This Oral History is copyrighted by the Interviewee
and the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program on
behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University of
Copyright, 2005, University of Florida.
All rights, reserved.
This oral history may be used for research,
instruction, and private study under the provisions
of Fair Use. Fair Use is a provision of United States
Copyright Law (United States Code, Title 17, section
107) which allows limited use of copyrighted
materials under certain conditions.
Fair use limts the amount of material that may be
For all other permissions and requests, contact the
SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
Interivewee: Robert Walling
Interviewer: Keith McIntyre
February 18, 1983
M: Because this is a biographical interview, I suppose the best place to
start would be with where and when you were born.
W: I was born on June 22, 1906, in a small place called Whitehall, South
Carolina. I do not know where they place is located. I have asked
several people, but it is not on the map. It must be a very small place,
but I understand it still exists. I then moved from there to the middle
part of Carolina. There I spent much of my pre-teen years around
Colleton, Bamberg, and Orangeburg counties.
M: How large was your family?
W: My dad was married twice. He had two children by his first marriage. He
married my mother after the death, or whatever, of his first wife. There
were four of us boys, and there were three years between each one of the
boys, except the baby, and there are four years between his birth and
mine. When my dad died at the age of about forty-two, that left us in the
world by ourselves. We had no daddy to bring us up. First, one fellow
would tell us what to do, and then somebody else would not like it. Then
he would get a slab or a switch, and he would switch us for it. We had
quite a rough time until we grew up where we were able to take care of
ourselves. That extended over a period of several years. My oldest
brother was twelve when I was six. A twelve year old boy can be a lot of
protection for a six year old boy. My oldest brother looked after me as a
M: So you were the third?
W: I was the third.
M: And you have a younger brother?
W: Yes. My two older brothers have passed on. My mother died at the age of
eighty, and my dad died around age forty-two. I am now seventy-six, and
am within four years of the age of my mother when she passed away. Very
much has passed over the dam since I was big enough to get up and do a
little something for myself until now.
M: What were your brothers' names?
W: My oldest brother was Laurie B. Walling, and my next brother was Raymond
Walling, and my younger brother is Clevie Walling. He now lived in the
mountains of South Carolina in a little city called Walhalla, at the edge
of the Blue Ridge Mountains. He is retired, same as I am.
M: Do you remember school or any kind of education there?
W: Yes. I went to a one-room school, and that was quite something. They
taught all the grades from what they call today a primary up to the
eleventh grade in one big room. That was where I got my basic education.
Then my education stopped for a while when I was getting big enough to
where I could go ahead and do some work. I landed some pretty good jobs
and made some good money, but I wanted to ramble.
By the time I was fifteen I left my mother not telling her where I was
going, or anything about it. I went to Charleston, South Carolina, by
freight train from a little place called Yemassee, South Carolina. I
caught the freight train there. The engineer told me to get on top of the
car and he would blow the whistle when we would go under a bridge. I
would lay flat so the superstructure would not hit me. We got into
Charleston, and jobs were quite plentiful then for a young fellow like me.
They took me on a boat, and I worked on a steamship. The name of the
steamship was Esther Williams. A company owned these ships, and the owner
named these ships after his daughters. Mine was Esther, and there was a
Mary, and there were other Williams ships, also. I was gone for a long
time before my mother knew where I was, or anything at all about me.
Finally I got homesick. I left the ship, caught a train, and went back
home. When I got back home my mother was very glad to see me. I had
carried her some little things that I had bought for her in Baltimore and
other places in which I had traveled with the ship.
I then worked at minimal jobs. Jobs were beginning to get kind of scarce
then and it was more difficult to get work. I worked at one place and
then another. Finally, I went to Florida and I stayed in Florida for two
or three years. There is where I met the woman who was to become my wife.
I got married at a very young age. I was not old enough to marry, but I
got married anyhow. I had a little money saved up, and I made pretty good
money. I took a course at a barber school in Jacksonville, Florida, and
learned to be a barber. The cost of a haircut was twenty-five cents. I
could not make very much money at that.
I decided that I would get a better job. I left that job and headed
north. I had a brother living in Brunswick, Georgia, so I stopped by to
see him for a few days. While I was with my brother, Raymond, I got a job
with a creosote company. I hostled the cranes. That means I moved the
cranes around and cleaned the tubes and filled them with coal and other
materials that were used. I worked at night and had them steamed up and
ready to work the next day.
I applied to Hercules, Incorporated, which was Hercules Powder Compnay
then, for a job. I then landed a job with Hercules. I was in my early
twenties by that time, and I knew I had to have an education, and they had
a vocational school. I went to this vocational school, and I studied math
mostly. I was very good with math. I studied other things, also. I
studied English and grammar, and a foreign language a little. So finally
I went as far as I could go in this school, which was through the twelfth
grade. I had worked eight hours on my job, eight hours in school, and
four hours for sleep and recreation, and the other four hours was spent
rambling around like a young fellow will do. It did not take very much
When I got all the education I could get locally, I started to study
chemistry. The school was very good to me. They had a chemical lab and
they had a physical lab for chemistry. I studied that and took a course
in chemical engineering, using the equipment of the school. I spent many
a night at eleven o'clock down at Glynn academy. You could go by there
and see me in there working. I had all kinds of tests to make. The
company I worked for, Hercules, would let me have anything I wanted. If I
needed a more delicate balance than the one they had in school, they would
lend me one. Hercules would furnish me with the chemicals. Nobody
encouraged me to take this course at all. So I finished that course, and
I graduated in chemical engineering. It took six years. Then I took a
course in office management and foremanship. Those two were combined.
I did not know that anybody was noticing what I was doing, but as soon as
I graduated, they notified my company. They called me in from the plant
where I was operator/helper and they put me in the laboratory. They
examined me thoroughly about my knowledge: how to separate one metal from
another, how to conduct flue gas analysis, the difference in
organic/inorganic chemistry, and qualitative and quantitative chemistry.
So I worked one year in the laboratory, moving from one job to another.
Each week I would go on a new job, just enough to learn how the thing was
carried out. That went on for fifty-two weeks, after which they called
me into the office and told me they were putting me over a group of older
men. There I was, a young man, going in and taking over a group of older
men. They resented that. They went to the boss and told him that they
did not care to work under a younger fellow, and to let one of them be the
bossman. But they said that none of them had an education, and that I did
have the necessary education. That soon quieted down when they found that
they could not do what I was doing because I knew chemistry from one end
of the other.
Of course, I did not know how to split the atom. We knew the atom could
be split, but we did not know how to split them. We have learned that
after I finished my schooling. We learned that in World War II. I did
very well with Hercules, and I worked with them for a long time. One of
the first things I did when I went to work there was to start a savings
plan for retirement. Being very young I realized that if I lived long
enough I would need that, and if I did not, my folks would need it. So I
continued at Hercules, and I took many a seminar either in Brunswick,
Savannah, Macon, Jesup, or Jacksonville. These seminars were held in
other places, and were usually on chemicals and processes, such as
fluidide liquids, or the reactions of various chemicals, or what metals
would stand up best under acids and alkalies. This continued for the
duration of my time with Hercules. Two years before I retired I took a
course at Brunswick Junior College on personal relations.
I was not an old man when I retired. I did not want to settle down, so I
took a job with the American Association of Retired Persons, which paid
all of my expenses to ravel throughout the United States to take more
workshop courses. Then I was made director for southeastern Georgia. But
when my bossman, the head man over the entire state, became sick, I had to
handle the entire state. That kept me on the go all the time. I would be
in Los Angeles one week and then I would run home for the weekend. Then I
would go to Minneapolis and stay there three or four days and come back.
Then I would go to Tampa. That went on for three years. Finally, I got
to the point where I was away from home too much. I had already raised my
children. So, I stopped that and I started a business of my own.
I had drawn out my savings from Hercules at my retirement and I moved them
around and put them to work. For instance, I would borrow money, placing
my certificates as securtiy and collateral, and then I would lend that
money for double as much as I was paying for it. If I was paying eight
per cent, I would lend it for sixteen per cent. That paid off pretty
well, and that got to be quite a big thing. That leaves me where I am
now. Right now, certain things are down, but during all of this time I
was not only investing in saving certificates, but also in bonds and in
stocks. Well, whenever the interest rate goes up, stocks and bonds go
down. When interest goes down, stocks and bonds go up. We are in that
transition period at present. Interest is down around eight per cent and
stocks have gone up. Some stocks that I had bought have gone up three or
four times in the last couple of years. Some have done good, while others
were a loss. I lost money on some of my stocks. I sold them as a tax
shelter. That was a help even though I sold them at a loss. But, I have
continued to keep my head above water and to keep things going around the
house. I have quite a few jobs. I am busy all the time. I have very
little time that I can say is my own.
When I was a young man I joined the Masonic organization, but I did not
put much time in it until I was in my forties. Then I began to put a lot
of time into Masonry. Throughout my travel of the United States, I have
visited many Masonic Lodges. Finally, the Lodge in my hometown elected me
Master of the Lodge. I had gone through the chairs to become Master, and
then I went through all the other appended bodies of Masonry and completed
my tenure at the top. I could not go any higher. I had reached the
highest to which I could go. During that time, my home lodge wanted to
make me secretary, and I have been secretary of this Lodge for about
sixteen years. I am still studying. I have to take educational courses,
seminars, and workshops. My Lodge, at its last meeting, voted to send me
to Macon to a workshop meeting on Saturday, March 12.
M: It sounds like your entire life has just been a process of education,
really. Every situation you put yourself in, you have always seemed to
try to learn as much as you possibly could and you never really stopped
educating yourself. You look for the value in everything.
W: There are two kinds of education. One is that which you get from books,
and another that you get from practice. Well, I got it from the books. I
was so impressed when I was in school. I had my little laboratory and my
little distillation rig and my summarization rig. I worked these things
with just a few centimeters, cc's, of liquid or a few grams of some metals
or salts, usually on a very small scale.
I took over a department at Hercules during World War II. I was exempted
from going to battle because somebody had to stay behind, and I had to run
the entire liquid end of that company. I remember one time they told us
they needed one thousand bags of true lined binder to made a runway for an
airplane. At that time it was just forest. Bulldozers pushed the trees
down and made the place right. They laid the wire down and we got this
material made and bagged, and we shipped it in large cargo airships. One
week from the time that they started cleaning that place up, we had ships
landing on this landing field which I had something to do with. True
line binder was something like asphalt, but it packs down and it is
suitable for that kind of work. The wire kept it from bogging down in the
bog, and we had airfields close to Brunswick and we had them all over. My
job then was to make the stuff for the war. I would go to my office in
the morning at seven o'clock and I would get the orders we had to fill. I
would check orders and I would start on my job. I would go in one
department and I would get them straightened out on what they were
supposed to do and check on what they had done. Then I would move on to
another department until finally I got around to the last one, and by that
time it was twelve o'clock, and time for a short break. We would eat a
quick lunch and then I would have to repeat the same thing over, and by
the time I got back it was six o'clock. It was time to knock off. That
went on for four years, seven days a week.
After the war was over, I got plenty of help. We had engineers coming in
and boys graduating from college. They took a lot of these departments
that I was handling. It was spread out between six or seven people, and
that lightened my load a lot. So I continued with that distillation area
where I would get our summarization. I did fractionation, separating one
oil from another. We just separated an oil that contains twelve or
fifteen components. We would separate each one of these components from
the other to between ninety-seven and ninety-nine per cent purity. We
made a lot of distillation products. But then I would move on to another
place where they would take this same product and improve it. We made
insecticide which was quite notorious for its toxaphene. It was made into
sulphate turpentine. We took a picture of the sulphate turpentine and
deoderized it, and then we did what we called our summarization, which is
a mirror reflection of the molecule. We were still using the old
molecules then; we did not use molecules like they have now. In my
imagination nobody has ever seen a molecule. We used the sun and moon
type. Summarization is a mirror reflection of what the molecule is like
when you gaze directly at it. But that is the only similarity. Its
weight changes; its property changes; its specific rotation changes, and
its refractive index. Everything about it changes. You have got entirely
different products, but they are always impure. Then we would take that
and redistill it. We would take out the purer cuts and eliminate the cuts
that we did not want, and those cuts would go into another process
somewhere else to made something else. That was quite interesting.
I really enjoyed my job and that is one thing that made me stay there as
long as I did. Others tried to hire me when I finished my chemical
engineering; Union Bag was just opening up, and the shipyard tried to
hire me, but I stayed on with Hercules. I talked with them about it, and
they assured me of my success if I stayed on. I stayed with Hercules and
I am glad I did; it proved to be to my benefit.
M: Were you the first one to leave your family of three brothers, or did some
of the other brothers leave first and you followed their example?
W: They did not do as mean as I did. If they left, they would not stay away
as long. Back then, boys did not care for girls like they do now. I was
fifteen years old before a girl began to look good to me. Even then I
was not too much. I was in my early twenties before I got like a kid who
is thirteen years old now. I do not know why that changed, and whether it
is biological. We all know it because children are having babies at
eleven years old, and no girl under fourteen or fifteen ever had a baby
M: How old were you when you left home and went to Charleston?
M: Were you bored there and ready to see the world?
W: No. I could get out with the other boys and we would go in the swamp and
fish and rob fish traps and do other things. There was always something
to do in the country.
M: Tell me some more about the fishing and hunting.
W: While I was still in my early teens, I went out and I got the boat there.
You could use anyone's boat if you carried it back and hooked it so it
would not get away. I went through the swamp, Salkehatchie River swamp,
and robbed the fish traps. They were not my fish, but I was gong to make
them mine. So I had about fifteen or twenty pounds of what they called
Walleye perch and jackfish and trout. I had them in my boat and I pulled
back to the landing and got my boat stationary. I looked up and saw a
single-barrel shotgun. I was looking right down the barrel of it. They
said, "We want the fish." I said, "Listen, fellow, I got these fish." He
said, "Don't talk to us about what you do. We want the fish. We are
either going to get the fish or we are going to get you." I said, "All
right, take the fish." So they took my fish. They were going to take my
life if I did not five them the fish.
Another time I was in Fernandina, Florida. I had already gotten married
then. I was twenty years old, and I had a Model T Ford. It did not have
a body on it. You could sit anywhere; you could get on the gas tank or
some flat part. I went out sugaring and I got about a bushel bag full of
clams. You get clams by sticking a stick down where you see bubbles
coming up and you hit something solid and run your hand down and pick it
up. I went back and washed them all off. I was muddy all over.
A fellow walked out and said, "Sir, I am the owner of this place, and I
demand that you leave those clams right where they are. Out!" I said,
"Well, the lady told us that she owned it and gave my wife permission that
I could come get the clams." He said, "Don't talk to me about who gave
you permission. I said leave those clams there." He reached back like he
was going to get his pistol, and then he had his pistol visible. So I
pulled off and left the clams and found out later that the fellow had been
watching me. He had nothing to do with that place whatsoever. I had
perfect rights to go there. I again decided my life was worth more than a
bag of clams.
M: What was your job and where did you travel on these steamships?
W: My run was from Miami to Baltimore, and it went through Cape Hatteras.
Cape Hatteras was one of the most dangerous parts of the South Atlantic
waters. That is where I became seasick and a storm rose, too. We fought
that thing out. We could not make any headway. Boats were not built then
like they are now. I got seasick, but I got over it in about three days.
The storm cleared where we could make headway, and we got going again.
That was quite an experience.
I was hired as a deck hand. I took anything I could get. I had to
polish the brass bells, and the brass on the cabin, and do such things as
that. Whenever the boat went to the dock, I would have to throw the
heaving cord. A heaving cord is a small cord that is thrown to the dock
and then the dockhands are there to take that heaving cord and tie it onto
a two-inch manila rope. After they put it on a piling, we hooked the rope
to our winch and used the winch to pull that manila rope toward the boat.
We had several of these going on at one time. Each one would start, and
the boat was pulled in gradually. When we got the boat where it ought to
be, we would tie it off with two-inch ropes. I never did learn how to tie
a knot in a two-inch rope. Someone else did it for me.
At night, I had the watch, four hours on and four hours off. One was a
moonlit night I saw something that looked like a wreck. I told the
captain of our boat that it looked like there was a wreck ahead. So he
steered around it. One day it was my duty to steer the boat. I was
steering the boat and when I looked behind me, the wake looked just like a
crooked snake. The boat's steering was like power steering on an
automobile, except in a bigger way. It was very easy to move, but I could
not move it just right to get the boat running straight. Other fellows
could do it. They were going to teach me how to steer that boat, but I
did not stay on long enough. The boat gave me quite a bit of experience.
I liked it and I finally got over being seasick. I have heard that if you
ever get over being seasick, you never will have to worry about it again.
But I knew that I would get seasick again if I was to go out in the water.
M: How long did you work on the boat?
W: I do not remember but it was not a great length of time.
M: So after that, did you return home again and work odd jobs.
W: Yes. I went back hom again and I got a job and I bought an automobile. I
was close to sixteen years old.
M: When you came back from Charleston where was your mother living?
W: I went back to Orangeburg County, South Carolina. But I did not stay
there very long. I had the rambling mind and was on the go. I went to
Florida and go married early and had children. They were my greatest
pleasure in life. I had a son, and then a daughter. In another six
years, I had another daughter. We then went to Washington, D.C., and that
was quite something. This was before the war. The Smithsonian Institute
was one big building. It was not the complex that it is now. My son was
around eight or nine year old, and my girl was very small. We toured
Every year I would take a vacation. I had seniority where I could take
vacations. I would go to one place and then another. I have spent quite
a bit of time in Pennsylvania. My daughter, Barbara, lived in
Pennsylvania. She married a fellow from Pittsburgh. I would go to
Pittburgh and spend several weeks there during my vacation. I got to like
Pittsburgh very much. Then I would leave and go to Massachusetts.
I had another daughter who lived in Buzzard's Bay, Massachusetts. I
enjoyed that very much. I went all over the North. I went to every state
in the nation except Maine. We toured Canada and had a lot of fun going
to Quebec, Canada, and further north during the summertime. We would be
riding along about eleven o'click at night and the sun would go down for
about a half an hour. Then sun hung on the horizon. We could drive with
no lights because it was so light. That was quite amusing to me and my
We had a good time there. We learned to speak a little bit of Spanish.
We could not speak any French, and they could not understand the English,
so we talked in Spanish. That was one time where our Spanish helped us
out quite a bit. My baby daughter was studying Spanish at that time, and
I had studied it, too. We made many trips to Mexico and Mexico City, and
saw the bullfights. My children liked to see the bullfights very much.
At that time, my daughter and I wee pretty proficient in speaking enough
Spanish to get around. We did not learn enough to carry on a
conversation, but we could get around. We enjoyed staying in Mexico.
Mexico has changed. I returned there later in life, and it is not the
same Mexico that it was then. It is not safe to walk the streets and not
safe to be out anywhere because somebody is liable to mug you. So I did
not go to Mexico any more. I do plan to go back, however. But I plan to
go on a tour trip, and probably fly. It is not very far from here to
Mexico by drive. But I want to go to Mexico City, and it is quite a drive
to Mexico City. I spent a lot of time in Monterey, Mexico, which I liked.
It is the Pittsburgh of Mexico. That is where they make steel,
automobiles, tractors, and all kinds of hardware materials. It is an
industrial city. Their streets were awful then. I guess they still are
M: Why did you choose to go to Fernandina?
W: I had a friend in Fernandina, Florida, who had written me and told me that
if I wanted to see Florida to come down there. It was a nice place; it
did not get so cold. It got very cold in the Carolina. North Carolina
and parts of South Carolina get very cold, and Virginia, too. Of course,
Washington also gets cold. But I wanted to go to Florida; that was part
of my rambling intuition. When I got there, I landed a job and I worked
for a while.
M: What were you doing?
W: I worked part-time with the Florida Terminal Company.
M: What was their duty?
W: We loaded ships with dry phosphate using big conveyor belts. Florida is a
bed of phosphate, which is composed of animal bones; you find all kinds of
bones in there except human bones. These bones were petrified and changed
into phosphate. We shipped phosphate to Germany and Japan and other
places where they needed phosphate to go into fertilizer, as well as
medicine and for other purposes. There is a lower grade of phosphate
which was used for road building. Florida is still one of the biggest
suppliers of phosphate--the greatest in the nation. But they do not want
to tear up the topsoil to get it. They strip mine phosphate and
Floridians do not want that to happen. When they have sinkholes, they
probably were caused from some of this removal of phosphate.
M: So you were essentially loading phosphate on the ships in Fernandina. How
did it come to pass that you met your wife?
W: There was a picture show one night. My wife had been married before. She
had a couple of children, two little girls. One was sitting in back of
me. I was looking at pictures showing in the courthouse. I was a health
picture. I was always interested in anything that had to do with
scientific things. I went in there and the little girl in the back of me
kept picking at me. I returned the little picking act and we got to
having fun with one another. She was playing with me and I was playing
with her, rather than watching the picture. All the time her mother was
watching me. Her mother had her mind on me probably. It was not long
before something else happened. Somehow or another we continued to see
one another until we got married.
M: What year was that?
W: 1926. You could not get married in Florida until you were twenty-one.
The judge asked me how old I was when I went in that night to get married.
They did not have the big weddings that they have now. He said, "How old
are you boy?" I started to tell him and my wife said, "Twenty-one." He
wrote it down, and then said, "All right. I will fix you up now and if
you get ready to tear it up, why, I will help you do that, too." She told
him, "Ain't going to be none of that; there is not going to divorce
M: I have heard some stories about you gator hunting before. Did you ever do
any of that?
W: I never was much for gator hunting, but I had a friend that was quite a
gator hunter on Lake George. He knew there was a gator underneath this
tree by the lakeshore. He got a long, light, seasoned pole about twenty
feet long, one he could handle. The water was buoying it up. He was a
small fellow. His name was Elgin. He put the stick in there to see if
he could feel the gator. He jiggled the stick, and that stick came back
at him and knocked him under the water, and the gator went over him and
out into the lake. He said he was never so scared in all his life as when
that gator came out of there. It happened in a split second. When he
jiggled that stick, it just happened to be where the gator either had it
in his mouth, or it was on the gator.
I never did care too much about those rascals. I am a little scared of
them. I like to look at them as long as they are in a pen. But snakes
and gators are animals I do not care to get too familiar with.
M: Do you remember when World War I was going on?
W: It started in 1914, I believe, and I was around eight years old. I
remember the people would get out and the girls would bid them good-bye,
and they would get on the train and then they would go to Camp Jackson in
Columbia, South Carolina. From there they would spread out.
There were a lot of automobiles then. There must have been four or five
dozen different automobile manufacturers. Some cars had shift gears. The
Model-T had a version of your present day automatic transmission. You did
not drive a Model-T like you did the other one. They were the cheapest of
all. You could lift one wheel up. A strong young fellow could lift one
corner of it up. I could not lift mine up. Some of those cars had twelve
cylinders, a straight twelve. That was some engine. The car had more
engine than anything else.
When the war was over, the boys who came back did not have jobs. It was
just like it was right after Vietnam when the boys came back from the war.
There were a lot of people out of work. It was not a depression and it
was not a recession; it was something worse than that. The next time when
they had one of these things come along, like we are having right now,
they called it a depression. They like to make the word sound a little
bit lighter than the other disaster. So they called it a depression. If
you notice how times change, they no longer use the word depression. They
use the word recession, even though this one is worse than the one back in
1931. But they want to call it a word that does not sound quite so bad.
They refer to the one in the 1930s as the Great Depression. They refer to
this one as the recession, but it was worse now than it was then. There
were never this many men out of work.
M: So you got married in 1926. You were working in Fernandina loading
phosphate, and you had your first child. What did you name him?
W: Well, my wife named him. She did not know whether it was going to be a
boy or a girl. If it had been a girl, she was going to name her Roberta.
She did not want a junior if it was a boy. She was going to name him
Robert Harold, and call him Harold. She made a mistake by not naming
Harold Robert because when he got in the service, everybody started
to call him Bob. The same thing happened to me. My name is Robert, but
as soon as I got out in the world people called me Bob. I do not sign my
name as Bob, but I am called Bob by just about everybody.
M: So, you had one son, and you also had her two daughters from a previous
M: How old were the two daughters?
W: About seven or eight.
M: When was your next child born?
W: Our next child was born in Brunswick, Georgia, on South Albany Street at
502 Albany Street. She was a girl. That was Barbara. She was born
without the aid of a doctor. The doctor was supposed to be there, but I
could not get him. There were not many doctors in Brunswick. Nobody went
to the hospital in those days unless there was something wrong during the
childbirth. So I got a black midwife. She came in there and when the
baby came, she handled it. About that time, the doctor came. He was out
fishing somewhere and we oculd not get in touch with him, but he got
there. He did not like it very much because we had a midwife there. But
he did all right. He went ahead and the midwife cleaned up the baby. A
doctor needs a nurse or somebody with him to clean up the baby because
there are two parts to a birth. After the baby is born there is a cord.
It had to be taken care of. And when the baby is born, it needs to be
cleaned up. Therefore doctors need somebody with them. A long time
before my time, they used to have a center table with a big stoneware
pitcher sitting in a big basin that was to wash the baby when the baby was
born. The water was used for that purpose. Other times it would sit on
this center table which is in the center of the house with the Bible on
the little platform down below. That was a symbol. Barbara was born
M: Did you observe the birth?
W: Yes. I got a little bit excited when I saw the veins come out on her
neck, and I called the doctor's attention to it. She was crying. He
looked at it, but he did not say anything. But she did all right. She
got cleaned up and she was the only pretty child I had born to me.
Barbara was pretty when she was born. Most babies are not pretty when
they are born.
M: Why did you decide to leave Fernandina for Brunswick?
W: Well, I was tired of Fernandina. I wanted to go up north. I wanted to
get on a boat. I was going to Belgium. Young fellows have peculiar
minds. They want to go places and see things. I knew somebody in Belgium
and I wanted to go to Belgium. I was going to Baltimore on the same train
I came in here on. I was going to Thalman to go to Baltimore and catch a
ship going to Belgium. I stopped here to see my brother, and I got a job
here and decided to stay here. I decided I could make enough money here.
I wanted to make enough money to take care of my family.
M: What job was it that you found?
W: I found a job at the Creosote Company which I mentioned a little bit
earlier. That job was hostling cranes at night. I would clean the tubes
in the coal-fired cranes. Everything was coal-fired then. There was no
diesel oil then. I would water them and I would get sufficient coal on
then to last all day long. The engineer moved his coals around in the
fire and he could put the water in when necessary. He had a pump which
forced water into the boiler. I had it all ready and on the job. I moved
it to the point where they wanted it. That is hostling crane. That was a
pretty good job, and paid good, too.
M: So you were fueling the creosote process?
W: That was part of it. Cranes would put poles on a big rack and they would
shove then into these big retorts, they called it. There they were cooked
under pressure and creosote sunk into the poles. Then a very small augur
was sunk into that pole to see how deep the creosote went. It had to go
so many inches deep into that pole. If it was not deep enough it was put
back in and soaked some more under pressure.
M: When did you bring your family up here, and where did you live?
W: Well, we lived at 502 Albany Street to begin with. I stayed there until I
got the job at Hercules, and then I moved from one place to another. I
moved to 2420 Norwick Street, which is opposite of Holtzendorf's pawn shop
now. That is where my baby was born without a doctor. The doctor had
come by that evening about five o'clock, said "Well, it is going to be a
good while before anything is ready here. We are going out to eat. We
will be back in plenty of time." He gave her that oil before he left. So
about that time he had time to get where he was going, Momma said, "We are
gong to have a baby pretty shortly; you had better get that doctor." I
called his house and his wife said she had no idea where the doctor was.
I could not find him. So I got everything ready. I got my thread to tie
off the cord and do what I could. Granny Smith, my wife's mother, was
there and she stopped me and said, "I figure we have had many a baby and
we will lay right there and cover that baby up. The doctor will probably
by here shortly." The baby was breathing now. She kept the baby wiped
off. After a while, the doctor and nurse came in bouncing around and
said, "Well, we sure did not think that." Momma told her, "You gave me
that oil; I told you it was not going to be more than a few minutes before
my baby would be here." This woman, Leila Davis, still lives over here
now. I still tell her about it every once in a while. She took my baby
and got it cleaned up. I had a fire in the fireplace. That is the way we
kept warm. We got coal from Hercules. They sold it to us at a very cheap
price. They would buy it from the coal fields by the gondolas, and
deliver it to us in trucks. A little bit of coal lasts a long time. She
got the baby there and I got the water. She was washing the baby. I
noticed the baby's head had turned red. I told her she was going to have
to get further away from that fire because the baby's head was burning.
So she got further from the fire. This was around Valentine's Day,
February fourteenth. The baby was born about seven o'clock. Boys came by
playing trick or treat later and broke stuff on the porch. I did not like
it very much. I did not want to hurt anybody, but I grabbed a hoe. I got
out there and ran after them. One little fellow stumbled and fell, and
the others struck out through the woods. It was all woods out there then.
The fellow looked at me and said, "Mister, don't kill me. Please don't
kill me." I said, "I ain't going to kill you." I said, "I just want to
scare you a little bit." I said, "I got a new baby." "Got a new baby?"
I said, "Yes." So I turned the little fellow loose. I was not going to
hurt him. I was just playful. But my baby always liked me to tell her
M: So you came to Brunswick and worked for the creosote company, and had your
W: There were many things that went on even after I retired. I have always
been for anything that was educational. I went to a seminar three weeks
ago at Pier Seventeen on how not to pay any income tax. He guaranteed you
would not pay any tax if you took this course. He said Nixon used it, and
told of other big men who used it. They paid no income tax. He said
everybody could do that. I did not like the idea very much. I sat
through the seminar, but I believe people have got to pay taxes. I did
not think too much of telling people that everybody would stop paying
taxes. But I picked up several things. One of the greatest things I did
was just before the Arab nations called the embargo. I had already taken
a course in automobile repairs and lawn mowers. I took lawn mowers and
outboard motors one time, and then another time I took automobiles. I
learned how to repair an automobile. Since then I have had very little
work done by a pro on my automobile. I did not notice what was going to
happen to gasoline prices, but it was good I did that because it's the
same way about getting your car fixed. If you carry your car down to one
of the local agencies, when they take the job, you already owe them a
certain tax. The sales tax is added in. So I avoid all that. I do light
work; brakes and tune-ups. I have my own tune-up gear. I got that from
the college. I have my tachometer. I do most of my automobile work right
here at the house and usually I manage to get a little bit better gasoline
mileage because I can keep it in tune. I keep a record of my gasoline.
When I get it set at a certain place, I get the best gas mileage. I
really enjoyed the automobile course that I took and also the lawn mower
course. I do not do much work on lawnmowers now, but I do work on my
automobiles. I am seventy-six, but I still go underneath my car and work
on it. I change the plugs, set the timing, and do other things. I have
two cars. On one of them you can set the carburetor. You cannot set the
carburetor on these that are made of steel. You can set the timing on
those. But there are other little things you can do. You can set the
fast and slow idle screws. You improve your gas mileage by setting the
timing so that when the piston starts up to compress the gases, the spark
reaches the cylinder before the piston reaches top dead center. My new
car, is supposed to be set at ten degrees before top dead center. I have
got it set at twelve degrees to give it a little more kick. My big car is
supposed to be set two degrees before top dead center. I have got it set
at three degrees before top dead center. I get just about as good as
mileage on the old big car as I get on the new one even though it is over
ten years old.
M: Let's get back to 1928, when you were laid off at Hercules. What were you
doing? What was your job before you were laid off?
W: Pipefitting heavy parts.
M: So you were laid off and you had quite a large family at the time. So
what happened then? What happened the day you were fired?
W: I had to draw out my savings. I already had savings started. The only
thing available at that time was stock. I had bought company stock. I
had to sell that stock back to the company. I got my money out of there
and I had something had go on. Before that money was gone, I had another
job. They had called me back.
M: What did they employ you as that time?
W: I went back as a pipefitter. I did not do the heavy work then. The other
fellows would do the heavy work, same as I. They had a valve that weighed
200 pounds to carry up a winding stairs. We would take one side of the
wheel and I would take the other side, and we would walk up there carrying
it. I was still making pretty good money. That lasted for about two
years, and then I moved into the operating department.
M: This is about the time that Roosevelt started the New Deal?
W: A little bit before Roosevelt started his New Deal; it was seven days a
week, eight hours a day or night. I worked shift work. There was no
change. That was year in and year out. But when Roosevelt started his
New Deal in 1933, then they cut us down to forty hours. Then is when I
started to spend my time at the vocational school. That is when I got in
that. They had cut me down to eight hours, and that gave me eight hours
in school, eight hours at work, and then four hours of sleep. I would get
up, ramble with the fellows at the skating rink, and do anything I wanted
M: What was the effect of the Depression on Brunswick and Glynn County? What
were the visible signs, or was there any disruption of life?
W: Well, I was lucky. I held a job all the way through the Depression. I
was the only one in my family that did have a job. But a man would come
to me, and he would say, "I have got two strings of fish here. I just
went fishing and caught these trout. But I ain't got no grease to fry
these fish in. If you will give me a quarter to buy a pound of lard, I
will give you one of these strings of fish." Instead of a quarter, I gave
him fifty cents. He took our fish and cleaned them. We fried them, and
we had fish and he had fish. Both of us ate that night.
One fellow came who was selling potatoes, trying to make a living. They
do that now sometimes. I told him that I just did not need potatoes. We
already had a few around and I could get them from the stores. He looked
at me and said, "Mister, I have got to get rid of these potatoes. I have
got to have gasoline to get back to where I am from." So he sold me a
sack of potatoes at a very low price, about fifty cents a bushel. But
that fifty cents to him meant about three gallons of gasoline. Fifty
cents meant something. Gasoline was cheap then. Oil was ten cents a
quart. That was the general trend of how things were.
A fellow would go down and he would work ten hours a day digging a ditch
for the city. I knew of people doing that. They would give them a
twenty-four pound bag of flour. Flour in paper bags were not known of
then. It was sold in cloth bags and they weighed twenty-four pounds, or
you could get twelve pound bags. That was the way it was. You worked ten
hours for that bag of flour, which cost a dollar, I think. Pay was ten
cents an hour. That was all over Brunswick.
They started laying off at Hercules at the very top. They laid off some
of the top brass, and some of them killed themselves, and some of them
went somewhere else, or went back home. It was a pretty rough time.
M: How long was your lay-off?
W: I was laid off about three or four months.
M: So they cleaned out the upper management, but more or less retained the
W: My youthfulness was the only thing that kept me on. I was not much of a
man then. I was in my early twenties. I was a man that could do the
work, though. No matter what it was, I could do it. They did not have
power tools and power hoists and all that stuff. I could tote the load
and so what was necessary. That was the only thing that kept me on.
M: Did Roosevelt's New Deal alleviate any of the economic problems in the
area? How did you come to know about social security and things like
that? What was your reaction?
W: Well, one of the best things that Roosevelt did was to insure the banks by
the government. They cannot go broke now like they did in the Depression.
There are a lot of banks merging now instead of going broke. Some of the
banks I deal with right now merged. Georgia Federal merged with Atlanta
Federal, and First Federal merged with other federal all over the
country. They merged instead of breaking. So the big banks carry the
little ones along.
M: What were your reactions to Roosevelt's social security and his other New
Deal programs? What did you see change in the community?
W: Well, let's go back to after they closed the banks. You had no money.
Edgar somebody and somebody else downtown printed script, and you could
take that script, five dollars or one dollar, and buy anything you wanted
with it. We had not money as we know it. That was the first time that I
learned that money was not what it was cracked up to be. So after the
bank holiday, one week or so, they got everything cleared out. The banks
opened and you could take these scripts, and turn them in at the bank and
get your money back for it. You could get a dollar bill for every dollar
you gave them in script. Some people still have that script. It was
valuable and you could use it.
Roosevelt did what Carter could have done. If Carter would have done it,
he would have been president now. Roosevelt froze the price of
everything. Everything stayed where it was at. Nobody got any raises or
salary increases. Nobody could raise the cost of what they were charging
you for food, rent, water, or anything else. Everything was frozen at
that price. That was the first step. Then he opened CCC camps to give
these young men work. These young men would go around stealing at night
now. Mostly it is a certain minority around here, but not altogether.
Whites were involved in it, too. He put these people to work all over
the country. They cleaned roads up, cleared trails up mountains, and
trails on the island. In Georgia, they built parks. They made the parks
out of just pure old wood. You paid them five dollars a month and you
sent twenty-five dollars a month to their homes. They only had five
dollars. Everything was furnished for them. They had five dollars to
spend, and back then a nickel would buy you a quarter pound bar of Baby
Ruth. You could not find a quarter pound bar of Baby Ruth now. Money was
much different then. So he started CCC camps. That was big help for
people right here in Brunswick.
M: Do you know anybody that went.
W: Tim Tiller was one of them, and Robert Chapman was one of them. They
learned trades. They put them in machine shops and let them work. They
paid them five dollars a month and their family got twenty-five dollars a
month to keep them going. Then he had the FERA. Back then they had
letters instead of words. Now, they use words instead of letters. The
FERA meant that the government would support the farmer. Farmers had
land, but did not have money to buy seed or equipment to plow that land,
and tend it. Well, the government would loan him the money, or give it to
him to a certain extent. He would take that money and plant his farm.
He would get that farm going and soon he was making money.
The people would not pay the farmer anything for his crop. So Roosevelt
put on a floor on the price for what the people coud pay the man on the
farm. If he grew peanuts or corn, a floor was placed on those crops under
which the price could not drop any lower. People now are buying corn
through the Chicago grain future market that will be planted in 1984,
1985, and 1986. I have been thinking seriously about getting involved in
it myself, but I have stayed out of it so far.
The FERA was a big help. That helped the farmers to get along. Then the
Dustbowl was beginning to blow away. Nobody had been planting anything.
So they started to plant in New Mexico and Arizona. They had to keep
something planted there to keep the dust from blowing. Things started to
pick up and continued to pick up. A man was making thirty-five cents an
hour, then Roosevelt cut it down to forty hours a week, and nobody could
get less than forty cents per hour. A guy could earn sixteen dollars a
week. The dollar then was like nine cents now. That is in one of my
magazines. Money now is worth nine cents to the dollar according to U.S.
and News Report.
Hitler, Mussolini, Hirohito, Franklin Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill all
came to power in about the same period. All of them were smart men.
Hitler was smart, Roosevelt was smart, and so were Winston Churchill and
Mussolini. The people like them all. We all liked Roosevelt here, of
course. Hitler took advantage of the situation. He saw that he had
complete control over his young men. So he did then what we were doing
now: he paid the frauleins to have babies. That is, he paid the white
gals to produce babies. These babies would grow up, and he would put the
girl to work and put that baby in a place like they do here--in a
headstart home. He condemned it to the fullest.
Hitler began to build the army, and they knew he was doing it. They knew
he was building what he called a pocket battleship. He called it pocket
battleship so they would think it was little as in pocket. But it was one
of the biggest battleships that was ever made and it was a hard thing to
fight. They caught the Bismark in South America. The British had their
little gun boats, and it was like dogs fighting a bear. The Bismark was
sunk by those boats going first to one side and then to the other side.
They would turn their guns over there and start shooting at the front and
the other ones would shoot at the rear flank. They would turn the guns
back over on them and these others would start shooting. The Germans
finally pulled that boat into the harbor at Rio de Janeiro. But, the
people there would not let him come ashore. So they scuttled the ship,
and the captain went down with it.
Hitler was well-fixed. Roosevelt said we were not in the war, but in
1939, he had already taken over the Netherlands and taken over Austria and
a bunch of other little nations over there. He went into Poland; he took
them over because he had the power. Everytime he took over a nation, he
would have that nation to help him too. They would take the nation's
wealth and essentials. We knew we were going to get into it, though
Franklin Roosevelt said we will never get into that war unless we are
M: So you had a feeling that somehow the U.S. was going to end up in that
W: Well, he had already told us. We had been making about thirty or forty
planes a year. Roosevelt said, I want 50,000 planes turned out in the
next twelve months. And they probably turned out 50,000 planes. We knew
it was coming.
The Japanese had a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor one Sunday morning. I was
making radios then. I had a little radio that I had wired. We had
a little hall where we were living at that time. I turned it on and it
started to playing, and then it started to tell me about these things that
had happened. I just happened to turn it on that Sunday morning. I got
up early. I could not wait until daylight, and it told about the Japanese
bombing Pearl Harbor. It was not long before Roosevelt came on and the
whole world got the story.
M: What did you do when you first heard about it?
W: I told everybody. I called them, went outside, told the neighbors, and
they turned their radios on. We did not have television then. Everybody
had their radios blaring, calling people, and were looking outside. It
was hazy that day. Somebody had made a joke about, "Do you reckon that is
the result of that smoke from Hawaii?"
That Great Depression did not stop until the war started. That is the
reason that all of our heads of state like to involve us in a war. We
started to have another depression after World War II and Harry Truman
started us in Korea in order to bring up the economy. They called it a
police action. That worked to a certain extent. We lost many a man
there. We never did win the war. Right now it is still a truce. So
Eisenhower said, "If you elect me your president, I will stop that war in
Korea." He did and another depression came. So Eisenhower started a
little police action in Santa Domingo, Cuba, and Vietnam in order to get
the economy up. You remember Vietnam; you were old enough to know about
that. Finally, Johnson got in there and said, "Well, as long as we are
not losing fifty men a day, that is not too bad." That was one of the
things that started to turn us against Johnson. That war went on for ten
We lost that war. We were driven out. We were run out. Now they would
like mighty well to start another war in the Near East and in the Persian
Gulf. That would bring the economy back if we could do it. I would
rather have a depression, a recession, or a disaster than a war because I
have several grandchildren who would land in that thing. If it went into
atomic war, we would all be in it. It would be world suicide.
M: Who were some of the people that were close to you that went off to fight
during the Second World War?
W: I had several cousins that got into it. I like to got into it myself.
The fellows I was working with got into it. I was ready to go. I was
class A-i, and I wanted to go, but they would not let me go. People
wanted to fight for the country then, which is different from what it is
now. You did not have to ask people to go down and register. You stood
in lines three or four hours trying to register because you were ready to
fight the war.
M: This was right after the attack on Pearl Harbor I suppose?
W: Yes. Everybody was patriotic and they were watching certain people.
There were some Germans living in Brunswick, and these Germans were
watched. We had Japanese in California who were put in a compound. So
were those in Hawaii. Not all of them were bad, and not all of them were
good. But we could not trust them. Our intelligence told us that some of
them were spies. We put them all in a compound, and kept them there. The
Japanese still think that we did them wrong by putting them in the
compound, but war is war. There is nothing good about war. The Veteran's
Administration in Brunswick at the Office Park building, told me there are
several men in Brunswick who had their privates shot away in the Vietnam
M: I know people like that myself.
W: There are others who got mangled. Look at this fellow Clelland who has
only one arm. He won the election to the Secretary of State of Georgia.
That happened in Vietnam.
M: Well, all wars have that. So World War II is going on and you are stuck
working for the Hercules Powder Company, which makes gunpowder. Was this
W: No sir. We had an ordinance plant. The government owned it, and we were
operating it. We had one at Lawrence, Kansas. Well, we took over that
ordinance and run it. We took one at Radford and run that one. We had
several others. Atlas Powder was operating ordinances, too, turning out
the powder. Powder is easily made. The Chinese made it ten thousand
M: How do you make it?
W: Put a little nitric acid on cotton cellulose. Nitrous cellulose is what
is used in explosives.
M: So were they making powder in Brunswick for the war effort?
W: No. There was no powder made here. We made stuff for war like that track
we put down.
M: What were some of the other products?
W: DDT. The insects were eating them up. We got DDT going and that did away
with the insects. But the environment made us stop manufacturing that.
We made it right here in Brunswick.
M: What year did they discontinue that?
W: I was still working at Hercules when they discontinued it. But we stopped
making DDT as soon as the war was over. Some little plants continued to
make it right along. A lot of people made DDT in their attics or dens to
sell to the government. Everybody who had a pistol turned it in and to
give it to them to fight with. They were glad to turn in these guns. If
you had a picture of anything in Europe or anywhere in the world, you
would turn in these pictures. You did that with any information.
M: Was there a call for this by the government?
W: The government called for it. As soon as they said they wanted the people
to turn in their pistols, guns, and rifles, they gave them to the
M: When did the rationing start?
W: As soon the war started. They froze the prices for everything. Nobody
could run the gasoline price up. It was twenty-two cents a gallon. When
the last bullet was shot in Europe and Japan, the next day it was twenty-
eight. It went from there to about thirty and it stayed there until the
nations in the Far East declared their embargo.
M: We were talking yesterday about your career at Hercules. You were talking
about chemistry courses you began to take. About how long had you been at
Hercules before you decided to take these courses, and did anyone ask you
or was this on your initiative?
W: On my own initiative. Nobody then thought about going to school. There
were very few college graduates out there. Very few of them had finished
high school, and nobody realized that education was good for the average
man. Matter of fact, I was criticized by my fellow workers.
M: So it has continued on to the present time?
W: I am still taking courses, seminars, and workshops.
M: What effect did the Civil Rights Amendment have on the worker's atmosphere
at Hercules? Were there tensions?
W: There was some tension there. Some of the people born and raised in south
Georgia were a little biased to a certain extent. But keep in mind that
the black man and the white man had lived together all their lives in
Georgia. It was not a traumatic blow to the people of the deep South
whenever civil rights came along and said you had to eat with the black
man and so forth. We had been doing that all along anyhow. We had been
at work with one another. We had a black woman in our house to do the
work. We had black man working side by side so there was no conflict
The only thing about it was the black man had not been given the privilege
to advance to a higher job at the time civil rights started. He reached a
job or level beyond which he could not climb.
M: How did the Civil Rights Movement in general effect Brunswick? Was it
about the same as at Hercules? Were there any incidences of violence in
W: Yes, at that time, there were several things that caused it. The Civil
Rights Movement freed the black man and a lot of the black men taught
their children to hate whites. So stealing and vandalism and robbery
started growing in Brunswick just as it had in other cities, and that has
continued until this day. We still have it now. Only about twenty per
cent of the population are black, but about ninety-five per cent of all
the stealing and vandalism is caused by blacks. About five per cent is
caused by whites. There is just a small fraction of the whites involved.
M: That brings us on up to the Vietnam era and your decision to retire. What
was your last position at Hercules before retiring?
W: I was the area supervisor of distillation. I held that job for a long
time, at my request. They asked me to leave and go to other places and
operate other plants, but I had my plans set here and I saw it would be
better for me to remain. I stayed on with a constant mind of improving my
job, which I did.
We saw the evolution of controls coming. During the war, we controlled
distillation by turning a valve, or pulling a lever, or doing something
like that. When the war was over we immediately started putting in
automatic controls. In the distillation area alone we had about 800
controls. Practically everything was done by automatic controls furnished
by Honeywell and other well-known instrument manufacturers. It made the
white man's job easier. It was the white man's for a while, but later the
blacks came into it, and the controls made their jobs much easier.
M: What prompted your decision to retire?
W: At that time, retirement was mandatory at age sixty-five. It is not
mandatory now, but at that time it was. However, I would have retired had
it not been mandatory.
M: You were just ready to try other things.
W: I had planned to stop everything and travel and see some more of the
M: When was it that you had your heart surgery?
W: That was in 1974. After leaving Hercules, I went to work with AARP
traveling and going to workshops all over the nation. I went to various
cities in California and in the Midwest. The cities in California and
Florida are where most of the older people live. So we went around to
these courses, and then I would come back to Georgia to spend a few days.
I had to set up plans to open another chapter.
We have three chapters in Brunswick now. We should have at least three
more. But where you have a lot of retirees it is much easier to start a
chapter than where you have local people. Local people are not interested
in congregating and having chapters. The AARP does good things. It helps
the poor; it does things for those unable to do for themselves. There is
a group right now in Brunswick that, with the cooperation of the federal
government and Georgia Power Company, is insulating people's houses to
keep out the cold. That is just one of the many things that the AARP
They have eight drugstores throughout the nation. The one I deal with is
in St. Petersburg, Florida, where you can get prescription drugs at no
cost. We do not make any money on it. We just pay our druggist and get
our drugs much cheaper by ordering them from AARP. We have a system set
up by which they will mail the medicine to us and then we mail them a
check. You do not have to worry older people paying their bills. They do
take care of them. If a young person is not a member of AARP, he has got
to have the money whereas the older people do not. As you grow older, you
are going to take care of your debts, unless tragedy prevents it.
M: What year did you retire from Hercules?
W: June 1972.
M: When did you first learn of your heart problem?
W: I had been going to a heart doctor ever since I was forty years old.
There was something wrong, but I did not know what it was. I went to
Jacksonville because there was no heart cardiologist here. I kept with
him until finally I was having to go to him so often that I went to one of
these young fellows in Brunswick just out of college. I asked him if
there was something he could do to help me along so I would not have to go
to Jacksonville. He put me in the hospital to make some checks of his
own, and he discovered that I had a valve that was only partially opening.
It seemed to be held together by calcium deposits or something like
that. Everybody has that but it does not necessarily cause trouble. Even
a newborn baby has a little bit of calcium in some of his heart valves.
So then I found that when I had to get up and walk, for instance, from one
end of the Hartsfield Airport to the other to catch a plane and carry a
suitcase, I could hardly do it.
M: A lot of people can hardly do that.
W: It was more load than I could handle. Now you get on a computer
controlled train and zoop around there where you want to. It is much
easier. Anyhow I knew that something had to be done. This doctor told me
that I needed to go to Brunswick to have heart surgery. I told him I had
been getting along pretty good, and a sixty-eight year old man had just
about had it anyway. Sixty-eight and one half was the average. So I bid
him good-bye, and he said go over and the secretary will take care of you.
I paid her, and he said if you change you mind call me. The next morning
I changed my mind entirely. I called him and told him to made provisions
for it. So he immediately made provisions at Birmingham, and we moved to
Birmingham and got a room in the Downtowner Hotel, which is right across
from the hospital. My family stayed there while I went in the hospital
and had surgery.
M: Did they replace the vlave or did they just remove the calcium?
W: There are several ways of doing it, and they are still trying to find the
proper valve. They have not found it yet. They put a man-made valve in
my heart that was made in Sweden. You can hardly hear it. At times at
night I can hear it. The doctors can hear it with their scopes. Another
fellow went in the same time. They had ten booths where they were doing
heart work each day. Ten sets of doctors worked on ten patients daily.
Now the friend of mine had a pig valve put in his. His trouble was
different than mine. His lobes had not grown out. He was a man about my
age, maybe a little younger. So they stretched this pig valve over his
valve and sewed it in. That was eight years ago and he is still going
fine. So am I. They still do not know whether that pig valve is going to
last. The idea was that the pig valve would entice the little lobes to
grow and close off the backflow of blood. There are other things that
they are doing, but those are the two that I happen to be very familiar
M: You mentioned earlier in the interview your association with Masonry. How
did you first become involved with the Masonry movement?
W: Well, you are never asked to join the Masons. You have to decide it on
your own initiative. My granddad was a Mason. My mother used to tell me
how he would cook rice and food and all kinds of things to take to the
Masonic Order. Ever since I was a little fellow in my early teens, I have
always wanted to be a Mason.
When I had the opportunity here I joined the Masons. When I got there, I
felt it was a good thing. It is based on the Bible. I kept with the
Masons and I became a member of the team that runs the lodge, and finally
got to be head of the lodge. I headed the Masonic Lodge for one year.
That is as long as one person can hold it.
Then I moved to appendant Lodges. We have appendant Lodges to the point
where you can join the Shrine, if you want to. I went through all the
Masonic bodies. I reached the Knight York Cross of Honor, which is the
top. You cannot go any further than York Rite Masonry. As it stands
right now I am secretary of the Masonic Lodge. Knowing all these things
makes it much better for me. A man who is secretary of anything has got
to know a lot about a whole heap of things. A good secretary determines
whether any organization will flourish or whether it fails. The same it
true of the Masonic Lodge. So they pick a man who had been through all
the orders and elect him secretary. Today that is my duty. I am still
holding that. That is one of the jobs I do now, and that takes
considerable time. I still go to workshops on Masonry.
M: I would like to get into some of your family history. Do you know much of
your father and where he came from?
W: I remember my father slightly. I was four years old when he died. I can
remember a few occasions. I remember one time there was a mad dog at
large. They had rail fences then, which are now used as ornaments, but
then they were a necessity to keep the cattle, hogs, and other things in
one area. This dog was coming, and my older half-brother, Charles, threw
me over the fence and my daddy caught me and put me down. Then my half-
brother jumped over the fence, too. The dog went by and somebody killed
him. I can remember a few other occasions with my daddy, but not too
My daddy was a great landowner. He and my uncle, his brother, owned a lot
of property, but land was not as valued then like it is now. You could
buy an acre of land for five or ten dollars then, where it between $1,000
and $10,000 per acre now. So I do not remember much about my dad.
I do remember my granddad on my mother's side. My grandmothers was French
and my granddad was English. My grandmother was a Provaux before she was
married. Her name was Betsy Benton. My granddaddy's name was Sim. I
remember I used to go see my granddaddy. I would walk ten miles to get
there because when I got there, my grandmother would always hand me a
penny ball of candy. She would give that to me and to my two brothers.
We would walk that ten miles for that piece of candy which she always had
for us. It was like going to the cookie jor, except a little more
difficult for us to get it.
I remember one time my grandmother told my granddaddy, "Sim, I want a
squirrel for supper." He got his long-barrel gun and went down to the
edge of the swamp. The house was right on the edge of the swamp. After a
while we heard something like a cannon go off. It was not more than a few
minutes later than he walked back in with a squirrel. He skinned the
squirrel, head and all. He cut the innards out. Grandmother had to grind
the peppercorns through as coffee mill. She cooked all that together and
I marvelled at the aroma of that squirrel and rice cooking together in
that pot. I used to enjoy it, though those are little things that I would
not even get up to go to the kitchen to eat now.
Of course, back then it made a lot of difference. It was like a bowl of
candy. I would walk ten miles to get a bowl of candy even though I could
probably have bought the same thing at my house. It was the fact that my
grandmother had it for me. That encouraged me to travel to see her. She
was a very good woman. She died at the age of eighty-four.
My granddaddy, in his younger days, was right rough, though he was not a
mean man. But if a hog got over that fence and go into his field, he
would take that hog by the heels and throw him over the fence and knock
the breath out of him for a few minutes, and then the hog would jump up
and run. He was a farmer and he was a craftsman too. He tanned hides and
he also made baskets. He was very good at making baskets. The old people
back then made baskets. They made bushel baskets and half-a-bushel
baskets which people used in farming. They still use baskets today, but
they are too expensive. People can buy them from the supermarket and get
them for much cheaper. Those baskets would last twenty-five or thirty
years. There are probably some still in existence now that he made.
M: Did you ever hear any family history pertaining to the Civil War?
W: Yes, I heard it from several different people. My grandmother said they
lived in a big house with a porch on it, and she saw Sherman when he
marched through Georgia. We were still in Carolina. Sherman really
played havoc in Georgia. He was like a mad man. The northern history
shows him as a mad dog. Even the expression on his face shows that. That
is what the north said about him. He was a very cruel man. Hitler did
not have anything on Sherman. But in the north, he was considered... He
did win the war. After he burned Atlanta, he made the sweep in Georgia.
In South Carolina, they saw these fellows coming and they walked up on the
porch. They were sitting on a bench outside. They said, "You all got
anything to eat?" "We ain't got anything but some meal and a little bit
of oil." "You could bake us a hoe cake." So they went in there and
cooked them the hoe cake and these fellows had their knapsacks full of
little vanilla wafers, called knick knacks then. They set a pile of them
on the table and left. They ate the pigs but did not do any harm to the
Now on my wife's side, I talked to her granddaddy in Glenwood, Georgia,
and he said that they knew when they were coming. They did not have much
time. They had a lot of meat and other things stored up for the winter.
They had good horses and equipment, but they did not have time to do
anything other than to dig a hole in a hurry. The people in the area
helped dig the hole, put the meat in, and then pile the dirt on it.
Later, you could wash and cut off the dirt and use it.
When the soldiers got there, they had worn out their horses and mules, and
my granddaddy told me they left these worn out horses and mules, and took
their good ones. They also took any equipment they had, such as wagons,
and loaded up with food that they could find. They took everything they
had that was in the form of took, such as corn for their horses. They put
it in their wagons, and took their wagons with my granddad's parent's
horses and mules and left with it. They left the old plugs [old worn out
mules] there with nothing to eat. That was typical, he said, throughout
Sherman's march through Georgia. They did not burn his house, but they
did burn a lot of houses. They had feather beds back then, he said, and
they would take the feathers out of one bed and the straw out of another
bed--they used straw then instead of cotton--and they would mix it
together. That was worse than vandalism. It was impossible to separate
straw from feathers. He said that that was the most awful thing that
anybody could ever imagine. He was an eye-witness to that, but he died in
M: He saw the soldiers actually doing this?
W: Yes. He saw it. He was there and was part of it, but he was too young to
fight in the war.
M: This was your wife's grandfather?
W: That was my wife's grandfather.
M: What was his name?
M: What was his first name?
W: I do not know what his first name was. Grandpa Davis was all I ever
called him. He lived in Glenwood, and we visit Glenwood now. The old
place is still there, and so is the hill where they buried that meat.
They put it up there on the hill so that if it rained the water would not
soak in and ruin the meat. He showed me the hill where they buried the
meat when Sherman's men were coming through. They burned down cotton
gins, and burned down anything that was industrialized. Atlanta, of
course, was notorious because it was a thriving city then of several
hundred thousand people. It was the gateway to the south and the gateway
to the west and the north, which it still is.
M: Well, I supposed that about covers most of it. The Oral History program
at the University of Florida and I thank you for this interview. Your
information, again, is very valuable. I imagine that once the transcript
is done and it is all out, that it will be a valuable research document.
W: Well, it has been a pleasure. Of course, you cannot put seventy-six years
into an hour and a half interview. It would be impossible; it would take
a long time. However, I have given you little sketches here and yonder,
and you can probably break this down and take the parts that you need.
Some parts probably will not fit in, and there will be some duplications
and so forth. But I have just given you a kind of a birds-eye view of
what went on. Even you yourself could not give your own personal history
in a matter of hours. It would take you a long time.
M: Well, it had been most valuable again, thank you.
W: You are welcome.