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 2003-2004


Interviewee: Ruby Fife

Date: 3/1/04

Tape # 47

Interviewer: Karen Feezel

Place: Tulare County, CA

Place of Interview: Mrs. Fife’s home in Visalia, California




Life as a farm wife

Community life

KF: I am Karen Feezell, interviewing Ruby Fife in her home in Visalia on March 1, 2004 on the Years of Valor, Years of Hope project. Okay, Ruby, why don’t we go ahead. First of all, Ruby, how old were you at the time of Pearl Harbor and what were you doing?Were you married or what?

RF: I would have been 30 years old, just past my 30th birthday and I was married and had a little son, Perry, and we were living in the Ivanhoe area just out of Ivanhoe, beautiful scenery from the spot up on the hill. The valley and the people were already changing before Pearl Harbor, so my sisters and their husbands had gone to work in the factories down south. Since we were farmers we had talked of going but thought we could be of as much service if we stayed. And since we had the little one we decided to stay. My husband, Earl, was working for the Richard Company and they had orange and lemon orchards and they were scattered, one in Elderwood, one Southeast of Ivanhoe, one back in the foothill area and one in the place where we lived. So we were busy. My husband’s boss had already been called back into the Reserves. He was in the Reserve Air Force.

KF: Was that before Pearl Harbor?

RF: That was before Pearl Harbor.

KF: So everyone was already gearing up for war?

RF: RF: Yes, oh yes. Of course Pearl Harbor,we had been assured by the President that none of our boys would be going overseas, but of course when Pearl Harbor came, that changed things.

KF: What’s your memory of Pearl Harbor? What were you doing?

RF: RF:As far as when it actually happened and the day, I have very little direct memory of that because of the confusion. We had gone on into church and Sunday school. We didn’t know until we were in that there were other people finding out what happened. Everyone was really upset. We got glued to the radio and listened to the reports.

KF: So you came home and sat down with the radio.

RF: RF: We went to my mother and dad’s house (Julia Gotcher Cobb and Henry Thornton Cobb) during the day as other people and the neighbors got together. They just had to get together to talk. The day itself was commotion. Then of course as I think back, I was surprised how quickly our nation was able to mobilize and especially here on the west coast where they started the watch towers, watching for planes. We didn’t want the surprise to happen again so we were going to be ready for it. In Ivanhoe they put together very quickly a watch tower and the people were very willing to donate their time and effort. There were plenty of volunteers. The watch tower was manned twenty-four hours a day. We had charts that showed us the different planes, what they looked like, the Japanese planes and what ours looked like. When you would see a plane you would rush to the telephone and follow a form that was on the board: which direction it was coming from, how many planes, how many motors it had, what we thought the kind of plane it was. That was in a certain order that we followed. As I think back, I was very, very surprised that we were able to do this as quickly as we did.

KF: Where did you get the watch towers and what did they look like and who built them?

RF: Just the people in the community built their own. The one that we had, the first one that I served at was out in Ivanhoe. The lumber yard that was in Ivanhoe, that sold their lumber from the Ivanhoe Hardware, donated the lumber and the fellows put it up very quickly. Of course, I have a picture of that. One of my dear friends was on duty that day when the picture was made. Then Pearl Harbor was in December and by April or May, probably in April, the company moved us to another ranch because of the gasoline. We were very quickly getting a shortage of gasoline. So we were moved and when we moved there was already a watch tower established on the place where we moved. We had to be responsible for keeping the watch tower manned twenty-four hours a day. Since this was in the foothill area and there were not too many people right in the location we drew from our volunteers further west, which is in the area that I live in now. I got acquainted with my neighbors that I have now from that experience. They were willing to serve all of this area. We had people that came and volunteered their time.

KF: Were there changes in your family’s living situation during the war?

RF: RF: Very much so, of course with ours, because we were moved and very soon you’d see it was starting. The food became very important as we had a big Army, Navy and defense workers to feed. So the farmers felt the pressure to produce as much as possible. I had a Victory Garden. I think most everyone, even those in town, had little Victory Gardens where we raised our vegetables and whatever we could. I picked tomatoes in the hot sun that year and left my little son at the shed where they were packing the tomatoes and then in the fall I picked green beans from one of the neighbors that had never grown green beans before.

One of the sad things to me was in the next year, when the Japanese were sent to the concentration camps. We had friends who were Japanese and lived near the Martin Packing House. The Japanese had little homes near the packing house. So many of them had lived in those and the Japanese had put out their gardens of tomatoes. They were just in the blooming stage when they pulled them out of here. They had to get rid of their crop and of course some of them, some people took advantage of them. They took what they could get and not what they were really worth. So many people didn’t know anything about how to raise tomatoes anyway so they didn’t turn out to be a great success.  The Japanese did that for so many years in this area. They grew tomatoes and a lot of the fresh produce before they had to leave.

KF: Did many of your Japanese friends return?

RF: Yes, quite a few of them. The Harada’s returned to their home. A few years later, she was on the County, the Jury.

KF: Oh, the Grand Jury?

RF: The Grand Jury.

Of course conservation became the watch word of everything. You used what you had and tried to save. We were issued ration books, gasoline and sugar, wheat, hats, shoes. We had the stamps that we traded when we would buy. So many stamps and you were issued your book.

KF: KF: Did you have any trouble keeping your son in shoes or clothing?

RF: No, we didn’t feel that we were curtailed too much and I had plenty of sugar, so a lot of the time I was the one who made the cakes, but I did have a lot of recipes that called for a little sugar or a little lard or flour. Our oleo was also in the oils and it came in a pound and you had to do your own coloring. Did you ever have to do that?

KF: KF: I remember my mother doing it.

RF: So things were quite different. I only get into a little because so many people didn’t know that because they weren’t farmers. All able-bodied people were trying to get a job or had a job or they needed them for a job.

By the fall the oranges that they had grown needed to be sent to the boys overseas and we couldn’t get pickers. People came from town, especially weekends. I remember one doctor and his family came almost every weekend all that year. They had a little one that had been ill, but they brought that little one. They brought the school bus, which would be something unheard of now because of the danger of being sued if someone got hurt. But at that time I don’t recall it ever even entered their minds that there would be trouble.

The school buses came out for the weekend and the children picked oranges. They were paid by the box. That was quite a chore, trying to keep up with each one of them, how many they had picked and we had to teach them how to clip the oranges so that the stems would not puncture the next orange. So my husband tried to oversee that and then as the buses would leave he would have to load up the tractors and get the big bins and things. I learned to throw a ladder into the tree and climb to the top and I had my sack full by the time it came to the bottom. There is a lot to some of that picking. Even though they think that it’s all manual, there are certain things that you learn. After our picking was over, they still had some oranges in the packing house to pack. I went over to the packing house to help out at the last part of the season, maybe a couple or three weeks, and then I went back in the Spring and put in full time in orange packing rather than in the field.

KF: KF: And that was not something you had done until the war?

RF: No, I had not done anything like that before. And then, anyway, when we wanted to get our little son Perry into school, I found that I couldn’t. We were quite a ways from the school and there was no school bus out that way. I couldn’t get gasoline to take him to school. I found I could get a job in town and they would give me gasoline to go to work. My mother lived in town right near the school. We made arrangements for Perry to start school near her house. I started driving eighteen miles into town to a job.

I h I had not worked as a bookkeeper. I had bookkeeping in school, but I had never worked as a bookkeeper. A job that I wasn’t familiar with was in the Chase Tractor place on Main Street. The man who was the parts man couldn’t be there all the time, so I turned out to be a parts person. I knew nothing about tractors or motors, but the farmers would come in and we’d get the big book out and they would find the part that they wanted and it had a number and the parts man had it numbered in the back. All I had to do was go back there and get it, price it and send them on their way. So we found we could do a lot of things that we didn’t know that we could possibly do.

KF: Tell me, as far as parts were concerned, did you have shortages of parts at that time?                    

RF: RF: There was not, as I remember, not too much. Of course they did re-working on the tractors. They had a shop. We would have to send in for special orders that they didn’t have, but I don’t recall us having to wait too long. The tractor parts came in pretty good. I was driving eighteen miles and we were asked to hold it to thirty-five miles per hour.

KF: To keep the cost down. Did you have trouble getting tires?

RF: RF: There was a shortage of tires. I don’t recall that we had any particular trouble with ours. They held out all right. There was a shortage of so many things. When they redid the house when we were moving, the Richard Company with their daughter was taking home economics, specializing on that in college and she started to help me with some of the things I needed. Curtains. You couldn’t get the things that you wanted and I recall she had my husband get some rods and then we used rings and we used the unbleached sheeting and that made it so that we could pull it heavy enough in case we wanted to blackout. We didn’t have too much trouble in this area with blackouts, but the coast area, they were very careful about that. They didn’t want the lights on so there would be a target in town for planes that might come in to bomb.

KF: You didn’t have blackouts here?

RF: RF: No, not in the rural areas. I think they did sometimes in town. We even tried one year. We found out about the place where I live now being for sale and we had made the purchase and rented it out but the renters were only using part of it in order to pasture cows. We decided we could help out a little. We would raise produce. We would put out some tomatoes. So I put out a little garden, since I came from Arkansas and always lived on the farm. We didn’t feed the whole army, you know. It wasn’t much of a success, but anyway, we tried.

KF: Did your family support the war effort in other ways? Did you have war bonds and things of that nature?

RF: RF: We weren’t in the position to buy many war bonds. I think we were able to buy a few, but I don’t recall my folks being able to buy any. My dad was working as a janitor. Another thing, I made my first tax return during the war and they had the victory tax. You know, you made your tax return and then there was an extra tax. They called it the Victory Tax. So we paid some Victory Tax during the war. I feel that people really pitched in and did everything they possibly could. It was a full effort on the people that were left to support the boys overseas and I felt good about everything that was being done.

I I I had heard a few of my friends complain that certain ones didn’t do their part and so forth, but as far as I knew, I didn’t know a person who didn’t do their part. As it happened, my sisters and brothers-in-law, I just had sisters, no brothers (Ruby’s sisters were Opal, Ruth and Wanda). My brothers-in-law (Dale Wimp, Vern Dailey and Bob Jett) enlisted in the army right away after Pearl Harbor. They had been working in the factories down south. So the girls then came back to Visalia and rented a house where they lived together with another girl or two. The boys were overseas. My mother said so many times, "No, I don’t have a son overseas, but I have three daughters and if the mail doesn’t come, the tears come and I cry right along with them." So in my way of thinking, it was cooperation.

KF: And everyone was affected.

RF: RF: Everyone was affected; so many were affected.

KF: Do you see changes in Tulare County as a result of World War II?

RF: RF: Oh yes, a lot of changes. One thing,women will never be the same after World War II. That opened up the market for women. At the time when I was married, coming out of the Depression, I was working for the Edison Company. It was understood that if I married, that was the end of my job. It was saved for men and single women. The war opened up the market for women and what they had to offer. I feel that women had not really had the opportunity to show what they could do. When I graduated from high school in 1929 I couldn’t go on to college because that was the Depression. We were pretty well limited.

KF: What did your sisters do when they came back to Visalia?

RF: RF: One of them started working in the offices of the laundry and another one went back to school. The other one started working in a packing house. So they all right away got back into jobs.

KF: Now did your sisters and other women continue to work after the war?

RF: RF: Oh yes. Once women kind of broke in, most of them that wanted to work had a job or they could manage to get a job of some kind. Like my younger sister that went back to school. She went a couple or three years and then she started working for one of the government programs. My sister that started working in a laundry went from that to a bookkeeper at one of the tractor places. The same thing I did, I branched out as we had purchased a place and things had kind of changed in our life. I did a lot of part time work. I would work for H&R Block during the season because that was a time we didn’t have ranch work to do. And I worked at the walnut house in the fall. And I worked at an accountant’s office. Because of the kind of work and the things I was doing, even the man I was working for said, "Why don’t you go ahead and do the accounting for me from your home? You can pick up enough from the Ivanhoe area," where I lived. And he had two or three accounts he could pitch to me. So I started doing that. For years I did most of the bookkeeping work for the little stores in Ivanhoe, the pop and mama stores. That’s another thing that happened during the war. They called them pop and mama stores. They were just little stores that would start up because of the gasoline shortage and not being able to go to town. Some of the places had a little store in their own home. They would just arrange the room and they would carry bread and milk and some essential things, so people didn’t have to go to the store, because of the gasoline shortage.

KF: You had mentioned that the agriculture changed as a result of World War II.

RF: RF: Up until the wartime, this area and the area where I live right now was barley and crops of hay and things of that kind. The demand for produce, the deciduous fruits, the oranges, became so great during that time. It was time for us to expand. So this area changed from that type of farming, from the dry land farming to the irrigation farming. Trees, plums, oranges, nectarines and apricots came in a little after the war years and it changed rapidly after the war. I think the war had something to do with it because of the demand. You began to se a different demand from markets. Transportation got to the point where you could send fruit from the valley to New York City. When we got the trains, the transportation changed fast during the war. Unless you stop and think about it, you don’t realize how much. The war forced us to do so much change so rapidly. The transportation changed,we depended wholly at the beginning of the war on the railroads. When the war was over, we did a lot of shipping of everything by truck.

KF: Do you remember this as being an unstable time, a worrisome time?

RF: RF: I don’t think we had too much time to worry except worrying about our individual families fighting overseas and the fear, the struggles in the world.

KF: Did you listen to the radio much? Did you get the newspaper?

RF: You didn’t have time to listen a lot. When you came in for a meal, instead of having conversation, we generally listened to the radio. We tried to get all the news that you could, because that was where your life was. Involved in what was happening to us.

KF: KF: You mentioned that the Japanese left during the war. Were there other ethnic groups that came in to take their place?

RF: Not in this area that I recall at that time. Later on of course we had that, but at that time, we just found ourselves real short-handed. The Japanese had been a blessing in this area anyway.

KF: KF: Were there many industry conversions or plants built or other things of that nature?

RF: No, not right in this area. Not even in Visalia do I recall any industry coming in. The young people, as I said, before the war started had gone south with the shipbuilding or to the San Francisco area for airplanes. Young people from the Visalia area were going to established places before the war and when the war came, the boys either signed up or were drafted right away. They didn’t use so many girls, although there were a few that went into the army and served their time.

KF: KF: Do you remember any negative attitudes about the draft or being enlisted?

RF: No, as I say, maybe I was extremely fortunate in the people that I knew and the conditions and the place where I was. There was nothing negative. We were all in it 100%, interested in trying to do our part and our best. The people I knew all pitched in. Later on I heard people complain, but at that time I certainly didn’t.

KF: KF: How about toward the President? Roosevelt?

RF: I think everyone was for him. Everyone was really rooting and feeling he was doing the best he could. When he passed away, it was sad news.

KF: KF: When he died?

RF: It left us feeling more uncertainty. Of course he didn’t want to send our boys over there, but then after Pearl Harbor, I think most of us were willing for him to send them. And so we stood by him and when he passed away, at least with the people I was involved with, there was a certain feeling of uncertainty that someone could lead us through this.

KF: KF: Do you remember what it was like when the end of the war was declared?

RF: Oh boy, it was really something. I was so happy when we heard the Japanese had surrendered. Oh boy, everybody was shouting and dancing and everything else. It was a happy time.

KF: KF: We probably have a couple of more minutes. Is there anything else that you would like to talk about?

RF: As I say, the war changed our situation a great deal. I feel like it changed our whole country. It changed the women and the opportunities that were opened up to men. We probably would have been able to meet the challenge of the change because it was coming. But the change of life was forced on us fast. I think the people met the challenge well. I am concerned whether they could do it today. But I’m sure they would if they were really put to the challenge. Most people feel that our country, right or wrong, it’s still our country. We would do our best. Our generation really saw some kind of rough times. I graduated in 1929 at the time of the crash. It had been rough anyway and that generation then had to face the war and the drastic change it made in all our lives. I feel that we met the challenge and I hope that the younger generation will do the same and they probably will.

KF: KF: I think that’s a nice place to stop. Thank you very much, Ruby.

Karen Feezel/ Transcriber: J Chubbuck 3/28/04/ Editor: J Wood 8/9/04

Editor’s note: Words in italics were added during a phone interview with Ruby Fife on August 9, 2004.