Thursday, January 8, 2009

California Or Bust by Dale Walker


This story is one of those that comes from memory. This happened in 1922 or 1923. I was delivered into this world April 5, 1924 so you can see why I say it comes from memory.

I remember my mother telling about breaking the windshield out of the truck the day before they were to leave. Back then, it wasn’t like it is today – go to the phone or better yet, take your phone out of your pocket and call some company in Eagle Pass or Uvalde and tell them you needed a windshield and they would come and fix it the same day. No,. some different back then. Soooo, they drove to California without a windshield and back home too. I would imagine the budget wouldn’t allow fixing it anyway. Times were hard back then – that was the reason they were going to California to work; cash in on some of those hi wages!

My grandfather Rule – my mom’s dad – came to this country from Iowa and bought a farm here in Zavala County, a farm in Taft, Texas and property in Corpus Christi, Texas. I guess one could say he was quite wealthy. However, in the process of farming and things not going the way they should such as crop failure, river going dry leaving no water to irrigate with and train cars of vegetables getting lost on their way to the markets in the north or most likely, being stolen. He had borrowed all the money he could from local banks and ended up a broke man. He lost all the property he had acquired by the early 1920’s. He came to this country about 1910 give or take. He had a daughter living in California who was from his first marriage and he had another daughter and three sons. These three sons, I learned from my mother, helped him go broke. As I said, he had borrowed all he could and had cashed in on his insurances to try to help his sons and lost it all. His first wife had died back in 1890 give or take and he married my mother’s mother some time after. My mother was born in the year 1896. He and my grandmother went out to California and I don’t know if he was sick when he went or if he became ill after he arrived. Seems like his daughter lived somewhere near L.A. At any rate, my grandfather died.

Times were hard here so my grandmother tried over and over to get my mom and dad with their three kids to come out to California – wages were very good and she knew they could do well out there. My dad had a flat bed truck which he did hauling with when he could find some to do. They also had a farm out north of Crystal on the Nueces River they were trying to farm. He fixed his truck so he could haul spinach and did some hauling of groceries for a store here in Crystal. I remember him talking about going to Del Rio for these supplies for this store.

This truck was the one they went to California in. He fixed bows up and over the bed of the truck and extended the top forward enough to reach the windshield. This truck did not have a cab on it. And remember, my mom had knocked the windshield out the day
before they left. He stretched canvas over the bows and fixed a pretty good tent on wheels.

Okay, now you know why they were going to California and how they were going.

My grandparents on my dad’s side were the J.P. Walkers – some of you older readers may remember them. Their youngest was a daughter whose name was Gladys. They didn’t like some of the company she was keeping here at home so they decided to send her to California with my dad and mom to get her away from this undesirable company. When arriving my mom’s half sister’s in California, a young freight conductor came by to visit this sister’s family whose husband also worked for the rail road. To make a longer story shorter, he, the young conductor, swept Gladys off her feet, married her and took her to North Platte, Nebraska where they lived, raised their family and died there. (years later.)

Okay, now we shall start the trip to California as I remember being told.

They left here heading to Del Rio and the first thing of excitement was crossing the Pecos River between Comstock and Langtry. I’m sure most of you have been across the Pecos River high bridge and will agree that it is a beautiful piece of scenery. Back then, you had to go all the way to the bottom of the canyon to cross the river on a cement slab and then up and up on the other side. I remember them telling about having to run into the side of the road which was straight up and down to stop the truck in the steeper places. The brakes on that Model T Ford just wouldn’t hold enough. Now, going up the other side was another story. The road was pretty steep and the fact that the truck’s gas tank was under the seat and the system used gravity flow to supply the carburetor with gasoline and going up steep places placed the gas tank level lower than the carburetor and all of a sudden, you were out of gas. Well, what they had to do was turn the truck around and go up the hill in reverse. Well, that worked pretty good until they found that on the steeper places, the truck didn’t have enough power to climb it. Okay, what they did was to unload a lot of their cargo making the truck lighter and take some on up to the top and then come back down and load up what they had left and go back to the top and load up and head on west.

On west mother said they were about to enter the desert and were hoping to find a store somewhere along the way – they needed some bread. Sure enough, they came to a little store along the way and they did have a loaf of bread. Mom said they bought the bread and headed on west and after a few miles they said it was time to camp. Mom said when they opened the bread, it was molded so bad that they couldn’t use it. She said she thought that the store keeper knew that the bread was molded and was glad to pond it off on some poor travelers. Out in the desert there was a vehicle that came up behind them and after following them for a ways, wanted to pass them. The road was very narrow and really not enough room to pass but decided to go around. Well, okay, sure enough the guy got stuck in the sand. My dad stopped and backed up to him and with a chain, pulled the guy out. After that, the fellow decided he could stay behind.

Some where along the way and I don’t know if on the way out or their way back home. They were camped in a place where they could be off the road a ways. Dad said another out fit had camped a little ways from them. Sometime after they had gone to bed, they heard voices out side in a low tone. Dad said he reached and got his Winchester and worked the lever to load it. He said the voices got quiet and then one of them asked, “you got any salt?” Dad said he answered back and said “no salt”. He said those guy left. You know, its funny how a very familiar sound can make a big difference. There is nothing else that sounds like loading a model 94 Winchester and those guys knew what it was.

Finally arriving in California at their destination they rented a house. My dad got busy hunting for work and ended up getting hired as a carpenter’s helper . I don’t remember them saying they ever worked in any of the harvest in the area.

My oldest brother, John, was 4 or 5 years old and my twin brothers, Jim and Harold, were 3 or 4. I remember mom and dad telling about Jim getting run over by a car – I think they were playing in the street. Most likely an old model T or something else going slow. Boy, this day in time, it most likely would have been different. I don’t think it hurt him very much.

I don’t remember just how long they stayed there in California – if it was weeks or months but I think they decided the margin of profit wasn’t enough. The cost of house rent and higher cost of living evidently was more than here in Texas at home. At any rate, they decided they would come home. They gave the proper notice to the land lord and low and behold, the land lord rented the house to some one else and these people moved right in on them This caused a lot of confusion as you can imagine. My mother said she lost her prize ring and she knew those people stole it.

They got their act together and headed home back to Texas. The trip home my mother said, took them 14 days and it rained on them 12 of those days. They said the trip out there took only 12 days.

Back in Texas, they stayed north coming through Sonora and Ozona in order to cross the Pecos River in flatter country and on to Rocksprings and down to Uvalde and down to Crystal City. However, near Rocksprings there is an attraction they wanted to see called The Devil’s Sinkhole. I just looked on the map and the Sinkhole is about 6 miles north east of Rocksprings.

On home now and settled in. I came along April 5, 1924 and grew up during the Great Depression. In 1930 we moved to the farm on the Nueces River and that same year, I started to school. My dad got a job driving a school bus and stayed with that job my whole 12 years in school. On the farm we lived off the land. Beef calves were sold so to have money to buy clothes and other necessary items – we lived off the land as I said. We boys learned to hunt early in life which furnished meats for the table such as rabbits, squirrels, deer and turkey. I never remember going hungry – mother always had food on the table and all we wanted. We did butcher hogs once in a while in the winter. Hogs furnished good meat as well as lard for all cooking needs.

You have read about how tough things can be and if you try, you can pull through. We four boys all graduated from high school here in Crystal City and all four served our country during World War II and all returned – luckily! I lost my twin brothers, both died back in the 90’s. That leaves my oldest brother (almost 91) and myself. (almost 85) My wife and I both fully retired back in 1998 and since then, I have written and published two books. Both full of stories about things that happened to me or things I caused to happen since about 1928 and just a few years ago. This first book, RAMBLIN’ ON can be ordered directly from Dale R. Walker,for 10 dollars plus 3 dollars postage. Please contact the blog host on the contact form below and she will give you ordering details. My second book is titled RAMBLIN’ ON AND ON and can be ordered on my web site –

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