, something like that.
JW: What year was that?
MA: Oh, it must have been 1944, maybe, or the end of 1943.
JW: Now wasn’t it true, as you are a history major, that in 1942, at the beginning of 1942, they were not drafting, they were turning away the people that were in their 40’s?
MA: They were not drafting if you had dependents. You were fair game, I think, if you did not.
JW: But at the beginning?
MA: At the beginning they weren’t drafting older men then.
JW: They were turning them away, right? And then about 1944 they were drafting them. Hum, very interesting.
MA: Anyway, he went off to, I forget what training camp. He didn’t last very long, I mean, at his age. I’m not sure why, but he got a medical discharge. I don’t think he would have ever had made it anyway. My family is Danish and the Scandinavians are not great for taking orders. They always know why things should be done differently. I don’t know whether that was the case with Arden, because with me he was always just a sweetheart. But, anyway, he got a medical discharge and he came home.
JW: A what kind of a discharge?
JW: Medical, okay.
MA: And he came home, in part, to continue working on the ranch, because we grew food. We grew, you know, whatever, that certainly helped.
JW: But you said the food didn’t go further than your own family.
MA: The garden didn’t go further than our own family, but the beef and the sheep and wool, and all that sort of thing was sold.
JW: Oh, it was, so, okay, so that helped.
MA: For the family, we raised just whatever beef we needed, but they did have other, the cattle and pigs. I even raised pigs. They were always getting out and into the garden.
JW: From your young age, did you notice your parents, when they fell in love during the war, your stepfather and your mother . . .
MA: It was probably before the war.
JW: Before the war. Was getting married during the war any different than if they had been able to get married and there hadn’t been a war. Do you remember that at all.
MA: Well, possibly. They went to Las Vegas and evidently getting there and back on the train was quite a deal, because train travel was not that steady and dependable. I guess if service men needed a place, they took first choice. So, anyway, they did take the train to Las Vegas. You could do that in those days.
JW: That’s very interesting. So, it was easier to take the train than to drive.
MA: Well, you couldn’t afford and you wouldn’t have enough gas to drive the car.
JW: So did a lot of people travel by train then, or did they travel more by plane. Were there planes then too?
MA: There was some passenger service, I think the airmail came into Visalia before the war, maybe in the ‘20’s even. I don’t know how much passenger service there was out of the valley. Trains, I suppose to a certain extent, were used more frequently and there were passenger trains up and down the valley. Even into Visalia and, I think, into surrounding areas.
JW: Okay, well, now to go more into community and national life here. Were there, do you remember, I don’t know, you may not, neighborhood organizations that watched for blackouts. Did you have blackouts in this area? Did they make special drives to collect things?
MA: Oh yes, yes, early on you provided the material to black out your windows. Although, in those days, you didn’t have that many lamps and you certainly didn’t use powerful bulbs. There were a lot of 40 and 60-watt bulbs in use.
JW: What kind of material was given to people here to do that.
MA: I don’t whether it was given or each person provided their own. I remember it was kind of a cheap looking black cloth. Or if you had drapes, you know, that would work, you could use those. We did have an air raid warden for our district, I guess the Taurusa District. That was Mr. Woolman who owned the store across from the school. His job would be, in case of attack, to drive up and down the roads of our district with either a plow share or a disk, a blade, I’m not sure which and bang on it with a hammer, so we would all know that we were under attack. I used to wake up sometimes in the middle of the night and wondered if maybe I’d heard him hammer on that and if I should be worried.
JW: Oh, that must have been scary for a little girl at that time.
MA: You know, I think for children that age, it’s scary but it’s exciting too.
JW: Uh huh, did they ever have an air raid practice?
MA: Not that I remember, fortunately. (laughter)
MA: There was a community organization and Taurusa was like so many schools in the county. All the time, they were organized in the center of a community of farmers and that was kind of like having a small community of your own. So, there was a 4-H developed out there in the ‘20’s. There was a grange for a while and when I was going to school, there was a very strong mother’s club, which was really a community club, not a PTA. It was a community club and church services were held in the school, interdenominational, because it was seven miles into town and people didn’t waste the gasoline.
They included the men who were stationed at Sequoia Field. Lots of the neighbors invited these young men to their homes for Sunday dinner. In fact, a neighbor north of us ended up marrying one of the young men. When the war was over, he came back and they lived there for quite a while. It was organized around the school but also around the community. They had potlucks. I remember we had, what do you call ‘em, suppers where you brought a box supper and auctioned them off. The young ladies of the school would do that. That was a big community event. There was a real close-knit group there.
JW: In your capacity, you’re very much a historian of what was happening in Tulare County and I wonder, do you think that there was the same kind of close-knit activities in church happenings in the local public buildings?
MA: I don’t know about all the churches, but I know that a lot of schools, Willow School for one, and some of the others around had grown up with that sense of community. This started before the war, but, you know, it intensified during the war years.
JW: But you don’t know if there were any other communities that held church services in the school, interdenominational services?
MA: No, I don’t really know that. The churches in town would have their own congregations, and I think a minister from one of the churches would come out. And maybe it wouldn’t be the same one every time.
JW: That’s very interesting. Okay, now I don’t know how well you can answer this, but how do you feel that Taurusa and Visalia was affected by Sequoia Field and Rankin Field and those special conditions with young men learning how to fly right here in Tulare County? And how were businesses affected, you know, where there was rationing and shortages? Was there any change, do you think, in Tulare County because of those two fields that were here?
MA: Well, yeah there were a lot of the communities, like Taurusa and Willow. I know from doing research that prostitution had been pretty wide open in early days, even though it supposedly was illegal. In Visalia, and I think even more so, in Tulare, it was a little more flagrant there. The military or the Department of Defense, or whatever, it was the Department of War at that time. When they set up those two bases, they weren’t in existence at the beginning of the war. The airfields were there, but not the training. And before they set them up they came to both of those communities and maybe others in the county and said they had to crack down on all of the prostitution before they would allow the young men to come in. They would put those towns, in effect, off limits to the military personnel and anybody caught there would be dragged off and God knows what punishment.
JW: Ah, very interesting.
MA: Of course, the businesses wanted to keep that open. I mean, they wanted the military business in town, in the more legitimate fields (chuckle). So there was a crack down on it. It didn’t stop it.
JW: Is that, they started bringing young men here to learn how to fly for the Army Air Corps in 1942. So, do you think government came in 1942 to crack down?
MA: About the time they were opening those fields, they came in and passed this edict: "You will clean it up, or you won’t have any business in town."
JW: And did they clean it up? Did they get rid of it?
MA: They got rid of the obvious, I know there were two blocks in Tulare that were really, (chuckle) what shall I say, flagrant, you know, they were pretty wide open before the war, I think. Visalia may not have been quite that open, but there was certainly a lot of it going on. It did not go away, but it wasn’t open anymore.
JW: What about . . .
MA: I don’t, you know, from my perspective, as a child, I didn’t know anything about that at the time.
JW: But, you’ve done research on it now. You were also telling me something about the saloons and bars that were here before the war.
MA: Yeah, that was earlier, that was earlier.
JW: I see, so they weren’t here during World War II to the same extent?
MA: Well, I don’t think the saloons ever went away, the bars. I mean, they were there after the war too. I know that was a meeting place for the older group. Visalia was small. Visalia was about 5,000 or 5,500 people. It was a small community where everybody knew everybody else, pretty much. One of the places they, you know, went out on the weekend, went out on a Friday night or Saturday night and they met at The Town Club, which was the cocktail lounge in the Hotel Johnson. Or they met in some of the others. There were . . . oh, I can name a lot of the bars around Main Street, but . . . .
JW: Where was Hotel Johnson?
MA: Hotel Johnson was where the Bank of America is now, downtown. It faced Church Street, on the northeast corner of Main and Church. It was right across from the big bank, which was Bank of America at that time. A multi-story building was there, the only one with an elevator.
JW: That was Hotel Johnson?
MA: No, that was the bank. Hotel Johnson was two or three stories, maybe, I can’t remember. It replaced the Visalia House, which had been built back in the 1800’s and in 1916, they tore down the Visalia House and built Hotel Johnson. It was lost in a fire in the 50’s or 60’s. It burned down. I guess it was the 60’s, at least, because then Bank of America finally bought all of the buildings in that block and tore ‘em down and some of them were no great loss. And they built the Bank of America building.
JW: Thank you. My little side comment here is that Maureen knows a tremendous amount about Visalia history.
To get back to the war and what it did, you may be able to share some here, based on your research too. What do you feel the impact was of the wartime mechanization and mobilization on local agriculture in Tulare County? Now, this is moving beyond your own family; we’ve talked about that, your own family.
MA: Well, a lot of things were done for the war effort, I mean, you heard that all the time. The area probably provided a lot of food supplies. They provided a lot of cotton for uniforms and all, because we were, at that time, raising a lot of cotton, probably not as much as now, but there was a lot of that. There was a lot of grain for bread and then whatever were those horrible things that went into the ration kits.
JW: Do you think that the local agricultural community profited by the need for all of this?
MA: I think a lot of businesses, including agriculture, profited, just because there was such a demand for extra whatever. Whether it was extra vehicles and rubber tires or if it was extra food to ship to the Pacific or to Europe, there was just a tremendous demand for all that and you can’t help but profit somewhat. On the balance side, we lost a lot of young men who might have been very valuable to the communities had they survived.
JW: Thank you for that answer.
Did different ethnic groups exist or were they more apparent to you in your community? Can you talk a bit about race relations and any changes in those relationships during the war and also your own attitudes?
MA: Well, you know, as a child, I didn’t see much of that. My family was very broad minded and open to whatever. My family were immigrants at one time, back in the mid 19th century. My grandparents were born here, but were certainly raised in a different kind of household. There was a Japanese family who lived on our ranch, right outside of the back door of the house, actually, in some of the outbuildings there, in the early 30’s, mid 30’s, who were able to save enough money to buy a small orange grove about a mile away. Unfortunately they were interned during the war. Their neighbors saved, worked that ranch and kept the trees going. I suppose they profited from the oranges, but it was there for the family when they came back. Their children, who were probably a half a generation older than I, mostly became professional men in Visalia, very staunch members of the community.
There was a Hispanic family who lived near my uncle’s house, my Uncle Fred. They were there before the war and, I think, during the war too. I used to go down and
play with the children. My mother hoped they would teach me Spanish. I taught them English instead (chuckle). In our community, through the eyes of a child, I didn’t see much of a problem.
JW: Well, you would see in the newspaper, pictures and posters of things against Germans, Italians and Japanese. Now did that affect you as a child? Did you run against people here or find other children that came from . . . ?
MA: After the war, my mother would never buy anything that was made in
JW: How old were you at that time?
MA: When I was there, I was in my late 20’s. She may have been a little bit older. I don’t remember . . . of course, you had all this stuff when I was growing up . . . the cartoon characters, the cartoons at the movies, which were politically oriented. Our school . . .at least we didn’t tear anybody down, it was a "win the war" effort rather than castigating the enemy so much. We had patriotic pageants that we put on every year instead of a play. I was the Statue of Liberty one year. I got the lead because I was the tallest and was the one who could memorize (chuckle) the lines. I was no great actress. I got a lot of sympathy with the Statue of Liberty, however, because it takes a lot of strength to hold up that torch. I remember all the patriotic things. I don’t remember much of the other, the other side of that coin.
JW: Well at your age, it probably was something that didn’t strike you as being any different.
MA: It wasn’t different because, you know, I think when you’re afraid, you make fun of the situation or you make fun of your enemy and that’s what a lot of that was. It was like Charlie Chaplin in his picture of the Fuehrer (Hitler).
JW: In your opinion, what was the over-all impact of the war on American society?
MA: I think it changed it quite a bit. Economically, it brought us out of the Depression, of course. It made a lot of people wealthy. Women were now a part of the work force, because there weren’t enough men to do the jobs and they were doing what were called "men’s jobs". And they didn’t really want to give that up at the end of the war. It changed fashion: women wore pants or slacks. They started wearing slacks in the 30’s. During the War they had jobs like building ships and working on farms, because a lot of them did. Even in this area, I know, they recruited students and women to go out and harvest the cotton or some of those things. That occurs to me now, after your last question. Women’s rights changed considerably, I think. The families changed after the war. Well, the baby boomer generation was beginning their growth then. I think you had a lot of change in values too.
JW: In what way?
MA: Society was not as restricted, not as rigid. Of course, the end of the war, you know, changed a lot of people. It was a relief, you know, Eisenhower brought in a different kind of civilization, in their attitude.
JW: Well, there was McCarthyism then.
MA: Well, that was bad too. The man who was the local FBI Agent, his family had been here a long time and he had known my dad forever, I think they were about the same age. My dad was a very out-spoken man, loud along with it. I always said he didn’t need a telephone. If he could just get the person’s attention first, he wouldn’t need the telephone. Building was booming, once you had the materials, and he did a lot of building in Visalia. As I said, he was always out-spoken. One of his favorite phrases was "comes a revolution, we’re gonna see things different here." Well, he’d say that once too often and here would come the FBI Agents and say, "All right Burney, now what did you say?" Because somebody had turned him in. But that’s about as close as that affected anybody that I knew here, locally.
JW: Now, when you’re talking about women wearing pants, I can remember the 1950’s in New England. Women didn’t wear pants anywhere.
MA: Well, girls weren’t allowed to wear them to school either. And, of course, in grammar school we did, because it was a country school. It was a three-room school with maybe between 60 and 90 students.
JW: So you did out here.
MA: Well, of course. I played on the boy’s baseball team too. But society did change and roles changed a lot following the war. I think the war was a catalyst for that.
JW: Do you think there was a greater acceptance of people that looked different than you did, as a result of the young men that went into those different areas of the world and worked with those people?
MA: I’m not sure that there was a significant difference. They may have done that, but usually most of the people they worked with were German or Asian and I’m not sure that upset them. Well, I’m just not sure. I know a lot of them brought home war brides from other countries, but they did that in World War I too. So, you did have a little more diverse community.
JW: Now, I need to ask you the two questions most important to this, which we’ve probably answered to some extent. Then to finish the interview, I’m going to ask you if there is anything else that you would like to share. I see you have notes, quite a few notes, that you have done in preparation for this interview, and perhaps I haven’t touched on some of those areas. First of all, I’d like to ask how you think the World War II years in Tulare County affected you, and affected the county at that time?
MA: I don’t know that they affected me, because as a child you’re not so affected. There were no tragedies in my family. None of my family were marched off to war to get killed. Our lifestyle wasn’t changed that much.
JW: Did you lose teachers from your schools . . . ?
MA: No. There were really no losses in the community that I remember that were close to us. So that really didn’t affect us that much. Children, you know, children see things differently. They don’t worry about economics or the military or anything. I know my grandfather had this great big console radio in the living room and we gathered around that for the news, always. But we gathered around that for other things too. We listened to the great radio shows that they had during that time.
In the County, I think, as in so many areas, it brought a little prosperity, a little more prosperity. The Depression hadn’t ended when the war began, not really, not down at ground level. I think that changed because different people now had money or more money. There seemed to be more opportunities. I know it changed the schools and colleges because the young men returning went on to further their educations, a lot of ‘em. There were jobs in a lot of areas that had increased. More houses were being built. My dad went through several different occupations there after the war. He bought a brick plant. Well, I guess he had a concrete block plant first and he still contracted too. He bought a brick plant and the equipment had to be shipped in, so while he was waiting for that to come, he had a shingle mill in our front yard. He then made bricks. And he developed a permanent kind of a building brick that was adobe color and the size of adobe bricks, but it didn’t melt. It had enough reinforcement in it . . . well, anyway.
JW: He sounds like a very inventive man with a great deal of ingenuity.
MA: Well, when he was a kid, he invented a part that went on the caterpillar tractor. And he went to an attorney, a local attorney in town, to patent it. And somehow he didn’t get the patent, but it was on all caterpillars for years. Yeah, he invented . . . this never really got off the ground, but he invented a spindle later, a replacement spindle that you could just snap on a cotton picker, your mechanical cotton picker, because the spindles that would pull the cotton out of the boles would wear out. You would have to replace a whole bunch of stuff, so he invented this that would quickly just screw down and whatever.
JW: Did he, because of this inventive way and the great surge of building after the war, did he become prosperous where he was in that field?
MA: We weren’t rich, but we weren’t poor. Certainly I had everything and it paid my way through college. They were comfortable; they built a new house later. He went through all of these little phases and he built a lot of the buildings in town in the 60’s and 70’s, especially business buildings and sometimes houses.
He ended up building a convalescent hospital. Actually, it was really the first one in the area that was decent because his stepfather, who had gotten old, had what I am sure was some form of Alzheimer’s. They tried to find some place that would take him, like a convalescent hospital and there just were none that you would allow your family to be in and so he built one. In the meantime, he built a little house-apartment next to his mother’s house. So that he hired a couple to stay there and take care of him, but he built a convalescent hospital that is still in operation today.
JW: Where is that? Which one is that?
MA: It was the Visalia Convalescent Hospital out on East Houston, east of Ben Maddox.
JW: Oh, yes, I’ve seen that.
MA: That was the first modern kind of convalescent hospital. The others were kind of nursing homes or care homes. He did a lot in the community. It hasn’t anything to do with the war, but it did change economically; the community changed, I suppose, even politically somewhat.
JW: Because of the war?
MA: Yeah or the aftermath of the war. I’m not sure whether. . .
JW: And how would it have changed politically?
MA: I think from what I have read and seen that maybe people were a little more complacent in the 30’s. I mean, in one way, it was because of the Depression, because you had so little; so many people had so little. With prosperity maybe they became more politically aware and they had the means to do something about it.
JW: Do you think there was a change in the overall political party that was being supported in this area? Was there a change from being liberal to conservative or anything?
MA: The community, like the country, voted Republican.
JW: Right after the war.
MA: Yeah, Eisenhower came in, in ’52, and I think maybe that was left over from feelings that were building in the war. I do remember the day Roosevelt died. I remember the election following that. It was an election with Dewey in it, because some lady was visiting my grandmother in the afternoon and they were having tea. Women were so much better organized in those days; they finished their housework by noon and then they did all these special projects in the afternoon or visited. I remember them saying . . . I don’t know, my grandmother usually didn’t discuss politics, but that woman was saying she didn’t think she could ever vote for Dewey; she could never vote for a man with a mustache. I think political awareness, maybe. I hope it has gone beyond that (chuckle).
JW: I hope so. I think for some people it hasn’t, however (laughter). Well, that’s very interesting. It would be something worth exploring a bit.
How do you think the World War II years have affected the way Tulare County is today?
MA: Well, the situation was so different in the war. I think in some respect that it did change. Maybe not that much; maybe I’m thinking of the total growth since that period. For one thing, women had more opportunities. You were no longer a nurse or a schoolteacher or a secretary. You could be other things. The war had shown that women could do other things and I think that was a plus. I don’t know whether men came back from the war with different values than they had when they went in. It seems to me it must have changed that segment of the population, somewhat, in attitude.
Well, society as a whole has changed so much in the fifty years after the war. This past century has changed more than, I think, the previous hundred years.
JW: I think you’re right.
MA: Part of that is the mechanization that developed further in the war. And that’s just, you know, continued and doubled. Things that they developed for the war effort itself crossed over, quite soon, into civilian life.
JW: Well, you talked about the small, close knit community that Visalia and Tulare were before and during the war. With all the young men that came through here that were going through Rankin and Sequoia Fields . . . I read stories or heard stories that several of them met local girls or liked the area and came back here. Do you think that contributed in any way, substantially, to the growth that occurred in the early 1950’s in this community?
MA: I don’t think that was a really significant number, because how many young men actually went through those training programs?
JW: Quite a few.
MA: But, I don’t think it really built up the population. The population, as I remember, didn’t really go up until, oh maybe ten years later. And then it started to just mushroom.
JW: Okay, it must have been other things, other catalysts.
MA: I’m sure the war brought some of those men back to the area. But, I don’t know whether that was as significant as those who came in the dust bowl migration and stayed and became prosperous citizens of the county. I just think that would have almost more effect and so many of them did.
JW: And that would have happened after the war too.
MA: Yeah, yeah.
JW: So that could very well be.
MA: Well, because I think the economy improved during the war years, obviously it did.
JW: Even with the shortages?
MA: Oh yeah, people were making better money, those that were here. There were more jobs because of the work force that was taken into the military. I do think that improved. I think there were some more opportunities for people of that dust bowl era who hadn’t had them before. I don’t know whether that accelerated their upward movement, but it certainly didn’t hurt it.
JW: Well, now, thank you very, very much for answering all these questions. I know there are probably some holes in all this information that you’ve gathered and I wondered if you could share some of that information.
MA: Well, most of it I touched on in one answer or another. I didn’t mention the thrill of going to Visalia as a child.
JW: Can you say that again, as you were facing away from the microphone?
MA: We used to come to town once a week because of the gas shortage. My grandfather had a 1926 Buick sedan that was used after the war to haul stuff around the ranch still. I guess they don’t make them like they used to. But I would get to come in and go to the library.
JW: In Visalia?
MA: In Visalia.
JW: Where was the library?
MA: It was like, right next door to us.
JW: Oh, this was the earlier Visalia Library. It was a City Library at that time. At the current time, we are raising funds to turn it into a children’s wing. It’s a very historical building.
MA: Right. I grew up in that library. I must have started going there when I was about five. I think I taught myself to read when I was about four. I was helped along, but I could read before I went to school. I read everything. My grandfather used to read books to me when I was smaller, until I started correcting him and he quit, (chuckle) like he did on so many things. He quit playing checkers with me when I learned to win. But, I’d come to town and, of course, read children’s books and they’re not very long or very difficult. I’d check out 15 to 20, all that they’d let me have and I’d take them home and they were all read at least twice by Monday. It was nice when I got to read the longer books, but that was a big deal for me to come to town every week.
I remember going with my grandfather to the old G & I store, which was on Main Street.
JW: What kind of store?
MA: G & I. Well, it was Goldstein and Iseman at that time and it was on Main Street and it had been there for 40 or 50 years anyway.
JW: What did they . . .
MA: It was a grocery store.
JW: Okay, a grocery store. On Main Street.
MA: Yeah, it was on Main Street, just on the north side of Main, just east of the intersection with Locust.
JW: And what did you say it was called again: the G and the I?
MA: Well, later they built several markets and it was G and I, but the name was Goldstein and Iseman and they had been here forever. I remember going with my grandfather and we’d go in the backdoor, because there was parking behind. I don’t know whether there’s a parking lot now. The floor was oiled; it was a wood floor. It was oiled like the schoolroom floors were. And in the back they had big bins of flour and beans and rice and all sorts of dried things. It was just a neat experience. Ed: There still is a parking lot behind that building.
It was about the time my grandmother quit baking bread, because we used to buy one loaf of white bread and take it home because it was such a treat. My grandmother had baked all the bread, forever. Finally we talked so much about the white bread that she quit. She did not bake anymore, which was really too bad, because she made wonderful bread. But anyway, I remember going there once a week. Toward the end of the war, I guess I was old enough to attend a Saturday morning matinee at the Fox Theatre. So, that was a memory of those years and then the later ones too. I helped my grandmother braid rugs for the house, because I liked to do that sort of thing. But she made all the rugs that were used in the house, in my mother’s house and her place. Lots of people did that. You saved old clothes and you dyed them various colors and cut them up into strips and you made a very long braid and you sewed it together in a circle or an oval. Those last for years.
JW: Did you make hooked rugs at all?
MA: No, grandma didn’t do that. Grandma grew up in Wisconsin; she lived in Racine. My grandfather was born in Oshkosh and they met much later. She was an apprentice. Both of those families were fairly well to
do, or not well to do but comfortable in
JW: Your grandmother?
MA: My grandmother was and when she sewed; she sewed a lot. And she had a sewing machine when I was there. My mother would come to get her to baste some and she made the buttonholes by hand for my mother. My mother was a good seamstress too. My grandmother’s basting stitches were smaller, I think, than my regular stitches. She made rugs; she made our clothing and she even made clothing for the men. You just did that and that was necessary during the war. That’s just what people did, especially in the Depression. You didn’t run out and buy stuff. People always said you made do with what you had; you didn’t buy things. But that wasn’t just the war effort; that was before and you were as self sufficient as possible.
JW: So, it would be a different thing today, don’t you think? If we were to have the same kind of a thing
happen to us today. If we were told we were on rationing because of the
MA: I don’t think people could cope. They couldn’t cope as well as they did in World War II.
JW: Because they already had gone through a decade of having to make do.
MA: Yes, and before that. You had so much of the immigrant experience all through, where they were very poor and, except for the very wealthy, it wasn’t a disposable country like it is now. Everything was used and reused. You didn’t waste. Now we waste everything. But in the war you didn’t waste anything either; you saved it. Even grease, cooking fat.
JW: Yeah, I was gonna ask you about that. You said you saved all this fat and everything; was that for the war effort? What did they use it for?
MA: I’m not sure. It was used in something. I don’t know if it could be used as a lubricant, but anyway, you saved it.
JW: And it was shipped overseas? The grease?
MA: Yes, or to the factories or something, I’m not sure. You saved metal, bits of metal, anything, they had scrap drives. You brought in anything you weren’t using that was metal and that was melted down and made into guns or cannons or jeeps or tanks or whatever. It was a different experience. We always saved everything anyway. You saved string. String came on packages and I remember we had big balls of twine around. You never bought string; it was terrible to go down to the store and buy a ball of string because in the first place, it wasn’t as good as it used to be. And the second place you just didn’t do that. You saved tin foil and we turned that in to the metal drives. You saved almost everything.
JW: Well now, I know in my experience, whenever there has been the threat of a catastrophe or, you know, something through weather, through hurricanes, where I lived there were hurricanes or tornados or earthquakes, people just rush to the store and buy what they feel they’re going to need. They would just absolutely wipe out the stores of batteries and radios and flashlights and various things. Now, was there any kind of a sense of needing to go out and buy things in order to make do during the war?
MA: I don’t remember that sense. I remember the sense of having things
on hand so that you wouldn’t run out. I
think it was kind of like: when I was with the Army in
JW: Can I ask -- since you did have the beef and the eggs and the chickens and the big garden, so that pretty well, your family could take care of itself, did you ever have people that came from Visalia or surrounding communities that weren’t able to take care of themselves asking for you to share?
MA: I don’t think so. I think people in town had gardens too and they grew that sort of thing. They probably didn’t have a cow in the back yard, but they could get enough with the rationing. Nobody was starving here. The only people I remember coming through and asking for food were the hobos. A part of the Southern Pacific Railroad, a spur that went from Dinuba through our area to Ivanhoe and then down through Exeter and Porterville, was about a half-mile away across this big open field. We had the same hobos, three or four of them, come every year. They went back and forth and I think they were coming in the war, because it seems to me I was about that age when they would come and they’d work. And my grandmother would cook for them and some of them were very well educated. I remember the family sitting around out in the yard in the evening with them and talking about their experiences or hearing about politics, as my grandfather always did. Those are the only ones I remember who ever came and asked for a meal.
JW: Was there anything else here that you wanted to include?
MA: I don’t think so. I think we’ve covered almost everything, unless you remind me of something else, but we’ve probably gone on long enough.
JW: You had said, one little foot note then. You had said you had done some research quite recently for Cal-Trans, to turn up something that might have happened during the war. In the area to the west of town, where they had just died down . . . where, to build Hwy 198, is that where you were doing your research?
MA: No, I was doing research on the Cal-Trans property over on the other side of Santa Fe where their maintenance yard is. They will build a new maintenance yard out on 198 about five miles east, you know, where the Sequoia Auto Field used to be, but that’s been gone so long nobody remembers it. That area has had a lot of historical artifacts turn up there.
JW: The one near the Sequoia Auto?
MA: No, the one here in Visalia. The one they will abandon when they move out there, consolidating with the Lemon Cove facility. There are a number of historical artifacts, some military artifacts from the Civil War, because Camp Babbit was quite near there and all that area was open. The soldiers used much of these surroundings. Also, a number of wine, champagne and beer bottles have been found right next to that property. They were doing a historical environmental study, which I was hired to do to find out what was significant in that area and if it was historical. If it should be, once they abandon that property, dug up to find out what was there and my answer was, of course, "Yes."
It is important primarily because of the Civil War involvement, but also because of where the champagne bottles and all that came from. Evidently, it was a trash dump. There were a lot of these. You didn’t have garbage pickup service until quite recently. Around the turn of the century, people would dump trash in a spot, maybe dig a hole and families would come by and dump all their trash there. Some people buried it in the backyard and some of these lots that have older homes on them can turn up some interesting things in their back yards. What happened here was . . . we talked about the prostitution in later years, how there was a movement against it. Visalia had always been a free, wide-open town from the time of the southern mountain mines when everything came through Visalia. That was the supply route. The miners came over to celebrate their finds, if any. It was a pretty wide-open town, and there were probably more saloons than there were other businesses, at one point.
Along with saloons came the ladies of the evening and that was pretty wide spread and I don’t think unusual for a western community like this. By the late 1890’s or early 1900’s, the WCTU was quite active, which was the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. My great aunt was a part of that. They started agitating and in the early 1900’s the churches kind of joined behind this effort to close down the saloons because eliminating the whiskey would eliminate a lot of the customers of the girls upstairs. By 1905 they were pushing for this through the city council. Our town fathers unfortunately viewed the income from the saloons as being more important than the morals of the community, so it didn’t go anywhere. At one point a man named John Maben was the target of a lot of this, because he was the biggest saloonkeeper and owner of some various houses. He was located down by, right by where Chinatown is now, between Center and Oak and Bridge and Garden. He had a big saloon and a bowling alley. (I never quite figured out the role of the bowling alley.) And of course, there were several houses, community rooms I think or, I suppose, little one room or two room shacks that the girls operated out of.
JW: Where was that?
MA: It was between Oak and Center and Garden and Bridge. It was in an alley there, it was called Maben’s Alley.
JW: Kind of where the new transportation center is.
MA: Yeah, right about there. Anyway, he was called in to the city council to testify and he finally agreed he would move his operation out of town or out of the city limits. Well, the city limits were Santa Fe Street, which was East Street at that time. He moved to property that’s really right across from where Cal-Trans is now. He had a house, the yard of which must have backed up to the Cal-Trans property. He built a great big saloon and he moved some of the houses and built more, I think. He had a growing operation out of town.
JW: Was that there during World War II?
MA: No, no, but this was the sort of thing that had gone on before; we were talking about the drive to get rid of all of these things. It was much more open before. I did find out that the champagne bottles and all that kind of thing probably came from his saloon. And the dump was practically behind his house.
This finally ended, because in California the women earned the right to vote much earlier than they did nationwide. I think it was in 1910 or 1911 that the County could vote and choose to let women vote. In looking at the town, in the city directories, my Aunt Kate Nelson was registered in 1916 in one party and her husband in the other. That was way before, you know, nationally, whenever they could vote. The women had tried in an election before that failed to close down the saloons. It was when women got to vote in the next election that they pretty much wiped out all the alcohol, legal alcohol, in Visalia. And the houses themselves closed down. The girls moved into rooms, a lot of them, those that didn’t go on to other areas.
JW: I have one other question that I just thought of now. I heard just little glimpses; no one’s really talked about the floods that occurred, 1942, ’43 and ’44, in Visalia? I’m not sure.
MA: The floods were, let’s say it was sort of a semi-annual occurrence, and there were big ones. In 1906, and ’07 was a big one. A huge one was in 1864, ’63 or ’64, and half of Dennison Mountain, up on the south fork of the Kaweah, slid off. We had 40 days of rain; I think they were looking for Noah, but (chuckle).
JW: But during World War II?
MA: Yes, that slid off and blocked everything and then it all came down here. That was the major one. They repeated until they finally built Terminus Dam. There was a major one in the 40’s. I don’t remember about that flood. I know newspaper accounts and in the history of Visalia that there was a major flood then. Some of Mill Creek had been covered over on its way through town and rain washed down debris in a big storm and it would get caught underneath there and then it would back up and would come into the basements of the downtown buildings and it would back up so that everything was flooded. I remember one in ’55 and ’56. I remember driving through Visalia myself coming home from college with the water up a ways, in inches anyway, on the door.
JW: You were driving with water all the way up on your door?
MA: It flooded just before I came home for Christmas and it flooded just before I came home from spring break.
JW: So the floods were really just a normal occurrence; people expected them.
MA: Bigger ones happened every 10 years or so until they finally controlled them. There are lots and lots of pictures here in the library of people in boats going down the streets. In fact my grandfather told me when he came . . .they had been in North Dakota, I don’t know why they lasted 10 years, I couldn’t last 10 years, I don’t think, in those conditions. Especially back then with the inconveniences that you had. But they had decided to move west and they had to settle in Alhambra and then he came up looking for property and he came to Visalia, but he told me . . .
JW: Which grandfather was this?
MA: This was my mother’s father, Frederick Jacobson. I don’t really know my real father’s family at all, so this is my family.
JW: Is your stepfather’s . . . ?
MA: My stepfather’s family I know, but my natural father, my mother’s first husband, I don’t know very much about that family.
My grandfather said that he came up on the train, of course, and he said that looking west from the train, there was water as far as you could see. I figured that must have been a flood year but also that he must have come up on the Santa Fe Railroad, because that was farther west of the main line of the Southern Pacific.
JW: What year was that?
MA: It would be about 1903 or ’04, 1904 maybe.
JW: So there was a big flood then and he probably saw Tulare Lake.
MA: It was Tulare Lake (chuckle). When it flooded, Tulare Lake flooded and it flooded the whole thing.
JW: Okay, well, I really want to thank you for sharing all this information, both what you remember yourself and what you know as a result of your research.
MA: You’ve probably got a whole lot of stuff you don’t need (chuckle).
JW: (Chuckle) Well, I’m sure this will be of great interest to people in the future and I want to thank you very much, Maureen, for agreeing to be re-interviewed where the first one didn’t work that well.
MA: Well, I’m just pleased you could do it and I could finally get it done.
JW: Okay, thank you again. Thank you so much.
04-09-2004 J. Wood/pd/ed. JW 6/29/04
The words in italics are the result of questions asked of Maureen and a small comment made during a final edit on January 19, 2006.