California Council for the Humanities
California Stories Initiative
Years of Valor, Years of Hope
Tulare County and the Years 1941-1946
Tulare County Library
The Friends of the Tulare County Library
And the Tulare County Historical Society
Interviews in 2003-2004Interviewee: Anna Belle Brown
Date: 12-10-03Tape #45
Interviewer: Michael F. TharpPlace: Tulare County, CA
Place of Interview: Tulare, California
PLACES WHERE INTERVIEWEE LIVED DURING 1941-1946
OUTSTANDING POINTS IN THE INTERVIEW:
Local recollections of the City of Tulare and work experience as Senior Administrator for Rankin Field "Flight Office."MT: So to begin with, I’m Michael Tharp and I’m an interviewer for the World War II Project for the Visalia Library in Tulare County, CA. The time is 12 o’clock and this is December 10, 2003. I am meeting here with Ms. Anna Belle Brown and we are now going to commence our interview process. Under general background, beginning with, and if you just want to work through these, Anna Belle. Go ahead. What is your name and date of birth?
ABB: My name is Anna Belle Brown and I was born March 5, 1921 and that was my maiden name and I still have the same name. My parents moved to Tulare when they were quite young. My father, Elbert Grover Brown, came here when he was probably 20 years of age from Illinois, and my mother, Ethel Richardson, moved here when she was 20 or 21. She was born and raised in Los Angeles, so she moved to Tulare, believe it or not, to find a job. In those days, you know, young women really didn’t leave home to find a job, but she did. So she came to of all places, Tulare, where she met my father. So they bought like ten acres in the west part of Tulare when they were just married and they got married late in life, so that’s where I came from, back in Tulare in 1921.
MT: OK, and then you grew up in . . .
ABB: And I grew up in Tulare, went to all of the schools in Tulare, the old Roosevelt School, and the old Central School which isn’t here any more, and graduated from Tulare Union High School in 1939.
MT: And then when the war began in 1941, you were then . . .
ABB: OK, while I was in school in 1939 during my senior year, of course, the war had already started in Europe and all that, so all of seniors were aware of the war. It was down someplace, you know. And some of the boys in my class were thinking about joining the Army or something like that. I even thought about maybe joining the ladies group, but I thought, "No, that’s not for me." All of us seniors at the high school at that time were well aware of the war which we were not involved yet. But you couldn’t help but know about it. After graduating then, I thought I would continue on to get an education, so that’s when I decided to go to the old Visalia Junior College, which is now College of the Sequoias, so I started there in the Fall of ’39, when it was the old college at the high school, and then I was in the first class that went to the new college where it is located now. So that’s where I was when I got hired and went off to war.
MT: You mentioned the high school. That’s the Redwood location.
ED: Now Redwood High School on Main Street in Visalia.
ABB: Yeah. Uh huh.
MT: And then it moved over.
ABB: It moved to the new location where it is now.
ED: College of the Sequoias is at the intersection of Mooney St and Noble Avenue in Visalia.
MT: And then were you working while you were in high school?
ABB: Yes. I wasn’t actually working. I did work part-time for an accountant to run the adding machine during tax time, but that was the extent of anything I did in high school. I did apply for a job when I graduated from high school and I was one of these people who thought, you know, "Well, I’ve learned everything I need to know." So I went down to a local accountant’s office since I had taken all of that in school. I applied for my first job in Tulare and of course right away he told me, can’t hire you because you don’t have any education, lady, you’re only a . . . whatever, and so I thought how inconsiderate that gentleman was. He just said, "If I were you I would just go on to school." I said. "Okay." So that was really an eye opener to me that here I was nicely dressed and went down to get this job in Tulare and it didn’t work out. So that’s when I started junior college. I thought, "Well, I’ll go on."
MT: So you started junior college.
ABB: In the fall of 1939.
MT: In the fall of 1939, was there still quite a bit of discussion at the junior college level about the impending war?
ABB: Oh yes. Many of my classmates, well known classmates, of course one of them ahead of me in school was Elmo Zumwalt, that became the director. Well he was well known. He was a senior when I was a junior in high school, so many of my classmates were already either signing up or thinking about
entering the service when I went into junior college. So that was the talk of everybody at that time. So at that point I decided that I better keep on going to college because the war isn’t here yet for us. So I went in and enrolled in college, finished one year of college, and then, of course, it got more serious. So then I enrolled in my second year of junior college and by then it was really . . . we weren’t in the war. People forget that. We were not in the war yet. Indirectly we were because a lot of young men were leaving and were getting trained and all this type of stuff. So it was in everybody’s mind and so in January 1941, my second year, was when I originally then became directly involved in the war effort.
MT: And what did you do?
ABB: I was called one day by the Chamber of Commerce secretary in Tulare. I happened to know who he was. I wasn’t personally acquainted. He said, "Anna Belle, are you looking for a job? I know where you can go for an interview if you’re interested." I thought, "Oh my goodness." So I said, "Okay." So he told me that the pending Rankin Aeronautical Academy, the big school that was built in Tulare to train pilots for the United States Army and then later the Air Force, was going to build a big school in Tulare. I really hadn’t thought too much about it. But he said, "They need someone to go to work out there even though the school hasn’t even opened yet." And I said, "Well, okay." So he made the appointment for me, and then I thought, "Gosh, I don’t drive. I don’t have an automobile. How in the heck am I going to drive?" It was at Mefford Field that’s south on 99 near Tulare, as you probably know. Chamber of Commerce representative, John Seavers, had recently married her cousin.
So my father had an old Model T Ford, one of the last ones still running in the city of Tulare, believe it or not. He said, "I’ll drive you down there." So I went down and I had an interview with the manager at that time. His name was Mr. Norswing and I got hired on the spot, just like that. And I thought, "Boy, he must be hard up" He didn’t know any more about interviewing a person than I knew about being interviewed. So we hit it off just right.
He and I were the first major people, civilians, to be hired by Rankin Academy, believe it or not. That was January 1941. And so, they were building the flight school to the east of there, as you probably know, four, five or six miles and so forth. So I got in on the ground floor. I was the first one hired, and I told Mr. Norswing, I said," You know, I am supposed to be a whiz at taking dictation, but I’ll tell you a story. I don’t like to take dictation. I would rather be a bookkeeper." He said, "Well, I don’t like to give dictation either. Why don’t I just tell you what I want to say and then you write it and I’ll sign the letter." Can you believe it? I mean we were about as green as grass when it came to running a corporation. So that’s when I got started with Rankin Academy.
MT: And how did your parents feel about your change of direction?
ABB: Mr. Norswing asked, "How are you going to get down here everyday, Miss Brown? You don’t have a car, you can’t drive." I said, "Well, my father will have to bring me in his Model T Ford." He said, "Okay." So my father said, "Okay, I’ll drive you down, but the first thing we have to do is buy a car for you and then you have to learn how to drive." And I said, "That’s okay by me." So he went looking for a used car and he found one. The first one didn’t work worth a tinker’s darn, but then a friend of his had a used car lot, so I got a used car, my father taught me how to drive and then I had to pass the driver’s license test, so in like ten days, I did all this. I was in a hurry, so I thought, "Jeepers," you know. So I got the car, made arrangements to pay for the darn thing. Of course I didn’t have a job, so I didn’t have an income yet. So I learned to drive and drove myself back and forth down every day to Rankin Academy at Mefford Field, so we got along just fine.
MT: You were probably about 19 then?
ABB: Yeah. I was 19 years old.
MT: Were you dating anybody at the time?
ABB: No. No. I wasn’t dating anybody.
MT: What did you girlfriends think of your leaving school to go work down there?
ABB: I got reprimanded by the then lady who was the person in charge of the College of the Sequoias. I forget what her name is now, one of the higher ups. I was a like a pet of hers you might say, because I got all A’s and things like that and she was very disappointed when I told her I was dropping out of the second semester of junior college and I felt really bad. She’d been very nice to me. I said, "Well, it’s a chance to start fresh in a brand new job, a brand new vocation." She said she didn’t believe in it, but anyway, she didn’t like it very well. Her name was Grant; anyway, she was one of the ladies in charge at the College of the Sequoias. She was very disappointed that I left. I was one of these people who got A’s in everything.
MT: This is great. Did your girlfriends think it odd that you were going to go into civilian service for the Army Air Corp?
ABB: Well, I had discussed it. You know, kids just talk. We really hadn’t said anything and when I got this job, they were all so . . . . "There’s that Anna Belle, teacher’s pet, she got a job you know." I didn’t tell her what I was told at the school that I’d never amount to a single thing when I dropped out of school.
MT: Interesting. When you first started working . . . now this is the old hanger that’s still on Highway 99 where you started?
ABB: Still in Tulare on south 99.
This is known as Mefford Field. It’s still in Tulare on South 99.
MT: And so you started by writing letters for . . .
ABB: For the manager. Mr. Norswing was the corporate manager. Tex Rankin was the one in charge of the flight part and Mr. Norswing was the general manager of the whole thing. He was a very young man from Los Angeles, a very nice man. He and I got along very well. I owe it to him because he hired me on the spot. He didn’t want to interview anybody else.
MT: So, how long was it before you actually began to add staff to that facility?
ABB: OK, while we were still at Mefford Field we did hire a CPA, Hugh Burton from Visalia, to start the books, so there was about three of us: Mr. Norswing, the CPA, and me. So the three of us just sort of ran everything right from Mefford Field. And then the Army sent a captain down to start checking on what everything was, you know, the Army had to take an interest. So they had an Army Captain come and he had an office there, so there were only four or five people down at Mefford Field at that time. No cadets, nobody was here yet. The Army was making sure that the contractor was doing what they were doing out at the field and that sort of thing.
MT: How did your parents and your friends and neighbors, after you’d been working for three, four, five months out at Mefford; how did they respond to what you were doing? Were they curious about what you were doing?
ABB: They thought that I had a really good job. Everybody thought, "Okay, Rankin Academy, when it starts, the big part, there’s going to be all kinds of jobs available." And everybody was just thinking. "Oh my goodness, I’ve got to get a job out at Rankin Academy because that is going to be a good job out there." All the men wanted to be mechanics and so forth and they wanted to work in the hangar area. All the ladies wanted to work in the different places: commissary, in the office part, you know. Everybody was kind of looking ahead so they thought I was kind of extra special because I had already been there. They kept asking me, "When are they going to start hiring?" I said, "Not until the place is built."
MT: Did you then have friends coming to you at that point when they started hiring?
ABB: No. I told them who they had to talk to. I said, "You talk to the right people, not to me," because I didn’t want to be put on the spot either recommending a friend or anything. I just felt everyone stands on their own when they start getting this job. Really, I was kind of hard-hearted when that came out. I didn’t have to recommend anybody.
MT: Knowing you wasn’t a shoe-in.
ABB: Nothing was a shoe-in. Each person stood on their own.
MT: Interesting. How long were you at Mefford before you moved out to Rankin?
ABB: A few months, because the first class started in 1941, so that meant the field was open by 1941. We only spent just a few months there because it was on a crash course. They had already signed these contracts with the Army to have X number of pilots, not pilots, but young men, and they had to have a place for them. They were building barracks buildings and the whole thing. The airplanes were coming in. So it was like a crash program. Everybody was just working night and day to get the place going.
It had to be ready when the first class arrived. They had to have the instructors hired. So everybody had to be in place by a certain time, and that meant not just me, dozens of instructors to teach the pilots. The Army didn’t have any instructors. People don’t realize this. All the instructing was done by civilian pilots and they had to look for civilian pilots all over California and all these civilian pilots started arriving a little bit ahead of time, because they had to know what was going on. They had to have ground schools, so they had regular teachers come in to teach ground school for all of the pilots. Many cropduster pilots in Tulare County and elsewhere were hired to teach cadets how to fly.
They had to get the airplanes here. We had the old Steerman’s, which is not the Ryan’s. The Ryan’s are over in Visalia. We had the two wing planes. The runways had to be fixed. So it was like a crash course program. I watched all of that from Mefford Field and we could know what was going on and that sort of thing. After I had been there for a while I told Mr. Norswing, my boss . . . I said, "Like I told you ahead of time, I’m really not interested in being a secretary; I want to be where the action is." He said, "Oh." I said, "I’d rather be in the accounting part, because that is what I prefer, to be an accountant." And he said "Okay but first of all, we have to get this done first. You’re going to be number one after we open up the main part; then you’ll have your choice of what you want to do." I said, "Okay." And he was true to his word. I got one of the first jobs out on the field where the flight office was. I said, "I want to be where the action is, where the flight office is, where the planes come and go." So I was the first one hired out there in the flight office.
MT: Fabulous. How do you spell Mr. Norswing’s last name.
ABB: N-O-R-S-W-I-N-G. He was a real Norse person, he really was, tall, blonde.
MT: Were you working basic hours, eight to five, leading up to the time you went out to the main field?
ABB: Basically yes. At that time it was really basic hours and when the academy finally ordered that we had to adhere to standard sort of hours because all the cadets were very rigidly controlled about the certain time you do this. The Army works by timetable, so we did to. The mechanics in the hangars had to have a plane ready at a certain time. Everybody was working by a timetable. I usually worked from eight to five or something like that because there was gas rationing pretty soon as you know. After a while there was gas rationing. Since I had a war job I got special attention and got gas. So then I signed up to be a transport person. I picked up people on my way to work because I lived on the west side of Tulare. As I went through I picked up a carload of people and took them out to Rankin Academy everyday. So we all had to have pretty much the same hours, so they would get off work the same time I did. I would pick them up and deliver them back home.
MT: Was it an eight hour day, twelve hour day, typical eight?
ABB: It was eight hours, about eight hours, right.
MT: When rationing started, were you in the typical way with the tokens for gasoline or did they give you a special card?
ABB: I got some gas rationing. I had pretty much all the gas I could use because after all they depended on me, but there was some ladies that had to drive from Exeter and Lindsay, and they had a bit of a problem because you couldn’t buy any tires. The tires on your car, that’s what you started and ended with. I never got a new set of tires. And the lady from Exeter started in working for me and her old car had this old dilapidated set of tires and she was afraid every day that her tire would blow out. I said, "If it does we’ll take it from there, but right now I don’t know of any place that has tires for sale." Tires were taken off the market and shipped off to the Army or something. Not of the citizens, nobody got any tires, nothing. She got her gas rationing of course, and the lady from Lindsay, Janet Jessep, got her gas rationing, because they were in that type of a job.
MT: And we’re still in about 1941.
ABB: It’s still 1941, ’42.
MT: Now at home for you . . . were you an only child.
ABB: Yes, no, I had a sister, Mary Brown Box. She was younger than I was.
MT: Younger. OK. Did the rest of your friends go on to school or were they like you and went off to work in the community?
ABB: Most of them were anxious to, especially after December 7th; they all felt like, "Gosh, we should all get involved." So the first thing my friends did was find jobs somewhere. Not necessarily Rankin Academy, but wherever they could find a job. People left and people came, so there was lots of interplay between people coming and going and getting jobs. As far as I know I only hired one person that was really what I would consider to be a friend of mine. Marie Rose lived in Tulare and her husband went off to war and she called me one day and asked, "Have you got a job out there?" And I said, "Sure." She was about the only one I ever hired that I personally knew. The rest were probably friends of the cadets, friends of the instructors, so I was always getting new people coming and going.
MT: So what was it like being a young woman on a brand new air base with maybe a hundred pilots?
ABB: Oh, it was kind of thrilling, all these planes taking off all the time, you know, and it was really quite an exciting time. I learned a lot. So then when December 7th happened, of course, I learned about it because I had been working there quite a while and I got home and I had been to the theater and the first thing my father said was, "Guess what happened? The Japanese just bombed Pearl Harbor today." I said, "Oh my goodness." He said, "The President has declared war." So Monday came around and the whole academy had been put on great big security notices. We all got special security things. Then a man from the Army came and he introduced himself to me as the man in charge of security, a 2nd Lieutenant. He said, "You know Miss Brown, you’re right down here on the flight line," and he said, "If anything happens, you call me immediately. I don’t want to call you; you call me if you see anything happen out on the flight line. Any unsuspecting thing happens, just give me a call and I’ll take care of it." I said, "Okay." And then, and this is probably out of tale, but I had to send him a report every week in writing to his certain address that he gave me. He said, "I want you to write out a report every day and I want it sent to me and I’ll read it." He said, "This was confidential," so I’d write my stuff out and go mail it. Those are things that nobody ever knows about.
MT: What kinds of things would you have to write?
ABB: They wanted to know if there were unauthorized people nosing around. Other than instructors, or maybe a man who said he was an instructor, but maybe he really wasn’t and he sneaked in some way and got out there. Or somebody saying he was a cadet so and so and he really wasn’t on the roster list, because I had all that information. I worked for the instructors all the time and worked with all the cadets, so I know all the different people. Or if somebody came down and bypassed getting a job or came in to talk to me. Nobody talks to me; they talk to the big shot up front. So that was what I was looking for -- or if one of the planes had an accident for some reason.
You know we never lost anybody in an accident. We had lots of crashes, but none fatal. You know, cadets would be taking off and they’d take a wrong turn and turn the plane upside down or something. He always wanted me to check on everything that happened. When did it happen? Who was the pilot? Who did this? They always wanted a different source of information. If I had noticed anything different out there or did I see anybody that came out. They were always afraid somebody was going to sabotage an airplane or something, because most of the planes were just parked on the runway.
MT: Sort of spread out there. As these classes began to come in, what were the changes around home that began? You were in rationing; you’ve got all these strangers coming into the community and the business impacts. What was happening in your community?
ABB: Right. Well of course there was a lot of rationing. No rubber tires, that bothered people. They got caught you know. No one announced ahead of time about no more rubber tires. The gasoline I don’t think presented a problem to most people because they couldn’t travel anywhere really. The furthest someone would go would be to the grocery store in Tulare and maybe they’d take a trip to Visalia or something like that. Or if you had a job that was war related you got extra rationing. My only concern was that because I had a second hand old car,it was a 1936 Dodge,so by the time the war started it was already old, and I thought, "Oh, I sure hope it keeps up." And I had the same tires all the time. My father happened to be a car mechanic so he kept my car up for me. That was a good thing. He would check it out and make sure it was running Okay.
MT: How were things when you left . . . here you are a young girl in a very mature environment and then you’ve got all of your other friends and you’re out past Pearl Harbor and that. What was your fun time like early on? Were you all still out and about dancing?
ABB: There wasn’t too much fun time because by the time I got home everyday it was 6 o’clock and past. Time I left home it was early, but I did have friends that I met at Rankin Academy. I met my friend that worked for me and her husband as I said before and she liked to go out at night and so we would go out and meet some cadets somewhere, you know, and have a drink. I didn’t drink, but she would have a glass of wine. But we kept it very impersonal, because she was very dedicated to her husband. She didn’t want any boyfriends to come gathering around. I said. "Well, that’s okay, the cadets are here today and gone tomorrow," and I said. "You really shouldn’t get too involved because they’re here for only about two months and that’s it." I said, "Be friendly, that’s fine."
We took a lot of people up to Sequoia National Park and I had extra gasoline, and Mr. Norswing had a van, one of these station wagon things, so when he got extra gas, he would take a group up to the Sequoias because that was their favorite place to go. The cadets had heard of Sequoia National Park, so we spent all our extra gasoline taking the cadets up to Sequoia National Park or Three Rivers. We tried to be friendly and take them around and show them the country.
MT: Were there coffee shops and restaurants and dance halls in Tulare that were hot spots? Your favorite places?
ABB: Yes, and I’ll discuss that a little later, when you say what impact did it have. Tulare had a lot of bars and of course a lot more bars went into effect and they had a lot of cheap hotels which you can imagine that was. So Tulare got the reputation for being the place for bars, hotel rooms, just name it, you could get it in Tulare. Quite frankly, all the cadets got the word. Head for Front Street, that’s where all the action is in Tulare. So my friend and I, we usually tried to avoid that part of Tulare. There were other parts to Tulare, so we went to the other places. We would tell the cadets that asked us, "Why don’t you go so and so place, that’s a fairly nice place" "Oh, okay." There was a theater here then. Of course there is no theater in Tulare as you know. We had this great big theater and in their off times the cadets always wanted to know where they could go to the movies so we told them to go down to the Tulare Theater. That was the busiest spot in town. Every seat was taken every night in town. And that was the place to meet a lot of girls, right in front of the theater, because quite frankly, you’d go down there and see all these young girls hanging around and checking out, because that’s where all the cadets were going, the nice ones you know. One of our friends worked there. She took tickets and she met her first husband. He was a pilot. He was one of the check pilots at Rankin Academy. He’d come in and that’s how she met her husband.
MT: Now for the young ladies . . . in the Propwash, they show young women in the administrative staff at Sequoia and Rankin. Did they have, when you were hired or when you hired other support staff, did they have rules for the women as to what the etiquette was with the cadets and the trainers?
Ed: Each class at Sequoia Field put together an album/graduation book called "Propwash." Then in 1997 pilot graduate Bruce Baird researched and put together a book called Propwash for a reunion of both Rankin and Sequoia Field graduates that year.
ABB: Yes and no. I sort of . . . since I was out at the flight line, it was sort of up to me to set the rules. I knew what the rules were, so whenever I got a new one, I would let her know, "Well, we do have some rules." We were working with cadets plus the instructors, civilian instructors, and they were the men who were more mature. They had been civilian pilots in private life. Some had girlfriends, some had wives, and some were single. So I told the young ladies, I said, "Well now, be kind of careful because some of those pilots that . . . ." They took dictation from them. The thing was they (instructor) would go out and teach the cadet how to do his class, up in the air for a whole hour, and then he (the instructor) would come back and the pilots never really did their own write-ups of how the cadet did his work. He would call in someone to take dictation.
I was the manager of the flight office which included the secretaries with the dictation from the check pilots. So they were the big shots. They earned lots of good money, so all the girls that were single thought that’s the guy for me. They were just dying to be one of the secretaries to go up there. So I had to let them know. "Be kind of careful because remember now that you’re up there to take dictation. You may or may not get propositioned. You may or may not get a date. Your job is to come back down here and start typing up that thing." So every now and then there would be an instructor who would go off the deep end and try to make a date with one of the girls. The girls of course would say yes, but they had to be careful, but we didn’t have any real big problems.
MT: Did many of the women that worked within Rankin and Sequoia, did they wind up marrying military men? Did they stay with the local guys?
ABB: Some of them did. Believe it or not, some of my friends actually met cadets. None of the first class, but later on. They met them and they went with them while they were in Rankin Academy, on a very nice basis, you know, and then they followed them through the basic training and even when they went to the Air Force, because by then there was a regular Air Force, and so several of them did end up marrying cadets they had met at Rankin Academy. Not a whole lot, but maybe a dozen or so, which was kind of nice in a way. Yeah. So they stuck it out.
MT: Interesting. Can we take a break for just a moment?
Ed: Turn the tape over at this point.
Okay, we’re back online, and I was just getting ready to ask Anna Belle a question. After all the things we’ve talked about, what’s really important to you to convey to an individual who is going to listen to this tape someday?
ABB: Well, one of the questions that most people ask is, "Well, what really changed in Tulare?" They can talk about how it was in the olden days, but what happened because of the war? We had all these people come to Tulare, what did it do to Tulare? Did it change it for the better or for the worse? I thought back and the thing that might intrigue some people, as it did me, Tulare was known back in those days for what we call Front Street, which is now J Street and everybody was aware of what was on Front Street. The local prostitutes worked there. We had gambling. We had cheap hotel rooms. You could get anything to drink and that’s where many of the cadets went and hung out. That’s where they thought they should go, so it was a very busy time on Front Street, right on J Street.
So after the war and then after the cadets left, they didn’t have much business anymore. This had just dropped down to about zero. What was poor old Front Street to do? Well, the answer was that within a very short time the State of California decided to reroute Highway 99. Highway 99 went right down J Street right through Tulare. That’s why they had so much business, because Highway 99 went right down there between that and the railroad tracks. So the State said they were going to do something about Highway 99. It’s too busy in Tulare. We’re going to bypass. We’re going to build a road around it. So right away everyone wondered what was going to happen to Front Street when there is no more Highway 99. And one day when I came home, my father was really almost in tears, because he had heard that Highway 99 was going to be rerouted on the west side of Tulare where I lived and it was going to go right down our front yard and take away our house. I said, "I hadn’t heard that." He said, "Oh yes it is." Well, that wasn’t true, but what the State did was they rerouted it to its current route on the east side of Tulare and bypass all of downtown Tulare, which meant there was no more traffic going up Front Street.
So the first thing that happened was that all these businesses went out of business – thank goodness,and all the people in Tulare were so glad to see that area of Tulare literally torn down. I mean it just was torn away and hauled away. So they had these nice several blocks on that street. There was no heavy traffic, so we build other stores and since then there’s Penney’s on one corner and lots of different stores. So, anyway, the good thing that I could see was that we got rid of a very undesirable part of Tulare. So Tulare turned out better after Rankin people left and we torn down old Front Street and the road got rerouted around to the east side and so Tulare really then blossomed into a nice town just like it is now. The whole area just took off and little stores got torn down and places got built. That was one good thing that happened.
MT: But for the activities of Front Street, during the latter years before the war ended, how did the local population of Tulare feel about just the military?
ABB: Well, some of them went back to the bars, you know, because some of the bars were still there. They thought, "Well, that’s where I’ve always hung out, that’s where I’m going to be." So the bars did good business, which I don’t blame them, and the hotels still had some business and there were take-out places. You’d go down and buy stuff and take it home and there was an old hotel there that was still doing its business. So, people still patronized Front Street to some extent, but not as much as it had been. The word got out that it wasn’t really the place to be.
MT: Really what I was tending towards was the overall feeling of all the residents in Tulare that experienced Rankin and the cadets. Was their feeling just generally good?
ABB: The feeling was good because it put Tulare on the map, not big, but it brought a lot of people into Tulare that had never heard of Tulare. It gave good jobs to lots of people in Tulare that had never heard of being an airplane mechanic. So many people learned new professions. It brought new people to Tulare and overall Rankin was well thought of in the community. Mr. Rankin himself was community minded. He did lots of things for Tulare and so Tulare itself thought Rankin Academy, I think, was a godsend to Tulare. It brought us out of the dumps and put us on the map, gave us new jobs, new people, and we got new schools later on. It was a positive effect, it really was.
MT: For you personally, being so totally involved in the war effort for those five years, what was the biggest impact on you? When it was all over and done with, what did Anna Belle do?
ABB: Well, of course, I guess it wasn’t much impact, but I knew one day I was going to have to look for another job. That was for sure. I wasn’t too worried. All during that time nobody had a vacation. I was just dying to take a vacation somewhere. Isn’t that strange? I’d been going to work everyday, you don’t have vacations, you just go to work every single day for four or five years. I thought, "Oh my goodness." Before the war, or was it right after it ended, I really took a trip. And everyone wonders how in the world did I do that? Well I can’t drive anywhere. How else can I go? I have to go by train I guess.
anyway, I heard about this trip that was going to go to
Then the first thing after the war ended, then I thought, "Well, now I’ve got to take another trip." Of course by then I had a job, which I will explain later. Of course my car was old by then. So before the war ended I went down to the Kaiser, you know, Henry Kaiser who built all the ships in the shipyard had gone into the car business, so I thought maybe I would go down and order a Kaiser. So I did. I ordered a new car to be delivered on the first opportunity. So I got one of the first Kaisers that rolled off the stand. I spent all my money that I had saved up on a first Kaiser. So I had my car then.
ABB: Got rid of my old Dodge ’36. That was kind of interesting. I had one of the first Kaisers. Everyone wanted to know how did I get that? Well, I ordered it before the war was over.
The next job Anna Belle had after the war was in the bookkeeping area of the County Superintendent of School’s office in Visalia.
MT: Interesting. When the war was wrapping up and everybody was coming back, did most of your friends make it back?
ABB: Yes they did. Most of the young men that had left, quite frankly, most of them came back. Some went to the Academy. One of them became a general. Mr. Zumwalt, of course, came back, but he stayed in. But there were several of my classmates who became officers in the Army in the different places. And they all came back. There were some that were lost. My cousin, Lorraine Brown who was a pilot, came back. I didn’t lose any relatives, believe it or not, during the war. I kept my fingers crossed, really.
MT: Knock on wood. Is there anything else you can think of that you would like to talk about? Anything with regard with your experience on the field that most people would never even think about, but that you were always . . . some of these things that you did that they didn’t understand?
ABB: No, they really didn’t understand, and I couldn’t tell them. I was out there and I was under oath not to disclose to anybody that I was reporting to this guy on what everybody was doing. So I had to keep my mouth shut. Mr. Norswing knew, but that was the only one who knew and he was very closed-mouth. We were all there. Mr. Norswing closed the place up and I was the last one to go. I was the first one hired and the last one fired. Everybody had already left by the time I left. I closed the place up.
MT: Being that you were so close to the field and the people that ran the field, is there anything little known about the internal workings that if you hadn’t been there no one else would have been aware of it? In terms of how the field functioned, or why it stayed as long as it did? Whatever?
ABB: No, not really. It was pretty much all on the up and up. We didn’t have anything . . . we had several accidents, but nobody ever got out of line particularly. Everybody knew what their job was. The pilots, most of them stayed in line. Once in a while one of the civilian pilots would maybe get out of line, maybe with one of the girls or something, and then I would have to say something to him and he’d be okay. But there wasn’t anything.
One of the things I wanted to tell you was that one of the pilots, civilian pilots, not many people know this, but it was brought out at one of the meetings I went to the other day, was Mr. Salyer, from the lake bottom the famous Salyer family that’s down at the lake, one of the Salyer’s, applied for the job as civilian pilot. And he was younger than the cadets were because he had learned to fly when he was twelve, thirteen, fourteen years old. The Salyers . . . they knew that the best way to look over Tulare Lake was to go up in the air and look at it. This young Mr. Salyer then, he had been flying since he was knee-high to a grasshopper, so when the time came for a real job, he applied and they couldn’t believe he was as young as he was. He had to prove it. He had a logbook. He had more hours than most of the other pilots because he had been flying all the time. So here were young men being trained by this other young man who was younger than they were. People couldn’t believe it. And I said, "No, that’s true."
MT: Was that Fred or Everett?
ABB: It must have been Fred. It wasn’t Everett. I was trying to think about it the other. They had this program in Tulare about Boswell and Salyer. It was an interesting program. They’re going to have another one later on. Anyway, it was interesting. But I think it was Fred. I don’t think he’s even alive now. He’s long since died.
Annabelle met Fred again at a program about Rankin Academy at the Tulare Historical Museum in 2005.
Mark Arax and Rick Wartzman appeared several times in Tulare County, reading from their book, The King of California.
MT: Well, this is a pretty good start. Why don’t we just call it right there.
ABB: OK, that’s good enough.
MT: I’ll shut the tape down. It’s 1:02 p.m. so it’s about an hour long.
Michael Tharp/Transcriber:Jan Chubbuck, 3/1/04/ Editor JW 8/10/05.
Ed: Sections of this transcript in italics are clarification and names added after the interview during a phone interview with Anna Belle Brown during the editing process on 8/10/05.