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: Virginia J. Radeleff
Place of Interview: Springville, CA
OUTSTANDING POINTS IN INTERVIEW:
HOME FRONT & FAMILY LIFE
UTILITIES IN SPRINGVILLE AND SURROUNDING AREA
FIRST ENCOUNTER WITH TELEVISION
JY: My name is Judy Yoder, and I am interviewing Virginia Radeleff. Virginia can you give me your name and spell your last name please?
VR: My name is Virginia Radeleff. I live on Ward Street, in Springville, California. I have lived in this house ever since I was born.
JY: So this house initially belonged to your parents. Did it go back beyond your parents? A generation before that?
VR: Well, my grandfather’s house, the generation
before my father’s house, is directly across the street. My grandparents on my father’s side, Ernst Heinrich
Detrich Radeleff, immigrated to this country with his family as a child in 1855 from Schleswieg-Holstein, a
section on the border between
JY: Wow, fascinating. Ok, could you tell me the date of your birth?
VR: March 13, 1919.
JY: And, can you give me your parents’ names?
VR: My father was Wilhelm Christian Radeleff, and my mother was Juanita Clatterbuck Radeleff.
JY: What did your dad do for his occupation?
VR: My dad was a blacksmith. He and another blacksmith in his shop made these special wagons and wheels that hauled the generators to P G & E and Edison Powerhouse, up the hill. And my mother operated the little local switchboard for the telephone company in our home from 1928 to 1956.
JY: Okay, and inside your home, your mother also managed the library?
VR: Yes, the county library branch for Springville.
JY: Okay, the library, since it was situated inside the house, about how many books would you estimate were there?
VR: It was just a small bookcase, probably about five shelves and once a month a big wooden box would come from the Tulare County Library and we would just change. A lot of things that didn’t come that way, if people had special interests, they would order it and it would come through the mail, you know, some special book on a special topic. And it was here, because the telephone office was probably the only place in town that was kind of open to the public. The only coin box in town was on our front porch and my mother always considered the library kind of a nuisance because people would come and they’d just sit there and read, (chuckle) right under our feet.
JY: I guess that would have made it rather tough for her to clean house.
VR: Yes, or to get anything done with the switchboard. Sometimes they’d want to strike up a conversation and mother was busy.
JY: Now when I had spoken to you earlier, you said that prior to the war, the switchboard only operated during business hours?
VR: Yes and that’s one of the changes that, you know, the major changes during the war and maybe not as major in large towns, but in small towns, the war was a watermark for major change. In addition, up until that time, the telephone company only had three long distance lines out of Springville. In other words, it didn’t matter how many people in town wanted to talk to somebody outside Springville, only three conversations could be going on because there were only three lines out of here. The telephone office opened at 7:00 o’clock in the morning and closed at 7:00 at night. At night time, we just had double jacks and we would jack the hospital straight through and the forest service and one from out there at Success Valley, where the magnecite mine was. Other than that, nobody in this town could get a call out at nighttime. Then when the war started, we were told we had to keep the switchboard open 24 hours a day, so my dad had been working on a ranch up above Springville, and he quit and came home and he and my mother maintained the switchboard 24 hours a day during the war.
JY: And they didn’t have to hire anyone to help them?
VR: Well, shortly after the war, the town became a lot busier than it was before and between the war years and 1956, the telephone company put another switchboard in side by side and we had people around the clock then.
JY: Let’s back up to 1941. In 1941, you said you were graduating from college.
VR: In the spring of 1941, I had just finished my fifth year at University of California and gotten my General Secondary Teaching Degree. But my last year, I just struggled with a health problem and so I came home and located here in Springville, where it is now Sequoia Dawn. At that time, it was Tulare/Kings County Joint Tuberculosis Sanitarium and Dr. Winn was the head of it and he’s a personal friend of the family, so I went up there. The general feeling was that perhaps I had TB, because I was running a temperature and all the things that are suppose to go with TB, but he discovered I had Valley Fever, which at that time was really new; nobody had heard of Valley Fever and he said they didn’t have anything they could do for it, for me to just rest, take a year off, don’t teach or anything. So I stayed home and technically, I rested, but I was working on the switchboard, but just taking it easy.
Then in December of 1941 was when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. It was kind of funny because all of the young people in our family were just right to get caught in that war. We had cousins from Delano and we were all lying in here on the rug looking at the funny papers and that was the morning of December 7, 1941 when the radio program was interrupted and they said the country was at war, that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and my brother Robert, and three cousins, Lyle Henry and Howard Radeleff were all in the age of, say 18 to 21. They were laughing, they said, "Oh, those crazy Japanese, we could lick them with our hands tied behind us." I remember my father and my uncle, Charles, saying, "Well, we could lick them, but we’re sure gonna have to untie our hands." Within just three months, my brother and Lyle were in the service. And it ended up with 14 out of our family in the war. There were uncles, cousins, and brothers who either joined the Service or worked in war related industries.
JY: Do you know what branch of the service they were in?
VR: The Marines and Navy. The odd thing was, I think a lot of people have forgotten, the radio had a tremendous influence. We’ve always been a newspaper reading family, but Springville 1s a little bit isolated and sometimes our paper didn’t even get in the same day it was published. But during the war, our radio was never turned off. I think it went 24 hours a day until it literally drove us nuts. I had a younger brother, Karl, 15 years younger. He was born in ’34, so he’d have been seven years old when that war started. When my older brother Robert had to go, my dad just lived by that radio. I don’t know what he thought. I guess he thought he wasn’t gonna come back, my brother. The younger brother became so up tight, he started having convulsions. We had to take him to the Hollywood Children’s Hospital and it was diagnosed that we were concentrating on the news, from that war, and that the younger brother was going off the deep end, so we had to start just listening to the news two or three times a day.
Then, see, I was home when the war started, so when my brother, the one I’m talking about that was in the Navy, he was just 18, much younger than I am. When he went in the Navy, I went down south. My roommate, Patricia Beeson, up at Cal lived in Los Angeles and she had gotten a job at Douglas. So I went down there and boarded and roomed with them. I got a job right across the street at North American Aviation.
JY: Okay, what is Douglas?
VR: Douglas Aircraft. Yeah, Douglas Aircraft and North American were directly across the street from each other. Well, typical of small town people and people during the war, you wanted to do something that counted. What I wanted to do was build airplanes. Actually build, you know, weld, fix them together, but I was defeated by the fact that I had five years of college, and they wouldn’t put me in the welding department, they’d put me up in the planning department. Well, that was kind of a disappointment to me, but what I did was, the whole year I was down there, I went to L.A. City College every single night. I got a degree in blue print drawing and drafting, you know, I mean the whole bit, because nobody knew how long this war was gonna last. There were some kinds of interesting things that came back: I didn’t even know what it meant to punch a time card; that was new to me. Twenty-four hours a day, three shifts, everything under camouflage net, even the parking lot out there. From the sky, they told us that North American and Douglas looked like a big park, as, I guess, the screen was mostly green with trees.
When we would be paid every Friday, there would be this huge armored truck in the parking lot and you would step up to the window with your slip from your department and they would pay you in cash so that you didn’t have to go to a bank or anything; we were working around the clock, 24 hours a day. One of the interesting things was, we were building B25 bombers and P51 fighters. We would build these airplanes and then just keep shoving them out on the field under this camouflage net and when we finally got the field just totally full of planes, about four o’clock in the afternoon would come in big passengers planes, loaded with pilots, Royal Canadian Air Force Pilots, and they would come up, I was working upstairs in the plant. They would come up and have coffee and a doughnut with everybody and kid around.
Then just at dusk, when it was just starting to get dark, Los Angeles as well as every place else on the coast was at total black out at night. You didn’t see any lights. They would roll back that camouflaged net and these Royal Canadian Air Force Pilots would start flying the planes out. When you’d come to work the next morning, there would not be one plane on the field. Everything had been cleaned off. Then we were back to building a new set, rolling them out. But what we were all doing was listening to the news and watching the paper to see if we could figure out where our planes were going. We finally figured out that the B25’s were going there into North Africa where Rommel and Montgomery were fighting. But we didn’t ever figure out where our B51’s were going.
JY: That’s really fascinating.
VR: Yeah, it was interesting. And then, unfortunately, my health problem began to come back again. There was so much smog and moisture down there. I’d been born and raised right here where it was dry and I was living out near Inglewood and it was real foggy and damp and I got such sinus infections, my face would just swell. I was almost at the point of spending everything I was making at the aircraft factory for seeing an eye, nose and throat specialist and just about that time a letter came from Springville, from the chairman of the school board, saying they had a shortage of teachers and they knew I had a credential and would I consider coming home to teach. They said that "I could do as much for the war effort here, as I could down there." So I came home in the fall of 1943 and started to teach in the school here. I taught for 52 years.
I don’t know whether larger areas got as totally rapped up in the war as small communities did. But from small towns like Springville, there were just, every single family had somebody in that war. The hospital up here, immediately Dr. Winn organized a first aid class and all the women, we all took it. We learned to wrap wounds, to change beds with a patient in it. The whole bit, you had to get a degree in First Aid, because they were still thinking the pacific coast was gonna be bombed and maybe because we were a rural area and had this huge hospital, we would get patients, victims.
Everything was rationed, tires, gas, sugar, meat, shortening. The teachers were in charge of all the rationing. They had a rationing meeting every two weeks; people could come and submit a request for tire stamps or gas, et cetera . . . .
JY: Now, where did you meet for the meetings, the rationing committee?
VR: At the schools, Springville School. There were only four teachers at that time; now they’re up to, like 28, but in 1941 there were four teachers over there. Oddly enough, when I started to teach over there, there was not a telephone on that school ground. I would venture to guess, we taught maybe ten years before there was a telephone on the school grounds. Now, everybody walks around, you know, with a little pager in his hand. My salary, I still have my bankbook, was $157.00 a month and that was for just nine months. You signed a contract and you were paid for nine months and then three months in the summer nobody got a dime. And the interesting thing I think about, you know, inventions that are convenient, at the time when I started to teach, on the first work day after the first day of the month, the superintendent came to you, personally, and handed you a check. You never got anything in the mail. He handed you a check. Well at that time, every bank in Porterville, which is the closest to us, closed at 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon and it was only open one day later. On Friday it stayed open until 6:00 o’clock at night. So when you got your paycheck, you had to go to town the first Friday after you were paid in order to put some in the bank or cash it. To me, one of the biggest things that happened in payroll is direct deposit. People who never lived through having to do something with their check each month and living 20 miles from the nearest bank, don’t know what (chuckle) direct deposit is like.
JY: Yeah, it’s such an inconvenience not to have a bank within your own community and have to drive 20 to 25 miles.
VR: Well, now you have ATM’s. People can do everything without even going to a bank. In those days, it was impossible.
JY: You know, to back up, just look at it like this, when you were down in Inglewood working for the airplane manufacturer and having this armored car pull up into the parking lot and all you had to do is show them the time that you worked and hand you cash. What a convenience that was.
VR: Yes, and you know it was a long time before I realized that was part of the war effort. They realized there were 25,000 of us working at North American Aviation, counting the three shifts, 25,000. Imagine if 25,000 had to take their check to the bank, it would have been total chaos. Somebody figured out early on and another thing that I think a lot of people don’t realize, the war effort, when you think about it, was almost hilarious, because they organized this country so quickly and so effectively, I’ve often wondered who actually was the key person, because in the department I worked in, the girl who sat on one side of me was only 17 years old. On the other side was a Brown Shoe salesman; across from me was a ballet dancer and then also, in that same department, was young Cessna, whose father owned Cessna Aircraft Factory. But not one of us knew anything about building an airplane. But what they did, and I’m sure it happened in the shipyards as well as the aircraft factories, they gave every single person in there just one thing to do. All you had to do was doing your one thing and do it well and then it slid on to the next person. And we built airplanes.
And yet there wasn’t a soul in there that knew beans about building an airplane. My job, because I had a college education, was to look at, you know, the wings and the shell of an airplane is actually stamped like you would cut a cookie. They run this big sheet of metal over a surface and these big metal presses drop down and make a tremendous noise. The first time I heard one, on the first day I went to work, I dove under the desk and everybody started to laugh because I (chuckle) thought we were being bombed (chuckle). But you get used to it; you know, the whole place rattles. This big thing drops, it cuts out, maybe a wing but you have the scraps, so then my job was to look at the plan of the airplane and see what they could do with the scraps, so they could be recycled to make something else.
JY: There wasn’t much waste, was there?
VR: No, no waste and now we have people who are
working, who maybe aren’t really even good at what they’re doing and I don’t
think really know what they’re doing. We, each one, knew exactly what we were doing and we knew that if
everybody did his job right, we were gonna build an airplane. If somebody goofed up in there someplace, we
weren’t going to have an airplane. The
whole thing was built right there in the plant where I worked, except for two
things. The motors were coming from
JY: What do you think the ratio was from men to women working in that place?
VR: Oh, in my department it was probably 50/50, but I think there were more women than men. And this was the beginning of another big major change because most women had never been out of the home, and had never . . . that’s the beginning of your two paychecks. We weren’t making a lot of money, but I thought we were (chuckle). I think about it but I don’t think I was making over about $300 a month, but $300 a month during the war was good. By the time you paid room and board and being a young person, I goofed away a lot of it because I had never lived where you could go to a show or go eat out and see a movie star or something. So when I’d have a day off with other girls that were working there, we would go someplace. I imagine I came home after working down there a year with no money. I had a coat with a fur collar (chuckle) and some alligator shoes, but I didn’t (chuckle) have any money.
JY: That sounds stylish. What was your initial reaction to when you heard the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor?
VR: Absolute surprise and you know, when you
think back later, there were clues, but none of us . . . I guess we were
naive. Sort of like, it still goes on
now, you know, what has happened over there in
would say to the professor, "Well, he joined the Navy" or "He joined the Marine Corps."
lots of Japanese students, especially in anything to do with engineering. And they had all disappeared by October of
that year. None of them were left. What they would say in class, "Well, he went
JY: Now, did you agree with the
VR: That was different from now, because somebody struck us. I think the whole country, when Pearl Harbor was bombed, knew instantly we were at war and we knew it wasn’t going to be a fast and easy war, because they had struck right close to home. I don’t know what the reaction would have been if they’d struck San Francisco or Los Angeles, because they had penetrated really close. Later, they found out there had been subs all up and down the coast. Young men the ages of my brothers and my cousin and I had a young uncle, Jesse Aubrey Nugent, they immediately went within two or three weeks and enlisted. There was no such thing as having to beg people to go to that war. They went and then older people who had already retired, stepped back in and filled jobs at home. The whole country concentrated on what they could do to help win that war. I can remember, you were almost unpatriotic if you didn’t give up butter and meat and even recipes were egg-less, butter=less (chuckle), and a sugar-less cake. (laughter)
JY: (Laughter) Egg-less and butter-less and sugar-less, what does that taste like? Sugar-less cake.
VR: Well, I don’t know. But you know, the people who weathered it the best were people in small towns like Springville, because most people already owned their home. They had a cow and they had a few chickens and they had a garden and most of them did not owe a lot.
The ones who really got caught and I could see why the two paychecks became important, were people in the city who were ready and needed transportation to their job. Here, you know, your job was pretty close to where you lived. Down there, of course, everything in Los Angeles during the war were trolley cars. Of course, they’re all gone now. But when I went from where I was staying, which is probably eight miles from North American Aviation, I rode the trolley to work. Those are all gone now.
Also you know, Truman was President during the war, Roosevelt at the beginning and then Truman. Roosevelt had already passed in Congress what they called the Rural Electrification Act, and that’s when they began, in the Tennessee Valley, to build those big dams with powerhouses and, that was when Boulder Dam started all of this. But, it got stopped by the war and then after the war, it’s either 1946 or 1947, is when that Act was activated and for the first time, all those rural areas had electricity. When this powerhouse, above Springville, went in in 1909, just the town had electricity, but none of this outlying area across the river or up there had electricity. Everybody just went wild when we got electricity, because for the first time they could have a refrigerator and a stove and a washer and dryer and dishwasher.
JY: Uh hum, well that reminds me then, you’re saying that’s the first time you could have all of these conveniences. So, how did you keep your milk, your butter and your meats?
VR: We just had an icebox and they delivered a chunk of ice to use, once a day and of course, a lot of people don’t realize it, but a cow is a convenience, it’s kind of a nuisance. I can remember the biggest day in my brother’s and my life was when dad sold the milk cow. Because for the first time, we could go someplace and not have to say, "We’ve got to get home by (so and so time) to milk the cow," you know. But when you have a cow, you milk it twice a day, so we would put the milk in the icebox. But when I was a kid, it was just a box on the outside with wet burlap over it. But by 1941, we had an icebox with a chunk of ice. You milk the cow in the morning and you use what you want and you take the cream off and make butter, but before you milk in the afternoon, you throw that extra milk out to the pig. And then you just put milk back in, so the milk was never in there over about 12 hours and then you put fresh milk in.
Which reminds me, in 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, my mother was running a switchboard, she said, "If we’re ever gonna get a refrigerator, we better get it now." So she called Jone’s Hardware in Porterville and she asked them if they had an electric refrigerator. And he said, "Yes, we have three left. And my mother said, "Well, will you deliver one up here to Springville to me?" They said, "Well, don’t you want to come in and see it?" Mother said, "No, I’m busy, I’m on the switchboard, just bring me the biggest one you have." So, they brought us the first electric refrigerator that we had ever had. I still have it; it’s in the garage and it runs and I’ve never spent 10 cents on it, that’s a GE Refrigerator, 1941. I have had several nice ones in the house since then that had to have been repaired, but that old GE that came out (chuckle) in 1941 is just chugging away. Edison Company says to me, "Well, you could cut down on your power bill, if you’d cut that off." I said, "It’s like an old friend, you can’t pull the plug on an old friend."
JY: You know, it’s interesting, because I think the appliances that they made back in 1941 through 1946 are probably some of the more superior pieces of appliances and built to last, as opposed to anything thereafter, because we’re such a disposable society.
VR: Well yes, and they’ve done everything to cut down on expenses, like, you know, salaries and short cut the process as you go through, but even light bulbs don’t last like they used to. I have one light bulb that’s been in this house, the 84 years I’m alive. And the Edison Company has tried to buy it from me several times (chuckle). And I’ll say, "No, eventually I’ll put it down in the museum." But it still works. Now, I have light bulbs and paper towels and toilet paper on my shopping list, it seems like every time I go to the store. Nothing seems to be built to last anymore.
JY: Yeah, that’s a huge difference between before and after the war.
VR: Well, society in general and people have become more wasteful. The biscuit cutter that I use is the same one my great grandmother, Susan Gillian, used and you know what it is, it’s a little milk can, one about this big that my great grandmother, my grandma and my mother and myself all used. And one time recently I couldn’t find it and I just panicked and I said to the girl who helps me, "Don’t tell me I’ve lost that biscuit cutter." (Chuckle) She said, It’s just an old tin can (chuckle)." I said, "Yeah, but it represents about four generations. Well, she had just put it in a different place and she said, "Don’t worry, I won’t throw your biscuit cutter away (laughter)." Nobody saves or tries to make it last longer, even clothes. Your yard sales, nobody did that. If it got too ragged, mother made a mop out of it or a dust rag or we tore it up and made a quilt out of it or something. Nobody does that anymore.
JY: Uh hum . . . let’s go back and talk about the community. As a community around here, were relationships stronger prior to the war as opposed to after the war?
VR: Small towns have always been close. Lots of volunteerism and I think what happened in Springville is pretty representative of what happened in small towns all over. It was a 100% war effort. Probably the hardest thing for us to get used to was the total blackouts. We just had a hard time accepting that you should be able to walk outside your house, even if your lights were on inside and not see a bit of light.
The observation post was just a little building that was built, probably about twice as big as the old fashion john and two people, always two people were together and it just had a telephone in there and a little counter and it had a map. We were going, mostly by sound, we were supposed to, if we heard an airplane, listen just long enough to be able to tell the direction and be able to tell if it sounded like it was a big motor or a small motor. Then we had to call directly to the, I guess it was called the Home Defense System, but it was in Bakersfield, and tell them that a plane had just crossed over Springville, heading east or west or north or south. At someplace, I guess, they were putting this on a master map. The worry, I’m presuming, was that the Japanese would come in from the coast
and people in town really committed themselves to rationing and cutting down on anything that could be used overseas.
All the women took the first aid course. You were just considered unpatriotic if you were doing something that was for your personal benefit and not the benefit of the country. Odd enough, we lost several people in the war. One of them was just a real tragedy because the peace treaty had already been signed. He was someplace on one of those islands in the South Pacific and they went out on a patrol, a group of them, and one of those Japanese snipers was up in a coconut tree and he hadn’t heard yet that the peace treaty had been signed and he fired and shot this boy. One of my mother’s jobs, as having the telephone office, she had to deliver those kind of phone messages to the family and they had to be delivered in person; you couldn’t do it over the telephone. Somebody, either my mother, my dad or I, had to get in the car and go tell these parents that somebody had been killed and it was rough. It was really rough in a small town.
JY: What was that person’s name, do you remember?
VR: He was one of the Herrold boys.
JY: So, they just didn’t get a telegram from the government?
VR: Later we could give them a telegram, but it had to be delivered by a person who was going to be there when they received it. And that seems humanitarian to me. I think still, in the military, somebody comes to be with the family.
JY: At a grieving moment. Now, did you have to personally deliver any of those?
VR: Yeah, I was out on several.
JY: Can you give me an account of one of those that affected you?
VR: Well, they were sad, sad deliveries, but I think, you know, the same thing happens today. I think when they saw us drive in and knew we were from the telephone office and specifically ask for the father or mother, who were working, to be called off the
job, or if at home, they knew when they saw us coming that it was gonna be bad news and that’s hard too.
Yeah. It was kind of a difficult time to be teaching, because our enrollment fluctuated as the war became more intense. Right in the middle, many people who lived along the coast sent their children inland to grandmothers or aunts or uncles or friends to get them away from the coast. So our enrollment there in ’44 and ’45 kind of swelled and then when the war was over, people went back home and our enrollment dropped down. Now, it’s back up again, because foothill communities have become a prime place for commuters to live and drive. And a drive to Visalia is no longer considered anything. We have many doctors and lawyers who work in the Visalia area who live right here and drive over. Some of them live up in the mountains 20 miles or more, up in the Camp Nelson area.
JY: I believe it. Yeah. Now, as far as national life, do you think that marriages were stronger prior to 1941? Did they stay pretty strong through the war, or you know, after the war, as far as national life and marriages go, how did you see relationships coming about, evolving and changing?
VR: Well, I think probably marriages were stronger then than they are now. When I first started to teach, you seldom had youngsters in your classroom who weren’t living with their mother and father. Now, it’s very common for them to either have a mother, stepmother or stepfather. And many families that you deal with now have her children, his children and their children. That happened in the real early days in this area, some of our first settlers, but it was more because if the mother frequently died young or in childbirth or father was killed in some violent incident at a sawmill or something. Then, families married and picked up raising each other’s children, because we had lots of families in the early history here, but it wasn’t because of a divorce. It was more because the woman lost her husband or vice-versa and they just married and raised each other’s children and sometime had more. But now, well, I think now marriage has a lot of things working against it that weren’t there before the war. People are more mobile. I see it, for one thing, when I went to high school there was only one member of my high school class who owned a car. Now all the kids have cars. In fact, they run two big school buses into Springville, an early bus and a late bus. Sometimes the late bus only has two kids on it. The others all drove their cars home. In a family, it was just absolutely not heard of, when I grew up, that the mother and the father had a car. If father worked, mother was home. She didn’t need a car. Now you have families that have . . . they’re just more mobile, all the way from the time they’re 15 years old on.
Also, we’re a consuming nation now and we never used to be. People got married, they concentrated on paying off their home and maybe buying another acre or two. When we grew up, my grandparents on my dad’s side immigrated. The most important thing in our family was for all three of us kids to go to college. Even if it was total sacrifice for the family while we were gone, we grew up knowing that we had to go to college. I don’t think the emphasis is on it now. A lot of parents wouldn’t make a total commitment to make sure kids go to college. I guess maybe there are other jobs out there that sort of entice kids younger, but they don’t have the future, but kids don’t see that.
I’m not sure that just the common, low-wage working people are as committed. Maybe they would like to own a home and can’t afford it, but I grew up at a time when everybody owned their home. Nobody rented, except sometimes some of the people who came in and worked for a little while at the sawmill or at the hospital. But, people who lived here, it was just unheard of for you, you know, not to own your home. Now this house we’re in right now is over 100 years old. My mother was totally committed to making it better. Every time, for some reason or other, if we’d get $1,000 or $1,500 ahead, it was remodeled. It’s been remodeled so many times, people don’t understand that if you would pull the shell off, the old house is still there. It was never removed. When I had the central heating unit put in, the air conditioning guy said, "I can’t believe it, I went through five ceilings!" I said, "I can believe it, (chuckle) cause I know the house was remodeled at least five times."
But, now young people want to jump right in on a quarter of a million-dollar house. I have nieces and nephews, where their monthly payment, on the house they’re living in, it just boggles my mind and I think that if something would happen, you’d lose your job, you’d lose everything. There’s no way you can save a $200,000 house if you’re out a job. People didn’t go through that. It must add to stress. I would not be able to sleep too well if I knew that if I missed a couple of payments on my place, I was gonna lose it all.
JY: Yeah, so you just gave me a great example of the war years and where people were at, as far as being homeowners and that their job wasn’t their sole support of that house and that you could still manage to survive.
VR: You know what the taxes were on this place? Twelve dollars and fifty cents a year. I’ve got the original tax papers. All the way through and when I first came home to teach, I put my name on the list in Porterville to get a car. Because I had a salary, I thought, well, now I can get a car. Well, your name stayed on that list until it came up. They weren’t building any cars for civilians, they were building jeeps and vehicles that were being used in the war effort, but came a day, about the time the war ended, when the Buick Agency in Porterville called me and said. "Your name is next up on the list. You can have the next new car we have." My brother and I still laugh about this. I said, "Well, what’s it gonna cost me?" He said, "$1,250.00." I said, "$1,250.00 for a new car?" "Yep." I said, "I won’t take it, that’s a year’s salary." (laughter) We laugh about that. My brother said, "What an idiot. (laughter)"
JY: But the thing is, you had to put your name on a list and then you have to wait to be called and then you don’t even get a choice of what car you want, regardless of what color.
VR: That’s right. (chuckle)
JY: Wow, I had no idea.
VR: And it was pretty much that way about everything, because the country was totally committed to winning that war. It’s easy to think airplanes, but I want to tell you, thousands of people were working in the shipyards. And one group, from a town like Springville that got jobs in the shipyards were these men and they were older by 1941 when the war started.
Up until about, I’m gonna say, 1910 or ’12, the logs were being hauled out of the mountains with teams of horses or mules. They were brought down here and then switched. We’ve got pictures of them being hauled into Porterville in 1910 or so. But those guys were so good at loading these wagons, so that when they came down those hills, the load didn’t shift and the wagons stayed steady. That group of men went to work loading cargo ships in the bay area and they were so good at balancing the cargo in the ships that were hauling supplies out. We keep thinking about war ships as being destroyers, battle ships and aircraft carriers, but the major part of the boats that were being built in the bay area were cargo ships that were hauling food and supplies to our men all over the world. From this area going to the South Pacific, they could balance that cargo in there so perfectly that the ship never tilted one way or another. They were given extra money and they were just the guys that had been loading the logging wagons.
JY: Wow, that is just neat, fascinating information. Let’s get back to the rationing of things. I don’t know if women wore hose. I remember the hose that you pulled up, you had a garter belt and you had to attach them.
VR: When I was working at the aircraft factory, that was one of the experiences that was kind of neat. See, I was about 21, 22, 23 years old. We painted our legs. It looked like sun tan lotion, and then one of our friends would draw a line up the back. When I came home from down south to start to teach over here, I only owned one pair of really nice nylons. I can remember at the end of my first year over here, there was a girl in the eighth grade class that was crying the blues, she was the only one that didn’t have any hose to wear. So I said well, now if you’d be really, really careful, I’d let you wear my hose just for the ceremony, which she did and she (laughter) totally shot them. I couldn’t believe it; here I was with no hose. But, during the war, we painted our legs, and then if you didn’t have somebody who would draw the line up the back, (chuckle) you just went with no line.
JY: Now, what did you use for the line?
VR: It was; it came out with what you painted on there, but it looked like a mascara pencil. ‘Course, you had to get somebody (laughter) that was pretty good at drawing the line.
JY: You don’t want anybody with the shakes.
VR: One of the interesting things that we ran into on the ration board here, was sugar. Everybody in small towns, they still do it but not as much as they did during the war, canning. My mother always canned all the fruit and everything. So sugar, at a certain time of the year, was really important here. And we were allowed to issue each person 20 or 50 pounds of sugar which didn’t begin to let you process everything you had, so we started drying it and all that sort of thing.
We had one old gentleman, Rex Payne, that lived way back up in the mountains and, you know, this area is famous for stills. During the Depression, one of the ways they made a living in a small town like this was: they sold illegal alcohol and whiskey. And it would come out under a load of either wood or boxes of apples. They would put the contraband inside and then cover it over with boxes of apples or firewood. Well, this old guy, he would come and he wanted his sugar. Well, there was a place on the form that you had to fill out what you were gonna use your sugar for. And we were only allowed to issue sugar to people who were gonna use it to preserve food. "Well," he would say, "I’m not gonna lie, I’m gonna make whiskey (laughter)."
JY: And would you issue it to them?
VR: (Laughter) Well, eventually we did and we would just put it on there, because (laughter) we just couldn’t see old Rex not being able to make his hooch. He didn’t want to can fruit, so things happen in a small town. You know, you bend the rule. I can remember my dad was a constable, a little bit earlier than the war and the revenuers would come in here, trying to get the illegal people who were bypassing paying the government stamp, and this one guy who was involved in the illegal search drove into my dad’s garage and he said, "Pull both doors shut." And so dad would pull them up and, "The revenuers are after me!" Now, my dad’s a constable, remember. So dad did that and the revenuer called out from in front and he said, "Have you seen (so and so,)?" And my dad said "Haven’t seen him in weeks." And they drove off and there he was, a constable pulled the door shut. Small towns do that.
JY: I’ll be darn, protect each other. That’s kind of cool.
VR: And I think it still goes on.
JY Yeah, I don’t understand though, why ration sugar? How would that affect or help the war effort?
VR: I don’t know, except that I think that most of the sugar was coming in from overseas and we were down to beet sugar here. But sugar was one thing that was rationed and you really coveted stamps, because if you didn’t get your sugar allotment, you couldn’t make, you know, pies, cakes, any of that. But the main thing here was always canning fruit. Gas, I can’t remember how much we were allowed, but I can remember that my younger brother, during those years, was a patient with a specialist in Los Angeles and we were allotted more especially because the doctor down there said that he had to come down once a month. We got enough gas for me to drive straight to Los Angeles and straight back.
But other than that, tires were really hard to get. I could understand the shortening the grease, because apparently that’s used someway in ammunition. Meat was rationed because they were sending just about everything we used to the troops. You could get chicken, because everybody had a little chicken pen and their own eggs, but beef and pork were really hard to get because it was being shipped overseas. What else was rationed, gas, tires, sugar, I don’t know. Just about everybody around Springville had their own milk cow, chickens, and a garden.
JY: Now, you’re talking about these allotments, so each family…
VR: It was a little stamp book that looked like green stamps and in fact, we have some that we collected for the museum. They all looked different, for instance, tire stamps didn’t look like the sugar stamps, different color, different shape, and then you just tore your stamp out when you went to buy gas and presented it to the service station fellow. I guess he had to have so many stamps to give to get his delivery when they came in. Because
it was pretty hard to cheat on your ration stamps. You had to go to the board to get them, I think maybe once a month.
JY: Now, on these ration stamps, did larger families get more as opposed to smaller families?
VR: Um hum, it depended on how many people; if you were just a single person, you had a harder time than families. And this is one reason why I lived in Springville and walked to work. Now, you know, I have friends here that go to Porterville everyday. But, boy, during the war, you were very cautious where you drove your car because, number one, if you wore out your tires, you weren’t gonna get new ones and number two is your ration stamps would probably allow having your tank filled maybe once every two months or so. So, you aren’t gonna fiddle around with wasting. Now, if you had an important job that required more traveling, you got more stamps but, I can’t remember, that depended on somebody in authority having written a letter to the ration board that would allow you to know this person should get more stamps.
JY: That’s interesting. I want to go back to when your mom was running the switchboard and she had a library in the house. But, we were talking about how Springville did not have electricity in private homes. They had to have electricity in your home because of the switchboard, but my question is . . .
VR: Well, they had it right in town, everybody had electricity. My grandfather’s house across the street was built in 1909 and his was the first house built in this town that was built for electricity.
But you know, like right now, the major population in these foothill areas are not in town, they’re up every little ravine because people like scenic type things. They like quiet isolation and such, which has put a tremendous burden on the county because if a fire gets started around here, you can’t concentrate on putting that fire out, you’ve gotta concentrate on saving this quarter of a million dollar house that’s sitting out here in the brush. Or, if there is some emergency that you have to call the sheriff out here, some of these places are so isolated, you know, you have to know that you go up so far and then you turn off
this road and up that canyon. The fact that our foothill population is out, it’s not in town anymore, I don’t know what would have happened during those wars with no electricity.
JY: Yeah, so you were talking about how people would come in and take a book and sit down and read. That they were always underfoot and you were also sharing with me about how the radio stayed on 24 hours a day, because you were really wrapped up into listening about war news.
VR: When we had somebody in there, I had a brother and an uncle, my mother’s younger brother, Jesse, were there.
JY: Did a lot of the community come in and listen to that radio as well?
VR: No, ah, my uncle, George Radeleff, across the street, he’d walk over sometimes and my grandfather Henry, but everybody had a radio by then, not a big fancy one, just a little radio. Our first radio that we had in our home was purchased the year I graduated from high school in 1936. But I think there were others who had radios before we did. I don’t know when radio started. I know our first TV was 1957. The first TV I ever saw was during the war in 1942-43, about twelve inches square, up on a wall in a bar in Los Angeles. My girlfriend and I stood outside and watched it.
note: Found on the Internet at http://earlyradiohistory.us and http://scriptorium.lib.duke.edu/adaccess/radio-history.html: David Hughes beginning in 1879 apparently had transmitted and
received radio signals for the first time. In 1895, Guglielmo Marconi became
the first person to successfully demonstrate the controlled transmission and
reception of long-range radio signals. In 1901 Robert H.
Marriott was employed as an engineer by the American Wireless Telephone and
Telegraph Company, and did something very unusual within that company -- in
1902 he actually set up a radiotelegraph link between Catalina Island,
California and the mainland, which appears to have been the first permanent
commercial radio service in the United States set up by a U.S. firm. In 1914 the first vacuum-tube radio transmitters began to appear, a
key technical development which would lead to the introduction of widespread
broadcasting. All broadcasting experiments came
to an abrupt end on April 6, 1917, when the
For a variety of
reasons, the possibilities of broadcasting were
starting to be developed in earnest in 1919 and 1920. In 1919, due to pressure from the
JY: Okay. And then, I made a note here from our telephone conversation that prior to the war, the switchboard did not receive any calls after 7: p.m.? So if you had an emergency, there was no way to get help, but all of that changed after 1941?
VR: I don’t think it was any different in Springville than anyplace else. Telephones had not become the big chrysalis they are now. For instance, I was raised during a time when you just didn’t call. Even today, I have nieces and nephews and brothers, we don’t call each other. I write letters. I was away up at Cal all that time and my mother had, one of her fringe benefits was, she could call anyplace that she wanted, no charge. That was part of being head of the telephone switchboard. She never called me once. I never called her. I could have called her collect.
Now, everybody’s talking all the time, but you know what goes through my mind, what are they talking about? You know, I’ve got a brother up in the bay area, one in Oregon. I have a niece down in Hemet, we correspond, but it’s for sure, I don’t want to talk to them everyday. Why would people want to talk to somebody everyday? Is it insecurity? I mean, it’s sort of like, I’ve had youngsters in school that were the kind of children that had to be touching you in order to calm down. I sort of get the idea that people are doing the same thing with their telephone. Why would you drive along in a car, talking on a phone all the time? I go shopping now and everybody’s walking around pushing a cart, talking on the phone. I want to hit ‘em over the head and say, "Hey, what are you guys talking about?" I watch teachers park their car in the morning, get out of the car and they’re talking on their little cell phones. At recess time, they’ve sort of got one eye on the kids, but they’re talking on their phones. I think, "Boy, what a sad world, where you have to be talking to someone all the time. It’s like you can’t stand quiet, you can’t stand your own thoughts." I don’t know. But the telephone wasn’t that way before. People used it for business. I’m trying to think back, what would you have done. I suppose, for one thing, if it were a true emergency, they would have gone to the hospital. Now this was a tuberculosis hospital, but it did everything for the community. If somebody had a baby, the doctor came out. If someone were hurt in an accident at the sawmill, I remember the doctors came out. Or one time I was hurt on the school ground and they took me up there to the hospital.
You see, the most important thing to the town beside the hospital was the Forest Service because of fires. And then I don’t recall how Citrus South Tule area jockeyed that other phone service. They had that magnesite mine out there and it operated through the war. I think magnesite is used in some way to harden steel and maybe it’s because they were using the ore from the mine for some purpose in the war.
We are in the process now of getting underground utilities. Edison is putting it in. We were lined up to get it about 10 years ago and the economy fell out, but now, they’re doing it right now. They had a little ceremony out here recently and the head of SBC (Southern Bell Corp., now ATT) was there and the head of Edison Company and the head of Charter Communications, our TV company. And it’s all from the corner of Ward St and Highway 190, the main highway out there, right there through the middle of town to the horse barn at the fork of 190 and Balch Park Road. And he couldn’t believe it when I told him, the head of SBC, that the telephone company only maintained those long distant lines in and there were a few people right in town who had phones; we never did have a phone. We just used the switchboard. We didn’t have a phone until after the town went "dial" in 1956. All of these other farmers out there, they maintained their own line right to this pole in front of our house. And the telephone maintained it from that pole into the switchboard. He said, "Boy, (laughter) that would be neat!"
JY: During the war, between 1941 and 1946, what was it like to date, because most of the men went to war? So what was the opportunity for dating?
VR: Not much, there was a base out there between Porterville and Delano and you would go out there, like with the USO, you know, and it was more like a community type thing, where everybody just went to a party. High school kids, I guess, were dating, but they didn’t have cars, so it was more like, you went to a church affair or a school affair. When I was in high school, if I went to something in Porterville, my dad took me down. And even if it was a party where I had a date, dad just sat out in the car until the party was over. And other kids were doing the same thing. None of the guys we went with had cars. Up here, small towns are great for having a community dance once a week. Usually at the old community hall and we, kids, all went. Or the church did lots of things with young people groups, we would go on swimming parties, up the river, or the Stephens’ family, who owned where the horse ranch is now. They had a big five gallon ice cream freezer and every Sunday, Mrs. Stephens made five gallons of ice cream and all the kids in the country just went up to the Stephens’ place. They had croquet and stuff and they were close to the river and we played games, card games.
And, of course, by the time the war was over, I was older, in my 20’s and all the kids I knew were in the service. We wrote letters once in a great while, if they were in the States, I can remember my brother Robert and I don’t think he had shipped out yet. He joined right after the war started, in January of ’42. You see, December, ’41, it was practically the end of ’41. He was stationed down at San Diego. I went down to see him a couple of times. You rode the train. The train was absolutely loaded. Buses were loaded too. I’ve gone on the bus from Springville to Los Angeles and stood up all the way, hanging on. I got a room in a hotel in San Diego and he came in from the base and we spent the evening together, went out to dinner and walked around town. Of course, we were a couple of small town kids and San Diego to me was like New York.
But once they shipped over, my uncle and
my cousins and my brother, they didn’t come back until the war was over. I can remember one uncle, Jesse, who was in the South Pacific Islands, he was
brother and my uncle were both stationed in those islands,
We discovered one of the things they enjoyed the most, we were always trying to think of what could we send them, you know. They liked the catalog, Montgomery Ward or Sears Roebuck catalog and then it just got passed all around the barracks; they said it was like a dream book. These Sailors and Marines and Soldiers would pick out what they were going to buy when they got back home.
Everybody that I know of were signed up and having war bonds subtracted from their salary or buying them. It was the big thing during the war. You just purchased $25.00 or $50.00 bonds, just total commitment. Which you don’t see now. I don’t think people are buying. There are bonds you could buy now, that would be helping pay off this war effort, but I’m not getting the idea people are doing it.
JY: I don’t see any advertisement.
VR: I think there’s a difference in attitude toward war. If you had been attacked, than if it started like this war, I know that twin tower incident was considered an attack, but it wasn’t the same attack as attacking your war vessels right in your front yard and killing thousands of sailors and soldiers in one boat going down. I now worry about these big aircraft carriers, you know, if one of those sink, you would lose four or five thousand men.
JY: Yeah, that would be a whole city in itself. Now, did you have a pen pal during World War II?
VR: Yeah, I wrote to the family that had been so
good to my uncle in
Now I think we know more about it because
we see in the market, things from Chili that are out of season here. I think that the average person, until World
War II came along, was a little naive about geography. Now we see maps on TV or we see it in the
paper, if you’re at all alert, you know more about the world and the countries
than we did then. We were just living in
an isolated dream world over here; things were going good.
Some people are kidding themselves, but I think basically, the American people know, just like in World War II, I mean, okay, this has happened, everybody needs to put his shoulder to the wheel and get us past it and get back to living again. But there’s never been a change since World War II. When you think about my father, who died in 1972, he lived from covered wagons (born in 1882). He had never seen any type of vehicle until he was in his 20’s, almost. The most exciting thing to him was when they put somebody on the moon. And now, I think, this terrorism is gonna bring home to people the fact that the world is a global unit and that’s it’s possible for somebody way over there to really bring somebody over here up short. We sort of live thinking, well, you can isolate yourself from the rest of the world and we can live the way we want to and they can live the way they want to. But now, you get a rascal out there who decides to use an atomic bomb or these terrorists have discovered that just one or two people with a bomb at the right time can really do a lot of damage. You don’t need a major war anymore with cannons and stuff.
JY: How did you feel about the United States dropping the A-bomb?
VR: Well, I don’t think at the time, even though
I was from Cal, where
most of the experiments were going on up there and I have personal friends who
were physicists that were involved in that at the time. I don’t think we
realized the amount of damage it could do. What happened when that bomb was dropped was that everybody was so sick
and tired of the war and we wanted our troops home, that, to us, it was a
necessary thing to call this thing to a screeching halt. I’m not sure it was, but it happened and it
certainly brought the war to an end and we didn’t go through a long period. This war in
That is not happening now, that worries me because this thing could go on forever, now. And it’s back again to the same old thing that’s gone on forever. Basically, that battle, that’s going on in the Middle East, is religion. And I can’t understand how people who are so religious, can be so vicious and so violent and not understand that everybody can have his own feeling about religion. But that’s not the feeling. We’ve got about four or five major religions in the world and not one of them gives an inch for the other.
JY: Not tolerate?
VR: Not tolerate. We’re slow learners.
JY: What’s interesting is, here we are in 2003,
we’re in a conflict with
VR: And clear back when Christ was hung on the cross, it’s the same old battle. I still call us slow learners (chuckle). Mankind is a slow learner.
JY: Going back to the pen pal, the family that you were writing to. What country were they living in at the time?
JY: And what town, do you recall?
VR: No, I don’t. I’d have to dig out some
letters, but they were a town apparently close to one of our bases, where our
men were being shipped back for a couple weeks of R&R. Well, you know shortly after the war, some
girlfriends and I, we went clear to White Horse, Alaska in a
car, first car I ever bought. We took
off. We met some really nice people in
And, I sure that was going on during the
war. When men were all over the world,
we had troops stationed in
We have conveniences and we had
conveniences during World War II, that we didn’t realize that we were the only
ones in the world that had them. That’s
the one thing that I think the Japanese underestimated. When they took us on and the Germans too, the
two wars were going on at the same time,
JY: Yeah, isn’t that interesting. Well, to go ahead and wrap things up, is there anything that I left out, that you would like to say?
VR; Well, I don’t think so. I can’t remember, when did the war end, what month?
JY: I think it was June, June of 1946. Yeah.
VR: Okay, I had taught over here in ’43, ’44, ’45, and ’46, and I went back to UCLA as soon as school was out in the summer of ’46 to get my elementary credential; what I had was a secondary. So, I was in Los Angeles when the war ended.
I can remember being downtown with a friend of mine that I had met in the aircraft factory. We became close friends. Then that war ended and the town just went absolutely berserk. There were thousands, hundreds of thousands of people on the street; everybody kissing and hugging each other. Didn’t know anybody but, you know, just anybody you ran into, you would just grab them and hug them. Things were being thrown in the
air, your hats, newspapers, it was like the biggest celebration in history when that came over the loud speaker, that the war had ended.
One of the things that my father always wanted to do, and I took him to, was he wanted to see that battleship on which the surrender papers were signed that ended World War II. Ed note: The USS Missouri was the battleship in Tokyo Bay where Admiral Nimitz, General MacArthur, and Foreign Minister Shigemitsu ended the war. And it was brought up to Seattle and was there for years. Now, I think it’s been brought down here someplace. The battleship Missouri, that was it. And so right after the war, we made a trip up there and they were letting the public on the boat and they had it marked on the deck, you know, with a square, exactly where everybody sat when they signed these papers and everything. This was a big deal to my dad to get to see that.
JY: Well, how did Springville, itself, celebrate the end of the war? Did they do a special celebration?
VR: I don’t remember; I wasn’t home. I was down south, but I do know that everybody was just excited because the boys were gonna get to come home. And, you know, I don’t know whether you’re totally aware, but the San Joaquin Valley, town by town, had more in that war than any other place in the United States. I mean even today, Veterans Day is still celebrated here. We always called it Armistice Day and it’s not even celebrated in some other places.
But small towns, and for some reason or other, the San Joaquin Valley, was really totally committed to that war. Every little town and afterwards, you see we’ve got a Veteran’s Park in Porterville with a plane out there. The veteran’s unit is big. Even in a little town like this, they have a large veteran’s group. And on December 7th or the closest date to it, they celebrate . . . shouldn’t be celebrating Pearl Harbor, but they recognize Pearl Harbor here and in the Memorial Building, they serve breakfast to this whole town. And they have these big exhibits from all the guys that were in it; veterans and Veteran’s Day is still big here in the valley.
So, World War II made quite an impression. You know, they had such big bases during the war and one by one they’ve closed these bases out. I wish they would find some good use for them, because a country never knows when they’re gonna need something again. I don’t like to see a base that’s important to the safety of a country turned into say a mall or something. But, I don’t know.
You know, when you start economizing or on the federal and state and county level, get these budget crisis, we almost lost the hospital here. The whole town just absolutely rose up when this was closed out in 1970 because they had conquered TB and you know, the doctors in general resist a county facility. And what they were almost gonna do was turn it into a drug rehabilitation deal. The whole town just rose up and said, absolutely not, we won’t have one, because this is right in the middle of town and it stood idle for five years. Finally, federal housing, HUD, came in and remodeled it into apartments for the elderly or handicapped or low income.
But, you see, we had some peaceful years and those bases had become, I guess, a burden to budgets and one by one we lose ‘em. The Pacific Coast could be really vital to any kind of an invasion or war effort. I don’t know. I have a hunch that weaponry has been pushed to the point of where there wouldn’t be a conventional type war. I mean, some rascal nation could just be wild with an atomic bomb and cause, not just a national disaster, a worldwide disaster. And it could happen. That’s what happens when you develop something that is so lethal and so dangerous that it can kill you. Now, they have found out, it is hard to control. You get these little countries that haven’t been recognized for a long time, they become pretty powerful if you’ve got an atomic bomb. It’s a different world we live in now. I’m not sure I’d want to hang around to see what gonna happen (chuckle).
JY: Okay, I’m going to go ahead and end our interview and I don’t think I stated this at the beginning of the tape, but I will state it now, today is October 16, 2003 and it is a Friday, at 9:00 a.m.
J.Yoder/pd 11/28/2003/ 01/02/04 ed. by J. Wood.
Ed. Note: Words in italics were added during a phone interview with Virginia Radeleff on 04/12/2006 and an early history of radios was added to this interview (see pg. 24) in response to a question she had in the original interview.