Interview: Harold Thomson (ht)
Medium: Audio Tape
Date: Saturday, April 11, 1998
Place: Harold Thomson's home, on Manor Dr.
Collected by: Justin Martin (jm)
jm: Hello, I'm Justin Martin, I'm interviewing Harold Thomson, my neighbor, about life through 1941-1945, the period of the war. Harold, I have your permission to use it in the context of the Indiana Historical Society.
ht: Justin you sure have.
jm: Okay, lets start out. What were you doing in 1941?
ht: I worked at Farnsworth Radio Corporation.
jm: Okay, okay, where was that located?
ht: At....33rd and Adams to 38th and Adams. That includes the parking lot and all of the construction. You want me to tell you what I did there?
ht: I, well I worked in the Farnsworth plant at the time we were in the war. I was final repairman on sets for tanks after they were inspected by the government. If there was something wrong, they would say "you repair it." Then they'd take it out, repair it, and stamp it. That lasted until the war was over, and then I left the factory.
jm: So during 1941 you actually repaired tanks we used for the war?
ht: I repaired sets.
jm: Sets for tanks?
ht: That's right, the set was number 312 and today they got a lot of sophisticated units but back then we had to make do with what we had to win the war, and we did. It was great.
jm: So what did you do for entertainment back then?
ht: Oh not really anything, just kept busy around home, had a car and drove around like kids do today.
jm: Did you ever see any movies or listen to any radio programs?
ht: Well most of the stuff on the radio or TV was about the service, the war. Unfortunately, I didn't get to go in the service because I had been in a wreck the 29th day of March, 1940. Had my back broke, had my left foot all mangled up. I'm 80 years old today so I definitely survived that accident!
jm: You said there were four different theaters in Marion?
ht: There was the Luna Lite theater, the Lyric, the Paramount theater, and the Indiana theater. The two first ones were all located on W. 4th St. the other one, Paramount, was on Washington St. where First Federal is now. The next one was at the corner of, wait a minute, we got the two. They Luna Lite and the Lyric and the Indiana Theater was at the corner of 5th and Adams, and it's been gone quite some years. Having four theaters in town was nice.
jm: Do you remember any of the popular movies of the time?
ht: Oh yeah, there were good movies and I know one of the operators worked on Grant St. And was the machine operator, he, you know, set up the machines, turned it on, it worked automatically.
jm: So, after Pearl Harbor was bombed did you do anything like turn the lights out at night? Because I thought I heard somewhere that the made you do things like that.
ht: Not to my knowledge, you know they bombed our ship with a lot of boys on it and servicemen and such.
jm: So Pearl Harbor sent shockwaves through Marion as well as the rest of the country?
ht: Oh yeah, definitely, but today it's a different world, everybody trades with foreign countries and things like that. People thought we shouldn't trade with Japan because they were the ones that killed our men. Pearl Harbor that. Do you have any more questions?
jm: Sure. After you were repairing the sets for tanks what were you doing after that?
ht: I was selling items, I sold Hoover cleaners for service for 7 years, then the last job I actually had was selling equipment on 4th St. I worked for them 25 years. A man named Frank, he's in the real estate business over at the Iroquois building. I retired about 62 and today I'm 80.
jm: So when, what was downtown Marion like during that time? Was it booming?
ht: Well, there were good movies and different things at the theaters, especially the paramount and the Indiana had better movies than the others. Just 20 cents would get you into one of these movies. The bigger ones were maybe a quarter or 35 cents. The Indiana was more plush with nicer chairs and had movies every age could be interested in. Shut that off for a while if you will.
jm: You want me to shut this off.
ht: Yes if you would.
ht: Justin and I are discussing the location of various places in Marion. Out east on 18, the packing company had a slaughterhouse that delivered. They butchered about twice a week and they delivered fresh meat to the grocery stores. It seems like today supermarkets are shutting the door on small businesses. But there's still a few in Marion but there's not as many as there were 25 or 30 years ago even 40. And we had a railroad station which was on east 4th St. and uh, a man had a wood working shop was originally a train station and people could get a train and go to Indianapolis. You could catch a train on 10th St. and go to Chicago.
jm: So in 41-45 what were some of the prominent businesses ?
ht: C&H shoe store, Murell's men's shop, Milton's clothing. Anybody who knows were they were located. Milton's was on the square, uh, Murrell's men's shop was down in the heart of town, and uh let's see. When I was a young man there was an automobile place north side on the square. They made things for horses besides selling automobiles. Glenn Robinson was the dodge dealer back in those days.
jm: What kind of automobiles did they have back then ?
ht: Well back in those days there was a car called the Concorde it had side wires on the wheels, it was one of the most popular cars. Chrysler had a popular car our priest had a red one with white wheels, it was quite interesting to see the change in production of cars, how they turn out today and things like that. Primarily people who had the money back then had the cars. With the ordinary common job a man couldn't afford to buy a car, back then raising a family took everything he made. Having to pay for the house and such, it's quite a change from back then. Now let's see we've covered the theaters, and uh Ballard packing, that's out in that field, they bought that field out there, they're going to put some silly thing out there. Uh... let's see,... The Spencer hotel, that was a real popular hotel.
jm: Was It?
ht: On the corner of 4th and Adams. Down at City Hall, they used all the old plumbing and everything between the walls back then and they went and turned the Spencer Hotel building threw it out and then they made a and then they kept the old plumbing and the old wiring in that building a that's they're spending thousands and thousands, millions of dollars to do this over because they couldn't tear the walls apart this idea this problem with breathing everybody worked there got sick. So they had to move them out , but they're workin' on it. That was one of the stupidist things to do, they could have just took the building and took just the shell of it and put in all the plumbing and all new wiring they wouldn't have all these problems they got today. But they didn't do that, they are overspending taxpayers money why worry? I worry about corporate spending. There used to live a guy who who would make a trip up and back from Indianapolis. They'd pay him 10 thousand dollars a trip. I think he made about 25 trips, he came every other week, that's a shame. It's the tax payers money and these guys are politicians they don't care how much they spend the just deep payin' more. Well that about wraps up my uh... If there's anything you want to change when do you have to have this in ?
jm: Uh, Wednesday.
ht: Next Wednesday?
jm: Yeah, let's see ... What else can we get in there about the time period of the war?
ht: We had rationing. We were given so many gas tickets for the month when we were working for the war plant. Which was good but I always gave tickets to the bootlegger. Back then you'd give em' a dollar for gas, that was a lot of money but the point is it was technical. I knew 2 places south get a dollars worth or 5 dollars worth gas and the point is they just sold you the gas. There wouldn't be a hundred cars there a day or anything but ;they still was selling gas without stamps.
jm: What did gas stamps look like?
ht: oh, just a stamp, you know it was payed up so the person having it could buy a gallon of gas a week.
jm: What was the signifigance of that?
ht: well it was they thought possibly they were going to fall short of gas or oil, gas especially with tanks and different things and planes you know. I had a fellow that lived down there on the farm you know he couldn't get enough sugar well I'd get my mom got enough sugar and I'd go and give him sugar stamps for gas stamps.
jm: So there were more uh, then just gas stamp or
ht: more rationing than on gas rationing on some food.
jm: Really, like what?
ht: well like sugar this guy had a huge sized family I think he had three or four people besides him and his wife three or four kids and they used a lot of sugar. They rationed out essential stuff too.
jm: They rationed that out too?
ht: That's right you had to have a stamp to get em'.
jm: And you could take them to your local groceries?
ht: That's right local groceries. Because back then there were no supermarkets.
jm: Right, no Marsh or anything like that.
ht: See, they been with us since 1931 Marsh started in 1931.
jm: Were they local?
ht: Well, no. It was out of Yorktown, Indiana outside of Muncie. And they moved their everything here in the last couple three or four years, moved it all over to Indianapolis to about a 3 million dollar building down there. It's about three stories.
jm: What did the bypass look like back then?
ht: Well, the bypass,
jm: Was it even a bypass?
ht: well, yeah it was, but not like it is now. There was Custer's Last Stand.
jm: Oh, really, what was that like?
ht: It was the only drive-in in Marion.
jm: Was it really?
ht: You could get tenderloins, hamburgers, onion rings, the food was super. The kids would hang out there it sets right were Jim Dandy's is. It was a little white building and Bob Custer's gone now but he bought that corner, he bought the corner there where he put his restaurant David Howard ran it for him David retired a long time ago he didn't get a job after he retired he worked at Custer's Last Stand about 25 years and he retired from there. Bob Custer bought property up where Long John Silver is and he bought there's a store between Jim Dandy's and Long John Silver's right in that area. He bought all that property. And then this Greek boy, Chochos, his dad had a restaurant out here on the bypass but the kids hung out at Custer's Last Stand that's were they all hung out they had the juke box no inside seating or it was all pick up or take out it had a good sized parking lot and this Chochos, young Chochos, his dad went up and down the bypass and bought scads of property and he had a restraunt down there and it was back this way from Vogel's. The building's down now the boy he's really going big now he owns 5 or 6 places on Western Ave. and the bypass he's settin' on easy street cause of his dad starting his own restraunt and buying off everything he could. He just paid peanuts for some of that property.
jm: So there really wasn't a whole lot going on the bypass back then?
ht: That's right. Very little. You could get form one end to the other. I remember when I was a kid and you wanted to go 3 blocks on the bypass we had to go 2 blocks and cut through the gravel streets and roads and things. We didn't have it paved or anything like that today. I, I, worked on the bread truck when I was younger and and we had 2 or 3 groceries on the bypass and it would take maybe a half an hour or 45 minutes to get to those 3 stores. One and another and another because the streets weren't like they are today. You can get anywhere in about 5 minutes now. The big guys, Wal-Mart, this company and that company my expression is the big dogs are eating up the little dogs. They say they can sell items cheaper than anywhere else and then when they get you in there they jack up the prices.
jm: Back then did they have the old soda shops like you hear about, like uh, you could go in and get your medicine and then like uh, get ice cream and all that good stuff?
ht: Bill Mason's was on the north side of the square it was a drug store, it had a lunch counter it was there about 50 or 60 years. And uh, Lester Metcalf was the last one that run it he worked for a fellow by the name Mac, uh, I can't think of his name. I knew him. Lester bought the place about 20 years after he bought it. But you could get your ice cream and things like that. And uh, the Spencer Hotel when they first opened business they, uh, had a soda fountain and candy, and then uh, they had a restaurant place on the other side the snack shop, ice cream bar and stuff candy store was right off the lobby from the Hotel. That's been a few years back. My sister worked in the candy store, her name's June she lives in South Bend and went to school at a business college and then when she got out of school she went to business college and then she worked there on the evenings.
jm: She lived here too, right? Where did you go to high school at? Did you go high school and everything?
ht: Well I'll tell you what happened. Our Catholic school was on the corner of 9th and Branson.
jm: What was the name of that?
ht: St. Paul's, but the point is I that was the only one out of us three kids, my brother and my sister graduated from public school. They had 10 grades and then they added on 2 more. I was the only one that graduated. I graduated in 1936. Richard was 79 when he died 2 years ago down in Florida he went to work for General Electric in New Jersey on the cape, him and one other fellow had management over 700 some employees and he retired and got a good pension. And my sister why she's she worked at Rawl's electric on Washington St. which is right now where the abstract place is used to be the old I&M building and they went down the block and built a new one. That new one's setting empty. You can pay 2 utility bills in this town, water and cable, that's it. The gas company, the electric company and the phone company, they don't have offices around here. Boy I tell you its something else.
jm: What was Matter Park like back then?
ht: Well, they had little creatures and some animals out there. Not big lions or anything different things that they could fence in parents would take their kids there on weekends and they'd go through the park and uh, you could see some different animals, nothing like lions or anything like that the didn't have anybody to train them.
jm: Do you remember any of the popular musicians of the time?
ht: Amel Moss and his band. He played something which is called willow somethin' back years ago. One fact, Teresa and I she had a room mate which was Helen Tamer. Helen married Bob Fincannon he's from Van Buren and he's gone now , he's been gone for about a year and a half now Bob and I worked there at Kelley's furniture back in the 40's, 42-45. And uh, Bob we were stayin' somewhere Friday evening and Saturday about 5 o'clock Bob said " My roommate has got a gal I'd like to get you acquainted with." So we went together for about a year, year and a half. I got married and I've been married about 50 years.
jm: What was the courtship process like? Did you take her out on a date?
ht: Yeah, I'll tell you what we did. Teresa and I we went to the Indiana Theatre and then we went to the Floor Sheperd hall and danced a few dances, I think I said well I'll call you or get in touch with you. She couldn't call me because she was working out at the VA and uh,
jm: What year was this?
ht: 1946-47. We had a good life, It's really been great. She worked hard she was a nurse for 15 years out at Maynard and uh, I'll tell you this story, when we was gettin' married she said " Well, we better go and talk to pops." That was her dad, Pop Corsey, Frank, Frank Corsey was his real name so we went over on the weekend Sunday I think it was and we sat there in the house talkin' I said Pop I said uh, we're thinking about getting married. He said " Well, if you think you can support her go ahead and get married." So she worked and I worked and uh, yeah, that's, some things you never forget I'll tell ya. I kidded her I said what do we go have to talk to Pops for I knew what I was kiddin' her about well you know it was just part of the course that you go talk to her dad anyhoo he said " If you think you can support her go ahead and get married." We had our wedding breakfast after we had the services at the church and,
jm: What church were you Married in?
ht: St. Paul's down here. Her mother's brother was a Catholic priest, he came to Marion and married us and I started to give him his diaper and he said uh, he said " You'll need it just staying married." So uh, we had our wedding and she invited all her friends and nurses she was in training with and different ones she knew, I had some friends, my family, and everybody, there was about 200 there for that wedding breakfast that morning. About a week later the whole thing burned to the ground, anyhow it was a nice place it was called uh...uh.... it was on west 5th St. just a block off the square or yeah, just a block off the square it was a nice place. It was one of those things you could go to the Spencer hotel and pay 40 dollars or go there and pay 20 dollars, it was a nice place and I couldn't believe there were 200 there for our wedding breakfast.
jm: So uh, places like General Tire and Foster Forbes were uh, were they around back then?
ht: uh, Foster Forbes has been here for years.
jm: Like back during the war were they here?
ht: Oh yeah, yeah they were here.
jm: Do you know what they were producing?
ht: Well, uh, glass containers and different things. They got into a lot bigger field now. Bob Johnson who's your neighbor down there had a big job over there for about 30 years. He gets a big pension I imagine. He was head man on the totem pole, high in the plant. He had a big job, he lived out east of town and sold the farm and bought this house here she died (Bob's wife) when we were in Florida that was a real shock
(end of that side of tape)
jm: Yeah, we kind of live in the computer age now. What were some of the major, like, technological advances of that time?
ht: Well, Marion isn't to too great for computers, but we got the RCA plant and they made big, big changes. We bought this set 2 years ago and 6 months later they came up with the VCR in the set.
jm: Back in that time what were some of the major things going on?
ht: Oh, when black and white TV came out that was a major thing, black and white boy and uh, it was a big thing you at the color you get now. Transformers and things, my mother when I was young on E. Grant St. us kids put together about 20, 25 dollars a piece and bought her a 19-inch black -and -white " Oh you kids keep your savings, don't spend your money like that." It was a frame like so and she had that set about six weeks and that would be the last thing on in that house before you go. She got attached to it, she watched the Edge Night, Secret Storm, it was like you know on TV and her friends would watch too. They'd call each other up and compare notes on Secret Storm and Edge Night. This went on for 2 or 3 years.
jm: What uh, what year was this?
ht: Probly' uh19.. probly' 1950. Because like I said they didn't have color sets back then. And she'd usually sit I forget how long we put our money in the 5 of us and bought this GE a 19-inch for a 100 dollars back then, brand new, they didn't have color so there was no competition. She used that set for so long. She sure enjoyed it, she didn't want it. I wish she would have lived long enough to see color.
ht: You know, I mean it's a big change and you get channels you never heard of before. Back in 40 or 45 there was probably about 3 or 4 channels and that was it. Yeah I tell you, it's a big switch, all the improvements, we got a refrigerator sets out there in the kitchen, we've had it 18 or 20 years. We've just one time had it clunk out. And it's been about once or twice every 18 years and that's about it. Runs quiet, keeps the food cold
jm: Ah, man any images stick out in your mind about the war?
ht: Well, not too many because I didn't all I had was my older brother got killed in WWI.
jm: Are you serious?
ht: Oh yeah, his name was Francis Thomson or Bud, his nickname was Bud, he wasn't in the service he was too young my parents had to sign papers to go because he wasn't old enough, and he didn't want to wait so he was on a battery supply wagon in Fortsville, Oklahoma and there was a big truck with no brakes and the brakes went out and hit his battery supply wagon, well his battery supply wagon was pulled by horses and this big truck knocked his battery wagon back and broke his neck and he died right there in the hospital. And he's buried over in Gas City cemetery. Yeah, that's uh, but things today have changed alot and back a friend of his and his unit came back from Fortsville, Oklahoma and they took up a collection. This fellow had a hundred dollars to pay for a bouquet of flowers somebody went to the flower shop and uh, and they charged him eighty dollars which was a lot of money back then he went to the sore and they took advantage of him. I remember the guy, Earl...I can't think of his last name right off hand, had an easy design and it was 75 dollars. So they went back, a daughter a brother, somebody went to the flower shop and got back 40 dollars, so instead of 75 or 80 he paid about half that much. But you know, you fight for your country and guys are in business a man walks in with a uniform on and instead of giving him a good price to start out with they charged him about 75 or 80 dollars.
jm: For flowers?
ht: Yeah that's right.
jm: This was back in the 40s.
ht: He got killed in Fortsville, Oklahoma yeah I tell you it was something. Well that was in WWII. That's where my brother was killed. Back in 1920, back in those days.
jm: That would have been WWI.
ht: WWI. Yeah WWI. If he were still living he'd be well past 90.
jm: Oh, Really?
ht: Yeah, but he got killed when he was about 18. And my parents thought it was bad but it was the right thing to do back then. I had a cousin who was in the Air Force during the last war he got out alive.
jm: Which war?
ht: Well he's a cousin?
jm: Which War?
ht: This last one.
ht: Yeah Vietnam, yeah. His brother was a submarine destroyer, hunted for submarines and blasted them. Well I've seen alot of things I can say, some of them were good, some of them were bad. When I was working at this radio plant they made about a 60-inch picture tube about a 60-inch. This is about a 25 you've got a big one at home don't you.
ht: And they're still building a bigger picture tube and everything and people are buying it. Mostly to entertain like when people go out to dinner an things
jm: So back in 41-45 what was a typical day of yours like?
ht: Oh, go to work and come home.
jm: You had to wake up about what time?
ht: Oh, what time a' day.
ht: I don't know. About 7 o'clock quit at about 3.
jm: This is when you were building sets for tanks?
jm: This is when you were building sets for tanks?
ht: Well I repaired em'.
jm: You repaired them?
ht: Yeah. They were built on the line there would be about 20 or 30 people on each side of the line and each one would have a separate thing to do. Maybe one would miss the whatever and the inspectors would catch it and line it up and have a repairman check it. And then they'd ship it out 3 or 12 tanks, sets for tanks and as soon they got 50 off line they were gone and you know they didn't inspect them, Tony Glick he passed away about a year ago, I worked for him and he worked for the government inspecting repair and I worked with him about 3 years. I didn't have a hard job but you know ;the job was appointed, everybody wants to be patriotic I couldn't be in the service. I've seen alot of different changes. Marion's changed alot, they've re-done the courthouse about 3 times.
jm: Really? What did it look like back then?
ht: Well it was just like the old buildings. Inside there was decorating, it was just like the older buildings, built years ago, it was kept up outside. They used to have for many years out here birds in the trees. They come to cut the trees down and the birds would have to leave. Which birds are messy.
jm: It seems like life back then was fairly simple but you probably had the problem of the war in the back of your mind.
ht: It was very simple trying to make it where everybody had a job and everybody worked. People followed through with their companies and would work during the war.
jm: Do you remember the names of any of the other companies?
ht: Well, there's Atlas Foundry it's been here for about 60 years out on Factory Ave., and General Tire. And they had a plant here called Indiana Truck, and they built Crosley Cars out here. There's a guy on 17 and Adams he's got about 3 of them he rebuilt and restored. He's got em' in the garage and he's got one station wagon and 2 cars. Well what do you think of that new VW Beetle? Have you seen that?
jm: Yeah, it's kind of neat lookin'.
ht: Uh-huh, a friend of mine has a VW. It's got a square top and it's a stick shift and it's at least 35 or 40 years old and you'd look at that and stand back and say that just came off the showroom floor. It's painted a real couple flashy colors, real flashy. It's a 2 door, I rode in it a couple of yeas ago. He's got a Harley Davidson motorcycle, it weighs about a 110 pounds. He's got a heart condition and he's still ridden' that Harley Davidson. And uh, that cost him about 18 thousand dollars that Harley Davidson.
jm: Really? Were they makin' Harley's back during WWII.
ht: Yeah, uhm, I'll tell ya how long they been makin em' . When I was a kid we lived on Grant St. on the hill and I walked to school in the morning and home in the evening or if I didn't take my lunch with me, they didn't have cafeterias back then. I would walk home each night it was a mile each way and on Third were Holt's muffler shop is down there on 3rd. St. there was a ... or anyways he had a Oldsmobile agency and they had an archway between the car agency and the Harley Davidson shop and before the cycle got real popular there would be maybe 5 or 600 Harley Davidson's on a Sunday. There were different colors, side cars and all that. It was very interesting, they never built them here. In fact a friend of mine waited a year and put a good size deposit on his, he got it and had trouble with it. The front....the, the.... he spent about 80 dollars trying to get it repaired so his wife sent down the new Harley Davidson people a letter. So the gal that owns Harley Davidson, she got on the phone and called these people after reading the letter and she told them she was going to give him a brand new Harley Davidson that was 500 dollars more expensive than your husband bought. So the truck came to the house and unloaded a brand new one because they was glad to know what went wrong with the front end. Cynthia dropped them a line because he couldn't get it up over 50 or 60 if you do your going to be in big trouble. I guess something went wrong and he had it repaired and had it ready. They've got a big fancy trailer in the garage for the summertime so it won't get dusty. He does the same thing with his VW he uh washes it then he waxes it. His wife's got a Park Avenue Buick about a 94 or a 95.
jm: Welp, I think I'm about to stop the tape so I appreciate you talkin' about the war and stuff with me. Thank's alot.