Themes and Events:
* The economy slides into recession as consumer prices rise 12.2% and employment climbs past 7%.
* Accompanying our slide into recession is great amount of public unhappiness over the Watergate scandal, politicians, the Arab oil embargo and gasoline prices. We have the feeling that somehow the world has changed into a less friendly place.
* The world’s Human population reached 4 billion persons this year.
* There is a growing fear that the change in the country’s sexual mores will create long-term health problems.
* Ironically, in 1969 the first American died of AIDS, a decade before the first case was diagnosed as such.
* Transcendental meditation gains popularity with many, while shaven, saffron-robed Hare Krishna’s are found begging and chanting on the streets of most American cities.
* Digital wrist watches become available. “Streaking” (running naked in public) becomes a shocking new form of public display this year.
* Buttons & bumper stickers: Have you thanked a green plant today? WIN (acronym for President Ford’s “whip inflation now” slogan).
* Lady Godiva was a streaker.
* A pill a day keeps the stork away. Marijuana — nature’s way of saying “Hi.”
Stock prices rebound
After the Dow Jones Industrial Average index (DJIA) seemed to have bottomed out and poised to rise, we began accumulating Wyle Labs stock again.
Sure enough, by the beginning of March we were again enjoying a steep rise in Wyle Labs share price and seeing renewed interest in the general market. It looked like we’d been through the worst of the social and economic effects the depressed economy had to offer: Vice President Agnew resigned his office in disgrace, without the US government failing; the Arab Oil Embargo came to an end after what amounted to a several month bad dream; the stock market had its little correction.
Seeing huge profits looming in the months ahead, I opened a “margin account” and began to purchase stocks on margin so as to magnify our profits. As the days and weeks passed I continued tracking our investments on a daily basis. Spring turned to summer and we’d more than doubled our initial investment. We were heady with excitement and gleefully greedy over the paper profits, while expecting still greater profits in the months ahead.
Don and Eulah S. move to San Diego (D0nna’s parents)
When Don’s freeway surface engineering job ended in Los Angeles, his employer transferred him to their shop in San Diego.
Don had done a lot of design and troubleshooting work with the concrete road surface grinding machines and his employer wanted to have him in the shop while several new machines were being built.
Don moved Donna’s trailer from storage in Arcata, to a mobile home park in San Diego. This was the same trailer Donna lived in when we met and while she attended her final year of college at Humboldt State. Don and Eulah sold their home in La Puente and moved into the small mobile home in San Diego. In order to increase their living space, they had a large concrete patio poured, onto which was built a commercially made screen enclosed veranda.
One thing about Don and Eulah, they were very adaptable in their ability to move and set up housing under a wide range of housing conditions, including: After their marriage they lived in a tiny, eight foot by twenty five foot long mobile home, near Arcata, CA; then in a cabin by Jacoby Creek(where Donna was born), Arcata, CA; a cabin and acreage on the Klamath River, CA; an old two story house in Grants Pass, OR; a lumber company office building remodeled to living quarters, five miles outside of Redding, CA; the modern, ranch style tract home in La Puente, CA; now to the eight foot by forty foot small mobile home in San Diego; later to a larger, twelve foot by sixty foot mobile home at Black Butte mountain, near Redding, CA; and (years later) to a nearly rent free guest house beside Eulah’s daughter, Kedina’s house in the outskirts of Anderson, CA.
Family wages increases
Early in the year, Donna and I received pay raises at work; Donna’s increase brought her to $735 per month, while mine rose to $4.21/hour or, $729/month.
Growing a mustache
During this time, mustaches were common amongst young adults, and particularly so with the Mexican workers at Gregg Iron Foundry. Wondering how I’d look with a mustache, I left my upper lip unshaven for a week. When Donna didn’t complain, I let it remain. As time passed, the neatly trimmed, two inch wide mustache became part of my style; I had a mustache for about twelve years, from about age thirty one to forty three years old.
Our handy freezer
On February 8, Donna and I bought an item of household equipment that was to become an integral part of our food storage and which remained with us for much of our lives. We purchased a ontgomery Ward model FFT3934, 19.2 cubic foot upright freezer for $279.95. The freezer measured sixty four inches high by thirty two inches wide by twenty six inches deep and could hold six hundred seventy pounds of food. It featured adjustable shelves, four shelves total, a large removable basket on the bottom, juice can and other racks on the door.
During the first several years of ownership we used the freezer to make the best of grocery store sales. In the decades that followed, we additionally packed the freezer with processed garden produce. A freezer is not something one typically thinks about, yet we go into it daily for at least one component of our supper meal. It’s been an ‘out of sight out of mind’ appliance that was always there and always is filled with a large variety and quantity of meat, vegetables and other perishables—providing options and an emergency supply.
The antique dressers
My friend, Ted, had an aunt who’d recently separated from her husband after a thirty year marriage. The aunt had just moved from Fresno, California to Los Angeles; while becoming situated in the city, she stored some of her belongings in Ted’s garage.
While visiting with Ted one Saturday, told me of the aunts marital problems and showed me several items of furniture she had for sale and asked if I was interested. Among the items were a man’s and women’s dressers, both looked quite sturdy and old, their finish was dark and cracked with age.
Since Donna and I both needed better dressers than what we had, Ted’s offer came at an opportune time, I offered Ted $10 apiece for the dressers. Ted went in the house, telephoned his aunt with my offer, she accepted and the dressers were sold.
We walked back out to the garage to take a closer look at the dressers, the more we looked at them, the clearer it became that these actually pretty well constructed pieces of furniture. When we removed several cardboard boxes filled with the aunt’s belongings from the dresser top, pulled out a couple drawers for inspection, when the dust was roughly wiped away and the wood grain could be seen clearer, it was evident that each dresser was worth more than the $10 that they sold for– if I’d been interested in reselling them, which I was not.
I made arrangements to return the next morning and haul the furniture away.
Donna and I rented a small Rent-a-Truck for the job and brought the dressers back to our apartment. Once they were indoors, we wiped them down with a soft, damp cloth. This was Donna’s first chance to inspect the furniture, she immediately saw that they were older, quality pieces of furniture, something we could restore and be proud of for many years.
Over the next couple months, we used our free time to strip and refinishing the dressers, drawer by drawer, piece by piece. When the old finishes had been removed, we found the man’s dresser was made from oak and the woman’s dresser facia of Birds Eye Maple veneer.
The man’s dresser was a large, heavy piece of furniture with well defined oak grain throughout its solid, broad surfaces. It had four wide drawers and two narrow drawers, all of which had metal handle pulls. The narrow drawers, on the center left of the dresser, set beside a small door which covers an open cabinet. The small cabinet style was prevalent around the turn of the 20th Century and was used for storing men’s hats.
The woman’s dresser had two, side by side, narrow drawers at the top. Beneath these were four wide drawers each with varying depth. All the drawers had round, wooden pulls. A mirror was fastened to the top back of the dresser by two curved uprights, one on on each side of the mirror.
The front of the dresser, including the drawers, were curved in a way not unually found in furniture, while standing on legs about nine inches above the floor. The dresser surfaces were covered with a beautiful Birds Eye Maple veneer.
Donna and I sanded, restained the dressers and coated each part with a satin polyurethane. Dark oak stain was used on the man’s dresser, and Maple stain on the womans dresser. Research into the approximate date of manufacturer led us to believe the dressers were made ca 1906 to 1916. A reprint of the 1908 Sears and Roebuck catalog showed a dresser almost identical to Donna’s; the same catalog show a men’s dresser somewhat similar in style to mine.
El Monte, California: Armpit of the west
During the two years that I lived at Pickering Apartments in El Monte, CA, the complex underwent a steady decline in desirability. Whenever an Anglo moved out, their apartment was rented someone, racially designated as, “other.” By summer 1974, the complex was peopled by a rainbow of complexions, including: Mexican’s, Puerto Rican’s, mixed breeds, shiftless young whites, poor old whites and of course Donna and myself. Pickering apartments, indeed, the entire El Monte community, was becoming more and more like a Third World enclave east of Los Angeles. I can’t help but wonder how many other communities have been gobbled up by decay as the less fortunate congregate into barrios and ghettos about the core of American cities.
Several events that we personally witnessed, which illustrate the tragic aspect and melting pot nature of the apartments are seen in the stories that follow:
1) There lived in our apartments an old white woman who relied on crutches to walk. One night she came home late and parked her car in the parking lot, almost under our second story bedroom window. While getting out of her car she lost her balance and fell. Unable to help herself up, she sat there on the pavement for God knows how long and began to cry. Eventually, Donna and I were awakened by her faint mewling sounds and looked out the window to see what was the matter. Donna dressed and went down stairs then helped the large, old woman to her apartment. Just thinking about the event has recalled what a sad experience it was, suppose that old woman was your mother.
2) On one occasion a young couple were arguing. The husband ran out into the parking lot, directly behind our apartment, carrying a huge stuffed toy Panda bear. He set the four foot high doll in the middle of the parking lot and ran to his car. Just as his wife came into the parking lot the husband backed the family car out of its parking space and came roaring on around into the driveway. The wife stood by the building sobbing disbelief with anger, as he accelerated down the driveway and ran over her doll!
3) One night while we were falling sleep, two men in their mid twenties began arguing by the breezeway, right below our bedroom window. One was a Negro, the other a Mexican, they were fighting over exclusive dating rights with white girl who lived in the apartments. After verbally threatening each other and talking tough, they began pushing each other. When the Mexican threw a punch, the Negro deflected it, spun around and delivered a karate kick to the Mexican’s face. That ended the fight! The Mexican fellow was in a state of disbelief and somewhat shocked from the kick he received. The two remained there in the parking lot for an additional ten minutes, talking themselves back to calmness. The Mexican fellow asked, “Where’d ya learn to fight like that, man?” The Negro told him he’d taken karate for five or six years and had achieved “black belt” proficiency.
4) Another time: Three or four illegal Mexican aliens rented an apartment diagonally, downstairs from ours. They apparently found work and combined their incomes to buy a television set and some other household goods. One evening when they were gone, someone broke into their apartment and stole all their newly acquired valuables. The young men were ‘up the proverbial creek’. As illegal aliens, they couldn’t go to the police to report the crime or they’d be immediately and unceremoniously deported.
5) During the early summer of 1974, a young Puerto Rican family, consisting of a working mother, the unemployed father and their four year old son, moved in directly next door to our apartment. The fellow spent much of his days laying out beside the swimming pool and pumping his barbells in the grassy area next to the swimming pool. Someone eventually stole part of his barbell set and threw the rest in the deep end of the pool. Several times at night, just as Donna and I were going to bed, their family would gather in the bedroom, that shared a common wall with ours. Apparently they’d bought a tape recorder from the wife’s wages– and did they have fun with it! Mom, Dad and the kid would sing, solo, duets and as a trio. They sang and recorded their gay Puerto Rican songs on tape then play them back while singing along with the tape, or squealing with considerable glee and merriment. Donna and I laid in bed bemoaning the fact that if they at least sang in English we’d be somewhat entertained. Meanwhile, I was getting up at 4:30AM in order to be at work at 5:30AM.
Looking for a home in Los Angeles
Donna and I grew tired of apartment living and began looking for a house to buy. We soon found that the cost of a house was greater than we could afford even with our combined incomes; particularly if we wanted a little cash left at the end of the month for personal discretionary expenses. Since I was working a lot of overtime, we did have a savings, but one can’t count on temporary overtime pay, to meet long term mortgage payments.
Before long we realized we couldn’t afford a standard house, so began looking at townhouses. I’d lived in an apartment style townhouse in Hayward, CA. Townhouses, with their single shared walls, were not really desirable, but there wasn’t anything else available in our price range. The townhouses styles we toured, were two story structures, rather like a two story duplex, there were many of such duplexes in a townhouse community. Each duplex had an equally small front yard and small, walled back yard. The townhouses were expensive also. Whereas the mortgage on a regular detached house carried a twenty five years mortgage at X dollars per month, the cheaper townhouse mortgages were set up for perhaps fifteen years at a very similar X dollars per month payment. The monthly mortgage payments for one were about the same as the other, whereas only the mortgage period differed.
We were in the same predicament whether considering a house or a townhouse; our cash flow was not sufficient to make the monthly payment and still leave some extra cash for discretionary expenses.
Discretionary expenses are just as important as any other expense. You can be frugal for a short time saving money, but eventually you’ll develop a need and the extra cash flow becomes necessary.
We looked at mobile homes.
Finally, we’d found something that we could afford. With the concept of mobile home living fresh in our minds, we began to inspect mobile home parks. We found a park within reasonable driving distance of our places of employment, it was clean and well kept. One problem we found with the park was that it was set on the side of a hill with terraced spaces. The trailers highest on the hill were butted up against the Pomona Freeway. Traffic on the freeway made the air reverberate with a continuous low volume ‘humm’ and we were concerned over how unhealthy it would be having the continuous exhaust fumes, from so many thousands of passing vehicles, just a few hundred feet away.
The manager of the mobile home park informed me, that if I used a motorcycle going to and from work, I’d have to push the bike out of the park (about 800 feet) in the morning before starting the machine and push it back in, in the evening, so as not to disturb the other home owners.
What ruined our hopes of living in the park was the space rental fee, the cost was ‘out of sight’! Space rental was $125 per month, at a time when our apartment rented for $140 per month. We were aghast. The vacant space had a rent value that was about the same as our apartment. When we did the arithmatic, totalling the estimated principle and interest payment on a new mobile home, plus the space rental, we came up with a figure similar to buying either a new house, or townhouse!
Donna and I returned to our car and drove half way out of the mobile home park then stopped along the side of the road to discuss what we’d learned, we were in a state of shock. It was immediately obvious that there was an entry price for home ownership. It didn’t make a difference what form of construction the house had, the over all cost, the mortgage payment, loan periods, interest rates, or associated space rental fee…the monthly payments were formulated to fit that minimum entry price.
A fvew minutes later, while driving back to our apartment, the concept of ‘compression’ struck me. The idea didn’t present itself as, ‘We can’t afford this or we can’t afford that.’, but came as an image of a sphere, with equal forces pressing on it simultaneously, from all directions. Housing costs and space rental rates became insignificant, they were only part of a broader concept that was forming.
Donna and I felt as though we were being compressed into an even tighter and tighter economic coil. We both worked. We had the cheapest forms of transportation available, but were still priced out of a decent home. We felt like we were on the edge of society and on the periphery of our social class, left unable to afford the American Dream. All that we could afford would be small and unacceptable, we were trapped in a psychological quagmire that spiraled downward into less and less.
Music [midi: Aliens]
Overpopulation in southern California
The highways and freeways were crowded, driving in the Los Angeles urban region was an exercise in tactical motoring. The legendary Los Angeles smog stung our eyes. On really hot days the yellowish brown layer of photo disassociated hydrocarbons sapped our strength and left us feeling lethargic.
Camping facilities in the mountains were jam packed every weekend. At the campgrounds, large groups of Others were seen playing ball in the roadways. As you drove through the grounds looking for a campsite, these groups made way, but glared at you with contempt as you passed. Day and night, trail bikes roared up and down the campground trails and past your campsite. By night, drunken groups roamed through the campground. The beaches were packed with people and parking there was difficult to find. Southern California had a third truckers strike and for awhile, fresh meat almost disappeared from supermarket shelves. There were waiting lines at movie theaters that were often a block long. Several times we’d gone to see a newly released, popular movie, only to be turned away at the door, because the theater was full.
Effects of the oil embargo on Main Street
The Arab Oil Embargo was having a catastrophic effect on American attitudes. Not only was the price of gasoline rising to unheard of prices, but there were cars waiting in gasoline lines a block long at most service stations. The local and national TV news networks exaggerated the situation, showing people getting into fights with one another while waiting in gas lines. On several occasions disgruntled patrons pulled guns on people who happened to cut in front of them without waiting their turn in line.
I never saw any violence personally, but the lines of vehicles waiting for gas did exist, it often took up to fifteen minutes to get to the pump. I was riding a very fuel efficient motorcycle to work. Several times while waiting in a queue, people would look my ‘bike’ over and comment on how they were thinking of buying a motorcycle themselves. People were concerned and irritated over the skyrocketing cost of gasoline and the loss of their time waiting in gas lines.
The Embargo put an end to the Full Service gas station. Gas station attendants had already stopped wearing uniforms and no longer checked your car’s oil level or tire air pressure, with the embargo they quit washing windshields as well.
By the end of 1974 many gas stations offered a gasoline price menu where the price was determined by whether you wanted ‘Full Service’ or ‘Self Service’. Customers made their choice by driving up to either the Full Service or Self Service gas pump islands. If you wanted your windshield washed and someone to pump the gas for you, you chose the Full Service island and paid an extra 3¢ to 4¢ per gallon for that service. At the Self Service island you pumped your own gas, then walked into the gas station to pay the bill; if water and squeegee were available you could wash your own windshield. Things were just beginning to change from better to ‘less better,’ where the new normal was most often slightly less desireable than what it replaced.
The oil embargo ends
Although the oil embargo ended on March 18th, there was no decrease in the price of petroleum products, nor for a long time, any shortening of lines at gas pump. We consumers continued to be milked of our money by the entire petroleum industry infrastructure. In an effort to minimize the effects of the energy crisis, the half baked idea of year around Daylight Savings time was instituted in various states across the country.
Compression or expansion
As previously mentioned, Donna and I felt as though we were being compressed into a tighter and tighter economic coil. We felt as though some unseen, powerful economic force was pressing in on us from all directions. The forces held us tightly in their grip, movement was impossible. We both worked, yet were unable to grasp the American Dream. The housing we were able to afford, was too small or otherwise unacceptable in meeting our requirements. We were trapped in a psychological quagmire that spiraled downward into less and less. In every way we were being squeezed, while paying higher and higher prices.
After looking at the mobile home park, that was butted up against the Pomona Freeway, and finding space rental rates extremely high, we left for home, barely speaking. As we drove, a small voice spoke in my mind, it said,
I cocked my head quizzically, wondering what prompted the word, ‘expand,’ to jump out within me, almost as an auditory expression; a moment later, its meaning exploded in my mind and became amazingly clear:
‘When you are being offered only one route and that route is to a smaller and smaller life space — expand! Don’t accept the game rules as they are. Rewrite the game in your favor. If you can’t afford to rent one twelfth of an acre for a mobile home , then buy ten, twenty or forty acres!’
Various factors in our life were beginning to converge into a single point. At the time we didn’t know what this meant, but the seedling thoughts would grow and become our life’s blood. Like children we began to awaken in a new world.
Music [midi: Sirius and Eye in the Sky]
The Limits To Growth
During the early part of the year, I purchased and read the book, The Limits To Growth. Toward the end of the book was a ‘World Model Computer Run’ for variables discussed in the text. The computer run displayed several curves, including:
• A food per capita curve which increased in value until about 2025AD then dropped precipitously.
• A population curve which continued to rise until about 2050, then it also plunged.
[In 1972, The Limits to Growth was published which challenged one of the then core assumptions of economic theory – that the Earth was infinite and would always provide the resources needed for human prosperity. It was based upon the first research to make serious use of computers in modeling the consequences of a rapidly growing global population.
The Limits to Growth sold twelve million copies in 37 languages. Whilst the book did not predict exactly what or when events would occur, it gave an overall theme, it pointed out that if the world’s consumption patterns and population growth continued at the same high rates, we would reach our growth limits within a century. The message was that this outcome was not inevitable. People could change their policies – and the sooner the better. Limits to Growth was full of complex graphs (complex, for the time) which predicted if global policy changes weren’t changed by 2000, “Population and industrial capital reach levels high enough to create food and resource shortages well before the year 2100.”
As I sat in our Study room, contemplating the books message and the meaning of the computer runs, tears welled up in my eyes. I knew that by some complex method unknown to me, there would be political, economic and military shifts of great magnitude well before the food per capita curve dropped around 2025 AD. The ecology of Urban Man would be tried, the city would be no place to live. Fleeting, almost unintelligible images drifted through my mind’s eye, I understood that conditions in the city would rhythmically worsen as we approached and passed the turn of the millennium. Out of the images evolved the knowledge that we needed not only land for our home, but facilities for producing our own food, a water supply and other basic utilities. Somehow, we needed to set up a refuge, a cushion against coming adversity.
Strout Realty & United Farm catalogs
I wrote to Strout Reality and United Farm for their large real-estate catalogs, which primarily advertised raw land, tillable acreage and working farms for sale across the nation. When the catalogs arrived, I methodologically read through them, comparing land costs in each state with similar properties listed for sale in California. I also studied the photographs showing vegetation in the background.
While pouring over the catalogs, Donna and I began to organize our thoughts ecologically:
We eliminated the,
1) Southwest, because of its lack of precipitation.
2) California, because land prices were ten time higher than in other desirable areas of the USA.
3) The Northwest, because of its mountainous terrain , cloudiness and dependence on timber related industries.
4) The southeast. I’d lived in the Tennessee -Kentucky area for nearly three years while serving in the Army, it just wasn’t my area.
5) The northeast, due to its very large population densities. Later we learned about a regional ‘acid rain’ problem.
6) The great plains, due to the flat, featureless grasslands and their susceptibility to drought.
7) The central Midwest, because of very expensive farmland costs and proximity to major metropolitan areas. In case of a nuclear war there would be a radioactive fallout problem. The potential radioactivity problem also fit into several areas previously mentioned.
Gradually, our search for a habitable environment narrowed to Minnesota.
The decision to move to Minnesota
During April, we agreed to move to Minnesota.
There was so much we didn’t know…
Life would be so different from what we were use to…
We would be packing our belongings and moving away from family and friends.
We’d be moving half way across the continent to a state neither of us had ever visited. We had no idea what town we’d settle in.
… and we’d be doing all this without jobs, without the security of an income.
I began reading the books, The First Time Farmers Guide, and One Acre and Security.
Was it a gamble? How much would we really lose by leaving our apartment in El Monte, or a job that was working me six to seven days a week? Would we miss the smog or minority population hostilities? Would the quality of our life be diminished by leaving the crowds on the freeways, highways, malls and stores? Would we miss the ‘lack of opportunity’ we encountered when looking for a house of our own?
Minnesota was a northern American state, it had the same basic culture as Michigan, where I lived as a child. It was basically the same as Iowa, where my father, Robert Francis Pierce, was born and my Grandmother Elsie (Grubb) Pierce and her mother Anna Flora (Anderson) Grubb lived. Minnesota was seen rather like a ‘regional’ home. We intuitively knew and understood that people lived and worked there like anywhere else in the country, so in effect, moving to Minnesota shouldn’t be any different than moving to a city in another part of one’s own state, except for the weather, types of vegetation, etc.
We inventoried our belongings, deciding what to keep, what to sell, what to give away or discard and the meltdown began.
Buying a GMC pickup truck
In May, we traded in our essentially new Toyota Corolla and purchased a new 1974, GMC 1/2 ton pickup truck. The truck was bronze colored (with a orange tint) and had no amenities other than a radio. We had a heavy duty bumper installed with a trailer hitch as well as a second gas tank. Driving the truck was odd compared with the small short Toyota, due to the perspective of sitting so high above the road.
The ‘camper shell’
Knowing we would be sleeping on the road, for perhaps an extended period of time, we ordered a forty inch high camper shell. The shell was white, with a gold and orange stripe, that matched the color of the truck. We ordered the camper with extra insulation in the walls and roof, as well as with screened, sliding windows on either side. When the camper was mounted on the pickup truck there was about a five foot clearance between the truck bed and the roof. We could scoot about inside with relative ease, but could not stand up.
Making a ‘food cabinet’ for camp
I also made a one foot deep by two foot wide by three foot high, camping cabinet from quarter inch plywood to carry much of our food, cookelry and dishes. The plywood was nailed and glued to a wood frame made of one by two inch lumber. It had two hinged doors that were held shut by sliding a small dowel through an eyelet between the doors, which then overlapped both doors. The cabinet interior was painted gloss white, the exterior gloss green. Brass carrying handles were mounted on both sides near the top. A paper towel dispenser was mounted on one side with a small spice rack beneath it.
The cabinet had three shelves. The top two shelves were used for food storage, i.e., bread, jam, canned foods, boxed dry goods, coffee, vegetables. The bottom shelf held our Melmac camping dished, cups, silverware in a tray, and stacked pots and pans. In the many years since moving, that we used the cabinet, ‘campground livestock’ (raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks and Blue jays) never figured out how to get into it, try as they frequently did. While camping, the cabinet was meant to be taken out of the truck and set on the campground picnic table for use .
Music [midi: Men at Work, Land Down Under]
Further expansion of my job responsibilities
By summer, I’d been working at Gregg Iron Foundry for two years. Although I was initially hired as a Sand Technician, to test the properties of the various molding sands used in casting production, my duties expanded. A couple months after starting the job, I began inspecting and sorting the previous days failed castings. Over the months, the company came to realize that I was really a ‘jack of all trades’, capable of intelligently and responsibly performing many specialized tasks, among which were:
1) I was trained how to operate Gregg’s two large, industrial volume, semi-automated sand mixing machines. The operator had to be on his toes and ever vigilant while making the different grades of sand, not only would poorly made batches stop production, but poor, borderline batches would lead to a higher, casting failure rate. Whenever one of the regular sand mixer operators was absent, I filled his job. Sometimes, when there was a major order that needed to be filled quickly, I had to come back and work in the evening, from 6:00 PM until 10:00 PM, then swing back the next morning for my regular day shift. [Image at right: A somewhat similar sand mixing machine. Gregg’s control panel was wired to set on an elevated platform, with the mixing apparatus to the side and below and emptying onto a conveyor belt. The machine is about 8 feet high and 10-12 wide overall. In operation, everything is covered with bentonite and other resin sands so is not as pretty as seen in this products sales image.]
2) Next, I was trained to assemble or set up “pattern boxes”, as a replacement for the regular employee who performed the job. A rigid, wood or aluminum casting pattern was sandwiched between two aluminum boxes. Casting sand was poured in one side and compressed against the pattern. The box was then turned over and packed with sand on the other side. After both sides had been packed with sand, the pattern was removed from the center. Molten iron was finally poured into the remaining cavity through a hole at the top of the mold which was part of the pattern. This was really a tricky job requiring a good sense of timing, speed and organization. First, one had to make sure all the patterns were delivered from the pattern storage room for that days production. These were organized and boxed according to their use schedule for the day. While putting the patterns in the aluminum boxes, all nuts, bolts and screws had to be tightened or replaced,all the sliding parts had to be rigid, tight and close fitting so the sand mold would not break when it was removed from the pattern box. Dents had to covered over or smoothed so there were no irregularities, etc. The production workers all had different projects, some might work on an order for several weeks, others might have an order that was finished in half hour. Since their pay was partially
based on volume, having to wait for the next pattern box drove them ‘up the wall’.
3) As commodity prices rose with inflation, the company wanted to keep a tighter rein on purchasing and storing inventory. I was given the weekly, Saturday morning, job of running an extensive production materials inventory.
4) Once a month, also on a Saturday morning, all the department supervisors, the plant superintendent and myself (bottom of that totem pole) met at a local restaurant. The company paid for our breakfast while we discussed production, personnel problems, ideas on coordination and making any process more efficient. The meetings were interesting. Although I was not a supervisor and didn’t
approach their pay rate, my ideas were as good as any, because I worked all over the company, doing all sorts of things and saw opportunity from a different perspective.
5) One major responsibility job I was taught was to preheat the induction furnaces. Every other Saturday, one of the company’s two induction furnaces was relined with refractory brick and a special fireclay mortar. Sunday morning, the operator had to come in and slowly increase the temperature of the furnace while filling it with scrap iron. Large, overhead, push-button driven electromagnets
were used to pick up the metal and lower it into the furnace. Every hour or so the temperature was increased through a series of heating cycles. If the furnace heated properly and was loaded quickly enough, the whole thing was molten and came up to a predetermined temperature so the operator could go home around 5:00 PM to 6:00 PM. I had to start up a furnace every other Sunday and usually didn’t get home until 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM. There was seldom any one at the plant on Sunday, so I worked alone, sitting by the furnace controls watching dials, alert for any flashing lights and alarms. Between setting adjustments and adding fresh iron to the furnace, I read books, magazines or the newspaper. It wasn’t stressful in terms of labor, but it was a long twelve hour day.
6) As part of my expanded quality control work, I was taught to cut thin sections of failed metal castings, polish them to a mirror like surface, then take photomicrographs of the iron matrix. I was in the process of learning to distinguish between the different grades of iron, and the heating and cooling problems involved when I gave notice to quit working at Gregg.
From Spring through the middle of the year, I had less and less free time. Finally, in July, I literally worked thirty out of thirty one consecutive days! This state of affairs did not make for a great deal of personal happiness!
Giving ‘notice’ at work
Donna and I gave notice of our intent to quit work in early June, a little over a month before our planned date of termination. This gave the companies plenty of time to hire replacements and even to begin training them in our job responsibilities.
The management at Gregg Iron Foundry thought so highly of my job performance, that upon my request, they wrote in their records to show that I was “laid off” work. Having been ‘laid off’ work, I would be able to draw Unemployment Compensation when we arrived in Minnesota. Since I had been making fairly decent wages and working so much overtime, I would draw nearly the maximum compensation the state of California allowed.
A visit to Mexico
During late June, my work schedule allowed Donna and I to ‘have a whole two day weekend together’ (said with sarcasm). We decided to take this ‘once in a blue moon’ opportunity to take a trip south. Since we were planning on moving out of California in less than month, we wanted to see Donna’s parents one last time. Also, since neither of us had ever been to Tijuana, Mexico, we thought it would be an exciting, last chance for ‘foreign adventure’ to see the city before moving to the north central U.S.A.
The plan was that on Saturday morning we’d visit Tijuana, then spend Saturday afternoon through Sunday afternoon visiting with Donna’s parents.
Just after mid morning we parked on the U.S. side of the boarder, walked through the check point and hailed a Mexican taxi for a ride into town. Mexican taxi drivers make their pay based on how many ‘fares’ they move from location to location. As we were transported from the boarder, to town, we saw Mexican drivers zipping about almost haphazardly. The drivers weren’t fazed by the fact that the highway was half paved and half dirt, nor that there were large potholes. Our driver seemed quite content when other drivers passed him in the wrong lane, that we occasionally drove in the wrong lane nearly hitting pedestrians and other vehicles.
Our mouths hung agape as we bounced, swerved and sped along in one lane, then another on a crazy, death defying race into town. I don’t know about Donna, but I wedged myself a little deeper into the seat and held on for fear of an imminent wreck.
We exited the taxi, in downtown Tijuana, paid the driver and watched him speed away in as cloud of dust, back toward the boarder for another hapless tourist. Considering the road, drivers and the looks of our immediate environment we were glad we left our new pickup truck on the U.S. side of the border– where it was safe.
As we turned and began walking along the side walk, we found ourselves confronting nothing less than a gauntlet of shop keepers. One, two, three or more men were standing in front of each store, each yelling, calling, gesturing for us to enter their shop.
Periodically a man would walk up and stop in front of us, blocking our way, and try in a friendly yet intimidating way to coax us with broken English to enter his store. You could see in the eyes of the men along the sidewalk, that as they looked at you, you were not seen as a person. In their eyes was the steady glare of fully focused concentration, a primal excitement filled their gestures, they were hunters intent on their prey. We ignored them as best we could, while continuing to make our way along the side walk, paying attention to strange sights and sounds of a Third World country.
In general, the people looked greasy and unkempt, their clothing seemed somewhat discolored, perhaps due to stains or simple grime. The sidewalk and walls of buildings that we passed, looked exceedingly filthy, with greasy spots and patchy discoloration . There were small pieces of paper and unidentifiable clumps of clutter in the gutters and on the road, store windows and fixtures were dirty, the cars were old. It was quite interesting to see how everything changed so instantly going from one side of the boarder to the other, like night and day. Meanwhile, daytime temperatures were rising, it was going to be a hot day, the air was dusty, both adding to the discomfort we felt in the strange surroundings.
In one of the many wrought iron specialty shops, we were reminded of a sobering fact of Third World life — child labor. At the back of the shop was an old porcelain bathtub, about a quarter full of some overwhelmingly strong smelling black paint, mixed with what we thought was turpentine. Beside the tub, worked a little boy, about seven years of age. He dipped a tin can into the foul smelling mixture and poured the paint over the wrought iron goods which the shop sold. As we browsed through the small store, the boy stopped working, turned around, leaned against the tub and began eating an orange. It was a pitiful sight. Here was a child with a strong aromatic smelling, wet black paint up to his elbows and splattered over much of the rest of his body and clothes. He was working in a room filled with , noxious fumes that almost made our heads spin and was eating an orange, while paint dripped from his arms and hands.
A few moments later, we walked back out to the street, where we confronted by a group of men, all shop keeper who’d gathered in front of the store. Several spoke at us in broken English, trying to coax us into their shops. Several others were discussing Donna in Spanish, apparently thinking we didn’t know any of their language, yet not trying to disguise their thoughts. We knew just enough Spanish to know, “Senora….chinga,” meant, “woman…fuck”.
We walked about town a little longer, browsing through a regular, commercial “5¢ and 10¢” general merchandise store and trying to communicate with several people who knew no English. We left Tijuana by mid afternoon, and drove back to San Diego for a visit with Don and Eulah, Donna’s parents. Arriving at their home, Donna and I immediately consumed two cans of beer apiece, not only because we were hot, dry and thirsty, but because of the culture shock. That was our last trip to Mexico.
The California One Way moving trailer
With almost all of our worldly goods packed in a cubic pile of carboard boxes and stacked in the apartment’s living room, we had a Mayflower Moving Company representative come and estimate the cost of transferring our belongings to Minneapolis- St. Paul. We intended to have the goods held at a warehouse until we found a house to rent and could move in. The estimator quickly determined that the cost of moving, not counting warehouse fees, would be $1,300. We choked back our scoffs and thanked him for coming by.
In the local newspaper’s Personal Ads – ‘Camper/Trailer Sales’, we found a covered, “California One Way” trailer for sale with an asking price of $600. We went to see the trailer, it was exactly what we were looking for in size and condition. The trailer had two axles and four wheels, excellent for hauling a heavy load. It had “off yellow” colored plywood sides and a white fiberglass top. The ten foot long trailer stood about six foot high in the center and was six feet wide. With the trailer we could pull our belongings to Minnesota, store it for a few days; then when we found a house to rent we could turn around and sell it for nearly the purchase price.
We pulled the trailer over to my friend, Ted’s house in Pasadena, where he let us store it for the next couple weeks until we moved. We quickly cleaned out the trailer’s interior, washed down exterior and repacked its wheel bearings with grease.
About the second week into July, I sold my 350cc Honda motorcycle. In the remaining days before we moved, Donna took me to work in the mornings. After work, I either found a ride home with fellow employees or walked the couple miles.
Impeach the President over Watergate?
In July, the House Judiciary Committee voted to recommend that President Richard Nixon be impeached on the charge he personally engaged in conduct designed to obstruct justice in the Watergate case.
How a ‘learning curve’ works
Earlier in the year the stock market turned up. After the Dow Jones Industrial Average index (DJIA) bottomed and was poised to rise, I began accumulating Wyle Labs stock again. By the beginning of March we were enjoying a steep rise in share prices and seeing people take a renewed interest in the overall market.
Seeing huge potential profits looming in the months ahead, I had opened a ‘margin account’ and began purchasing stocks on a 5 to 1 margin inorder to magnify our profits. As the days and weeks passed, I continued tracking our investments. Spring turned to summer and we’d more than doubled our initial investment. We were heady with excitement and gleefully greedy over the paper profits, while
expecting still greater profits in the months ahead.
From rich to poor, overnight.
July: Over the last six months, my profits in the stock market mounted. I’d bought many shares of Wyle Labs on margin, which earned us a ‘paper profit’ of around $5,000 (8-1/2 months worth of my net wages), which was at the time, the cost of a lower priced new car.
While I’d bought the right stock as a growth vehicle, I was unaware that there was a lot of auxiliary information to know about and track in the economy and markets, and that one needed an exit strategy. I was a young man and young men are sometimes fools, or fooled. And so it was with me. I didn’t understand the behavior of a slowly declining stock market, also known as, “The Slope of Hope”.
One afternoon during mid July, following a brief, but sharp market decline, I received a telephone call from my stock broker informing me that my margin account was going into default. He advised, that I would need to pay off the margin or settle with cash. Donna and I were aghast over the arithmatic! Just a day or two earlier, we’d been ahead, with thousands of dollars of profits, how could a small decline wipe us out?
Being ‘long’ on margin can create a lot of money fast, if indeed your stocks rise, but being on margin acts like a double edged sword, it cuts both ways. On a ‘five to one margin’, if prices drop $1, you lose $5. We lost all of our paper profits ‘in the blink of an eye’. Three days before we were to leave for Minnesota, our tidy sum of ‘seed money’ evaporated, it was simply– gone.
Donna and I were shocked with disbelief, dumfounded, we walked about in the apartment, amongst the packed boxes, shaking our heads trying to understand how this could have happened. We couldn’t cry over the loss, we were drained, dazed and confused.
Around the year 2000, a crude saying became popular: ‘Shit Happens!’ We could have used that saying on the afternoon of the margin call, there was nothing for us to do, but feel as ragged, shrug, and get on with our life.
Lessons from along the learning curve:
1) Know the market better, keep learning, follows the broad stroks of thew news, not so much the daily activity, which is ‘noise’.
2) Don’t use margin accounts.
3) Have sufficient cash assets set aside tomaintain your solvency during times when the market moves at a slower pace than expected or it actually goes against you.
4) It’s preferable to deal with the market personally and not take the advice of a stock broker/financial advisor, which leads back to point 1) above.
5) Put your investments into several diversified catergories, so that ‘all your eggs aren’t in one basket’ when the unexpected happens.
* The unexpected does happen and it happens when you don’t expect it; you can count on that, its an axiom of life, it’s Nature’s Way.
During the third week of July, we quit our jobs and set about packing our small moving trailer. Friends and relatives were invited to come help us carry our heavier furniture downstairs to the trailer, and say farewell. We rented a moving dolly to move the freezer and safe down the stairs and out to the parking lot.
About 11:30 AM, our helpers arrived and the bulky items were loaded. Donna promptly went to a nearby fast food restaurant and bought us all hamburgers, French fries and soda for lunch. When she returned with the food, Ted, cousin Bob and his girlfreind Charlene, Donna and I, sat on the floor in the empty living room, eating, reminiscing and making small talk.
Within forty five minutes of the time we ate, Donna and I said our, “Good Byes” and pulled out of the Pickering Apartments parking lot, enroute to Minnesota.
I don’t think our friends and relatives had positive thoughts about our moving. It was rather sad to see their half hearted waves as we drove away. I wondered if they were perhaps upset with us for so enthusiastically and optimistically leaving their lives. While we had chosen to depart on a grand adventure, they remained in L.A., and this was at a time when California, the legendary ‘Land of Milk and Honey’, was already being seen as a myth.
Visiting my parents enroute to Minnesota
My Mom and Dad were still living in their Marlette mobile home, at the trailer park behind the Tuba City Trading Post. We visited with them from the afternoon of the July 21st, all the next day and into the morning on the 23d. It was only a year earlier when my parents first met Donna, when we came to visit them on my 31st birthday.
Donna and I originally had plans of taking U.S. Highway 40, south of the Rocky Mountains, through Arizona, New Mexico and the panhandle of Texas, then swinging north toward Minnesota. Mom advised us saying we shouldn’t have any problems driving up through Colorado, would save ourselves a lot of extra driving and have a scenic view to boot. She and Dad looked at our maps then pointed out a main road they’d been over several times, stating, ‘The mountains along that route aren’t bad at all’. We decided to accept their judgment and follow their advice, after all they had been over the mountains several times and seemed to know what they were talking about.
We spent a good part of our visit, driving between several Trading Posts, where Donna and I bought two handmade, wool, Navajo Indian rugs.
(Photo above ca 1974: My parents 12 ft x 60 ft (?) Marlette mobile home and Carry All at Tuba city, AZ)
The drive across country
Most of July 24th found us driving along U.S. Highway #160, slowly creeping over the San Juan branch of the Rocky Mountains. Nearing the high passes we had to drop down a gear and make our way at speeds in the ‘one to twenty mile per hour range’. If we hadn’t been pulling the trailer loaded with all our personal effects, we’d have zipped right over the mountains, but the load was creating a tremendous drag on our progress as we climbed the elevations.
At one or two points, while we were creeping over 9,000 to 10,000 foot high mountain passes, we were afraid the truck wasn’t going to make it. My parent’s assessment of the route being an easy one, for our heavy load, was wholly inaccurate. When we crossed the Great Divide and were coming down hill, we were worried about the brakes burning out and failing.
Somewhere along the mountainous route, one of our trailer tires went flat. We disconnected the trailer, jacked it up and took the tire back to a gas station we’d recently passed. We bought a new tire to replace the flat, then had a tube put in the flat for a spare. That night, somewhere around Colorado Springs, Colorado, we slept in our camper.
We spent July 25th (my 32nd birthday) driving north past Denver, then northeast out of Colorado on U.S. Interstate #76, and into Nebraska. We drove through Nebraska on Interstate #80 (renamed from #I-76 at the state line) with concern and wonder.
It wasn’t until we arrived in Nebraska, that we realized there was a drought in progress. We knew practically nothing about farming, but knew enough to realize that the miles and miles of corn shouldn’t have been stunted, yellowed and drooping in late July.
I’d known about the irregular, Midwestern drought cycle for several years, but had never seen first hand, what it really meant. The numbers which make up data points on graphs represent something real and in this case ‘crop shortfall’ could be seen in stunted, parched corn, yellowing stalks and dry, cracked ground during the middle of the growing season. Seeing so many miles of corn under severe stress made us ever more concerned with the future droughts as they affected mankind’s food supply.
We spent a long hot, dry, dusty afternoon driving across the plains, along the Platte River. By evening, with an orange sun sitting low in the sky, we tiredly celebrated my birthday over a pizza and cold bottles of beer, in small restaurant at Grand Island, Nebraska.
On July 26th, we drove north through Iowa and into Minnesota, bound for Minneapolis-St. Paul. We noted with growing excitement as the flat to slowly rolling plains gradually gave way to farms with clumps of trees, then scattered hardwood forests.
Our first day in Minnesota
Although we were happy with our first glimpse of Minnesota’s natural environment, we were disappointed with metropolitan Minneapolis-St. Paul, which was simply a smaller version of Los Angeles. Here and there along the streets we saw older, barefooted, teenagers with scraggly long hair (the “hippie” era was drawing to and end) sitting on street curbs; small groups of Negro males milled around in front of bars and liquor stores.
We drove through the Twin Cities, only stopping for gasoline, and continued our trek north toward Duluth. In suburban Duluth, we found a small mobile home park that would house our California One Way trailer for $5 a month. We were suprised over the cheap price, so disconnected the trailer and treated ourselves to a motel room that night. We’d been on the road for a week; by this time we longed for a hot shower, a big soft bed and to relax watching some television.
We had a good, long, deep sleep that night, our first night in Minnesota.
[Photograph: Our new, 1974 GMC pickup truck with camper, towing a used ‘California One Way’ trailer. We have just arrived in Minnesota with all our possessions packed in the trailer. ]
The next morning, we ate breakfast at Sambo’s Restaurant in Duluth. Breakfast came with a particularly pleasant surprise: About ninety five percent of the people in the busy restaurant had a fair complexion and had very light colored hair. At least fifty percent of the people had blonde hair, Donna and I are brunette.
What a difference, compared to L.A.!
Another nice element we noted, all the while driving through the Midwest, was the music played on many local radio stations. In Minnesota, we found the popular northern European beat and style of music called ‘the polka’. Realize that all over the U.S.A. there were radio stations dedicated to Pop music, i.e., rock ‘n roll, hard rock, country and western, etc. There were also radio stations that catered to the local ethnic makeup. In southern California many stations played Cucaracha band style Mexican music, while broadcasting, at least part of their show in Spanish. We were irritated by the tinny trumpet and guitar sound of L.A. radio, we didn’t know Spanish and weren’t interested in learning a foreign language in our own country. The polka beat and style was a musical form more to our liking and taste.
Finding a new hometown
In order to find out what Minnesota had to offer and select a town to settle in, we decided to make a grand tour of the state.
In each major town we would:
1) Buy a local newspaper to check the classified section for job opportunities, home rental costs and raw land cost.
2) Visit the Employment Office to determine local economic conditions.
3) Drive crisscross through the town several times, to get a feel for the neighborhoods, condition of homes and streets.
4) Watch for building activity, the condition and existence of shopping centers, book stores and libraries.
5) Observe vegetation types, farm conditions and crop types.
6) Gain a general impression of the area on a simple, “like or dislike” basis.
If the above criteria were positive, we’d locate the local Chamber of Commerce and obtain their Directory of Manufactures. On the other hand, if the town failed any of the criteria, we would immediately cease our investigation and move on.
Our circuit of the state included the following larger population centers: Minneapolis – St. Paul, Duluth (becoming economically depressed), International Falls (acid smell in air from pulp industries), Bemidji (chronically depressed), Detroit Lakes (tourist area), Sauk Center, Alexandria, Little Falls (did not appear progressive, old buildings, no new investment), St. Cloud (an excellent town or small city), Rochester (too urban, high prices for land, rent and homes).
We spent about two weeks on the road, driving in a large loop around Minnesota, looking for a hometown, observing the changing biotic zones that diagonally crossed the state and enjoying the variety of scenery Minnesota had to offer. Unlike our hurried trip across the United States, our tour of the state was slow and leisurely. Frequently we stayed in Minnesota State Park Campgrounds using our camp cookelry to prepare breakfast and supper meals. We usually didn’t get on the road until mid morning, then planned our driving time as much as possible so as to end up in a campground before late afternoon.
St. Cloud’s attributes
St. Cloud was a very small city with a population of forty five thousand which had just been elected the nations ‘All American City’ of 1974. Among the amenities, we found while scouting the city were: it had two new shopping centers, was central to three colleges and a trade arts school, there were two bookstores, five movie theaters, many restaurants and a variety of price level homes and apartments to rent, the streets were clean and well maintained.
Since there were several colleges, there would be a large number of young adults with progressive attitudes in the community. St. Cloud was located on the Mississippi River and had a fairly picturesque look. The newspaper classifieds showed raw acreage costs were much cheaper than in California. Since St. Cloud was a small city surrounded by agricultural land, there were a variety of occupational opportunities. The city gained its income from an industrial and agricultural base, it had a dual economy.
Geographically, St. Cloud seemed to be located in a transition zone. No more than a hundred miles to the southwest were the beginnings of the Great Plains, yet sixty miles to the northeast was the edge of the less populous, coniferous forest. St. Cloud sat within a diagonal band of mixed deciduous forest that ran from the northwest to the southeast across the state.
Watergate pulls down President Nixon
In early August, President Nixon released transcripts of conversations he held six days after the Watergate break in. The tapes reveal he ordered the FBI to abandon its investigation of the investigation, bringing about an increased cry from the public and politicians alike to impeach the President.
On August 8th, President Richard M. Nixon announced to the country via television broadcast, that he was resigning. His voice was broken and he was seen nearly in tears. Except for being caught up in the Watergate scandal, Nixon was a good President. He’d ended the war in Vietnam and opened the trade door with China, after America had turned its back on that populous country for so many years. I was sad to see him leave.
During Nixon’s last couple of days in office, General Alexander Haig was put in temporary command at the White House, to ensure that the transfer of Presidential power went according to the law. What a strange sight it was to see a military general speaking for the White House, speaking for the leadership of our government. One couldn’t help but wonder if there existed the threat of a ‘palace coup’ that we weren’t being told about.
Gerald Ford is sworn into the Presidency
On August 9th, Vice President Gerald Ford was sworn in as thirty seventh President of the United States. With this resignation, Richard Nixon became the first President to resign from office, while Gerald Ford became the first President to reach the position without a national election.
General Alexander Haig stepped down from his temporary position and business-as-usual returned to Washington. While it lasted, the threat of impeaching Nixon, his subsequent resignation and Ford being sworn in as President, was an exciting affair filled with concern for we average citizens. Ford was a good President for the time. He was a calm, friendly, patient man, rather like a father or uncle figure, there to help guide us through the inflation, declining economy and growing shortages we were experiencing.
Camping at Kathio State Park
Through the St Cloud Times newspaper classified ads, we located and phoned several apartment and flats that were for rent. We were not impressed with the apartments due to either their rental rates or the neighborhood location. The flats were small and oddly shaped, seeming too much like remodeled basements with only a few, small windows.
Finally, we found a picturesque house who’s upstairs flat would be vacated in about six weeks. The dwelling was located on the S.W. corner of 6th Ave. South and 4th St. South. It was efficiently located, being only one block to Coburn’s Supermarket, two blocks to the theater, three blocks to down town and about four blocks to the city’s Public Library. The house exterior was painted blue with white trim and had a red front door. There were several large, old oaks standing in the front and back yard.
The six week period was a long wait for a rental to open up; however, we liked the quarters, neighborhood, the proximity to both St. Cloud State College and town, and were not in a hurry. We paid $160 for October, the first month’s rent. Then, with well over a month to wait before our flat became vacant, we went camping.
We took a campsite at Kathio State Park on the confluence of the Rum River and Mille Lacs Lake, about seventy five miles, by road, northeast of St. Cloud.
We unloaded our green plywood camping cupboard, ice chest, installed a green plastic tarp over the picnic table, put up a clothes line and settled in. About a hundred and twenty feet down the road from our site was a hydrant for water; restrooms were several hundred feet behind us. Across the campground road was a swale of cattails, and an approximately half mile wide expanses of marsh that eventually led across the Rum River. When the sun rose each morning, the marshy area to our west, glowed in the sunlight, ducks and other birds could occasionally be seen flying up and about in the wilderness. There were enough pine trees throughout the campground to create mottled shade during the entire day.
[Photograph: Camping at Mille Lacs Kathio State Park campground, Onamia, Minnesota while waiting for our flat rental at 357 6th Ave, St Cloud, to become available on October 1. Donna is seen here cooking breakfast and standing beside the food cabinet that I made.]
It so happened that our campsite was located in the corner of the campground, right on a turn in the road. Much of the traffic passing through the campgrounds passed by and turned in front of our site. We spent many an hour during the next few weeks, watching other campers come and go, also listening to the folly of neighboring site camping errors, their problems and ‘shouted’ frustrations.
During these leisurely times, we slept in our pickup camper, but spent the rest of the day outdoors, mostly seated at the picnic table or preparing meals.
Many breakfasts consisted of either cold cereal; occasionally oatmeal; or pan biscuits, toast, or pancakes served with hash or Spam and eggs.
Lunches usually consisted of sandwiches or canned soup. The sandwiches were often: bacon, lettuce and tomato; or lunch meat; or peanut butter and jam sandwiches, The soups we liked were Campbell’s canned: Chicken Noodle, Cream of Chicken and Vegetable Beef.
We cooked ‘gourmet’ camping suppers of BBQ steak, hamburger patties, spaghetti and meatballs, or pork chops; while frequently roasting corn or potatoes in tinfoil amongst the campfire coals; salads and canned vegetables were also prepared to accompany our supper.
Every day we spent some time listening to the national news on our portable radio, we were always interested in the drama unfolding in Washington D.C. We were shocked that a President of the United States was being considered for impeachment; we were dumbfounded and a little saddened when President Nixon actually resigned.
Several times we visit the park museum, rented canoes and paddled on the Rum River. We visited all the surrounding towns and camping areas to shop and ‘sight see’. Many hours were spent at the picnic table, writing to our friends and relatives back in California, describing how we’d decided to settle in St. Cloud, discussing the differences between Los Angeles and rural Minnesota and telling of our camping experiences.
At the end of our second week’s residency at Kathio State Park the Park Ranger stopped by our campsite to say, “Since you’ve been here so long you ought to put up a mail box“. We had been expecting his visit, because the Minnesota state park system had a rule that campers may not stay more than two weeks in a given campground.
We took the park rangers hint, the next morning we repacked our gear to leave.
Visiting Uncle Bill and Aunt Elizabeth
We still had at least three weeks before our apartment flat became vacant, so decided to take a road trip. We phoned my Uncle Bill and Aunt Elizabeth Pierce in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin and advised them that we could visit if they’d like some company. Uncle Bill and Aunt Elizabeth were always gracious people, there was never any problem socializing with them. They promptly invited us to come right over, stating they would be watching for us.
[Photograph 1974: Uncle Bill and Aunt Elizabeth Pierce at their home in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin.]
We arrived two days later. Donna and I were given cousin Richard’s old bedroom to sleep in and shown the bathroom for washing up. Once again, we luxuriated in a hot shower. During our several day visit, Uncle Bill and Aunt Elizabeth took us out to dinner twice.
We were also taken for drinks at a reconstructed 1920s type gin-mill (‘speak easy’) bar, who’s entrance was actually from an alley. As part of the ambience, a ‘secret password’ was required to enter the establishment”, then a’ secret bookcase’ rotated to allow passage and access to the barroom. The bar was festive and busy, the atmosphere made exciting by 1920s era Charleston dance music; employees wore period costumes. The night club was packed with affluent customers, all of whom were groomed and dressed nicely (a necktie was required for entry), all were gregarious.
One day, Uncle Bill and Aunt Elizabeth took us to a park landscaped in many floral arrangements. It was interesting to see all the different types of flowers growing in so many patterns across the grounds. The park reminded me of Pasadena, California’s, Rose Bowl parade, where the floats are covered with flowers of different colors and types, all so pretty and fragile.
One morning, Uncle Bill worked about his yard spreading manure, and showing me the different types of roses he was raising. Later that day, we visited several retail ‘yard and garden centers’ to look at the different types of roses that were for sale. While on that brief run to town, we were also taken past the A.O. Smith factory, where Uncle Bill was Chief Engineer. Bill pointed out that in years past, the houses all around the company had been home to employees. Now the homes were falling into disrepair and the neighborhood was rapidly becoming a Negro ghetto. Current A.O. Smith’s employees drove to work from the suburbs, speeding past the old homes where their fathers had once lived.
We had a nice visit with Uncle Bill and Aunt Elizabeth. They were relatives whom I always admired, but seldom saw. Yet, considering the few times we were together, we always kept in contact.
The Presidency is yours, for a pardon
On September 8, a month after Nixon’s resignation, President Ford granted a “full, free, and absolute pardon” to the ex-President for any part he might have played in the Watergate scandal. Everyone wondered if Nixon and Ford had worked out a ‘deal’ before Ford was selected to fill the office of the Vice President. There were too many other problems in the economy and in our lives to worry about ‘what if’ very long.
Biding our time at Charles A. Lindbergh S.P.
Returning to Minnesota, we set up our camping gear at Charles A. Lindbergh State Park in the outskirts of Little Falls, a small city about thirty miles north of St. Cloud. Lindbergh State Park was located forty miles west of Kathio State Park, where we previously stayed for two enjoyable weeks.
Lindbergh S.P. was not as nice a park as Kathio S.P. Although it did offer camping, it seemed to be geared more toward day use and picnicking. The campsites were crowded by brush, the overhanging deciduous and conifer trees cut out too much sun light, making the sites look dank and dismal. The park had trails leading around and about through one particularly heavily wooded area, Donna and I walked the trail several times. We also took the park’s guided tour of the Charles A. Lindbergh home. This was the house that the famous air navigator, Charles Lindbergh, grew up in as a child.
After about a week at Lindbergh S.P. we packed up our camping gear and returned to Kathio S.P. for our last week of the camping life.
As September approach, air temperatures quickly cooled. We had a several day period when it grew very cold, by our standards. Donna and I spent one late afternoon sitting at the picnic table chatting whilst bundled up in stocking camps, coats and gloves. A family drove slowly past, looking at our California auto license plate, camping gear and the way we were dressed. We heard them say aloud to one another, “If they think it’s cold now wait til they see our winter.” Hahaha, they were right, three and a half months later, St. Cloud had what earned the name, “The Blizzard of the Century .”
At the end of September, we packed our camping gear and drove to Duluth to pick up our trailer. We returned to St. Cloud prepared to move into our flat; however, the previous tenant stayed in the apartment right up through the last day of their rent.
The owner had plans to clean the flat the next morning and asked if we could wait one more day before moving in. Donna and I agreed, then left to stay at a local picnic area that allowed overnight camping. The small campground was located on the east bank of the Mississippi River next to a bridge, in Sauk Rapids. We appreciated that the park had a shower room, which we made good use of. That evening, we unpacked only the minimum of our gear, realizing we’d be moving into our new flat before the next day was over.
Our first home in St. Cloud, Minnesota
We spent the afternoon of October 1st and much of October 2nd moving and unpacking our belongings in the upstairs flat of our new flat at 357 6th Ave So.
Our private entry was the houses front door. Just inside of the door was a flight of stairs to the second story. At the top of the stairs, a U turn took you down a short landing past the bathroom to our bedroom, with windows overlooking the front of the house. A simple left turn from the top of the stairs took you into the living room.
A right turn led down a short hall into the kitchen.
All the rooms throughout the flat were carpeted, except the kitchen and bathroom. In the front room and bedroom the walls were covered with wall paper, the kitchen walls were painted beige.
Our home was heated by natural gas, but used propane from an outdoor tank to fuel the oven and stove. One interesting aspect of the upstairs (attic) flat was that it had a sloped ceiling in a portion of each room. The ambiance of the old house was imagined to be like living in an old European house. It had a much more individualistic style than anything we’d seen in California, we immediately fell in
love with our quarters.
The apartment was unfurnished except for the standard appliances and the few pieces of furniture we brought with us: our antique dressers, the driftwood bookcase, my large homemade stereo speakers, leather trunk, the metal chairs I refinished, a small Formica kitchen table, a homemade coffee table, and the antique rocking chair.
Of particular importance, was our need for a bed. Reading the St Cloud Times newspaper classified ads, we found that there was an estate sale being held only a block away. We hurried over the house and were fortunate to find and buy and old metal frame bed for $5! Making several trips, we carried the heavy bed parts home, piecemeal. It didn’t take long to discover that the bed springs were sagging, which not only hurt our backs, but left us piled together in the center of the bed every night. We stiffened the underlayment with a sheet of plywood which helped considerably for a time. Eventually we bought a brass bed and mattresses with modern spring suspension.
A couple days after moving in to the flat, I registered with St. Cloud’s Employment Agency to receive my Unemployment Compensation from California. Fortunately, my records at Gregg Iron Foundry arrived showing that I was ‘laid off’, not a ‘voluntary quit’ With all the overtime work I’d done at Gregg, my wages were such that I qualified for almost the maximum compensation claim.
The antique kitchen table
One day in mid October, while Donna and I were driving up Highway 10, east of St. Cloud, we passed an antique shop. We’d never done business with antique shops, but enjoying the few antiques we had, decided to stop and browse. In a back room, we found an old, double drop leaf, wooden table that had been painted white. We thought that if we could strip the paint off and refinish it, we might have a interesting piece of furniture. We bought the table for $30.
During the next few days, we bought sandpaper, chemical paint stripper, paper towels and a scraper. We immediately disassembled the table and began applying the stripper. As the paint was peeled away we found the table had received no less than five coats of different colored paint during its life time. After a great deal of sanding to smooth out the nicks, cuts and a few cigarette burns, the table was stripped, exposing it’s pretty, light oak grain. We stained the wood with a ‘light oak’ finish then coated it with polyurethane.
Finally, the table was reassembled and its bolts tightened. When the job was done, we stood back and admired the outcome, we had a nice, rustic and somewhat distressed antique table! We estimated the table’s manufacture to have been circa 1920 AD. It looked like it had been used as a kitchen utility table, since there
were scuff marks from a meat grinder’s screw clamp along both ends.
“I’m sorry to inform you about Jim… “
My old buddy Jim (from Pasadena and later Arcata) and I continued with our mail correspondence, but were down to exchanging correspondence only a few times a year. Jim and Sue were still living in Washington and working on their graduate degrees. I owed Jim a letter since sometime before we left California, so as soon as we moved into the flat, I wrote ‘Sir James and hippie sister Sue’ with our new address.
A couple weeks later, while we were outside sanding and refinishing the kitchen table, the postman brought a letter addressed from Washington state. I was surprised to hear back from Jim so fast. Upon opening the letter, I found my letter and a brief note — from Jim’s sister. She said she was sorry to inform me that Jim died of a brain tumor, only a couple weeks earlier. She was temporarily in Washington (from Pasadena, CA) to collect Jim’s belongings when my letter arrived, recalling I was his friend, she wrote back to me right away.
Donna and I were stunned
Jim was dead? …a brain tumor!?
What terrible news!
Jim was one of the few best friends I ever had. In reflection, there was certain pattern to the tragedy. Jim had a small cancerous growth removed from his chest during the summer of 1967, then had cancerous lymph nodes removed from his armpit in the summer of 1971 at Arcata. We realized that in both cases a few cells had escaped the surgeon’s scalpel and planted themselves elsewhere. Apparently some had gone into his brain.
I immediately telephoned Jim and Sue’s old number, hoping to speak with Susan. The telephone operator gave me her new number and rerouted the call. Sue answered the telephone and finding who was calling, became somewhat emotionally distant. She was obviously past the initial grief she’d experience over Jim’s death.
Sue told me, Jim had become difficult to live with, even before he began having headaches, they hadn’t been getting along together… She and her son, Van, had set up a household with a boyfriend student from the University (maybe before Jim went to the hospital). There wasn’t much for me to say, the thoughts and memories of my “little hippie family” imploded, collapsing down a black hole. What had been one of the two happiest summers in my life, spent with a terrific group of people had become only a fond memory. The characters from that passed drama, had gone their separate ways: Jim was dead, Sue was happily living with someone else, Patty was back living with her husband, I had married and moved to Minnesota.
One likes to maintain happy old memories, freezing their various elements in time; Jim’s death was a reality that hurt.
Selling the ‘California One Way’ trailer
A few weeks after moving into our new home, we placed a classified ad in the St. Cloud Times, advertising to sell our “California One Way” moving trailer. We asked for and received $600, the same price paid for the trailer in California. Since we had to replace a tire during the trip to Minnesota, it had only cost us the price of the tire to move all of our belongings!
Our meals, winter 1974
In the months before leaving California, we’d experienced an oil embargo and the resultant long car lines at gas stations; we had moved across country after losing thousands of dollars in the stock market; during our trip we found a severe drought occurring in the Midwest; the USA was at the time, in a very deep recession; while neither of us had employment.
The earliest attempt to understand our food consumption patterns were done in November, with an eye toward developing a future stockpile of our favorite foods. We were concerned and were doing what we could, under the circumstances to ensure our prosperity, if economic conditions grew worse. Donna was beginning to learn to make homemade soup and we were experimenting with homemade sauces for several of our Mexican meals.
In the following table: I have not included: margarine, peanut butter, jam or honey; however, these spreads were frequently used during breakfast meals. Coffee included a teaspoon of dehydrated milk and a teaspoon of sugar (As the years passed, we grew to enjoy our coffee without the sugar or cream
substitute additions.) Eggs had salt and pepper sprinkled on them.
Friday, November 1
Saturday, November 2
Sunday, November 3
|Corn fritters, toast, orange juice, coffee
||Egg with vegetable omelet, biscuits, orange juice, coffee
||Left over roast, left over potatoes, fried eggs, orange juice, coffee
|Bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwiches, milk
||Left over macaroni casserole, milk
||Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, milk
|Macaroni-cheese-tuna-pea casserole, salad, bread, milk
||Liver and onions, boiled potatoes, peaches and cottage cheese salad, bread, milk
Monday, November 4
Tuesday, November 5
Wednesday, November 6
|Oatmeal, toast, milk, coffee
||Soft boiled eggs, toast, grapefruit, coffee
||Fried eggs, left over biscuits, breakfast sausage, coffee
|Left over macaroni and cheese casserole, bread, black tea
||Left over bean soup, milk
|| Ham sandwiches, milk
|Fried chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy, carrots, coleslaw, milk
||Hamburger patties, left over potato patties with gravy, mixed corn and carrots, bread, milk
Thursday, November 7
Friday, November 8
Saturday, November 9
|Ham and eggs, toast, orange juice, coffee
||Soft boiled eggs, toast, black tea
||Breakfast sausage and eggs, left over corn bread, orange juice, coffee
|Lima bean soup, milk
||Left over lima bean soup, water
||Split pea soup, left over chitin, black tea
|Pork chops, spinach, peaches and cottage cheese salad, bread, milk
||Meat loaf, baked potato, cucumber salad, corn bread, milk
||Spaghetti with leftover meat loaf, bread, milk
Sunday, November 10
Monday, November 11
Tuesday, November 12
||Eggs, hash brown potatoes, grapefruit, coffee
||Eggs, biscuits, orange juice, coffee
||Ham and eggs, toast, orange juice, coffee
||Toasted cheese sandwiches, water
||Left over split pea soup, bread, water
||Meat loaf sandwich, water
||Liver and onions, boiled potatoes, carrots, cucumber salad, corn bread, milk
||Fried chicken, spinach, mashed potatoes with gravy, peaches and cottage cheese salad, bread, milk
Wednesday, November 13
Thursday, November 14
Friday, November 15
|Oatmeal, grapefruit, toast, coffee
||Egg with vegetable omelet, toast, orange juice, coffee
||Sausage and eggs, toast, coffee
|Vegetable soup, saltine crackers, black tea
||Split pea soup, bread, black tea
||Left over metalloid sandwich, water
||Ham, boiled potatoes, big salad of lettuce and tomato, bread, milk
||Chuck roast, potatoes, lettuce and tomato salad, bread, milk
Saturday, November 16
Sunday, November 17
Monday, November 18
|Left over roast with potatoes, eggs, orange juice, coffee
||Ham and eggs, biscuits, coffee
||Breakfast sausage, eggs, toast, grapefruit, coffee
|Vegetable soup, saltine crackers, water
||Lima bean soup, bread, water
||Lima bean soup, bread, water
||Mousada Kreas (Greek: hamburger, potato, tomato and cheese casserole), bread, milk
Donna finds a job at Landy Packing
Donna answered a classified job advertisement in the newspaper and on December 9th, was hired as an Accounting Clerk with Landy Packing Company. As it so happened, Landy Packing was approaching the end of a union strike that had lasted two or three months, several of company’s office personnel quit during the strike, Donna was hired as a replacement.
Landy Packing was a beef meat packing plant located on the banks of the Mississippi River, just south of the University of Minnesota, St. Cloud campus. It had several hundred workers and was one of the highest wage paying employers in town.
Donna was hired with at a starting pay rate of $4.35 per hour, or about $20 per month more than she earned at Weyerhaeuser in the City of Industry, California. Starting a new job at a higher pay rate than was made at the previous place of employment, was a good omen and an excellent start. Over the years, while working for Landy’s, Donna became an Accounting Supervisor, supervising Accounts Receivable, Accounts Payable, and Payroll at the corporate office, which during Landy’s heyday, processed the accounting for five smaller affiliated companies.
[Aerial phot post card of St Cloud, ca 1973-74: Above Highway 23, looking west across the Mississippi River and downtown St. Cloud, toward the top right is the Crossroads Mall. Our first home was located just off the left side of the photo and about 40% of the way up from the bottom.]
Economic recession: 1974
By the end of the year, the U.S. economy was in a deep recession. There was a lot of talk in the news media about how the recession could turn into a depression, as bad the Great Depression of the 1930s. There was a lot of doom and gloom in people’s minds. During the year, we’d had an oil embargo, there were still very high gasoline prices; the President and Vice President of the United States had both left office in disgrace. The national unemployment rate, consumer inflation and wage inflation were escalating; people were concerned with the economy, their jobs, and prices.
With Donna working full time and earning decent wages, and my drawing unemployment compensation, we were fairly well insulated from the nation’s economic problems. Because of my California unemployment income, I was not anxious to accept the first job offer that came along, infact, turned down several offers that had the combination of low pay and little chance for advancement.
My home studies: Fingers Of The Future
While ‘unempoyed’ during the winter, I began spending my days both at the library and at home, reading books and taking copious notes on futurology. Over the next six months I read twenty six books and many magazine articles dealing with current world affairs which were oriented toward man’s ecology. The authors looked ahead in their discipline and made projections based on various assumptions and current trends. There were predictions regarding the US and world economy, future cost and value relationships, political conditions, international affairs, housing, weather, food availability, etc. Where dates were included, with a prediction, I wrote the information down and stored the data in a (cardboard) file folder.
When I was unable to find any other books in the St. Cloud Public Library, or the St. Cloud State University Library, which looked at the future of these topics, I began compiling my notes.
The predictions were separated into categories and arranged in chronological order. The completed study was typed (on a typewriter) into several dozen pages and titled, Fingers Of The Future. I made photocopies the work, and sent them to selected friends and relatives, including: My parents, Uncle Bill and Aunt Elizabeth, cousin Bob and a friend in California.
What’s on TV tonight?
My favorite programs in 1974.
• Local Evening News
• National Evening News
• Happy Days
• Little House on the Prairie
• Sanford and Son
• Chico and the Man
• Occasional ABC, CBS or NBC evening movies.
• The Night Stalker -favorite
During the year, Donna, and I went to the following movies:
Blazing Saddles with Gene Wilder, Mel Brooks
Chinatown with Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway
Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry with Peter Fonda, Susan George, Adam Roarke, Vic Morrow
Earthquake with Carleton Heston, Ava Gardner
The Great Gatsby with Robert Redford, Mia Farrow
The Longest Yard with Burt Reynolds, Eddie Albert, Ed Lauter, Michael Conrad
The Tamarind Seed with Julie Andrews, Omar Sharif