Autobiography of Burrill Earnest Fuller
By Burrill Earnest Fuller
Born June 10, 1901
Died September 1,1984
(Editor’s note: My Grandfather died while I was on my mission for the LDS (Mormon) church in 1984. I re-typed up the original manuscript that he wrote when I was a child in 1977 (edited for him by my cousin Peggy Prentiss Tisher). I find his life reassuring to me when things seem tough, either professionally or interpersonally. I wish I could have had my Grandmother write her story before she passed away in the early spring of 2000, so that I could place it here with Granddad’s. – Ben)
My son, Don, has been asking me to write the story of my life for some time, so I will make a go of it. I was born June 10, 1901 in a small town in Nebraska, Benedict by name. It is about10 miles north of York.
I am the sixth child of nine children born to George H. Fuller and Jennie M. Fuller. There were five boys and four girls. They were according to age: Vesper, Clinton, Lela, Ellis, Josephine, Burrill, George, Gerald and Ruby.
About the first thing that I remember real well is that I burned the barn down. I was trying to smoke corn silks. At the time there was a horse in the barn that didn’t belong to my Dad – they were doctoring him for something. My folks had gone to New York for something and they called home. Vesper answered the phone. They asked if everything was all right and she told them “yes, only that Burrill burned the barn down.”
Sometime later, after Dad got a new barn built, my brother went out at night to bed the horses down. He didn’t come back in as soon as he should, so I went out to check. I found him lying between two of the horses, all covered in blood. He had hit one of them with the pitchfork handle and horse had knocked him down and stepped on his face. Ellis still has the scars to this day.
My Dad had a well drilling and pump business, but he wanted to move to Kansas since it was a dry state and he had all of us boys to think about. They rented a boxcar, which they called an immigrant car in those days. Dad, Clinton & Ellis, along with one grown horse, two colts, old Star the cow, and all the furniture moved to Peabody, Kansas. That was in the summer of 1907. Peabody was a town then of over 2000, and had very rich farming land. Dad got into the real estate business and did real well for several years.
When I was in the fourth grade, my brother Clinton was working at the Santa Fe depot and he came down with Typhoid fever. Before it was over, five of us had come down with it, and three of us were in bed at one time. It was a miracle that all of us lived through it. I was out of school for two months and it caused me to have to spend two years in the fourth grade. That was quite a blow to my pride.
When those two colts that we had brought with from Nebraska were big enough to break, Dad made a beautiful driving team of them. We were all very proud. He later sold their mother. Her name was Bird. I guess I got my love for horses from them. I got to name the colts Daisy and Pet. We rode them a lot when Dad didn’t need them to haul real estate buyers.
We always did a lot of rabbit hunting in the winter. My first gun was a single shot “Steven’s Favorite”, then Dad started letting me use his Winchester. Boy, that was something! I built several box rabbit traps, and had to run them every morning. One time I stuck my hand down in one of those traps and it didn’t feel right. There was a possum in there. That sure scared me!
I sold quite a lot of rabbits to neighbors for fifteen cents or two for twenty-five cents. That kept me in money to buy shells. I worked in a grocery delivery wagon before and after school and on Saturdays. I think that I got a dollar and a half a week there. In the summer I drove an ice wagon one or two years. I guess I was a pretty good horseman.
Along about this time my baby sister Ruby was born. I got up in the morning and I thought that the folks had gotten a new cat. Back in those days most parents didn’t tell their kids that there was a new member of the family on the way. At least mine didn’t.
In 1913 there was a bad drought in and around Kansas and Dad sold off the driving team. I thought the end of the world had come. I learned to drive a car about this time. Dad had a two-cylinder Reo that he used to do pump work in. It cranked on the side and was a right hand drive.
My mother was pretty strict, but she always had a lot of love to go around. We were a happy family, not rich, but always had plenty to eat and good clothes to wear. We had a piano and I guess all of the girls learned to play it. We would all get around it and sing. My sister Lela had a beautiful voice. She sang a lot in church. My sister Josephine and I ran around quite a bit together. There was a neighbor girl and boy that we were interested in.
My dad used to tell the wildest tales about wolves of when he was young back in Iowa. I would have nightmares that I was riding on a horse drawn two-wheel cart and that the wolves were about to get me.
I didn’t graduate out of the eighth grade, which was the biggest mistake I ever made. I worked at many things, such as running a grocery delivery wagon and an ice wagon. The summer I was eighteen, I bought a team of workhorses for three hundred dollars, including the wagon and harness. They had come off of a brewery wagon in Kansas City.
I hauled all kinds of oil field material, mostly rig timber. There were eight or nine of us most of the time, and we had a lot of fun going down the road all spread out. I think that I enjoyed that kind of work more than anything I ever did. We were pretty much our own bosses.
One fall work was slow, so a friend and I took my rig and we drove about a hundred miles north and shucked corn for three months. When I finally came home it was dark. At about six or eight blocks from the house our old dog Prince met me. As far as I know, that was the only time in his life that he ever was seen in town.
The fall I was 21, I married a girl by the name of Ruby Greene. She was eighteen and we had been going together for a couple of years. We moved into a two-room oilfield house on my parent’s property. We stayed there for a few months, but she wanted to move to Albuquerque, New Mexico where most of her family was living. Our daughter Laura May was born on the 29th of June, 1923 at home.
I worked a couple of years for the biggest transfer company in New Mexico, both as a carpenter helper and a truck driver. They used to buy their horses up in Colorado and break them to work. They were as wild as could be. One day we were working near the Blacksmith shop and they had a wild one in the stock to be shoed. I walked in and the horse got real quiet. I asked the blacksmith why the horse was so quiet. The blacksmith replied that the horse wouldn’t cause any more trouble because he was dead.
The last day I worked for that company (Springer), I was doing carpenter work with the boss. I was going to go down town with him, but he changed his mind at the last moment and went without me. He drove right in front of a Santa Fe passenger train. I was one of the first people to get to him. He was scalped and only lived about twelve hours.
The pay wasn’t very good in New Mexico, and I didn’t have a trade there. There was an oil boom going on at Artesia, New Mexico. Artesia was about a hundred miles from Albuquerque. The pay was a lot better than what I had been making, but to my sorrow I found out that my wife was running around.
There are always two sides when two people have trouble living together; mine was that I just wasn’t making enough money. I finally quit the teaming job and went home unexpectedly on a weekend. My family wasn’t there, and didn’t come home until Sunday. She had spent the weekend out of town with the man she later married. At one time he was a friend of mine.
The next morning I packed my suitcase and started hitchhiking for Borger, Texas. I guess if ever a man needed a friend, I did. And that day he came along and picked me up. He was an ex-Texas Ranger and an ex-Bootlegger. We stopped in Pampa to gas up his car. My suitcase was on his fender. They took it off to check the oil and we drove off without it. By the time we turned around and went back, it was already gone. All I had in the world, except for a few dollars.
We both found work- he as, what they call, a Stabber on a pipeline crew and I skinning a four-up of hard tail mules during dirt work. We would get together at night and go out of town and cook supper and bed down in his bedroll.
Borger was really a wild and woolly place. It was just coming out of the ground. There were fistfights and gunfights every night. My friend knew a lot of the lawmen around there, and also some of the bootleggers. The lawmen would tip him off about a liquor raid and he would make some extra money that way.
I think we were together a couple of weeks when one of the men that he worked with kicked his hat into a gas torch. That started a fight that got him fired. He was going to go back home and I had run into a man heading to my hometown. I was very homesick, so I took up his offer and headed home.
After I had been home a few days and got filled up with my mother’s good cooking and love, I started looking for a job. There was an oil company that had a baseball team that was hiring for roustabouts. Everyone said you had to be a ball player to get a job, but I went out anyway. I told the man that I wasn’t a ball player and he said that was ok. They still needed some men to do the work around there.
That summer, my sister Jo and I had gone in together and bought a model T Roadster. I worked all summer for this oil company. The work I did most of the time was racking tubing up in the top of the oil derrick. It was nice work in the summer, but I could plainly see that it wasn’t going to be a good wintertime job.
About this time I got the divorce papers to sigh. I had told her that I wanted 3 months a year custody of Laura May, but she got the divorce another way and I didn’t get the custody. I was very restless and missed seeing Laura May, so I quit my job and took off to see her. From there I planned to go on to California and Oregon. I ran out of money, but in western New Mexico I got a job shaking a plow behind six mules that a man drove with one line. This was called a “jerk line.”
I had a friend that lived in Tutman, California. It was west of Bakersfield. I went to visit him and got a job driving a big Packard truck, hauling “milo maze” out of a dry lakebed. They were having a mouse invasion. There were so many of them that they had to use a scraper to get them off the highways around this dry lakebed.
When this job was finished, I loaded my little old Model T up on the flat bed and went to Fresno to get paid. From there I started off to Oregon where my older brother Ellis lived. Just before I got to San Francisco I picked up a hitchhiker that turned out well. He was a preacher and he knew his way around San Francisco. He found us a real good hotel where I got a room, and then we went to Chinatown. After that we went to a theater where Al Jolson was performing. I really enjoyed it.
The next morning I took off on the ferryboat on the north end of the bay. It was very damp and foggy. I was the first car in line and it wouldn’t start. They were just about ready to shove me off when I finally got it running.
My brother lived in a little sawmill town called Noti, which is west of Eugene, Oregon. I got in there pretty early in the morning after having driven all night. When I drove in I stopped at a General Store and asked the man where Ellis Fuller lived and he told me. I missed the street and went on a couple of blocks and there he and his family were, waiting for me. They had started for Spokane, Washington to spend Christmas. I guess I hadn’t let him know that I was coming. It sure would have been a lonesome Christmas if I had missed them. The man at the store had stopped my brother on their way out of town and told him that he thought his brother was looking for him.
They told me the story of how Noti got its name. An Indian and a white man were going through the country with only one horse between the two of them. One would ride a ways and then tie the horse up and go on by foot. The other one that was on foot would come up on the horse and then ride a ways, and so on. Finally, the white man forgot to tie up the horse, and when the Indian couldn’t find it, he said, “Noti.”
I didn’t find any work for a couple of months. Olga, Ellis’ wife, made me feel welcome though, for which I have always had a warm feeling for her. When I finally did get a job, it was in a sawmill in a place called Penn, Oregon. I ran a slab saw. It was pretty hard work, but I didn’t mind because I had a good place to bunk and some of the best food I ever ate.
Most of the men that worked there were single. They were all big husky fellows. Someone brought in a pair of boxing gloves. Most of us had never had a pair on. Boy, did we have some dilly of matches. One of my friends, Orvil Mercer, was an ex-marine and he had held the light-heavy weight title in the Hawaiian Islands. We put the gloves on several times against each other, but I didn’t care too much about the idea of getting into a slugging match with some of those big lumberjacks.
At the sawmill, they put in what they called a “nine saw slasher”. It was mounted up above the conveyor belt that brought the slabs in. All I had to do was push them onto the conveyor that went up to the saw. They cut my wages because I didn’t have to work as hard. I was scared of those saws coming down. It had happened in another mill and the operator was killed.
My friend, Orville, and I were both getting homesick. His folks lived in Greenville, Texas. He didn’t have a car, so we decided to head back together. We headed south through the redwoods of California, and then on to Tutman, where Skeet and Dot Jones lived with their two beautiful daughters. We worked a couple of weeks on a schoolhouse and when the job played out we started for Texas. We broke down west of Flagstaff and spent the night on a narrow mountain road. In Artesia, New Mexico we found a few weeks work with my old employer, and then on to Greenville, where Orville’s brother lived.
I can’t figure out why we were so broke all of the time. We didn’t do any drinking and gasoline wasn’t very expensive. I can’t remember where we slept. I have got to tell about stopping in Arizona, though, to listen to the now-famous long count fight between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney. This happened on Sept 22, 1927. Someone had a radio going under this big straw canopy. We had a couple of bottles of home brew that our friend in California had given us, so we decided it was a good time to open them. It was hot and the foam shot all over everything. We got started laughing and then we couldn’t stop. I think all the people around thought we were either crazy or drunk.
I was anxious to get on the road to Columbus where my brother Clinton lived. He was a Doctor by then. Orville filled up my car, gave me a five-gallon can of gas and some sandwiches and I took off. I hadn’t gone a hundred miles when I came upon a toll bridge. I traded the man some of my tools for passage. When I ran out of gas, I traded a really good jacked for a tank full. I stayed with Clinton a couple of days. He got a big kick out of my cross-country story on very little money.
I had a full tank of gasoline again and some sandwiches. When I stopped to eat, I found my Sister-in-law Marietta had put a dollar bill in the sack for me. I stopped at the first town I came to a bought a pack of camels. I had been rolling my own for weeks. My folks were happy to have me home, even if I was broke. My mother went to work on fattening me up on some big old capon chickens. I got a job driving an oil field truck. It was for a drilling contractor. We hauled tools all over the state.
In August of 1928, I was home between jobs. My mother was planning on going to Miami, Florida where my oldest sister Vesper and her family lived. Vesper was expecting a child and had been having some trouble. She wanted her mother to be there. Mother was talking one day about how she hated to ride a train all that way. I asked how she would like to go in my Model T. She said she would love to go that way.
I took the car up and put some new side curtains and a new seat in it. We stopped the first night in Columbus, Kansas, then we headed southeast. The only time I was worried was the night we stayed in Tupelo, Mississippi. Mother had gotten up feeling bad the next morning, but she was a real good traveler.
It was over 2000 miles down there and I made it in four and a half days. That is very good time for the kind of roads they had in those days. Very little of the roads were paved then. We got into Miami on the afternoon of the fifth day. I drove into a filling station to ask the way to my sister’s house and there stood my brother-in-law, Howard Kickasole.
Howard had been out of work for some time, but together we got a job working in a big department store. It was a remodel job. They had a professional lather. He could spit nails faster than anyone I have ever seen. I think we worked a week. They paid us off in cash. The first thing I did was have Howard go by a meat market. I bought some big steaks. They said they didn’t need any meat, but they sure did eat those up in a hurry.
My sister Jo and her husband JR Moore lived in Greenville, North Carolina, so we decided to go by and visit them on our trip back home. We got into Greenville late and we called Jo for directions to her home. She told us how to get there, but we soon found out the streets were all torn up and we couldn’t find it. We went back into town and I was just about to hire a boy to show us how to get there when JR comes walking by. Talk about luck in a big city.
On the way home we had to cross the Mississippi River and there were two ferries. One was a big steamer and the other was a small gasoline motorboat pushing a barge. The smaller one was cheaper, so we took it. That was the only time that mother got scared on the whole trip. It was very rough and the west bank was slippery mud. We about didn’t make it up out of there.
I worked for two different companies in the next year and I finally began to get a little ahead, so I bought one of the first six-cylinder Chevy coupes. I traded my old Model T for it sight unseen. I was working in this town called Russell, Kansas, so I had my brother Gerald drive the old car to the dealer and drive the new one back home for me. He got quite a kick out of it.
That Fall my brother George was home. He had been working in the signal department for the railroad and had heard there was line job going at Pampa, Texas. There was quite a bit of oil field work going on there, so we decided to give it a go. George got on with the Line Gang and I went along for a month or so because I had met a gal in Pampa that I liked.
This girl wanted me to take her to a dance, so I asked the boss if about getting off. He said no. I went into work and we ran the swab and I told the driller about wanting to get off. He said to go ahead and that he would cover for me. I think one of the first persons I saw at the dance was my boss. He didn’t act like he had seen me, but I figured that I had blown it. Sure enough the next morning while I was still asleep, he sent me my check.
I went into town that evening and hunted up George and told him what had happened. He had heard that Phillips was hiring electricians and he wanted me to take him out there the next day. The next morning we went out there and they hired George. He asked them if he could use a helper and they said yes. He came out to the car and asked me if I wanted to go to work as his helper. I wasn’t too happy about it, but it turned out to be a pretty wise decision.
We went to work. He was making 75cents and hour and I was making 50cents. I think we worked 10 hours a day, six days a week. George and I worked together most of the time for the next three years. We worked at Pampa, Borger and the gasoline line between St Louis and Borger. We were very close and we both enjoyed the time we were together.
During this time we were laid off for a short spell. We thought that we might get back on at Borger. So, we went out there and this time we took Gerald with us. It didn’t work out like we had hoped, but they let us sleep in our old #14 bunkhouse where all the electricians stayed.
I had this Nash Coupe that wasn’t quite paid for and I was about to lose it. I called our brother Clinton and he said he would stake us to a load of moonshine whiskey that he could buy there near Columbus, Kansas in a place called Crony 42. I took the cushions out of the jump seat and took out by myself and got into Columbus that night. I got up the next morning and went up to this place and they managed to load seven five gallon wood barrels into that jump seat.
I started for Borger scared to death, but I knew I had to go through with it. One place I stopped for gas I thought I could smell the moonshine, so I stopped out in the open from then on. I got in that night, right ahead of a late spring snowstorm. They had arranged for a garage close to the bunkhouse to drive the stuff into. Gerald, George and a friend did most of the selling, some in quarts, some in gallons and some by the keg. We sold all but one keg and made enough to pay my car off. Can’t remember how much we paid for it, only that the kegs themselves cost three dollars a piece.
We got word to be in Eldorado, Kansas to go back to work, so we took out. There was still a lot of snow on the ground and we put the chains on the tires. Somewhere out in Western Oklahoma in the snow the car stopped. We got out and couldn’t figure out what was wrong. We finally looked in the back and our gas tank was gone.
George caught a ride back down the road about five miles and there it was. Those old cars had a small tank between the main tank and the carburetor that let it go so far. We put the tank back on the fender and hooked it in again and got into town with it. In Eldorado they couldn’t put us right to work, so we headed home. By the time we got there, the exhaust had been leaking and we were all sick.
We ended up going back to work with the line gang and wound up at the Kansas City refinery. I can’t remember how long we were there, but that is where George met and married his first wife, Gladys.
The line gang finally arrived in my hometown of Peabody. They had some work for us out on the old Watchhorn lease. When it was finished they broke up the gang. They called me and said the only option was to go to Oklahoma City and roustabout or get laid off. That was June 1, 1932, right in the middle of the big depression. I wasn’t about to quit at that time.
I had never been in Oklahoma City. They told me where to report in Capitol Hill. I couldn’t figure the capitol being in the north part of town and Capitol Hill being in the south part. I got back into the Electric Department shortly after I came down. W had our shop close to the Frisco tracks. There were a lot of hobos around there all the time. It was very depressing. I was glad when they moved us down by Capitol Hill.
I lived in a boarding house for three or four months, but I didn’t care for it. I decided to bring my folks down, so I rented an apartment on High Street in Capitol Hill. We later moved to south Oklahoma State where we lived in a furnished house until some time in 1935.
My baby sister Ruby was in a T.B. sanitarium up in Kansas at this time. She was able to get transferred to one in Clinton, Oklahoma to be closer. I managed to take mother, and sometimes dad, out to see her about every 5 or 6 weeks. Sometime later my sister Lela showed up. I think she had been living in Buffalo, New York. She was a beauty operator. She never did get married.
I don’t know why, but in this period I had more lady friends than I could shake a stick at. I sure didn’t have very much money to spend on them. One Saturday night I went to a barn dance on the old Berg lease. There I heard that a friend I had worked with was having a housewarming dance. His name was Ed Rogers and I had already met his wife Anne, so I thought I would be welcome. It was a little late, but there were several people still there. Anne introduced me to her niece, a tall dark haired lovely gal by the name of Gladys Hughes.
I don’t think it was love at first sight, but I sure thought she was something pretty nice. This was around the first of February of 1935. We started dating pretty often. She was working out at Packing Town. She had to ride a bus clear across town and back, which was pretty rough coupled with a working day.
Around this time my dad had been spending part of the time living with my brother Clinton in Columbus, Kansas. On March 15, Clinton was lying down on a couch next to Dad’s bed where he had been visiting with him, when Dad let out a big gasp of breath and was gone. Dad was 78 years old and had been a rugged and gentle man. He never met a stranger.
Sometime after this, back in Oklahoma City, Gladys had me take her home up in Stillwater to meet her folks. I sure like them and I think I made a pretty good impression on them. They were a pretty big family, too – seven girls and three boys. Bill was the baby; he was only a couple of months old.
On the way back to Oklahoma City I popped the question and she said “yes”. We immediately began to plan the how and the when. There was a preacher that lived close to Ed and Anna’s place. We decided to have him perform the ceremony. My mother went with us around ten o’clock on Saturday morning. I was kind of put out by the Preacher since he didn’t get dressed until we got there. This was on May 4, 1935.
At first we rented a one room upstairs apartment, close to the business part of Capitol Hill. We lived there for six months. We bought enough groceries to set up house keeping for four dollars. I would like to see you do that today. We rented a house for six months and then we decided to build one.
The company was leasing some real nice lots in southeast Capitol Hill. A close friend of mine was a good carpenter. We built it on weekends. It had one bedroom, a living room, kitchen and bathroom. We later added on another bedroom. I did the plumbing myself. I sure had a time putting it together, not knowing too much about that kind of work and everything coming from Wards like it did. I guess the air got rather blue a few times.
The house is still there. It looks better now than when we sold it. The company sold the lots to their employees, so they are all well kept. This was a happy time in my life. I was looking forward to having a family. I had a good job and a lovely wife. I sure couldn’t ask for more.
Our son Donald Burrill was born on April 23, 1937. I sure was a proud father. He was born on what is known in Oklahoma as 89ers day. This is the anniversary of the land run into the state. The first six months we had Don, he cried all of the time it seemed like. The Doctor changed his food formula every month. I wanted to hold him, but he would cry and kick until I would give up and lay him down.
That fall, I bought a new “37” Chevy two-door. It was the first new car I had ever bought. I was sure proud of it. The price tag was a little over seven hundred dollars. Laura May came and visited about this time. She was fourteen. That was the only time that she ever visited when she was growing up. We really enjoyed having her with us.
The spring of ’38, I had two weeks of vacation coming, plus two weeks. I had to take off, so we decided to go on a trip. Gladys was pregnant, but the Doctor said it would be fine. We took my mother along. My brother George was living in San Francisco, that was our first stop. We stayed four days. They were living on a hill that was so steep that all of the water ran out of the car battery. We had a lot of fun riding the cable cars. George’s wife, Gladys, took us out to several nightclubs in downtown Chinatown. George was working nights at the time.
From there we went up to Ellis’ place in Oregon by way of the ocean route through the Redwood forest. We stayed with Ellis for several days. He had just painted and papered the upstairs bedrooms and the smell made Gladys sick to her stomach. Besides that we enjoyed our stay a lot. Gladys and I went clam digging. We didn’t know anything about it but we had a lot of fun getting them
We went up to Forest Grove, Oregon where my Aunt Susie lived. Mother also had a sister Sadie and a brother Ernest. They both lived in Washington. They all came down and we had a family reunion. It had been forty years since Mother had seen these sisters. We stayed over a week and Aunt Susie’s children were there quite a bit. I don’t think they had to go to the store even once; they had so much deer meat, canned vegetables and fruit. It was something to behold.
We took out for home up the Columbus River through Pendleton, down through Salt Lake City, Utah and on to Boulder, Colorado. In Boulder we stopped in for a day with mother’s brother John’s widow. The next day we got into home real late. Mother was living with my sisters Ruby and Jo at the time. We took her by to drop her off and my sisters had moved. We finally found them in a new place close by. I don’t remember seeing mother as mad as she was then. I used to accuse Ruby and Jo of moving every time the rent came due.
I guess the next big event was when our daughter Carol Louise was born on the 13th of December, 1938. The first time I saw her I wondered if her eyes would ever grow together since they were so far apart. We came close to losing her when she was 2 or 3 months old. Gladys had gone outdoors to hang up the laundry and when she came in found Carol unconscious. She had wiggled around and had hung her head in the foot of the bed. They were able to get her some help quickly though and saved her.
It seemed like the Company had to send me out to Borger every fall for two or three weeks of work. This time I was running a line gang and we had the misfortune of one of the men getting hurt pretty badly. It wasn’t my fault, but I got the blame for it. When the job was completed they sent me to Shidler, Oklahoma to run another line gang there. After Shidler, they broke up the gang and were going to send me back to Oklahoma City. Roy Brazil, my old boss, told the big boss that the only job he had in Oklahoma City was for a trouble-shooter and that I couldn’t handle it. So, they cut me back to a Helper and it looked like I was going to be there for a while.
I moved the family up there on New Year’s Day of 1940. I soon got a company house that was nice. That spring a herd of Texas cattle came to a pasture near our house. They looked so poor and hungry you could almost see right through them. However, in six to seven weeks, you would not have believed they were the same cattle. They were so fat and slick. It is said that the grass in the Flint Hills is the best grass in the USA.
I went into Bartlesville and had an interview with Stan Lenard about me getting demoted. It didn’t seem to do any good at the time, but I did eventually get transferred back to Oklahoma City. It was to the same job that Roy Brazil told them that I couldn’t handle. While we were gone, Gerald and Fern had been living in our house. We had to move them out. I guess they must have had their own furniture since we had taken ours with us.
That fall there was a big ice storm in Borger, so here I go again. I took the line truck and morning after I got there they wanted me to go with the Hot Stick Gang. The boss didn’t know that I was back to a Helper. He got on the phone and they told him that I was a Journeyman Electrician. I just took it for granted that everything was back to normal. When I got my next check after I got home, I got a big surprise. I had been demoted again. This didn’t help my feelings any, since I was doing the same work as the man that was drawing Journeyman pay.
I am telling all of this because it leads up to me having to make one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make, since I had a wife and two kids to think about. I had worked eleven years for this company and had a good insurance program, a retirement program and I also felt I owed them something for having taught me a good trade. About this time I had some pressure to become a Mason, too. It might have solved all of my problems, but I had worked with men that used that to get ahead with the company and it kind of turned my stomach.
One of the men that I was working with had been a Union Electrician back in the depression. He had given up his card to go to work for Phillips. He wanted me to go with him and put in a new union application. Gerald was working on a line job at a defense plant in Alexander, Louisiana. We took a travel trailer down for him and Fern. This helped give us the bug. In the space of three weeks I joined the union, quit the Company, sold our house, and bought our own eighteen-foot long travel trailer.
When the Chief Electrician in Oklahoma City found out I really intended to quit, he got me back to my Journeyman status. However, I had already spent a hundred bucks to join the union and as my wife Gladys said, “What’s to keep them from giving you another raw deal.”
We took out for Mineral Wells, Texas for our first job. It rained most of the time. There was a lot of mud where we camped and I caught a bad cold, so we decided to get out of that terrible weather and go to El Paso. On our way out there we stopped in Ryzote, Texas to visit Laura May. She was pregnant with her first child. Her husband was a fine young man by the name of Verlis Johnson. We didn’t stay in El Paso long. I was in bed with that cold and couldn’t seem to shake it. We heard there was a good job starting in Orange, Texas. It was a 3-day trip going the long way across Texas.
The job in Orange hadn’t gotten underway yet, so we went on up to Alexander, Louisiana where Gerald and Fern were living. We visited there a few days then swung back on to Leeville, which was close to Camp Polk where I went to work. While I was working there we bought 120 acres of cutover timberland down close to DeRidder, Louisiana. We got it for three dollars an acre and only kept it a couple of years. I still can’t figure out how I let that real estate agent talk me into selling it back to them. We went by there on a trip to Miami in 1954. It was being used for grazing land and the trees had grown back. I sure did goof up by not hanging on to it.
The job in Camp Polk finished up, so we headed north to Texarkana where there was a big job breaking. The business agent couldn’t put me on though, so I went to work in a local shop. I was intending to wait for something to open up for me, but Carol got sick with the hives. We took her to the doctor and he put her on Coca-Cola. Nothing else. We made up our minds to go back to Oklahoma City where we knew a good doctor. She soon got over the hives, but sure looked terrible while she had them.
We went to Lawton. I can’t remember for how long. Word got out that they were hiring on at an ammunition plant where they would be working a lot of overtime. That was the only way we could make any extra money since the government had frozen our wages at one fifty an hour. We took out for Des Moines, Iowa. The job was out in a little town called Ankemy. We later moved there. It was a very good job. We worked seven days a week. On the seventh of December they set up loud speakers during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Boy, did things pick up after that.
Sometime after I got up there, I was walking between some buildings when someone hollered at me. It was my brother Gerald. Boy, was I glad to see him. The first thing he asked me was if I could loan him some money. He had just moved up there and hadn’t made a payday yet.
On Christmas night that year, there was a big snow. Twenty-four inches in twenty-four hours. The man that lived in the house where we were parked had to dig our door out so we could get out the next morning.
Don fell off his tricycle and cut his chin real bad while we were there, too. We took him to the doctor there in Ankemy. He could have sewed it up, but Don would not hold still. We had to take him in to Des Moines to the hospital. They had to give him ether. He had already been put under twice before. We sure hated to have to do it again.
We traded our eighteen-foot trailer in for a twenty-three foot one. It was a lot more comfortable to live in. We kept that one until we quit moving around with the defense work.
There was a job going on at Parsons, Kansas, so we headed down there. While we were there, Ron, Gerald and Fern’s second boy, was born. We kept Bob for two or three weeks. When they came to get him, he didn’t want anything to do with Fern. Boy, was she shook up. We figured that he didn’t remember her for a little bit.
Gerald had a friend out in Colorado Springs on a job, so we decided to go out there. It was the worst move either one of us has ever made all during the time we were on defense work.
I had my first flat on our trailer before we got to Wichita the next day. I bought two or three of the best used tires I could find. At that time you couldn’t buy new tires unless you went through a rationing board. I had nine flats on the same side of the trailer before we finally got there. Bob came pretty close to getting run over and Ron cried all of the time. He was only three weeks old.
There had been some bad, cold weather and they were not hiring on the line job. Gerald went to work with me on the inside work. They would let a lineman do inside work, but not the other way around. After several weeks the line job started hiring and were offering overtime, so like a big chump I went outside with Gerald. I got by real good until one of my old Phillips friends came out of a building and saw me. He wanted to know how come I was doing line work. Well the foreman heard about it and I got fired the next day.
We went to La Junta on another line job. From there to Pueblo where we were in the worst hailstorm I was ever in. The kids got scared and hid under the table. It sure didn’t help the cloth top on our trailer.
I then got called back to Oklahoma City and went to work out at Tinker field, helping put in the first runway lights that they had. We had several close calls with planes coming in. One plane almost missed the runway. The other men fell into a ditch, I was out to the side standing close to a missing line of text here. They then sent me to McAllister on an ammunition plant job. We were there for 3 or 4 months, and then we returned to Oklahoma City for the Douglas job.
We parked the trailer in Ruby’s back yard. While we were there, we found our bed full of bed bugs. A neighbor kid had carried them into our trailer.
It was the fall of 1943 that we went to Oak Ridge, Tennessee. That job was really something, not knowing what it was and directed not to talk about it. I worked the last few months on the Y12 extension. Y12 was one of the hottest spots in the US with the Atomic Bomb.
I bought Gladys an old washing machine and she set up business in the trailer camp we were living in. She did the washing, a neighbor helped with the ironing and I picked up and delivered the clothes at night. We made pretty good money at the time. The people were desperate for someone to do that kind of work.
Gerald was working in Arkansas City, Kansas at this time for a Mr. Hall. Mr. Hall wanted to sell his business. Gerald kept writing me, wanting me to come back to Kansas and to go into partnership with him. I made the trip back, looked the opportunity over and turned it down.
He kept after me, and since the defense work was beginning to slow up, we decided to move back to Kansas. We were there in Tennessee exactly one year to the day.
We sold our trailer and rented a small house. We had put most of our money in to the business, so we decided we couldn’t afford to buy a house. However, the landowners sold the little place out from under us. There wasn’t another decent house to rent in town, so I sold my LaSalle, the best car I ever owned (still is), to make a down payment on an old two-story house in a good part of town.
We lived there a couple of years. Gladys did a lot of painting and paper hanging and we sold it at a nice profit. She wanted to get out on an acreage where we could have a horse and chickens. I bought a beautiful spotted mare. She was young, but gentle. About the first thing the kids did was to take turns riding her. Carol rode longer than Don thought she should have. I don’t know what he did, but it scared the horse and Carol got dumped in the fence corner. We couldn’t get Carol to ride her after that.
I will always think that we made a mistake going into the appliance business. We couldn’t get a major line and we didn’t know very much about that kind of business. We had most of the best kind of electric work there; heavy industrial, both flour mills and meat packing plant, and several smaller plants. I don’t know why we couldn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things. I guess brothers just are not supposed to be in business together. Things went from bad to worse. I finally decided to get out or buy him out, but he had been there longer than I, so I sold out to him. We lost our mother a short time after we broke up the partnership. It was a very sad time for both of us.
After this, we bought another travel trailer, thirty-three feet long, and moved to Stillwater, Oklahoma, where Gladys’ folks lived. We put the kids in school and I didn’t try to go to work. We went fishing every day that winter when the weather was fit.
That spring I got a job as City Electrician in Lexington, Oklahoma. The business agent for the Union Local in Oklahoma City wouldn’t put me to work because we had operated non-union the last year I was up there in Arkansas City.
I went to a meeting at the Union Hall in Oklahoma City several months after I moved down there. I got a few drinks under my belt and tried to get Tom Rushing to come out and have it out behind the building. He turned me down, but the next day he called and had a job for me in El Reno.
I was always worried about moving our kids around so much growing up. It didn’t seem to bother them, but I know they had to leave a lot of friends they had made in school.
We were in El Reno a short time when a good job opened up in Bartilsville on a new building that Phillips was putting up. I enjoyed working there as I got to meet a lot of friends that I knew over the years with the Company.
When this job finished, we moved back to Oklahoma City. This time for good. We bought a house up in the northwest part of town. It was August 4, 1950 when we moved into it. We put our trailer up for sale. I was asking cash for it, but didn’t have much luck. I had an offer to trade it for a house and almost an acre of land in Midwest City, out close to Tinker (Air Force Base) field. I thought it was a pretty good deal.
We had a big job cleaning this place up. Some people sure live in pigsties. We rented it out to a real nice family for over a year, but he got laid off. Our next renter tore up the place, I finally moved him out. We decided to sell the place on Northwest 37th street and move out there to Midwest City. We lived there over seventeen years. It was more like home than any place we ever lived. I worked at Tinker field the first two years, came home for dinner every day and got two dollars a day carfare. I sure thought I had it made.
I guess we kind of messed Don up when we moved out there. He had been working in a Greenhouse nursery pretty close to where we lived previously. He worked painting Christmas trees during the holidays, and during summer vacation he sold cold watermelons and drove a truck.
Carol was sweet sixteen when we moved to Midwest City. She went to work in a TG&Y store where she met her future husband Edward Prentiss, who had just got out of the Army. He was going to barber school. They got married March 30, 1956 and had two lovely daughters, Peggy Lee and Penny Louise. They are both married. Peggy’s married name is Nickels and they have twins, a boy and a girl. Jason and Stephanie, born September 15, 1975 are the pride and joy of our lives. Penny married a man named Butch Hargus, August 12, 1977. They live in Anadarko, Oklahoma.
Don went into the Army in 1954. He spent around a year in school in New Jersey and then was sent to Formosa (Taiwan), where he met his future wife, Siu-Fong Lei. They have three fine boys and a beautiful daughter, Donna Sue. Their boy’s names are Samuel Burrill, Benjamin Donald and Paul David.
My daughter, Laura Mae, and husband, Verlis Johnson, have three fine boys: Granville, David and Daniel. They are all married and I have eight Great Grandchildren between them. Debra, my lovely granddaughter, has a beauty parlor and is too busy to think about marriage.
About the time I was working out at Tinker Field, I ran into an old friend of mine by the name of Clarence Sheridan. We had teamed together back in Peabody, Kansas and then had lost track of each other. He used to love to tell people about the time he was with me when I stopped an old farmer and traded teams right in the middle of the road. We had to do a lot of adjusting to the harness because the team I traded for was a lot bigger than the team I gave up. We wanted to see if they were good pullers, so we put rocks in front of the back wheels. We had a load of railroad ties. “They really got tight,” as we used to say.
It was a real good trade. I paid ten dollars to boot. Clarence and I were close over the years. I bought our little Pekinese dog that we loved, May-Yen, from him. He had a heart condition that caused him to retire early. He was a World War I vet, from the same outfit that my brother Ellis served in.
I was elected Vice-President of Local 1141 Electrical Workers Union about this time. Shortly after this I began to have a hearing problem. I had to handle several meetings in the two years I served. Sure took all the fun out of it.
My sister Lela died of a heart attack in Houston, Texas. She was a very successful beauty operator. She was the first of nine of us to go. I received the first and only inheritance money that I will ever get.
Gladys lost her father and mother during this time. We went up to check on her mother when she didn’t answer the phone. We had to break the door down. She was on the floor, half conscious. She had suffered a stroke and only lived about three months after that.
We bought a building lot over at Lake Eufaula and built a real nice concrete block cabin. We were thinking very strongly about living in it after I retired, but the last couple of years the lake stayed muddy there, so we sold out. We had a lot of fun building it though.
We bought our first boat back in 1955 or 1956. The kids wanted to water ski, but they lost interest pretty quickly. However, we have always done a lot of fishing. I think Gladys is happier out in a boat catching fish than at any other time.
I retired in July of 1967. One year over the normal retirement age of 65. The job I was on had a substitute general foreman. He didn’t care very much for me. He was about to lay me off two weeks before I was to retire. Word got around and the men were going to walk off the job. It would have really tickled me if it had happened. I didn’t know about this until six months later.
In the fall of 1969, I went into the hospital for a biopsy for cancer of the prostrate. I wound up having three operations in two weeks with the total prostate being removed.
We sold our place in Midwest City in 1971. We got six thousand dollars cash and took the rest over a period of 15 years. We will realize about twenty-two thousand dollars. Not bad for what we invested in it and lived there for 17 years. We bought a 60×12 foot mobile home, moved it on a lot of land in a mobile home development north of Edmond, Oklahoma, where we are living at this time.
I lost my oldest sister, Vesper Kickasole, who lived in Miami, Florida, also my oldest brother, Dr. Clinton Fuller, who lived in Columbus, Kansas. They were both in their 80’s at the time of their deaths.
On December 3, 1974, I lost my son-in-law, Edward Prentiss, the husband of Carol and Father of Peggy and Penny. He was a good husband and father to his family. He was only sick about three weeks. He had cancer of the bile duct. I felt it was a Godsend that he died of a blood clot and didn’t have to suffer with the cancer.
Carol married Ed’s cousin Frank Moore. They were both lonely as he had been divorced several years from his wife. They have a lovely home in Anadarko, Oklahoma where he worked for TG&Y for twenty-five years. He quit a few months ago to buy out a Sears Catalogue store in Clinton, Oklahoma. I don’t know at this time just what the outcome will be.
My daughter, Laura Mae, now lives in Kermit, Texas where her husband Verlis Johnson is a Seventh Day Adventist preacher. Their four children live close by.
My only son, Don, lives in Sunset, Utah where he has a real good job working for the Government. We are looking forward to spending this Christmas of 1977 with him and his fine family.
Well, I didn’t intend to make this story this long. I hope my grandchildren enjoy reading it. I feel very fortunate to have had all my brothers and sisters and my children. Also, a very happy marriage to my dear wife Gladys. At this time I am 76 years old. I have ten grandchildren and ten great grandchildren, and three of them are boys that will carry on the name of “Fuller”.
Burrill Earnest Fuller – 1977
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