Hard Times in Morro Bay in the 1930’s and 1940’s

Excerpts from the early life of a self proclaimed “Willow Rat”--Dr. Jesse Walker

H. Jesse Walker is Boyd Professor Emeritus at Louisiana State University. His department is Geography and Anthropology and he has done research around the world and he lived his early days in Morro Bay. He graduated from S.L. High in 1939 and started UC Berleley that same year. In January of 1942, he signed up for the US Navy Flight program and in July reported to Alameda NAS. After additional training at Corpus Christi, Texas he recived a commission in the USMCR. He served in Hawaii, New Caledonia, Tutulia , Nandi. By March 1945 he was in Bougainville and many more such places. By 1947 he had graduated from Berkeley and continued with his education throughout his life. Sorry to announce that Jesse died in May, 2015 in Baton Rouge, LA.

Photos of Dr. Walker today and as a Marine flyer in the South Pacific during WWII

The Nancy B
We moved from Colorado/Michigan to California in 1929. We spent some months in Atascadero and then moved to Morro Bay...When the depression hit, Dad and Dan Hochstetler bought a 26 foot fishing boat that was named the Nancy B. I remember it had a Star motor. Dad and Dan went deep sea fishing for a couple of years like 1929, 30, 31. They would catch fish, take them in ice boxes to the Valley and trade them for fruit...

My Little Red Shack
The Walkers lived in a tent for7--8 years--about 1930--1938. Although we used it at two different locations in town we eventually moved it down to the Willows on a 3 acre plot of land. (at 5 dollars per acre/ per year) Dad got hold of a small building that we moved to the property and it became mine. Thus, when I say we lived in a tent for six years I really mean the other four Walkers, because I had my own little red shack. It was really pretty good size. I had a work bench where I made abalone boxes, model airplanes, and did my studying...Outside the building I placed a set of running lights from a boat--green for starboard and a red one for the lee side...I felt lucky to have had this shack

First Airplane Ride
During my teen years in Morro Bay, I used to build model airplanes. One year one of the men in the town had a contest in connection with model airplanes. I think his name was Gilmore and he was married to Lavora Parvin. Anyway, he had two prizes, one for the best build model airplane and one for the one that could fly the longest. It so happens that I got the rize for the best built and Derwood Carol (another of the “Willow Rats” as those of us who lived in the willows north of town were called) got the prize for the longest flight. The prizes consisted of a small trophy and a ride in and airplane. It used to be that pilots occasionally came around Morro Bay, landed in a field on the east side of town and took people up for rides for a price--I have now idea how much it cost. Anyway, my first airplane ride was in about 1936 or 1937 as a prize in the contest. Durwood went on to become a pilot in the Navy and I one in the Marine Corps during World War II...I managed to acquire about 2,250 hours of pilot time with the Marines during 1940’s and 1950’s.

The Most Beautiful Girl I Ever Met
This is difficult to write because I guess there have been at least a half-dozen girls (women) who qualify, so I will try and do it chronologically.

1. Pat Morris. I do not remember any girls who stood out in Junior High School. Senior High, however was different. In fact there were several very pretty girls in our 1939 class including Pegie (sic) Fisher, Jean Gilfillan and Bette-Lou Alexio. However, the one who I I thought was the prettiest was Patricia Morris. Of course, I was so afraid of girls that I never asked any of them out on a date.

2. Mary Barnes. Mary Barnes was one of those girls from the valley who came to Morro Bay during the depression years on summer vacations. Mary was beautiful. She and a friend, Rhoda Roberts, were best friends and came together. Mary played the accordion and quite well as I recall. Although Mary was the prettiest of the two, it was Rhoda that I eventually dated and might even have married if the war had not come along.

3. Hedy Lamarr...editors note--I didn't get the full story about Hedy

4. Name Unremembered...

5. Roxanne Spooner. I’m not sure where to place her on the list because I saw her before graduating from High School in 1939. She was about three classes behind me, so that it was not until after I returned from the South Pacific that I called her up. Anyway she was as beautiful I remembered. I wore my dress blues with Captain’s bars and wings and we went to a movie. I can not remember why I didn’t keep in touch but went back t the base in El Centro. What ever happened to her I don’t know Incidentally she was one of the Spooners who owned the ranch on the coast between Morro Bay and Avila.

Pat Morris--Jesse--Roxanne Spooner

Pismo Clams and the Depression
While growing up in Morro Bay, during the depression, I made money doing several different jobs. One of them was digging and selling Pismo Beach clams. These clams had to be five inches long in order to be legal and you were limited to 15 per day. You “captured” them with a fork. After pushing the fork into the sand while backing up, when you hit something hard you would dig it up. There was usually a nail five inches up from the tines of the fork. If the clam passed through you tossed it back. Digging wa especially good at low tide because you could wade further offshore where the clams had longer to grow. During the summer of the 30’s, vacationers from the Valley, especially the Taft/Bakersfield area used to come to Morro Bay. In the Valley, temperatures would often go above 100. I remember even during the height of the depression selling clams for 15 cents a piece. So with a good low tide and my two sisters helping , we could make 5$ to $10 a day--real money in those days...

Jobs in 1937
During my last two years in high school., I was lucky enough to have several different jobs that enabled me to help save enough money to go to college. Five of these were done at the same time. Right now I don’t not remember which was the most lucrative. The first I might mention is the paper route. I was delivery boy for the SLO paper in Morro Bay. The route included downtown as well as from the golf course on the south to the oil tank storage facility on the north on the strand. I would ride my bicycle (which earlier belonged to Burnham Cantwell) to town and catch the school bus to SLO. I left school early to go to the newspaper office and pick up the papers and then catch the bus. Kids around me on the bus helped roll them. On the 14-mile ride to Morro Bay, I would toss them out along the way. The route was about ten miles long and it took me from 5 to 7:30 to deliver them. A second job was in a sense tied in with this paper route. I would leave our tent in the Willows and ride up to the new school in Morro Bay where I served as a janitor for two hours in the morning before catching the school bus. I have no idea how much I was paid. When the school was moved to the new building the principal discarded a number of books including a set of encyclopedias. I picked them up and still have them in my library. They date from 1886. Another job associated with school was for the NYA one of F.D. Roosevelt’s agencies. Even though I was in high school, I was allowed to help the typing teacher in grading papers, many times having to take thm home with me. In addition, I took care of the little town park which is still there on the east side of town. This job which occupied much of my Saturdays paid me $25 per month and was probably one of the best jobs to have in the 30’s. On Saturdays (when I could work it in) and Sundays, I caddied at the local golf course. I had a couple of doctors from SLO who were regulars. I also caddied for a local Japanese named Nagano (for whom dad worked as a tractor driver). I remember he paid quite well. In addition to those jobs I also made abalone boxes at 10 cents a piece for the abalone plant in town. These I could do in my little cabin at night. With this and the paper route I didn’t have much time to read...

Hitch-Hiking and Morro Bay
During the 1930’s and early 1940’s, the only way I had of getting around --unless I used my bicycle or went with the folks’ car which was of limited (because of expense) availability--was by hitch-hiking. There are several interesting experiences that resulted from the endeavor... Once I started to Berkeley in 1939, my only way of getting to and from Berkeley during holidays was to hitch-hike. Usually I would take a bus south of Berkeley to Hayward and start hitching there and usually I would have to walk through San Jose which took me past San Jose State. From San Jose I had relatively little walking to do because the rest of the towns were quite small although I did at least once walk all the way form SLO to Morro Bay. During the 1930’s and early 1940’s, the only way I had of getting around --unless I used my bicycle or went with the folks’ car which was of limited (because of expense) availability--was by hitch-hiking. On one occasion I had 13 different rides before getting home...

Ellen Hochstetler and “I’ll Wait For You”
One of the best friends of the Walker family was the Hochstetler family which consisted of Dan, Eva, Leon, Shirley and Ellen. Only Ellen and Shirley are still living. Ellen lives in San Jose (2006) and we see her every few years. One time she told me that I offered to pay her but only if she would not talk so much. When I went into the Marines she said she became fascinated (probably with the uniform) and vowed that she would wait for me. Of course, that didn’t happen. She has during her adult years been involved with conserving old buildings in the San Jose area.

Arnot/Jones, CJ and CB Walker and Academics
Miss Arnot, librarian at SLOHS was especially kind to me as was Miss Jones, the Latin teacher. I decided sometime in the early 1990’s to establish an endowment in their name. I wanted it to be an academic award to some graduating senior. In 1993, Warren Grabau and drove to Hamilton (along with spouses and Elizabeth Brunsden). On the way I laid out the plan to him and we came up with a list of the most important people in history--insofar as their influence on mankind was concerned. Whittling the list down to 17, I designed a plaque for the winner who was to do an essay on “Who has been the most influential person in my life to date.” The award, named the Arnot/Jones Academic Award at SLOHS was first granted in 1994, and has been awarded every year since. Because of the success of the Arnot/Jones Academic Award, I established a similar one at Morro Bay High School, a school that did not exist when we lived in Morro Bay. I named it after my parents--the C.J. and C.B. Walker Academic Award. As of April 2005, awards have been made to eight graduating seniors...

Captain Jesse Walker with his Mom and Dad

July 4, 2008 Birthday in Alaska

Here are some quotes from the irrepressible Dr. Walker...

Vic--since I last wrote, we have been much on the go. Taiwan (to give a key-note address), Peleliu (to revisit the island to which I flew a load of flamethrowers back in 1945), London to visit the RGS (as explained below), and Alaska to lead a field trip along the Arctic coast (a forwarded birthday picture tells part of the story)...

Vic--the picture of my 87th birthday party on July 4 on the Sag river where it runs into the Arctic Ocean. I was joint leader on a field trip for some 20 3 from Russia (which explains the bottle of vodka under my right arm), 2 each from New Zealand, Belgium and the UK plus a number of others. It was quite a surprise and much fun seeing them trying to get 87 candles lit with a cool breeze coming in from over the Arctic Ocean.