The Personal Histories
Darvil Burns McBride & Josephine Phillips McBride
NEW IN CALIFORNIA
In May of 1942, with the United States already well entrenched in World War II, we packed most of our belongings and drove from our origins in the Gila Valley, Arizona, to Santa Ana, California. There, we stayed for about six weeks with Jo's brother, Virgil Phillips, and his wife Toots and family. I soon found a temporary job with Golden State Creamery as a milkman. I drove a daily delivery route in Long Beach.
Our original plan dictated finding employment in the war defense industry. California enjoyed a much publicized boom. For those that dared pull up stakes and leave our rural valley, its economy seemed to offer greater opportunity for financial success. We determined it worthwhile to leave teaching to search the promising new horizon. Even as the Principal of the Solomonville Elementary School, though considered a well paying job for the time and place, it only paid $2,400 a year.
After staying the hospitable six weeks with Virgil and Toots and their three children, we moved to a cottage\apartment in the city of Newport Beach on 31st street between Newport Boulevard and the beach boardwalk. After working the milk route for three months, Douglas Aircraft Corporation hired me as an inspector; a position of envy aspired to by many jealous employees. An excellent position, I answered directly to the Army Air Corps Authority. The mechanics in turn answered to the inspectors. Friction frequently arose between inspectors and mechanics because of the exactness required of the inspectors by the military.
At first, esteemed as an underling novice by the mechanics, disputes often erupted between us. But, the military inspectors, checking the quality of my judgments left me no room for concession or error. Therefore, the biggest challenge for the inspector: getting along with installer-mechanics, became the primary problem. The mechanics naturally believed they knew more about mechanics than I did. As mechanics, without question, they stood superior. But, I knew the Army's expectations regarding the fine-tuned precision required for the installations. The disputes decreased with time as the workers gained confidence and respect for my decisions. They witnessed the meticulousness of the military people under whom I had to operate. They soon looked to me more as a protector than an antagonist. The job became more pleasant.
Principally, I inspected the aircraft armaments: the gun placement installations in virtually every B-17 bomber. Not only did I do the inspection, but the job at times required that I test-fire the 50-caliber machine guns. After towing the craft to the test-firing area, I fired live ammunition against a heavy barrier wall -- real fire power, I assure you.
On just one occasion I flew in the B-17. I'd stepped up a notch in seniority; it fell my responsibility to test-fire the guns of every tenth plane while in flight. My first flight happened to be the last time the Army required in-flight, firing tests. So, I held the distinction of being the last civilian to ever do in-flight, machinegun testing in the B-17 bomber built by Douglas Aircraft of Long Beach. In the beginning, the job with Douglas didn't pay what we'd hoped for. But as I continued with Douglas, I began to make considerable more money. Much more than I could ever have earned in the Arizona school systems of the Gila Valley.
Douglas administered an Army Air Corps School on its premises for crew training in the specifics of the aircraft it produced. Because of the knowledge of airplanes I'd gained through many months of inspecting, plus experience, qualifications and credentials in teaching, the training school hired me as an instructor; a coveted high-priority and high profile position. The step-up paid considerably more than the factory inspector work. I taught the prospective crews and the ground mechanics the operations of the physical aspects of the airplanes. I loved the job for a good while, but it finally began to wear thin on me. The tedious constant repetition became tiresome. I taught the same lessons day after day, but the good money kept me going.
In late November or early December, we moved from our crowded cottage quarters in Newport Beach. We rented a cute picturesque, roomy, two-story house on the Balboa Peninsula right on the southwest corner of Balboa Boulevard and 7th Street. It's still there (1999) with all its windows and second story, many-windowed, solarium room. It's just as beautiful as ever. Living there, we had the board-walk next to the ocean beach, just the length of the short block from us, and the bay beach in the opposite direction just two blocks away. In those days, the traffic or the converging weekend beach-goers, holidays and summers, didn't threaten the coastal cities with the hordes it has to accommodate now. We lived a peaceful fulfilling life there for over a year.
With the good money we had been making we had accumulated a sizable savings and were anxious to own our own home. In the summer of 1943, we bought a home on a corner, one-acre lot in Westminster. It had two mature trees of practically every kind of popular fruit imaginable, plus a raspberry patch, grape arbor and plenty of room for our yearly spring garden. We had a drake mallard duck with his three hens that wandered the fenced property doing there part munching snails, slugs and other numerous “crawliphants.” Out the back door in the middle of a green lawn nestled a small, oval-shaped pond full of multi-colored carp. The tresses of a picturesque half-grown weeping willow shaded it most of the day. We had an ample chicken coop and long fenced run with a hundred white leghorn laying hens and one aggressive pugnacious rooster. (The old raskal attacked us all, but with the exception of little Sally, we could always give it a husky boot to discourage it.) We candled, sorted and cartoned the eggs, put up a big sign on the corner and sold them to the neighbors and passing public. I sold them at work also, and when a full case accumulated, I'd go to Huntington Beach, where I received the going price for them from the stores.
We also bought a hundred, Rhode Island Red chicks, which we raised to fryer size. With Mac and Jon helping, we slaughtered, scalded, plucked, dressed and packaged them attractively. Then we put them on ice to take to work the next day. While we raised them, I'd been advertising and taking orders. The buyers, my coworkers, picked up their orders in the parking lot after work. This little side-venture proved highly profitable because of the wartime meat rationing. One could seldom find a chicken in the meat markets, even if he had ration stamps.
At Douglas, I had access to small scraps of Plexiglas. I learned to cut, fashion and polish trinkets from it, making different kinds of jewelry for necklace medallions, broaches and bracelets etc. Sometimes I bonded colorful items between two layers of it to make the article more salable. My prize one was a heart with a real scorpion inside that I kept for myself. The string tie I fashioned with it still hangs on my tie rack, kept for special occasions. I sold these at work, to friends and to neighbors. Though not a fortune maker, I had fun, and it kept my pocket a bit heavier with change.
Douglas also had employed Jo as a
small parts inspector for about six months, when, Nettie and Jean, Jo's
mother and youngest sister, came from Thatcher to live with us. They
supervised the kids and kept house for us while we worked. (Jo's Douglas Aircraft ID card can be seen here.)
In 1946, the terrible war ended. Douglas Aircraft had already started terminating employees. Looking to the future, we had seen the writing on the wall and had saved another nest-egg. We began to search for a business of our own. Both of us, because of our family backgrounds were imbued with entrepreneurial inclinations. With youth still on our side, we continued to search for that special treasure in which to be self-employed.
The circumstances under which we found our diamond eludes our memories now, but we found a business on Avalon Boulevard in Wilmington. The business had been given the appropriate descriptive name: "HELP YOUR SELF LAUNDRY." After we questioned the owner, made inquiries and evaluated, we arrived at an agreement with him. We purchased the business with our nest-egg we'd stashed away for just such an opportunity. We became the proud proprietors of our first business, for which we paid a little over $5,000.
The building, built long and narrow, had twelve Maytag washing machines of the old, square-tub, wringer-type arranged back to back down a center shelf divider. Two, deep, square rinse tubs served each machine: one for rinsing and one for bluing, if needed. (Bluing white laundry was the custom of the time. A water soluble dye was poured into the rinse water affecting a whiter appearance of the whites.) Two large commercial dryers and an ample number of folding tables lined the outer windowed walls of the building. In the beginning we charged customers seventy-five cents per hour. Later we raised it to eighty-five cents and then to one dollar per hour.
Some customers preferred to drop off their laundry for us to wash, dry and fold. We all took our turn at this chore, even the three kids became experts. Though Jo had a washing machine at home, she usually brought our laundry to the business to take care of between customers. Though sometimes I had the boys help me, I did all the general maintenance and improvements of the building. And, of necessity, I repaired and renovated the machines. They were hard to replace, and mechanics were greedy.
After several weeks of driving from Westminster to the business in Wilmington, we could see the definite advantage of living closer to it. In 1944, we moved to Wilmington into a newly-built house on a corner lot on Enola Street.
In 1945, after living in the Enola Street house for about two years, we sold it. A family tempted us with such an exceptional offer, we couldn't turn it down. For the time being, we moved into a rental on Lagune Street, closer to the center of town and much nearer the business. We lived there for a few months while we searched for another property to buy.
Near the turn of the year 1947/48, we bought a beautiful home on Marine Avenue, not far from the Lagune Street house, one block west of Avalon Boulevard and a block from Banning High School. We loved it. Of all the homes we would live in, in California, Jo loved it far and above the others. Located in a nice part of the city, we not only enjoyed the loveliness of the home and its yards, but also the royalties of an oil well and the rental income from a beautiful two bedroom apartment on the property.
In 1947 while we were still in the middle of the laundry business, Bruce and Velda, my youngest brother and his wife, with their three children (Their forth would arrive in the future.), arrived from Ajo, Arizona, where he had been employed by the copper mine. He and I bought the Bicycle & Fix-it Shop directly across from Banning High School with frontage on Avalon Boulevard and just across the alley from the back yard of our Marine Street property.
Bruce managed it for nearly two years. He did fairly well selling and repairing bicycles, sharpening and repairing lawn mowers and repairing washing machines. I took a percentage of the profits during this time which recuperated part of my investment. After we moved to Colorado, he found excellent employment with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. He then sold the little business and settled the remaining debt with me. They moved to Van Nuys in the San Fernando Valley, where they greatly prospered.
The laundry business boomed for us. During the immediate post-war period, the household washing machine had yet to reappear in the stores for families to buy. Most families did their laundry in places like ours. The business prospered such that we doubled our original investment in a year. For the three years we owned the laundry, we averaged over $9,000 per year. Far and away above the average income.
Near the first of 1949, with the two boys helping me, we finished construction of a small apartment directly behind the laundry business. Again compelled to sell our home, for an excellent offer, we sold the Marine Avenue property and moved into the new apartment. Jo was grateful for the profits and saving but was despondent as she adjusted to loosing her beautiful home.
The industries previously caught up in the war defense effort, were converting rapidly to the peacetime economy. The manufacturing of once hard-to-find items began to be stocked again in the stores. Thousands of items and appliances for private consumption had virtually disappeared for a half-decade. But, now, industries began again to manufacture them on a grand scale. Washing machines gradually made their debut again in some appliance store windows. We foresaw that prices would begin to reach levels making appliances readily available to the average family. The writing had appeared on the wall again. Correctly interpreting the signs of the recuperating, national economy, we sold the laundry business in time to fetch a price of a little more than we had paid for it.
We moved into a large rental house in a predominantly Mexican-American area of Wilmington, about February of 1949, where our neighbors were nice people. Not knowing exactly what life had in store for us next, I took interim work with a local department store in town. I tried my hand in the sale of television sets, for as yet, few families had afforded the new luxury. For the next three months I sold them along with a few other appliances, while I scanned the classified advertisements and followed leads for employment or another business to buy.
I found what I thought I was looking for. Woodbury Business College, in Los Angles, hired me to represent the College to graduating high school seniors living in an area of Colorado. The College paid me full salary as a trainee during the month of May, 1949.
In early June, as Mac neared the finish of the eighth grade, accommodated at Banning High School, Jon, the seventh grade at Freise Junior High and Sally Jo, the sixth grade at her elementary school, we made arrangements for them to leave their schools a week early. We moved our family to Grand Junction, Colorado where I worked for nine weeks.
Grand Junction was nestled in a beautiful valley surrounded by farms and orchards, with fringe foothills that sloped up to the base of high, magnificent mountains. They were intriguing. In some ways, the summer seemed a vacation, though a working vacation for me. We visited the places of interest in the sage brush hills, enjoyed picnics at the camp grounds on the higher mesas, visited Grand Mesa (a 10,000-foot flat-top mountain with more than three-hundred lakes) to explore and trout fish, we loved pleasant evening drives through the country and poached the local cottontail and quail with the boy's pellet gun. In Fruita and Montrose during the next three weeks, we reveled in the same kind of spectacular vistas and relaxed summer living.
But, the work didn't suite me. I'd discovered from selling appliances and now from recruiting, that selling just wasn't my piece of cake. We had gone back to Thatcher in July for Jean and Glenn's wedding. Since that visit something seemed missing in our lives. Our origins: yes, our roots back in Arizona seemed to whisper to us to return. While in Arizona for those few days of the wedding, I visited with our old friend, Lafe Nelson, Superintendent of the Safford Schools. He had tempted me with an elementary school teaching offer.
When we returned to Colorado, after the wedding, our discussions frequently entertained the option of returning to make our home again in Thatcher. The ever recurring thoughts worked their magic on our minds until we knew it to be inspiration to do so. I resigned the position with Woodbury College to return to our desert country to resume teaching again. Seven years nine months had elapsed since we left Arizona to begin a different life in California. Now we would begin another new and exciting saga of our lives, with our children as teen-agers, back in the wonderful Gila Valley where it all began.