Conducted by Logan Wilson
March 29, 2012
Mr. Wilson: My name is Logan Wilson; I am in the home of Mr. Billy Waldrop in Coolidge, Texas. Today is March 29, 2012. We’re here to take the oral history of Mr. Waldrop. The next sound you hear will be him.
Mr. Waldrop: Well, I am Billy Waldrop, and I was born and raised in Prairie Hill and lived there most of my life. My wife and I moved over here to Coolidge when I bought the house from her family. I was gonna talk about when I lived on the farm on Christmas Creek, and the first thing I remember before I started school was, we were farming with mules, and most of the time, I think we had an A-Model, but most of the time, we were riding to town in a wagon with mules, because we lived so far in the mud. I do remember going to John Henry and Bobby Kirkpatrick’s house in the wagon one evening to have homemade ice cream, and it was before I started school, and I thought that was the grandest thing there ever was. I was born in 1926, and the things that I remember, things were pretty tough. We didn’t suffer like a lot of people did though, we owned our own farm, it was my granddaddy’s. We had a garden in town where my grandmother lived, and we had a garden on the farm, and we had hogs we raised and killed calves and a lot of people didn’t hear about it, but we canned beef during the depression and as long as I could remember back when I was a kid and I remember starting to school, and I do know that we lived pretty close to another family, the Smith family, and it’s strange that I can only remember 1 or 2 days, but I do remember walking down to their house and going to school with them. The Smith’s had, I can remember 3 kids, Kenneth was older, and Louise, and Edward. Edward was close to my age, and they may have had another daughter that was older, I don’t know. I do know that we played and I did walk to school with them, and probably more than once, but I do remember very definitely once. And then, in the cold and rainy weather, would you believe that daddy saddled a horse, and I rode from the farm to the school house on a horse. The school was an old brick, 2 story brick school house, and across the road on one side, there was an old shed that the high school boys tied their horses, and I was a little kid, about 6 years old, and I was scared of those big high school boys, so I tied my horse over under the tabernacle, and it was handy because the tabernacle had a slanted floor, and I could lead my horse up that slanted floor so I could get on it, because I was so small, and it was ideal and my horse stood in the shade because the tabernacle roof went out over the ground for about 4 or 5 foot, so it was an ideal place to tie your horse. I do remember once when I was going down to my grandmother’s in town for dinner, and I was in the first grade, and me and Henson Timmons, he lived in town and we talked Mrs. McDonald, our first grade teacher, and I told her, I said “If we get out just a minute earlier, me and Henson are going to ride my horse down to grandmother’s to eat dinner.” And she said “No, your horse will pitch you off.” And I said “oh no ma’am, my horse don’t pitch.” So, she let us out, and we went down there and got on the horse and Henson kind of put his heels in his flanks and the horse pitched both us boys off and Mrs. McDonald was looking out the school window at us down there and we started running, and here comes my daddy with the horse, he was back up town and he put both of us on it, and he got up behind us and rode the horse and the horse never did pitch me again all my life, but when I got back to school, Mrs. McDonald was really giving me and Henson the blues. She said “I told you that horse was gonna pitch you off.” And I said “yes ma’am it did.” And that was the first time that horse ever pitched, and it was, but it was the last time that it ever pitched me off. But my school kind of broke up. My mother and father divorce, and my mother went to San Antonio and she carried me and my sister and we were gone about 6 or 7 months, so I nearly missed the 2nd grade, but I came back to Prairie Hill to live with my grandmother Waldrop, and I started back to school in the same school, in the 2nd grade, but I was a year behind the kids I started with, but I went to school that year and I didn’t miss a day and I wasn’t tardy a day, and I did that for about 7 or 8 years, I had perfect attendance, and the first perfect attendance I got, I still have. They didn’t have a certificate, Mrs. McDonald gave me a picture of a sailing ship, and it hung on my grandmother’s wall until the blue tassel and all rotted, and I still have the frame and the picture and everything, even the blue tassel that rotted, and that was a long time ago. I did go to school at that school and I believe it was in 1938 the school building burnt. I was in the 5th grade and they had condemned us, and we used to go in the auditorium on the 2nd floor every Monday morning, and we had a little, I guess you couldn’t do it now-a-days, but we always had a prayer and a little speech from the superintendent and they condemned the auditorium and said that the back wall was leaning and they were afraid it was going to fall on us, and they wouldn’t let us go near the back of the school, so it’s kind of peculiar that when the school burnt, everything fell in except the back wall, that’s the only thing that hadn’t moved on the school house. They had to get a dozer to knock it down and it would have never fell on us kids, but they didn’t know that. They didn’t realize that the rest of the brick school house had moved forward a little bit, and the back wall had never moved.
Mr. Wilson: It was the only thing that was perfect.
Mr. Waldrop: It was the only thing that was perfect. But anyway, it was quite an entertaining young life. They got places for us to go to classes and I went over to the Methodist Church for a little while and they decided that was too far from the rest of the grades, so they moved us over to the Home Economics College that didn’t burn and I went part of the year there. Then they moved us to a room in the Baptist Church, which is where most of the kids were going, and I went 2 years in the Baptist church while they were building the school house, back then, it was highway 84, but now its highway 73 that came through Prairie Hill and Teague. When I was a kid, it was 84, then the WPA which is the workers. I had received a bicycle from my aunt in Houston, they worked in the oil field, and it was something that was a surprise to me, that one Christmas I got a bicycle and I wasn’t expecting a bicycle because I didn’t think that we could afford a bicycle and that was one of the happiest times of my life. But when I went in the service, I still had that bicycle, and it was still operating, so I would ride by when the WPA was building the new school on the highway, it wasn’t but a block from our house, and I would aggravate the men and they would get after me with hand saws, like they were gonna whip me, but I think they got as much fun out of me aggravating them, as I did. But, I watched them build our school, and it was an enjoyable time, and a lot of kids lived on the main street of Prairie Hill and we all walked. Well when I first started school when I lived on the farm, they had one school bus, but it went out the north side of Prairie Hill, and all of us that lived on the south side, we had to walk to school. But when they built the new school, they had 2 school busses, but we lived too close to the school to ride, but we had, I think it was a ’36 Ford school bus, and the old school bus was an international with a wooden body on it, it wasn’t very wide, it was narrow. When WWII broke out, all the men from Prairie Hill went into the service, and me and another boy drove the 2 school busses. I went to take my drivers’ license when I was 16 years old, and I passed everything, but he wouldn’t give me my license, and another young man that I rode to Waco with, they told me to come back next week, well the 2nd time I did that, the superintendent was F.W. Calloway said “what are you failing?” I said “sir, I don’t know, I think I passed everything, but they told me to come back next week.” So he carried me down there and he asked the officer “what is he failing on?” and he said “it’s not that he’s failing anything, but we hate to give a chauffeurs license to a 16 year old boy.” And he said “Well he’s been driving a school bus for 6 or 8 months without anything, and there aren’t any men in Prairie Hill because they’re all in Asia, or in the Pacific Ocean or the Atlantic.” And he said “if he don’t drive it, he’s gonna have to drive it without a drivers’ license.” And man, the officer didn’t even ask me to drive that day, they just signed my drivers’ license and gave them to me. So when I got my chauffer’s license, I had just turned 16 years old, and until I went in the service in December of 1944, I drove a school bus. I went in the Merchant Marines, I tried to go in the Navy, I wanted in the V-12 or V-6, I wanted to be a radio operator and I went down and they gave me a book to look at and they tried to get me to tell them what number I saw, and I didn’t see a number and my daddy said “can’t you see that 6?” and I said “No, I can’t see no 6.” Well, I was 50% color blind, and they wouldn’t take me in the V-6, and I had an uncle that was a school teacher in Paris, Texas, and he told me, he said “oh, join the Maritime Service and get a waiver and you can go to radio school and get a radio license and that’s the coming thing” and so, Uncle Sam said they weren’t going to let me finish school, that when I turned 18, I was going to be drafted, so I joined the Maritime Service. I left Dallas in the last of December, which was the 66 boys, we were boys. There were 64 of us from Texas, and 2 from Oklahoma. And we got on a train going to St. Petersburg, Florida. Well I spent time in St. Petersburg and went to New York to cadet school, I went through radio school, I don’t know yet how I passed all the tests to get there, I went with boys that had gone to Abilene, big schools, and the first thing they asked me was “do you know anything about Ohm’s Law?” and I said “I didn’t know Ohms had a law.” So that’s how much I knew about electricity. But anyway, I went to cadet school and I passed the test with FCC and I got my commission, and about that time, the war was over, and I came home. Well I did go to New Orleans and ship out a couple of times to the Panama, but I did come home and I was helping my dad shell corn, and I had been going with Clara June, and she and I got married in August of ’46 and we got married on Saturday night, and the draft of WWII was still going on and they were going to draft me, so I went in the army and I enjoyed being in Prairie Hill all this time. But I went in the army, and they sent me to basic training and sent me to Italy and then they sent me home and I only served 9 months and 11 days in the army, so I came home and Clara June and I, we didn’t have much, but I had an A-Model and we had each other. We’ve been married 65 years now and I never will forget when I went and asked her daddy for her hand. They lived out here on the Navasota River, and he said “well I know y’all are going to get married anyway, so you can go ahead, but I don’t think it’s going to work.” So we keep looking for it not to work, but we’re still together after 65 years. It’s been a good life, and I could go back to the depression area and say that when I came back from San Antonio, my grandmother and my aunt, I had an old aunt that kind of considered me her son, we went to Waco nearly every Saturday to buy groceries. We had a ’30 A-Model and ran like a top. My grandmother had a garter and the doctor told her to eat fish and so we bought fresh fish from the fish market on the square in Waco, and we would come home and cook it for my grandmother nearly every weekend, and I had a great family life. My sister’s 5 years younger than I am, she was born in 1931 and I had one cousin, she was 5 years older than I am, and she lived in Paris, Texas but they came up in the summer to grandmothers’ house in Prairie Hill, and there were just 3 kids, so we were all pretty spoiled, I suppose, I don’t know. They say we were, but we had a great family life, and we raised our own groceries, and I know my grandmother wouldn’t buy anything but enamel cans and she would never let you bend one, because we saved them and used them the next year and all we would buy was lids, we would always buy one case of new cans every year, but that case would replace the ones that did get bent and everything every year. My grandmother was old German woman, she was very frugal, but we did eat good, and I really didn’t realize, I do know that they never talked about it most of the time, but I do realize they were very close with what they spent, because my granddaddy had left a little money, but the bank in Prairie Hill had went under, and they had lost quite a bit of their money, but I never heard my grandmother, my daddy, or my aunts complain about it, we just went on and worked and when daddy traded the mules and plow for a ’36 Model B John Deere tractor, it wasn’t long until he had me driving it, so I’ve been driving a tractor nearly all my life. I know I’ve skipped around a lot on this, from the 20’s and 30’s and 40’s to now-a-days, I really have.
Mr. Wilson: Well, tell me something, you mentioned a minute ago, that y’all used to can beef. If you can recall, how does one can beef? Is it like a pressure cooker?
Mr. Waldrop: We put it in a can and sealed it and put it in a pressure cooker and cooked it. We would put it in a pressure cooker after we seal the can, I think. Now, I was pretty young, but it was as good a beef as I ever ate out of those things.
Mr. Wilson: Now, I’m trying to figure, now I know other people have told me that and I forgot to ask them, so I’m going to ask you. Is it like a steak, or like ground beef, or cut up? How would you go about that?
Mr. Waldrop: I don’t remember.
Mr. Wilson: But it was beef in the cans?
Mr. Waldrop: It was beef. I’ll never forget, it was a big day when they went to canning beef…
Mr. Wilson: You know, we can stuff out of our garden there in forest glade. We call it canning, but we actually put it in jars.
Mr. Waldrop: The only thing we put in jars was pickles.
Mr. Wilson: Okay, so this was really cans then?
Mr. Waldrop: This was really tin cans, and it always amazed me, I learned how to cut the top ring off that can, turn it upside down, we had flaring tools, that you flared the top of that can and that’s the reason grandmother wouldn’t let you bend that can, it had to be perfect and she took care of the cans just life she did the new cans. When I got a little older, she would let me cut the top off and flare the can, but then we had to put it in these boxes to make sure everything was safe for the next season of canning. You ruin a few, so that’s the reason they bought a few new ones every year, but we wouldn’t buy plain cans, we would buy enamel cans so it would be safer to can food in. The only thing I can remember them canning in jars was pickles and maybe beats, stuff like that. We canned, I don’t know what all, but I can remember pickles, I know they think it’s strange that we canned the beef, but we did. We cured our hogs out, we had a smoke house down at the barn and daddy said me and my grandmother and my sister could eat more hogs than anyone ever saw.
Mr. Wilson: So it wasn’t a can like a paint can, where you hammer a lid down was it?
Mr. Waldrop: Nope. It was just like these cans you buy today.
Mr. Wilson: And y’all actually rolled the top on it then?
Mr. Waldrop: Well, if you had a sealer, you could seal the lid, but then when you cut the lid out with the can opener, you saved that can like that, and when you got ready to do it, you had a deal on your sealer, you changed the fitting, and you could cut that little, bitty rim off. Then you could turn the can upside down on the sealer and there was a deal on there that would flatten the edge out where your new lid, you bought new lids, but your lid would fit on that can and then when you went to put something in it, you could seal the new lid back.
Mr. Wilson: Well you know, if anybody now-a-days still knew how to do that, you couldn’t find the cans without the lids anymore, can you?
Mr. Waldrop: I doubt it.
Mr. Wilson: I mean, that’s something that’s just gone, isn’t it?
Mr. Waldrop: It probably is. I haven’t seen any in years, but we did it every year that I can remember when I was a kid.
Mr. Wilson: You were a county commissioner Precinct 2.
Mrs. Waldrop: 24 years.
Mr. Waldrop: I was very fortunate to people of Limestone County, they were very good to me, they elected me 6 times. I retired when I was 80 years old from being a county commissioner.
Mrs. Waldrop: And people today, still wonder why he won’t run again.
Mr. Waldrop: It was an enjoyable time for me; I loved every minute of it. I loved serving the people and they were all good to me.
Mr. Wilson: Well you know, you mentioned, Mr. Waldrop, HLNP, I worked for HLNP for 28 years. I was a site quality control supervisor at the nuclear plant and then the one out here close to Jewett.
Mr. Waldrop: You knew ??? Goodrich then?
Mr. Wilson: No, the name sounds familiar though.
Mr. Waldrop: He worked for HLNP. Our tape is still on, but it won’t make any difference I guess. I do remember when they built 84 and nearly bypassed Prairie Hill and they did bypass Coolidge and Tehuacana, and the big work machines that they hauled the dirt in, it wasn’t like it is today, but the rented my grandmothers’ lot there and parked those machines on our lot in town and daddy had built a little shed down there that he was going to put a blacksmiths’ shop in, which didn’t go over very good and they rented that too and put their oil and grease in it when they were building this 84, that now goes to Mexia and bypasses Coolidge, but they were building it during WWII, and when they first started the maneuver and things, going from the west to Louisiana, this highway 73, was still 84.
Mr. Wilson: That’s the one right out front here, right?
Mr. Waldrop: Yes, and it was quite a deal. Well, they had a lot of equipment, not like the equipment they have today to build roads with, but they did it pretty fast. Anyway, and I told someone, they built that overpass over in McLennan County, on 84 there, they built that overpass faster with the equipment they had back in those days, than they did taking half of it down with today’s modern equipment. It took them longer to take half of it down than it did to build it with the antique equipment they built it with.
Mr. Wilson: Back in those days, they didn’t have a lot of government regulations to get rid of either.
Mr. Waldrop: No, but they had lots of mules and ??? and different things. But anyway, it’s a wonderful life, I’ve lived through a wonderful time. I’m 85 years old. My wife’s having health problems, but I’m doing pretty good.
Mr. Wilson: And y’all have been married for 65 years?
Mr. Waldrop: Yes sir, we’re working on 66. We married on August 31, 1946.
Mr. Wilson: Well bless your heart.
Mr. Waldrop: I was in New York in cadet school and I had never dated her, but I knew her, and I wrote her a letter and told her I would be coming home in a month or something like that, and I said “If you’re not busy, I’d like to have a date.” And she wrote back and it said yes she would, and so we have been together ever since.
Mr. Wilson: Well, do y’all expect the marriage to last?
Mr. Waldrop: Well, we’re working on it. Just like her daddy said, “I think y’all are going to get married anyway, so I guess it’ll be alright, but I don’t think it’s going to last.” But he changed his mind before he died, we got to be pretty good friends.
Mrs. Waldrop: He just wasn’t very sure about Billy.
Mr. Waldrop: Well, she was so young and was going to be a senior in high school, and it just so happened, that I left a week after we married, and the next week, she went back to school and went through her whole senior class, and she only saw me one time, and that was the few days I got off during Christmas and she was out of school. So she didn’t miss a day her senior year, because of me. Then, I sent nearly every penny I had to the bank and when I got home, we had enough money to buy the necessary furniture we needed to start a housekeeping.
Mr. Wilson: If you remember any of the ships you served on when you were in the Merchant Marines?
Mr. Waldrop: Yes I do, I was only on one, it was LT820 and it was a seagoing tugboat and I went from New Orleans down the Mississippi river and the first time, I went to Pensacola, Florida and the next time, we went to the Panama, and we went through the Panama Canal, I went through the Panama Canal twice. I made 2 or 3 trips down there on the LT820. We were pulling barges, we pulled a barge up to Florida. We went to Panama to get PT boats and things that was coming back from WWII and we were bringing them home. They were unmanned, there weren’t any crews on them and sometimes, we would have 3 of them strung out behind us, pulling them back, and they found out right quick that you couldn’t do that when you hit the Mississippi River because that current on the end of that line, those boats went to whipping on each side. It was very strange, I didn’t serve but 9 months and 11 days in the army and when the Korean war broke out, they said I didn’t have a year of service, so they wanted me back in the service, so I joined the Navy, I said I don’t want no more of the army. It wasn’t that I disliked the army, I just like the sea going better, and I applied for every school that they Navy had, and they sent me to the USS Helena which was a heavy cruiser headed straight to Korea.
Mr. Wilson: Well by that time, you knew what “i = e over r” was didn’t you?
Mr. Waldrop: Yeah, I did. But they wouldn’t send me back to school, so I didn’t tell them I was a radioman and I was going to be just a deck hand and the chief saw me and said “Do you want to be a gunner’s mate?” and I said “yes sir, it’s inside” So I shot an 8 inch gun all the time I was in Korea, and I learned a whole lot. I learned how to load and fire, and I spent, like I said, one tour. When we were coming home, in 1952, Eisenhower won as president and he had promised the people in his campaign, that he would go to Korea and see what was going on and after the election, in November, he went to Korea. Because when we were coming home, we had pulled our tour of duty I don’t know it was only about 9 months then and we knew we were headed for another thing like that. We were circling Iwo Jima and they said “This is not on the way home.” And the next morning, we were circling Wake Island, “This is not the way home.” And the next morning, we stopped in Guam and they said that anybody that wants to go on with liberty, that’s off duty, can go on liberty and we didn’t want liberty, we were wanting to go home. But anyway, a bunch of us went over and there wasn’t anything to see anything on Guam except the beautiful parks and beautiful blue water, and we all took our swim suits and went down and went swimming and climbed in coconut trees, I climbed it a coconut tree and made pictures of it and anyway, they called out the next morning for us to muster on deck, with full dressed uniforms. It had been nearly a year since we had been in full dressed uniforms, but we did and looked and here came a long line of black cars, and it was president-elect Dwight D. Eisenhower, and his cabinet, John Dollas and all of them. I had pictures of all of his cabinet. They come aboard our ship and some of our officers had to go ashore and catch a plane to Hawaii, but he road our ship from Guam to Hawaii and he got off in Hawaii, and I asked one of the gunners mate from Arkansas, I said “What do you think about the president-elect Eisenhower?” he said “dad gummit, it cost me 25 dollars on election and 10 days getting home, I’m not very happy with him!” but it had cost us 10 days or a little longer, held us up that long before we was supposed to get home.
Mr. Wilson: Well, that explains the detour that the ship took.
Mr. Waldrop: And he was landing his plane on Iwo Jima and we circled that island and the next day we were circling Wake Island, and his plane had landed there, so he had visited both of those islands, and our heavy cruiser had patrolled both of those islands while he was there, and then when they flew him to Guam, then we left for Guam. See, we didn’t know what was going on, until he came aboard our ship and we were standing there where we could see that long line.
Mr. Wilson: Well, sailors don’t make decisions, they follow orders.
Mr. Waldrop: We follow orders. They said it’s the officers that run things, but it’s the chief’s Navy. They run it. But anyway, I got lots of experience, and came home. Me and my dad, he was buying grain, and we put in a feed mill and we went to grinding and mixing feed and me and my dad worked together for 20 something years, and I still have to feed mill that we ran in Prairie Hill.
Mr. Wilson: Well, you know a pretty much at the conclusion of these interviews, I ask everybody the same question, pretty much different ways of expressing themselves, but pretty much, they’ve all told me the same thing. So I’m going to ask you. Mr. Waldrop, if you could tell the young people today, give them any good advice, what would it be? What would you tell the young people today?
Mr. Waldrop: Try to get an education. That is the most important thing that we’ve got going. It gets me emotional, because I have a daughter that’s a school teacher, and a granddaughter and a grandson that are school teachers, and I am so disappointed in our government for the way they are treating our teachers. All the things that are wrong, they are treating the teachers. I didn’t finish college, I went on a G.I bill to Westminister for a year and a half. Thank goodness I had 15 credits in high school, I didn’t have the 16 that it took to graduate and all it took to get into college was 15, and I had the 15. So I went to college at Westminister for a year and a half, and I wouldn’t take anything in the world for my experience over there, I am an ex of Westminister. But I have 2 sons, and one of them lacked half a semester of finishing, and the other one lacked a year or 2. My other daughter lacked a year or 2, and she said what she was doing on the computer, she learned more than what they were teaching her, and she quit. But my youngest daughter went back to school and got her degree and her oldest daughter and her son are teaching and her youngest daughter is in college. I think if there is anything they need, besides going to church, it’s an education. I do think that our young people are missing out by not going to church, and I don’t wear mine on my sleeve, but when I was in the 3rd and 4th grade, I memorized a lot of bible verses, and it didn’t hurt me in life and it’s not going to hurt our kids if they learn. I just don’t understand where we are going to, I do think that it is just as important for our young people to go to church, and it’s just as important for them to get an education. To me, that’s the basic things they need in life.
Mr. Wilson: I agree with you. Just this morning, I had an interview with the District Judge P.K Reiter, and very well educated and very successful man, 2 careers, 1 in law and 1 in law of business and I asked him that question, and the first thing out of his mouth was “Get an education.” So, I’ve heard the same thing twice now, in the same day. Well folks, I sure appreciate this. I thank you for your time and this will be appreciated in years to come.
Mr. Waldrop: Well I don’t know if it was worth anything or not.
Mr. Wilson: Yes sir it is.
Mr. Waldrop: I skipped around, but I can remember how Prairie Hill was back when it was a booming town, and there was 3 or 4 grocery stores, 3 or 4 gas stations. Now we have a post office, which they are about to close, and we have one store down on 84 and one church, and when I was a kid, we had 3 churches, The Church of Christ, the Methodist, and the Baptist. Well the Church of Christ went out first and then the Methodist, we closed it, well I moved my membership from the Methodist church, to Coolidge, when we closed it. But we still have the Baptist church and we still have a very active cemetery committee and all at Coolidge and Prairie Hill and I was a chairman at the Prairie Hill cemetery for about 30 years and I got off 3 or 4 years ago. I’m still chairman of the Coolidge cemetery and I told them I wanted off last year, and they talked me into serving one more time and I can’t say no when they want me to do something. Funny thing is, I’m manager of the Prairie Hill water supply today, and I was the president of the organization when we organized it. I signed the first 40 year note from FHA to drill the first water well to put our water system in and thank goodness that note is already paid off, and I’m still managing the water system, it’s hard. The good lord had been good to me because out of the 5 of us that was on the first board, we have their names and all on the board still in the office, and out of all of us, I’m the only one that’s still alive. And all of the ones, I was the first president of the water system, we’ve had 4 or 5, other than Bruce Jordan, who is now the president, I think all the rest of them have passed on, so I was the first and I just kind of do the paperwork and get somebody to fix the leaks. I don’t do any of the manual work but I’m still the manager of it.
Mr. Wilson: Well, that Bruce Jordan is a friend of ours. He’s a nice guy isn’t he?
Mr. Waldrop: Yeah, he’s a jewel.
Mr. Wilson: Yeah, him and Linda? Linda is a fine person too.