An interview with Bob Zumbado


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An interview with Bob Zumbado
Physical Description:
55 minutes
Bob Zumbado
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
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Subjects / Keywords:
Panama Canal


General Note:
Interviewed by Candice Ellis and Diana Dombrowski

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Source Institution:
University of Florida
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
PCM 029 RF Bob Zumbado 7-7-2011
PCM 029
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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 accoun ts 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 res earch 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, SPOH P recommends that researchers refer to both the transcript and audio of an interview when conducting their work. A selection of interviews are available online here through the UF Digital Collections and the UF Smathers Library system. Oral history interv iew transcripts available on the UF Digital Collections may be in draft or final format. SPOHP transcribers create interview transcripts by listen ing to the original oral history interview recording and typing a verbatim document of it. The transcript is w ritten with careful attention to reflect original grammar and word choice of each interviewee; 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 f ormat I nterviewees can also provide their own spelling corrections SPOHP transcribers refer 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 029 Interviewee: Bob Zumbado Interviewer: Candi ce Ellis and Diana Dombrowski Date of Interview: July 7, 2011 E: This is Candi ce Ellis and Diana Dombrowski on July 7, 2011 in terviewing at the Panama Canal reunion. W e are here with Bob Zumbado. Z: Correct. D: Okay J ust to start off with, when, how and why were your ancestors involved with the Panama Canal Zone? Z: Okay. T rce. Her second marriage is my stepfather who was a Canal Zone employee. S o I came in 1946 with my sister and my mother. My stepfather is really the more interesting aspect of my interview because he came to the Canal Zone when he was about ele ven or twelve in 1917 or 1918. M he was like eleven or twelve years old and his father was John Wallace. H e quit whatever he was doing in Boston because ev idently the labor was not available readily a nd he was looking for work. H e was a seaman so he came to the Canal Zone thinking the canal, the ocean: ships and jobs are available. So he came there. but I imagine he ision and the dredging division; those things are. But anyway, my stepdad was born in Boston and he came with his


PCM 029; Zumbado; Page 3 born in Panama or if they wer e born in Boston and also came. ave any deceased so I have no way of checking it. Anyway his mom was from Scotland an after a few years they aid to work as quickly as he could. S o when he was about fourteen he de c ided to apply for work in the c anal but he was too young. So he went and got an interview and I guess he lied about his age, so this is kind of funny: o n June 2 of 1920 he was hired by the Panama Canal Company and assigned as a seaman for the marine divi sion just to do whatever menial labor they would give him. He was hired at seventy two dollars a month which was p retty big bucks in those days. That was the second of June; the fourth of June, two days later, they discovered he was a minor so they fired h im [laughter]. So he struggl ed trying to get through school; he was an excellent swimmer so he did some lifeguarding at a pool down there The government had a couple of hotels that they operated for the visiting dignitaries and whatnot. One was called the Washington Hotel and it was in t he Atlantic side of the isthmus. S o as a kid since he would swim well he was hired on as a lifeguard and did training. H e wante d to be a competitive swimmer, s official work he got recreation work as a lifeguard. He did that and struggled with school and on June 20, 1923 he was finally old enough at seventeen to actually get a job. He was hired at about the same seventy two dollars a month working cker does on the railroad


PCM 029; Zumbado; Page 3 but that job only lasted a while because he kept wanting to go to seagoing things, and canal, and water, and boats. So finally did af ter about a month. H e worked with the marine division operating as a crewman on the tug boats. When ships approached the canal they first had to be tugged in or tugged out when they got through the other side. So he was a crewman on a tugboat. H e liked tha t work and after a while he moved up the chain and actually became a tugboat captain. So by around 1938 or so after many years as a crewma n he became a tugboat captain, t he biggest job oppo rtunity for big bucks. As I say, he was never interested in school ing but he was interested in money, so he applied for a training program to become a pilot in in the canal. Pilots are the guys that took the ships through hour transit and you have to guid e the ships through the locks. B y th previous interview the Panama Canal then and I think still today is the only body of water where the captain of a ship must relinquish total control of the ship to the pilot. Any other body of water, even where there reli nquish the control of the ship; it belongs to the pilot. So he wanted that job because it was the big paying job. He went through a training program and eventually after apprent icing for a while, or being a pilot in training, he was certified as a pilot and was a lso eligible to be a master of a ship, a captain of a ship anywhere in the world. So he rose up the chain. By the way, when he first applied for the training program as a pilot he was


PCM 029; Zumbado; Page 4 making three hundred and fifteen dollars a month. T his is 1939 and that was good money. He took a pay cut to about 260 a month to go into the training program. The payoff was that if he was qualified he would jump up in pay a great deal, and he did. When he finally qualified as a pilot his pay went up went up to 416 dollars a month. Eventually by the time he retired in 195 6 he was making 13,600 dollars. Today yo u would start there at thirteen thousand. I n those days that was just about the top salary that anybody could earn working for the canal short of being the governor and the highest administrative officials. So anyway one of the stories that he used to like to tell me was that in 1923 when he first got hired he immediately resigned from his job because he wanted to try out for the United States Olympic swimming team. H e was a one hundred meter freestyler. So they gave him a leave of absence but they had to terminate his e wen t to the S tates and tried out for the Olympic team. At the trials, he used to joke about it, he never made the Olympic team but he got to compete against some of the top swimmers of the day. H [la ughter]. Do you know who Johnny Weissmuller was? He was one of the first Tarzans on T.V D: Oh [laughter] okay. Z: Anyways We issmuller was the premier hundred meter freestyle r of the day. I could never


PCM 029; Zumbado; Page 5 really verify this story eally like Johnny Weissmuller. H e ably never heard of either but the fellows that he met that were also competing in the hundred meter freestyle was a gentleman by the name of Duke Kahanamoku and his brother Sam. They are icons in Hawaii, especially Duke the older brother. H e might be co nsidered the father of surfing as we know it today. And there is pictures up all over Hawaii with these big old tall wooden surfboards hand cut out of trees. Anyway he liked the Duke and Sam and even though he longtime friendship with th em. B ut he enjoyed their company s story a few years ago, thank G od for the internet, I s tarted checking the Olympics. I n 1924 this guy Johnny Weissmuller won the gold medal in the one hundre d meter freestyle Duke Kahanamoku was the silver medal, and his brother Sam was the bronze medal winner. Y so that was one of his favorite stories to me E: I actually worked at a swimming mu seum in high school and the a giant really creep statue of Johnny Weissmuller. I would have to shut down at ten at night and turn all the lights out and he would ju st stare at me in the darkness. It was really strange. And there was a stuffed bobcat that when you walked by it, it would make a noise at you


PCM 029; Zumbado; Page 6 Z: That was from the Tarzan movies probably. E: Yeah. And so either [laughter]. Z: So anyway areer as a pilot. When I came to the Zone and how I came about was, I was born in Costa Rica in 1936. My mother was married to a Latino, my dad Roberto Jose Zumbado. T hey had a good marriage for a while but I guess cultural differences they got a divorce when I was about eight years old. My mother was kind o f a lady without any training. S he had one year in college bu t never any employment history. S o she was kind of worried, how is she going to support two kids the rest of her l ife living in a foreign co untry? So she went over to the American embassy and when they interviewed her they found out that in the eight or nine years been in Costa Rica she had become a linguist. She spoke Spanish and wrote Spanish perfectly. O f course obviously she spoke E ng lish; she was a girl from Kentucky. So they hired her and after a while they said, you know, your abilities are beyond what we can give you as far as work here. Y ou can stay and work here but we wo uld recommend that you stay in Foreign S ervice and transf er and stay in the area of Latin America. Y ou can probably get a better job in other co untries. So she said, wonderful, where can I go? They looked around and they found a job for her with the American e mbassy in Panama. So she accepted the job and figured


PCM 029; Zumbado; Page 7 my sister who was five year s older, and my son to Panama, sight unseen of the are going to be schooled. A t that point she was convinced that she wanted to, quote, Americanize us. Both of us spoke Spanish fluently, the meantime while she was working in the embassy in Costa Rica she met my stepfather Al an Wallace and a friend of his Bob King. The reason that she met them is Canal Zone men often would travel in those days and maybe even in the later years to Costa Rica because it was reputed that they had the prettiest girls and that that would be a way to get themselves a nice Latin American wife that could coo k and clean and was pretty. Y o u know, why not? But instead my mom had met Al an and they struck up a friendship. So anyway to get to the part where she takes me and my sister to Kentucky and deposited us with her sister in Central City, Ke ntucky to live for a little whil e. She said, I need to go to Panama, get settled in my new job, get the lay to do with my kids, and by the way find out where my relationship with Mr. Al an Wallace is going to go. So we were there, we got to Kentucky in August of [ 1 9 ]45. I n December my aunt that I was living with gets a telegram from my mother saying, o kay, send my children down. S he sent her some money and all and we flew down to Panama. In the meantime, she got married to A lan so by then she was in the United Sta tes government conclave called the Canal Zone. so we were on our way. But let me back up. While I was in Central City, Kentucky I


PCM 029; Zumbado; Page 8 spoke only Spanish so I was thrown into an element ary school in Central City, Ke ntucky with nothing but English speaking kids. In mollycoddled to language: you were thrown in and you either learned it or you o I went to school and I had to learn English and learn my studie s as well. It was a tough time for me because as you might expect, prejudices existed more even then than today. So I was kind of bullied by some of the kids and called a li ttle spic and se or and mister. But I took it well; I fought back and it other kids, I guess I gained a measure of respect and I got buddies. K ids are la n guage. I learned English force f ed by the children, not by the education system, because they would teach me what t hings were and how to speak. T hey would teach me things like the pledge of allegiance because in those days the first thing you did when sc hool started in the first class at the beginning of the day is you stood up, put your hand over your heart. T he flag was in the wall back by That was a strange ritual to me so I h ad the kids explain it to me not the teacher. And anyway, gradually I learned English, it took me about three months from not speaking English to speaking with a southwe stern Kentucky accent. A nyway e on the plane, we go to Panama. My sister, being ol der, still had more of an affinity towards the Costa Rican side of the family. She had gotten permission when the plane landed in San Jose, Costa Rica, she would get off and spend a


PCM 029; Zumbado; Page 9 couple of weeks with her dad and I would continue on to the Canal Zone and get introduced to my new world. When I got to Panama there had been a mix up in the telegrams be til the following day. So I arrive in Panama with nobody to meet me, eight year s old, little pin strip ed suit. I was a little worried but I could speak Spanish so I spoke to the people there at the airport and they directed me to a cab stand. I got a cab driver and I said, will you take me to the American Embassy, in Spanish. And I said, I only have this m uch money, I showed him what I had and not enough. I said, well She has got plenty of money; deposited me at the embassy, waited for me t o get my mother to pay him. So the marine guard at the embassy was very helpful. I fell in love with the Marine Corps immediately because he was so good to me. And he took care of the cab driver, paid him, took me inside the embassy, called my mother on th e intercom. I waited in the lobby and she comes out of the elevator into the lobby and I was in tears I was so happy to see my m other after all these years. S he starts to laugh. I but she starts to l augh and I bawled even more. Mom laughing at me? And so she explained, well the last time I saw you, you spoke stopped l ame to be in the Canal Zone.


PCM 029; Zumbado; Page 10 E: Great. We can move on to the second question. Z: Yeah the second question was about living conditions. Well, again, I lived in the Zone from 1946 through 1955 or third grade through high sc hool graduation. The system of assigning quarters was by position, status, longevity on the job, so the question kind of asks for a comparison of the housing. W ell I think of it. A house is a house. I was happy wherever we lived especially having the conditions of the situation that I had. So one thing was t hat none of the houses were air conditioned but they were designed to take advantage of natu ral ventilation. T here were screens and the windows had louvers that you could open and close for the rain. But we were never really conscious, or at least I er being conscious of the heat. I f it got too hot you just went outside or you just accepted it. Air conditioning was something that you rarely saw except maybe in a government off ice building, and even then most of the buildings down there were not air conditioned. B ut the houses were all comfortable. I lived on a house on a street called Morgan Avenue the first house I lived in. It was built on the side of a hill and they were up on square, concrete pillars or stilts. Interesting thing is, at the base about six inches from the ground at the base was a metal shield all around the pole to keep rodents and bugs from crawling up the pillars and into the house. I noticed once there was some green potter ar ound the base of the pillars. calle


PCM 029; Zumbado; Page 11 come up and also rodent s Well Paris Green was a very dangerous substance that actually was harmful to pets and could have been harmful to humans so over time the health department would come around and sprinkle all the bases of all the pillars of all the houses and all the office buildings B ut over time when it was determined that the stuff was too dangerous for humans, it was outlawed or banned from use. So I never heard of a human ingesting it and being hurt but often a pet would get very s ick or die f rom it, sniffing and licking it. So the tropics are full of bugs of all kinds. Y malaria in the building time of the canal. O ne of the other weapons they had to kill the mosquitos to protect people against ma laria was a product called DDT. DDT was sprayed throughout the housing areas periodically. Maybe once every three or four months a truck would come around with a machine that just t know it was harmfu l to humans; the kids would get on their bikes and chase that truck all around the neighborhood and try to get as close to it as possible and breathe all that junk in. Well over time it was discovered that it could be harmful to humans So DDT was outlawe d and we no longer had to worry about that B ut I know in recent years, probably w ithin the last decade, there have been some studies done about the effects on people who years ago were exposed to DDT for long periods of ny former Zonians of my age or t hereabouts were interviewed or examined but we would all be good subjects for such a study because, like I said, we deliberately went after it and sucked it into our lungs. I


PCM 029; Zumbado; Page 1 13 it. But anyway, the elementary school was ju st down the hill from where I lived. O ne of the questions Well that school I walked to because it was less than a quarter mile d own the hill. A s I progressed in the grades and also as my dad got promoted or got more longevity in his job, he was eligible to select houses so w e moved to different quarters. I n the ten years I was there I thin k we moved six different times and each ti me elevated the style and quality of the home we had; none of them were still ever air conditioned. Anyway most of the time I walked, there were tim es when I took the school bus. A s I got into high scho ol we drove bikes to school. I t re every other kid has a car, sometimes better than the teacher [laughter]. So I never actually had a car but seni or year I had a motor scooter. T hat was a great mode of transportation. You could buy these and they were made by a company called C ushman In the S tates those scooters were used in industrial complexes to get from warehouses from one to another. In the how I got to and from school most of the time. I did wonder at som e point as I got older why people had different houses, and I kind of covered that already, but my dad said, well you young man are not to draw any meaning of the fact that we have better houses than some of your friends or that somebody is not as good a s somebody else because of the assignment. It has nothing to do with the quality of the person it has only to do with their longevity, maybe the status of their job if


PCM 029; Zumbado; Page 13 they have a high job or a lower job, but s just the w ay it is. Sometimes families get assign ed just by the luck of the draw: a house becomes available just as they come and they get put into it right away. So I learned very quickly not to treat people pr ejudicially based on how they liv ed. Everybody made dec ent salaries so there was no real upper class and there were no poor people in the American conclave. Okay so, what were my experiences in grade school, high school and college? Well like I said, w hen I came to the Zone I went through all this trauma of l earning a language and then coming from a broken home. In a space of six months I lived in three different countries, with three different famili es, learned a new language, exposed to a new culture Latin American culture is considerably different than the American culture. So I was kind of in a state of, what the hell is going on in my life? Well my first experiences in the e lementary school were wonderful. I loved Balboa Elementary School. I loved it because everybody was so friendly and the teachers were all so nice have any problem understanding or making friends. So I really had wonderful experiences there and also the teachers t here were good quality teachers. verify this but I heard at one point in order to get a job as a school teacher down there a teacher had to already have three years of experience. In the upper grades in high school and junior high, they had to have three years of experience there. S o we had good, quality teachers; just starting in


PCM 029; Zumbado; Page 1 4 their careers. S o that was definitely a plus. School there was much like school is today I suppose. But in the Latin American school w here I started the first and second grade, its serious business There is not a lot of nonsense: ome. Well in the Canal Zone, very Americanized, it was different. We celebrated the holidays, we learned cultural things about the Panamanians as well as our own culture, and we learned about our forefathers and all this good stuff. P atriotism was a very in thing. So besides the regular studies I was in heaven. I thought everything was happy. So anyway, that was kind of my experience. T he other thing is in La tin America and also in Kent ucky but that was a short span schools were segregated, only boys and only girls. I was in heaven in the Canal Zone because omantic sense but it was great. E heaven. After a while girl friends could become girlfriends [laughter]. So that was my experience there as far as the schooling. Sports and recrea tion were big in the Canal Zone; we had a lot of programs. Let me first tell you a little bit and go back to my elementary school days. A t the bottom of the street, when I went and walked to school on Morgan Avenue, the very last building just before you got to the school had been a residence but at some point it was converted to the office of the American Red Cross. U nlike all the other h ouses on the street, underneath the house where it stood on pillars it was just dirt. All the others had pavement


PCM 029; Zumbado; Page 1 5 and carports so people could bring their cars under. T hat one was nothing but dirt. Kids would go to school early, the boys mostly, so they could play marbles. That was cause it was irst experience with gambling. Y ou could play for funs or for keeps. Keeps meant that if you won re came a point where Mom and D see okay sports Every community, there were different housing communities and townships and almost all of them either had or had very nearby a gymnasium, a swimming poo l, tennis courts. S o there were a lot of sports that you could do on your o wn but also they were very well organized. They had the children, for after school, organized by age groups. T he younger kids were a D League then the older were a C League and then a B League for the young teams. After that you either made the varsity schools for sports teams or y ou played in a dult leagues. They had a lot of adult leagues in bowling, softball, baseball, basketball. So there was always something to keep you busy, keep you off the streets. You got to understand that there was no private industry there in the Canal Zo rk. There were a couple of jobs; you could be a theater usher or you could get a paper route and deliver papers. T hat was it. There were no stores where you could apply to be a store clerk or anything like that. The league thing was very well organized; adults volunteered


PCM 029; Zumbado; Page 1 6 to coach so we were always well supervised. So let me get on to the next question about experiences about playing sports in high school or junior college. Yeah I was a track guy. I ran on the school track team f or about three years, but the compet ition was very limited. There was only two high schools: Balboa on the Pacific side and Cristobal High school on the Atlantic and th ere was a junior college. Nowa days people that are much younger than I might refer to it as Canal Zone College. Event ually it did become a college. I n those days it was a two year junior college. So the competition was limited. One track event a year was called the Balboa Relays and it was the only time where we could compete against the scho ols and the junior college but also the military bases could enter team s in that one annual event. W e like that because we were able to compete against servicemen. The army would a team, the marines, the n avy base, and we found that we did very well again st them. So it was like great competition and we took great pride in being able to beat twenty and twenty five year olds. So that was a good thing but prior to the actual track season beginning while we were in the training mode, our coach, a wonderful fe llow named John Fawcett he came up with a great idea. He was always innovative and he wanted us to be exposed to more competition in age group, other high schools in other words. There was no budget for us to travel to the States or for schools in the S tate s to travel to compete with us. I t was unheard of in those days. But what he did, he came from California and he had some friends of his that were also coaches and they communicated and decided to do someth ing they called, Telegraphic Mee ts.


PCM 029; Zumbado; Page 1 7 What we wo uld do is we would set a date and on the same date a school in I remember a town called Chula Vista in California, and another one called Redlands. We competed against those two and on the same day they would run all their events like a practice track meet against each other. They would run the hundred yards, and the two hundred twenty, and the quar ter mile, and the mile, throw the shot, and the high jump, all the events. And then they would telegraph the results through our coach. In the meantim e we di d the same thing on our track. W e would telegraph our results to them and t hey would compare the times. Then they would have a print out of, Balboa High School Bobby Zumbado won the hundred and Johnny Smith from Chula Vista was second. We had first second and third place comparing and we would add the points and figure out who won the meet. So it was really an innovative thing to do in those days. T hat gave us more competition with peer groups, same age same grades kind of thing, high schoo l. So a nyway, Coach Fawcett was really a great, innovative guy. I love d track but baseball it my first love. enough to make the high sch ool team and that really tore me a little bit. But there was an adult league called the Twilight League an d these were adult workers people to comprise all the teams, each of these teams was allowed to have up to three teenage kids. So I made one of those teams. I t was a team sponsor ed by a local distillery in Panama called Womack Whiskey and we had nice uniforms with Womack Whiskey across the back. And I played second base for that team for a


PCM 029; Zumbado; Page 1 8 couple of years. I t was really fun because I got to com pete against my high school, get a li ttle retribution that way and we beat them a couple times. But what was interesting is the distillery sponsored it and the adult players on the team, if they played well on a particular night, were rewarded with a little bit of product, booze. [laughter] I was fifteen or sixteen years old and plus I well, for example if you got three base hits in a single game, they gave them a little stub or coupon and you could get a free spaghetti dinner at a local restaurant. I did that a couple of times against the high schools which was really nice because they were my crew but they cut me from the team so I could beat them and get a little revenge. D: [Laughter] Yeah. Z: So that was that B ut there were a lot of sports where adults competed. I just the kids. They had after hours volleyball in the gym s and they had bowling leagues. S o anyway that is the extent of my exposure to sports play because I was a slight kid, a hundred fifteen po unds or so, a hundred twenty, until I was a senior B ut my mom and dad were fearful of me getting parent at home because it w as a time when only one parent could work for the ; she was in the American Embassy which is an en tirely different jurisdiction. S he


PCM 029; Zumbado; Page 1 9 worked in Panama. So both my mom and dad worked which gave me a lot of unsupervised time. So in my freshman year I played football for the junior varsity. The only thing is, the Canal Zone is a very close knit community: everybody knows everybody, the adults kind of wat ched over the kids. So somehow Mom and D ad found out that I played football and that ended any possibility of my ever playing football again. They made me quit the J V and that was it. But I still loved it and I used to love to go to the football games on Friday nights because one of the cheer leaders was the love of my life so I would go to stare at her. And in later life, she went one way, I went another, got married, had children, 1985 after our divorces we got together again. So now when I wake up in the morning and I go to bed at night I ge t to stare at the love of my life again [laughter]. My little cheerleader. E: Oh my gosh T hat is so romantic. Z: And that is why I was hoping she would get in and do her interview. Okay so we are going to hobbies. Well I guess I read a lo t. I read some of the famous novelists of my youth and historical novelists like Mark Twain, and Robert Louis Stevenson, Zane Grey, and Edgar Rice Burroughs uy that wrote the Tarzan books Edgar Allan Poe, a guy named C.S. Forester who used to write the seagoing stories about Captain Hornblower. And that was kind of what I did. The other hobbies that I had were hiking in the jungle looking for weird animals which there are a lot of down there, and spending time on the beaches not to


PCM 029; Zumbado; Page 20 swim but to look at th e girls [laughter]. And my dad, he had the big hobby. He would buy a yacht in great disrepair and his thing was rebuild it, get it in to beautiful shape, sell it, and then buy another one. And he would tell me, look Bob re going to fix this one up and then we ar e going on fishing trips. Y ou can bring your friends on the boat. It never happened because the minute he got it fixed and seaworthy he would sell it [laughter] So I got a little frustrated with never getting to go on the boats, just a few times. But the good side of it was that he pa id me for my work, a quarter an hour. And that was my way of getting my allowance and spending money for movies and dates and whatn ot. So that was pretty much it. B ut the Canal Zone was more of a place where kids just spent their time outdoors. I tried stamp collecting for a while but I spent more time looking out of the window for something to do. So that was basically the hobbies. Memories of the Pa nama Railroad, the Panama Line steamship, charter flights I t remember any charter flights. B ut the Panama Line there was a reward if the employees of the c anal once every two years could take a vacati on to the S something, they paid taxes or excise fees o ay any regular passenger fees. I t was very cheap. So we went to the S tates a couple of times on the Panama Line ships. [Interruption in interview ]


PCM 029; Zumbado; Page 2 1 Z: Okay so the Panama ships. My ex perience as a teenager was they were great fun tried to sneak into the bars e ven though we were minors. T hey were just a great experience. There was a time when the ships would leave Panama and go directly to New York but at one point they changed the route and they go from New York to Haiti, Port au Prince, and then to New York. And that was kind of fun because we would get to get off at Port au Prince. They would stop there for half a day and we could get off the ship and wa lk around the island a little bit and see a little bit of a slightly different culture in Haiti and then get back on and go to New York. And from New York then we would go to different places. Since I had family in Kentucky sometimes my family would go to Kentucky to visit my aunt that I stayed with when I was a little kid I mentioned earlier. And sometimes we would just take trips to see things. We went to Washington D.C., the Smithsonian Institute, ty pical vacation things, and eventually go back to New Y ork, catch the ship, and come back home. But it was a very kind of luxurious vacation, yet it was very cheap so that was pretty nice. The railroad in Panama was interesting because the only time we as children used it, the kids, when you went from Balboa t how we traveled, on the railroad train, and then come back after the event was over on the same train and get off and go home. Football season again was the most important thing bec ause we would go to Cr istobal for the football games most of the stude nt body would go as spectators


PCM 029; Zumbado; Page 2 2 get off at Mo unt Hope Stadium in Cristobal, watch the game. We would leave like at six fifteen in the evening, daylight. Not much going on in the train except ack after the game, pitch dark. T he d turn them down. So that was another opportunity to learn about the fairer sex [laughter]. A lot of nooky went on and I imagine there are some marriages that came as a result of romances on the train. The big sin in those days was sneaking a beer or a cig arette and that w as a good time to try to bring it aboard. Because the conductors kind of walked up and down, they just left the kids alone. There was too many kids to try to affect any kind of discipline unless somebody got really rowdy and troublesome. S o those are my experiences on the train. D: That sounds fun [laughter]. Z: Holidays were I guess traditional just like it is the United States. We celebrate d all the traditional holidays C hristmas Thanksgiving, Halloween in the same manner th at they were celebrated in the S tates. What was interesting about Christmas was that of course hem from the United States. E arly in December as soon as the word got out that the Christmas trees had arrived in the commissary families would rush to the loading docks and try to pick out the best tree that they could buy and take it home. And j ust like people do here in the S tates we would set the tree up in the house. E verybody would


PCM 029; Zumbado; Page 2 3 buy Christmas tree lights at the commissary and decorate their trees with lead D: Oh okay. Z: But they are k ind of made out of plastic. T he lead ones that that used to mak e hung real nice. They were heavy and they hung very straight and beautiful. So we would decorate the trees and some of the people would go caroling very much the same as in the S tates. And of course we had traditional Chr istmas presents under the tree a nd get up Christmas morning and enjoy your presents. The best thing about Christmas was that long after the holidays the trees would really dry up and they were a fire hazard, even as they are today. But in order to reduce the load on the people that coll ected the garbage, what we used to do area and save the bi g piles of Christmas trees. S ometime around the middle of January every community, every neighborhood would have a Chri stmas tree burn. Now what this was, everybody that collected these trees would bring them to this open field and there would be volunteer firemen to supervise, or maybe an official guy in his uniform wi th a fire engine close by. W e would have hot dog roast s, and marshmallows, and potato ch ips, and C okes, and we would sing around this big bonfire. We kept feeding the bon fire with trees because they go up very quickl y. It was like a big party. It was very interesting; I never heard of anything like that done in the United States. But leading up to the Christmas tree


PCM 029; Zumbado; Page 2 4 burn, what would happen sometimes, and I have to admit me and some friends were as likely to do it as any others, we would locate where somebody trees were in another neighborhood and sn eak over in the middle of the night and steal them and bring them to our community and increase the size of our stash to make the fire bigger and brighter and last longer. One night five of us actually made a big deal of it. W e got stu ff on our faces, cam ouflage, wore dark clothes. A the trees for his neighborhood and he had them wired together with cable. He drilled holes in the trunks a nd had them all wired together. S o we brought our litt le wire cutters and we sneaked down the hill in the back of his house and we were getting ready to start stealing the trees and the next thing you know lights go on and he comes out with a big flashlight: what the hell are you doing ? Get out! The mistake w as that Blades He was O fficer Blades ; he was a Canal Zone policeman. Big mistake. Of course we all booked, we just as fast as we could all four of us. One of my friends, Mike Carpenter, when the officer hollered, stop! H e stopped [laughter]. And of course he got in all kinds of trouble. B Cotton, and Paul Glassma n. We got away with it and he never told on us. But anyway s just a small bit of chicanery that we got involved in, stealing Christmas trees. D:


PCM 029; Zumbado; Page 2 5 Z: So let me see the states and then transported from where they were delivered in Cristobal on the train to Balboa. Okay I talked about the events leading up to the burn and getting caught doing that. Conditions where we worked. Well I never worked there fu ll time; I did have a job the summer of 1955. The administrative building had the accoun they offered student jobs to high school seniors if they wanted it. T hat was the first job I ever had It paid big bucks: a dollar and a quarter an hour. In those days that was pretty big money. I t was only for eight weeks and I really enjoyed working there except it was kind of boring. I was in the accounting department and I worked for a young lady name d Kolb, K o l b She was nice but her duty was to bring me my work. She would bring me a stack of invoices about a foot or two high and she told me what to do with them. Each invoice had a cover letter, or reconciliation sheet she called them, and I was to operate the adding machine and add figures and put the totals on each cover sheet, pile them o ver here, and at the end of the day she would check them. Now I had a machine about this big; it was an adding machine about two feet long and about ten inches high, with a crank and push buttons, very electro mechanical. It would do not even as much of th and multiplication that was about it. But anyway at the end of the day she would check my work a nd she always seemed satisfied. B ut it was just boring drudgery. The best part abo ut the job was the dollar and a quarter an hour, the next best


PCM 029; Zumbado; Page 2 6 minutes to go down to the basement cafeteria of the administrative building with all the other employees there. Yo u got to meet adults in the workplace. And of course they would talk to us about, what are you going to do with your life? Are you gonna stay her e and work? No way. I took my job there for eight weeks and when I quit the job I went to Gainesville to go to the University of Florida and got my degree there. D: Yes, al l right. Z: [laughter] So e thing I can tell you, my step father was a canal pilot and that was an interesting job because it was not an eight to five job. You wer e on call. Whenever a ship needed to be guided through the canal a pilot would get called. Generally it was in the day but sometimes you could get called in the wee hours of the morning. s launch and take him out to the ship and bri ng the ship into the canal. W hen he got to the other side from we lived in Balboa most of the tim e so when he got to Cristobal what they call a jitney, which is nothing more than an automobile with a driver, wo uld bring him back to the house about an hour and a half drive. So he was gone sometimes regular hours but have three or four transits in a ro s why I told you that because both my parents worked I had a lot of unsupervised time, and


PCM 029; Zumbado; Page 2 7 someplac at would be the day he was off. [Laughter] So I had to cancel a whole lot of my misbehaving plans. Anyway all I c an tell you about working conditions there. Experiences in the war well I have too many experiences there. I left in 1955 to go to university so I missed s not much I can tell you the re. As far as my feelings, which is the next question, I h ad mixed feelings about that. I kind of always felt that a turnover of the canal back to Panama was an inevitable thing but I was a little upset that President Carter kind of accelerated the proces s. I had hoped that it would run its course to the full original plan which was ninety nine years lease or in perpetuity which means that they would renew the lease. I figured we would run the canal forever but a lot of people still hate Jimmy Carter for it. d him but maybe if I had lived and had a career and worked there I would be one of those. But I just figured it was something that sooner or later wou ld happen and it did. So how did we interface with the military? Well this is kind of interesting. The military dependents went to school in the Canal Zone. Since that time that I was a kid the military bases developed elementary schools and junior highs but when I was there they all went to Balboa or Cristobal or the junior high in Balboa.


PCM 029; Zumbado; Page 2 8 So it was kind of exciting. At the end of every summer vacation, going to school was wondering, who are the new children that have come to military duty ? Who are the know what was going on in the United States. W e were maybe a year and a half behind the latest fads, what the kids were wearing, what the good music was, what the movies were that the kids in th e States were enjoying. But when September came around and school started, we get to meet the new kids. And nd of clothes. So we would try to emulate them and learn how to dress the way the kids did or get the D: Oh yeah, okay [laughter]. Z: That was a big fad though. W e were two yea rs behind that but once we started seeing military dependents enrolled in our school wearing those things a lot of us had to teach our local barbers how to do that so we could get those haircuts. So that was kind of fun, and of course the girls loved to k now what the music was and what the clothing was. So that was how we interfaced with the military, through the dep endents. There was another way: some of the canal employees depending on the level of job my dad was a canal p ilot so he was pretty high up in the pecking order of jobs, and I but certain of the higher paid jobs were allowed to have privileges to go on the military


PCM 029; Zumbado; Page 2 9 bases and freely move about, drive cars in, use the officers c lub at the golf courses and things. My dad was in that position but I never took advantage of it. I had privileges on the bases too as a dependent but anything that you could get of that. But the a dults did enj oy it because the officers c lub was kind of a social center for activities for adults so Mom and Dad used to go to the officers c lub a got out of the university I joined th e Marine C orps and I had tried a million times to get assigned in the marine barracks in the c anal but I was never fortunate We kind of covered that. E: That was great. Z: E: That was really thorough and helpful. D: Yeah. Z: give you this paper. E: I mean that was very thorough.


PCM 029; Zumbado; Page 30 Z : What I ca n tell you, just generally, we graduated from high school anywhere from 1950 to even as late as 1966 that was the hey day of the Canal Zone. That was whe n everything was at its best. E ven today those of us that went to school during those times still get together, not just h ere for the Canal Zone Society r eunion, but the high schools have many reunions within this overall reunion. A I still have many of my bu ddies that I communicate with. It st a really close organization. E: Are you able to get there often? Z: No I went b ack in 1990, just after Operation Just Cause when they ousted Noriega. I went down there then just to see it. Joe Wood, I think you may have interviewed him and if not you probably will, he was a very high official. He was a s a classmate of mine from high school. So we went down to visit him and his family and he had arranged for me nd also lived there in Panama. H worked in Panama not for the United States government but a private practice. She still had kids down there so we went down there to see her family and my old friends and we spent about a month there. I t was kind of sad because by then the turnover had begun, and some of the neighborhoods of the Canal Zone had already been turned over and th e Panamanian government had not yet figured out what to do with them. The houses and some of the buildings were in


PCM 029; Zumbado; Page 3 1 disrepair, had been vandalized, and it was kind of sad to drive through some of my old neighborhoods and see the damage that was done. N ot se rious just vandals. E: Yeah. Z: So that was kind of sad because we remember it as like a paradise. And then about a year after that I went back again with my wife. Her daughter got married and she had her wedding down there so we went down there for the wedding. there, and a t this point have no desire to go back. E: Al l right, well thank you. Z: E: Thank you so much that was great. D: Yeah it was very comprehensive, thank you! Z: lcome. [End of Interview] Transcribed by: Liz Gray, January 6, 2014