Interview with C. J. Workinger, May 25, 1970

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Interview with C. J. Workinger, May 25, 1970
Workinger, C.J. ( Interviewee )
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Gainesville High School (Alachua County) Oral History Collection ( local )
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This text has been transcribed from an audio or video oral history. Digitization was funded by a gift from Caleb J. and Michele B. Grimes.

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Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
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This interview is part of the 'Gainesville High School' collection of interviews held by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program of the Department of History at the University of Florida
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Interview with Mr. C.J. Workinger conducted by J.0. Rebstat, Curtis and Craver.

R: When did you come to Gainesville?

W: We started back at the beginning of World War II. In World War I I was in

the Navy and I applied for a commission in World War II but I was a little

over age. THey did not say that I was too old they just said that I was over-

age. They did not give me a commission but they assigned me to Langley

Field in the Air Force. I had been stationed at Queenstown, Ireland during

World War I. I was there until after the war and as a matter of fact until

March of 1947. My boy Bill whose picture is over there and he is an electrical

engineer was going to VPI, Virginia Poltechnic Institue. It is one of the

best engineering schools in the country. He had had rheumatic fever when he

was a little kid. The reason that I had to come down here was the doctors

said that the cold weather up in the mountains in Virginia would cause him

to have relapses of the rheumatic fever. THe doctors said that he would have

a rheumatic heart if he did not get to a warmer climate. I had to pull some

strings to get discharged from the Air Force because my time was not up. They

gave me an extended leave that I am still on after some 20 years. I came down

here and I worked with an architect up there. I wrote to him and asked him to

give me the name of the Florida Power Company manager because I had done

transmission worknd things like that. I got a letter in two days and they

said that they needed me here. That is when they had a twelve million dollar

grant for the new stadium and the new gym and cafeteria andkther things there.

That was in 1947, in April of 1947. I came to the University then and I was

in the Architecture Department. After that work was done the building and all

having an electrical background I got with the electrical department. I was

with that until we had installed all of the cables and things like that. THat

job wa one and then I got with the Chemistry Department and which I stayed


for about 16 or 17 years. I was in research chemistry until I retired in 1964.

I have been retired for that long.

R: What buildings were on the campus at the time.

W: Before 1947, there use to be power poles.all over the campus and wires strung

all over the place. What we did the Miller Electric Company we had this

twelve million dollar grant to put in an underground system. There was not

even one man-hole on the campus before then and now there are 37. Ducts

were laid and cables pulled in there and put underground. There still maybe

a few poles somewhere. That was what was there and I knew every building that

was on campus at that time. NOw, I get lost out there. For instance, that

magnolia tree that you see down there is about 40 feet tall. I pulled it up

out in the swamp=there in about 1950. It is 21 years old and it is a huge

thing and that is what I did right before I went with the Chemistry Department.

Benton Hall was an electrical engineering building and that is before the

present engineering building across from the stadium. That was also under

that grant. It was not co-educational then it was just boys. It was in

1948, I believe when it became co-educational the same as the state university

in Tallahassee.

R: It was not a state university at that time?

W: It was a state university but it was all girls, all girls there and all boys

here. THen it wa ade co-educational. I could name a dozen or so of the

buildings. You did not even have the student service center there that you

call the Hub. That was built later. THere might have been fifty buildings

on the campus. I could not tell you for sure but there was about that many.

Now, I guess that there is well over a hundred. After I got with the CHemistry

Department I got out of touch with the other departments. All of the old

buildings are Gothic Architecture. They are beautiful buildings. These modern

buildings I guess that they are more practical but the do no have the same


to me it does not have the same beauty as the old buildings. I am out of touch

I do 'know. But twelve million dollars would not go anywhere now. You

might be able to get two or three buildings where we got ten or fifteen.

That brings you up to 1964 when I was in research chemistry and I made

gadgets for the Ph.D.s there. I would make a little appartus that they could

complete their work with. THen I was given credit for a lot of stuff that I

probably did not deserve. Anyway I make it possible for them to do their work

and get their Doctor's Degree. They said that I made more Ph.D.s then anybody

else out there. Incidentally, I was awarded an honorary Doctor's degree. Of

course, they could not give me anything because I did not have any background

to get anything. I did so many things out there in electronic work and machine

work and at time electrical work in a pinch. I did about three mens work out

there in the old days. I helped out all of-the departments. SO they got together

and called me up there and gave me this honorary degree with the seal on it and

everything. It looks like a joke but it was not one. I thought at first that

it was done facetiously but it was not. The next morning I had a delegation of

Doctors to come up to my shop. I made a little speech and it was not too

complementary to them because I thought that they were making fun of me. I said

that a person who knows that he is stupid does not like to have fun poked at him.

If you are smart well then they can make fun

R: You could not have been too stupid to do all of that stuff for them.

W: That is what I thought. You know a deaf and dumb person is very sensitive about

that and they think that people make fun of them. THe reason that I know that

is that my grandfather and my grandmother on my father's side were deaf mutes.

My grandfather lost his hearing and speech when he was eight years old from scarlet

fever. In those days, scarlet fever and these other diseases there was not much

of a rememUy for them. So, they were deaf mutes. I learned to speak the deaf


dumb language because my father taught us. That is my mother's picture up there

when she was eighteen and tshe would be 115 if she was still living. That is

what I did at the University until 1964.

R: Do you play golf now.

W: Yes, I made a hole-in-one after 55 years last April a year ago.

R: Did you play golf around 1950?

W: Yes, when I first came to Gainesville I still had my old clubs. They were hickory

L? Jlubs that I bought in 1927. I played with them. When I came down here in

1947, the Gainesville Golf and Country Club what it was then now belongs'to the

University. That was the Gainesville Golf and Country Club. I played out

there and I shot a 86. I played with a fellow named Hubert and I never knew his

last name and I do not know it today. He and I were partners and we played two

other fellows. I did not know that we were playing for money and when we finished

they came up and handed me three dollars and a half. I did not even know that

we were playing for money. I wouldplay once in a while there. Then I got so busy

with other things that I did not play much golf except that I would go and visit

my son in Atlanta and maybe three or four times a year would be the most that I

would play until they built this course out here in 1965.

R: Ironwood?

W: Ironwood. I was the 39th member that signed up for there and I have been a

member ever since. I have played in the tournaments and I got one trophy

there and then I got the hole-in-one. I have a bowling trophy here that you

might be interested in. I use to bowl but I never made a 300 game. The glass-

blower out at the Chemistry Department when I did something he made this. IT has

a little inscription on it and notice the bowler's arm. It says, "How long have

you been bowling, Hank?" and his arm is touching the floor. THings like that

people have done for me and I appreciate it. It is all done in fun. That was

P.J. Thompson one of the artistic glass-blowers and quite a chemist himself.

He did not get such a very good deal in the Chemistry Department.

R: What kind of government was here when you got here.

W: They had the Mayor-Commissioner and the CIty Council. This is strictly my

opinion. Having been in the electrical power business for about 25 years before

I came down here, I built about 350 miles of line in Georgia. I know what it

ought to be. My opinion here is that it is entirely too much expense. THe

expenditure is too great for the functional part of these lines. For instance,

you have go tn 39th Avenue on every pole there is double-armed and they are in

a perfectly straight line and allof those poles are there for it to hold up

those wires to keep them from falling. There is no side strain or anything like

that. One single cross unit with the braces and insulators at the end would be

about $150.00 at the present day rates. They use two of them and that makes

every one of them $300.00. You go along 8th Avenue out there between 6th Street

and 34th Street and you will find poles that are set in perfectly straight lines

about 90 or 100 feet apart. On each one of those poles just on the highway

with no residents along that section there are these mercury-vapor street lights.

I do not know what they cost but it is a good bit probably. A man with only

one eye whk could walk along there and not stumble over there if there was just

every other pole. I can not make any accusations because I do not know. I knew

John Kelley when the University was served by the Gainesville Power COmpany.

With the expansion of the buildings the load becamqMgTX too great for the city

to handle. Then the FLorida Power Company came and serviced it which they still

do. John Kelley then he was the head of the line department and he was not

known as the Director of the Utilities. In a lot of organizations there are such

things as kickbacks. I do not know if here was any kickback hereor not. I do

know that they Taxpayers, the people pay twice as much.

I am going to run out in about fifteen minutes but we can start over.

R: How long do you think that we have been talking?

W: YOu have been here pretty close to twenty-five minutes. Whatever you want to do.


R: We might as well go on with this.

W: There will not be any noise but there might be a little hesitation that someone

might notice.

Mr. Larvaes was the President of the Company and he told methat (Interruption

in the tape) Other wise you could transmit a million volts on a transition line

on real fine wire not much bigger then a hair. Because they were building an

insulator that could contain or control that much current would cost so much

that you would overshadow the savings you would make by using smaller copper.

That is the basis that a regular privatLompany iXXXNMXX figures on. It will

give you good efficiency but they go up to that limit where the current goes

down and that is where it stops. Now double-arming poles and street lights every

75 feet where there are no houses that does not make sense to me. That is what

is true and you can look for yourself when you go out of here, and you can see

those things.

R: How do you think that this can be changed? Do you think that the public can do


W: It is like the fellow said that you vote some out and you vote some in that are

just as bad. I was a City Councilman one time for about four years and I was

amazed that a little town with only three thousand people in it how they would

finagle. HOw the City Council would finagle. THey would want them to put a

light out here by their henhouse where there is nobody there and then they would

see that they would pave the street up by where you live. In other words, you

scratch my back and I will scratch yours that sort of thing. There are things

like that in all towns and what are you going to do about it? During World War

I, these contractors they sent men aboard ships there about fifty men and only

ten of them would work and the others would shoot craps with the sailors.

The contractor had cost plus ten per cent and the more men that he could load

on there then the more that he got. That is the way that things are and I do not


waht you are going to do. I get criti-cized for it. The best form of government

that you could have would be a dictator if you could find a dictator like God.

This universe is run by one being. With a very wise and fair man and that would

be the best form of government.

End of Tape 1-Side 1


Tape 1-Side 2

R: We want to know about past f and attitudes and how you think that they

have changed.

W: It will take a long time but I will try to make it as brief as possible. Tell

you what things were in my life. To begin with we will take the moral question

because that is in all of the newspapers and all the magazines and the top most

topic of the day. When I was a young fellow, you courted a girl when you were

20 or 21 years old. Of course, I was in the Navy in those years. BUt before then

say 18 or 19, you went LCM see a girl and when ten-thirty in the evening came

the mother or the father and some of them were real subtle about the thing.

The old man would get out the alarm clock and wind it and you could hear it

for a block. If you were not started home by then then he would come out and

ask you if you did not have a home or something like that. You left then.

I mean this was a cross-section of the middle class people. You would call on

her about three times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays and sometimes

Sunday. You never associated sex with a girl that you had ideas that someday

you might want to marry. The girls in those days the most treasured thing that

they had was their virginity. If they could not go to the man that they were

going to marry as a virgin, they would have a nervous break-down or something

like that. That was what was expected. Young fellows of that age were the

same that they are now. Maybe now with these mini-skirts and polka-dot bikinis,

they are urged a little more then we were in the days of the ankle length dresses.

You are at least activated to a greater degree then I was. In my day, you had

places that were known as sporting houses which were under the supervision of

the city doctor. The girls made that their business and they knew how to take

care of themselves and there was very little general disease in those days.

THey were examined by a doctor and kept in shape. If they had any sign of a

general disease, they were taken out of circulation. By the same token, you did AD


go into one of those houses which were high-class and you were examined by the

girl that you had your date with. If you had anything wrong with you in that

region then you were out brother. There was very little general disease compared

to what there is today. That would just about cover the sex in those days.

I will tell you another little thing. I went with a girl and was engaged to her

one time. Because of the ankle-length dresses I always wondered what kind of

legs that Ada had. In those days, I did not have an automobile. I had half

interest in a motorcycle which almost killed me. SO, when we went anywhere we

would go on a streetcar. THis was in Baltimore, Maryland. I was born down on

the easter shore around Cheasapeake but I grew up in Baltimore. I wondered what

kind of legs that Ada had. I said that the next time that we go to the theatre

and I help her on the street car that I was going to look. You know that I

could not get nerve enough up to look when I helped her on. SHe solved the

problem for me. She was a wonderful pianist and she was going to play. IN

those days, they had a parlor in part of the house which was separate from

the living room. THe parlor is where the piano was and where the guests came.

When the preacher would come to visit you then you would go into the parlor.

That is where the courting was done too. ONe evening Ada was going to play a

piece on the piano and she had to pick out the piece on top of the upright

piano. She stood one foot on the floor and one foot on the piano bench and I

saw clear up to her* knee and I nearly fell off of that chair. There is one

more incident that I will have to tell you about Ada and this is the truth.

I have written an autobiography of my life and I have put it in there.

I have not liked cats since that day when I was calling on Ada. She was sitting

with her back to the opening of the door and they had real heavy drapes that

ran across the opening. If you wanted a little privacy then you would pull

those drapes together. We were sitting there and talking about the weather, I

reckon and her cat got in there. He rubbed up against those drapes and he sat


down and he started to scratch his ears. I told Ada that I bet that she could

not do what that cat was doing. He was scratching his ears but when she turned

around he was licking'his behind. SHe got up out of there and stomped out of

the room and I did not see her for two weeks. If I could have caught that cat

I would have chocked him. It took me a long time to get back in her good graces.

R: I want to ask you about these sporting houses. When did they start out allowing

these and why?

W: Well, it was about 1920 when they became illegal. They are still there but they

are not as safe. They are not run as scientifically and as safe. Your sporting

houses in most cities by 1920 were not legalized any more. They were not

supervised by the city health doctor. They are still there but like I say it

is not safe.

R: Could you tell us a lttle bit about Gainesville say 25 years ago when you moved


W: ONe of the best things for you to do is to go into the office of Mr. Sam Dell,

the lawyer. They have a big mural picture of Gainesville in 1905 and stuff

like that. That will give you an idea. The first hnad idea that I can give

you starts in 1947 when I came here. To begin with the Atlantic Coastline rail-

road train ran right up Mian Street. It came up west Main Street. We had two

Main Streets, East Main Street, And West Main Street. West Main Street is what

is Main Street now. THe Atlantic Coastline train came right up Main Street

and it stopped exactly in font of where the First National Bank is now and the

railroad station was right near there too. That was the most amazing thing to

me that I noticed when I came here. The first time that I came to Gainesville

I flew down to see Mr. Fulton who was the head kn of the Architectural

Department. I could not believe thatthe man was offering me a job without

meeting me and knowing me so I came down here. I flew down first. Then the


the next time I came on the train. That is what I noticed. You still had

stores here where you went in and told the grocer what you wanted and he

waited on you. THey they had the Piggly-Wiggly which was on what is now

13th Street and it use to be 9th Street. 9th Street was the only one that I

can remember that had a numerical name. THe others were aames like Union

Street, COmmerce Street and you had a heck of a time finding where you

wanted to go. THat is the way- that they were numbered and named. For

instance, our street here on this end what is now 33rd Avenue was Hill Street

and on the other end of it which is near the 13th Street entrance to it

was Tyler Avenue. You had a heck of a time finding your way around. In 1948,

Miss Edamines and myself in fact she is still living. I was *ebng the street

out here with a shovel and it was just about eight feet wide witxx the sand.

She said that if more people did this then we would have a better neighborhood.

I told her that was right if we could get them to do it. She said that we

should form a club and we formed the Suburbia Club. I was the second President

of it. I wrote the bylaws and we did such things as got with the County Board

of Education and had built the Stephen Foster School out here. We did those

kind of things. We set up the quadrant system. I spent personal money

to get maps drawn up by students at the University. We had the quadrant system

set up and operating before they did in Gainesville proper. Gainesville in

those days ended at 19th Avenue and there were city poststhere like a gate.

That is where the city limits were then. We set the quadrant system up and took

it from there. Then we did away with one of the Main Streets. We kept the

West Main Street and then put in the quadrants. I took 4x4 posts and painted

them and stenciled them about 200 posts one fellow and myself set them where

they were. That was in 1948 when we formed the Suburbia Club. I do not want

to digress and get off of the subject. THe biggest store that we had here was

the Margaret Anne and that use to be on East Main Street. It was north of


University Avenue and that was the dividing line for the streets. Main Street

was the dividing line for the avenues. The Margaret Anne which was right across

from the Episcopal Church there on what is now 1st Street, Northeast 1st Street.

Then the A & P store was off of University Avenue on what is now about 3rd Street,

Northwest 3rd Street

R: These were grocery stores?

W: Yes

R: Was this a dry county then?

W: Yes, it was dry until about five or six years ago. We use to have to go down

to the Marion County line right on the other side of Micanopy about 17 miles

to buy your liquor. THere was just as much drinking then as there is now and

maybe more. Yes, it was a local option here and you could only sell beer

and that beer was only about 3% alcohol. Good beer, like the Germans drink,

is only about 3 1/2 to 4% alcohol because they drink:it as a beverage and

not to get drunk on. Beer now can be 5% maybe. Sometimes they would put ether

in)t and]t would send you on a trip but I do not think that they do that any-

more. The price of food is where the great differences are. I will start with

doctors because they are the gentlemen that have upped the business more then

anyone. You would have such things as your sinuses pumped out and drained

and a doctor would spend about an hour with you and that would cost you three

dollars. Dr. Pinkerson who has picked stuff out of my eyes when I was working

there in the lathe grinding and something would go into my eye. I went to Dr.

Pinkerson whom I think is the best eye-doctor. I go to him every year and even

until this last year it was only five dollars. THis time he spent about an

hour with me looking into my eye and it was eighteen dollars this time. He

does work commensurate with what he charges. YOu get your money worth with him.

A doctor made house calls then. You do not get anyouse calls now. I go to the

Veteran's Hospital for what I need because I am entitled to go there and that is


where I go. That is the largest increase. Sugar was about 5 a pound and you

could get a five pound bag for 25. My wife raised heck the other day because

cabbage was 14 a pound. I bought two onions just the other day and it was 29(

for two onions. They were purple onions and they are real sweet but it was 29(

for the two of them.

R: Did the farmers bring in produce to these grocery stores?

W: Yes, you had a Farmer's Market. THe stores handled it until they got Ha to

be chain stores. You take a farmer down here with an orange grove at Micanopy

or Ocala or somewhere, he can not sell his oranges or grapefruit in these grocery

stores because they will not buy them from him. If he could then you could buy

grapefruit for a 50 a piece. It is like the union. I belonged to the IBEW for

about eight years. That is the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

YOu paid your dues and before you could become a journeyman electrician you had

to serve a certain length of time as a journeyman electrician and when you

qualified then you could apply and be passed as a journeyman electrician. You

had a business agent who saw that your rights were taken car f and that they

were not mistreated. When you got a 5 an hour raise then you got a an hour

raise. Now when you get a 25 an hour raise about all that you realize out

of it is about 5. There are too many business agents that have too many

assistants. THey keep the thing in a spiral and a vicious circle and up food

prices. You take a poor fellow like me who is-on a fixed income with my SOcial

Security and my retirement from the University and for a while I &Vk a little

something from the Veteran's Administration until the UNiversity payed me back

all of the money that I had put in in my retirement fund. Now, they are paying

me out of the state treasury but until about six or seven months ago they were

paying me my own money. They thought that I would be dead by this time but I

am not. My income is fixed and yet everything else goes up. We went from about

1947 to 1960 for 13 years and everything was on an even keel.


R: Do you feel that because we have better material things now-a-days since say back

in the 1920s. When you had the ice man come around with the ice and now you have

the refrigerators and televisions and better cars, do you think tha people's

lives have really become better? Do you think that we haue advanced that much?

W: Well, there is not any question about that. There are more types of appliances

to make it much easier on the housewife. YOur means of transportation by the

improved cars have gotten people out of the woods. Because you could live 25

miles from your place of business these days and in just a few minutes you

could be there. In the old days, you did not work that far away from where

you lived unless you rode with a pass on the railroad. THere is some question

in my mind whether people are actually happier these days then they were then.

THere is so much turmoil and responsibility and crime and things like that.

THe people I do not think are as happy as they were in the old days. For this

reason, you take 50 years ago any working man that had a reasonably good

job could have practically everything that could be had in those days. There

was not too much to be envied. Now, people have speed-boats and yachts and

bigger cars and a whole lot of things that a middle class person sort of envies.

They have them but they are in debt. I would say that 75% of the middle class

persons if they had to pay their debts tomorrow then they would be bankrupt.

They do not have the collateral or the cash to pay for what they have bought.

I have got to agree that I am old-fashioned and that I appreciate the old ways

best. I have a little picture on the wall up here and you can see an old mill

End of the interview.