Friday, February 7, 2014

We ain’t got it so bad, now do we? Part 13.

Part 13.

When Viola, the one who’d become the girl of his dreams said she’d go to the dance with Guy, nothing else mattered. The rest of the week flew by with them both grabbing every chance they could to develop their own hidden language with secret smiles ruffling the leaves of the Artichoke plants as they traveled back and forth across the fields.
After that night at the dance, they became inseparable every chance they could. Many more dances, along with long walks and picnics on the nearby ocean beaches followed.
Before long a year and a half had passed, with Lester growing impatient to move on. That was when Guy decided to ask Viola to marry him.

So soon after, they were married by a Justice of the Peace in Salinas California, with Lester, along with Guys sister Eunice and her husband Noel Hooks, who had moved to that area earlier as official witnesses.
No longer able to live with Lester in the camper he’d called home so long, Guy and Viola bought a new tent. That way, they could follow the crops northward as the seasons changed.
Guy, being the industrial, handy man he was, also bought a nice thick rug for the floor, where most tents in those days didn’t have that luxury. He also made some furniture out of lug boxes and pieces of used lumber he scrounged from around the various farms they found themselves in as a few more years flew by.

One of those was a carrot farm. This turned out to be one of the hardest jobs he’d ever done up to that point. Having neither heavy machinery nor need for any drivers or welders, he was assigned to the carrot washing barn. He’d stand there with his arms up to his elbows in very cold water washing the dirt from the carrots. In those days, the workday was from sun up to sun down. No breaks. The only day off was for church on Sundays and everybody was expected to attend.
During that period, Guy and Viola came to be known as the rich Couple. Other folks would come by on a Sunday to gaze into their tent with its rug floor and handmade furniture. They even had some pictures and knickknacks they’d picked up on the way, which only added to the opulence the others only dreamed of.
That job ended only when Guys hands and arms started literally rotting from constantly being immersed in the water. When he showed the foreman what was happening to his arms, the Forman simply said. “You’re fired.” Then he turned to the first guy waiting in line for a chance at a job and said. “You’re hired.” Never once looking back at Guy.
So Guy and Viola moved on…….

Next they heard about a shipyard opening in Richmond California, which was advertising for welders.
They heard Henry Kaiser had been building cargo ships for the Maritime Commission in the 1930s. When orders for ships from the British government, already at war with Germany, allowed for growth, Kaiser established his first Richmond shipyard in December 1940.
While the British ships were being constructed, the US Maritime Commission examined the design and made alterations to lessen cost and speed construction. This revised design featured oil-fired boilers. The most significant change was to replace much of the riveting with welded seams. A new practice, the use of welding decreased labor costs and required fewer skilled workers. Due to their plain looks, the Liberty Ships initially had a poor public image. To combat this, the Maritime Commission dubbed September 27, 1941, as "Liberty Fleet Day" and launched the first 14 vessels. In his speech at the launch ceremony, Pres. Franklin Roosevelt cited Patrick Henry's famed speech and stated that the ships would bring liberty to Europe.

So Guy and Viola headed on up there to see if he could get a job using his considerable skills as a welder at the new shipyards.
With the war effort growing daily now, Guy assumed he would join up soon to play his part but all that changed when they arrived at the Shipyards. He was told at the main office that anyone with the skills necessary for building warships, were being excused from the Military. Turned out America needed what were then called Liberty Ships just as bad as soldiers, so were putting folks like Guy to work welding inside the giant metal hulls of the great warships. This put his welding skills in high gear. He’d just thought he had done a bunch of welding at the Farm Machinery repair facility but nothing compared to what he was now asked to do.

Operating four yards in Richmond, CA and three in the Northwest, Kaiser developed methods for prefabricating and mass-producing Liberty Ships. Components were built all across the US and transported to shipyards where the vessels could be assembled in record time. During the war, a Liberty Ship could be built in about two weeks at a Kaiser yard. In November 1942, one of Kaiser's Richmond yards built a Liberty Ship (Robert E. Peary) in 4 days, 15 hours, and 29 minutes as a publicity stunt. Nationally, the average construction time was 42 days and by 1943, three Liberty Ships were being completed each day.

So working 12 hour shifts, 7 days a week for almost three years was by far the most taxing job Guy did then or since. Bending over inside those vast metal monsters, laying red-hot beads of welding rod for literally miles upon miles with the sweltering temperatures sometimes reaching well past a hundred degrees was brutal. Then the burning smoke from hundreds of other welding torches damn near did him in.
In spite of all that torture, he and everyone else there had nothing but pride in helping the Great War effort. In fact every red-blooded American did everything they could to help.
By the way, on that day in November 1942, Viola proudly stood beside Guy below the Robert E. Peary to receive the heartfelt applause of those there, on top of America’s joyous thanks.

To be continued: