MATHESON HISTORICAL MUSEUM
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
Ruth C. Marston
April 13, 2001
Interview with Coolidge Davis 2
April 13, 2001
C: My name is Bob Clayton. Today is April 13, 2001, and I have the distinct and
high personal privilege of interviewing Mr. C. Coolidge Davis.
D: Calvin Coolidge Davis.
C: We are here at the Matheson Historical Museum in Gainesville, Florida, on a
beautiful Friday morning. Good morning, Coolidge.
D: Good morning.
C: Being an old "Gainesvillian" yourself, tell me something about your folks, where
they came from, and in general, when they got here, and about your forebears and
D: The best I can recall, my parents came to Gainesville in approximately 1922 or
23. I don't remember that because I was born a little bit later on. My folks came
from Emanuel County in Georgia. That's somewhere around Swainsboro. They
came to Gainesville and settled on South Main out on the road to Colclough Hill
at that time. From Depot Street going out practically to the Prairie was a dirt road
lined with saw mills and shacks that were built by the lumber companies for their
employees. My daddy worked for a lumber mill and the first thing I can
remember was cleaning fire bricks from a boiler that the lumber mill used to
create steam. I recall being down on what was called South Pearl Street. That's
as you go down in front of old Louis's Restaurant heading toward Depot Street,
take a left and you cross the railroad tracks and go all the way out like you're
going to the Evergreen Cemetery. One of the highlights, of course, towards the
cemetery was passing the Baird Fertilizer place on the right-hand side.
This approached the area where we had our recreational and somewhat kind of
community affairs. That was close to where my mother and daddy had rented a
rather large, frame dwelling, and my mother took in boarders and roomers
because the railroad along Depot Street was one of our main transportation means
in Gainesville. The train went all the way to Waldo from here and I think it was
the old Coast Line and also from Cedar Key. Anyway, we made a pretty good
living. I ate pretty good, anyway.
From there, my daddy and momma moved out closer to where Daddy worked, out
at the saw mill. We moved right across from the entrance to the saw mill at that
time. Mr. W.H. Edwards, Sr., whose son later on married my oldest sister. We
moved from what I call the sawmill area just across the railroad tracks on Depot
Street. That's real close to where the city light plant started.
C: This would be about what year?
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April 13, 2001
D: About 1930 or 1932, or maybe it had to be a little later than that. My brothers and
my sisters and I used to walk all the way from down around the sawmill to Kirby-
Smith on E. University Avenue.
C: That's a good point. How many siblings did you have and who were they?
D: You've got to remember that with my background in education, I really don't
understand "siblings." I had three brothers and three sisters. Starting with the
youngest, there was Mary Ann, then Barbara, then Jeannette, the oldest. Starting
with me, of which I am the only survivor of the males of the family, then Tuffy.
My name is Calvin Coolidge; Tuffy's name was Bryant Woodrow; and my next
brother was Grover Madison; and the next brother was Clayton D., but everybody
called him Jeff after Jefferson Davis. All of the boys played a pretty good game
of football and baseball in high school.
C: It sounds like it to me.
D: Anyway, as we go on from there, I've got to dwell on my background as to where
I was raised. Daddy bought a house from S.T. Dell's daddy. I don't know how
we ever paid it off, but eventually we got it paid off. It was right behind what we
called the old L.M. Gray building. The first thing I remember, really and truly,
about moving up across Depot Street was L.M. Gray started building his plant.
L.M. Gray was, I guess, one of the first general contractors in the Gainesville
area. He used to have a place out off of Hawthorne Road that later on was used as
a nightspot called the "Nightingale." It had one of the largest wood dance floors
in Florida. It was way out there and he finally wanted to come to town.
Anyway, I watched them construct that thing from the ground up. I'll always
marvel at it. I got to know a little bit about everybody that worked there.
My first experience with getting out into the public started when I was six years
old. These dates might conflict a little bit, but they're close. Momma used to boil
and parch peanuts.
C: I remember that.
D: One of the chores that we all had was that when we were boiling peanuts,
Momma had to get her washing done because she had a steel pot that she boiled
her clothes in and we had to get that done either before or afterwards and then she
would boil peanuts. Then she had to get them out on the street. First G.M. would
start out and Tuffy would start out and when I got to be six years old, she gave me
a basket of peanuts. I think there were twenty bags in it. Then I got out into the
business world and frankly, I think it was one of the best experiences that I ever
had. It opened up a lot of doors that I don't think I ever would have been able to
get into. That continued up until I was about 15 years of age.
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April 13, 2001
During my experiences of selling peanuts, I'd go to Kirby-Smith and I would trot
home after I got out around one o'clock and Momma would call and get me a cab
and I usually would make the drill field out at the University of Florida when they
had the R.O.T.C. out there and they had their caissons and horses. Of course,
Sigma Nu House was right across the street. The baseball field was on University
Avenue, and I later played baseball there for the University. Then there was, of
course, the football stadium. That was kind of above my business area. Anyway,
I would make it out there and it cost us a nickel for me to get out there. That was
a lot of money.
C: Was that the bus?
D: A cab. We didn't have buses until much later. Anyway, I would get out there and
I would sit out there and wait until they had a break and then I would run out
where the caissons were and the students were there in the heat of the day, and I
would try to sell them some peanuts because they were out there for about four
hours. If I didn't do anything there, during the baseball season or the football
season I would go over to the practice. It usually lasted until around 4:30 or 5:00
o'clock and then they got a little hungry and I would sell them a few peanuts. If it
was football, then I would go to the football practice and I got to know just about
every football player and baseball player from 1932-33 up until the war. I got to
know a lot of people I met George Smathers. I got to know Steve O'Connell,
and I believe he had a brother. Walter Mayberry, Charlie Tate. Billy Chasen was
one of my best friends. He was the captain of the football team and I think he was
the captain of the swim team, too. As I went along, I used to kind of help old Doc
Manchester, the trainer at the University of Florida, tape ankles. He showed me
how to tape ankles when I was about ten or eleven years old. I would help the
football players put on their jerseys over their shoulder pads, and I would go out
and sit on the sidelines with the football players. Tootie Perry, our all-American
water boy, I knew him real well. He owned Perry's Dairy on S.E. Main Street
next to the Coca Cola plant and Louie's Restaurant.
C: You were on the bench with Tootie Perry?
D: Football players and basketball players were in what we called the "old gym."
That's where the athletic director Edgar Jones was, and Mrs. Yon was his
secretary. When the football players dressed out, we went out the back of the
gymnasium and went down the hill and kind of curved around to the south end of
the stadium. Over on the left-hand side was an old building they called the "F
Club Building." That's where all the F Club members met.
C: Right. Athletes.
D: As we walked to the stadium, we passed the old sweat tank that was nothing but a
big old culvert down in a hole where all the steam pipes met together, and when
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somebody needed to get off some weight they would go there. The boxing team.
We won the Southeastern Conference in boxing for several years. They would go
out there and to make their weight, they would get down in what I called the
One of the other things I remember vividly about those days was the old track
field. As I recall, you would go down along the north side of what we called the
"new gym" and the "old girls' gym", which was really the first gym, and then to
your right was the track field. A lot of people don't remember that track field. I
remember Tony Piombo and John Piombo. I don't remember who the track coach
was at that time but Percy Beard came along a little bit later. Much later.
As my time went along, I started selling peanuts at football game weekends. It
was always a little bit humorous because Clarence Bolton and his family I'm
not sure but I believe that Clarence had the concessions for all the football games,
and at that time I think his family owned the Coca Cola distributorship in
Gainesville. Of course, that put him in pretty good position. I always liked him.
Dell Willis and Duck Cawthon and the Robinson boys and I all sold peanuts. I
got out there one day and we used to have to stand up at the gate to look inside
and after the game started, the peanut business as far as we were concerned was
over. I had to go to the boys' room one day and the fellow at the gate let me go
into the boys' room, and on my way by there somebody said, "How about getting
me a bag of peanuts?" Okay, so he handed me ten cents. I said, "Here, take your
change." He said, "No, you charge ten cents in here." So I got a rude awakening.
From then on in, I found a bonanza, because I was selling my peanuts in there for
ten cents and I was selling outside for a nickel or three for a dime. On occasion, I
could see Mr. Bolton coming through the stands and I would slip out the side, and
he would come out and would say, "I'm going to get the Internal Revenue Service
after you. All this money has to be taxed, you know." He was a great man!
As I grew up, I made a football trip to Jacksonville with the football team as long
as Billy Chasen was there. Billy Chasen and Frances Langford were supposed to
be high school sweethearts from Lakeland. We were up there one time and after
she got to be a star, she had her Cord automobile flown down to the Georgia-
Florida football game. After the football game was over, the three of us got in the
Cord. We drove over the Jacksonville Bridge and she was humming one of her
favorite songs. I was just speechless. When I came back, she wrote me.
A little later on in peanut-selling days or maybe a little earlier they moved
their track field to the south end zone of the football field. I can remember my
oldest brother, Clayton, playing football out there, and I think Plant High School
of Hillsborough County played out there. Anyway, later on I was out selling my
peanuts and on the south end of the track field which had seats on only one side, I
saw Mr. Fred Cone sitting up there with some people. I asked him if he wanted
any peanuts. He said, "Davis, come here." I went up there and he said, "Do you
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know who this man is here?" I said, "No." An old bulldog faced man, congenial,
one of those happy faces. He said, "This is my uncle." I said that was fine. He
said, "Do you know who he is?" I said, "No, I don't know who he is." He said,
"That's the Governor, Fred P. Cone."
Anyway, he told me, "I'll buy three or four bags of those peanuts if you could go
get us some cold Coca Cola." I said, "All right." The cafeteria in those days from
where we were sitting, which is right across the street from the Civil Engineering
Building, where they used to bring the trains in. I haul buggied up there and I
didn't have enough money but I knew the old boys in the cafeteria and I got four
Coca Colas. I told him I would bring him the bottles back. I went back and you
know they paid me fifteen cents apiece for those Coca Colas, and Fred did buy the
peanuts from me, so I thought about that. When I was going out there with those
Coca Colas, everybody wanted to buy one. Percy Beard and I were good friends.
Before that, he had allowed me to sell peanuts at the Florida basketball games.
We'd throw peanuts up and they would throw nickels down and we'd catch them
and everybody would rave, you know.
We didn't have any cold drinks out at those events. I think I was about 13 or 14
years old, I thought maybe I could get some cold drinks out at the track meet and
maybe the baseball games, so I asked him if he would let me sell Coca Colas out
there. He said yes, but they would have to have a little compensation to go into
the Athletic Fund. I said that was fine, that I didn't know how much it would be,
but if I made anything it would be better than what I was getting! I don't know
whether it was Mr. Dittmar who was in charge of the Coca Cola plant at that time,
but I made a deal with him. He thought it was a pretty good idea. I said, "If you
get me a vat and furnish me with some ice and credit on the Coca Colas, I'll see
what we can do." That thing got to be going pretty good. When the track season
was over, the baseball season came in.
We got into the state high school basketball finals, and Percy Beard came to me
one day and asked me if I thought I could handle the concessions for that. I said,
"Sure I can handle it." I handled that for several years. As a matter of fact, Percy
was one of my favorite people. We had some pecan trees and Momma was a very
industrious person and she would bag up some of those pecans and I went out
selling pecans. Some of my educated college friends always wanted to buy
pecans and when I handed them a bag of "pe-cons" they said they only handled
"pe-cans"! I got to know just about everybody: Ed Rood and his brother Joe Bill.
C: They were swimmers, too, weren't they?
D: Ed was. Yes, I think so. When I didn't sell out my peanuts, I would go to the
dormitory. I would try to sell peanuts until I was sold out. Later on, Ed got to be
President of the Student Body. He had an old bicycle sitting out on the side of the
building. He never did ride it. I said, "Ed, is that your bicycle down there?" He
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said, "Yes. That old hard tire bicycle. I'm going to sell it, I guess." I asked him
how much he wanted for it, and he said $3.50. That was a lot of money. I said,
"Well, I sure would like to have it, but it needs new tires and I just don't have that
kind of money." We struck up a deal. The next thing I knew Ed moved from that
dorm. I tried to find Ed but I can't really and truly tell you the truth about trying
to find him too hard, but he knew where I was and I knew that. Anyway, in my
later years in life, my wife and I and I think my brother-in-law, Bill Edwards, and
my sister, Jeanette, were in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, when Florida was playing
Alabama. Namath was a big store there. I looked up behind me and I saw this
man that I recognized. Just as the half came, I went up about thirty steps and I
said, "Would you mind moving over a little bit? I want to talk to you." He
looked at me like I was crazy. Of course, the first thing was I started going back
in history telling him about when he lived in the dormitory and that he had a
bicycle and there was a young peanut salesman who tried to make a deal with him
on it and he did, but he never did fulfill on his end of the obligation. He was quite
surprised. I said, "I don't know how much I owe you, but I'd like to pay you."
He was dumbfounded. He said, "Well, you have already paid me." I said, "I just
wanted you to know that I have thought of you constantly." I think he went on to
be a prosecuting attorney or judge in Hillsborough County.
As I continued on through my life, I spent a little time around the Sigma Nu
C: Let me ask you this. What schools did you go to in Gainesville?
D: I went to Kirby-Smith Elementary School. That's where the Alachua County
Educational System headquarters are located now.
We went from the first grade to the sixth and from the sixth grade we graduated
over at G.H.S., which was out on the other end of University Avenue. I did most
of my growing up, I guess you might say, at Kirby-Smith. That's where I met
many of my life-long friends.
C: Name some.
D: John Brown, Gene Brown, all the Brown brothers, D.A. Smith, Ralph Smith, Red
Smith (the oldest), Everett Sweat.
C: This was in elementary school?
D: Yes. Of course, Tuffy and Edmund Walker and Harry Walker. We got to meet a
lot of boys from out in the country. The reason I got to know them was because
their mom and daddy used to always make them what we called a lunch bag, a
paper bag, and they would always fix them a sandwich. I had to run all the way
from University Avenue down to Depot Street and get a biscuit with maybe some
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mayonnaise and a slice of onion in it and run back, so I got to know those fellows
We had a unique situation in the school system. We had a woman principal, and
her name was Mrs. Metcalf. Of course, to us the person that was in charge of all
of the school system, as far as we were concerned, was Professor Buchholz. He
was in charge of Gainesville High School. Periodically he would show up over
there. He was just like Jehovah, you know.
C: I know.
D: Mrs. Metcalf had an unusual way of disciplining her pupils. One day she brought
me in and she said, "What punishment do you think you deserve?" She got out
her leather strap. The first time I saw that leather strap I really got shook up. Her
method of disciplining was having you tell her how many times: 15 straps or 15
licks. What she would do is make you pull up your britches' leg, and she would
give you a strap and she would say, "All right, now you hit it." If you started
hitting lightly, she would say, "I don't think those count." So you would sit there
and just about whip that leg off.
I never will forget one day when I was falsely accused. This is, I think, the
difference between what happens today with the parents and what happened then.
My daddy was a carpenter. I went home one day about eleven o'clock. They
were going to whip me, and I just flatly refused to allow that. When I got home,
my daddy was next door working on a back porch for Mr. Howe, who was a
furniture dealer back then. He came over and wanted to know what I was doing
home. I said, "Daddy, they were going to whip me and I shouldn't have been
whipped." The moral of that story was that I had my behind whipped there and I
got it whipped when I went back to school, so he taught me that if I had a
punishment, I'd be better off if I got it at school than I would be to go home
because I'd get it twice.
Mrs. Metcalf was a very attractive person, and later on her daughter, Winifred,
was teaching over at Gainesville High School. She was a pretty thing and she
may still be alive today. Anyway, she would put on Christmas carols. I never
could get to be a shepherd; I never could get into those carols. She always used to
tell the story and I never did really and truly find out if this was true, that her
husband could read a book just about as fast as anybody could. He could read the
first three or four lines of a sentence and he could pick up the meaning of the
balance of the sentence. I never did have nerve enough to ask her how he did that
because I thought it might not be the truth, but it could have been.
I made it over to G.H.S. I didn't know until I got over there that G.H.S. had from
the first grade up to the seventh, all the way through high school. Did you know
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D: I didn't know that either.
C: When I got there, they started at the seventh grade.
D: Is that right? Anyway, when I got over to G.H.S., we never did have enough
football players so if you were old enough to be there you were old enough to go
out for what they called B Squad. Horse Bishop was the coach of the football
team. Hussey was the assistant coach. Pop Golden was the assistant principal, I
guess. Professor Buchholz later on got to be the director of the Florida High
School Athletic Association. Anyway, I started playing B Squad football and met
another group of fine fellows. We practiced on a field out in back of the
schoolhouse and when it rained, particularly in the wintertime, there was a little
clay base on top of the field and it was slick. When we went into a slight drought
and the wind dried up the ground, it was just like concrete and had ridges and
when you hit that ground, it would take the hide with it. We didn't have to worry
about it too much because we wore the same shoulder pads and the same hip pads
and everything else. We would take them off and put them in the corner and they
would stand up there by themselves. If we got our uniforms washed, we had to
carry them home. Usually when we carried them home, I had to do my own
washing. I played behind Tuffy and Gene. Of course, Clayton had already left by
then. Franny Hartman came along after Coach Bishop got to be school
I think one of the highlights of boyhood at G.H.S. was getting under the strong
and firm hand of Professor Buchholz. He was a disciplinarian from the word
"go." I don't know of anybody who as a youngster didn't fear him. Those who
didn't fear him respected him. I don't know if you were there during his term.
C: I was. You could sit down in that auditorium, and all of a sudden he would take
off those glasses, and when he took those glasses off, you could hear a pin drop.
D: Many a day I have heard him say, "You in the 8th row, second from the end, you
can stop those jaws from popping. You know it's against the rules to come into
this school chewing gum. And you on the back side over there, after assembly I
will expect to see you in the office." From then on in, he had the utmost attention.
Some of my favorite school teachers were Miss Bonaker, Mrs. Waits.
C: Ruby Ware Waits.
D: Ruby Waits. Everybody seemed to have a problem with her, but you know she
and I got along famously. Miss Bonaker always did her best to keep us eligible to
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play football. Mrs. Seay was our accounting or bookkeeping teacher. She had
some help come on, and her name was Mrs. Stevens. She was probably one of
the strictest ones. E.B. Sapp and I E.B. was one of our few All-State football
players couldn't pass accounting and she would have us come over to her home
in the evening and she would teach us accounting. Her husband was Billy K.
Stevens. I think Billy K. at one time might have been a physical education
instructor at P.K. Yonge, but he later on moved over and got on the faculty of the
College of Physical Education at the University of Florida. Billy K., who I
admire and think the world of, and he's still around, never did approve of
interscholastic athletics. Did you know that?
C: I didn't know that.
D: He felt that if you were going to have athletics, you should have it intramural
within the school system. Part of the fallacy that way was that many schools
didn't have enough enrolment to have it. A lot of people don't know it to this day,
but at one time the Florida High School Athletic Association allowed students
from P.K. Yonge to play athletics football, basketball, and so forth at
Gainesville High School. A lot of people didn't know that.
C: I'm with them.
D: Of course, we needed them. When Tuffy and Fritz Hartman and Padgett Powell
and those fellows graduated, they left behind about eighteen or nineteen football
players. We were playing in what we called the Big Ten. We played Andrew
Jackson and Robert E. Lee in football and basketball. Latham, Clearwater. At
one time we played Miami Senior High and Hillsborough. I can recall one trip
that we made to Orlando. We got down there and I thought we went by
Greyhound, but Dell tells me I'm wrong, that we went in an old school bus.
Franny Hartman got to be the coach when Tuffy and John Grover and Max Stultz
and Gussie Smith played. One time we were going to play Orlando another time,
and we had a good football team that year. We went down to play Orlando, and
Gussie's momma or daddy passed away and we didn't have any substitute except
Bobby Burnham. If you remember Bobby Burnham, he must have been about six
foot tall and I guess he weighed every bit of 135 or 140 pounds. We went down
there and Bobby Burnham played one of the most fantastic football games I've
ever seen in my life. A duffle bag fell off the top of the bus, and Franny Hartman
started backing up. We got close enough to it that Bobby could see that it was his
duffle bag and he said, "Coach, just go on. Don't stop and go back there and pick
up. Just go on." Franny stopped and opened the door and he started to get out.
As I recall, he went back and sat down and put it in gear and kept going straight
on down the road. Bobby and some of the lads that played with us were
partygoers, and we always swear up and down that Bobby had a half pint of liquor
or wine in that bag and was going to have a celebration after the football game.
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Anyway, the next year when we were going down to Orlando, that was when
Johnny Seay, who later on got to be assistant school superintendent for the State
of Florida Education Program, was one of the best catchers that the University of
Florida had in baseball. I told Johnny Seay one day after I got to be an adult that
he was by far the best catcher that the University of Florida or the Florida State
League ever had, pound for pound. I don't think Johnny ever weighed over 135
pounds. We went down there and got on the field, and I think we dressed out 17
ballplayers. There was Harry Green, Hank Bishop, one of the Stringfellow boys,
Jack Ford, Gene Crenshaw, E.B. Sapp, Bobby Adams (our fullback), Duck
Cawthon, Dell Willis, Gene Brown, Red Ryan. The last year that Tuffy and Red
Ryan played we lost two ballgames. We lost to Robert E. Lee in the Gator Bowl.
It wasn't what we call the Gator Bowl today. They beat us 13-6, I believe. I
think Clearwater might have beaten us, I think by about one point. We were the
Big Ten runner-ups.
We dressed out 17 or 18, and we had to really work to get 18. I think they
dressed out about 67 or 68. Jimmy Hughes's brother was the coach of the
Orlando team back then. As you know, Jimmy Hughes was coach at Miami
Senior High for some years. He had a great record as a coach. I may be wrong
about the school he was in. Later he came up here to Gainesville and opened up a
sporting goods store.
Anyway, we played Ocala twice that year, which was somewhat unusual, but the
war created a shortage on gasoline. I never will forget that people who were in
Gainesville for any length of time knew that Gainesville High School and Ocala
were rivals. They were the top. As a matter of fact, the Ocala boys used to have a
saying that "the sun don't go down in Marion County on any boy from
Gainesville High School." That wasn't necessarily playful either! I recall many
years ago that Buster Bishop and some of the boys were playing down close to the
hospital and all of a sudden when George Franklin and maybe my brother Clayton
were playing and I was down there with Professor Fraser Rogers, who had given
me a ride down to the ballgame, and three or four highway patrol men and a
couple of police cars came and the next thing you knew, the biggest fight I've
ever seen in my life developed out in the middle of the field and the lights went
out. Needless to say, I don't think they ever finished that ballgame.
Ocala beat us up here in Gainesville by about seven points. When we went down
there and returned the engagement, and we beat them. We had a pretty good
rapport I did with the other team. I can't recall the name of their fullback, but
he and I got to be friends. He got hurt and I walked over to see, and the doctor
was out there. He got up and went off. We just barely held on to beat them.
After the game was over, all of a sudden the stadium just started coming out on
the football field. I said, "Oh lord, just don't do this again." They came out
hugging us and telling us what sportsmanslike conduct we had exhibited.
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C: There's another thing I want to talk to you about, the war. When it came on, it
decimated a lot of the classes at G.H.S. Were you caught in it?
D: In a roundabout way. As you recall, back during that period of time, Blanding
had opened up full force. Gainesville was an O.C.S. training center for officers'
candidate school. A lot of fellows came in here. We were loaded with service
people. In some cases they were welcome, but as for a male who was without his
girlfriend, we didn't particularly care for them, nor did we ever care for the
University of Florida students!
On my leave one time, I was out at a night game. I went into the laboratory to
wash my hands. I was in my uniform. Sailors had thirteen buttons that they had
to unbutton. A fellow walked in, and I knew I had seen him somewhere. He
says, "Mate, do you ever get tired of zipping those things open whenever you
have to do whatever you've gotta do?" I said, "Yes, I do." He said, "It would be
nice if they could work out a zipper one day." It was the fellow who played in
"The Music Man." Robert Preston. He was over at Camp Blanding doing a
show. We had a nice conversation while we washed our hands, right in the men's
I came home on leave and I started going with my wife, which as of today has
gone on for fifty-seven years. I didn't have a car and I caught a ride out to Waldo
Road and University Avenue. I knew just about everybody in Waldo. Those
Hardy boys over there were quite well known. The train came along slowly and
the engineer hollered at me, "Is that you, Coolidge?" I looked at him and it was
Mr. Sullivan. He said, "Jump on that platform down there. Now you can't come
up here, but jump on it." It was about a 2x6 platform where the engineer would
step on that platform and he would grab the bars.
C: Like a running board.
D: Just about. I got on that sapsucker and about the time we hit Austin Carey, he got
that thing up to about 55 or 60 miles an hour. One of the bad things about the
trains back in those days was that they were coal burners. He got that thing going
and some of those hot ashes were going down my neck, and I was holding onto
what I would call a 5/8" rebar, and I was looking down there and my feet were
coming about that far off of those rails. You know when you sharpen a knife and
you sharpen steel on steel, you can see those sparks flying. I wondered how in the
world I ever got into this.
Anyway, we made it to Waldo, where you had to make a 90 degree turn and shoot
on over to 301 at the red light, and he hollered at me and said, "Now I can't let
you stay on here and go down in front of the train station. I'm going to slow
down now and all you've got to do is just step off." He was a stickler, I'm going
Interview with Coolidge Davis 13
April 13, 2001
to tell you. It had to be war time or something for him to do something like that.
He was a railroad man through and through. I got my hands off of those bars and
I stepped down, and my legs were just weak.
I walked down to my wife's home, and Mr. Harden, who was a turpentine man,
didn't ever think that there was anybody good enough to go with his daughter. He
didn't have to say anything other than "Huh." I went up to the door and knocked
on the door, and who came to the door but Mr. Harden. He looked at me and said,
"Who the hell are you?" I didn't realize it but my face was just black from that
soot. Anyway, that's about the transportation system to Waldo back during those
C: After the war you came back to Gainesville and started in business.
D: I came back to Gainesville and worked with Gene and as a matter of fact, all of us
Jim, Tuffy, Gene came back from the service and we were just happy to see
everybody and we were starting a new world and you didn't worry about making
a whole lot of money until it came to pay bills. I went to work with Jim. He had
a crew running. Pee Wee Ritchie was one of our old has-beens and probably one
of the finest men that I've ever had the pleasure of knowing in my life. Duck
Cawthon was working; Dell was working. I stayed and worked with them. I built
a house for myself when I was twenty-one, when I got out of service. I felt like I
wanted to go to the University of Florida.
I missed one of the golden opportunities of my life with Art Stringfellow, who
was a good buddy of my daddy's and they bent elbows a little bit together. I had
bought a lot to build my house on, and he owned everything from Depot Street all
the way out to Harris Field and then all the way over to 23rd Blvd. He got a cab
and came to me and said, "Listen, I'm going to make you a millionaire." He had
a little aroma about him you know, alcohol. "I'm going to make you an offer. I
want all this over here, and I want to let you go in there and want it subdivided as
you need it. The veterans are coming home and there's plenty of money to sell
these houses." I got a little disenchanted building my house because I couldn't
get materials. He said, "What I'm going to do is just turn it loose and I'll take
back a note on the lots. You build up a reserve. Just go with it." I thought about
it and I went home and talked with my wife. I had already made plans to go to the
University of Florida, and to make a long story short, he stayed after me for about
three weeks and he said, "I'm going to go with somebody else if you don't take
me up on it." Anyway, I turned it down and the next thing I knew Curtis
Newsome and 0.0. or A.A. Annis had about fifteen or twenty houses built before
I ever finished mine.
I went to see about getting my diploma, and I went to see Mr. Buchholz but
couldn't see him so saw Pop Golden and he was glad to see me. I told him that I
Interview with Coolidge Davis 14
April 13, 2001
wanted to go to the University of Florida. My grades in high school didn't even
think about me going to the University of Florida! He said, "What are you going
to do?" I had already run into Joe Jenkins, Sr. about that time when I was
building my house, and he had impressed me, as lawyers put the fear of the Lord
into younger folks. I said, "I want to be a coach or a lawyer." He said, "Come
on, let's go in and talk to Prof." We went in and he said, "Prof, I know you're
busy, but do you remember Coolidge Davis?" He said, "Yes, I do. I remember
Coolidge. Yes, how are you Coolidge?" Pop said, "I won't take up too much of
your time, Prof, but you know that Coolidge wants to go to the University of
Prof said, "He what?"
"He wants to go to the University of Florida."
"I see, well, what's the problem?"
Pop said, "Well, Coolidge didn't graduate before he left. He needs at the most a
quarter of credit. Now Coolidge played football and baseball, spent some time in
the hospital periodically for injuries. You know, back when he was in school, we
didn't give credit for physical education, which we do now."
He said, "All right, we'll put him in this next graduation period."
I think that was 1946.
We started out the door, and Pop said, "Prof, I wanted to save this until last. You
know what Coolidge wants to be when he gets out of the University of Florida?
A lawyer or a school teacher or a coach."
I thought Buchholz would drop! As it happened, I ended up graduating from the
College of Education and went on to do my student teaching at Gainesville High
School. They didn't have a place for me or they didn't think I was ready so they
sent me over to Hawthorne and I spent a year at Hawthorne.
C: You did do some teaching and then you went into real estate?
C: You had a very successful career in real estate. You're a very prominent citizen.
D: Some people would question that.
C: Let me ask you this. One last question, and I am springing it on you. What is the
biggest one change that has occurred in Gainesville during your career here?
Interview with Coolidge Davis 15
April 13, 2001
D: I think the biggest change that has had the most effect on Gainesville was 1-75.
Then the State of Florida allowing the employees of the State of Florida to run for
and to hold public office.
C: Those are two very good ones. I want you to know how much I have enjoyed this
today. I haven't had to do a thing! I have just listened. We've got the history of
Gainesville on this tape now, and I want to thank you, Coolidge, very much for
your time and your patience.
D: One other question that I would like to find out. When I was a youngster, there
was an airplane crash over in the northeast section of Gainesville. I've always
tried to remember, but this reminded me, who those two local citizens were who
died in that crash. I think the Stringfellow family was in it, and I don't know who
the other man was.
C: I can't tell you, but we've got it on tape and I'll bet you that Sam Proctor might
know. We'll check with him.
D: I took Florida History from Sam Proctor.
C: He should know. Coolidge, I thank you very kindly, sir.