Sunday, June 23, 2013

Don Meets Wenonah

Don’s last year at OU was hectic. He was working nights at Peppers, commuting to Norman during the days for his accounting classes, and spending what little time that was left to study.  

Don enjoyed the other guys he worked with at the plant. There was Charley Kopp, Tom Pierce, Bill Beebe and Bud Bickford. They did their best to make a dangerous, boring job bearable. They all teased Beebe about breaking glassware in the lab. It seemed that no matter how careful he was he’d drop a flask or pipette or something, and of course everything he broke came out of his pay check at the end of the month. Finally one day he got so disgusted with himself that he threw a monkey wrench on the floor. He didn’t break anything else that day, so the next day, first thing, he dropped the wrench again. Nothing was broken that day either, so it became a ritual. The first thing Beebe did each day was drop that wrench. He never broke another piece of glassware.  

Bud Bickford was from Oklahoma City and he lived with his parents. Bud’s folks were having a hard time, and Bud helped them as much as he could. After he got acquainted with Don, he invited him to share his room. It was a good deal for both of them. Bud made a little rent money for his parents and Don got a cheap room.   

Don and Bud became good friends. Bud had a degree in chemical engineering from OU, and he was the chemist at Peppers’ lab. He was smart and dissatisfied with his job at Peppers though, as was Don after he had worked there for a while. They spent their spare time trying to think of ways to get away from Peppers and make it big. One of their ideas came when they learned that oil had been found on the island of Aruba. They dreamed of buying a little land there and lying out on the beach while the oil flowed in. It’s just as well that they didn’t though. After the start of WWII Aruba was taken over by the Germans, who were also interested in the oil there. 

Bud had gone to high school in Oklahoma City, and he got together regularly with his classmates. Naturally he took Don along with him. One of the girls in Bud’s high school class was Jeannette Moore, whose mother had been my uncle Haskell’s secretary at the state capital. My mother Wenonah had become friends with Jeannette, so she met Don and Bud during one of their visits with Jeannette.

Wenonah had taken an education class at OU, and some of the OU football players were in it. They were rude and arrogant and definitely made a bad impression on her. It wasn’t long before Don found out what she thought of athletes - my mother was never shy about expressing her opinions, so he didn’t tell her that he had played basketball at OU.  

Peppers had a softball team and Don soon became their star player and coach. Wenonah told me once about going to one of his games. She said that it was as though she were watching a different person. Instead of the mild mannered, shy person she knew, he was aggressive, running around shouting instructions to the other players. He seemed to be making most of the scores too.  

I have a team photo of Don with Peppers’ soft ball team. It has always made me laugh. You can see patches of sweat on some of the other players’ tee shirts, but Don’s shirt is totally saturated.  

Peppers' Softball Team, League Champs, 1939

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Finding a Job

During Don’s senior year at OU he began to think about getting a job. His major up to that point had been office management, and after visiting a few businesses he discovered that no one was interested in hiring a fresh college graduate as a manager, regardless of his degree, so Don changed his major to accounting. He talked with his counselor and discovered that it would take him another year to get the required credits, and it wouldn’t be easy because the courses would all be upper division.  

Meanwhile Don was losing his roommate. His brother Boyd was graduating from law school and getting married to Eleanor Adderhold, the Kappa girl that Don had coached on how to use her elbows playing basketball. Boyd and Eleanor were going to New Orleans on their honeymoon and had invited Don to go along. It would be a nice break, but then Don would have to find a better job. He couldn’t support himself any longer by delivering laundry. There were no athletic scholarships in the ‘30’s.  

I know. It’s pretty funny that Boyd and Eleanor invited Don to go with them on their honeymoon, but that’s just what they did. When I asked Don why, he said, “ Well, it was a nice trip. I guess they just thought I should have a chance to go along too.”

Boyd and Eleanor in 1838

The next problem was finding a job. Up to that time playing basketball had taken a lot of Don’s time and energy, and he had also relied a lot on Boyd’s resourcefulness to support the two of them, but now Boyd had a wife to support so Don was on his own.  

It was hard for Don to find a job in Norman because of all the college students needing work. He had gone to Coach McDermott during the second semester of his senior year for help. The coach had cosigned a loan for him for $80. $30 for the second semester, and $50 for summer school. McDermott told Don that he would be retiring as basketball coach after the next season to take the job of athletic director, and then he might be able to offer Don a job on the basketball coaching staff, but at the time being there were no jobs open.  

Don’s father was also trying to get him a job, asking his customers if any of them were hiring. Grandfather’s shop was right off the town square, and every man in town got his hair cut there. They all knew Don too, if not from high school, at least from his years as a star at OU. Finally Grandfather found a man who agreed to talk to Don about a job. His name was Peppers.  

Mr. Peppers lived in Enid, but he owned a gasoline refinery in Oklahoma City. He told Grandfather to send Don over to talk with him. After Don talked with Peppers he was excited. He had been open about wanting to become an accountant, but Peppers told him that was no problem, that he would transfer him to his accounting department when he got his degree. 
So Don went to work in the plant. Here’s a picture of Don with Mr. Peppers at a softball game. I have a feeling that Peppers may have had the idea in the back of his mind that Don would be a good addition to the company softball team:


Don and C. C. Peppers, 1938

For the next year Don worked nights at Peppers' refinery in Oklahoma City, and then drove to Norman to go to school during the days. It was a grueling schedule. The work at Peppers was dangerous too. Don had to inspect and maintain the pipes which carried liquid and gaseous petroleum products. There could be an explosion at any time. He also had climb into the big oil tanks which were sometimes filled with deadly fumes.   

Don didn’t tell me about all the dangers of working at Peppers’ plant, but he did tell me about one terrifying experience he had there. He was working the night shift as usual and it was raining. The rain was coming down hard and it was difficult to see, but over the sound of the wind and thunder he could hear the roar of an engine, so he went out to investigate. It was a big oil tanker bringing in a load of oil to be refined.  

Don could tell that the tanker was going to have trouble because there was a power line that crossed the road about half way up the road to the plant. When the weather was good they would have a man climb up on the trucks to lift the wires up high enough to clear the tanks. It was dangerous work at any time but today on the wet slippery surface of the tanker it seemed like suicide, but the plant manager said they had to unload the oil that night, so one on the workers was chosen to climb up on the tank to lift the wires. Luckily it wasn’t Don.  

As Don watched, the man inched his way along the top of the truck, holding the power line up with a tree branch. Suddenly his feet slipped. He fell on the tanker, and as he did he lost his grip on the branch and the power line fell across his chest. There was a flash of light, and then the man slid off the truck to the ground, dead. Don had nightmares about it for years.

 Don at Peppers Refinery, 1938