December 3, 2003
Spitler: This is Marc Spitler doing an interview for Dr. Hanson in the oral history project for the California University of San Bernardino. It is now 7:40 on December 3rd, 2003 and I am sitting with Sherman A. Thomas, common spelling on both names. How are you doing this evening Mr. Thomas?
Thomas: Very Good.
Spitler: Good. What we got is basically, we just want to hear your story.
Spitler: Because that's what we are collecting for the project that we are doing and just kind of going from there.
Thomas: Well, want my age?
Spitler: Well, yes. We just kind of need some background information on you if we can get that.
Thomas: I was born on 1922, in San Bernardino somewhere in the middle of the parking lot of the Harris Company, where the auto center is; the Carousel Mall area there is a small street back there. I don't remember the name but my dad and mother came up from the east in 1920 somewhere around there and met and got married. I was born in 1922, lived here all my life. I can remember where Verdemont was a station up there and then they were operated out of. Operated it for during a few years. It... Sorry, I lost my track.
Spitler: Oh, not a problem. You were saying that your parents came out here in 1920.
Thomas: '20, around '20 or '21 and then they got married and I don't remember the exact date of it but anyhow, and then we moved around quite a bit during those years. I can remember being down on Arrowhead, South Arrowhead. And there was an artesian well at that time. Then dad built several houses in San Bernardino and a grocery store- thirteen houses and five schools in San Bernardino, some of them are still standing. Then we moved to Redlands and were there for about a year then the folks bought a place up in Devore, and that started in 1927. It was in the springtime of 27. I lived up there until 1939. There were a few snows there, which are not even considered nowadays, you rarely see that anymore. But, we owned a fruit ranch that was over 600 acres of fruit and so on. Present day school up at Barton, the Barton School. No, not Barton, but the school. The school is built on a 7 acre orange...apricot grove now which is at Devore, up in the heights there. I grew up there up until about '39 while there was 32 families. And we worked in the dry yards and fruit. Sold fruit to stores around San Bernardino, the Rhine Store and the Alpha Beta Store which was a small store in Santa Ana. In 1932, well they had the earthquake and they just got through grading an area out for building a chicken coop on it or something. In '39, we moved up down to San Bernardino to my grandparents house. They sold it to us, to my mom and dad and we lived there until I was.... During that time I went to school at the old Devore elementary school, which is now a residence. You go by, when you go by the freeway, it is on the south side of the freeway going south, yes, going south. On top of Mt. View Junior High School, Sturges Junior High School. Then I graduated in '42 from San Bernardino High School.
Spitler: We're back and you were saying you graduated from San Bernardino High School in '42.
Thomas: Right. Nine weeks of my last semester in high school I went to work for the federal government as a learner and was Civil Service. 1942 to 1980 I worked out at the base for forty years.
Spitler: Out in Norton Air Force Base?
Thomas: Forty years and two weeks. Did a lot of traveling with the government while going to school and so on. Then when I retired well then I kind of took the back seat on most things. During those years I, well, San Bernardino was a small town at those times. 1940 when the war broke out, it was 39,000. You know what the population it is?
Thomas: Grown quite a bit. I can remember when 3rd and E Street, you'd drive both ways and come down on Saturday nights and go to the movies and so on. Belonged to the church here, Methodist church. Then in '55 we'd join the Presbyterian Church. There were a lot of things that I saw in the 1938 flood. I didn't get home for thirty-six hours. I am just kind of rambling along. (laughs)
Spitler: No. No. No. See that's fine. Now you were here for the 38' flood.
Thomas: I was here for the '38 flood and was in high school at the time. I was in high school, or I think it was junior high school. I remember I was a gate monitor safety for the Sturges Junior High School. My grandparents lived down on Rialto Avenue where it kind of goes down in there in the old house. Since we moved from there it was destroyed by fire sometime, but I don't know exactly when. This new house got built in that area there. Just of thoughts I went through, I was up in Devore in 1932, when the earthquake in 1932, when the earthquake shook Long Beach off the map. (laughs) I was a young kid at that time. Worked at the...raised chickens and had a goat or two and rabbits, we had rabbits. It was part of the method of keeping us alive and a little bit of spices. My dad made wine during the prohibition years. When the earthquake of 1932 there was 16 car loads of people coming out of Santa Ana and Anaheim and so on going to Wrightwood to get away, to tie a binge. We made a lot of wine at that time (laughing) you'd get nailed for it during prohibition. But I can remember one incident that couple of members that lived up in there, got involved in the distilling of making liquor, hard liquor. They got rolled over.
Spitler: Now this is over in Wrightwood?
Thomas: No this in Devore.
Spitler: Oh, this is in Devore.
Thomas: It was in Devore when we made this wine and so on. We dried a lot of raisins and made and sold raisins to the grocery store. Delivered a lot of peaches and fruit to different markets. Those days the store, staple goods was owned by one party and the vegetables were owned by another party and we sold a lot to Woods and Ryan which they were the procurers of the vegetable garden of vegetable store part of the market. I worked for them for about 6 or 8 months. It was Mr. Woods at the time. Down on 3rd street where the State building is now it was a store in there. Mom and dad opened a little gas station and a store up at Verdemont, which is where the old road that comes out of the ball park comes right down to the corner and they were on the northwest corner of that piece of property there.
Spitler: Oh up where the Little League is?
Thomas: That's right.
Thomas: They had operated it for a couple of years and they sold it and started building houses in San Bernardino to keep alive. During those years...Just trying to think some thoughts.
Thomas: They had operated it for a couple of years and they sold it and started building houses in San Bernardino to keep alive. During those years...Just trying to think some thoughts.
Thomas: Shut it down for a second so I can think some thoughts.
Spitler: And we're back.
Thomas: Kendall Drive before the 215 came in come up straight into Cajon Road on Route 66. Right there at the corner of where Kendall and Cajon and then also the street that turned over to the Little League comes straight down and drove the railroad right there. But late in the mid-thirties they routed it back to where it is now. The old Cajon Road ran underneath the railroad up farther up the road.
Spitler: O.K. Yes. There where Cajon Boulevard splits and you can take it up the side road there.
Thomas: Yes. That's right. There was a railroad section hands station there called Verdemont. Every week there was always an accident when the railroad tried to outrun the railroad. You might not want to put it in there. It's a little bit of trivia.
Spitler: Well that's why we are here. Now when you finished school here, when you finished high school, did you go on to college here?
Thomas: No I didn't have any college education.
Thomas: The college education of working at the base. I was a technician, an electronic technician. Started out as a wood worker but early when the war broke out the base was being built at the time when we were over at March Field for a month and then came back and stayed at the west, east end of the base because they had some buildings out there already put up. When they got the big hangar finished we moved into it and worked out at the big hanger. Which is the...you know what the big hanger is?
Thomas: I was transferred around quite a bit in the school. From 1950, no 1947 to 19__, about nine months. I'll back up, 1947 they closed the base for nine months and reopened it. But I was transferred to March Field from 1947 to 1950. Somewhere about 1950, about 22 months over there. I got right out of that base by the bombers moving in and they took over the base. That's when the SAC [Strategic Air Command] moved in there and took over that base in 1950.
Spitler: Eighth Air Force.
Thomas: I went back to San Bernardino and in '50, '51 I was working on the aircraft and we rewired aircrafts, and the last before they closed in 1947 we worked on twenty one brand new C-47's for Embassy work for South America and so on for those people. We fixed them up and plushed them up and so on. During that period of time in 1951, I think it was, I was working on the flight line, working on live aircraft, doing electronic work in there which is replacing black boxes. Operating them and setting them up to communication. Somewhere before 1946 I was sent on a detail to recapture a lot of classified equipment at Arizona. The small clocks that they had in those aircraft at the time and was gone for about three or four months on that detail and Ontario [inaudible]. Shortly after that they closed the base.
Spitler: Now what was Norton before it was Norton?
Thomas: It was San Bernardino Air Material Air Command, which is operated out of Wright Patterson because they're the headquarters of all military aircraft as far as maintenance and buying aircraft for the Air Force. I do have a scrapbook I made of all the airplanes that I have worked on. It's a pretty good-sized book on different types of airplanes. Which I picked up at Wright Patterson museum there, which I picked up the books and tore them apart for my own pleasure. Making a scrapbook from...
Spitler: You met your wife here?
Thomas: Yes. In 1953 my wife came out from Ohio. She was a Social...she worked as executive secretary for Holman Abbley Service in Riverside, which was part of their Presbyterian Mission Program for the domestic area. She needed some church connections other than their own Mexican church there. She usually attended that a little bit, but I belonged to the Methodist church I help in the fundraiser for the Methodist church because it was the old Methodist church was on 5th Street. It was a wooden building in the middle of the block and when they consolidated the Methodist church South and North consolidated, well that was back in 1947, so they eliminated the old building and went into the 6th and E Methodist church which is now the county superintendents...school superintendents office and built the new building on 8th and Arrowhead. I helped; I made a model of it and gave it to the church at that time. Did a little bit of modification on the sanctuary, which made it easier in expanding seating capacity of the church at that time. That's were we met is at the Methodist church, the Youth Group. We were older members. I met her there and got married in 1955, February the 14th.
Spitler: Did you plan it for the fourteenth?
Thomas: She planned it!
Spitler: She planned it for the fourteenth!
Thomas: It reminds me that January of 1955 while I was up in Seattle going through the B-36, I think it was, one of the first big [inaudible] with reciprocating engines. And also I had to, was going to school for two weeks up there and had a chance to go through the first 707 which had just a regular tube and they had all the electronic equipment in there. Were why that the Air Force bought 21 of them before they went commercial and for their own service. And after that it's kind of interesting that they picked up, at the time they was quoting it was costing 18 million dollars to build the first airplane, then the Air Force then picked up the tab for the whole works and got twenty one airplanes out of it. That's what I heard but I don't know how much truth is that but that's just a bit of information that I learned from going around. I worked on quite of few airplanes at the time. There was nothing else to do but just keep working. So I actually was never in the service. I worked for them. Started in 1942, April the 16th, '42 was gone in October, we, they got my number for induction and was working on a fire suppression [inaudible] in 1941 with the San Bernardino County Fire Department for three months. Went to work for Civil Service in '42 and that's where I spent all my time there. I faced with the reduction of force notice many times, which was not a [inaudible] unusual because I did not have military service. Medical reason I could not go. They rechecked me, so I spent all of my time, which is really a good reason to spend time. It kept me busy and [pause] know if any [pause] cut it off for a second.
Spitler: No, no that's fine just continue with what you were talking about.
Thomas: There was a theatre on Court Street which also had an entrance on D street, so it actually went into a theatre which part of the Sun company's storage area.
Spitler: Yes. I know exactly what you are talking about. I know exactly were you are talking about.
Thomas: Crest Theater, which was up on E Street. I think it's been taken down.
Spitler: It's where it used to be between 5th and 6th.
Spitler: No. 4th and 5th.
Thomas: 4th and 5th. On the east side of the street.
Spitler: On the East side of the street because they tore that down to make a new parking structure.
Thomas: That's right. The California Hotel was built on the corner of 5th and E Street. The savings and loan, Santa Fe Federal Savings and Loan was in the middle of the block across from the Elks Club, in the middle of the block there is a passage. The Post Office was on the corner of 4th and D Street before they moved it up to 5th and Arrowhead, no D Street.
Spitler: D. Now you remember the Carnegie Library being there then?
Thomas: Yes I remember it was being built and they was to take it down for the bank that went in on that corner. I think it was ...
Spitler: It was across the street from the bank. It would be on the Southeast corner of.
Thomas: 4th and D Street.
Spitler: (at the same time) 4th and D Street. Now did you ever get a chance to go up to Arrowhead Springs when it was being built [confusion with the words because they are both trying to speak at same time] in the 40's when....
Thomas: No. I did not get up there in those years. I can remember the time when I was at Arrowview Junior High School. It was a time; it was a shifting of the personnel around. I went to Sturges for a year or two and then also was at Arrowhead. I remember the fire burning down the old hotel in the early, mid '40's in there. I don't remember the date. I think I was a ninth grader at that time when that burned down. The fire was going across the whole face of the mountain so this Old Fire just went across the same area; I've seen several fires across that area. During the time I was with the Forest Service, I can remember when the two Mt. McKinley and Mt. Harrison over here was all afire and we lost a fire truck over there. Up on the canyon in the back of the mobile home park just north of the park. It wasn't able to get out of there in time when we lost it there. During those years, that year that I was on Forest Service in 1941, well I was at work with the suppression crew, we had a fire up in Cajon Summit it took off from the railroad station there at the summit. There was a lay over before they come down the hill. And it took off and went across 66 and clear over to the 395. That was in the part between the 66 and the Summit following along the pull line road at the State Ranger called to me and told me to take the car out back and get it out of there [inaudible] fire license. And later on he called me and to bring it back over and so I [inaudible]. In a matter of about five or six hours it burnt several thousand acres of the desert out there. Which is now part of Phelan; I'm not sure where Phelan is now.
Thomas: Not Phelan but the community up there....
Thomas: No. It laid between 66 east of there, between the railroad. The railroad comes up the pass and comes over down across there. But it was between there and Cajon Summit. Between Cajon Summit and there. There was a big fire in there. Fire laid up the hill. Of course, it was burning the afternoon, which was the prevailing wind that carried it real fast and so on.
Spitler: Do you remember anything really about growing up in San Bernardino? Things that stick out in your mind of events that happened? You saw...
Thomas: Most it seemed from 1927 to 1939 I was not too much involved other than coming down to church.
Thomas: That was mainly, we always lived up at Devore, and we were always in that little circle, providing our own entertainment. We didn't get to movie theatres that much because it was tight budget wise it wasn't feasible.
Spitler: So at the time you were what we would call today, just way out there in the sticks?
Thomas: That's right.
Spitler: Living up in Devore in the north end of San Bernardino probably went to 9th street at the time?
Thomas: No. It went up above that. I don't remember too much about. We would usually take Kendall Drive down when we would come down to San Bernardino or sometimes we would take Cajon going through the Mexican part of town, which is the Old 66.
Spitler: Okay. Which is now above old Mt. Vernon area?
Thomas: Mt. Vernon. Right. I can remember the time going over the viaduct, over the railroad yards; you had to make a left turn if you're going south. They changed that to straight into Mt. Vernon. It was built at that time I was living up at Devore, so I didn't get to know much about it other than when I would come down to see my grandparents, which they lived on Rialto Avenue.
Spitler: Now did your grandparents come up with your parents in 1920 or were they here previously?
Thomas: Oh. They came out in 1920, somewhere around that time. Grandfather worked for the railroad. He was the warehouse man. He worked for the Santa Fe, retired from the Santa Fe and worked over; they cut him back to warehouse man or something to do with the railroad in Redlands. He worked out at Redlands for a while. I have an uncle that, my mother's brother, he was a barber and his shop was in Redlands somewhere between right across from the, Redlands Boulevard or Cajon Boulevard, I think. I don't know what it is. The main boulevard...I'm going to the freeway.
Thomas: No. Lugonia is a little bit farther north.
Spitler: Oh, after your coming into Redlands from San Bernardino
Thomas: No, I was trying to get the idea that from Redlands itself see. The freeway... you come up to the freeway then there is a cross street there. Which is grocery store somewhere. We lived on the corner of Ohio and Union. I remember that. It was a Dutch Church... Dutch School working in there. We'd sneak out and go play on their swings and so on. That was the highlight of Redlands that I can remember at that time I was living over there.
Spitler: Very good. Is there any thing else you want to add?
Thomas: [Pause] Not of I can think of right now.
Spitler: (laughing) That's not a problem.
Thomas: I know it. I mean I give a lot to you. At least...
Spitler: I appreciate your time and sitting down with me. This is what we do. We're going to try and get this out and get a more definitive history of San Bernardino set up since there really hasn't been a good scholarly one.
Thomas: A couple of years ago I worked with Susan [Suzanne] Earp on the '39 flood, she's writing her pamphlet on that. And she attends college up there now. I was working with the water problems of San Bernardino.
Spitler: Yes, I've heard the name up there. I know that there was someone was working on the '38 flood. And a big write up on that.
Thomas: In '55, late '55 or early '56, we went from the Methodist Church over to the Presbyterian Church. We've been over there ever since.
Spitler: Oh, it's still the [inaudible], that's down on 8th and Arrowhead?Thomas: No. No. No. The Presbyterian Church down on 19th and D Street.
On Sunday's a group of us would get together and go up to Wrightwood for the tobogganing. Good times we would go up there for over night. Just to get together and so on as a group with young adults at that time. That's about the time in the forest Sam Renoskins, [inaudible] actually that's only thing until we moved up, down here in 1939. Went to school, then went to work for the base out there. Spend most of my time....
Spitler: Well I'll let you get back to your thing. I do appreciate your time. And I have your number and you've got mine if we can be of any further assistance or you can think of anything. Please let me know.
Thomas: Okay. I certainly will.
Spitler: I appreciate your time. Thank You.