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PAUL RUSSELL ORAM

INTERVIEWS AND CONVERSATIONS

PRO:          Paul Russell Oram

NSO:          Nancy Susan Oram

DRO:          Dorothy Ruth Oram

DPO:          David Paul Oram

PAH:          Paul Allen Hoy

DSH:          David Scott Hoy

AUGUST 1995

PRO:          . . .on Tom Cross's farm just out northeast of Taylorville, Illinois on a bend in the state highway there. There's a cemetery next door do it where my stepmother's father, Harvey Stephens, is buried.

NSO:          Dad, can I ask you a question?

PRO:          Yeah.

NSO:          What were you guys doing on Tom Cross's farm? Was that just --

PRO:          Well, that's where -- we always lived on somebody's farm, and we worked there. So that was when we were on Tom Cross's farm. And they raised cattle and stuff like that there.

Our home burned down in 1921. Well -- but my mother died in 1921, in February, and then later on our home burned down in 1921.

I fell into that silo in the summer of 1923. We moved to Charlie MacKenzie's farm in 1924. We were living there, and the first day of school for me was September 1924 at five years and five months old.

I wandered away from school after eating my lunch, and fell into the creek and almost drowned. Caught what-for for that, for leaving the school grounds, and everything.

I graduated in 1931 from the eighth grade. I'd been put ahead one year. June 1931 I ran away to Uncle Jim's, and late June 1931 I ran away again. The reason I ran away that second time is, I heard Aunt Ida talking during the night, and she was saying, "Well, Jim, what are we going to do? We've got work for Willard, and he's old enough to do it, but Paul is really too young, we don't really need him."

So I ran away again. I took up with an old man -- or rather he took up with me, because I could run down a chicken. And we would bake the chicken with clay, and make a ball of clay out of the chicken, and put it in the coals of the fire. And when it got baked, you'd pull the clay off of it, and the feathers and skin came off with the ball of clay. And we'd salt it with salt that I went up and begged from the lady whose chicken we had stolen. And she even said, "Well, here, I'll give you a piece of pie." I said, "Can you give me one for my friend?" And she gave me one for him, too. So here we're eating her pie, and her salt, and her chicken.

And then we moved on. We decided to go to Chicago, and got on board of a -- on the rails, underneath the passenger train. And waited there puffing on the siding so long, that the old man that showed me how to ride the rails, to lay with your face up and your back down -- but I thought it would be -- I got a little uncomfortable. I thought it would be more comfortable to turn over. And so I did. And then it started up. And we went about 40 or 50 miles with me looking down at that track about six inches from my face, and the cinders bouncing up and sticking in my -- when I got off of there I was picking cinders for a week. It looked like I had the chicken pox, or smallpox. Anyway, I beat it, and the old man stayed on the train.

I roamed around through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio. Came down the Ohio River to Illinois, crossed over to Kentucky, back up to Illinois, to Granite City and met my brother Leroy. We towed barges on the Mississippi River from Alton to St. Louis, between Alton and St. Louis. And then we went down to the Ozarks into Irontown, Missouri. And by 1932 we were back in Illinois.

And then in late 1931 or early 1932 I was putting gas in Leroy's car. He took Dad down to beer him up at the local tavern, and said, "Fill my car up with gas." Because Dad wouldn't let us steal his gas when he was around. And I was pouring it in, and it overflowed and it caught fire and it burned the car. I put it out with water. The kids were getting the water. I thought they were pumping it, and they were getting it out of Mom's cistern for -- that she used the water for washing her hair. And she got mad the next day because we used up all of her water.

The next day I was chopping wood, and I swung the axe and I caught it on a tree limb. So I ducked down, and the axe nearly severed my ring finger on my left hand as it come down and stuck in the chopping block. The bone slipped out from under the axe. I went to the doctor and he sewed it up. While it was healing, I went to New York City. The doctor bill for twelve dollars was forwarded, along with my graduation certificate, to New York, approximately May 1932.

I worked at the Hotel Governor Clinton, then Walgreen's Drugs. NRA started at this time, National Recovery Act.

I worked backstage at the 42nd Street and Broadway Theater, and I met many stars. George Raft, Max and Buddy Baer, Irving Berlin, John Cohen, Gloria Swanson, Babe Ruth. He gave me a autographed baseball card, which I left with other photos in the corner of my dresser mirror when I left New York to go to California. It took me years to remember whatever happened to that baseball card. Then I remember, I just moved away, and there were some pictures of ex-friends and girlfriends and so forth. I just left them there.

I came to California in the end of June 1935 -- arrived in California July 4, 1935. Went to work at 6 a.m. on July 5, 1935 picking apricots at San Lorenzo, California. I lived in San Leandro with Tony Vegas at 14th Street and Williams Street.

My next job was at Rylock Company in San Leandro, first as apprentice cabinetmaker, then as machinist, and then in the storeroom in charge of stores.

C. P. Berlzheimer owned this company, and he had a cabin at Lake Tahoe. He lent me his car and cabin -- this was in 1935. I was only 16, but had told him I was 20. When Social Security was being installed in 1935, to begin January 1, 1936, I had to get my birth certificate. Of course this hit the fan when they found out about my age. But C.P. said, "He's over 16, so we can legally use him now, and he does a good job, so he stays."

When he would introduce me to his friends, he said, "This man has found the fountain of youth. When he came to work for me he was 20 and now he's only 17."

After this I did many odd jobs, painting and apartment house work. Then at California Linen Supply, and Marchant Calculating Machine Company.

When I was an apprentice cabinetmaker at Rylock, my boss was Mr. Oswald King. He introduced me to Dorothy Heermance, now my wife, at a Halloween dance at the Internos Club on East 14th Street in Oakland. The date was October 17, 1936. I said immediately, "This is the one I'm going to marry."

It's now August 1995, and we've been married since October 17, 1939, almost 60 years since we met. Actually he was dressed as a woman, and in recognizing me dancing with Dorothy, said, "I see you two have met."

While I was working at Marchant, my boss loaned me to the Navy to help install snorkels on our subs. We had captured the German sub pins and brought some of these devices over to Hunters Point. I made all the springs necessary, and we installed the devices in our subs. The captain had the machinist mates make me a desk nameplate etched in plastic, "Paul R. Oram, Spring Maker." I still have it on my desk in our home.

As we were coming to California in our 1937 Studebaker, my sister, Fern, and George Peters, were in the front seat, and I was in back watching our trailer. I looked up and saw the spires of the Salt Lake Temple and I shouted, "Stop." George thought the trailer had come loose, and so he stopped and asked what was wrong. And when I told him I wanted to see what was in that building, he sure got mad, and he drove on. After I met Dorothy and she, being an LDS girl, I soon found out about the church and temples; and joined the church in 1936. Heber J. Grant was president at the time.

 

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