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 2003-2004

Interviewee: Ralph Moore


Date: 4/1/04


Tape # 46


Interviewer: Sheryll Strachan


Place: Tulare County, CA


Place of Interview: Business of Ralph Moore, Sequoia Nursery in Visalia, CA




Visalia, California


Visalia during the floods of December, 1945.

Life in Visalia

A "Home Defense" organization in Visalia.

SS: This interview is recorded for the Tulare County Library project, "Years of Valor, Years of Hope, Tulare County and the years 1941-1946." Interviewer is Sheryll Strachan. Being interviewed is Mr. Ralph Moore at his business, Sequoia Nursery in Visalia, California, on this date April 1, 2004. I need to know your full name and the date of your birth.

RM: My full name is Ralph Spencer Moore.

SS: And the date of your birth?

RM: January 14, 1907.

SS: And your parent’s names?

RM: My father was Orlando Moore.

SS: And your mother?

RM: My mother’s name was Muriel. Her maiden name was Muriel Witherell.

SS: Oh, spell that.

RM: Witherell, and interesting enough, my daughter is tracing the family history and so on, and they have actually traced it back to one of our ancestors who was actually on the Mayflower.

SS: Oh, really. That’s kind of fascinating.

RM: It goes back a long way. We were surprised. We had been back a long way, but we didn’t know that until recently.

SS: Do you have brothers and sisters?

RM: I’m the oldest one in the family and the only one surviving. My brother, Ray, was a year and a half younger than I am and my sister, Kathryn. I don’t remember just exactly how much younger she was than I am and then my youngest brother was Harlan, Harlan Moore, and he was 10 years younger than I am.

SS: Quite a spread.

RM: They have all passed away now.

SS: And where did you grow up?

RM: Visalia.

SS: That’s easy.

RM: I was born here. My father, Orlando, was born out here just north of Cutler Park and his mother, my grandmother, came here in 1852, the year that Visalia was started. She was a child about three years old.

Ed: Ralph’s grandmother, Amelia Reynolds, was the stepdaughter of John Cutler. She married Henry Clay Moore in Visalia in 1868.

SS: That’s a long way back.

RM: I tell people this was Wyatt Earp country then.


RM: It was all wild country and there was Oak Forest and there was a lot of streams of water and in fact they used to catch fish at Mill Creek, right there by the library and it’s a swampy area and the water table right here was four or five feet away.

SS: It’s gone down a lot over the years. OK, at the start of World War II, how old were you?

RM: I started the nursery in 1937. The war came along a little after that and we got into it in the early 1940’s.

SS: Were you married at the time?

RM: Yes.

SS: Your wife’s name.

RM: Ann Elizabeth. And her maiden name was Newberg. Sometimes some of the family spells it Nyberg.

SS: Oh, yes.

RM: Because her mother and father, Gustav Newberg and Esther Flodin, were not married and didn’t know each other at the time that they both came from Sweden , but met each other here.

SS: Did you have children at the start of World War II? Your children’s names?

RM: Keith, my oldest one, was born about . . . I know he and my daughter were very small then. Just before the war, my brother Raymon lived in Salem, Oregon at the time and we went up to see him, my grandmother, Della Witherell, my mother and myself. Ann and the children stayed with her sister up in Antioch, California. Her sister’s husband, Kenneth, her sister was Della Mollenhaur, and he helped build merchant ships up there until just before he got caught…found he might be called into military service. He moved down to Cutler and started farming. He also had a machine shop and he kept all the farmers machinery in shape and so on.

SS: Your daughter’s name?

RM: Eleanor.

SS: Do you remember where you were and what you were doing when they announced that we were in World War II?

RM: It was on a Sunday morning as I remember and I was listening to the radio and they said Pearl Harbor was attacked. That’s what I heard.

SS: That’s fairly quick. Was your whole family listening to the radio at that time? It was a Sunday.

RM: I don’t know whether my wife was listening to it or not, but I know we had it on and heard that announcement. Kind of shocked everybody, of course.

SS: At that time, did you have a rose garden? Were you growing roses at that time?

RM: Yes.

SS: Your business had been well established?

RM: I started in 1937, so it must have been . . .

SS: About 4 years.

RM: Something like that.

SS: Were you shipping roses then?

RM: It was very small. Visalia was very small, about 15,000 population.

SS: That’s a big difference.

RM: And this was all out in the country. We had a little house. Its driveway was actually right over here and part of it was where the freeway is. A very small house, and that’s were we lived at the time. It was all farm country around here.

SS: When rationing came in and that type of thing, did that make a hardship on your business?

RM: During that time, the nursery was small and so I worked at various different things. I even helped to paint houses for my grandfather, but mainly I took care of a number of gardens for the doctors. See, the doctors were drafted and the doctors were spread pretty thin. So, I took care of several doctor’s places and as a result of that I got extra gas stamps.

SS: So you drove. Were there a lot of bicycles? Were other people using bicycles? Could they get out to your garden, to your business?

RM: I don’t remember that. It wasn’t that far out of course. Visalia was a lot smaller even. Where COS is now was out in the country. And the freeway wasn’t here at all. We faced over on Mineral King.

SS: I know there were scrap drive and war bonds and things like that. Do you remember those?

RM: I remember them, but I can’t remember if anyone ever bought them because no one had any money. There may have been some. Didn’t they have some kind of stamps or something like that? In schools, I think they bought those stamps and they put them in a book and so on.

SS: Were there shortages?

RM: I don’t know. I guess. . I just don’t remember it.

SS: Do you remember the movies at the theater? What did you do for entertainment during that time? Did you get a chance to do those things?

RM: Well, I never was much a person to go to the movies. Once in a while I did. I can’t remember anything about that during the war. I never thought of it before.

SS: Did you employ anybody at that time?

RM: I think I had somebody part time I know. He was a member of the Church that we belonged to, which was the Missionary Alliance at that time. It was small. The church was where the Salvation Army is now. I don’t remember his name. I know this man worked for me. The wages were very low, and we gave him his lunch.

SS: Someone told me that 1942 was a flood year. Do you remember the floods?

RM: ’42? I was thinking it was about ’45.
(Editor’s note: Eleanor Moore Bergthold, Ralph Moore’s daughter, has informed us that this particular flood described below occurred on December 23rd, 1955, not 1945. There was another smaller flood around 1942, but this is the 1955 flood.

SS: Might be.

RM: Anyway, yes, we had the flood there that bad year. My son’s birthday is the 23rd of December and it happened on his birthday. I was out and it was a nice sunny day, but it had been raining up in the mountains and snow and it turned real warm and melted all the snow. We listened to the radio and it said it flooded some around Farmersville and the area east of here. The way the road was at the time, there was a barrier here. They’d get water over on the other side and we didn’t get it on our side. Then there was an irrigation ditch part way down where my place is now, but this was long abandoned. If there was extra water in there, we’d get a little flooding from that. Anyway, this time we listened to the radio all the time, the flooding had not actually been on our place where the house was and we had Christmas trees stuck in the lawn in front of the nursery. It flooded over on the other side of the highway, which is Mineral King and then my boy was . . . I’m trying to think . . . I don’t remember how old he was. The children were in school.

Anyway, we were out there watching all that and all of a sudden the water started coming over the highway. I know my boy grabbed up those Christmas trees and threw them up on a table so they wouldn’t bother anything, but that didn’t stop things. The water kept coming and getting higher and higher. It got into the house. My children and I dug up some Iris and stuff like that to throw up around the pump so water wouldn’t get in the well. Then the water got through the house about 6 inches deep. Of course it left a stream of mud in there and ruined the piano that we had. We got some things up off the floor but at that time I had one little greenhouse and I had a heater in it. I went down there and just about the time the flood hit there and put the heater out. So I had to grab a bunch of things up and get them out of the way. It left weed seeds that we never had before.

A friend of ours from the church was concerned. He came out here and he took my wife and the children over to his place. The friends that took my wife and the children lived south off of Walnut. By the time my son and I left,he had left the car out in the middle of the street where it was high,by the time we left we couldn’t get over to where these other people were at. We had to go through part of town and when we got to Tulare Avenue it was flooding like a stream of water and we had to cross that to go to these other people’s place, just a block south of where Whitney High School is now, south of Tulare Avenue.  These people’s daughter was my son’s girlfriend at the time.

This previous paragraph was rewritten to clarify the fact that Ann and Eleanor were with their church friend’s family south of Walnut Avenue. And Ralph and his son ended up with his son’s girlfriend’s family just south of Tulare Avenue.

We stayed there and he worked for the telephone company, so he worked practically all night and at other places to keep things going. So Christmas day came and our host family was supposed to have some company from Farmersville and they couldn’t get there. I had never baked a turkey and I called over to where my wife was staying and she gave me some instructions what to do. I baked that turkey (laughter) and we had a Christmas dinner. It was a little hectic at that time. It was about three days I guess, when we came back to clean up the house and there was a friend, he was a Highway Patrolman, and he helped clean the mud out of the house. We knew what it was,that water was all over down Main Street. You’ve probably heard of this before.

SS: No, I’ve heard of later ones. But I think it happened often.

RM: Whenever the big flood was. A tree got jammed in Mill Creek and backed the water up and it erupted up through the center of the street at Main and Garden. They built a sandbag pile around it, and the news got to mention that Visalia had a flood and they had 1-5 feet of water. Anyway, that was the last flood that we had. Down at the Presbyterian Church, where the old church was, the old church was there and it got all flooded and did a lot of damage and a lot of businesses downtown. Of course the town wasn’t as big as it is now. That was the last big flood because they got started working on the Terminus Dam.

Going way back, in 1906 I think it was, they had a bad flood. My father and mother lived out at Venice Cove here and he and his brother built a boat. They went to put in the river and then right where the break was, up about where Ben Maddox is, they got out and went down Main and Court Street. And the only place they got stuck was about a block from Center Street. Somebody threw a horse line to them and pulled them over this low spot and they went on down Main Street in a boat. It was customary every so often that they got floods. That’s why all the old houses are built up high.

SS: In the war, did any of your close relatives end up overseas?

RM: Two of my mother’s cousins from Illinois did. One of them, Harold, had worked a while for my dad on the ranch, close to where the sales-yard is now. My grandfather owned about 30 acres and my father farmed that during the war. This cousin worked there for a while and then he was drafted. He had a younger brother and I know he suffered from gas overseas, but he survived. And then I had a cousin, Andrew Moore, who was in the service. I can’t remember what branch of service he was in but I know he was out in the Pacific.

SS: Did you get news from them? Were you able to get news from them?

RM: Not really, no.

SS: I wondered if there were community organizations for blackouts or that kind of thing going on during the war. Did you have to worry about blackouts?

RM: No. I don’t remember that, but I know that this man lived down in the next row there and he was in charge of this area and a number of us were in training for home defense. I had to learn about using gas masks and all that kind of stuff. I helped with that. Nothing came of it.

SS: Did you know any of the Japanese families in the area?

RM: Yes. There was one. Going back a little ways, before we moved out here, we lived on South Giddings and our house was the only house between Main Street and Tulare Avenue. I’m trying to think now. That was before I was married and so I lived down there. I know that . . . trying to think what happened then. My dad knew this Japanese man and we got acquainted with him. He had a wagon and one horse. He peddled fruits and vegetables. He lived in Tulare. He’d come over to Visalia and my father would sell him tomatoes and stuff like that. As he got better equipped, he got a bigger wagon and the next thing you knew he had a truck. His two daughters were in high school. My mother played the piano some and they wanted a piano teacher for their two children. She met them that way. Then they moved to Visalia and he’d buy some of my father’s crops and stuff such as that.

By that time, 1942, he had moved to Fresno, but they took him and his family and sent them down to Poston, Arizona. Let’s see, there were some other Japanese I knew. To begin with, Mineral King was kind of a dividing line. You couldn’t hire any Japanese from across the line and then pretty soon they were all taken out. So a number of the Japanese people that my father knew were in these camps. I can’t think of any of the others at this time. The thing about it was, the Japanese, there was suspicion to any Japanese. They weren’t, most of them weren’t anti-American. Some of the Italians were as bad, worse. They couldn’t tell them apart from other people.  So you had to live through that. I can’t think of anything else that affected that. All the Japanese in this area were taken out and sent to several places, most to Poston, Arizona.

SS: Did any of the families ever come back?

RM: Yes, quite a number of them came back, but in a lot of places they didn’t. Some of them didn’t. The Americans in other parts of the country took advantage of the situation and brought them out for nothing and so they had nothing to come back to and they went to other places.

SS: Were there any other events during World War II that stand out to you?

RM: During World War II? We were involved with the Missionary Alliance Church at the time and our pastor, Fred . . . I can’t think of his last name. Anyway, his father had been in aviation and they trained a lot out at Sequoia Field. It was a training place for a lot of the pilots, future pilots. So Fred started to go there and he became a pilot and then he went with the Missionary Board to Borneo and they wouldn’t let his wife go because it was a danger with the Japanese close. It worked out that the Japanese invaded Borneo and they killed Fred Jackson. They killed him, so nobody knew anything about what happened.

Have you heard of LeTourneau? LeTourneau, he was very missionary minded, and he had a lot of factories of war equipment and so some of his equipment was due to the success of the invasion of the Pacific against the Japanese. Some of these things that he made, big earthmovers, were finally incorporated into Caterpillar Equipment Company. LeTourneau actually financed the original church down there. It’s now the Salvation Army Church. And he financed the some of the missionaries that went to Borneo and Fred Jackson went at that time. So that was pretty close because Fred was a good friend of ours and he used to be at our place and my boy was just a little kid then and he would pick him up and even take him out sometimes. It was things like that,we’re close, you know. One of my school friends was at what is now COS, Visalia Junior College, and I was in the second class. I think there were 15 graduates that year, 1929. Anyway, this man, I can’t think of his name. His last name was Wilson. He got into the service and he flew a plane and his ship was kamikazed with the Japanese early in the war. He was one of the one’s that went and never came back.

SS: Do you remember the end of the war? Were there celebrations in the area at the end of the war? Both VE and VJ Days?

RM: I just don’t remember those.

SS: One of the two questions I have to ask are - How do you think the World War II years in Tulare County affected you?

RM: I really never gave it much thought. I know times were difficult, but we just adjusted to it and I grew up in a poor family and we didn’t miss a lot of things. Nobody had much at the time. We had just emerged from the Great Depression and most people don’t know anything about that, just what they hear and they don’t hear all the difficulties and the hardships. That was when it was difficult. I don’t think it impacted the area as much as it did in some other places. It was farming area and a small town. I don’t think it really affected that much.

SS: Do you think it affected the way Tulare County is now? How Tulare County is now?

RM: Yes, I think it lured a lot of people that there was a place like Tulare County because there was a lot of these young fellows that trained in the military, aviation, and I think they had some over at Tulare too. A lot of the training was done that way. They came from all over the country. Some came back here, some stayed here, some married here, so they got ties to the area. I think that had some effect.

Another thing I was thinking about, right at the beginning of the war, right after Pearl Harbor, my younger brother, Harlan, was working with his father-in-law. His father-in-law was a carpenter and my younger brother was just a teenager I guess, and he went with him up to Antioch and that’s where they did a lot of building. I know at that time, the Japanese, one of these little subs, torpedoed something into the pier out there on the coast and it alarmed people and they thought the Japanese people were going to move right on in, but they goofed up somewhere, fortunately. If they had followed up Pearl Harbor, we were completely vulnerable, but they didn’t do that. It was a blessing too, because I heard some people say they would defend themselves even with pitchforks if they had to.

SS: Right after the war years, did it kind of grow in this area? Did it make a difference?

RM: The growth was kind of gradual. Of course the last few years it has kind of mushroomed. I think it, yes, it did opened spaces and opportunities for a lot of young people to come in. I never thought too much about it at the time.

SS: Gradual, normal growth. Is there anything else you want to add?

RM: I can’t think of anything right now.

SS: That’s okay. That was very nice. Thank you so much for allowing me to interview you today.

RM: I don’t know if you got anything good.

Sheryl Strachan/Transcriber: Jan Chubbuck, 4/26/04/ED JW 9/2/04

Ed. Note: The italic words in this interview are clarifications and changes made in the transcript during an interview with Ralph Moore on September 2, 2004 with Judith Wood.

Post Interview re: history concerning R. G. LeTourneau, which is at the end of the taped interview.

RM: LeTourneau was from a family of missionaries. And he wanted to be a missionary but he didn’t have enough education. And I understand he was in a church one evening in Southern California when he got the dream of building some of this machinery. So then, they said he could do anything with a blowing torch. Some of these machines were very crude, but they worked. He took a year off and went up there above San Francisco and he got work for a year while he studied a correspondence course. And that’s how he got a lot of his education.

In the millions that he made, it gave him an opportunity to do a lot of mission work. He established a school and he did a lot of things like that, and provided for a lot of missionaries, like Fred Jackson’s going to Borneo was one of that.

And right after the war he kept on refining these machines and so on, and they used caterpillar engines in them, for the motor part. That was a part that actually came back to this part of the country in the farming. And a lot of people don’t realize that the caterpillar tractor was invented in Stockton. He was there because there was so much swampy land and so on, and they’d bog down with regular tools, some tried giant wheels, and then someone came up with the idea of this tractor. And about the same time, over in Hanford, where there was swampy land over there, there was a man named Best. He invented a similar machine. His machine was controlled by a big wheel out front. And the other was controlled with the tracks. And I remember when they demonstrated one of those machines years ago when I was a kid, over at what is now the Redwood High School grounds. Anyway, that was the beginning of the tractor laying machinery, which most people don’t even remember.

SS: Was your church active during the war?

RM: Yes. And another that had a lot to do with the development of this part of the country was the so-called "Fresno Scraper." My father used to level a lot of his land with the "Fresno Scraper." And some were made bigger than that. And that was later incorporated in the caterpillar company. And that was invented in Fresno when they were building the Herndon Canal, near Fresno. It was out in the country then. They used these little scrapers, where a horse pulled them and they had a handle on them. You’ve probably seen them somewhere in a museum. A man got the idea that there had to be a better way. He took his big piece of sheet metal and they beat it out over an oak log. He made the first one that way and that became the Fresno Scraper. That and variations of it leveled thousands and thousands of acres and has been incorporated in machinery that is used today.