However, when we arrived at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, our celebrity status vanished. We were swallowed up in the crowd. The Signal School there was full to overflowing and nobody there had time to give us any special recognition even if they had been the least bit interested. Our only purpose for being on this Signal Corp post was to learn and we were taught electricity, electronics and radar. Occasionally, students and instructors would talk about television repairing. The instructors said that we would all be able to repair televisions when we had finished the school. Having never even seen television, this was a little hard for me to believe.
Shortly after arriving at Fort Monmouth I went into Long Branch and rented a small attic apartment. The whole thing was not as large as most living rooms but it was the best I could find that could fit into the budget of an Army private. Then, I went to a telephone and called Fay with the message she had been waiting for. The telephone connection was not good but that was pretty much to be expected at that time. Today we have come to expect long distance calls to be just as clear as those across town. But, in 1952, a good long distance connection was a pleasant surprise. Anyhow, Fay got the message and was soon boarding a Milwaukee train at Harlowton for the long ride to the east coast.
Living off post involved more expense than just the rent. We had to have a car and gasoline too. So, it was necessary for Fay to find some sort of employment. She had been a waitress at a café back in White Sulphur Springs, so now, she went downtown in Long Branch to see if her skills were needed there. She found an opening at a restaurant at $3.00 a day. She was reluctant to take the job at such low pay but felt much better about it when she discovered that her daily total of tips was $10 or more.
From New Jersey we went to Huntsville, Alabama where I had another six weeks of school at nearby Redstone Arsenal. This school was on the guidance systems of guided missiles. There was a missile near company barracks there but none of us ever saw it because it was inside a tight building and under 24 hour guard.
During these months in classrooms, some friendships developed that have endured throughout the succeeding years. One of these was Harlo Patton from Golden, Illinois. He and Maxine now live in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Another was Gene Cooley from Mt. Etna, Iowa. He and Mary Lou still live on a farm there.
Upon completion of school at Redstone Arsenal, I became a Guided Missile Guidance Components Repairman and assigned to 96th Ordnance Company at White Sands Proving Grounds in New Mexico. There, we not only got to see guided missiles, we launched them. These weren’t intercontinental missiles or even intermediate range but it was exciting just the same. These launches were for research and training purposes and the distance covered was usually less than 100 miles. White Sands was a good place to have duty. It was a small place where everybody had a job to do, so there was a minimum of military routine and harassment. However, this only lasted a few months before the 96th was made a support company for an artillery battalion and moved to Fort Bliss, Texas. That ended my career in guided missiles.
During the time I was at White Sands, Fay and I lived in Las Cruces. She got another job there as waitress and, just like in Long Branch, was making far more money than I was. After the company was moved to Fort Bliss, we moved to El Paso and lived there until my discharge in January, 1954.
By April of 1954 I was back at Compton Motors. This time Fay and I rented the little house that had previously been the school hose on Newlan Creek School. Main street was the only paved street in town and some of the other streets would get some pretty bad holes in them about the time the frost went out in the spring. This was especially a problem in the lower areas such as the vicinity of Compton Motors. More than once we had to pull a vehicle out of a mud hole in the middle of the street beside the building. One spring day, a truck that was passing through needed some welding done and, since the street was in pretty good condition, I asked the driver to pull his rig alongside so as to be near the shop. What I hadn’t anticipated was that he would try to turn around on the open area of land across the street. The truck did not break through but the sod sagged under the wheels so that they were always in a depression. After he stopped to go into reverse, his driving wheels would only spin on the wet sod and could not pull out of the depressions. I learned then that the truck was loaded with 13 tons of eggs. It eventually took the county road grader, with chains on all four driving wheels, to get the truck moving again. This all took place approximately where the bank parking lot is now.
A variety of fuels were used for heating around White Sulphur Springs at that time. Coal and wood were used primarily but fuel oil and propane were gaining in popularity. Our little house was equipped to burn fuel oil only and, sometimes during the winter, we were hard-pressed to come up with the money to pay for it even though we were getting it at a discount from my employer.
On the 6th of March in 1955, our daughter was born. There was no doctor in our little town at that time so we had to go to Townsend, 40 miles away. Fortunately, the weather and roads were not very bad at the time. The total cost for prenatal care, delivery and hospital was $200.
Also, in 1955 Compton sold the business, on contract, to Don Reed. The good relationship that Ray Compton and I had enjoyed did not carry over to the new owner. Reed and I disagreed on several things and my refusal to yield led to me getting fired in the middle of the summer. He gave me my final check and termination at five o’clock in the afternoon. By seven that evening I had a haying job with Tom Coburn. That is a good example of the speed of the grapevine news system in a small town. Within the two hour period, the news of my discharge got to Tom and he called me to ask me to come help him with haying. Within two days I had been offered, and accepted, a job as mechanic at the Ford dealer’s shop. As soon as the haying was done at Coburn’s ranch, I went to work for Don Russell who was then owner of the Ford garage. The following year, ownership of the business went to Chuck Sutton and I stayed on with him until April, 1957. When I started at the Ford garage, it was the first time I had ever worked on commission but I was eager to try it. Don and Chuck were both good fellows to work for and kept their mechanics supplied with work. There were three of us there; John Gratz, El Julian and myself. But there was plenty of work so that I made more money than I ever made before.
Excerpted from “Wool Trompers” by J. L. Fuller