WILSON and MESSERLY Family History
WILSON - FUELLING and MESSERLY - STUMPF members.
As remembered by Omar J. Wilson in November 1985, in Vista Calif.
This account will not be as accurate or complete as it should be due to the fact that on the Wilson and Fuelling sides I never had personal contact with any of the grandparents. On the Wilson side, great-grandparents came from England. Definite record of the grandparents accounts for them living and operating a farm near Brighton Iowa, and grandad also served as a preacher in that area. They had two sons and a daughter, named Herman Treadway [Wilson], Omar [Wilson], and India [Wilson].
During the Civil War, grandad served in the Third Indiana Voluntary Cavalry as Lieutenant Louis C. Wilson, from 1861 to 1864. I have his saber, scabbard, shoulder epaulets, cap insignia, and two leather-bound diaries of the service.
My dad Herman was not satisfied with the harsh life of farming at that time and took a course in chemical engineering at an Iowa College. My uncle Omar was an intellectual type and after college was a professor for quite a number of years. Aunt India had no special training and was married to J. Challen [Chalen?] Smith, who was a preacher and realtor. They later lived in Salt Lake and finally moved to Sawtelle, California, the rest of their lives. Uncle Challen married us in Glendale, California. They had three children, Jimmie, Josephine, and Cornelia, all now deceased.
My Dad, Uncle Ed [Edward Charles Fuelling], Uncle John [John Louis Fuelling], and a cousin Ed Wilson all went to Cuba and were with a sugar plantation and refinery for some time. Later they went to a large plantation in Mexico, where later on Uncle John became one of the principal owners and manager.
After some time in the sugar plantation, Dad returned to the States and became a leather chemist which he followed the rest of his life until he got the ranch in the San Fernando Valley. During his years as a chemical engineer, he was very highly rated and was the president of the Association and Chairman at the Convention, which was held in Europe.
He was married to Helena Fuelling in 1895, and they had a daughter who died very soon after birth. I arrived on the scene in Peoria, Illinois on July 4, 1900, and have been here ever since.
My Family Histories
I never had any personal contact with the Fuelling grandparents, as they were all deceased after my birth, and had lived in the Washington area after coming to this country from Alsace Lorraine. The family lived in the old country during the Prussian occupation, which they hated with a vengeance to the point that although grandad was impressed into the military there when the opportunity occurred, the whole family packed up and defected to the United States. Sometime after becoming U.S. citizens, the Civil War started and grandad enlisted in the Union Army and served for the duration of the war.
The family consisted of the two parents and five children, namely: my mother Helena Fuelling, Aunt Sophia [Matilda Fuelling], and uncles Edward, Paul [Herman Fuelling], and John. With the exception of Uncle John, they all eventually came to California at different times.
Uncle Ed was the first to leave Washington, where he served a short duty in the Navy, and then learned to be a cook under some French chefs in high-class restaurants in Washington. Most of his time in Colorado and Wyoming was spent as a cowpuncher and gold miner, before going to Alaska during the Cape Nome gold rush. His luck as a miner was poor so he fell back onto his previous cooking experience and operated a restaurant very successfully. He was getting S1.00 apiece for a fried egg, which was real money in those days. From there he came back to Denver and operated another restaurant. He married a very nice woman there, but she only lived a short time, which broke him up so much that he began· drifting around the west again and personally knew Teddy Roosevelt, Wild Bill Hickock, and Buffalo Bill. While in the West before coming to California, he was associated with an old friend by the name of Judge [Ernest A.] Colburn, who was a wealthy cattleman and miner, in Colorado. He had a ne’er-do-well son, so in the hope of getting him productively occupied he started an auto factory. This was probably about 1914, and the car was called the Colburn, which lived a very short life like many of the other assembled cars that came on the market about that time.
Uncle Paul, after coming to Los Angeles, had a son Charles, who was with the Los Angeles County Surveyors, until retiring to a trailer park in Escondido, where he passed on.
NOTE: At the time that the Colburn came on the market there were over 2,200 different cars on the market in the U.S., which were mostly assembled cars, with little or no R. & D., which how fast attrition took place in those years.
Messerly Family Histories
Jane’s parents were the Messerly and Stumpf families. All of the senior Stumpfs were deceased at the time that I met the Messerly family. Grandpa [Conrad] Stumpf was a builder and built the classic big two-story house that was their home in Boyle Heights. A detailed interior picture is in the family album. The heirs were [Emma] Gertrude [Stumpf] (Jane’s mother), Victor [Conrad Stumpf], and Stella [Estelle Anne Stumpf], all now deceased.
The Messerly grandparents were all deceased at the time I met the family and he was a laundry owner, originally in Los Angeles, and later built the Crown Laundry in Pasadena, which Everett [Alpheus] Messerly was operating when I met the family. Everett had one sister Matie [Mary Elizabeth Messerly] who married a preacher, Alpheus Ball [Jess Winecoff Ball?] and they had three children, Connie, Caroline, and Josephine, the only survivor. [N.B. Family records show three surviving children, Alpheus Messerly Ball, Maude Elizabeth Ball, and Mary Margaret Ball.]
Stella married Frank Bryant (an attorney) and had children, Conrad, Caroline, and Josephine alone surviving.
Everett and Gertrude Messerly were living at 640 N. Orange Ave in Glendale when I met them and their three daughters [Mary] Elizabeth [Messerly], Janice, and Catherine [Eloise Messerly], born 1897, 1906, and 1901. Before coming to Glendale, the family had lived in Los Angeles, California, Portland, Oregon, and Eagle Rock, California. Catherine married Edward Martindale [VI] about 1922 and moved to the San Fernando Valley where they had a daughter [Catherine] Myrna [Martindale], and sons Edward [VII] and John [Howard Martindale].
[Mary] Elizabeth [Messerly] married Reynolds [Spain] Ross about 1924, under the almond blossoms at Uncle Victor’s ranch at Banning, California, with all family members attending.
Janice graduated from Glendale High in 1924 and then took a secretarial course from Sawyer College in Los Angeles and served as a secretary until we were married.
After we were married this training served her in good stead when she served in secretarial capacity to the principals of Vista, Newport Beach, and Costa Mesa High Schools.
My first memories of life are from Buena Vista, Virginia, as we moved from Peoria very early in life.
Dad was the chemist in the local leather tannery. This was a quiet, pleasant little town in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and one of Dad’s college chums was in charge and secured the position for Dad.
We were living in the last house on the street and about an eighth of a mile on the foothills behind was a heavily wooded area with all kinds of trees shrubs and vines, where I used to play with the neighbor kids.
One thing in particular that we used to enjoy was swinging from the long vines that came down from the tall trees, just like in the Tarzan movies. These woods were also plentifully supplied with grapes, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, wintergreen berries, black walnuts, chestnuts, and hickory nuts.
One of the main recreations for our friends on Sunday would be to get a group together with picnic lunches and take a hike up into the Mountains. At first, my legs were too short to always keep up so one of the men would give me a ride on his shoulders.
Dad’s intimate college chum Oma Carr lived in the house closest to us with his wife and two sons. He owned a 1905 Cadillac one-cylinder roadster that I remember as the only car in town. He and Dad would drive home for lunch, and leave the car standing in the drive. I can remember swallowing my lunch and running over to their place so I could sit in that car and admire it. It had a demountable crank that you would stick through the side under the seat to start the engine.
I can still remember the smell of the real leather upholstery and the gasoline vapor, which was really pleasant in those days.
I only remember riding in it once when Mr. Carr loaned it to Dad for a Sunday drive. The last part of the drive Dad took on a one-lane road back into the foothills to a mountaineers’ settlement. These people were squatters, who would pick out a desirable spot in the woods, build cabins, and establish a settlement. They were good-natured, friendly folks who practically lived off the land. They had pigs, chickens, maybe a few cows, large gardens, and the wealth of wild fruits and nuts from the woods. Occasionally the men would pick up odd jobs in town, and the women would pick the wild fruits and nuts from the woods along with some of their garden produce and sell it to the townspeople.
This Sunday we arrived at this mountaineer settlement and found that was the end of the road. After visiting with for a while Dad turned the Cadillac around and headed for home. However there was a little stream that crossed the road at this point, and the smooth 30 by 3-inch tires just spun in the goo. Our audience thought that was a real laugh. As soon as the fun died down a group of the men came forward and I began pushing us out of the mud. At this point, I looked back to see how they were doing and one of the men was wearing a pair of Mephistopheles slippers, one of which promptly got stuck in the mud, but he never missed a step and kept pushing until we were free and chugging down the trail. This was in the days of wood cookstoves, kerosene lamps, wash boilers and tubs, washboards, and hand-wringers. I can remember sitting in the kitchen and dropping wood in the cookstove from my highchair.
The second stage of my life was in Du Bois, Pennsylvania, where it started when I was about five. We lived in a two-story house with a full basement and a coal furnace. My only two recollections of that place are first the big sauerkraut event that we had with our next-door neighbors, the Waldbeisers. They were a pleasant German family, who brought some of the old world crafts with them. This fall it was time to make sauerkraut for the year. After buying bushels of cabbages, two oak barrels, and cutting boards we all retired to our cellar, and sliced cabbage until it was all gone and weighted down in the barrels. That sauerkraut lasted until we moved away.
One other thing that made an indelible impression of the days in Du Bois was one very hot summer day when Mr. Waldbeiser invited Dad and me to go down and visit the brewery, where he was the brewmaster. It was Sunday so we had the run of the place. The tour included the massive copper kettles where they cooked the brew, and the final stop was in the cooling room where the brew was chilled before bottling, or keg filling. He drew glasses of beer from the frost-covered pipes and we all had a sample of his work. This was the first time that I had tasted beer, but in spite of my youth it was delicious and refreshing, and if that brew was still available I would remain a beer drinker.
The other event that I remember from Du Bois was my first fast buggy ride. We had some friends who had a stable and a very spirited horse. We visited them quite frequently, and one day the wife asked me if I would like to go downtown with her. I readily agreed and partway down a part of the harness came loose and began slapping the horse’s leg at every stop, which the horse took for a command to speed up. The slapping continued and the horse was soon at a full gallop and completely out of control. I didn’t know a horse could run that fast and the buggy was banging around so much that I was hanging on to the seat to get from bouncing out. We soon got into the business part of town where the street was brick paved with a streetcar track down the middle. Everything was still upright until we came to a switch in the tracks, which flipped the buggy and the horse kept going. I landed on the bricks and got nicely scuffed up, but the lady hit the car tracks and was badly injured.
Clothes were never an important part of my life, and my most vivid memory of clothes was how itchy and uncomfortable the long underwear became in the winter after it had been washed a few times. The only other clothes that I can remember was a corduroy suit when I was about seven which was good-looking, warm, and comfortable, and a pair of patent leather shoes, which cleaned and polished with Vaseline.
From Du Bois, we moved to Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, which was a small nice residential town along the Susquehanna River. We rented a home with a nice backyard and a horse barn of the alley. We were only one block from the river, and I remember one cold winter when an abandoned dam below town started an ice jam and the jam extended upriver as far as our house. This caused the water level to rise almost to the the top of the river bank and I can remember going out to the river bank at night and hearing and seeing the big ice cakes grinding and crunching against each other and wondering if it would force the river into your house. It was a really spooky feeling, especially at night.
The street at our end of town was not paved, but it did have a streetcar track down the middle, which was a lot of fun in the winter as soft snow and ice formed on the overhead trolley wire. The first car through in the morning would put on a regular fireworks display as the trolley would arc and throw sparks and flame in the air.
Two major events in my life occurred here. We got our first car, a 1908 two-cylinder Maxwell Roadster, and my first bicycle, with a New Departure coaster brake. The Maxwell was fire-engine red, with a carbide gas generator for the headlights, and kerosene side- and taillamps. After you started the water dripping on to the rock carbide and the gas started generating, you would rush up front, open the lamps and light the gas with a match, if the wind wasn’t too strong. Mother was the first woman in town to drive a car, and some of the men didn’t think it was proper and came up to her and told her so. (“You’ve come a long way baby.”)
This little bus had a top like a buggy but no windshield and when the stinging bugs got in your eyes or it rained, it wasn’t so much fun. I ran the family auto laundry, brass polishing, and lube service. The specifications said that the car would do 35 miles an hour which I thought should be verified. The county fairgrounds had a dirt horse race track below town so I persuaded Mom to drive down there one day and let me drive it. I pushed the throttle to the floorboard for a few laps and then we figured the elapsed time and sure enough, it did exactly 35 mph.
I met my most intimate boyfriend [N.B. Starling “Star” Hall Waters?] there who is now living in Miami, Florida, and we still correspond. His dad was the local caretaker and had a big two-story barn at their home where he kept a beautiful pair of blacks, hearse, funeral carriages, and — in the loft — caskets and hay. We used part of the loft for a gym with boxing arenas, rope climbing, etc. His mother made the best strawberry cobbler that I ever ate. During the season she would make a giant shortcake every Sunday and I was always invited over for the evening meal of all the shortcake and ice cream we could eat. I never missed an invitation.
Our next car was a four-cylinder Overland touring car. The first Overland still had gas headlights but used Preet-O-Lite gas. The next Overland had electric lights and starter, and was a four-door touring and a very good, trouble-free, powerful car. The dealer demonstrated it by disconnecting one spark plug and climbing the steepest hill in town in high gear.
Lock Haven was a great place for a boy to grow up. In the summer we had a good time in the river boating, canoeing, and swimming. The river was crossed by a massive covered br1dge which seemed like it was a quarter-mile long, and had an outside footpath which you could fish from. The other side of the river was mostly farmland and woods and in the Fall we would go over there to gather nuts and climb the old Indian trails on the cliffs, where I got stuck once.
We made a vacation trip from Lock Haven to Asheville one year, and at that time you had no road maps or motels for the long-distance motorist. Accordingly, we equipped ourselves for a come what-may-trip. We built full-length storage boxes on both running boards for tent, bedding, food, etc. The trip was a real education in long-distance travel for the time. Several times at the end of the day, we would be out in unknown territory, so would pitch the tent, make camp, and have two meals there before moving on the next day. A local constable checked our camp on one occasion. Tire trouble was a constant companion, requiring the purchase of three new tires and about six repairs. Aside from this the Overland performed admirably and gave us no trouble.
Sometime after this trip, we moved down to Asheville, North Carolina, where Dad was employed in the local tannery. The Carr family lived there so we had ready-made friends in our new location.
The Carrs had two sons, about two years older and younger than I, and the older, Hugh, was mechanically inclined as I was, so we jointly decided to build a junior automobile. Due to the fact that it was to be a joint venture, we named it the Wilcarr. We bought an old wrecked twin Indian motorcycle for the engine, did all the frame and bodywork ourselves, and got a beautiful set of steel-rimmed artillery wheels. It had leather belt-and-pulley drive, but no reverse. The brakes were external drum type but not the most effective. One day at the end of a run, I zipped into Carr’s garage and didn’t stop until both front springs punched through the siding and the 2×4 wall studs stopped the car. When we moved from Asheville to Michigan, Dad refused to pay the freight to move it so it remained in town.
I was very surprised at the low moral standards of the young people of the area, but they were very friendly and generous and there was always something interesting going on. Reynolds [Spain] Ross and his mother [Lydia Alfa Spain Ross] lived there and as a boy, he was very interested in electrical devices and had quite a few electric trains.
We lived across the street from a big two-story house, occupied by a widow, her son, and servants. There was a monstrous high oak tree in their backyard in which we built a treehouse as high as the limbs would support. It was made along fort-like lines and we used to conduct rock fights with groups on the ground. We had a rope hoist on a nail keg that we would fill with rocks for ammunition against the ground forces. On peaceful days we would have lunch up there as there was room for three. An illustrated article about the treehouse and occupants was printed in the C. S. Monitor without any mention of our battle activities.
The public schools there were in badly run-down buildings and heavily populated with blacks. As a result, the whites that could afford it sent their kids to private school that was restricted to whites. These schools also were not the best, because the operators were afraid to discipline the students for fear of losing the student and the income. The resultant quality of education was poor and I was sorry for the abuse that the teachers and owners were subjected to by some of the students.
Fortunately, we moved from Asheville to Petoskey, Michigan, before I got into high school where the education system was first class and completely under control, where I graduated.
Life and the climate in Michigan was quite a contrast to North Carolina, but Petoskey was a nice clean town right on the shore of Lake Michigan, and there were other clean inland Lakes nearby. We had our own polar bear club, and in the spring before the thaw, we would go to one of the small lakes, break the ice, and have the first swim of the year. The Ojibway Indians had yearly tribal shows there for the public. Winter up there was clean, deep, and quiet, with no automobile traffic and horse-drawn plows to keep the sidewalks open. By the end of winter, the snow was about head high where I had shoveled it to keep the walk open to the house.
Lake Michigan was unpolluted at that time, and the water was so clear that when you were swimming you could clearly see every pebble at the bottom of the lake and drink the water.
The main winter sports were cross-country skiing with a noon cookout in the snow, skating, basketball with parties after the games, an occasional horsedrawn bobsled ride to a nearby town for a basketball game, and always snow to shovel. The car we drove there was a four-cylinder Studebaker roadster with three passenger staggered seating.
The high school there was very good and made it possible for me to qualify to enter the University of Michigan in the fall of 1918. Shortly after entering college I enlisted in the Army Engineers Corps and was in training until the Armistice. We lived regular Army life and drilled with triangular-bayonet Russian-issue rifles. After the Army service, I moved into regular student quarters in one of the large homes bordering the campus. Other homes were converted into boarding houses and served very good food.
At that time class procedure gave the sophomores considerable superiority over the freshman and were always taking great pleasure in ordering the frosh around. Hazing at the end of the freshman year was a real scramble featuring three main events: A gauntlet run down a hill lined on both sides by sophomores armed with paddles, sticks, or hoses, a tug of war across a cold stream, and a push ball, contest using large leather balls about 8 feet in diameter filled with some kind of heavy material, which of course turned out to be a free-for-all fight.
After the first year at Ann Arbor, I was pretty short on funds and looking to supplement them. One of my high school chums, Hobert Bard, had worked at the Chevrolet Plant in Flint Mich the summer before and suggested that I go down with him to see if I could get on for the Summer of 1920. We went down as soon as classes were over and applied and were accepted. My job was lining brakes, and assembling and testing rear ends. He was on a block-boring mill. Some of that procedure was really crude, and I was not impressed with Chevrolet quality.
Our ease of obtaining employment there shows the vast difference between labor relations then and now with unions running the show.
Our factory experience gave is an “in” with the local dealers, which gave us some jobs delivering cars by the drive-through method, even when snow was on the ground.
At the end of my sophomore year, Dad decided to give up professional life and become a farmer again and acquired a 40-acre ranch in the San Fernando Valley, near the town of Canoga Park, which was then called Owensmouth. This put an end to my college career as he needed my help and couldn’t contribute to my education.
On my way west, I had the pleasure of meeting two of my uncles that I had never seen before. The first was Uncle John Fuelling, who had retired to his family estate in Kent, Indiana. Up to that time he had been one of the owners and operators of a large sugar plantation and refinery in Mexico. During one of the insurrections, his Mexican partners canceled his ownership and threatened to kill him and his wife if they did not leave the country. This depressed him so badly that he died soon after visiting him at the farm.
My next stop was at Paonia, Colorado, to visit Uncle Omar Wilson. He had previously been a college professor in Indiana, and after his wife died he moved to Colorado and became an apple grower.
He had two adopted children, a boy Ralph, who was killed in World War I, and a daughter Dorothy, who married Chuck Easton, and is now a widow living in a motor court in Escondido. I got to meet Dorothy for the first time as she came home from college while I was there. I got my first taste of farm work there with cutting and raking alfalfa, and operating a horse-drawn spray rig with a one-cylinder engine and wooden stave tank, using nicotine sulfate for the insecticide.
He led a lonesome unprofitable life and later married a woman who was able to financially make life a lot easier and pleasanter for him.
The next stop was Hollywood, California, where Aunt Sophie and Uncle Ed were living. After a short visit there, we put our belongings in the trailer of a 1920 Buick seven-passenger touring car and headed for — as the song says — “To Make The San Fernando Valley My Home.” The ranch wasn’t much, consisting of 40 acres, a small frame house with an unfinished attic which was my quarters, a Fair barn, two massive beautiful oak trees, and a small gopher-riddled alfalfa field that soaked up water before it reached the end. There were also a few fruit trees and two giant barrel cactus that had such large needles that I cut some off and used them as needles 1n the Edison phonograph.
After the home place was developed and producing, I bought a Fordson Tractor, equipment, and a team of my own, and farmed on leased land so that I would have my own income.
Uncle Ed and Aunt Sophie couldn’t stand the ranch work so they moved back to Hollywood and operated small mom and pop restaurants with poor results. Later on, they moved back to Owensmouth and lived in a House and converted bus until they passed on.
The Martindales were farming there at the time and through them, I met the Messerly family and my future wife, Janice. They lived in a nice two-story home at 640 North Orange Street in Glendale, and I had many pleasant times visiting them there, and on their boat the Lockinvar, and the beach house on Balboa Bay. The cruises on the Lockinvar always required quite a lot of preparation but it was worth it, especially when we went to Catalina, and we generally had a party of about twelve people.
About the time Elizabeth was making a move on me, Janice was the one who appealed to me so I decided to take evasive action. My old friend from Asheville, Reynolds Ross, had moved to Pasadena with his mother, so I arranged for a meeting with him and the Messerlys, especially Elizabeth, and it worked. A few double dates and they were real serious and that gave me a clean field with Jane. They were soon married in an outdoor ceremony under the almond blossoms on Uncle Victor’s Ranch at Banning, California, in February 1925.
Farm Life in the San Fernando Valley
The transition from college boy to farmer was an easy one for me, and although I was a lightweight, weighing a little over 135 pounds, I soon toughened up to the work at hand, but wrestling hay bales that sometimes weighed close to two hundred pounds was not my specialty. Although I didn’t know A from Z about farming, both Dad and Uncle Ed, and the local professional farmers, soon showed me which way to go.
Uncle Ed picked the first team we had on the place, and I think that they were about the wildest pair that were ever hitched up to a farm implement. They were so wild and touchy that they would run away at the drop of a hat. One day I had been working them on a neighbor’s bean-threshing rig until after dark, as the weather was dry and sometimes fog set in at night shortening the threshing time. I unhitched them and climbed on one on top of the harness for the trip home. Walking home was not their idea of the preferable way to get to the feed rack. Before I could hold them they were at a full gallop. Even in the dark, across country, they knew where they were headed, and directly bucked me off in a dry wash.
When I finally got to our place I found them peacefully eating in the barn, as someone had fortunately opened the corral gate before dark. Sometime later I was mowing for a neighbor and had driven them up against a tall tree row while I went for a drink. The neighbor foolishly came by and waved at and yelled at them to stay away from the hedge and that was all they needed to wheel around and take off at full speed. I tried to catch them but was only able to touch the mower seat. One of them tripped crossing an irrigation ditch and broke a leg, so I had to shoot him.
After that, we bought tame workhorses and had no more trouble like that. The first team after this was a mare and a horse, and the mare had an outsize belly and was slightly on the lazy side. One morning I went out to the corral to hitch up and there was a beautiful little Pinto colt lying on the ground. I kept her for a pet and broke her to ride with an old McClellan Army saddle that Uncle Ed had bought for the purpose. After breaking her I found that she had such a round smooth back that it was more comfortable riding her bareback, even at full gallop which was her favorite pace. Riding was fun but being harnessed was not for her and she never was any good in harness.
Our only transportation at first was a 1919 Buick seven-passenger touring car that Dad got when he first came to Hollywood, and unsuccessfully tried to operate a taxi service. It served both as car and truck. Sometimes, when rain threatened at night with sacked beans in the field we would hook on to a trailer, filly both car and trailer, and haul them through the loose field to the barn.
Our power equipment was two Fordson and a big two-cylinder John Deere tractors, which really earned their way. I recall that the Fordsons cost about $580 new. One of our neighbors had a son about my age who was a hot rodder and several times when we were working adjacent fields at the end of the day we would unhook our farm implements and go to the far end of the field and line up abreast. At a given signal we would take off wide open and as soon as we got peak r.p.m. in second we would crash shift into high and go down the field in a cloud of dust. We had installed extra long lug plates on wheels to give more traction in loose ground and at full speed they threw dirt roostertails high in the air.
My first car at the ranch was a 1919 Model T Ford that I bought on Figueroa Street in Los Angeles when it was the center of the Auto business. It was equipped with a demountable pickup bed that could be easily removed to install a roadster turtle deck for pleasure driving. This conversion was seldom used as it was mostly a work car.
Janice was very tolerant of this heap and didn’t refuse to ride in it. I dubbed it the Fifty-Minute Egg, due to the fact that by keeping it wide open wherever possible I could drive from the ranch to her home in Glendale in fifty minutes. This procedure resulted in several speeding tickets when passing through Burbank, but didn’t halt the violations. Loose con rod tearings were a way of life with engines of that day, so to solve the problem and not having a repair shop nearby, I dug a pit under the shade of a beautiful white oak, near the house and tool shed, planked it on the sides, and used it frequently for lubrication, oil changes, and taking up bearings on car and tractor.
After the home place was all developed and in crop, for which I received no remuneration, I decided to start out on my own as much as the home ranch could spare me. This required equipment so I bought a team and Fordson tractor and needed used implements, and grew baby lima beans on leased land, and occasionally vegetables and hay. During the harvest season, I worked as a sack sower on two different bean threshers. The first was on our neighbor’s, the Barenchies, which was a stationary Ventura, powered, belt-driven by a Fordson, and the other was a rancher-developed pickup type.
This was hard, dirty work, but most of the crews were neighbors and we enjoyed being together, and it was a welcome change from the majority of solitary work. At the first of the season, my knuckles were worn so thin from jigging the 100-pound sacks that they were pink and almost bleeding, but by the end of the season, the callouses were so tough that I could run a file across them without any effect. The human body is a very adaptable organism.
In December of 1925, Jane submitted to my entreaties and agreed to become my wife with the approval of both sets of parents. December the 13th at three o’clock at 640 North Orange Street — the Messerly home — was the time and place set for the ceremony, which was performed by my Uncle J. Challen Smith, with an audience of all our local family, relatives, and close friends. After the ceremony, refreshments, and visiting, we changed clothes and took off on our honeymoon in our new 1925 Model T Ford coupe. Our itinerary was first to Mrs. Messerly’s cabin at Las Turas Lake [N.B. now Lake Sherwood], Santa Barbara, and finally to Big Bear Lake at the Potters Lodge. This was just after the Santa Barbara earthquake and the hotel elevators were still out of operation.
Our first home was a house we rented not far from the home place. With the long hours of ranch work this was not the most desirable arrangement so we decided it would be better to build on the home ranch so we could be together more, and I was supposed to get an interest in the home Place in return for all the unpaid time that I had put in there.
I contracted the building as I didn’t have the time to spare or the tools or experience for the job. On March 26, 1926, we received Permit No. 24515 from the Los Angeles Building Department to build a house and one car garage. The permit provided for the expenditure of $1,100.00 to build the structures, with plumbing but no electricity or heating. The house was all clear redwood exterior, wood shingles, and vertical grain Douglas fir flooring. I built the pergolas and did all the painting and landscaping.
We had groups of friends out for the housewarming and were comfortable in the little place.
However farm life was not acceptable to Janice and she insisted that we move to the City, and get employment there. The result was that we moved to Glendale, bought a new tract home with all the city conveniences and I went to work for the Union Oil Co. at a service station on San Fernando Road in San Fernando. This was a dismal inactive job that I disliked in a most positive way. After that, I transferred to truck driving, which was much more interesting. Driving a solid-tired Tank truck over the rough gravel and rock roads of Sunland, Tujunga, and Montrose was quite an experience. The truck was a big Moreland four-cylinder, which was manufactured in Burbank on San Fernando Road. The other truck I drove was a four-cylinder White stake-bed express, with a high-geared overdrive fourth speed. Whenever I got out on a straight stretch of open road, I would get it near full speed in third and then drop it into overdrive and listen to the singing of the gears as the scenery flashed by. It reminded me of the first job I had in Petoskey when I was driving the Model T express delivery for the furniture store, and used to hold it wide open when coming back empty from a delivery around the Lakeshore.
The firstborn of our family trio was Everett Richard [Wilson] who arrived on January 15, 1928, at 1245 Sonora Street in Glendale. The second was Nancy Helena [Wilson] on May 2, 1929, at 1204 North Cedar, and the third and last Victor Louis [Wilson] on April 12, 1935, at the same home. The Sonora Street house was a new tract home and didn’t have much to offer so we soon moved to the North Cedar home which was in a nice tract with pleasant neighbors, and our next-door family was the Jim McLains, who were gladiola growers and gave us our first introduction to the hills of Vista.
We were here for several years until we bought a big two-story house at 1310 North Pacific, which was our last Glendale home before moving to Vista.
After a while with the Union Oil Company, the opportunity came up to buy an old three-pump service station and garage at the northeast corner of Brand and Dryden in Glendale. This place was so antique that it had hand-pump filled-glass-bowled gas pumps and no lubricating equipment. The garage was operated by a half-deaf old-timer by the name of Herb Vail, who had seen much better days. He had an old topless four-cylinder Essex, which was only running on three, and I bought that for the service car. This was almost strictly neighborhood business, and I made the foolish mistake of offering credit to those who asked for it, who were many at that time and that was where a lot of the profit went.
After operating the place for a considerable time I could see that we were out of date, and needed a more attractive layout. I approached a customer who had just retired from a sales job to go in with me to buy the adjacent property, teach down the old buildings, and construct an up-to-date super service station. He agreed to the proposal. I located a large steel service building and steel pump canopies, and modernization was on the way. Now we had separate facilities for two pump islands, for cut-rate and regular gas, and office, tire and battery department, a garage, separate restrooms, indoor hoist lube, and Reynolds rented the front section for his radio repair shop.
After a short time operating there I got the idea that it would give us full coverage of the neighborhood if we had a station on the vacant lot diagonally across the street because Brand Boulevard was divided by the Pacific Electric Railway Company on a wide strip of unpaved ground. My partner Huffman agreed to the idea, but I was to finance the total expansion. The new station was a steel building with two canopies, and a lube and service department. Before the station was complete Huffman demanded that we terminate the partnership, and operate separately. This was a low blow but rather than get involved in a long, expensive lawsuit I agreed and he ended up with a majority of the customers and some of the best help.
This went on unpleasantly until 1941, when the Bank of America (which is really the Bank of Italy), served us with a deficiency judgment for delinquent payments on an orange grove in Redlands, which we had traded to another party several years previously. At that time, the law allowed a bank or lending institute to collect a debt from the original lenders even though the property had changed hands. The bank was allowed to appropriate any or all of a previous lender’s property to satisfy an unpaid loan.
We engage what was supposed to be a top-flight attorney to represent us without any success, and as it turned out the only way we could protect ourselves was a sacrifice sale of our property before the bank could process the condemnation. The result was we cashed out on the service station property and business, and the home on Pacific Avenue.
This resulted in a complete change in life for us when we bought an avocado and lemon orchard in Vista, with a nice big two-story house. The income from this grove and another adjacent one we bought was not enough to keep us going, so Mom and I both held jobs with the school district, she as secretary to the principal and I as bus driver and egg farm operator. This was during the war years, and the high price of eggs was a big help. After the war ended we sold this place and moved into Vista on East Vista Way, where we enjoyed a nice hilltop home on a few acres with only a family flock, a riding horse for Nancy, a Whippet coupe for Dick, and a cow (“Daisy Jane”) for the family.
After a few years at this location, Jane got the urge again to live in the city, so we sold out and moved into a small cottage in Balboa near the yacht club. After a while there, with the boys and friends and relatives sleeping in the garage, where Johnny Martindale recovered from his boat fire burns, we bought a two-story old triplex on Balboa Boulevard.
We were in this location with my mother living in the upstairs garage apartment and the boys living in the first-floor quarters. Later, I built a big two-story house near the end of the Peninsula opposite the Coast Guard Pier, which had five bedrooms three baths, and two fireplaces. We later sacrificed this place and moved to Costa Mesa, where I was the Street Lighting Supt. and Right of Way Agent. This lasted for over ten years during which time Dick and I built a garage apartment on the property, which he Nan And Dobie occupied while he was getting his teachers credential.
While we were living in Vista we had made a friendship with Rose and Joe Siegel who had ranch property off West Lilac Road in Bonsall. Rose offered to sell us a 40-acre parcel that they had never developed. In spite of having owned four non-profit groves I had always wanted to develop a good one as a retirement project, so we bought the forty from her. At that time, aqueduct water had not reached that area but due to the fact that they had a good dug well on the adjacent ranch, we thought that the same would apply to this 40. Some years later we hired a well digger to bring his equipment in after drilling two dry holes and hitting solid granite. We gave up on the ranch development until the aqueduct was installed.
By that time, Dick was teaching at Escondido High so we decided to go ahead and develop the place and started working weekends clearing and planting until we got the entire 40 in avocado and citrus trees. When the original planting was completed, there were about 5,000 trees on the ranch due to double- and quadruple-planting of some tall-growing varieties, and on questionable soil.
Dick built his home on the property and we moved to Vista and both worked full-time on the grove. After several years we began experimenting with drip irrigation, which we found required very effective filtering to work dependably. After research and development, we produced a filter using a plastic case and stainless-steel screen that was capable of handling the local silting and algae problem. After several years, I terminated my connection in the business and turned it over to Dick, who has now expanded it to include fertilizer application.
About 1980, we processed a boundary adjustment on the property to put the ranch in better condition for future sales. About the same time, I built a three-stall corrugated sheet metal shop on one of my parcels so that I would have a place of my own to work on my personal projects. I restored and trailer-mounted an old Ingersoll-Rand air compressor, and used it in the restoration of the 1922 Buick.
A lot of the early plantings of Fuertes, Bacons, and Zutanos have become unprofitable so they have been top-worked or removed for replacement with other varieties. Poor prices and oversupply in the recent past have made the ranch a non-profit operation, with 1985 being a recovery year.
Time will tell what the future holds, but on the whole, it has been a satisfying endeavor.
Odds and Ends
The automotive record on the Messerly side is rather dim, but we know they had an E.M.F. touring car (which stands for Everett, Metzger, and Flanders, but more commonly called “every morning fix-it”). This purchase might have been motivated by the fact that Pappa’s name was Everett. Production of this car terminated about 1915. They later owned a Buick Six touring, about 1918, and a 1923 Studebaker Special Six Sedan. This was a big hearse of a car that stood over six feet high, with rear carriage lamps, footrest, robe rail, carpeting with mohair upholstery, and enough floor space in the rear to bed down three small children. It had high-pressure tires, a free-wheeling chain drive self-starter off of the crankshaft behind the fan pulley. It was a tough old wagon and served two families with no trouble. It made many a trip to Balboa with the kids and a boat trailer.
After we moved to Glendale from the ranch and started to raise a family, we needed more room than the Model T provided, so we acquired the old “Studie” sedan, when Mrs. Messerly bought a new Franklin.
This Franklin was a real luxury car, with mohair upholstery, German silver trim, robe rail, footrests, etc. Mechanically it had three features that were Franklin exclusives, namely: Full elliptic spring suspension, laminated wood frame, and air cooling. This cooling system was so efficient that it was publicized by locking one of the cars in low gear and driving it across Death Valley in the middle of the summer. She didn’t keep this great car very long, as Elizabeth had moved in with her at that time and was running the show. She had her mind set on one of the new Chevrolet six-cylinder sport sedans. The only things to its credit were six wire wheels and red paint. It had no performance, comfort, handling, or anything else to favor it over that classic Franklin.
After that, we had a swarm of cars and rarely kept one over a year. We had another Ford V-8, three Pontiacs, a Buick, two Lincoln Continentals, a Chevrolet, a Cadillac Coupe DeVille, Dodge and Ford pickups, and three Chevy pickups.
During my service station years, a whole gaggle of cars was involved. The first service car was a beat-up old Essex Four touring car (topless). I bought it from the resident mechanic, Herb Vail, who owned one of the Essex light sixes, which was such a lemon that he was never without a car to work on. This old four had one cylinder so badly scored that it ran like a three-cylinder motor, but in spite of that, it served without trouble. Later on, I bought an Essex coach, which was a real workhorse, which we used for all kinds of service calls or towing.
One year the Atwater-Glendale area was badly flooded by a rainstorm and some of my customers with drowned out cars called for help. This Essex had radiator shutters, just like the diesel trucks, and the ignition and carburetor were on top of the motor. By closing these shutters and taking the fan belt off, this bus would navigate water over the floorboards without a miss. This made it possible for me to pull these people out; where nearly everything else was drowned out.
About that time Reynolds Ross was going to get a new car to replace the 1923 Willys Knight Sleeve Valve four touring that had.been their honeymoon car. I bought it from him, removed the back seat and the doors, and installed a long steel pickup body. That engine was still whisper-quiet and we used it to pull a trailer full of houseware when we moved to Vista in 1940. Later on, I traded it for a Whipper 4 that I gave to Dick for his first car.
During the “Omar’s Gas Oasis” days, in addition to the Willys, we had a Model A pickup and bought and sold cars including Dodge and Chrysler sedans that I bought and gave my folks when they were living in Redlands.
At one time there about forty Yellow Cabs parked on the lot, which a customer bought for resale.
In 1933 we decided to go modern, retired the old 1923 Studie, and bought a 1933 second-edition Ford V-8 two-door sedan. (I removed two coach lamps and the cut-glass bud vase for souvenirs, which I still have. This Ford was alright, but for some reason, we wanted to stay up to date and ordered a 1934 V-8 with a special high-geared rear end. We took delivery of this car by the drive-through method whereby a salesman would go back to the factory and bring back two cars with a drawbar and a masked-out towed car. I ordered the towed car and it came through perfect. It was an economical, fast, trouble-free car, and only cost a little over $800, and $85.00 for the tow fee.
I used to have fun doing brodies in the Martindale’s bean fields.
I almost forgot to mention one car among my early collection, which was one of the early Cadillacs, a V-8 touring which was a big beast, closely related to a three-quarter-ton truck, and just as rugged. It had 35×5 high-pressure tires and wasn’t much fun to drive but would be a real collector’s item today.
After the service station days, we had a variegated procession of cars and I believe the only overdrive Ford, three Pontiacs, a Chevy, two Lincolns, and a Cadillac Coupe DeVille.
Before leaving Costa Mesa Jane located a Model A 1930 Rumble Seat Roadster that one of the school staff had for sale and bought it for me. It was in rather sad shape but was basically sound. We had a four-car garage under the garage apartment that Dick and I had built at the Santa Ana and Broadway home [301 Broadway, Costa Mesa, California], so I used one of the stalls to start the restoration, which was not completed until we moved to Vista. I used it in several parades featuring the Costa Mesa Street Lighting District, and Vista events.
While living in Costa Mesa, I located an old abandoned 1923 [N.B. 1922?] Buick Six touring that bad been chopped up and converted into a ranch pickup. I saw it sitting abandoned in an orange grove off Newport Boulevard near Tustin, belonging to J. Worth Alexander, who owned a fully-restored duplicate of the first red Maxwell that we had in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. After recounting a lot of old-time memories he felt so sorry for the Buick that he offered it to me for $85.00. I didn’t argue and paid the man. Vic had a Jeep and I borrowed a big trailer. With Pete [N.B. Raven?] we dug the old wreck out of the shed and loaded it for the trip down to the Costa Mesa garage. Some disassembly was done there but all the major work was done in Vista after I took a two-semester course in auto body and painting at Palomar College in San Marcos under Bill Golden. Not counting class time, the restoration took about 1,500 hours and about the same number of dollars, but resulted in a one-of-a-kind Speedster, which has received a lot of compliments and been requested for lots of public events.
Still have the 1930 Ford AA six-wheel lumber truck, a 1941 Chevy 6 pickup, and a 1922 McCormack Deering tractor, due for restoration, but it doesn’t seem too likely that the time and energy required will be available.
Our venture into foreign car ownership started with the purchase of a 1984 Mercedes 240D diesel sedan with a four-speed stick shift, which spelled it’s doom as Jane could not adapt herself to shifting gears after years of automatics. So we sold the four-banger !or almost cost and bought a 1975 Mercedes five-cylinder diesel automatic [300D], which has been highly satisfactory and economical, and is running stronger at 95,000 miles. I’m afraid we will have trouble wearing it out as we have never kept a car this long.
This has gone on long enough, so to sum it all up we have live active productive lives and have been blessed with a successful healthy family who is willing to associate with us. We are among the few who have lived from a period when the horse and the railroad were the only means of land transportation There were no telephones, radio, or television and our money was backed by and redeemable in gold and silver. There was no drug scene, and alcohol and sex were for adults, and the Family was the center for Education and Recreation.
Now we have technological developments in communication, transportation, space travel, and new scientific developments unheard of in our youth. However, with all knowledge acquired material advances made, millions of people are starving and fighting each other, when there should be abundance and peace. It makes you wonder if all these discoveries and improvements are worth it when they are accompanied with a loss of morals, trust, honor among individuals and nations, dope liquor, sex, and worthless money backed by nothing but the printing press, with practically every nation bankrupt.
Conditions being what they are, let’s hope that there will be enough world leaders with the ability and knowledge, to work together for Zero Population Growth, peace, elimination of nuclear weapons, and the control of hazardous materials, so that this sphere can continue as a habitable place for civilization.
I hope that this dissertation will be worth the time and trouble of the preparation, as time goes on and memory becomes dim!
Not responsible for mistakes omissions, repetitions, spelling, dates, places, or errors of any kind. [N.B. Some corrections applied during retyping, although the process may have introduced new errors.]
Addendum by Greg Raven (grandson):
Omar also had a 1948 Buick six-cylinder two-door, which he had been storing in a garage in Costa Mesa for some time in 1970 when he sold it to me. I had to rebuild just about everything on that car to get it running, but between carburetor issues, cooling issues, and the six-volt electrical system, it was always a question of whether or not it would start.
Omar and Janice also had a suicide-door Lincoln Continental that I thought was beautiful. Once when they were going on a cruise, I accompanied them to Long Beach or San Pedro so I could drive the car back, staying at Uncle Victor’s place in Seal Beach along the way. After leaving Seal Beach, the car began to overheat, so I had to nurse it home to Vista, stopping frequently to let it cool enough that I could top off the radiator.
Although Omar says only that they sold the Mercedes 240D because of the stick shift, I remember that Omar was very unhappy with the performance. He was much happier with the 300D. Because of his experiences with the deprivations of the Great Depression, he tried to talk the dealership into fitting over-sized tires on it, but they talked him out of it.
Omar’s 1922 Buick restoration included a substantial modification, as the rear sheet metal was even more rusted out than the rest of the body and chassis, so he cut it off and fitted a pickup-truck bed in its place.
Speaking of the Great Depression, Nancy Raven once told me that they would go out into the bean fields at night, gleaning beans that had been dropped so they would have food to eat. Omar also saved just about everything, including tiny scraps of baling wire (even though he had full coils of it sitting unused), bent nails, worn screwdrivers, etc.
Finally, Omar often spoke fondly of cars he and/or his family had once owned, wishing he had kept them. If he had kept every car he wished he’d never sold, the Lilac Road property would not have had enough room left over for avocado and citrus trees after storing all his vehicles.