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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
Interviewee: Chester Dampier
Interviewer: Sudye Cauthen
C: This is Sudye Cauthen in Alachua, Florida on December 10, 1986. I am at
the home of Chester Dampier. Mr. Dampier and I have been talking over a
period of time and today we decided that we would record a conversation
about his memories and his feelings about his family and the past. Mr.
Dampier, would you state your full name for me?
D: Chester Ollie Dampier.
C: Where were you born and when?
D: I was born about halfway between Hague and Gainesville.
C: Tell me about Chester part.
D: I am named from my grandaddy on my mother's side, his name was Chester.
And Ollie because I was named for a man that married my aunt Jane's only
daughter, And he died soon after they married, but he was in
the family long enough for me to get him name.
C: His name was Ollie Gafner? His last name was Gafner?
D: I cannot remember; his first name was Ollie, though.
C: And your mother's father, his name was Chester?
C: So what was your mother's full maiden name?
D: Ruth Schaeffer Dampier.
C: And what was your father's full name?
D: Philip Dampier.
C: Do you know what year your mother was born?
C: Where was she from?
D: She was from Gainesville. Her daddy, Chester Schaeffer, was a marble
cutter; he made tombstones, and finished them up and lettered them.
C: So he was a craftsman?
C: What happened to his business when he died?
D: Well, they stopped it. They had mechanized it, so he had done all of his
work by hand. But they had mechanized it so that he could not hardly make
a living anyway.
C: Do you think some of his tombstones are in cemeteries around here?
D: Oh yes.
--- D: There are some in Newnansville and Antioch--a lot of them in Antioch.
He used to get a bunch and hire them to come here and clean the stones.
That was before they got marble granite--before they started making great
tombstones out of granite. The granite do not mildew, but there are
certain stones that will mildew. And he come over here and get a dollar-
and-a-half jug of bleach and go out there and clean them and charge them
five dollars for it.
C: Can you tell me any particular tombstone he did?
C: I have been to those cemeteries. I would like to look at one and know
that that was...
D: No, I do not know. I was just a boy then when that was being done.
C: Did you ever see your grandfather working?
D: Oh yes.
C: That is a little bit related to the kind of work you wound up doing, isn't
D: I am a machinist.
C: Let me just go back. Your mother was born in Gainesville, where was your
D: I do not know if she was born in Gainesville, I would think not. I think
she was born in Pennsylvania. That I do not know.
C: And how about your father?
D: He was born in Alachua County, out near Antioch.
C: And who were his brothers and sisters?
-D: His brothers were John Dampier, William Dampier, and George Dampier.
There were four boys and four girls. The girls were Jane, Sue,
and Lena. Lena was his younger sister, and she married a Baptist
preacher. When my mother died, she took me to raise.
C: So you were the youngest?
D: No, I was the oldest.
C: But Lena took you to raise. How old were you when your mother died?
D: Six years old.
C: So Lena really became your substitute mother?
D: Yes, I stayed with her until I was twelve years old. My dad told her to
bring me home. She said that she raised up big enough to work and now he
wanted me. I would have been much better off if I would have stayed with
C: Why is that?
D: I would have got an education.
C: But you came to live with your father?
C: And who else was in that household with your father then?
D: He had married. He was forty years old and married a girl sixteen years
C: And you were twelve?
D: And I was twelve.
C: How did that work out?
D: Not good.
C: You were probably at an age when you wanted to be in charge of yourself.
D: I was the boy, always the boy.
C: Were there other children then, there at your father's house?
D: There was my brother, he was two years younger than I was, his name was
Steve. He was named after his grandfather and was called Stephen Philip.
C: Did you know it was established that my aunt, Susie, married one of those
Dampier uncles of yours. Susie Dampier, I think it was Susie Gouldsby.
D: No. There was a Susie that married a
C: Well I want to look at that when you get out your family tree sometime
because it is on there. What kind of stories did your family tell you
about their beginnings, when you were growing up?
D: They did not.
C: Then how did you find out about the Dampier family line?
D: I do not know, from aunts and uncles and my grandmother. My grandmother
lived with us after my grandaddy died; she lived with us until she had a
heart attack and died.
C: Was this before your mother died?
D: No, this was after. She died after my mother died.
C: You were six when your mother died?
C: How old were you when your grandmother died?
D: I was about twelve years old.
C: Would she tell you about the Dampier line?
D: Some of it. I remember there were four boys and four girls. They had
eight children. He fought the Indians here.
C: Let me get his name straight. What was his whole name, your grandfather?
D: Steven Dampier. He fought the Indians and also fought in the
Revolutionary War. And he was in the military from Cedar Keys to
Savannah; he rode a horse and carried the mail. And he lived out at
C: And he fought for the Confederacy, is that right?
C: Where did he go?
D: From Cedar Keys to Savannah.
C: For the Confederacy--that is what he did?
C: I wonder what life was like for them at that time.
D: It was hard, I know it was hard. She told about parching corn and
grinding it and making coffee.
C: That must have been some coffee, made out of corn.
D: She was a very clean housekeeper--never had much to keep. But she would
scrub her kitchen, and she had a big kitchen and dining room all together.
And she would scrub her kitchen, and then go down to the creek about a
quarter of a mile and get white sand from that creek and sprinkle it all
over her floor so it would not be dirty. And when that sand got dirty,
she would sweep it out, and then do that again. That is the way she would
keep the kitchen clean.
C: Do you think that anybody else did that? I have never heard of that
D: She is that only one that I have ever seen do it.
C: But that sand would absorb the grease and dirt.
D: I remember seeing it.
C: Do you think she just sprinkled it, or was it deep, or just a little bit?
D: It covered the floor pretty well, she would take a broom and sweep it out
to make it all even.
C: You look like you have fond memories of your grandmother.
D: Well, she was my grandma. (laugh) I got along fairly well with her. Me
and my brother--course we were both boys--if one of us made her mad about
something, she would not speak to us for a day or two. But she would
honey up to the other one. And then when she would have cause to get mad
at him, she would honey up again to the other one.
Finally, she had what she felt was acute indigestion--a pain in her chest
--it was nothing but heart trouble. Finally, one night my dad woke me up.
I was half asleep. He told me to go get the doctor. So I came to Alachua
and got Dr. Bishop. When he got there, she was found dead. Then I had
to come back. He cut a long switch from a tree limb, and cut it just the
length of her. He told me to bring it up town to Mr. Roberts to make the
casket that size. That is the way he measured it.
C: By then you had already lost your mother so you were no stranger to death
C: But six is kind of young to lose your mother.
D: I was not but six years old, but I remember her dying. She had this baby
--my sister, she is still living--and she took blood poison. Miss. Anna
and it did not take long for her to die.
C: That must have been a very sad day.
D: It was.
C: How many children were there?
D: Just three of us.
C: What was the baby's name?
C: What is her name now?
D: Her name is Young, she lives down at a Yankee Town.
C: And then the other brother, what it his name?
D: His name was Steven.
C: And then your father remarried, did he and his second wife have any
D: A yardfull of them.
C: What was his second wife's name?
C: What was her maiden name?
D: Yulla Cox.
C: So you have some half brothers and sisters.
D: My oldest half brother died last year; he walked out on the carport, they
said, and just fell over dead. He had never been bothered with heart
trouble. He looked on me like a second daddy.
C: So you were close to him?
D: Yes. He lived in Birmingham. When he come down here, he always come to
see me first. Of course he had four brothers and sisters, he had to go
see them, but he always come to see me first. And then I was the last one
for him to see when he left to go back.
C: Well I can understand him wanting to see you.
D: I got him a job, an apprenticeship, he was just a country boy. He did not
know nothing. And I was working with the railroad, and he used to come
and stay summers with me. And I got my wife's sister to buy him a big bag
of peanuts--you can imagine how much a hundred pounds of peanuts was with
twenty-four pounds to the bushel. And I got her to order--with the big
bag of peanuts--a box of little bags to put them in after they were
parched. And I made him a little tray and put a strap on it so he could
put it around his neck to come out in front of him, and he would walk
around. I told him not to try and sell anything to anybody, just walk
around. If they wanted anything, they could holler at him. He would come
over to work in the morning, he had bagged his peanuts the night before,
and he would sell them peanuts. I think he could get twenty-four bags
in his tray, and would get two dollars and forty cents a day.
Well, then he growed up, and I got him a job as an apprentice with the
railroad. And he learned there was a job open as a boilermaker
apprentice, and he asked me what to do about it. And I said if you think
you would like the work, take it. So in the apprenticeship, he had to
learn to weld. So he took the welding. And he and his wife had some
difficulties, so he got up one morning--he went to bed without any wood
for the next morning--so he got up to get the wood and caught train number
thirty-nine going to Jacksonville. He caught it to Brandford--he was
working at Brandford. And he went to Birmingham for several years, and we
just did not know where he was.
C: You must have been worried to death.
D: No, I knew he was allright. He could take care of himself.
C: About what year was that?
D: I do not know.
C: How old was he?
D: He, I imagine, was around twenty-four or twenty-five.
C: So he was a young man, did he have any children then?
D: No, his wife did not have any children.
C: What did she think when he disappeared?
D: I do not know.
C: How did he come back?
D: He did not, he died out there. He married, in ten or fifteen years he
come back, I do not know how long it was. He come back, and brought his
wife, and then it got to be regular habit. He would come down once a year.
C: So he must have gotten divorced from his first wife then.
D: Yes, I guess so because he married again. This woman had two boys, I
think, maybe three. But her husband died, and they fell in love, and they
had one child.
C: Was your brother very much interested in the family history? Obviously he
felt close to you.
D: Yes, he felt much of me as I think he would a real brother. He was always
depended on me, and talked to me about things that he wanted to do or was
thinking about doing. He was right progressive, and he was well fixed
when he died.
C: Well, then you must be proud of what he did accomplish.
C: You were satisfied.
D: Of course none of my brothers and my sisters had half a chance.
C: What do you mean?
D: Schooling. When I come home, twelve years old to my daddy's, a china
berry tree had blown down in a storm, and he cut it up and split it in
pieces about like that and made me a plow __ because it was lighter.
And when it come time to plant, he took me out of school and put me to
C: Was that the end of your schooling?
D: I would not be surprised if it was.
C: What grade were you in?
D: I had graduated from the sixth grade. I had spent a year and a half in
the sixth grade and the fifth grade. It took me three years to make up
C: Was that because you were out working?
C: How did you feel about that? Were you interested in school?
D: No, I never had no encouragement. It did not make any difference to me. I
cannot recollect it making a bit of difference to me. I never was afraid
C: So you worked there and you helped your father, and what were the
circumstances of you leaving home?
D: This brother of mine that I was telling you about, they went to visit his
grandmother on his mother's side. And before he left he told me that he
was not coming back--that he was going to stay with grandma. So the next
morning--he had come back in the night and I had done gone on to bed--and
the next morning when I got up, he was there. And I said, "Boy, I thought
you was going to stay with your grandma?" And he never had time, I guess
she got up on the wrong side of the bed, she told me "he has got just as
much right here as you have." So I never said no more. I went on and fed
the horses and come back. Breakfast was ready, and I sat down at the
breakfast table, and my daddy said, "Boy, if you stay here, you have to do
better." I got up from the table--did not eat my breakfast--got up
and left. It was so uncalled for. There was no argument at all. That
is all I said, "Boy, I thought you was going to stay with your
grandmother." I walked through the yard, I reckon he thought I was going
to I do not know what he thought. But anyway, before then I
had me a job. I worked for a fellow all the summer for forty dollars.
C: The whole summer you got paid forty dollars? Who was that spendthrift?
D: That was a first cousin of mine. And he gave me four acres of cotton, if
I would work for him to make the crop. And I worked and he gave me the
cotton on the spring noll. You do not know what a spring noll is? It is
hammock land that the water comes up close to the surface and the top
stays moist all the time.
C: Where was that land?
D: In the San Felasco Hammock. And all of the cotton I made was on the
east corner of the four acres.
C: Because it was too moist in the middle?
D: Yes, and he knew it. He knew it because he was born there, and he was, I
reckon, twenty-four or twenty-five years old. But I picked my
cotton and sold it and got forty dollars, and I went over to and said
"I still got the forty dollars."
C: Is that true?
C: What did the cousin get in exchange for letting you make that cotton crop
D: He got a year's work out of me.
C: You did the cotton, and did you do other things for him?
D: Yes, whatever he had to do. I could plow the four acres in a day.
C: And how old were you then?
C: So you had broken away from home and taken responsibility for yourself?
D: Yes. After I got grown. Of course, in the meantime I joined the navy.
A year or two after that, I worked around a place where I could
find something to do. One day I was at my dad's house, and I told him
that he told me I had to do better or leave, and I decided I would do
C: I do not think that we have got the year of your birth on the front of
this tape. What year were you born?
D: March 15, 1898.
C: So when you were sixteen and doing this cotton crop, that was 1914?
C: And what was the world like then?
D: We was at peace. I think the War started along then in Europe; it
was going along. It was not affecting us. Of course, we were selling
stuff to them, and the economy had picked up as I recall.
The first job I had after I left my cousin's was with a merchant. He had
married a widow that was pretty well fixed, and she had a three- or four-
horse farm. And we grew cotton and bought cotton, and had a little
merchandising store. He hired me and give me ten dollars a month and my
keeps--room and board.
C: What would you do for him?
D: I worked in the store.
C: Whose store was that?
C: What kind of stuff did he have in the store?
D: Oh, just a country store.
C: And another question, what do you mean by a three- or four-horse farm?
D: He had three or four horses or mules in the lot.
C: Could you gauge a man's wealth or the size of his farm by how many horses
D: Yes, you usually farmed about thirty or forty acres to the horse.
According to what kind of crop. Now if you had a lot of vegetables you
could not farm it. But he did not grow any vegetables.
C: Where was his farm?
D: At Hague.
C: And you lived there?
C: Where was the store?
D: Across the railroad.
C: So it was in Hague too. What was Hague like in those days, in 1914?
D: It had about a half a dozen houses in it. It had a post office and a
store. It had two churches, Methodist and Baptist. It was just a high
spot in the road.
C: Was that store and post office in the building that Ralph Cellon has his
office in today?
C: Where was it?
D: It was on the other side of the highway.
C: Where that church is?
D: Yes, towards Gainesville. Not far now,
C: Where was Mr. Small's farm?
D: Right back of
C: This was in the days before Highway 441 as we know it now, and before
Highway 441 that was put through there in 1936. This is when we had just
the old Dixie Highway.
D: Did not have no hard roads nowhere.
C: It was just a dirt then between Alachua and Gainesville. Is that when it
was a dirt road down the main street of Alachua?
C: I guess you have seen alot of changes.
D: Oh yes. I can remember when there was a house across the street on this
block. There was not a house on this block. There was one house on the
other block and they built a church across the front of it. There was
just houses around on blocks--only two houses to a block.
C: So you are talking about the Church of Christ that is near your house.
What is the street address where we are sitting?
D: 301 SW Third Avenue.
C: I want you to go back and tell me something of the history of the Dampier
family beginning with the first Dampier that you know about.
D: The first Dampier that I have heard about was a Frenchman; the name
Dampier is French. I did not know it until I went to Paris and met some
French folks, and they said, "Ooh la la, Francais, Francais!" But the
French conquered England, I never knew that, but that is in their history.
And then this Dampier, Tinker Dampier my folks called him, he was a
sailor. And he got some ships together and he piloted the ocean in the
Pacific and all around. There is the Dampier Island in the Southern
Pacific named for him. And he come back, I cannot tell it all, but he
landed in South Carolina. And there he met a damsel, and they had an
affair, and she had a baby. And she named the baby for him, and that is
the way the Dampiers got started here.
C: What was that baby's name?
D: I do not remember.
C: But he really was the beginning of the Dampiers on this continent.
D: Yes, in the United States.
C: So how did they get from South Carolina to Florida?
D: I imagine in covered wagons. My grandfather was one of the forefathers.
I read it twice, but I cannot tell you names and dates.
C: The Dampier who fathered this first child in this country, what became of
him? Where did he go?
D: He went back to sea. He prepared his ship and went back to sea.
C: And was not heard from again?
D: Never in my records as I recall.
C: How did you get these records of the family?
D: A young lady that married one of my second cousins--son of Frank Dampier,
the oldest child of William Dampier--she just took that on herself, and
she went all over Florida and Georgia looking for Dampiers. She goes
through every cemetery she can find just looking for tombstones.
C: She finds them too doesn't she?
D: Yes. She sent me a copy of it, and I looked at it, and I said that little
girl put alot of work on this. And I do not imagine that every Dampier
knew anything, so I sat right down and I said she is deserving of
something. I sat right down and wrote her a check for a hundred dollars.
C: What did she say?
D: Thank you. She said she was expecting to charge me none, I told her I
know she has been to a lot of expense and this will not cover it all but it
would cover my part of it, I thought. And she sent me a copy of it. In
fact she sent me two copies, she rewrote it and then sent it.
C: Where is she?
D: She is in Gainesville.
C: And what is her name?
D: I want to call her Sarah; I belive that is her name.
C: And she is married to a Dampier?
C: Let us go back. You were working for Mr. Small in his store. Could you
have joined the navy? Did you have to wait until you were eighteen to do
D: I believe I swore in the day I was seventeen.
C: How did you come to make that decision?
D: The War was coming on, and everybody said that we would be in the War. I
did not want no part of the army, and of course we did not have an air
force then--only had an army and a navy. They had advertisements to join
the navy and learn a trade. I always wanted to be a mechanic, so I joined
the navy. You could go in the --that is in engineering--or you
could go in the deck force, and that included practically everything else
except electricians, and machinists, and firemen. So I went on and was a
fireman, and on the way over, they signed everybody to a watch. And the
man on the twelve-to-four watch, he was an oiler. And he had hold of an
engine that had set up for a long time, and the rods were rusty, and they
could not keep it from running out. And this fellow--we was asleep--sent
down one of the firemen to call me to come on watch. I told him that I
was assigned to the four-to-eight watch, and I was not coming. Someone
else had to watch. So he sent him back again, and I told him the same
thing. And then he come down and throwed me on the floor--told me "get
down into that engine room." He said when I get you in Gibralter...when I
get you overseas I will get you a raise. Well that suited me alright.
And so, I was afraid of him. I was not anything but a kid, you know. He
was a middle aged man, a big fellow too. And I went down there, and I did
not get seasick. We had one fellow on there that when we started pulling
up the anchor, he would get sick. (laugh)
C: Not much of a seaman is he?
D: Anyhow, when we got across, we landed in Gibralter. When we got across,
he recommended that I be stepped up. I was a third-class fireman and
hardly knew how to hit the firedoor--to throw the coal into the boiler.
When we got across, why, he recommended that I be second class engine. So
they give me the raise on his recommendation.
C: And what did that mean, was that more pay?
D: Oh yes.
C: And slightly better treatment?
D: No, you got the same treatment. All enlisted men get the same treatment.
C: What did you mean about the engine rods running hot, what does that mean?
D: They have a crank down there that goes around like this, and they had
a rod that was fastened to it with two bolts that go through it with a
bearing. And this engine, in particular and most all engines, have what
they call the triple expansion. The steam drillers and the high pressure
cylinders--about eight or ten inches on that particular engine.
And on the next one, the exhaust out of there still has pressure to it, so
it goes through the second cylinder. And the next, when it exhausts, it
exhausts into the third cylinder. The steam expands three times which
makes it triple expansion.
C: So what was wrong with that engine?
D: It was just old from setting up. Those rods, those rods that went up into
the cylinder, to the piston--they went up and down in it like that--they
were rusted. And the packing was some kind of asbestos packing that would
not burn; it was made with asphalt and asbestos.
C: Was this the real beginning of your mechanical experience?
C: How did you do with that engine?
D: I got along alright; it did not bother me. I put the oil to it--that
cylinder oil. It was a thick oil. There was a brush in a can and you
would swab those rods.
C: And did you have to keep doing that over and over again?
C: Mr. Dampier, why did you say that you did not want any part of the army?
D: I do not know, it is kind of like eating baked potatoes or fried potatoes.
C: You preferred the navy?
D: Yes. And it sounded good to me; they had machinery, and that is when I
quickly decided. All these ships, you know, have got machinery. It was
not that I had anything against the army, just that the navy had
machinery. And there was a man that was in, his name was Sutton, and
had a mill out at Hague, and he was the millwright for that mill.
He kept everything running there, he was a naturalborn mechanic. And he
was my idol.
C: You knew him before you left home? Or while you were working for Mr.
D: I knew him before I was working for Mr. Small. I knew him when I was just
C: Did you work for him?
C: But you spent time with him?
D: No, I just knew about him.
C: And you said he was your idol. What was his name again?
C: What was it that you liked about him as a kid? What was it that you
looked up to?
D: He was a mechanic--and a good one. He could fix anything that was broken.
C: Had you had much opportunity on the farm to work with tools or machines?
D: No, good gracious, the only tool I had was a hammer.
C: That was way before the days of the tractor, wasn't it?
D: Oh, yes. When I was a kid along about that time, A.C. Gracie owned a lot
of land west of Alachua. It was cut-over land. People had homesteaded it
and cut it over and just let it go back for its taxes. And he bought it
up for the taxes. And then if people would want it, why he would sell a
forty, an eighty, or cut it anyway they wanted. He would sell it to them.
And he would give them time to pay for it. And it was good cotton land.
And people could take it in and plant it in cotton, in corn--for the feed
to feed their animals--peanuts--it made good peanuts--good potatoes. It
was just good farm land. And even when I was farming, he had some land
C: When did you begin farming?
D: In 1928.
C: Is that when you bought your first land?
D: Yes, that was when the come out. And I was working on the
railroad and they had a big meeting. And at the meeting--I believe it was
on Sunday, Sunday afternoon--a man come down from Valdosta and spoke, and
he told us how to grow tobacco and what to expect and what it meant. Oh,
he told us all about tobacco.
Well everybody got enthused and wanted to plant tobacco, but nobody had
any money and not too much credit. I did not have too much money, but I
had some credit. And I financed twelve acres. And my brother--this is
the one who died--he was living down at Bartow and was working on a
phosphate mine. And his wife thought it was taking up too much time
So she went to his boss, and he and he talked to her.
And he did not pay any more attention to it, forgot about it. You do not
get messed up in a family, I do not know what. But anyhow, she went back
to him again, and he said, "yes, I can fix that!" So when Steve went to
work the next day, he told him that he did not need him anymore. So he
could not buy a job there. So he came up again, and I did not even know
it was him.
C: About what year was this?
D: In 1938. And there are two tobacco barns right there on this corner under
that oak tree. And he found out about them, and he could get them, and I
had financed twelve acres beside that. And we were about through
settling--the people that I had financed were through settling and had the
bids there with So he came to me and said if I would finance
it; he told the story. No, he did not tell me about that, I heard about
that later. And asked me about financing it. Well I had to. He was
without a job, and I knew he could not find one because I had been trying
to get a job, and I was a mechanic. However, I had got a job then; I was
working then. So I told him "yes I would finance it." So I bought it,
and to get the fertilizer, and I had to get some sticks.
C: You mean to hang the tobacco?
D: Yes, to hang the tobacco. So he made one of the best crops of tobacco
that they had ever seen in Valdosta, and it bought the highest price of
any tobacco sold. He had sold row clear across the house, I
forgot how many sheets there were now. But anyhow, and it
sold for thirty cents a pound, that was the limit. And when he got to the
last row, somebody raised it to thirtyone cents; he sold one sheet for
C: How much is a sheet?
D: Almost two hundreds pounds.
C: Why is it called a sheet?
D: Because it had tobacco sheets. There was a big croker sack made
especially for that, and you would bring the four corners together and tie
C: And the two hundred pounds is in that.
D: Oh, according to how much ... that raised the grade of your tobacco.
C: Is the best grade heavier?
C: When you say that it was such good tobacco, what do you mean? Are you
talking aroma? How do you judge tobacco?
D: and cure it out back. And he did not know a thing in the
world about tobacco, or about farming. Tobacco was just as green to him
as anything would be to me. And he did exactly what the demonstrator told
him to do. You know, they have you to top it, and he said it looked like
a damned fool thing to him to plant it, set it out, and grow it,
fertilize it, and put on the buds And then take half
of it out, because they would have taken half of it. He told them how
many leaves to leave--seemed like to me it was fourteen to eighteen or
something like that. And he cured it exactly like the demonstrator said.
The demonstator's name was
C: Now this who did he work for?
D: He worked for everybody that planted tobacco. He demonstrated in homes
once a week. And he would go to the places and show them
how to grow tobacco and what to do with it.
C: Did he sell the plant?
D: No, he did not have anything to do with that.
C: Did they pay him to come tell them?
D: He got ten percent of the savings.
C: He did not work for the government; he was just a consultant?
D: He was his own boss.
C: Did he live around here?
D: He did. You know where Miss lives? He built that house.
C: This was big tobacco country, I guess it still is to some extent.
D: No, they claim it is because the high price of labor. When you have to
pay a dumb negro three dollars and thirtyfive cents a pound to work in the
field, you ain't getting fast.
C: Is three thirtyfive the minimum wage now? You have seen a lot of changes
in wages and labor. What kind of pay did you get when you started working
for the railroad?
D: Seventy cents an hour.
C: What year was that?
D: In 1922.
C: Let me get this straight, you served in the navy and when your time was up
you reenlisted. How many years was your first hitch?
D: No, not when my time was up. They classified me as a DOW, Duration of
War. And I could get out and just by filing a request for that. So I put
in a request to get out and they sent me to Charleston, and the officer
(End of side one of tape)
C: What was the name of your ship?
D: I do not know.
C: Go back to your story.
D: But anyway, the machine shop was just beyond it, just a two feet. It was
all right there together. That is what I wanted was to be a mechanic, a
machinist. So I asked the officer in charge if I could if I could take an
examination for first class--see, I was second class--and ship over as first
class. That was the difference between seventytwo dollars a month and
eightyfour dollars a month--base pay plus seven dollars a month for
shipping over. And he says yes, so he gave me the book and told me to answer
every other question, every odd question. I went down and got me a table,
and he gave me paper, and I answered every question except the last one.
And the last question was how much pulling power would you have to put on
double tackle to lift fifty pounds. When I took it to him I told
him, I have answered every question, and I think they are right--except
the last one. I did not know how to figure that. He looked at it and
said that is easy, you have to put fifty pounds on it. I said, no, if you
put fifty pounds on it and fifty pounds on the other side, it would just
sit there. I said you have got friction to overcome; I do not know how to
figure that friction. Well, he did not know either.
But anyhow, I got my raise, and I put in from then until I got
discharged. I went through the school and graduated as first class. And
I come home, and I went down to see my brother--to see if he could do
anything about getting a job. I would take anything; I had gotten
married. I could not find anything anywhere, and I come back-and I heard
two railroad men talking about a service station down next to where the
Ace Hardware store is, this side of it. It had a garage, a tank, and just
one pump. And that furnished everybody gas. I could not imagine
C: Now what year was this?
D: In 1932. And heard one railway man say to the other, if we want to our
jobs we better go back to get them because we have just lost. I said, I
would not be breaker of the strike. If I went and asked for a job, I
might get a job over there.
So this was on Saturday, and I closed the place up, and Mr. Freddy Stevens
had a little cut-down Ford. And he kept it in there, and he told me if I
wanted to use it, to go ahead and use it. So I drove over there and
inquired around to see about a job. Well, they told me that Mr.
Whitherspoon was around--a general foreman--and to see him. They pointed
him out to me; he was down in the backshop. I went down there. Him and
the master mechanic, backshop foreman, and roundhouse foreman was all in a
huddle about something--I do not know what it was. But anyhow, they were
talking, and I stood up there, off a little ways.
When they broke up he come over to me and asked if he could help me. I
told him I was looking for a job. And he asked me if I had any railroad
experience, and I told him no. I told him what I had. I was just out of
the service, went to the machinist school, and if he would give me a
chance, I thought I could do his work for him. He said he was sorry, what
he needed was a man that had railroad experience. About that time the
master mechanic, I know he overheard the conversation, come over there and
says--Whitherspoon's first name was Ray--he came over and said, Ray let's
give that boy a job because he may make you a dar good man. He said,
ain't nobody asked any questions of Mr. Paul; what Mr. Paul said was it.
But anyhow, he said alright you come back Monday morning and I will try
you out. So Monday morning I went back and they give me the oldest lathe
in the shop and give me the worst job that they had. Well I done it,
even with that old machine.
C: What was the job?
D: You know on the steam locomotive they have wheels and rods that goes like
C: Around and around?
D: Yes. On each end of those rods, there is a cup, and you have to take an
inch-and-three-quarter nut and turn it down, and thread it to fit that
cup. I think it was two and a half inches. And then make a plug to go in
there that would fit in the nut. And they give me the job of making them
plugs. And that is a job for anybody, but I conquered it. And he come by
and looked at me, I know he laughed when he turned his head.
C: He put you to the test didn't he?
D: Yes. I worked then, and when the seniority list went up, I was thirty-
five down from the top. And when I left there I was on the top.
C: How many years were you there?
C: And what year did you retire?
D: In 1960.
C: You saw a lot of changes in the railroad during that time.
D: Yes. When I left there was not a steam locomotive to be seen. I worked
the night roundhouse foreman job; he was off for two weeks. And in the
meantime, we had gotten a new contract. And if you have been working for
the railroad for fifteen years, you have got three weeks paid vacation.
So this roundhouse foreman that was on vacation, he come back. And I had
finished my two-weeks vacation. They told him--the roundhouse foreman--
they told him that he had another week vacation coming to him, and he did
not know about it. They said, when do you want to take it. He says I
would take it right now if I could get it, but who would relieve me? And
he said, old Dampier here he will relieve you. I said, I wiil be damned
if I will do it; I have had all of this I want. I want my vacation.
So I come home and told my wife, I said, well honey, I am through
railroading. I said I have got three weeks paid vacation and when that is
up, I am on my own. Before my vacation was up, they called me and told me
I was cut off and asked me if I wanted to go to Waycross. I told them no.
They said how about Florence; that was where the big shop was. I said no,
I am through railroading I told you. When my vacation is up, I was going
to come in and tell you I was quitting.
C: What did they mean when they said you were cut off?
D: That I did not have a job, I was fired.
D: They were closing up the shop.
C: They were closing up the shop. It was not because you would not do the
third week for the roundhouse?
D: No, that had nothing to do with it.
C: They were closing up the shop in High Springs in 1960.
D: The next time I went over there they had torn down everything. It looked
like an old field out there.
C: So what did you do then in 1960?
D: Oh, I went to dabbling around. First thing I done was built these
apartments up here. And then Dr. Joe Thigpen--do you remember him?
C: Yes I do.
D: Well, an old man that lived up by --I forget his name--seemed
like his name was underwood. But anyhow, Dr. Thigpen would let him have
medicine on credit--his wife, I think, was awful sick for a long time and
finally died. Anyhow, he owed him 500 dollars. Dr. Joe [Thigpen] was
telling me about it, and he said that he could not pay him. All he had
was this lot that he had bought to build on, and he would give that to him
if he wanted it. I says, you want to sell the lot? And he says yes, I
need the money. I told him that I would take it off his hands. So I took
it off his hands. Mr. Carlton (?), out here at the he had to
handle a lot of dirt, overburden --phosphate rock, you know. And so
I seen him about running a few loads up there on that lot to pour cement
on to build a house. I do not know how Gonzales got ahold of it, but he
got ahold of it, and he built the house.
C: Where is this lot?
D: Right in front of where Martin lives.
C: T.O. Martin?
D: Yes. So he said that he would build me a house for just about what it
cost him to build it. I said, how much was that? And he said 5,500
dollars. And he had built several up there like it.
C: This is Gonzales?
D: Yes. So I looked at it and I changed it a little bit, same
After that I got to thinking about it and I had this whole block, and so I
built these two apartments. Oh, we were all heated
up about the atomic war with the Russians. So I got him to build a
fallout shelter the same size as the house and then built a house on top
of it--bulldoze it out.
C: Where is that? It is still there?
D: Yes. And while he was building that, I says if you do not find something
to do, let's build a house out on the corner. He says alright, and it did
not take him long to throw a house on that. So we started the house on
the corner and I went down to the lake and I come back to see how they
were getting along. I asked him, can't you build two houses cheaper than
you can one? He says yes, I will have my men build it. So
I blocked it off for another house. So I built five houses.
C: And one of the houses had the fallout shelter underneath it?
C: Where is that Mr. Dampier?
D: Right in back of these apartments.
C: What is it being used for--the fallout shelter?
C: Did you intend to live in it yourself?
D: No, not unless they started throwing atomic bombs over here.
C: Well I did not know we had any atom bomb shelters in Alachua. Does
anybody else have one?
D: Yes, Phillips built one on his house down here. Right back of there, he
built that on top of the ground.
C: Mel Phillips?
C: How deep is the one that you built?
D: Seven feet.
C: And how big?
D: The size of the house, I do not remember that.
C: It is a good place for storage isn't it?
D: No, it is too damp. It is only good for what it was built for.
C: You do not think that we will need it for that now do you?
D: No. It cost me 3,500 dollars. He built the house on it. Of course the
house was worth more than the whole thing cost me when he built it. He
built the house for 5,500 dollars.
C: So you got into farming and land and rental properties?
D: Yes. When I grew that tobacco, I made a little money. And I bought a
farm out there, 120 acres; I built two tobacco farms on that and grew
tobacco to make a little money.
C: Do you still own that farm?
C: Who did you sell it to?
D: Sold it to Victor One day I come in and I was having problems
with the tenants. You know, anybody that is a sharecroperp, there ain't
much to him no how or he would not be a sharecropper. I was having
trouble with them getting through what I wanted to do. So the wife says
one day: As much trouble as you are having with them sharecroppers, if
you were to die, I could not take over that farm, what would I do with it?
I knew a man was worth of trouble, and sure to die. So I
thought to myself, and will give it a good selling. So these two boys
were farming fellows, and they were supposed to be about the sorriest but
they done about the best. And so I sold it to them--one of them took
half of it.... In the meantime, do you remember Dr. Bagwell that used to
C: No, but I know his daughters because Myron Goud married his son. I know
his granddaughters. Was Bagwell a veterinarian?
D: Anyhow, he bought eighty acres that joined mine out there. And one day he
was out there, and I was out there--I do not know what I was doing.
Anyhow, he come up, and he was mad with this boy of his because he would
not go out there and farm that land.
C: Did he have just one son?
D: One son and one daughter. And you know he killed his son and then shot
himself. Anyhow, we were up talking--I think he asked me about selling to
me. He asked if I knew anybody who would be interested--he could not get
that boy to do nothing--and I said that I might be interested, what is
your price on it? I cannot remember what he told me, but it seemed like
it was 800 dollars for eighty acres--that is ten dollars an acre. But
anyhow, I bought it. And we had the deeds drawn up, and I gave him a
check for it. And then them boys ... I sold the whole thing for that--200
acres; one of them took a hundred and the other one took a hundred. And
they ain't never missed a payment; they paid me every nickel of it and
paid me interest on it.
C: They had been sharecropping?
D: Yes, one of them had worked for me.
C: What was their name, the people that you had sold it to?
D: Victor (?).
C: Did they still own that property?
D: No, they sold it. I sold it to them for fifty dollars and acre,
And they sold it for a thousand.
C: When was that? In the 1950s?
D: Since I moved here in 1950.
C: I want to ask you something about Alachua. When you had that service
station on Main Street, that was about 1922, what was Main Street Alachua
like in those days?
D: Not much different from the way it is now except that there was a hotel
where that Farmers' Hardware Store is.
C: You mean Jack's Hardware?
C: Whose hotel was that?
D: I do not know. Right after I come here, a fellow by the name of Fisher
came down here driving an old Buick from Georgia or South Carolina. But
he was one of the most progressive men that I have ever known. And when
he got a chance, he made good money. And you know that brick house going
on that road going up through Alachua, he built that house. And he got a
fellow by the name of Newman to finance it to grow Irish potatoes.
Evidently he knew his Irish potatoes because he grew fine Irish potatoes--
had a good piece of land to grow them on. I do not know if he started out
and bought the land or rented it.
C: So what did he have to do with that hotel?
D: He lived there.
C: Until he got his house built?
D: No, until he made enough money to build it he never had nothing. And I
used to come home--I was courting my wife then--I used to come home and go
to that hotel and get a room.
C: When you came home from the navy? When you were on leave you would stay
in that hotel? Was there room and board? Did they have meals for people
that stayed there?
D: I believe so, but I did not need that. I just spent the night there. I
would come in here at twelve o'clock at night and go to sleep. And the
taxi went from High Springs would carry the crew over. They had a
contract to carry the crew over from High Springs. And fifty cents would
pay for it.
C: You mean the railroad crew from Barnet's Lake (?) to High Springs?
C: Was that not awkward for the railroad that Barnet's (?) Lake was so far
from High Springs?
C: Why didn't they have the shop out at Barnet's (?) Lake?
D: I never asked. They had this railroad cut through here, and they had this
railroad go up to Newberry, and it also went to Jacksonville, Leesburg, and
St. Petersburg. When they got here, all the lines came into here. I
reckon the most trains run from Georgia down here, and from Florida the
watermelon harvest and phosphate. It finally got to where they mostly
carried phosphate--I do not know what they are hauling now. Anyhow
they took up the track from Lake to High Springs, run the engine
around to Newberry, and then into High Springs.
C: You mentioned Dr. Joe Thigpen, what do you remember about him? What was
D: He was a pharmacist, and he used the poorest judgement of anybody I have
ever seen. He was a good pharmacist, and he had a good personality, but
he smoked the strongest cigarettes he could get. They ordered them
specially for him. And, consequently, he died of cancer of the throat.
C: Did you ever talk to him about it?
D: No, people did not know it then like they do now. And people do not
appreciate your talking to them like that. They want you to tend to your
C: I remember his drugstore, the marble counters, and the little table where
we could sit and eat ice cream. That was real important in the town when
I was growing up. What about Dr. Goud, did you know him?
D: Oh yes. After I retired, he was getting old and feeble, and he called me
to go fishing to get a little exercise. I used to take him fishing, would
drive his car, he always drove his car. I enjoyed it; I was not doing
nothing anyhow, but we never caught any fish. But he had his reputation,
I let him fish, I would just go along for humor. Dr. Goud, he had been
good to everybody. He was just a down-to-earth man; he was not high
falooting like other doctors are now. They think they are better than you
are because they have an education. He was not that kind of a fellow. He
got to where he could not go, and I went up to see him several times after
he got sick. He was confined to his bed.
C: What was he like then when he was sick?
D: He was just so feeble that he could not hardly get around.
C: Did he like to reminisce about the old days?
D: No, in his conversations he would talk about things today and things that
were happening. He was interested in his children. He bought a lot of
land out there. He talked to me about how he was dividing it and what he
actually was going to do with it all. But when he died, they did not do
what he wanted.
C: I went to school with his granddaughters, Myra's children.
D: When Myra married, she married a Bagwell (?) boy. She may be happy now,
but I do not think that I would be, being with the likes of him.
C: I know you have strong opinions on marriage and we are getting towards the
end of this tape. Would you like to tell me about meeting Miss
and how it developed that you married her?
D: I come home on thirty days leave after the War. They divided the crew
into two watches, the port watch and the starboard watch. I do not know
which watch I was in. It did not mean nothing; you belonged to that group
and somebody else belonged to the other. But anyhow, when my watch got
leave, I came home and it was in the spring, in April. And everybody was
planting and just as busy as they could be farming. The only thing going
on in Alachua then was farming. And I did not fit in over there, and I
never had a horse to plow with. I was not 'tuned in' so to speak. So I
decided I would go back to New York and put up at the YMCA and visit with
some friends I had in New York when I was stationed there. It got out, I
do not know how it got out. And a girl that I went to school with got
another girl to come around to my house and give me a party.
C: What year was this?
D: I do not know--about 1921. So they invited my wife to go, but she did not
want to go, said she did not know them folks, and had not met my parents.
Anyhow, they persuaded her and on the way over there she said they were
bragging to each other about which one that I was going to walk home with.
They walked there; it was not but a couple of blocks. So when they got
there, I was not there. I was downtown, but I had come in a few minutes,
a little while later. I went downtown to pick up something. My wife come
in the front door like it is here, the dining room was in there, and she
was sitting beyond the table facing me as I came in. I laid my eyes on
her, and something happened to me that had not ever happened with any
other girl. I had always looked on girls as kind of a playmate when I was
going with the girls. So they give me a candy pulling. We pulled the
candy and all. Put it on a plater. It was nice and pretty and all. So I
asked her about walking home with her. So I walked home with her. And
that was the beginning of our courtship. My wife said that neither one of
them girls mentioned me to them again.
C: What happened when you first set eyes on her? What was the feeling, what
was so special?
D: You cannot explain it.
C: Why not?
D: I do not know. You see people with personalities that you like and you
like them the first time you see them. When I looked at her, she was
sitting over there. She was never one to say much; she was always quiet.
She never was one to fuss about anything. I attribute my success, what we
have done, to her keeping her nose out of my business. I would ask her if
it was something I was contemplating doing, and I always talked it over
with her. And she would always tell me, honey you know more about that
than I do; you do what you think is best.
C: So she has expressed confidence in you?
D: Yes. So tourest club in Gainesville come up for sale, so I sold the farm
and moved into the real estate business. And I imagine that I bought a
house about every month. I would keep it rented, and get enough money to
fix it up. And I would add a thousand dollars to it and sell it, above
what I had paid for it and put in it.
Finally this tourest home came vacant, and I went and looked at it. I
believe I took her over there and we looked at it--I am quite sure I did--
and we looked at it. And the man that I bought it from, he was living in
it, and he wanted the privilege of staying there, I believe, a month or
two months. He had bought a bungalow house, and he was going to move into
that but they had to do something to it before he could move in. She said
why don't we move over there and I would run a tourist home and you could
drive a commute back and forth to work. And I said that I believe that I
could handle that; I said alright, sure.
So this old man, I think his name was Wallace, he lived out there beyond
the [Newnansville] cemetery. And he had talked to me about moving to
Alachua. I told the wife that I would go up there and see him--I cannot
recall his first name. He worked for Marl (?) and Henry Harris,
they had a grocery store down there. And his wife died, and when she lay
a corps he come up there and worked on Saturday. And Marl said he thought
then that there was a nigger in the woodpile someplace. So he watched
him. And one night he got a whole bunch of stuff together and went out
and put it in his car. And he followed him and caught him right in the
C: What was he doing?
D: Stealing groceries. That was the reason he was going to work. They only
paid him a dollar a day. And he left his wife a corpse and come up
there--with his friends all around his place of residence--and he came up
there and worked. And then, they stayed open until late into the night.
C: Was that so that people that farmed could not get into the stores after
the sun went down?
D: He stayed open late, I do not know why. Most every night, he would stay
open as long as everybody would come in. My wife's sister had a store
next to it. And they used to stay down there. And my wife worked for her
on Saturday afternoon. And one night she come in and she was so tired--
her sister paid her five dollars for a half a days work--and she said she
was upset about it. Said something about only paying her five dollars, and
she was so tired she could not hardly put one foot before the other. And
I said honey, you owe Ivey more than what she owes you for what she has
done for you. You see, she took her when her daddy married again; she
took her and Irene. Anyhow, it kind of calmed her down, and she went on
back to work there. I believe she worked there until we moved to
Gainesville. We moved to Gainesville and she ran that tourist home
and fed and clothed us out of it, and enjoyed it until her eyes went bad.
And I sold it and bought this.
C: I do not think that this tape is long enough to talk about some more
things that I want us to talk about. It has just got two or three more
minutes on it and I want to hear more about your memories and your
thoughts about marriage, if you are willing to share them, and how you
remember Alachua. So will you make a deal to let me do this again with
D: You betcha.
C: We will call this part one with Chester Dampier, on December 10, 1986.
Thank you Mr. Dampier.
C: This is Sudye Cauthen with Chester Dampier at his house in Alachua on July
6, 1987. And this is part two of my interview with Mr. Dampier. Since we
recorded the first part of our interview last December, 1986, Mr.
Dampier, you lost your wife, Nola Dampier just less than a month
ago. When I was here last time, that was when she was still with you.
But you said at the end of the interview, that you wanted a chance to make
some remarks about marriage and life with another person. So that is why
I came back today, to get your thoughts on marriage and to tell me what
D: To have a successful marriage, the first requisite is love. You know the
bible tells us that God is love, and it is the part of man, that God is in
man that makes love. So man has to love his wife, and equally so, his wife
has to love him to have a successful marriage. Love covers a multitude of
sin. If we love each other, we can overlook lots of little things, and it
is mostly the little things that cause friction in a marriage; it is not
so much the big things because we solve those.
One of the best demonstrations to illustrate love, physically, is a
mother's love for her child. A mother don't give up on a child because of
a love that she has for that child. I think that people should give as
much consideration as any purchase you make, when we purchase a home, we
think about it a long time, analyze it. When we purchase a car, we think
about it. Even buying some clothes or a dress, we think about it. But
too often we do not give marriage much thought and the result is, perhaps,
just a passionate marriage which is bound for destruction.
I just read today where in France, fifty percent of the marriages end in
divorce. And they claim it is about that much in the United States. And
the only thing that I can see, if I was going to put my finger on one
cause, it is the lack of love. So I think that if we ask ourselves,
really, if we love the person that we are fixing to marry, and give it
deep thought, there would not be as many unlovable marriages as there is.
Then after we are married, I think that we have to release ourselves or
govern ourselves and take thought about what we are saying and what we are
doing. And ask our selves the question, would I love my mate to treat me
like I am treating her now, would I tolerate it? Would I continue to love
her? And everything that they do, they should talk to eachother about it,
and get the viewpoint and be together on it.
I think that my success has been due to the fact that my wife never tried
to hinder me from what I had done. Often I would ask her what she thought
about something and she would say, "Honey, you know more about it than I
do, do whatever you think is best." And that is what I did, and,
consequently, I think I have been right successful for an uneducated man.
I think we have to govern ourselves and not be to picky about the
things that our mate does. Another thing about getting along is that we
should never criticize each other in public. If you see something that
your mate has done wrong when you are in public, keep your mouth shut
until you get to yourselves and then say something about it. And you are
more likely getting an attentive ear, where if you criticize them in
public you are not likely to get an attentive ear.
I think that is some of the main things that we can look at in life. My
married life was a long time. I was married for sixty-six years lacking
one month and two days, and it was a very happy life. I had a very happy
life. And I always tried to think when I had done something, if my wife
would like it--if it would be pleasing to her.
Two most important things in life that stuck with me the most, was when we
moved into this house and it was not finished, we had to put cabinets in
the kitchen. So I got the cabinets put in, and I bought a dining room
suit. And we were doing the dishes one night, and my wife said that if a
woman could not be happy in a home like this, she just could not be made
happy. The other was on her death bed, the last words that she ever spoke
to me was, "Danny, I love you so much." And if I live a hundred years, I
will never forget those two statements that she made. To think that I had
pleased her, made her a happy home, and that she loved me at the end.
That is all.
C: May I ask you a question? What was Nola Dampier like?
D: She was a very intelligent woman; she had a memory like an elephant. She
was not mouthy; she did not have much to say. Of course, when she spoke
it meant something. She was a good housekeeper, a good cook, a wonderful
mother, and there was never a better wife than she was. If she had an
enemy in the world, I do not know her, and I think I would have. She was
slow to criticize--me or anybody else. She was not guilty of talking
about the neighbors; if she could not say something good, she would not
say it. She always tried to say something good about things.
C: You talked about your childhood and you lost your mother when you were
young, and you and your stepmother were not real close. So often,
nowdays, psychologists say that children who grow up in situations like
that do not grow up to have happy marriages of their own. But you did.
You achieved a happy marriage in spite of the fact that your childhood was
a little rocky in places. Why do you think that you were able to do that?
Or have you already answered that question?
D: People are born with different genes. My two boys, I do not know how to
express it, one of them has got my genes and the another one got his
mother's genes. Now the one that got the mother's genes, he has even got
skin like she had. Her skin was like velvet. His skin looks like hers.
He is quiet like she is. Where the other one is featured like me, he is
slow to learn like I was, he had to dig hard for what he got, but he is
doing alright. Both of my boys are doing alright physically, religiously,
both of them are Christians, and both of them are doing well financially.
C: You mentioned being successful a while ago. You said that for a man with
no education, you thought you had been successful.
D: Yes, I have a sixth grade education.
C: I was listening to the tape we made in December, and on that tape you said
you wished you would have stayed with you aunt, I believe. You thought
you would have gotten a better education. You did not get the education
that you wanted so what is it, you think that enabled you to be as shrewd
as you have been about business matters?
D: Reading, I read a lot. I take three magazines and two daily papers. I
have suscribed to the Wall Street Journal since 1940.....
(End of side two of BR4A)