Camera Rolls: 318:57-58
Sound Rolls: 318:30
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with William Stone , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on March 13, 1992, for The Great Depression . Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of The Great Depression.*
Mr. Stone, I'd like to talk a little bit about, about what you went through towards the end of the decade, but, but just to give us sense of it, your family was in Arkansas, and you had land, and you raised things, and you had enough to live on, sort of more or less. What was it that made you, you and your family, decide to leave?
Well, it just got hard to make a living, because we had to more or less sell all the animals and our property eventually, and it was just hard to make a living.
What was the price people were getting for—you were telling me...?
For corn, wheat.
Well, you'd get ten cents a bushel for oats, ten for corn, fifteen for wheat
That was probably less than what it cost to raise it, right?
Yes it was. Yes. If you could find a job, you know, you'd get ten cents an hour.
Had you, had, had you or your parents heard that things were better out west?
Yes. We, my dad's brother lived, he was out here during that time. And he followed the fruit harvest and he was getting by pretty good.
I've heard some stories, I don't know if you ever saw, that, that certain periods out in Oklahoma and Arkansas, that planes would come around and drop leaflets saying, "Come on out to California! There's good jobs and good money!" Did you ever hear about?
I never saw any of that, no.
So anyway, you hit the road right after your eighteenth birthday.
Well, yes, the day before, one day before my birthday we hit the road.
And how old were you then?
Eighteen. That was my eighteenth birthday.
What, what did, what did—I know your uncle had said things, but what did you figure California'd be like when you came out here?
Well, I really didn't have too much, think too much about it, but kind of, it was kind of like I thought it was.
Were you disappointed when you got here?
No, I wasn't. No, I was happy.
It seem like maybe you should've turned around and gone home, or anything.
Oh, no. [laughs]
So, tell me about that year you spent when you came out here working the fruit. What was that like?
Well, that was, that was a good experience, you know. We started, I started picking oranges down at Riverside, then up Porterville, Lindsay sort of area, then ended up at Brentwood picking peaches and apricots.
And, and at some point something happened, some of your relatives, I heard the story, went up to the Bay Area and there was work. Tell me that, how that—
Yeah, we were, I was hauling oranges down at, from Lindsay to Portervillle. And one of my cousins came with one of his friends, [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] Louie Greene, from Hanford to San Francisco, put on the docks over there. And he came back and said, "We're going to—we're leaving." Said, "Where you going?" "Well, we're going to Richmond, California." Said, "We're going to work for a dollar and a quarter an hour." "What're you going to do?" "They're moving a mountain, filling the bay, and building a shipyard." "You crazy." [laughs] So, when I got my pay check, it was ten cents an hour less than, than we're supposed to be getting, so we were going to it. [laughs] And that's, sure enough, we came up there and they, just like they said, just hiring everybody that come along.
Do, do you remember what it felt like getting that first paycheck?
It felt great. That was actually more money than I had ever made in my life. I think it was a dollar, a dollar a dime an hour, for a labor, a carpenter's helper.
What'd you do, go out and spend it?
Well, gosh, I can't remember. I didn't [laughs], I didn't spend too much of it.
But anyway, it was a real different feeling, wasn't it? How much money had you had in your pocket before that?
Well, not, not a whole lot, you know. And, like, in the fruit harvest, you'd make five dollars a day, you know. That was happy. You get up here, then you get over a dollar an hour. It's real happy. [laughs]
Now, there was a lot of people coming in town, wasn't there? That was a big crowded town, that—
Oh yes, it was.
Where were they from?
All over. Mostly from the Midwest, you know.
OK. And everybody was working. Did it seem like people were getting along pretty well, this was folks that—
I never heard of any trouble between them.
So you were, were part of that crew that, that actually helped build the shipyards, right?
Did you stay on once the yards were built, or what?
Well, we was building the yards, and then right at the end, why, they started a welding school, and I went to welding school. And then, in about 30 days, why, I went out in the yard out there and starting tacking. And then after about 30 days of that, they put me in the double bottoms. And that's where I got drafted.
I, I heard that story, that people just moved up real fast. I mean, one day you'd be starting out, another day you'd be running a crew there. Remember that?
Well, yes. Some of the, some of the people, yeah.
How, how'd it feel, that idea of building these ships? Did that feel like an important thing to be doing with the war on?
Yes. It, it, everybody kind of thought that, and they all had the feeling that...
What'd they call it, the home front or something? So, did your folks, did your folks go to work, too? Did the rest of your family go to work in Richmond?
Yeah, my folks came up here eventually, and they worked. By dad worked the shipyards, and then, then he, after the shipyards, he worked as a machinist. I forget what company he worked for in Oakland. He worked the rest of his life.
Let's cut for just a second. How much do we have left on this roll?
Tell me a little bit more, during that year you were, you were what people called a fruit tramp, following the harvest. What, how would you live? Where would you sleep? How would you eat?
Well, at that time, I'd bought a car, and we'd hauled our little pots and pans and cooking utensils around with us. But when we lived in Brentwood, worked the peaches and apricots over there,
Is that a train?
Stop for a second. I don't know what it is.
OK. You were going to tell me a little bit about what it was like living that year you were harvesting, how, how you lived and ate and stuff.
Yeah. There in Brentwood at, I think it was the P & G Camp, I think Proctor & Gamble Camp, they had a ragged little camp there for the workers. They had floors and about four foot sides, and then they had a frame, and they put a tent over the top of them. And they had a community kitchen, and they had stoves and everything up there, so you'd carry your food over there to the kitchen and cook it and come back and eat it.
Would you still see, in that period, would you still see folks camping by the side of the road in Hoovervilles? Was that what they used to call them?
Never, I never saw a lot of that, you know. But they, they were, up in this area, they were doing the shipyards, so all over this area.
Why, why was that?
Well, there's no place for them to live. You come up here, and they just lived wherever they good. Like, I lived in a car when I first came here. Just right over here in San Pablo.
And that was when they were building all that housing over there. So tell me a little bit more about, about that short period of time you spent when you actually worked in the shipyards, about the different kinds of people you'd meet and where they'd be from, that sort of stuff.
Well, that, they was Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Texas people. Well, there were people from every state just about, it was. But they'd all act like, act like your cousins or something, you know. [laughs] They were all friends, it seemed to be. I knew it, that's the way it seemed to me.
Why do you think, why do you think people were so, got along so well? Do you have any idea?
I don't, unless it was the wartime and everybody doing the same thing.
And of course they were all making money, too [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] .
Yeah. They way.
—that made a difference. I heard that people were so happy they were, they were working, that they'd wear their shipyard pins down town. They never took them off.
Oh yeah. Yeah. They'd never take them off. [laughs]
They'd wear their hard hats into the city. So, but then you went off to the war.
Yeah. But, you know, Richmond was alive twenty-four hours a day. Downtown Richmond, the old Richmond down there, twenty-four hours a day. Everything was cooking down there all day long, all around the clock.
It's hard to imagine looking at it today. It was just full of folks, right. Was that good times for Richmond?
I think it was, yes. Everything was, all the businesses was doing just top business.
That was such a change, right? [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] OK, let's cut.
OK. Tell me that little story you started to tell about what your cousin told you. I'm sorry.
When he came up here to San Francisco with his friend, he hadn't been working, you know, and he didn't have hardly, couldn't have had much money. And when they said, "You want to come back up here?" I said, "What are you going to use for money to live on until you get a paycheck and to join the union and all that?" Well, he said, "The union will take the money out of your first check, part of the money, for..." And then he said, "There's a restaurant there on MacDonald, around 6th and MacDonald that, it's name is Goat Run Café, and they give you meal tickets." So that's, that's what we all did. We ate in that restaurant down there for, on meal tickets.
And that got you to your first check, right?
And then we kept eating there for quite a while.
Was it OK food?
Oh yeah, yeah.
So did, did you actually have to join the union before you left for the war? Or...?
We, we joined the unions from the start, you know, as soon as we started to work, they took, they took it out of our checks until it was paid for.
Do you remember when you went to work at first, they gave you a choice, did they give you a choice, "Where did you want to work?", or "What do you want to do?", or any of that stuff?
Well, I think, I think they more or less told, told me, you know, that's where they need the, that's where they's [sic] hiring right now. They need carpenter's helpers, laborers.
That was fine with you, right?
Oh yeah, yeah. Great. [laughs]
OK. That's, that's all.
Can we just have a wild line? He worked at the shipyard, right?
So, just that, so you can—
I'm sorry. What line do you think would work?
Just, we just need "shipyard."
Yeah, "When I worked at the shipyard"
That, that was shipyard three that we was building.