An interview with Nobel Phillips and Susan Fisher


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An interview with Nobel Phillips and Susan Fisher
Physical Description:
87 minutes
Nobel Phillips and Susan Fisher
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
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Subjects / Keywords:
Panama Canal


General Note:
Interviewed by Matthew White

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University of Florida
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
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PCM 015 Nobel Phillips and Susan Fisher 7-2-2010
PCM 015
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The Foundation for The Gator Nation An Equal Opportunity Institution Samuel Proctor Oral History Program College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Program Director : Dr. Paul Ortiz Office Manager : Tamarra Jenkins Technology Coordinator : Deborah Hendrix 241 Pugh Hall PO Box 115215 Gainesville, FL 32611 352 392 7168 Phone 352 846 1983 Fax The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program (SPOHP) was founded by Dr. Samuel Proctor at the University of Florida in 1967. Its original projects were collections centered around Florida history with the purpose of preserving eyewitness accounts of economic, social, political, religious and intellectual life in Florida and the South In the 45 years since its inception, SPOHP has collected over 5,000 interviews in its archives. Transcribed interviews are available through SPOHP for use by research scholars, students, journalists, and other interested groups. Material is frequently used for theses, dissertations, articles, books, documentaries, museum displays, and a variety of other public uses. As standard oral history practice dictates, SPOHP recommends that researchers refer to both the transcript and audio of an interview when c onducting their work. A selection of interviews are available online here through the UF Digital Collections and the UF Smathers Library system. Oral history interview transcripts available on the UF Digital Collections may be in draft or final format. SP OHP transcribers create interview transcripts by listen ing to the original oral history interview recording and typing a verbatim document of it. The transcript is written with careful attention to reflect original grammar and word choice of each interview ee; subjective or editorial changes are not made to their speech. The draft trans cript can also later undergo a later final edit to ensure accuracy in spelling and format I nterviewees can also provide their own spelling corrections SPOHP transcribers ref er to the Merriam program specific transcribing style guide, accessible For more information about SPOHP, visit or call the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program office at 352 392 7168. October 2013


PCM 015 Interviewees: Nobel Phillips, Susan Phillips Fisher Interviewer: Matthew White Date: July 9, 2010 W: This is Matthew White with the Samuel Procto r Oral History Program. I and Susan Phillips Fisher at the Panama Canal r eunion. So, I have just met you folks. I understand that just start with a broad overview of your experience at the Panama Canal. How did you get to be there? Were you born there? First generation? Second generation? P: I was born there. I was born there in March 14, 1914. Anc n Hospital. It later changed to Gorga s Hospital, but it was Anc n when I was born there. It was a old French wooden building. We lived very close to the hospital. I remember w hen I was a kid I used to play underneath the hospital. It was built off the ground with wood sticks and underneath there were hundreds of cast iron grave but I used to play with those when I was able to get out and play. W: So, can I assume, then, that your parents came to the Canal Zone ? P: My parents came to the Canal Zone in 1907. My father was working as a mac hinist in the navy yard in the S tates and he happened to see an advertisement that they needed a machinist in Panama. So, he went home and told his wife, we ll he went down to Panama in 1907 aybe around April, something like that. And she


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 3 came down six months later. When my father got to Panama, he was broke and he had a relative or cousin or something like that that he knew was in Panama. M when he got to the old wooden bachelor quarters, he asked somebody, do you know so and so? And he [Laughter] And my father t up there and introduced himself to his cousin or whatever it was and the cousin was running the poker game and in front of him he had all gold coins. They were all paid in gold at that time. And my father told him he was broke and he lost his money pla y ing poker on the way down. T poker, and never gave him a cent. [Laughter] payday, from others that would help him out. My mother went down there about four or six months later and she got into Col n. T he hous e they had was over the water i n Col n. I t was on stilts and you had little wa lkways to go out to the houses shacks that were built over the water. S he stayed there for about four or five months before they moved the machine sho p. He worked at night times in the machine shop along Gat n there. T hen they moved to Cule bra and when s he was able to get a house. T hey had a house and they each had a small horse of the same kind Kept it in the yard. It was good that we had pict ures there. There was a platfor m in a tree a nd steps, a ladder like, leading up to it. T hey would go up there with their long dresses and climb this place


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 3 W: Into the tree? P: Into the tree, so that they could see the Pacific and the Atlantic at the same time. The y were high enough to see both. W hen I was born we had moved already to Ancn Boulevard, Balboa Heights. Balboa Heights was near the adminis tration building. It was on Anc n Boulevard, which ran from, I guess, the railroad station to Anc n and to the right or in front of the administration building on the flats down there with Balboa. But we were behind that e to walk maybe a mile or so. steps to the high s chool or an old wooden building which was grades one to seven or one to six. Something like that. W: So what was it like growing up in the Canal Zone during that period? P: Well growing up was okay. We had wood houses screened in and we lived upstairs. Un derneath the house they were on stilts. Underneath the house were maybe posts that were twelve by twelve holding up the house. A t the bottom of the posts was a concrete filler, like, that they set them on. In the concrete there was a trench that ran all the way around the edge that a man would come and put oil in it once a week or so to keep the termites from eating up the building. But they ate it anyway [laughter]. It was screened in. We had a coal bin and a woo d bin downstairs. We had maids; down and bring up coal and bring up the wood to put in a coal fired range. We had that in the kitchen ; we also had some electric lights. At night


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 4 and there were army ants and cockroaches all over the p lace. And when you went e often with the ar my ants. But They used to bring the coal, they used to br ing the wood. They brought us twenty pounds of ice every day and they brough t it in horse drawn trucks. They finally got old army trucks that they built for World War I to bring the commissary and all the refrigeration, the ice. At least once a week it might have been more often a commissary man would come there and you would order what you wa nted. H e would take it to the commissary and then the next day or two, here comes the commissary trucks and bring you your W: Home delivery. P: Home delivery. Right. And there were c aramedas which was a horse drawn vehicle where you could hire to have him take you to different places. I guess drawn. Plenty of mango trees. Plenty of guava trees. They had star apple tr ees and they were bad because the limbs would break. They had streets that had nothing but star apple trees on them. There were broken arms all t he time along that street. T hen the guava tree was the best tree to climb because the limbs would bend; t hey wo uld not break. We had mangos, all kinds of mango trees. We had about seven or eight different variety of mango. There was a good one which was a black mango. It was black on the outside, but it was the sweetest mango that ever was. It was a prized tree fo r us kids to get into the black mangos


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 5 when they were ripe. We had papaya mangos, which were as big as grapefruit, or big as honeydew. We had oranges that were as big as c oconuts, too. It was quite a nice place. W: In addition to tree climbing, what were t he activities in elementary school or maybe even high school that you did ? P: Well, I was far enough away from Balboa. Balboa had a play shed and they had a lot of activities for their kids. I was out on the outskirts of that. We would have a baseball team made up of people from the army, which was Quarry Heights and some of us civilians. W e never did have enough kids in one area to have a baseball team. We had to get together a number of us to even play against Anco n or Balboa schools. So, it was all right It was fine. W: Then once you got to high school, did you play any sports there? P: saxophone. They had a boys band. I played the saxophone in the band before I got into h igh school. Then when I got into high school I started an orchestra and had Phillips Orchestra. I played there for about four years or better. I played for school functions I also played for a group of elderly canal people that got together and wanted a S aturday night dance once a month. W: So it was not a symphony orchestra, it was a jazz band, big ba nd, that type of thing?


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 6 P: No, no, no. It was just a jazz band. But it was very good. There were seven of us. I passed out word that anybody that had an inst rument could play in the orchestra at the da people in the orchestra. I had the orchestration music jazz sent to me once a month from New York. I had all of the latest hits from New York. All the other orchestras were playi ng by ear, and I had the orchestration. [Laughter] W: Is this still in high school? P: This is high school. Yeah. I graduated in 1934. W: Now, how many orchestras were there? Was there a thriving music scene in the Z one? P: How many orchestras were there? W: Yeah! The way you made it sound is that there was like a lot of them. P: No. There was only one other school orchestra. T here were a couple of orchestras that played different places in the Republic of Panama where they had dances and drinks and stuff l ike that On the Canal Zone just a few of us ever played any place. W: Now did you play in Panama proper, in the Republic of Panama? P: No, I did not play in Panama proper.


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 7 W: And how long did you keep playing? P: Well just four years o f high school. Played regular; i t was good. Where Albrook Ai r field is now, when I was a kid that was just a swamp out over there. They called it Langley Field. And there were silk or linen aircraft there from there from the army: pursuit plane and bomber. The landing fie ld was about four feet high out there and in that flooded area there wa s all kind of cashew trees. W e used to uts, when you cook em on an open fire, have a smoke and that smoke is the same as mustard g out all over with rash. If you have a bathing suit on and go to the beach or somethin g and you cook some of the cashew nuts, you will break out all over o we stayed away from them. But we used to eat the cashews, not the nuts. W: Now, when you graduated high school did you stay in the Canal Zone ? And if P: Oh yeah. The first time that a hundred people ever graduated. I think there was 106 of us or something like that that graduated from high school. Well, before a year was up, I had a chance to become a coppersmith apprentice. They had apprentices down there. They had the woodworking, shipwright, they had the boilermaker the welder, the pipefitter, the coppersmith, m any different trades


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 8 that they w ould start an apprenticeship. I t was about the f irst time that the apprentice training program got underway was in around 1933. W: Now in America, of course, that dates the Great Depression. Did you feel much effect of that in Panama? P: We did not feel the effect because everybody that was on the Cana l Zone had a Canal Zone to come to the States with my parents on a two what the Depression was in the S tates. In New Jersey, I saw cars along the highway that were dilap man and a wife and two kids, just living along the si de of the road in the car. T he kids were covered from ear to ear with blue from blueberries. blueberries out there for sale. My uncle was an oil salesman W: In New Jersey, or back in the c anal? P: In New York City. I took a trip with him one time. He went to I think it was, Buffalo, New Yo rk and on the way back I was fourteen he stopping at a place and g oing to golf. I said, al l right had his clubs, he rented a set of clubs for me which were sm all and he says, I want a caddy. Well, out comes a man, his wife, a nd two kids. That was the caddy: the whole family, all four of them. T he kids would run down the fairway and try to find my ball [laughter]. But that was the Depression, and the whole


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 9 family was one caddy. You gotta pay the fee for one caddy, the wife and the two kids. W: But you were sheltered from that in the Canal Zone ? P : Yes. In the Canal Zone the people in the States did. W: Now, you mentioned you saw the effects of the Depression when you returned. But, in a larger sense, did you keep up on the events in the State s during that P: Not really I was too young. I was only thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen I would keep abreast just from what my parents would tell me. We went to New York and er husband was digging the ditch i n a pick line. It looked like ten or twelve people with picks digging a trench for a pipeline or something. He was o ne of them. That was the job that he had. He worked for the railroad, but the railroad shut down. My mothe the dining room table because have it. So, my aunt saw me looking around, she said, what do you want? I hought I saw the k etchup [laughter ]. She brought me the ketchup. But W: How old were you then?


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 10 P: How old was I? fourteen W: year old boys and their ketchup. P: Yeah, right. That was something. B ut, I did a lot of hunting from when I was old e nough, maybe fourteen years old. I roamed the jungles down there. W: What did you hunt? P: Well, we hunted pig and different birds. Mostly pig though. Then, as I got to be about fifteen, then I joined the hunting club. We had dogs and we hunted deer every weekend with the dogs. That was good. I was able to use a shotgun then. Prior to that I ha d a twenty two Saturday night and Sunday, hunt, and come home with four or five deer. N ow, those deer averaged about seventy pounds. The deer in Panama are small because they have to go through the jungl e. They have to be small to stay alive. So, they but they are small. W: Did you cook them up? P: Oh yes! Ya know W: Did you do that yourselves, or did someone butcher them for you? P: No we used to butch er them ourselves and pass them out to different families when we would come back. We used to go out and stay overnight at one or two d always cook up the first deer we caught out there. So, we would


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 11 take all the necessaries to make a big mea erent places. That was the fun, overnight trips. W: And how long did you do this for? Was it just for your teen years or did you do it in your adult years as well? P: No, just for my teen years I did it for about four years, five years straight. But it too long. But we enjoyed it very much. W: Now you were talking earlier about your apprenticing as a coppersmith. Correct? P: Yes. W: Okay. Did yo u stick with that profession? Did you stay in the Canal Zone? P: In the Canal Zone, I joined the mechanical division. My father went down to Panama as a round Gatn, to Cule bra, to Panama and he worked the night shift. Now, there was a dayshift and a nightshift all the time because they had something going. As the canal moved, the shops moved with it. My father being the night man, a ll the big shots would come in and talk to him and say, can you make this? Can you make that? It was all the people that dug would come in and finally they came to him one t i me when he was, I imagine,


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 12 around Culebra the cut. master machinist when we open B alboa shops. Now, when we open Balboa shops, ave to overhaul the whole locks, the whole canal. Anything on the cana size of the locks so that any ship that comes through the locks can also be dry docked. They are the biggest ships built during that time. They said, we want you to order the machine ry necessary in this machine shop so that we can overhaul all the ships and all of the locks. So he did. He ordered a planer that was the largest in the world at that time He ordered a lathe that was the largest in the world at that time [laughter]. There was nothing bigger because of the gates and the rising stem valve gates that shut the water from going into the canal or let the and shut. He was the master machinist. The re were only seven master machin what they considered master machinists. He was one of them. He went down in 1 907 and he retired remember when he retired. W: When he retired regardless of when that was did he stay some Zonians stay in Panama, retire there. P: Well, when he retired, they were just starting a group in Florida to become the Panama Canal Association like we have right now. So he went up to Florida and bought a house. He came ba ck and told my mother that, we have a house in


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 1 3 there with my children, my sister was down there w ith her children, and I had another sister that was married there without any child the S tates until much later in [19]62, about. W: So, you mentioned that you ha d to have a job to stay in the Z one. So, once he retired, di d he sta y living in the Z one or did he move out to Panama? P: No! H e had to move into the R epublic of Panama. Yes. W: So, you just mentioned you married and had a family in Panama. P: Yes. W: So, tell me a little bit about that. I think we left off on your story. You graduated from high school; you became apprenticed in the coppersmiths. P: Right. As a coppersmith, sheet metalworker, and W: Did you remain in that occupation throughout your stay or P: No, I did not. I stayed in as a latheman As soon as the war en ded then I had to go back with the tools. B ut it was later on that I got from my tools to go in as a planner and estimator. I stayed as a planner and estimator, and then I became chief planner. I had five planners and estimators under me. Then, I became the assistant production superintendent of the yard.


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 14 W: Talk to me a little bit about what a planner and estimator does. Planning and estimating, sure, but how did that fit into the canal? P: Well, each craft has to overhaul some of the parts of the canal itself, plus repair all shipping that comes through there. We have to repair it so that it can leave the Oh go sh. [Laughter] flo ating equipment that the canal had and overhaul it. Now, if it was a tug we would have two or three planners go over there and estimate the machine part, t he ship fitter part and overhaul of what they wanted to do. Then on it and tell them h ow much money they would have to have so that the budget office could divide it up that way. So, we repaired barges, we repaired drillboats we repaired tugs All floating equipment we would take care of overhauling. If one of the marine division wanted t o know how much money they needed for d have to go and estimate on it to bring it in to the overhaul. We had to schedule the over hauls; we had a limited amou nt of craftsmen. A yard in the S tates, whenever they got a big job they could go to the gate and hire pipefitters or machinists or whatever they wanted. Down there, w that. We had the same number of people and w e had to keep them busy. Now, if they failed to give us a tugboat or a dr edge when they scheduled it, we would h ave men that have work to do. So, we would have to make sure that the scheduling was such that it would take care of all the employees that we had


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 15 in the division, which was nice. During the war, we had six hundred tankers home were their home base. We had six hundred tankers. They were mission ta nkers and T pounds steam jo bs. They would come to Balboa. T hey fin ally got a pipeline across the i sthm us. We got all our oil from Venezue keep them running. It was big business to keep six hundred tankers running and filling them at the same time. W e had one big dry dock that handled anything that came through the canal and we had about four or five other dry docks, smaller. The navy brought down three floating dry docks and we had to run all of those with ships to clean W: So the World War II, then, had a significant impact on work. P: Oh yes it did. O ur employees increased maybe seven times M echanical employees, about seven times over normal. W: And were they American s that were recruited from the S tates or were they local? P: They were mostly Americans recruited from the S We asked for four pipefitters. We asked one, where did you work? H m a sheepherder. Well, what are yo


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 16 where they sent me [laughter ]. He was a she epherder and the other one was oh I forget what he was, but W: Not a pipefitter. P: No, no, no. They just hired him in the S tates. We need a pipefitter. Okay! W: I guess you just had to train them from the ground up? P: We had to train them from the ground up, yes. W: Now, did they stay after the war was over? P: No. When the war ended most of them wanted to get out of there anyway. But, we had to go back to our original number of people, so we lost a lot. But we were very lucky when the war started. W: P: Before the war we decided to build a third locks. We got a lot of good people down there for the third locks. They were army engineer em ployees, civ ilian employees. When the war started, the project was stopped. Well here was a whole group of mech anics that worked for them. W e took them right in over at the canal. So, we got a good group of mechanical employees because the third locks was stopped.


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 17 W: So, let s change gear here a bit. W ot about the work that you did. W hat about your personal life? You found a nice young lady to settle down with. You pr Canal Zone? P: Well that was fine. The girl that I married I met when I was a freshman in high school. W: Oh a high school sweetheart. P: Yes. I spent four years of apprenticeship and at the end of that we married. I went with her for eight years before we got married. W: And I a ssume that her family was also she was second generation. P: W: S o both of your parents helped build the canal. P: Yeah. My father was a Roosevelt Med al man. H er father was not because he was down when the canal was open, he came back down. W: And how many children did you have? P: I had three children: two boys and a girl.


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 18 W: So I assume one of them is sitting right here with us? So, what was it like to born, raised, educated F: W: Let me ask you this. What was your childhood like that might be different from what his childhood might be like? Wh at had changed ? F: Probably the building structure of the homes had changed. I can remember what the first air conditioner, which was a window unit, which wa bedroom [laughter t [laughter ]. So, we had two rooms that had air conditioning. I think the way the homes were t he breeze. I never knew I needed to miss i t like you do in Florida [laughter ]. Gosh, growing up was just fun. down to a house. Y ou did you stood down below and yelled that in the United States It was just the freedom: you were out in the stre et playing kick ball, hopscotch. You played hide and go seek when it got dark. Th e streets somewhere, playing.


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 19 P: Well they had a play shed and they had a tennis court. F: Yeah, we had a gym you co uld go to on Saturdays I guess You could go down and play at the gym. We did that a lot. There was the baseball teams which was all male. [Laughter] No girls played baseball then. [Laughter] We sat i n the em. W: Did you go to t he same high school? F: No, I went to Cristobal High School. W: Cristobal. T F: down in the town of Cristbal which was near Coln. When I went to Cristobal High School it was in a town called Coco Solo, and it moved because all the Canal Z one employees moved to Coco Solo, Margarita, or Gatn, and Crist bal housing closed an d went back to Panama, I guess. P: Yes it did. F: So that was the d ifference. My brothers were in Cristobal but I went to a different building than they did. W: between Cristobal and Balboa, especially with football games. F: Yeah, everybody says they grew up on the other side, the better side. [Laughter] Still here at the reunion everybod y laughs and jokes about that. W ho grew up on which side? Because sometimes the first thing you look at somebody and say


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 20 P: The only way you could go from one side to the other was by the railroad. They t have a road across. That was be cause they had a contract with the old Panama R ailroad that began in 1848 or something like that. N o road could be built. W: So they had a monopoly? P: Yes. So it was during the early part of the war, maybe in [19]41 or [19]42, that the army built a road across the isthmus so you could drive from Panama City over to Coln. That was one of the big things that happened. F: I used to go down and catch the train at Mount Hope Station and ride the train by myself. I was in grade school. Go on t he train and go over to Diablo actually got off at Balboa Station. T ation. My cousin and her mom, my on the train again at Balboa entioned building up in Santa Cla ra, which was in the Republic. H e bought some property and was gonna build a beach h ouse and then his father after he had retired, wanted to build the five cottages to rent. That was a landmark l ots of people knew because ottages to go to the beach. T hat was, I thought, pretty interesting at that time to build, even up in the interior. That was something.


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 21 P: have a job, like family em in Panama. W: So send your families back? P: Yeah, send the families back, just leave the employees down there because of the war. send my wife and ki ds back to the United States. I could move them right into the Republic of Panama. W: Did they eventually ask for all the families to have to move back to the United States? F: P: The C anal Zone had a blackout; Panama did not black out. [Laughter] S o one of the navy people em that you have a blackout down here to k eep the Japs from bombing you. B ut he says airplane up there you can see the whole canal b y the reflection from the stars. [Laughter] Y W: What other effects did you see from war? For example, d id you have rationing? I n the States of course they had various rationing of foods and other materials. Did you have any [inaudible 52:05] at all?


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 22 P: No, not that I remember any rationing. Panama always ha d liquor. The Canal it had the four point two or whatever it was. So you get off wo rk, you W: Sounds like you had a very how do I put this open relation ship with the Panama Republic. S ounds like you came back and forth and interacted with the local population. P: Yeah, you just wal ked across. W: And did you get along with them fairly well? P: I did. I got along with them fairly well, yeah. Yes, it was later on when the trouble started. W: And about when was that? P: F: We had the riots from li ke [19]62, [19]63. P: Well we had riots from, yeah, right, in the [19]60s. And that was bad. W: Well tell me about your experience with that be F: Must have been in like [19]63 or [19]64 when they had riots. P: They had riots down there and you stayed away, stayed out of Panama. It was themselves. T hen anything would stir up the university students down there, and then the riots would start. We had a few deaths from the riots. It was miserable for me because I h ad a house in the interior. U p there we would hire natives to take care of the grounds, and we would pay them more than what they could get


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 23 anyplace else in the R epublic. I had a woman that stayed there, a Panamanian, to take care of the place and she hired help. Well then the police would come and arrest her. T hey would say, you have help here em a vacation. W em twice as much as they could make anyplace else. W e we take time off and things like that, but they would just find something to irritate the U W: So they just made somethi ng up to [inaudible 55:50] P: Yeah, right, they would make something up. F: That was back in the [19]50s though. P: Yeah, right. F: You sold the property. P: F: I think I was in grade school when you sold the property. It h ad to be in the [19]50s. P: F: Yeah. That was a great place to go. W: The property? F: Yeah. Tell him how you made the contract with the guy and the ping pong table. W: [Laughter] le story! P: I went up there and I wanted to build a home. I got a fella from there; he ran a cantina. And he says, I said, al l right, well I want one


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 24 this big, three bedrooms, th ree bath. W e got the house started and I had a pi ng pong table there that folded into two halves. I took it up there and we set it up as soon as we got a roof up. U nderneath the ping pong table, when you folded it when the house was this far done. Y the contract we had. W: So on the bottom of the ping pong table? P: On the bottom of this ping pong table. W: Is that legal in Panama or j type thing? P: Gentlema we had to build a three bedroom, three bath home. Tile ro o f, and tile floor. So everything F: Well, then your dad wanted the cottages built, five cottages. W: On the same property? F: Well, he bought that property. P: Yeah, he bought property alongside and built five cottages to rent. F: And it was known as W: Basically vacation for the Zonians? F: Vacation, yeah, for anybody that wanted to. W:


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 25 F: That was a great place for me for the few years that I got to be the re. We went down to the beach P: It was on the top of a cliff and y ou could walk down this cliff. T his cliff was m aybe twenty feet high or more. Y ou could walk down, you could go out to the beach and you could look both ways as far as you could see. Y see another person. And you could hear the waves come in at nighttime up quite a bit, but when we went up there there was just a few houses. G o down he beach as far as you can see, m Central America to go to. W: If you wer e in grade school in the [19]50s is that what I heard? F: Yeah, well, I was born in [19]49, so I guess, [19]55. W: So you in high school, we ll F: No, I was in Cristobal. W: So you wou I think it was 1964 there was an issue with the flag. F: Yeah, I was in ninth grade when that happened. W: How did that affect you and your high school car eer? F: W hen they did the flag raising, I guess the seniors and juniors decided we were goi ng to have an American flag. I was in ninth grade at the time Of course, the upper classmen were out and they were putting flags up in the trees in front of our scho ol and somebody was trying to climb the flag post to put up an American flag


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 26 up there. T here were also parents involved. So when we got a flag up there of absentee day or whatever. of course, the senior go to the elementary school. So, we all followed them to the elementary school and put a flag up there. Then they wanted to go to the next town, Mar garita, and do the same th ing. T hen we o there were upperclassmen who had cars, and the parents who were there involved. W: Were you one of the parents involved? F: and they put a flag up there. O f course they had to go to the next town, Gatn. I did hen I get in trouble because, you were doing what?! [Laughter] remember. W: Now, the Panamanians di F: k they were probably happy, but it probably started with the parents of the upperclassmen who were more political, I guess. flag. unless there was a onna have our flag anyway. W: protests.


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 27 F: Were there? Yeah. W: And n Vietnam. Were you guys paying attention to what was going on in America in that regard? F: Not me. W: How connected were you to the current events or American politics or anything like that? P: attention to politics in the United States. W: Strong opinions about presidents? Kennedy? Eisenh ower? P: [Laughter] Well, no. F: remember I was in P.E., came into the as doing when that happened. But politics, at that P: W: obviously F: W: Did you vote for president at all? D id they open up booths for you? P: No. No voting at all. They told me I was a U S citizen when I was born down there. When I came to the United States I had to go through immigration. One part of the United States told me I was a U.S. citizen and the other part said I


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 28 d everybody when I came to the S tates. W: What year was that, approximately? P: It was after the war. F: I had to get a citizenship, being born down there. You had to get your citizenship in New Orleans. W: Did yo u have to go through the whole, take a civics test and all that stuff? F: No, we just went in and said we were born of U.S. parents in the Canal Zone. P: Well, I had to go to New Orleans. What they did was send somebody down to Panama to see my mother and father. T hey had to prove that they were born in the United States. Now i t so hap born, was still living and they contacted him. It was to prove that they were U.S. citizens in Panama at the time. Prior to that they told us we were U.S. citizens. W: Yeah, because you worked for the fe deral government, right? P: Yes. When we were born we were U.S. citizens. W: And we know you can be president. Because John McCain P: Right. There was no voting or anything. And they told me when I went to become a U.S. citizen in New Orleans, oh, you coul d have voted if you wanted to. Y our parents came from Pennsylvania or New York, and you could get an absentee ballot. Well they never told me that [l aughter] when I was growing up. They said,


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 29 W: Do you remember when you came back t o the United States? Does it sound like the whole family came together? F: Did you get your citizenship papers when I got mine? P: Yeah, I had to clear you. F: Then, yeah it was in New Orleans like in 1962 or something like that. P: I think it was in the cause I retired in [19]72. I t was in the [19]60s I had to go to New Orleans. I went to New Orleans on a vacation. F: M y son was born down there in [19]76. I had to get his citizenship paperwork done, but it was done in Cristbal. W: S o you went t o h igh school, and you graduated. F: I went to high school T hen I graduated and went up to college in Charlotte, North Carolina, for a year. I h ad met my husband now in Panama; he was in the army. He got out of the service and went back to California. I went to college and when I finished a year at college, the n I went out to California. W e got married in [19]68. Around [19]70, [19] 71, my dad said Panama and see if he can get an apprenticeship? So we flew down to Panama a nd he was given a marine machinist apprenticeship. So we stayed in Panama until [19]78 when he got a position with F.A.A., Federal Aviation, in Vero Beach, Florida. So we left in [19]78. W: Your son would have been F: Two. [19]76 to [19]78. So we left a s that was when the treaty was gonna be signed by President Carter and no one knew exactly what the changes were


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 3 0 gonna be like. He had the opportunity to transfer up with the F A A so we stayed. W: Eve n with the turnover in management? F: stayed with everybody else that stayed. P: Sure, we would have. Sure. W: And you moved out in P: [19]72. I retired in 1972, thirty seven years with the U.S. government. W: And you retired to Florida? P: No, I came to the United States and went into California. I moved my mother and father from Florida they went up to Florida after the riots during the riots. I guess it was in the early [19]60s. They wanted to go to C alifornia so I drove them all out there in [19]64. They moved into a Leisure World in [19]64 in California, in W: Now did you guys go back to Panama at all? F: stmas, [19]95 New Years, last time either of us were down. My brother still lives down there. He retired a few years ago. W: S o this is a family reunion. [Laughter] F: Yeah.


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 3 1 P: Yeah, right, it is. F: We have quite a few family actually this year, here. W: This must be quite an event, then. F: Yeah. Well, both brothers, most of their children and myself and my husband and my da are coming in tomorrow and their husbands. W: F: Are we? W: l me about the Panama Canal wanted to complain about or brag about or make sure posterity P: knew ea ch other very well. The Hummer family and my family, the Phillips family, were very close together during construction and after construction. My father worked in the machine shop, Mr. Hummer worked in the rigging shop of the mechanical division. They are both rooted on metal holders [1:12:13] from way F: I just wish everybody could have experienced what we experiences as kids growing up. W:


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 3 2 F: trees you went down in the jungle, you played in the jungle. Every Christmas I but after Christ mas holidays you formed your little gangs and you went around asking everybody, can we have your room or down in the jungle, because they counted the trees to see who had the most trees, we had a Christmas tree burn. Your community would bring all the trees together, and I guess it was on a Saturday or Sunday. W: So it was on like Twelfth Night or something F: burned, they had a picnic, they had hamburgers and drinks and hotdogs and you had a three legged race and you had a sack race and the kids had a really good time. And then when it got dark I dunno who it was l the anywhere else they still get together as a group and burn the trees somewhere. W: How interesting. F: It was fun. P: When I was a child we lived by the swamp in Balboa, and the swamp was Albrook Field and Albrook Field is a airfield built by the Air Force in Panama. And prior to Albrook Field, it was a swamp with about a three foot landing field, and that was called Lang ley Field. Langley Field, when I was a kid, had linen covered bi planes, army planes, and one or two pursuit planes with linen covered wings.


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 3 3 Then they cleaned the whole area up and built what is called Albrook Field. I it was quite a W: Now your tree story reminded me, there was another tradition. Did either one of you take part in the kayak race? F: P: F: That was the Boy Scouts, I think. P: That started late W: Was it? F: of the Kayuka [1:15:55] Racers, too. W: F: Yeah. That was ocean to ocean. did it over near Coco Beach in the river, there was something this year where they had [1:16:16] two kayukas and whatever this race was they did, so P: The kayuka is a dugout F: Tree P: From the tre e. W: Now what were your activities growing up? F: My activities growing up W: Besides climbing in trees, of course.


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 3 4 F: We climbed palm in trees and playing in the woods, or, the jungles. One of the everybody did slide. I dunno, we skated, roller skated, down the sid ewalks. I ended up getting a horse in ninth grade. W: Oh, good for you. F: drop us off and come back and get us in the late afternoon. So we hung out at the stable and rode o ur horses and went across the Gatn Locks. We could get out and walk them across the bridge and get back on and go ride through the lot of different memories. Good memories. We had Fourth of July in the same place that we did our tree burns in Margarita, they shot off the fireworks. W: F: f stories, I just [Laughter] getting them drawn out. W: F: My favorite of of his going hunting stories either, did he? W: He did, he did. He talked a little bit about hunting pigs and dee r. F:


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 3 5 W: Was she a good kid? Did she get in trouble ? P: [Laughter] Well, she w whether she rode the horse or she just rode on the back. [Laughter] She got by alright. When I was a kid, the houses were all built off of the ground and other kids had horses that they kept underneat h the house. But I never had anything like that. They had a messy house, I tell ya. W: P: They were messy. W: Oh, okay, yeah well horses will do that. Or were they otherwise messy? P: Yeah, with the horses underneath the house. W: P: I think they finally had to stop it. W: I would think that swamps are already smelly and [inaudible 1:19:47] had horses underneath. F: P: When my mother and father were down there during the construction they each had a horse that they would ride. That was nice. W: F: Yeah, mine were on stilts. It was one cottage that we moved into when I was young early elementary that was a cottage on the ground. And then from there we moved into another cottage that was off the ground.


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 3 6 P: They built them off the ground F: But it was cement underneath by then. P: to keep the wood ants from eating them up Sometimes you could find a wood ant trail an inch wide, go ing up to the house overnight on the concrete post. They had copper shields between the wood and the house, but a lot of time W: Well, thank you for joining us today, I appreciate you sharing your stories. F: P: Well thank you very much. W: Well thank you, and of course, if you think of any more, let another story. W: [Break in Audio] F: Yeah, you better. P: Well, one of the things was when I was a kid they had a mattress factory right near where my house was because anybody came down there got a bed and a mattress and chairs or something from the quartermaster. Well, to make the bread and the food that the commissary sold for the employ ees, they had to bring everything down from the States and one of the big items was Gold Medal flour, it came in large sacks that were maybe three feet long and eighteen inches wide


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 3 7 into a sack. And to make the bread. And then the bread was made and went t o all the commissaries. Well the mattress factory in back of my house got all of these Gold Medal sacks. When I was a kid I used to go down to the mattress factory to have my pants made. They made them out of Gold Medal sacks. W: Things were made out of Go ld Medal sacks. P: Pants were made out of Gold Medal sacks. W: Were they burlap? P: No, no, linen. W: P: Gold Medal made its money because everybody wanted the sacks. So they whatever was built. W: Now w ere shirts made out of it? P: Wednesday or Thursday, and everybody would go to the commissary the ne xt day to see what the ship brought in and buy their needs. But the commissary themselves had to make all the food and there was no milk down there so they had to have dairies. They had to bring the cows down and they had the dairies and cow pastures. Cows from the Atlantic to the Pacific, they had different areas


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 3 8 put the cow through to kill the bugs and ti cks and different things on them. W: Now you never went cow tipping, did you? P: [Laughter] No. But that was something. W: It seems like everyone who went there had wonderful memories of living in the Canal Zone. F: Yeah, I mean, you were in your own litt le community self contained I mean the whole Canal Zone group took care of all of your needs. It was just a great place Friday or Saturday night P: When they brought the cows down, they had to get grass from the plains of Africa that grew big, and they would plant that grass down in Panama. W: So there was no indigenous, no na tive grass for the cows. P: Well, not enough. Or something that they did bring African grass and then plant it That was funny. W: Well, thank you. P: Yeah, sure. W: Well, thank you very much. P: Oh, it brought back a lot of memories. W: Okay, anymore ? P: No more.


PCM 015; Phillips, Fisher; Page 3 9 W: Oh, shoot [End of Interview] Transcribed by: Christian Wanamaker and Austyn Szempruch, January 10, 2014