An interview with Dorn Thomas


Material Information

An interview with Dorn Thomas
Physical Description:
133 minutes
Dorn Thomas
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Panama Canal


General Note:
Interviewed by Amanda Noll

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
PCM 019 Dorn Thomas 7-1-2010
PCM 019
System ID:

Full Text


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 019 Interviewee: Dorn Thomas Interviewer: Amanda Noll Date: July 1, 2010 N: This is Amanda N oll with the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program. It st with T: Dorn Thomas. N: All right Mr. Thomas, thank you so mu ch for being here with me today, r eally looking forward to hearing some of your stories with us. B efore we discuss necessarily your Panama experience, maybe you can talk about your family and how you guys got down to Panama and your early childhood. T: See one of the first things is I I have a Canal Zone experien ce. N: Okay. T: My father went down in 1907, one of the Teddy Roosevelt constructors. He was a construction carpenter, expert in wood and concrete. He ended up building the houses that they all lived in. Then he ended up spending four years moving concr ete and concrete forms around the Gat n l a problem going through immigration, cause my American passport says birthplace [ inaudible 1:14 ] Republic of Panama. Actually I was born in the Canal Zone hospital, who had happene d to be located along the Cristobal beach, which


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 2 was a Canal Zone piece of property. My mother was a telephone operator, who came down in 1914. They met in the zone, married and ra ised a family and my dad retired in 1945 at the end of the Second War. I consider the Canal Zone living wa s a great place as a young person to be raised. Everything we needed was there. You can say it was provided by the government but no it was ours and we were there. My parents made sure that I never forgot that I was an American citizen. Every American holiday, our community and al l the parents put flag at the flag station. clock we lowered the flag. Memorial Day we marched in the parade out to the cemetery. We knew all of the American march music and we later learned all the Panamanian dance musics. American marches, Panamanian dances. It kind of set the tone for a way of life. I l ived in G atun ; Gatu n was a small American community where they were walking distance from the G atu n locks a b out a hundred and seventy families. W e had our own elementary school our own dispensary ; we even had our own dentist. We had a club house which h a d bowling allies a movie theater, a news stand and we had a play shed. A play shed would be today what you would call a gym. A ll physical activities were centered around the play shed. You gotta remember we had two seasons in the Canal Zone : d ry season for six mont hs, rainy season for six months. Dry season, at the end of the season, the ground was so dry that the ground on y our lawn cracked. You could actually stick our hand down in the crack. But the moment that the rainy season kicked in, nothing but green grass, garden, night and day.


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 3 The gymnasium was staffed by a professional physical education teacher. He gentleman who was responsible for certain rehab functions. So i f you broke your arm climbing a tree and it came time to get the cast off, all of a sudden the physical education teacher at the gym would grab you and begin to give certain exercises to get your muscles back in tone. I was born with a club foot and the club foot could not be treated in the Canal Zone E very four months my mother would put me on the ship with her and we would travel up to New York. S he w ould check me into a me up and take me back to the Z one. I ha ve a new brace or a new cast on my foot. This wen t on for several years until all of a sudden my leg stopped growing. T hen we kicked in the local rehab in the zone It was a not a formal physical center like you have today in America but a lot of it depended upon who knew who wha t, who could tell the right story A ll of the parents basically, I c ould give you things that work and to get muscle tone back into my foot. Marbles were too easy to pick up so they then substituted heavy metal rolling bags. When I be floor actually went and got a round surface, floor surface for me to stand on while I picked up the metal balls. T hey then moved on to the next exercise was to strengthen my leg they decided was tap dancing. My teacher was an army wife who was a former showgirl from Broadway.


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 4 N: Wow. T: S he had a tap dancing class with about ten girls and me and because she wanted to make sure that her girls knew all the routines we went out and r ecruited another boy, Tommy Lut ro s s. Tommy and I were the two male tap dancers. A ll of a sudden I began to lose arguments with my peer group about who wore fluffy dre ehab by teaching me boxing. F or several years I was trained to be an amateur boxer. We would travel from town to town, with eac h town competing to the other in boxing matches. So [laug hter] will outdo you with my tap dancing the people down there all gathered around and my parents always had plenty of things for me to try to get better. The gym instructor would sho w up at our grade school during recess and he would basically go by class, by class, by class and he would see somebody limping or somebody wincing when he threw a ball, and he would immediately step in and do the rehab consultation with that individual stude nt. We always thought that he was down there to teach us how to play volleyball better or dodge ball better or something, he did b ut he also made sure that the person with the limp was attended to. N: W hat was his name? T: The one I remembered most was a gentleman by the name of Woody. E verybody knows Woody, he was the coach of little league basketball, volleybal l;


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 5 he was the only coach we had u ntil we went to school high school I was really grateful for the Canal Zone common and that they basically set up a Boy Scout program and the Girl Scout program as American programs so that any ranks that we e arned, if our parents left the Zone went back to the S tates, we could transfer back to whatever Girl Scout, B oy S cout troop that we had fit into and not los e our ranks. I have a lot of memories about what I had to do to earn it. I n the 1940s at that time, some of the Boy Scout requirements had to do with seasons, like camping. Camping was a required merit badge to be an E agle. One of t he requirement s was that I would display the abilities to camp out in the winter time Pana C oordinating with the American program in the States, it was agreed that rainy season would qualify as the winter camps. If you go campi ng in the rain my town had 180 inches of rain every year. If you could go camping and survive then you could earn the merit badge. I became an Eagle and our tr oop was considered to be jungle rat ed. Now jungle rated within our community meant that we could go camping in the jungle without an adult. We had to tell the adults, the parents where we were going and when we would be back, and they knew basically where we were around the outskirts of the town. Now the jungle was just over the curb of the last house and then jungle started. W e would go camping a uring the summer it might be several weeks at a time. Parents if they needed us would drive on the road closest to where they knew the camps w ere and just lean on the horn. Th en


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 6 boy would be sent home to whatever the parent needed to do with them. Several summers, I spent the whole summer in our Boy Scout camp along the lake. Did all the cooking, came home to get our clothes washed of course, and when you run out of cooking oil you went and got more oil, y ou run out of potatoes you went and got more potatoes. A ; want guns in the camp. Fishing was too much of an individual event rather than swimming with a whole group. W e would go out there and spend t he whole summer waving at our parents across the lake. They needed us they could come get us. My grandson is also an Eagle and when he was in his scouting troop a few years ago, he told his fellow scouts that his granddad was a jungle camper, s o they invit ed me to bring my scouting eq uipment and talk to his troop. I had my merit badge sash and I had my uniform shirt and all my medals and badges and em on a hanger and off we went to the Boy S cout meeting and got out of the car and was coming in the fron t door of the church where the meeting was and all of a sudden the pastor comes running out waving and saying all excited no, no, you no. I was loaded down with knives. I had my machete and my bolo and an axe and I ha d a hunting knife and a pocket knife and he told me that knives kay. When the Boy S cout trip heard that I had all my knives, the meeting was adjourned and they call came out


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 7 to the parking lot to me to go through all the various pieces of equ ipment I had. school, like a presentation of scouting in the tropics. Well I waltz in right through the fr ont doors, the security office r about lost his bottom jaw bec ause h ere I have a machete, a bol o, a hunting knife and a p en knife p romptly escorted in to equipment. W hat fascinated the scouts, they all knew these knives were useful, it fascina ted them that as a scout I had carried this around as personal equipment. The scouting program today many of them, whe n they take a trip, all of the knives and axes and whatnot are under the care of th e scout master. Then loan to one or two of the scouts who are qualified to use that tool, b ut it has to be checked back to him th e night before they all go to bed. To just be told that the jungle, and all of my years while we were all trained in first aid, we never had anything more than maybe some skinned knees from falling off trail. We might have had a nicked finger when we were slicing up wood to get shavings for a fire, but we never cut our fo ot, n ever cut our hands off, was in or der to be a scout and be jungle rated and you had to be able to use these thing s. I just remember that in our town w e have to understand that the American government when they built the Panama Canal, automobiles were a fad, never go nna replace the buggy. W herever they had our work location within walking distance, they had a living facility. My town had homes for about a


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 8 hundred families. Everybody could walk to work. Tod ay if you look at a map of the Canal Z of the towns are on the same side of the canal, except for a few towns at the very end of the canal. The end of the canal a couple of towns on either side an d those towns are connected by a ferry boat. A ll the other towns through the isthmus A ll the travel between towns had to be by rail On the Pacific side, as we referred to the other side, th ose towns were connected with one road. The towns on the Atlantic side, Gat n had a seven mile road thro ugh the jungle to Crist bal Col n but there was no road to go to Gamboa I f you wanted to go Gamboa you had to ride the train or you had to hitch a rid e o n a launch. These towns all existed and they had a stable. Every town had a stable because managers, when they got promoted were awarded a horse. And they used the horse to get around to their behind the house, they ey had people that would feed em and check their hooves and whatnot. T hose stables have long disappear ed because the horses are gone, but t he facilities are still there except used by the government automobiles and trucks were I the Every town had a corral, n o horses. We grew up thinking o f the jungle as our play yard, as a friend. We did things that even today are my wives of past have


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 9 shuddered we as kids would from time to time find a jungle word critter they were anima ls in the living quarters, that could be a snake in the clothesline s or there could be a monkey back there w here the bananas were we had. W e as children were basi cally trained to get the animal back into the jungle. Now if you thought you could do it, you did it yourself. If you thought it might be a problem, you were to get the town police sergeant to come do it or help you store it the occasions that one of the other towns you what I was told some of my peer group found a b ig boa constrictor, about twelve feet in the town. They decided that oughta take th e snake back to the jungle. M aybe about six, seven or eight or these young ns all got their position and pick the snake down the street, headin ew family living in this house and been playing with. T hey walk up to the back door and they knock on the back door and the he come out and play with us? The mother says who are you and she sticks her and [laughter] You done something to the mother or the infant. T he kids close the door and go back down the steps with the snake, take a one up and put it in the jun gle. For about, over a month that little fella e never really underst ood what it was but everyone that you talk to has one of em jungle tales.


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 10 We used to catch, you would think of it as being a crocodile or an alligator, the Canal Z one did not have alligators. Canal Z crocodiles. They had a member of the crocodile f amily called cai man. Looked like a crocodile, mean like a crocodile, lived in the swamps and from time to time some of the older boy s would go fishing for these and put a hunk of meat on the hook and hang it out into the swamp area. Tie the rope, they had a hook and a cha i n to a tree limb and in the morning when they went to school they could see the tree limb and if it then they knew that something had snagged the hook. T hen after s up and kill it and then fly down the next bus and put the body on top of the bus and take it down to the market where they could sell the hide. Why would they do this ? They needed money t o buy a corsage for their girl that they were gonna take to the dance [laughter] would stick with it. We did it, n ot all of us but some of us. I f you think up about you growin up, what did you do to earn spendin g money? N: I had a few lemonade stands [laughter] Baked goods, things like that. T: Couldn one cause we really had limited access to ice. What else did you do? N: I think that was my extent other than chores around the house.


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 11 T: Now chores around the house in the Canal Z housing chores were done by the government. All the grass cutting, painting, repairs to the banister s and whatnot done by the government. Extra work opportunities for the youth were limited. Now I did things like paper routes. w orldwide part time job, paper routes. I did pin setting in bowling alleys. In those setters, you had a pin setter a nd he sat down there and dodged the balls and dodged the pins and set the pins. We thought of baby sit. Boys might pet s i t, they would sit pets but no t babies. Baby sitting was basically allocated to the girls. The girls had the baby sitting basically locked about or bragged about. Pa per routes, pin setting, some of them did fishing and they would catch as many fish as they could and haul them down to the local market and sell them by the foot Ah yeah, lifeguard duty. Lifeguard duty for many years was restricted to the boys. The quali fications for lifeguard duty was you had to pass the Red Cross Life Saving course and if you happened to be a Boy Scout and you had first aid and lifesaving and swimming, the n you basically were qualified to be interviewed. Every town had swimming pools, i n every town the swimming pool was tied to the play shed w h ere the physical gentlemen I had talked about managed it, a nd time the pools open ed so he would round up a couple boys and make sure they qualified and t hen they


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 12 were the life he em because if you were a girl w ere you a girl scout? N: I was actually. I was a Brownie and a Girl Scout. T: Did you do lifes aving? N: No. T: All right. How about first aid? N: Yes we did do first aid. T: Okay, but swimming? N: No. T: Basic requ irements for lifeguard duty. I d down that path. I was the town poo l lifeguard for seven years, so a lot of kids grew up. T he pla y shed was basically the Canal Z one day care center. Today only the young parents k now where the nea rest day care center is for your community the play shed. Now the play shed taught us, it was a big gym, and so during rainy season we were taught all the indoor sports: basketball, volleyball, you played do dge ball Dry season we had ball fields and so you learned baseball, softball, football Then of course when nothing else was available the swimming pool was there


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 13 and all of us were swimmers. And the towns all had swimming meets at the drop of a hat. Ther e were boy scouts swim meets when all the b oy scouts competed, t here were Girl S cout swim meets and they all competed; every town had swim meets. All of us have had various qua lifications down a gain in the Canal Z one M ost of us learned to swim almost before we learned to walk. Your initial qualification was to get your B badge for beginner. And if you had a B badge and you sewed it on your swimming set that qualified you to swim in certain areas of the pool or the lake. Then you worked up that woul d be an I for intermediate range. T hen you got a S for s wimmer. The last badge was an A for advanced swimmer. Now each one of these badges was your passport to go s wimming in the lake, unlimited, swimming in the lake, stay close to shore. Swimming in the b aby pool, swimming in the big pool. A lifeguard who was having a difficult session with one of the swimmers would pull the badge. And immediately by pulling the badge you demoted them one or two levels down because they actin g too much, it was usually more whistle blow and that kind of thing. Now you hear the rain coming? N: I know. T: Rainy season. In all of my time down in the Z one, never had a raincoat. Never had an umbrella. I had a poncho. That was usually a large ball oon material with a whole cut in because you kept losing it. But if you got wet dry. You got up in the morning and then look out at the cloud formation; you had


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 14 aining so I gotta wait thirty minutes for it to stop. But all of us got pretty good forecasting the rain cycles. So we knew how much time we had. Some of the men who worked on the locks that had to be out in the open all the time became veteran umbrella us ers. They could control it from running down their neck back when it rained. Rainy season was when you played football. N: Did you play football? T: N: In school? T: Yes I did. Pulling guard on the high school team, varsity player, catcher in base ball. Did you not do water polo. N: Was that big? Water polo? Was that big? A big sport? T: It was kind of a fill in sport between basketball and baseball. It was a sport that begun during rainy season. I could never my leg never let me do that kind of sport. Never was a polo, I could swim freestyle. fifty yards, I did it. I did diving. And we all learned how to do su mmersaults, back ward flips keep our teeth. You know everybody knew ever ybody. And if you doing. It took probably four hours, at the most eight and your parents knew


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 15 what I saw your son doing. And if you want to do something about it it was up to you. In our small town the police station had cells and it had one padded cell. And the padded cell was for a gentleman that maybe got out of control, there were locked in the padde chance to recover. The padded cell was also an excellent place you got a choice man, four hours in the padded cell or call your parents. Never called the parents, go in the padded cell. N: Did you ever go in the padded cell? T: pyramid done your time in the padded cell. It was all of them. When you were punished that way, you knew what you had done. You knew why you did what you shouldn will tell you that some parents enjoyed watching their children grow up. Some of the parents expected the young boys to be boys and they knew that they were going to things that were go ing to fall out of the tree and fall off a bicycle and that was part of learning how to be a young man. Other parents were very uneasy with that, giving that up. And so they were very very controlling in their neighborhood. And we knew which parents were in which Cadillac. So if you wanted to agitate the ones that should be agitated, what were you going to do? Go play in their rosebush, go play in their garden in the back. If the parent was


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 16 some ing to patrol our neighborhoods. Even today, at this reunion, I me e about it and talk about it. You think every event outsi de your town as I was growing up you schedules b ut very early I knew that there were four trains a day. I knew exactly the time they were coming into our station and exactl y the time they were coming back And you made sure that wherever you went you knew the train times at that station because you mi ssed a train and you either had to wait four hours for the next one or you might have to wait overnight somewhere. If you had an event, baseball game, a basketball game, or date with a girlfriend in the other town, you had to make sure whatever you were do ing was tied to when you had to be at the train station. In Gat n we were seven miles inland from the Caribbean a nd the last bus from the port town to Gatun left at eleven clock at night. So if you were taking a young lady night for margaritas, th at bus came through that bus stop at 11:15. You better be on it, otherwise you had about a six mile walk right down the jungle, no street lights. You got home by f ollowing the center of the road, usually make out the center marking. You make a lot of noise. Alway out of the way. You know in all of my time in the jungle, I only saw a snake once. So evidently I was successful in my noise making. One time it was raining and I


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 17 had to get home. station. I presented my case. Reminded them what my parents would say if I the road where he met with the p olice coming from the other town, big swap of drop me off someplace else and ll walk home. My father would have been very concerned if I would have been brought home in a police car. Yeah. You expected certain things and when I was retired to cover the college expenses. So my parents agreed that I could sign up to be an apprentice. I was not quite, I was only eighteen years old so I had to have their permission to agree to sign a contract for four years as an electrician. F or fo ur years I was trained as a wire man which is an electrician. And my father was very concerned that for some reason I would decide not to go to college. He had decided that you had tools and you had an education you can always find work. If you had a colle ge education you c ould find better work. He had always wanted to make sure I went to college, like my brother and my sister. So he agreed that if I took the apprenticeship, I should liv e at home and pay my mother seventy five percent of my salary for rent. I was earning ninety nine cents an hour, working forty h ours a week. You figure out, ninety nine times forty ; make fo rty dollars a week I would pay him seventy five percent of thirty dollars,


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 18 way of spending money dollars a pay period and buy tools. So when I finished my apprenticeship I must have had fifty screwdrivers, ten pliers and everything else I needed. They took doing World War II and war savings and after that it was just government savings bonds. He bought savings bonds with the un derstanding if and when, not if when I went to college I could use the saving bonds for tuition. The hooker was that if I that money was his. So all of sudden about two years into the program, he comes along and says T hin king about it. Is it worth three thousand dollars to you? t was school, I had a choice between MIT and Georgia Tech : t wo great schools, but different schools. And while I was trying to decide that, I got notified that I been drafted. I had been filling an air force reserve s l ot at the local air force base and I had four stripes. I was working on airplanes and having a good time. So I went to the air force and told them that the army was trying to draft me. And they said, of tomorrow e. They gave me a set of orders to go back to the post office and when the draft notice showed up they wrote a stamp: no longer at this address list. Attached my orders to it, sent it back to the draft. So for two


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 19 years I was assigned to a local air force base as an air craft electrician, worked on air planes Flew on airplanes. Any plane that needed a test flight, I got to fly with them, twerk twitches and check flight bugs. Check the engine speeds and I flew all over South and Central America. Any plane th at was sick, I was part of the crew that would go down there and fix it So people ask me how did you like your military duty and I say loved it. Had a good time. They kind of roll their eyes, Still a ir f orce is a great service. The rest of them are good too, but the air force is number one, one hundred percent. At the a ir f orce I found I qualified for the G.I. Bill, so I went off to college and I wen t up to MIT and I wanted to start school in t he summer. They presented me the summer programs and they gave me a list of their clothing that they recommended. And I happened to notice their wearing sport coats and blazers and whatnot. I only had one sport coat. So I went down to Georgia Tech, went in and talked to them and they were starting summer school the next week. And I looked around the campus, no sport coats, no ties, no white shirts. All khakis. Half of them had khaki uniforms with the stripes torn off. I kinda feel like Georgia Tech is more my type of school. So I signed up the next week and they had a, Georgia Tech was on the quarter system because of their co op program. Every quarter, if fifteen students signed up for a class in the catalog they would hold that course. Might be a t nine o clock at night or two o clock Saturday afternoon, but you could take the course. And being in a hurry, I started school the beginning of summer and stayed in straight through three years. I was taking


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 2 0 winter courses in the summer and summer courses in th e winter. But I finished a four year program in three years. [inaudible 46:15] People asked me did I play think I had a lot more fun. Went with the band, went to football games. You know one story one of my first dates with my wife to be, took her down to Georgia Tech football game, cause I got tickets, I was going to impress her. Give her the best seat that I could find right next to the base drum. Bad move. She quickly moved up in the stands with my fraternity brothers, not only was the base drummer farther away in fact they had some liquor refreshments up there. I had a good time with the band. I knew the band. So I joined up with G eneral Electric after school, they mo ved me around the engineering training program T hen they find out I had all this Panama Canal experience on large motors, generators from the mills. So they quickly moved me in to be in a part of the team that was installing the first computer on a steel mill. So I knew very little about computers, very little about making steel, but I knew how to make motors and generators run. So I did steel mill controls, then I did alum inum mill controls and I was assigned to a special system application office that we referred to as the turkey farm. Because we did the first application of any industry to prove that a computer could make it work. Once it was done and we turned it over to our production group to make money and we moved on to other things. I learned how to load coal on a ship going overseas to keep it in dodge I learned how to make rubber tires. I learned


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 2 1 how to mi ne coal out of the underground. Built control for an unmann ed train that ran through the mountains of West Virginia. The coal from a mine to a power plant, k ept running into Canal Z one people. My wife swears that we can smell each other. You know when you run down the Pennsylvania Turnpike in the late [19] 50s, ear ly [19] 60s, and pull into a rest area and you go into the rest room. Cause when you parked the car and you look over there and you see a Canal Z one license plate. Walk in through the rest area, and just look around in the middle of winter and see who h as the tan a nd you walk up to them and say, okay, what town a re you living in in the Canal Zone And immediately they know somebody that I know and they can take a message back that they run into them. I Canal Z one people on the twentieth floor of a Chicago Hotel, elevator opens and here comes a high school football that I played against. He was going to his bedroom and I was going down to eat dinner. Now we were all over the place. No matter where we were, no matter how we had been with each other i n the zone, the Panamanians are do ing a fine job. T o excuse have the right thing, the politicians to transfer it back. But when they justified by saying its theirs and we gave it back to them, they lost me. I think a lot of us here,


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 2 2 fact that it happened. ere do you consider, where are you from? N: Gainesville, Florida. T: What do you consider home, your hometown? N: Gainesville. T: Now ask me, where am I from? N: Where are you from? T: Somebody gave it away. And you want to know how I feel about that? They [inaudible 52:13]. My home is gone. I was born and raised there, lived there twenty seven years. In fact one of the jobs I had as an apprentice was taking out rings that my father had put in in 1912 and then knocking it down and putting in newer stuff. In the middle of the digging, I find his name scratched in a concrete wall. I ask him about it and oh yeah if the would have been terminated. You are not allowed to put any markings on the wall. So he said what did you do. Well I was putting a light fixture up. Well yeah. Well my name is up under the light fixture. Tell your gr andson. My father walked any place on that canal, can tell you stories about what he did here, what he did


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 2 3 there w hat his friend Bill did over there. They were building a swimming pool in our town and this was after my father had retired. They kept going up there and looking and looking and finally he went to the foreman and said your building this pool on bad ground. The guy said no, no the engineers checked it Bad ground, put up the fences, fill ed it up for the big opening tomorrow Some of the boys went skinny dipping that night at the pool. Needless to say they were spotted and the police sergeant with the siren came roaring Everybody had plenty of time to get back out and head for the jungle. A nd about maybe one out of ten was tak en down to the padded cell waiting for their parents. Next day all the dignitaries show up to go down to the pool to open it e xcept the pool is now empty. They thought exactly what you w ould think what did these boys do with the valves ? They all insisted. Water was here a t five o clock; water is not t here at nine o clock. So all of a sudden they loo k at the bottom of the pool. T he whole bottom of the pool had sunk about six inches, about the size of your [inaudible 55:12], i t just cracked and boom. Then my dad says ah now I know to tell you. This part of the pool part of the pool is built on fill Back in about 1920, [19] 25, they extended this for a volleyball so we pushed dirt over the hill ; it should have packed down b our pool you can look at pi ctures now taken five years late r, the pool on the back ss with the patch on the bottom Now any n ew person, pats the bottom like, what is that, an octopus,


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 2 4 whatever it is e were concerned with the way the patch was put in that it would begin to f all away from the walls, we need to reach in and pull on it. Water stayed in this time so we ha d a leaking pool. Now we are on the top of a hill and you lose a swimming pool full of water. All of the water is gone. What ha s I gone down the sewe rs, where did the water go? And all of a sudden almost three or four days later, about a mile further down the slope, all this water gushed out of the sides. G i ve it a landslide t aking that long for it to work down now when you take a look at pools of Po int A, water came out of Point B and you draw a line from A to B, everything on that line might have had the foundations washed out, right L ike a post office, [inaudible 57:24] efficiency apartment buildings, M asonic T emple, all are on that line. So now you had to go in there and do drilling, try and find out where the cavern is, like a sinkhole. You familiar down here with sinkholes, right? N: Yes. T: Water evidently never created a path. I guess it seep ed through. My father showed up. But anyway you know the thing I remember down there; you were always to remember that you wer e an American: American holidays big events. Fourth of July was a lways a other towns barbeque a complete steer. And that was our community party. The day before


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 2 5 we would prepare the fireplace. There was a certain individual certain men who were the cooker s there were ot her men who were the br ood ists stood around all night and brooded on as they were doing it. Young men were considered to be the wood bearers. The girls, the ladies, played bingo at night. As the sun was going down you started this fire, get the coals, get the rock stuff and the beef was all being prepared with the secret recipes of the barbeque sauce. Then on the [inaudible 59:30] They are all doing their thing because these were the cooks that d id it every year. The ladies were in their tent, bingo b ingos a big game down there for the adults. Us kids would just stay out the way. As you got older, you had the job of keeping firewood coming. They had beer. I do not remember keg beer as much as bot tled beer. But the keg beers were around. And so by nine o clock in the morning when the meat was ready, the cooks had to be escorted home. Then there was all the families brought food. Like the men who were chosen to cook the meat, all of the families had their family specialt y: w hether it was potato salad or coleslaw, or baked beans A nd set it in long tables and the whole town had a picnic. Usually to keep us out of the way while the food was finishing, swimming me e ts. Sometimes, dependi ng upon the mood of the physical education teacher, we might have scheduled a track meet. But i t was for the community. You bring outsiders in ; it was your chance to be the swimmer in your age group. We would have patriotic meetings. And of course a t seven o clock in the morning, the B oy S couts and anybody who could beat a drum, we raised a flag at the


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 2 6 flagstaff. Gotta take the flag down. The picnic would start probably around eleven 11:10. It would run until nobody could get anymore at three o clock in the afternoon, four o Maybe s o me of the other non American enjoyed Memorial Day, we participated in the parades, in the cemeteries and put the flags up. In our community, in the Atlantic side, the big parade was a mix ture of American units and Panamani an units Now within the Panamanian community, their big community band was the band with the fire department. So they would march in the parade, the Latin American beat. They would play American it But y ou could recognize the tone. So it all lined up ; the parade. So you start of f around the corner heading to the cemetery, the n avy band is playing M arch and the marine band is playing and all of a sudden the army is playing ver H ill o ver d ale marching Then you would get all your Boy Scout troops marching in step and getting all counting cadence and in step. The American bands would take a rest as they marched along with the drums. The Panamanian F ire D epartment B and would kick in and start playing the same music. Within five beats every one of the the Panamanian band would just march along and tootin beating the


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 2 7 drums. We were all skipping and trying to get back in step and when the band finally had stopped, it got tired. And when the American bands kicked in, we were back in step with in two beats. Now if bot h band groups were playing at the same time, that was interesting to be because the front line of the B oy S couts would be in step and the back ones would be all over the place. You know we knew it was going to happen. We would practice and rehearse marchin g, we would practice and rehearse cadence counts, we would use hand signals and everything else. And it happened. At the time it went that way and so all of sudden you just go on ll the cemetery walk home. And we w ould go the baseball games at Mount Hope, which was right next t o the route to the cemetery. Baseballs games were Sunday afternoon and all of a sudden we would hear them coming: the funeral parades. And they would come down the street and they would remind you if you were like a New Orleans funeral band, as they marche d to the cemetery, coats and all the ladies are in white dresses. All of the churches are marching behind the hearse v ery sedate. And you almost wanted; sometimes the baseball game wou ld stop while they marched by out of respect. If you had a spot where the referees could stop the game without upsetting everybody, they would stop the game as they marched by. Now going back from the funeral burial, that band would be strutting


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 2 8 down that thing playing he S aints G o M arching I n and every other song that you could think of because the y were celebrating. They were celebrating the fact that one of their friends had gone on. And it was a good thing. When that happened the baseball game by. Another job that I had going back a little bit to earn money, I qualified to be a soda pop vender at the baseball games. And we would carry little cases with ten soda pop bottles and w hen you got old enough you could carry two of them. And bottle you sold, you got a penny. You got smart after a while by putting a little bit of ice in your soda pop It k ept the drinks a little bit co z z when you popped the can And the real thing was to qualify to be back at the depo t under the stands O ne of the boys qualified to load the ice buckets. We had things about as big as th e se tables here, had walls around them and you stood all the bottles there just as close as you could them. And then you took hundred pound blocks of ice and you chipped it. You chipped them to get the ice down, so the thing was ice cold in about thirty min utes from the ice. Secret was to get all the ice chipping without accidentally chipping the lid in the soda bottle, because then that bottle was defective. And so you always had to have one or two defective bottles in order to mature the flavor of the bott le. When you chipped the bottle, you knew that the adult coordinator was going to have some words of wisdom for you about the qualifications of how to use an ice chipper. But we would load the trays, keep setting out these little buckets with the ice carri er. No


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 2 9 girl ever worked with us like that. And we could have trained her to chip ice. We too heavy for the dainty young lady, right? But you see like I said, once again, the girl could baby sit. But pet sitting, unless it was a cat, cats seemed to be an accepted opportunity for a young lady b ut not a dog. And definitely things like snakes and whatnot b ut maybe hamster s You know we had had monkeys. A lot of the families had litt le miniature monkeys called marmosets. They would ride on your shoulder and you could teach them to put their tails around your neck so were looked up to that they had their own monkey. There were some boys who were delighted to bring snakes back in to scare their mother. We had one fellow It was his duty, and he knew the teacher who came to school S ometime the first week he would enter a class, he would show up with a boa c onstrictor wrapped around his waist, under his shirt. When things got interest ing and the teacher was trying to impress the students with her teaching skills, it was interesting to see the reaction when all of a sudden this snake appeared on her desk heade d for her. One of our teachers went of the classroom through the door without ever opening it just tore it right off the hinges. Needless to say the principal came in with blood in his eyes It so routine that one time we got a new teacher in that we real ly liked. The principal came in and read him the R iot A ct: no snake tricks with this one You know people ask us where did you get the snake. Oh the jungle. How did


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 30 you know that a boa constrictors tale has to grab one to something in order to crunch you st squeeze you Everybody knows that. We got [inaudible 1:13] grade school kids together, high school kids R emember the snake coming into school today? Yeah Then the sloth, we had a sloth out there that also came through the window. We all saw it coming. We all waited for somebody else to tell the teacher. Then all of a sudden late now. That sloth all the arms, and out the door. And we said okay, P rin cipal H oaks will be in to see us. We better just wait for him to show up. It happened ; we saw it. None of us got expelled for it. None of us got now there might have been some letters gone home to parents, to tell us what was appropriate or not. But it wa s kind of an atmosphere that if you stepped out of line, you were going to be corrected. Not punished to the point that your spirit was broken, but just they were going to spend t ime explaining to you why you should know Grea t place to live. Now you know I really could talk for about four more hours. But what have I not talked to you about? H obbies ? You know the hobbies down t he moisture in the glue would all of sudden stick all your stamps together. Model trains : Lionel trains. It was hard to collect model trains because Lionel built model trains to operate on five cycles, which was good for the [ inaudible 1:15:3 1 ]. So unless you spent the extra time to buy a


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 31 twenty five cycle control transformer your train would burn up within an hour. If you were smart enough to get a twenty into the locomotive and clip the whistle wire Lionel built the engines with a whistle and a bell. The technique they used was such that in sixty cycle when you pressed the button, you converted the current to D C and whistles or the bells. Twenty five cycle, the frequency is so much slower that you d push the button. The whistles and the bells ran continuously. Now if you think hundred percent of the time, you have a feeling how long it would last right? And sur prisingly, all the mothers by cross communicating quickly found out where to take the pliers and what wire to cut. They got rid of the whistle or the bell. Just did it. Model trains were twenty five cycle, and we were limited as to how much accessories we could get because t he Canal Z one commissaries supplied all of the equipment. And they would b y maybe Christmas time, ten locomotors sets, ten train sets. And you have fifty kids that want trains. So ten got trains and forty unt or uncle in the S tates to buy a train set and send it to you, they would send you a train set that was suitable to work in the United States, not one that was suitable to work in the Canal Z one and therefore there was a modification trade built up p eo ple in the know that knew what to do to make the train s work. Lionel was the big model train. Erector sets. Erector sets also had motors and five cycles. whatnot together, but not


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 32 the elevators and things like that. The hobbies themselves, the hobbies that basically, somehow survived the tropics a nd they were handed down by older brother to younger brother, or dad to first born. T his is going to be your ho bby hobby It was understood. Y ou know when the canal was finished, ready to go into service, the management realized that guess what? Married emplo yees are better employees than bachelor s wait till Friday night to go out and spend Saturday and Sunday. And then it takes Monday, Tuesday, and maybe Wednesday for them to recover. But then they want to get ready for the next weekend. Marr not a problem. They basically at the end of the construction period when they were trying to get their permanent work force set up, they found out that the men wanted to get married. And if they got them better living quarters, called fami ly quarters instead of bachelor quarters, more of them would marry and stay there. Then all of a sudden they found out, that if the gentlemen went back to the States, married their girlfriend who would be waiting for them, bad news when they brought that y oung lady down to tropic living. On the other hand if they married a girl who was the re, a daughter of a family, nurse who was working there, the marriage went well. And what it was, was that the living routines were very unique to surviving in the jungle, there. But things like putting rice in the salt shakers so that you could shake your salt. Taking treated string wrapping around the leg of a table to keep insects o f f


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 33 of the table. The French and some of the other people had actually taken little sauc ers of water and put all of the legs in the water to keep the animals from getting up. But that was a prime mosquito breeding area, so that to stop. We had treated string. We were constantly fighting the battle of roaches. All of the clothes closets had racks for you to put your shoes and they had heaters to keep dry car right? Your shoes are going to wet? What do you when you go home? Take them off and put them in the closet or something. Not in the tropics, they would mold overnight So you have to remember to put th em where they could dry. Well the girl coming down from the S tates without a ny preparation as to what she was So they made a management decision and they created like five professions that were going to be filled by unmarried American girls. School teaching was one, nurses were another, telephone operators were another, librarians, and the fifth had kind of a casual f you really wanted to bring a girl down, give her a title and put her in the fifth category Now these girls, the contract read that a s long as they were unmarried they kept the jobs. They had to perform but they got the jobs. They got married ; they got a thirty day notice of termination. So the young lady would really look at the guy: do I want to lose my career by marrying this guy? No t sure get fired. Every so many weeks, the re would be a boat load of replacement young girls. My father being a bachelor made no bones about it. He and his


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 34 buddies would know when the boa ts were coming in go down the docks and watch the young ladies coming down the gangp lank Olympic type scoring. It was a ten or a nine or a n eight. But definitely it was keep her That one we c an throw back, But basically, it was an a u dition of the replacement people. They knew that if they be another one in four weeks that would come down. It was very rigid up unt il the beginning of the Second World War and with all the war time employment in the States and plus the danger of putting them on a ship and bringing them down there, they began to let the ladies who were married stay in the jobs or they could be rehired in their previous position because they were train ed. My mother was a telephone operator. She got married in the late twenties, had to give up her job on the locks as the telephone operator. But when the S econd World War started, she got hired as an army telephone operator and she was put over in the army control centers. Now quickly she recognized that she was listening to all this military dialogue and very little of it was a imed at the civilian population, us. Report i f something happened, a plane coming in and P ut the military into their bomb shelters. Somebody else was supposed to tell us to get in the bomb shelters. They n ever told us. So we all had assigned bomb shelters. So my mother would ca ll and ask whoever, my brother or I, my si ster who was sitting right there Do you know where your sister is? Go get her home ng for the


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 35 rest of Gatn Thomas kids are going into th e bomb shelter. All the rest of the town into the bomb shelter. Never once did the military fuss with us. Never once get in the shelter. You know during the war, we all had civil defense positions. If you were a Boy Scout like I was, I got first class at my first class training. They let me be a messenger. You wanted to train the various bomb shelters with mess engers T r if my mother if she really thought something was happening. But during practices I would be a messenger. When I got a little bit more [inaudible 1:28] I became a stretcher bearer for the first aid teams. My brother was trained to be an auxiliary fireman He was supposed to go out and put out if there incinerator bombs that came down. And we all knew when rehearsals was go nna happen because everybody was polishing their helmets and getting ready supplies type thing But practice anyways. Interesting part of life. They would set off the smoke p ots and they would find out how many smoke p ots had taken the igniters out and used them to blow down palm trees. To us it was a big game. We were very very concerned because half of the smoke p ot go off and therefore the locks was out in pla in view sergeant The police sergeant in Gatn was very important. It was up to him to barrage balloon s would be going up. Shot one down. I ran my model airplane into it. It had a big big my plane back. But


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 36 N: How old were you when that happened? T: I w ould have been maybe twelve years old. I had a gas engine ; I had a model plane that I built. I had it running on a big field. I miscalculated and the wind blowing in and it blew the plane right around and aimed at the barrage baloon to stop the plane. It ran into it. The air raids during the war, there probably were three or four or five true instan ces Gat n was when all of the mil itary ran for their gun positions. We had gun positions all over town. And where there was not a gun there was usually a barrage balloon position, smoke pot detachment. When those guys all ran for nket, pillow, food to happened. And all the military knew, with the gun position buddies and what not, was that the whistle had bl o w n They were trained ; questions get to the gun position. We consider them as neighbors. I realize that probably the parents were uneasy about their daughters going into the military establishments. But they were all over. So if you were in my house by the fire


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 37 station and you wanted to go visit my buddy who lived down by the railroad tracks, the best way to get to him was through an army position: barracks, mess hall. If I had my sister going down to vis hrough the gun position. N ever had any trouble. My father had done some friendly work for one of the gun mess hall guys and on one of my expeditions the mess sergeant called me over : I got something for your mother. Take it. I got th gonna tell my mother. I was taking a note. He gave me a container about the size of your little black case there. Ground b lack pepper. Now ground black pepper in World War II was very scar c e a ration and that was military issued for a mess hall, like five pounds of black pepper. And take this to your mother and tell her that she knows what to do with it. I took it to her and she opened it and immediately that she realized share the wealth. And all of her church buddies, bingo playing buddies got pepper. Now you say now what d they get sugar ? ed pepper. So you used to see a young kid in church N: M m h m. T: Well you would recognize that no other kid was younger in the gun position than the rest of the crowd. And all of a sudden your mother would send you over with a note, I think his name was Johnny Y ou knew who she was talking about, to come to dinner. C ome to the house for dinner on Sunday. Now we had rationing


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 38 on certain things but I would say we never had shortage of food. It was interesting to try to get tires for cars. And it was interesting to try and shoes of the right size and style. B ut food, you took what was in the commissary. You might now have a wide selection of what it was but it was there. Some of the brands were real mystery meat type brands. Spam all of a sudden appeared. You had ten different ways to cook it, passed on by one person to the next. Now your parents, dog food. We were given a dog to adopt. The owner was called back in the Navy, so going to the States and had a dog, a mutt. But we ha d dog s a t a couple of time, so the dog knew us. The dog had a really formal name ca lled Pretzel. Now wh y Pretzel? Because when he went to sleep, he fold ed up and the first thing that disappeared from the shelves was canned dog food? That dog cornmeal mus h. Cornmeal another prescription for ground meat. Now ground meat was plentiful. But it was, you had very little good ground beef and you had lots of scrap ground beef. So we got the scrap. And so for the durat ion of the war, because my father took on the responsibility of food for the family h e would cook up mush and prepare the ground beef and put it in the mush, cook it to pour into cake pans and slice it up into squares, so he had portions. And our dog was fed this handmade canned food. It took about two weeks before the dog realized that nothing else was it Dog did well. Couple of years later, wars over.


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 39 j ust like a buddy always wanted. Th at no more. He wants the good stuff, the homemade stuff My dad must of have tried ten different way s to figure out how to get him to eat the canned food : s easoning it, salting it, putting gravy with it. Dog starving again. Take him to the vet and of course on So my dad d ecided to do. H e wins b ack to the homemade dog food. He lived for about another four years before he passed a way. He let us know that he was the one who decided. But you see, I can remember very few people having thoroughbred pets. We all had mutts. Even the cats, you might have been able to trace their breed back if you knew what you were looking for. But to us they were just cats. I think that they call them domestic shorthair ed cat covers everything. Longhair, it o well there You know until I was twenty five years old, I never lived in a house with air conditioning in the tropics. We had wide open screen porches and the breezes blew. Houses were all built up on stilts, so you had a breeze waving And what conditioning. Many of our screen porches, those screen win dows had no glass in them There was no way t o actually close the window in a rain storms. You closed the blinds so that the rain coming through the screens, d hit the blinds and run down and hopefully back out. But no glass n o air conditioning. Cars brought to the zone were delivered to the zone with no Second World War in cars.


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 40 What you have to understand, when you went to the S tates on vacation and you went up there in t he autumn or winter, you could take your car. If you wanted to pay the Panama Railroad L ine to transport your car, you could take your car. Well the moment you got off the boat in New York City, there were certain shops in the area that you could drive you r car too and they would reactivate the heater system for you. Could you imagine driving down the Ohio Turnpike with no heaters in December? No. N: too. T: Okay well you had to reactivate the heater and then when you got ready to go there. Go back to the shop and they would give you a trade in allowance to take the heating system bac k off. You c an always tell a car that belonged to a short timer. Somebody that just off the boat, cause you had a working heating system. need a heater system. My popular source of stuff was the Sears and Roebuck catalog. T he Sears and Roebuck catalog was always available to us in the zone. And you could order it and they would ship it to you by mail. In the late [19]40s some place along the line, they activated in Panama catalog order servicing stores. And you could go int o that store and pick anything the catalog has [Unidentified Female:]


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 41 T: You leaving. UI up this computer. UI: wait till through. So keep talking. But this guy can talk all night T: But we would order it and then they would somehow get the message up into the United States and they would put all of the orders into a big crate and ship that crate back to us ed it two weeks ago, two months ago. But they finally got around to ship it you, three months ago. They were a great source of parts for automobiles. You could order for like a 1936 Hudson which I had given to me by somebody. No radio. Now how can you go out on dates with s night time driving. Going to the jungle with the old headlights you Roebuck has a sealed beam headlight replacement. Put that on there. Hmm this ki


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 42 load. But the S ears Roebuck had a little kit, screwdriver and you turn the screw and you move this lever and all of a sudden my generator works and a fifteen inch generator to a thirty inch generator. Now I can do all kinds of stuff. I would b uy tools from Sears and Roeb uck : the Craftsmen tools. A re you familiar with the term? N: Yes. T: Craftsmen tools were the best tools. And as an apprentice, very important for the image when you have this old gentlemen teaching you how to be an electrician. Very proud that he was trained by the Tennessee Valley Authority, or whatever, well he had worked as new skyscraper in the Bronx. That his apprentice better be top of the line and you better have the right tools. Now I had a toolbox that was like an oversized fishing wooden toolbox with a handle on it. And as I got into my second and third year I was given a helper H is job was to carry the toolbox, hold the pipe while I threaded it but he was to do anything he had to help me be better. One of the jobs he had to every Friday was take all my tools out and rub them down n apprentice appren tice helper. He found out that the best way to get rust was emery cloth. Do you know what emery cloth is? N: Mm h m.


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 43 T: plated but all the sharp edges are rounded. Now the older helpers found out what he was doing and said nah nah, nah, you use sand paper and Vaseline Much softer and then get the rust of and the shine. All my tools were marked with my marks and he knew everything I had in my toolbox. He would come and tell me from time if my screwdrivers were being worn he would tune up the tips so I confidence that he could tell me just about anything, what we were doing, what he was seeing, what he was fin ding. And I could accept that as his offer to help But he would be very that d use a big wrench on. And I would take that big wrench for that job and I would put it in th e box and forget that I had it in it That added about two pounds to the box and he knew to within an ounce how heavy that box is. I hear, every wrench in there he would find it and he would put it back in my shop box. A couple days later it would be back in my box back and never say anything j ust do it. One of the apprentices to play a joke on me, took all the screws out of my handle, took all the nu ts on the back of the handle. And we went out on a job and my helper always, when we were going to wn. Here take the line and run it through the handle around the box, so when we pulled it pull ed on the bottom of the box. I think he was


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 44 up the ladder ; he climbs up the later and waves and immediately pull s on the rope and up comes my handle no box. Luckily, it dropped into the ship that was right there. Otherwise I had close to two hundred of tools. Then the fun began, it? New rule: clean my tools, m ake sure the nuts in there. Another tale, laugh about it today but it would have been really tragic at the time. Part of my s at the ball park and replaced the ballpark lights once a year, twice a year. I was trained by the Tennessee Valley Authority guy cause he was line man. He could climb poles with the hooks. Well everything in Panama was steel ; w ood rots. But I got outfitted with the safety belt. I was trained how to put my feet. get caught to something, so if I sl ip I would break an ankle. Then I became a specialist in working on ship masts. Going up and fixing the lights on the ships mast. They would either let me climb the mas t a crane and hoist me up into that there, anything up to ninety nine feet was regular time. Anything about ninety nine feet you got paid an extra bonus of I think it was like fifty cents an hour. So when we work ed on aircraft carriers on the side of what they called the island to get it ready to go through the canal. If you were on the side of the island over the water, that was above a hundred feet so you got extra money. You work on the side, on the other side you were over the flight deck, not a hundred feet so they


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 45 you took things off so it could fit through the canal, the real secret was to figure how to do everything from the high side, because you got extra money. They knew it. They re doing and they would watch it [inaudible 1:53:12 ] But water tanks, water tanks w ere a fascinating thing to w alk on. These people, community water tanks that are a couple of hundred feet in the air. And you climb on it and then you gotta walk up the top of the tank to get to the opening. Again, the tanks had aviation warning lights and they put the lights w h ere pilots could see them, ght bulb. So you would basically get up pivot point by putting your safety ropes around that then you could walk back to the edge of the tank, tied to the rope and change th e light. Certain lights were convenient and easy to change. Other lights were really a pain in the neck to get we were put ting in two hundred and twenty volt light bu lbs int o a hundred fifteen volt anymore. Inside the tank they had catho de s protection devices to keep the rust from forming on the inside of the tanks and there is a long rod about as tall as with a hammer. Depending upon the sound, as a highly qualified catho de replacement technician, and eye balling how much stuff came off. You could tell wh ether the ro d needed to be replaced. If it needed to be replaced, you


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 46 unhooked it electrically and then you tied some rope to it, g e t a rope stand on it, and then your helper standing up on the tank at the opening would pull on the rope, lift the rod off the hook, off its hanger and then you would guide it over to ull it up on the top of the tank and slide i t off the side. Of course you are supposed to yell as you let go of the stuff, cho ice words. Everyone had different words that sounded better and stuff going down. Then you had to pull another rod up, thread it through the hole and work it over to the hook and hook it over and then reconnect it. Now these tanks you know there is body to agree to get a fan a blower, to just blow air into the thing. Usually we just paced ourselves drop a tool into the tank, and all these tanks have big pipes that run dow n to the ground. You could hear th e thing bing bing bing, you know there goes five dollar [1:56:5 0 ]. S hort pieces of string tied to every tool, tied to your belt. The secret ed them down a round the ankle. And when you walk, well it sound like Christmas bells : d ing ding ding. But loved it. There was something about climbing the tank and other people get off the ground, and other people get off the ground you feel very comfortable climb up the ladders. I would walk around the tank top with no safety line, leather shoes and feel that comforta ble with my balance until I saw the boss come up. Then when the boss was showing up, I hook up with the safety lines. It was like a macho thing I guess. Tanks I loved tanks. I did all


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 47 the mast works, fixing lights in the ship yard. We wor ked the towers at the ball field. We had two towers that were maybe ten feet apart as far as the platform. They were very flexible towers. We learned you could get in one tower by shifting the weight you give the tower to swing back and forth. So you get o n the outside of the platform and start swinging with your weight until you got the other tower close enough that you could reach out and grab it and jump over it. Now we thought this was safer, then climbing back down the poll about a hundred feet. Railro ad spikes that had been welded and then climb back up, that was too hazardous. Safer to just jump across. Again until the boss shows up. But you see, growing up as an apprentice, part of the education that they were giving us was the fact that when you r d that can be justified? Are you taking a risk that is just plain stupid? And the only way you really begin to gage that crosso ver point i s to do some stupid things from time to time. When you really almost get caught and it sinks in that what might have happened, and then you realize it might have happened because you Y ou know it was a lesson that was hard to forget. My wife today will fuss at me from time to time about ell them. But we had a good time. I always had a paper route. When I was seven years old, I would meet the boat coming from the other town at 6:30 in the


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 48 morning, pick up my twenty papers. Now I was earning twenty cents and I would take the papers up and I would sell them first at the train station a s the train went by Th e n I had a people route of about ten customers. That was my portion of the paper route, there was about four kids working other portions Later, it was actually January of 1942, you know w hat that date is two months past right? N: M m h m. T: was part of the army group that got transferred. So my brother and I took over the Fort Davis a rmy delivery route for the e vening paper : February of [19] 42 until October of [19] 44. Every night, seven days a week, 365 a day, he and I met the evening train and we picked up our papers, took them over to our family car. My father provided driving for us because he was using the paper money to put es and also, it was mine too. But we would sell about six hundred papers on a pay night. We would about a hundred and fifty on the night before pay night. So the soldiers bought the papers. They all wanted war news. W e never had any fear. My brother and I could go all over that military be cause I was too young. They let him to the stockade. M y father had us always leave one paper at the stockade and on e paper at the gate house for the VD ward. A young kid like you just ow VD


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 49 treated. : train at six o movie hall until 6:30 I would run on one route delivering and my brother would run the other rout clock; sell papers as the crew left the first movie, to also those going into the second movie. And at 8:30 we would fold up and go home and be home by nine o clock. And that meant that all school work had to be done before. Any chores had to be done before. If one of us got sick, the other person had to do both routes or we had some boys that we would hire for one night. Even used my sister, who was about five years younger than us to do certain things. The Amer ican soldier, was really so trustworthy, that we never had any fears. We would take like maybe a hundred papers and put them on the sidewalk going to this movie hall, put a cigar g money would be in the cigar box. Never lost a nickel. And we did that from, like I say from [19] 42 through [19] 44. D Day, June the 6 th [19] 44 all right w e sold 3500 papers. We sold first edition at noon, second edition about 4 o clock t hird edition at six a nd fourth edition came in about ten and then my dad said no trolley conductor with his coin change r over the belt, we had those that we used to make change. And dollar pills went into the pocket. But nickels, dimes,


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 50 quarters, no half dollars h alf dollars we nt in the pocket, too. O n D Day, we en papers. They any soldier, anytime during our paper route, told us he was broke, he just wanted the paper to have something to read, pay us tomorrow M y dad said if he ask s you and you recognize his face, might not know him by name give him the et the money to you. And he would. A week later, all of a sudden barracks and this guy would spring around the corner would sort it and count it. Roll it. I guess about once a week my dad would run down to the bank with all the money and deposit it. Once a month we went down to the paper office and settled up our bills. Then my dad and mom, and I think my brother helped them a little bit would figure out how much was profit. If you really think about it, when you pay your bills anything leftover is profit. So once a month we knew how much money we made. And the next day we went to the bank and bought war what we bought. If we had money a $100 bond, we bought a $10 0 bond. And when when the war was over, both my brother and I and my dad safety deposit box, we must have had war bonds about an inch and half thick r eally a stack of them Paid Pa id about half of mine. Lot of me mories. Okay what have I not rambled on about?


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 51 N: Well I think you covered so much T: You know I really love my sports. I loved playing football. N: Yeah, it sounds like you did so much too n ot just one activity. T: A little bit of crunched the oth er guys. I was a pulli ng guard because I could go think it was a snobb ish feeling but I d loved know again why my parents let me do league bowler that would be having a bad night. He would get im patient and the pins a nd all of a sudden you hear a zah, zah, zah, zah. O h my G od throwing the ball. And you look up there and if you felt you could get out of the way, yo pull the bar and pull the pin setting alignment mechanism down and that would give you a barrier to bounce the ball off. Now when you did that it was a loud, loud bon g. Everybody i n the bowling alley would know that somebody had pulled the mechanism down because the ball was too fast. All bowling stopped while the guilty party was observed. Of c ourse your tip there was probably cut in half and whatnot. But one guy one night was real ly impatient at all of us. No matter


PCM 019; Thomas ; Page 52 which one of us that was setting, he had choice words of wisdom that we should learn. And all of a sudden he threw the ball down the alley before I could get out of the pit. I got clear. But it was exciting when I ran. I picked the ball up; I had just enough room to get a little bit of a back swing. I threw the ball back up the alley at him. Of course when I threw the ball back up the alley it was going, bump, bump, bump, bump. Ever y body thought I had put it back on the turn trough so nobody was paying any attention to it. All of a sudden somebody saw this ball coming up the alley, about ten feet befo re it wiped him out, yelled, went through about four of them and knocked down the scoring bench, bounced of f the bench behi nd him and went over in to the other setting area. Screams and hollers and people yelling. But they never s aid a word to me Unidentified Speaker: Hey, how much longer are you going to be? T: All right I gotta go. G e t enough? N: Oh yes we have plenty. Tha nk you so much for taking the time out to do this. I really appreciate it. US: H e loves to talk. And what a memory. N: It was wonderful listening to him. [End of Interview] Audit edited by Matt Simmons February 3, 2014

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