Edwin Harold Johnson Oral History
Oral History Item Type Metadata
Churchill County Oral History Project
an interview with
EDWIN HAROLD JOHNSON
July 31, 1997
March 6, 1998
This interview was transcribed by Glenda Price; edited by Norma Morgan; final by Pat Boden; index by Gracie Viera; supervised by Myrl Nygren, Director of the Oral History Project, Churchill County Museum.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewer and interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Churchill County Museum or any of its employees.
Edwin Johnson's forte was rebuilding and repairing automobiles and other complicated machinery. Few people are born with this ability (which is the envy of the average automobile owner) and not only was Ed blessed with this mechanical mind, but he attended a noted diesel engineering school that furthered his abilities. His ownership of a local car dealership and his eventual role as parts manager for a large company attest to his deep interest in the American automobile.
Born the only son of middle-aged parents his creative ability was nurtured by both parents. His mother's religious nature prompted his elementary education to be in the only small private school in Fallon. His memorization skills were undoubtedly furthered there as his mind is extremely sharp. Years ago he memorized the lengthy rituals required by the Fraternal Order of Eagles and can still bring the rituals to mind when called upon to do so.
After retirement he rebuilt a small truck and fitted a new fifth-wheel trailer to it so he and Lois could travel around the United States seeing and visiting places that piqued their interest. Following ten years or more of travelling they returned to Fallon and settled in a nice apartment complex.
His diagnosis of heart problems and the onset of Parkinson's disease has slowed him down, but he still attends lunches at the Senior Center and never missing a social or meeting at the FOE hall--a building that he was instrumental in helping to build.
Interview with Edwin Harold Johnson
LaVOY: This is Marian Hennen LaVoy of the Churchill County Museum Oral History Project interviewing Edwin Harold Johnson at his home 1420 Grimes, apartment 18, on July 31, 1997. Well, good morning, Ed.
JOHNSON: Good morning.
LaVOY: Very happy to be here to record your history, and could you start telling me, first of all, something about your father? What was his name, and where was he born, et cetera?
JOHNSON: My father's name was Andrew Johnson. He was born in Sweden.
LaVOY: You know where?
JOHNSON: It's a town a few miles from Stockholm which was called Falun.
LaVOY: Oh! Very much like our own Fallon here.
LaVOY: And when was he born?
JOHNSON: He was born April 10, 1869.
LaVOY: And what prompted him to come to Nevada?
JOHNSON: His sister was married to a gentleman who opened the first lunch counter in Reno, and they wanted him to come out and help work in the lunch counter.
LaVOY: What was the name of the lunch counter? Do you remember?
JOHNSON: It was called the Washoe Lunch Counter.
LaVOY: And where was it located?
JOHNSON: On Commercial Row in Reno.
LaVOY: Oh, for heaven's sake. And, he came from Sweden to Reno. Did he live with those people in Reno?
JOHNSON: Temporarily he stayed at the hotel in Reno, but he didn't care for that. He quit his job with the restaurant and went to work for Ben Howard which had sheep.
LaVOY: Where were the sheep run?
JOHNSON: It was out in Washoe Valley where the ranch was, and they herd the sheep from that place up to Lake Tahoe. Lake Tahoe was very scarcely populated at that time. In fact, I think he and his friend, Dominique Laxalt, which was the father of Paul Laxalt, and they were about the only two people up there at the turn of the century.
LaVOY: Oh! Now, did your father live up there with the sheep?
JOHNSON: Yes, he had his own cart with him where he stayed and slept in it at night.
LaVOY: Did he ever say anything about being up there all by himself?
JOHNSON: Well, he enjoyed the scenery up there. He thought many a time that he should buy some property up there. But, like he said, "I was like a damn fool. I never did."
LaVOY: Well, that happened to many people. Did he ever speak about wild animals that harassed the sheep?
JOHNSON: No, he never said anything about that. He heard coyotes and so forth, but that was about all.
LaVOY: Then, how many years did he do that?
JOHNSON: He worked for Ben Howard for about eight years, and he heard about the Newlands Project being developed, so he decided he'd come to Fallon and find out what it was. He liked it very much. It was shortly after the Newlands Project was put into effect, and he bought a ranch which now is the Wildes District. It was seven miles and was the last ranch on the Wildes Road.
LaVOY: The last ranch on the right-hand side going east?
LaVOY: How many years did he live there?
JOHNSON: He lived there all his life. He bought the ranch there, and he talked many a time about using the team of horses and a tailboard and leveling the ground out there.
LaVOY: It was a lot of hard work. What crops did he raise?
JOHNSON: He raised alfalfa and wheat.
LaVOY: And did you have many animals on the place.
JOHNSON: Of course, he always had horses which you had to have for ranching and cows, and that was about all of the animals.
LaVOY: Well, now, tell me about your mother. What was her name, and where was she born?
JOHNSON: My mother [Rikka Dedriksen] was born [May 28, 1878] in Norway in a town, Tronheim, which is about, oh, I imagine, fourteen, fifteen miles from Oslo. Her brother [Charles Dedriksen] was a sailor, and after a few years of sailing, he decided he'd come to the United States. He came out to this area here in the early days. My mother left Norway and came to South Dakota where she worked for some people that she knew that asked her to come over to the United States from Norway.
LaVOY: What kind of work did she do?
JOHNSON: She did housework and other chores that go along with it.
LaVOY: What prompted her to come to Nevada?
JOHNSON: Her brother was here in Fallon, and so she decided to come out to Fallon to see him. When she got to Fallon, she stayed here and worked for several people as a housemaid.
LaVOY: Who? Do you remember?
JOHNSON: There's the Gus Hallgren Ranch and for some people in Harmon District, also, that my uncle stayed at. I don't remember their name now.
LaVOY: This Gus Hallgren Ranch, where was that?
JOHNSON: The ranch was about a mile and a half west of my dad's ranch. It was in the Wildes District.
LaVOY: Is that how she met your dad?
JOHNSON: Yes, she met my dad through the Gus Hallgren family, and they started going with each other, and I guess eventually fell in love and were married.
LaVOY: Where were they married?
JOHNSON: They were married on the Hallgren Ranch in 1915.
LaVOY: Were they married outside on the ranch?
JOHNSON: I have no idea how the ceremony was held or anything, but I believe it probably was outside.
LaVOY: And then she moved with your father to his ranch.
LaVOY: When were you born?
JOHNSON: I was born October 3, 1919, at my dad and mother's ranch.
LaVOY: Growing up on the ranch, tell me something about what were some of your chores there.
JOHNSON: Usually the chores on the ranch are feeding the cattle, horses, irrigating.
LaVOY: Did you have wood to chop, too?
JOHNSON: Yes, I chapped a lot of wood.
LaVOY: Inside the house, was it a wood burning stove?
JOHNSON: It was a wood burning stove. It was a Home Comfort. I remember the name of it real well.
LaVOY: Did you have running water in the house?
JOHNSON: No, we didn't have running water at first, but later on, I'm going to say five, six years after they were married, they built a pump house with a water tank on the top of it and laid a water line to the house, and we had cold running water. No warm water.
LaVOY: How did your mother heat the water?
JOHNSON: On the stove. The stove had a tank on the side of it, and from there we took the water for use in bathing and taking care of the necessary cleaning of dishes and so forth.
LaVOY: I imagine that you did not have indoor plumbing?
JOHNSON: No, we didn't have indoor plumbing. That was one of the luxuries that we didn't have.
LaVOY: But, you had a friendly two holer, one holer?
JOHNSON: Well, I remember it was a three holer.
LaVOY: Oh, well, that was very fancy. Very fancy.
JOHNSON: (laughing) First class.
LaVOY: When you're speaking about hot water being heated on the stove there, as a little boy, do you remember, how did you bathe?
JOHNSON: It was a tub.
LaVOY: A round washtub.
JOHNSON: A round washtub which I bathed in, and when I got through bathing, my dad would bathe.
LaVOY: Well, that was using the water very judiciously. JOHNSON: Right. Right.
LaVOY: And where was the water dumped?
JOHNSON: We had a cistern in the backyard, and the water went from the sink down through the sewer into the cistern.
LaVOY: Oh. Did you use any of the products like we have today to keep the cistern from overflowing?
JOHNSON: I don't recall what they used or anything, but I know that once in a while it'd get full. They'd pour this stuff in the pipes, down the sewer to try and clean up the place.
LaVOY: Did you have a vegetable garden that you were responsible for as a little boy?
JOHNSON: No, that's one thing my dad didn't have was a vegetable garden. He grew corn once and decided that was too much to do, so my job was more or less taking care of the farm animals. Feeding them, making sure that everything was right with them.
LaVOY: As a little boy did you get to go to many picnics or outings?
JOHNSON: In the Wildes District we had what we called neighborhood parties. Once a month one of the friends in the neighborhood would have a party, and everybody would get together. The parents would be in the house talking, of course, and us kids we'd be out in the yard playing games.
LaVOY: Did everybody bring food?
JOHNSON: Yeah, they brought food, and about eight o'clock at night we'd all get together and eat.
LaVOY: Did you eat outside under the trees?
JOHNSON: No, we all ate in the house, if I remember right. At my home, anyhow. I don't recall exactly.
LaVOY: Who were some of the friends that you played games with when you were outside?
JOHNSON: Well, there was the Swanson girls, Ruth and Ella, the Schneiders which was Mary Ellyn, Lyda, Bill and Bob.
LaVOY: Oh, they were about your age?
JOHNSON: Two girls were older than me, and the youngest girl was the youngest, and the two boys were in between.
LaVOY: Oh, well, that's such a wonderful thing to have the families getting together like that.
JOHNSON: I remember us playing games in the yard. We'd play Run Sheep Run, Two Deep, and Hide-and-Go-Seek, of course, and a few other games.
LaVOY: Oh, that's great. By the time that you were six or seven, you must have started school, and where did you start school?
JOHNSON: My mother was a very religious person, so she wanted me to go to the Seventh Day Adventist school where they taught the Bible, of course, along with all the other educational subjects.
LaVOY: Where was the Seventh Day Adventist school at that time?
JOHNSON: The Seventh Day Adventist school was on the south side of Fallon on a sand hill.
LaVOY: Who had built the church and school?
JOHNSON: Well, I guess the Seventh Day Adventist gentlemen built the school because it was about four or five years old when I started going.
LaVOY: Who was the minister when you were going, or do you remember?
JOHNSON: I don't recall the minister at all, but I remember one of my teachers.
LaVOY: Tell me something about the school. Was it a one-room? Describe the school for me.
JOHNSON: The school was a three-room. The first, second, and third grades were in one room, and then from there on up to the eighth grade was in another room. The third room was a room where they had their church services.
LaVOY: Oh. Who was your teacher that you remember?
JOHNSON: One teacher that I do remember is Vivian McCart who has lived here since she quit teaching school.
LaVOY: Didn't she play the piano, too?
JOHNSON: Oh, yes, she played the piano. That's one thing that I remember in school. She always played the piano at one period in school, and all of us would be singing with her.
LaVOY: That's wonderful. While you were going to the school there, what were some of the subjects that you had to learn?
JOHNSON: The normal subjects. There was reading, writing, and 'rithmetic, and, of course, we had our Bible studies, also.
LaVOY: Did Mrs. McCart teach those, too?
JOHNSON: Yes. It was just like a country school where the teacher took care of all the classes and all the different subjects.
LaVOY: Was she the only teacher that was in the school when you were going?
JOHNSON: No. Of course, like I said, the two rooms were the first to third grades which was by one teacher, and the other teacher would take the other ones in the other room.
LaVOY: I understand that you were an active member of 4-H. Was that through the school, or was that through your family?
JOHNSON: No, it was through my family that I was 4-H. I remember raising sheep and cattle, and one time I won a second prize, and I thought that was really an achievement.
LaVOY: Well, I think it was myself. Where did you show your sheep and your cattle?
JOHNSON: At the old fairgrounds in Fallon.
LaVOY: Where was that?
JOHNSON: It was on Williams Avenue where the Wal-Mart is now. [920 West Williams Avenue]
LaVOY: Was it a nice fairgrounds?
JOHNSON: It was for the period that things were held there. They had a building in which the ladies had all their displays of cooking and clothing and so forth.
LaVOY: Do you remember them putting up a straw house or a bale house or something?
JOHNSON: Oh, yeah, every year we built a house out of baled hay, and it stood there for quite a while afterward before they'd finally take it down.
LaVOY: How did they get the hay brought in? Did they buy it or was it donated?
JOHNSON: It was probably donated as far as I know. I didn't know too much about that. All I remember was the house built of hay bales.
LaVOY: What all did they have in that hay bale house?
JOHNSON: I don't recall.
LaVOY: And then the farmer would come and take the bales back to his ranch?
LaVOY: Oh, that was wonderful. Did they have horse racing and things like that at the fair?
JOHNSON: Not that I can recall horse racing. Mostly just the displays of the cattle and the . .
LaVOY: Which impressed you the most of all the displays?
JOHNSON: Well, I guess, probably what I would say is the clothing display.
LaVOY: Did your mother ever enter anything?
JOHNSON: She entered once and that was all.
LaVOY: Did she win anything?
JOHNSON: No, she didn't win anything.
LaVOY: I believe that you told me you went to seventh grade at the Seventh Day Adventist school.
LaVOY: Where did you go after that?
JOHNSON: I went to Oats Park School and finished my grammar school there.
LaVOY: Do you remember graduation?
JOHNSON: Oh, do I remember graduation!
LaVOY: Well, let's hear about it.
JOHNSON: (laughing) We graduated from grammar school, they put on a play, and it was supposed to be a Chinese play, and I was a little Chinese boy.
LaVOY: Do you remember your lines?
JOHNSON: No, I didn't have any lines to say. All I did was walk around the stage.
LaVOY: Who was the teacher that put that on?
JOHNSON: I would say it was Laura Mills.
LaVOY: Oh. Then, did you have to march up and receive your diplomas?
JOHNSON: Yes. I remember getting that.
LaVOY: Who were some of the people that were in your class at that time that graduated with you?
JOHNSON: Let's see, there was Arthur Mathewson which he is now deceased, and one of the Schneider girls was also, and Ella Swanson was the other one.
LaVOY: There were very few of you.
JOHNSON: Wasn't too many. Not too big a class at those times. That was way back in 1934.
LaVOY: Well, I know some of the other people that I've interviewed mentioned that the chairs were very rough that they had to sit on.
JOHNSON: (laughing) Yeah, that's for sure. Wasn't too comfortable.
LaVOY: Who gave the address, do you remember?
JOHNSON: No, I don't remember now. I think it was one of the elected officials from Fallon that did the address.
LaVOY: Then, you went on into high school.
LaVOY: When you were in high school, what did you excel in?
JOHNSON: Well, I didn't excel in too much. I know I did a lot of homework, and I think my favorite subject, probably, was English.
LaVOY: Since you had gone from a private school to high school, did you feel that you were advanced over the other kids in high school?
JOHNSON: No, I just feel I was equal to them.
LaVOY: Equal to them. Many times from private schools, you are a bit advanced when you go into the high school.
JOHNSON: That's how I felt.
LaVOY: Did you take up sports of any type in high school?
JOHNSON: No, I didn't take up sports far as high school activities was concerned. At noon hour, I remember us fellows used to play on the basketball court.
LaVOY: Who were some of your friends that you remember from high school?
JOHNSON: My friends and classmates was Bill Schneider, Bob Schneider, Art Mathewson, Bill Mathewson, and Lawrence Faupel. Bill Snyder was killed during World War II.
LaVOY: Oh. When you were in high school, did you have to go home and do chores at home, or were you able to stay in town and visit with your friends?
JOHNSON: No, right after school was out, I got on the school bus and went home and did my chores.
LaVOY: Who was the driver of your school bus, do you remember?
JOHNSON: Oh, do I remember! Dick Whisenhunt was his name.
LaVOY: Was he a tough driver?
JOHNSON: He was a good driver and, of course, he kept us kids in order. Eventually, I had his experience by being a school bus driver myself in 1938.
LaVOY: You were pretty young driving the school bus.
JOHNSON: I was a senior in high school, and, of course, at that time there was no driver's license or anything required. As long as you passed the driver's test, you were qualified to drive the school bus.
LaVOY: Did you keep the school bus at your home?
JOHNSON: At my home. Yes, I kept it there. And I recall a lot of times in the wintertime, it'd be hard gettin' the bus started. I'd have to pour hot water on the manifold to get it started.
LaVOY: (laughing) What was the route that you drove?
JOHNSON: The route that I drove was mostly the Wildes District road. There was one little detour we used to go around the Schneider and Couch and over to McCarts and back to the Wildes Road again. There was nothing but dirt roads and muddy roads. I recall one time I couldn't get through the snowdrifts by going forward, so I backed up. Got the bus turned around and drove a half a mile backwards with chains on the tires, of course, to get to a place where I could drive into town. And when I got into town, it was ten o'clock in the morning.
LaVOY: But nobody chided you because that was very inventive driving backwards.
JOHNSON: (laughing) But I made it.
LaVOY: Did you have a lot of problems with the kids on the school bus when you were driving?
JOHNSON: Not too much, no. They were all pretty well behaved. I remember one kid who was kind of always into mischief of some kind, but I kicked him off the bus and made him walk home a couple of times, and he behaved after that.
LaVOY: Do you care to say who it was?
JOHNSON: His name was John Degenar, and I don't know where he is now, but he was a mischievous one.
LaVOY: Well, I can understand that because the way they are now is unbelievable. But you can't chide them now.
LaVOY: In high school, you said your favorite subject was English. Did you go to any of the high school dances?
JOHNSON: Yes, I went to the high school dances, and, of course, being a young boy, I was bashful. I had to get up the courage to ask a girl to dance even, but I finally did it, and that's where I learned to dance, and I've enjoyed dancing since.
LaVOY: Oh, that's great. What girl taught you to dance?
JOHNSON: I don't recall.
LaVOY: You just picked it up by dancing with a lot of them.
LaVOY: Who was the principal of your high school?
JOHNSON: George McCracken.
LaVOY: What did you think about George?
JOHNSON: I had a lot of respect for the man. He was a very strict person, and he was more or less condemned by the kids being that way, but I think, all in all, it paid off.
LaVOY: Was he the principal all four years that you were in high school?
JOHNSON: Yes, he was.
LaVOY: Tell me about high school graduation. What year did you graduate?
JOHNSON: I graduated in 1938, and I do not recall very much of it at all, except getting my diploma. I thought that was really something to be getting a certificate.
LaVOY: And your folks were at the graduation?
JOHNSON: Oh, yes, of course.
LaVOY: Very proud of you. After graduation did you all go out partying, or did you go home and have a get-together with your family?
JOHNSON: After graduation I went home with my folks, and we had a little party at my home. That's all I had as far as graduation was concerned.
LaVOY: After graduation was over you were facing the big wild world, and what did you do next? Did you go on to school, or did you take a job?
JOHNSON: After I graduated I went through diesel engineering school in Seattle, Washington, for one year.
LaVOY: How did you react to Seattle after being in a little town like Fallon?
JOHNSON: I was almost lost.
LaVOY: Where did you stay?
JOHNSON: I stayed in a rooming house. My mother went with me to Seattle where she wanted to find one of her old friends from Norway, and we located them, and that's where we stayed.
LaVOY: How far was that from the diesel school?
JOHNSON: If I remember right it was about three or four miles.
LaVOY: Did you walk or ride the bus to school?
JOHNSON: I rode the bus.
LaVOY: Tell me something about the diesel school. What they taught there.
JOHNSON: They taught everything about diesel engines including the small truck engines clear up to the industrial big ones.
LaVOY: Had you always been interested in mechanics?
JOHNSON: I've always been very much mechanically minded. I recall one time on the ranch my dad had a 1924 Nash, and he bought another car. I made a tractor out of the old four cylinder Nash. I cut hay and used the side delivery rake to rake up the hay afterwards with my tractor. I did that on my dad's ranch and three other ranches in the neighborhood.
LaVOY: About how old were you then?
JOHNSON: I was probably around fifteen, sixteen years old.
LaVOY: And you had the ingenuity to turn that old truck into a tractor.
JOHNSON: Right. I remember taking a hacksaw and cutting the frame shorter so I could make the tractor shorter so it could make sharper turns. Had to put a Model T Ford truck Ruckstell rear end underneath the rear part of the engine of the truck.
LaVOY: Now, cutting a car up with a hacksaw must have taken a lot of energy.
JOHNSON: Oh, I don't know. I just took my time.
LaVOY: How long do you think it took you to do this? To me that sounds very, very overpowering.
JOHNSON: (laughing) I think it took me two or three months to get the thing done the way I wanted it, and, of course, I was very short on the tools and equipment to do it. I had to take some stuff in to get the machine shop in town to make necessary parts that I wanted done.
LaVOY: What machine shop did you take it to?
JOHNSON: I don't recall now. I think it was Cye Cox.
LaVOY: Oh. You spent one year up in Seattle?
JOHNSON: Yeah, 1939.
LaVOY: And then you returned to Fallon, or where?
JOHNSON: I came back to Fallon and didn't see much prospects for work there, so I went to Reno. Went to work for Nevada Transit [Company] which was a big diesel repair shop in Reno. I worked there for two years.
LaVOY: What wages did you get at that time?
JOHNSON: A dollar and a half an hour or something like that. I don't remember. Maybe it was less than that.
LaVOY: What kind of rigs did you work on?
JOHNSON: The rigs that I worked on were the trucks that hauled stuff over the Sierras.
LaVOY: In other words, big trucking companies.
JOHNSON: Right. Right. Consolidated Freight Lines was one of them I recall. Nevada Transit and, also, Pacific Motor Transport which is called PMT.
LaVOY: Did you get to ride on any of those big trucks, or did you just do the repair work on them?
JOHNSON: No. I recall they had the old working gear drive differentials in them, and going up Donner Summit, they'd lose the rear ends out of those trucks quite often. I remember we'd have to go up on the hill and change the differentials on them on the hill. [end of tape 1 side A] In changing the differentials, of course, there was two or us that went up on the hill to do it. The fellow that I was with and was my teacher in diesel mechanics, he would change the differentials and then we'd go back to Reno and go to work in the shop.
LaVOY: Do you remember what the man's name was?
JOHNSON: His name was Verr Bachelor, I recall that. And mother had an incident, that I recall, with him.
LaVOY: And what was that?
JOHNSON: I don’t recall now exactly what it was.
LaVOY: You worked there for two years. Then what happened?
JOHNSON: Well, working out in the cold and dirty trucks, I decided I wanted to be doing something else, so I went to work for Walker-Dahl Pontiac in Reno in 1941.
LaVOY: And how long did you work there?
JOHNSON: They were the Pontiac dealership. I worked with them.
LaVOY: Where was that located?
JOHNSON: It was on Ryland Street in Reno.
LaVOY: And what did you do for them?
JOHNSON: I worked on automobiles. Valve jobs, overhauls, and things like that.
LaVOY: Where did you live in Reno?
JOHNSON: I lived at 1048 Sierra Street. I remember that very well. I stayed with Mrs. Erickson and her daughter, Florence Erickson and Elmer Erickson.
LaVOY: Was that the Elmer Erickson that is out here?
JOHNSON: That was the same Elmer Erickson.
LaVOY: Did you get to Fallon very often, or did you spend most of your time in Reno?
JOHNSON: Every other week Elmer and I would go in his old Model T, passenger car, and go to Fallon. I recall driving on those old roads in that Model T.
LaVOY: Did you hit a lot of mud driving to Fallon?
JOHNSON: No, we didn't go too often in the winter time. Summer time is when we went to Fallon. I recall that one time we skidded when it was icy, but fortunate enough we didn't do any damage.
LaVOY: Well, I understand that the road from Hazen to Fallon was when it got wet was just like an ice rink.
JOHNSON: It was quite touchy to go on it all right, but we managed to do pretty well. Elmer's a good driver.
LaVOY: Was there any particular friend that you had in Reno when you were working there?
JOHNSON: Elmer and I, of course, used to go together out and around Reno. I recall when Tony's El Patio Ballroom was open, he and I would go to the dances there on Saturday night.
LaVOY: Oh, and swing and sweat with Tony Pachett.
LaVOY: What were some of the big bands that came there that you remember?
JOHNSON: Oh, golly. They were there all right. I remember them. I think Charlie Barnett was the one I remember mostly.
LaVOY: Did you take girls, or did you just dance with girls that were there?
JOHNSON: We danced with the girls that were there. Once in a while we'd take one home.
LaVOY: Well, you were a busy young man. What prompted you to leave there?
JOHNSON: In 1941 was Pearl Harbor, so in 1942 I enlisted in the Army Air Corps.
LaVOY: Did you enlist from Fallon or from Reno?
JOHNSON: I enlisted in Reno.
LaVOY: What did your parents have to say about that?
JOHNSON: They didn't think too much of it, but the draft board was after me anyhow, so I thought I'd beat them to it, and I'd get what I wanted. So after I enlisted in the Air Corps, I went to Wichita Falls, Texas, where I went through airplane mechanics school.
LaVOY: That must have been very interesting.
JOHNSON: It was interesting, I'll tell you. Of course, it was long ago, and the airplane mechanics school was learning a basic training and all their military rules and regulations which most all the fellows experienced at that time.
LaVOY: You actually worked on what type of planes?
JOHNSON: After I graduated from the mechanics school I was shipped to Santa Monica, California, where I went to Douglas aircraft school and went all through on the construction and test flights of the airplanes.
LaVOY: These were at the Douglas Aircraft?
JOHNSON: Right. Douglas A-20s was what they were building there. Then after I graduated from the Douglas aircraft school, I was shipped to Selfridge Field, Michigan. That was in the middle of December coming from Santa Monica, California, to Selfridge Field, Michigan, which is right next to Detroit, and it was a cold winter. I remember riding in the coach of the train that came from Chicago to Detroit that had a pot belly stove in it for heating. Of course, after I got to Selfridge, there were six Johnsons and one Jones that was in the shipment.
LaVOY: Oh, my goodness.
JOHNSON: We threw the base into confusion.
LaVOY: I imagine you did. What did they call you?
JOHNSON: They called me Swede.
LaVOY: So, you knew from the other five that you were Swede. What were some of the names of the other guys?
JOHNSON: There was Jack Johnson and Sy Johnson, Jerald Johnson, and poor Charlie Jones. He was by himself all the time when there was roll call. Roll call in the mornings, about three of us Johnsons would go out, and poor Jones he had to go every morning while the rest of us would sleep in once in a while and not answer roll call.
LaVOY: (laughing) Oh, in other words, somebody would answer for you in roll call.
LaVOY: Well, that was being kind of sneaky, wasn't it? (laughing)
JOHNSON: (laughing) We didn't get away with it for long though
LaVOY: They finally got your faces put with your names.
JOHNSON: Well, they assigned us each to different squadrons.
LaVOY: What squadron did you go to?
JOHNSON: It was the 4th Selfridge Field Air Base Squadron. I was assigned to the flight line out there, and I was fortunate enough to be assigned as crew chief for the commanding officer's airplane.
LaVOY: What type of a plane was it?
JOHNSON: It was called a UC-78. I remember that very well.
LaVOY: And you kept that in tip-top shape.
JOHNSON: I'd better or else I wouldn't have a job.
LaVOY: (laughing) How long did you stay there?
JOHNSON: I stayed at Selfridge Field for two and a half years. It was there when I met my first wife. She was working in Detroit in the factories which all the ladies were at that time. She stayed with her sister in Detroit.
LaVOY: Was she a Rosie the Riveter? That type of work?
JOHNSON: That type of work, I guess.
LaVOY: Oh, my. What was her name?
JOHNSON: Her name was Phyllis Huber.
LaVOY: And where was she born?
JOHNSON: She was born in St. Boniface, Pennsylvania.
LaVOY: Having been born in Pennsylvania, what was she doing up in Michigan?
JOHNSON: Well, she was helping in the factory work, which all of the women were doing at that time during the War. She worked in an assembly plant, and what she assembled I do not know.
LaVOY: With dating and whatnot, did they have the blackouts in that area?
JOHNSON: No, they didn't. Not in Detroit, no.
LaVOY: That's amazing. Where did you go? Dancing or what?
JOHNSON: Yeah, we went to the clubs in Detroit and went dancing. I recall the servicemen traveled free on all the streetcars in Detroit. So, many a time I just went riding on the streetcars in Detroit and traveled all around the town that way.
LaVOY: To see what it looked like.
LaVOY: Was there anything in particular that impressed you at that time?
JOHNSON: I guess what impressed me most was downtown where the center of town was. Detroit was kind of set out like a wheel, and the center of town was the hub of the wheel. There was one club down there I used to go to quite often. I and my Air Force buddies.
LaVOY: What was the name of it, do you remember?
JOHNSON: I don't recall now.
LaVOY: What all did you do at the club?
JOHNSON: Well, like everybody else, we drank. (laughing)
LaVOY: Oh, I see.
JOHNSON: And danced.
LaVOY: When you left that area, where were you transferred to?
JOHNSON: After two and a half years there at Selfridge, I was transferred to Langley Field, Virginia, where I was assigned to a B-24 squadron. I learned to be a crew chief and flight engineer on a B-24.
LaVOY: That's very impressive, Eddie. Did you enjoy Langley?
JOHNSON: Very much so.
LaVOY: Tell me something about the field.
JOHNSON: The field itself was right on the ocean front. It was quite a large base because of the size of airplanes that were flying there. Of course, we'd get there every morning and get lined up on the runway for taking off for flights, and we were teaching navigators and bombardiers at the time.
LaVOY: Do you remember anybody in particular that were flying the planes that you were impressed with?
JOHNSON: No. The only thing I remember was the pilot of the airplane of mine. He was a first lieutenant, but he was very congenial and very thoughtful.
LaVOY: Did your girlfriend come down to visit you?
JOHNSON: My girlfriend which I met in Detroit, and, of course, while I was in Detroit and attending Selfridge we got to know each other real well. I know we fell in love, so, anyway, she came down with her mother to visit me in Langley Field, Virginia, and stayed there for a week. She went back to Detroit, and we missed each other real lots, so we decided we'd get married. It was getting close to the end of the War anyhow. Germany had given up, and we only had Japan left. So, we decided to get married. We got married in the base chapel in Langley Field, Virginia. [June 28, 1945]
LaVOY: Did you wear your uniform?
JOHNSON: I was in uniform.
LaVOY: And what did she wear?
JOHNSON: She had a very nice wedding gown.
LaVOY: Her family came from Detroit?
JOHNSON: Her family was her mother. Her sister couldn't come down. She couldn't get time off. Then I had one of my Air Force buddies act as best man.
LaVOY: Do you remember what his name was?
JOHNSON: No, I don't recall now.
LaVOY: Where did you honeymoon?
JOHNSON: We honeymooned in Langley, Virginia.
LaVOY: In the town?
LaVOY: Oh, that's great. Did she go to work when she came to Virginia, or did she just stay as a new bride?
JOHNSON: She just stayed as a new bride. We stayed at a housing project that the Air Force had there for the enlisted men, and we got very lucky to get into housing there. If I remember right, I think we paid twenty dollars a month rent.
LaVOY: Were your parents pleased that you had married someone from back east?
JOHNSON: I don't know if they were exactly pleased, but I guess they took it for granted or assumed that I had gotten myself a real nice girl which I had.
LaVOY: I believe you mentioned to me that your wife had a small son?
LaVOY: Did he come to join you, or did he stay with his grandmother?
JOHNSON: Yes, he came to join us after we were married for about three or four months.
LaVOY: What was his name?
JOHNSON: His name was Gary, and I adopted him.
LaVOY: Did you adopt him in Virginia or in Nevada?
JOHNSON: In Virginia.
LaVOY: How old was he?
JOHNSON: I would say he was about seven or eight years old. Then we stayed in Virginia there. The War was over, and I got discharged on November 30, 1945. I'd bought myself an old 1936 Pontiac while I was in Michigan, and I had that car with me at Langley Field. And we loaded the car up and went to Pennsylvania in my wife’s home of St. Boniface where we stayed. We stayed there for the winter of 1945 and 1946, and in 1946 that we loaded everything in the car including Gary and headed for Fallon.
LaVOY: At that time, were you able to get tires for the car and gasoline? Had rationing completely stopped by that time?
JOHNSON: Rationing hadn't completely stopped, but military personnel had priorities at the time. We could get coupons for tires if we needed them. We had to get the tires checked on the cars before we could purchase them and have a person authorize the purchase of tires. I was very fortunate. I got four new tires, and from Langley Field we drove on to St. Boniface, Pennsylvania, which was Phyllis' home, and when we got there we decided we'd stay there for the winter of 1945 and 1946. I went to work in a shop as a mechanic in Hastings, Pennsylvania, which is only about fourteen miles from St. Boniface. We stayed there for that winter, and I think it was March 1946 that we loaded everything in the car including Gary and headed for Fallon.
LaVOY: Did you have anything interesting happen to you enroute?
JOHNSON: No, we were very fortunate. The car gave us no problem at all or anything. We got on through, and I recall when we got into Ely, Nevada, I was home.
LaVOY: Saw the sagebrush.
LaVOY: Traveling across country at that time, there were very, very few motels. Did you end up staying more in hotels than motels?
JOHNSON: It was about fifty-fifty. Most of the time we tried to get into motels, but, of course, being a shortage of them, so we'd get a hotel. We had no problem of finding a place to stay.
LaVOY: That's good. When you got to Ely, how did she react to seeing the Nevada desert?
JOHNSON: Well, she never realized that a country could be so barren and still have people in it. Of course, she was lonesome for home already, I guess, like any person would be. But Gary was sitting in the back seat, and he got tired of traveling, so he'd read nothing but funny books. Of course, that was about the time, right after the War, that funny books came out, and he had a whole stack of them in the back of the car which he was reading. We got to Fallon, and I pulled into the ranch, and my mother and dad were there to greet us, of course, and I recall that my mother really accepted Phyllis as her daughter-in-law. This was the spring of 1946, and the town of Fallon was still a small sleepy town at that time, so I thought I'd go to find a job as a mechanic in Fallon. I had no problem at all. I went to work for Stewart Pontiac.
LaVOY: Did you live with your family for a while, or did you find a house right away?
JOHNSON: I found a house right away. They had a housing project called Walker Villa which was on North Taylor Street, and we got moved in there, and I went to work for Roy Stewart at Stewart Pontiac. Of course, that was just right after the War was over, and there was a shortage of cars and people were coming into the shop to place orders for automobiles. Of course, we didn't get too many of them, but Roy got two cars. The two cars that he got were sold, but the person that wanted the second car--the car didn't have a heater in it, so he decided he didn't want the car.
LaVOY: Who bought that first car? Do you remember?
JOHNSON: I don't recall, but I think it was Clint Ogden. So, anyway, I bought the 1946 Pontiac. The second car that came to Fallon, I had it.
LaVOY: Well, great for you!
JOHNSON: There was no heater, of course. Anyway, it was the spring of the year, so we got through the summer all right, and during the summer I got a heater and put in the car, so we didn't have any problems for the following winter. I worked for Roy Stewart for about two years. Being ambitious I wanted to advance myself a little faster than normal and I heard that Don Cooper and Lyle Beeghly were opening up a shop and having a dealership there of Oldsmobiles, so I went to work for them working on the Oldsmobile dealership.
LaVOY: What was the name of their little enterprise?
JOHNSON: Churchill Motors.
LaVOY: So, you worked for them how long?
JOHNSON: I worked for them till 1953. The business had really blossomed into pretty good-sized shop, and Don Cooper and Lyle decided they wanted to get out of the dealership so they offered it to me. I decided after much thinking and talking with my wife about it that I should buy the business, but, of course, finances and things like that retarded the purchase of the business. So, a fellow came in and wanted to go into partnership with me. So, I went into partnership and that's how we got the Oldsmobile dealership.
LaVOY: What was his name?
JOHNSON: His name was Jerald Roth.
LaVOY: Just out of curiosity, approximately, what was the cost of a dealership?
JOHNSON: I would say a person would have to have pretty close between five and eight thousand dollars which wasn't too much money.
LaVOY: It doesn't seem like it now, but then it was.
JOHNSON: It was quite a bit of money. We hocked everything. Already had a mortgage on my house, and I got a second mortgage, and I guess Jerry did the same thing, and we got enough money to buy the dealership.
LaVOY: Where was this dealership?
JOHNSON: It was at 80 West Richards which is right in back of the old J.C. Penney store.
LaVOY: How large a complex was it?
JOHNSON: I believe the building itself was about 120 square feet if I remember right. There was room enough for five automobiles in the dealership plus the showroom which put the new cars in there.
LaVOY: Did you have a lot of sales of your new cars?
JOHNSON: Oh, got the dealership in 1953, there was still quite a demand for new cars. Not as much as there was before. You had to bargain to make a sale of the cars that they wanted. Being a small dealership only had one car on display, and usually the cars the people wanted, I didn't have, so I'd have to order the car, and they'd have to wait six to eight weeks before they'd get the car.
LaVOY: Who were some of your clients that bought cars from you?
JOHNSON: Jack O'Connor was one that I remember. He was the manager of J.C. Penney. Clint Ogden, he bought another one. I don't remember too many of the people that did buy cars from me.
LaVOY: Did you have a lot of repair work to do?
JOHNSON: All kinds of repair work. The way and my partner and I worked it out was that he would do the repair work back in the shop, and I would take care of car sales.
LaVOY: Well, I imagine you didn't like that very well with being such a good mechanic yourself.
JOHNSON: Well, at least I had clean hands.
JOHNSON: It wasn't every day that we had persons coming in to buy new cars. We were lucky if we got two or three sales a month.
LaVOY: Out of a car selling for, say, five or eight thousand dollars, what percentage did you get from that?
JOHNSON: The markup normally was between fifteen to twenty-five percent. You weren't obligated by the company to use a certain percentage to raise the price of your cars from dealer costs to resale. That was for us to determine ourselves.
LaVOY: How many years did you stay in this business?
JOHNSON: I stayed in it until 1961.
LaVOY: Why did you give it up?
JOHNSON: At that time I decided I didn't want to be in the dealership anymore due to the internal affairs of the business, so I sold out.
LaVOY: Who did you sell to?
JOHNSON: I sold to Keith Jacobsen.
LaVOY: And then what did you do?
JOHNSON: I went to work for Jim Shyne Motors as parts manager. That was in the original building that Stewart Pontiac had. Jim Shyne Motors didn't last too long, and then it was Osborne Motors. I was parts manager at that time till I retired.
LaVOY: What does a parts manager do?
JOHNSON: He has charge of all the parts that they have in inventory at the business. It's up to him to keep on order all the parts that are necessary for filling the orders of parts that people wanted.
LaVOY: How did you keep track of the parts that people wanted and the parts that you had on hand?
JOHNSON: You had a carded index that showed what you had on hand. People ordering parts, all they had to do was come in and place the order with me and I would order it. I would normally order it twice a month.
LaVOY: Who did you order from?
JOHNSON: General Motors parts division.
LaVOY: Back East?
JOHNSON: No. Down in Oakland, California, at that time. Of course, they've moved to Reno, as you know, now. That's all it was, was taking care of the parts. Even the inventory I tried to keep it in a balanced condition.
LaVOY: It seems to me that that would have been a very trying job trying to keep track of everything and keeping people happy that had ordered.
JOHNSON: It was. I was glad when I retired that I got out of it.
LaVOY: Were there any people that gave you trouble when you ordered for them?
JOHNSON: There'd be people that'd give me a bad time when I had stuff on what they called back order. I couldn't get the parts that they needed, so what they'd do instead of coming in and cancelling the order with me, they'd go to Reno and buy it, and I'd be stuck with the parts that they ordered.
LaVOY: Oh, my goodness. This Osborne Motors, you said Shyne became Osborne?
LaVOY: What was Mr. Shyne's name?
JOHNSON: Jim Shyne.
LaVOY: And then he sold it to .
JOHNSON: Gary Osborne.
LaVOY: And is that business still going now?
LaVOY: When did they close?
JOHNSON: I don't recall when they closed or anything now, but Osborne Motors--Jim Allison took over the dealership and worked it for a while, but eventually it all closed down. [End of Tape 1]
LaVOY: That was many years after you had retired from it. Something that I didn't bring up. Did you and your wife ever have any children together?
JOHNSON: Yes, we did. We had one daughter called Nadine.
LaVOY: And when was she born?
JOHNSON: She was born June 14, 1947.
LaVOY: She was born here in Fallon?
JOHNSON: She was born here in Fallon.
LaVOY: At what hospital?
JOHNSON: One of the old hospitals out on Auction Road which Doctor Wray had. It was close to those apartments that used to be the old Eagles Hall. There used to be a hospital right across the fence from them.
LaVOY: Oh, close to where the Stockman's [Casino] is now.
JOHNSON: Right. Right.
LaVOY: And what doctor delivered her, do you remember?
JOHNSON: Doctor Wray.
LaVOY: Then she started school and went all through school here?
LaVOY: Both she and Gary went to school here.
LaVOY: Where is Gary now?
JOHNSON: Gary's here. He's retired from the telephone company.
LaVOY: And Nadine?
JOHNSON: Nadine is in Palm Desert, California. [Nadine Johnson Sanders]
LaVOY: Does she have children?
JOHNSON: She has two boys. Tom and Dennis, and they both live in Reno.
LaVOY: And does your son have children?
JOHNSON: He has a daughter, Tanya Plummer, and step-daughter, Julie.
LaVOY: Both live here?
LaVOY: Getting back to your retiring, after you retired, were you active with any organizations?
JOHNSON: Yes, I was. I joined the Fraternal Order of Eagles in 1947.
LaVOY: Oh, that was shortly after you had gotten back here.
JOHNSON: That's right.
LaVOY: Who had asked you to join?
JOHNSON: John Rebol.
LaVOY: Tell me something about your lifetime of Eagle service.
JOHNSON: After I joined in 1947 I got on the drill team, and we went to different lodges throughout the state and put on initiatory ceremonies. In 1953 I was elected president for the first time. I was president four times after that. I was state president in 1961-62.
LaVOY: Now, as state president, you had to go all over the state and visit the different areas.
LaVOY: That wouldn't be Aeries. Aeries is the ladies, isn't it?
JOHNSON: No, Aeries is the men. Auxiliary is the ladies. I attended several national conventions.
LaVOY: Where did you go for national conventions?
JOHNSON: Went to Boston, went to Kansas City, went to Minnesota, and Denver.
LaVOY: Are you still active in Eagles?
JOHNSON: I'm still active. I became state secretary of Eagles, and I was state secretary for nine years.
LaVOY: My, goodness, you must have done a good job to hold it that long.
JOHNSON: A state secretary is more or less a permanent job, as long as he wants it, with the Eagles in Nevada, anyhow. It was a busy job. I did more traveling, I think, as state secretary that I did when I was state president.
LaVOY: With Eagles, when you were state president, did you have to make presentations at national conventions?
JOHNSON: No, not at national conventions. You attended as a delegate representing the state of Nevada.
LaVOY: How many people used to go with you to conventions?
JOHNSON: Normally, maybe one. Norton Koenig went with me once. The aeries throughout the state, each lodge sent their own representation from their place to attend the convention, and there was, usually on the average, between forty and fifty people from the state of Nevada at a national convention.
LaVOY: Did your wife attend with you?
JOHNSON: She attended once. That was all. She stayed home with the children.
LaVOY: Tell me where was the first Eagle hall in Fallon?
JOHNSON: Eagles first attended their meetings upstairs in the old Fraternal hall.
LaVOY: Oh, on South Maine.
JOHNSON: Yeah, on South Maine. Then we got quite active and wanted to be on our own, so we bought some old barracks and put them together out there in back of the Stockman's [Casino].
LaVOY: Where did you buy the barracks from?
JOHNSON: There was a CCC camp out east of here at Middlegate, and I think that's where they got the barracks for that.
LaVOY: Well, there was a CCC camp right about where the barracks are now, too.
JOHNSON: Yeah, right.
LaVOY: Who all helped you work on them to turn them into a hall?
JOHNSON: Hmm. Quite a crew. There was John Rebol, Norton Koenig, Bob Cress, just to name a few.
LaVOY: Did Elmer Erickson work on them, too?
JOHNSON: Elmer Erickson wasn't here at the time.
LaVOY: Oh, I see.
JOHNSON: And then after we got it all pretty well built so we could hold meetings out there, we kept doing improvements on it, but it still had problems of dry rot on the flooring due to the fact when there was irrigation in that area, the bottom of the foundation would all get waterlogged, and, of course, we run into dry rot and problems like that. So after doing several repair jobs on it, the trustees decided that maybe we ought to build a new home. We didn't have the money to buy a building or have anything like that done, so we went on several projects to raise money.
LaVOY: What were the projects?
JOHNSON: We had dinners and dances and things like that. Frances Ogden offered us the land out on her property for the hall.
LaVOY: Did you help build that one?
JOHNSON: We put it together as a metal steel building, and, of course, the building contractors put up the building itself, and then we did all the improvements on the inside of the building.
LaVOY: Was your wife active in Eagles with you?
JOHNSON: No, my wife wasn't too active. She more or less stood on the sidelines.
LaVOY: When you finally moved out to Frances Ogden's place, did you help do the fencing and all of that?
JOHNSON: No, there was no fencing at that time. That was done later on. That was one thing I forgot to tell you was that after we sold the old hall, we held our meetings at the Senior Center in Fallon until we got the new building done.
LaVOY: Is that the Senior Center where it is now?
JOHNSON: Right. [310 East Court]
LaVOY: That's very, very interesting. Where were you and your wife and family living at this time?
JOHNSON: I was living in quite a few places in town. (laughing) My first home was at 230 South Taylor Street. I remember that very much.
LaVOY: That must be very close to where the old Safeway store was.
JOHNSON: Yeah, I was two blocks south of it. Then eventually I sold that and built a house on Bailey Street. That was a big house, 2064 square feet, and, of course, after my son and daughter moved out of the house, it got pretty big.
LaVOY: So, you and your wife wanted a smaller place.
JOHNSON: So, we decided we'd get rid of that and build a smaller place. We did that, and that's when we had the home on Fairview built.
LaVOY: And you lived there for how many years?
JOHNSON: I lived there for quite a while. My first wife passed away in that house in 1974.
LaVOY: Was this very sudden? Had she been ill?
JOHNSON: She'd been ill for about a year, not feeling too well. There was a doctor in Reno that did an operation on her vertebrae, and that didn't turn out very good. It left her with a speech impediment. Of course, she died mostly from cancer.
LaVOY: After she passed away, what did you do?
JOHNSON: I became more active in the Eagles.
LaVOY: Were you also active in VFW? [Veterans of Foreign Wars]
LaVOY: Or American Legion?
JOHNSON: I joined the Legion when I first got out of the service, but I didn't stay there long. After I got active in the Eagles I just thought it was unfair to the Legion not to be a good member, so I just dropped it and stayed with the Eagles.
LaVOY: You've done a magnificent job with the Eagles all these years. Then did you later remarry?
JOHNSON: Yes. Met this girl at a dance out at the Eagles Hall.
LaVOY: Oh, well, those Eagles kept you busy, didn't they? And what was her name?
JOHNSON: Lois Myers at that time. So, anyway, I decided I'd change that, too, so I asked her to marry me, and she did.
LaVOY: What was Lois's maiden name?
JOHNSON: Sveiven. [Born in Minnesota, has an adopted son, Bruce Saunders.]
LaVOY: And where was she from?
LaVOY: Oh, I see. And she happened to be out here and came to one of the dances.
JOHNSON: Yeah. One of the auxiliary members was quite active in Eagles. Played the piano, and, of course, she talked Lois into coming out to Eagles to attend the dances, and that's how I met her.
LaVOY: And where were you married?
JOHNSON: I think we were married [April 15, 1977] at our house. (laughing)
LaVOY: Oh, at your home? Do you remember who performed the ceremony?
JOHNSON: The justice of the peace, but I don't remember his name now.
LaVOY: Oh, well, that's great. Now, you and Lois have been married now for a number of years. Did you stay in the house in Fairview.
JOHNSON: Oh, we stayed in Fairview quite a few years.
LaVOY: And then what did you do?
JOHNSON: 1987 we sold the home and decided we're going to do some traveling.
LaVOY: How did you do that?
JOHNSON: We bought ourselves a fifth-wheel trailer.
LaVOY: Well, now, tell me, did you have a truck that you rebuilt to pull that trailer?
JOHNSON: Yeah, I did that. I put a big Olds 455 engine in the pickup.
LaVOY: What kind of a pickup?
JOHNSON: It was a Jeep pickup. Three quarter ton.
LaVOY: And you made it strong enough to carry a fifth wheeler?
JOHNSON: Oh, yeah. It did carry it almost a hundred thousand miles.
LaVOY: Oh, my goodness. Where all did you go?
JOHNSON: We traveled all over the United States, Canada. We didn't take the trailer, but we went into Mexico, too.
LaVOY: Did you spend summers here and winters some place else?
JOHNSON: We spent our winters down in Arizona at an RV park in Bull Head City, Arizona.
LaVOY: And then did you branch out from there?
JOHNSON: In the spring of the year we'd take off and travel and go to different parts of the United States.
LaVOY: So, you saw the entire United States by traveling during the summer.
JOHNSON: I didn't see the entire United States, but we've been in every state west of the Mississippi.
LaVOY: Well, that's wonderful. Did you stay in RV parks as you traveled?
JOHNSON: Yeah. We joined a membership of RV parks.
LaVOY: Was that the Good Sam Club?
JOHNSON: They were the Good Sam Club. Had no connection with them, but we belonged to the club which gave us information on places where to stay and so forth.
LaVOY: Did you ever go on any encampments of the Good Sam Club?
JOHNSON: No, I never did.
LaVOY: But, you just traveled by yourselves. The two of you.
JOHNSON: Right. After we decided to travel, we joined the Coast to Coast Club which gave us breaks at different campsites, and they would also take care of problems that we had or anything like that.
LaVOY: Something that I believe that Lois told me is that, didn't you spend one or two summers as the host and hostess at the Great Basin National Park in Ely?
JOHNSON: Yes, we did.
LaVOY: What was involved with that?
JOHNSON: That was taking care of the campgrounds and greeting people, making sure that they obeyed the rules and regulations.
LaVOY: Did you enjoy doing that?
JOHNSON: We enjoyed it, yes.
LaVOY: Did you do it only at the one place?
JOHNSON: That's the only place that we did it, yes.
LaVOY: What prompted you to decide that you had traveled enough?
JOHNSON: Well, a lot of miles, of course. Almost a hundred thousand miles, and we figured that eventually we were going to have to find a place to settle down anyhow, so we decided to sell our trailer and stay here in Fallon.
LaVOY: Was Lois happy or unhappy to stop traveling?
JOHNSON: She wasn't happy to stop traveling, I'll say that. (laughing)
LaVOY: Well, I know she loves to travel is the reason that I'm asking this.
JOHNSON: Oh, we both love to travel, but after that many miles I kind of got a little tired of driving. It was, instead of a pleasure, more of a job. I knew eventually we were going to have settle down anyhow, so we had to do it.
LaVOY: And you sold your trailer and settled down here in Grimes Place. Morning Glory Court.
LaVOY: You have a lovely home here. What do you and Lois do? Do you go to the Senior Center now? What do you do for entertainment?
JOHNSON: We go to the Senior Center every noon for lunch, of course. I guess it's part of the Irish or Scotch in me that wants to save my money and find a bargain. For a dollar and a half a person you can't beat it.
LaVOY: Well, I just don't think with a Swede and a Norwegian forbearer that's there much Scotch in you.
LaVOY: (laughing) Well, now, Eddie, this has been just very, very interesting, and I'm wondering is there anything else that you can think that you would like to mention to add to our oral history?
JOHNSON: No, I don't think so. That completes everything far as I'm concerned.
LaVOY: All right. On behalf of the Churchill County Oral History Project, we certainly want to thank you for taking the time to do this. And this is the end of the interview [end of tape 2]
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LaVOY: This is Marian Hennen LaVoy of the Churchill County Museum Oral History Project re-interviewing Edwin Harold Johnson at his home 1420 Grimes, Apartment 18, Fallon, Nevada. The date is March 6, 1998. This interview is an addendum to his original which was done in 1997. Good morning, Eddie.
JOHNSON: Good morning.
LaVOY: I understand that in 1957 at this point in time you were still one of the owners of Churchill Motors?
LaVOY: And you were also involved with the Nevada Hardtop Racing Association. First of all, would you tell me, what is that?
JOHNSON: It's a group of fellows that got together and fixed up old automobiles which they called hardtops. We took everything out of the inside, the upholstery, the seats, anything that was combustible, and then we put bars inside of the automobiles to prevent the top from caving in if you rolled the car while racing. I'm quite sure the Nevada Hardtop Racing Association started in 1957. I was doing mechanic work then for Churchill Motors, and we had an old 1938 Oldsmobile car out in back. The engine didn't run in it, and it was pretty well beat up from an accident it had been in. The owner of the business said that I could have that car and make a hardtop stock car racer out of it. The racing association picked the fairgrounds as the place to hold their races.
LaVOY: Is this the fairgrounds that was on West Williams?
JOHNSON: That's correct. It was the old rodeo grounds, and we raced inside of the rodeo grounds there on the track which I believe was less than a quarter of a mile. When the races started I didn't too good. There was a few things I had to reinforce like the front wheels and so forth like that because of the roughness of the track after driving on it for quite a while during a race. Then I started to do pretty good. The car that I had made up was a 1938 Oldsmobile six cylinder. I took the engine apart. There were certain restrictions as far as hopping the engine up and doing anything that would make it more speed wise because the track was so small we couldn't get on so fast anyhow.
LaVOY: About what speed did you race?
JOHNSON: I would say probably twenty-five, thirty miles an hour, maybe forty sometimes because you couldn't get going too fast on that small oval where the fairgrounds were. They had what they called powderpuff derbies where the women drove the cars. I think they drove a ten-lap race. Of course, the lady that won the race got a trophy for it.
LaVOY: Who were some of the women that raced?
JOHNSON: Mostly the wives of the hardtop racers. Those involved in racing from Fallon here was Shorty Burton, Hank Cornu, Bill Lattin, myself, Glen Shaw, Lorain Forbush, and there were probably two or three others that raced just periodically that I don't recall their names now.
LaVOY: Did you meet regularly for meetings, or did you just get together when it was race time get together?
JOHNSON: The race was usually held on a Sunday afternoon. Then the following Wednesday I believe it was, we had meetings at different places. These different places were at restaurants. Normally we met in Fernley because it was halfway between Reno and Fallon, and there were fellows from Reno in the stock car racing association along with other fellows from Yerington and Hawthorne. When we had our meetings, we discussed things that we should do as far as regulations were concerned, and we got pretty well organized from that date on.
LaVOY: Why is it called stock car racing?
JOHNSON: The cars had to be strictly stock. They could do a little modifying such as . .
LaVOY: Excuse me, what do you mean, "strictly stock?"
JOHNSON: In other words, like the manufacturer built the car. The only thing that we did that was compulsory, was to take the upholstery out, all the material that was subject to catching on fire or anything like that.
LaVOY: Why were you worrying about that?
JOHNSON: Because we were racing and bumping each other out of the road so you could get by them, and it made it a little dangerous to be running with upholstery seats and cushions in the cars due to fire because when you rolled, naturally there's going to be some gasoline leakage. We were very fortunate. We never had any fires or anything like that anyhow.
LaVOY: Was the idea that when you wanted to pass someone, did you just hit them and knock them out of the way?
JOHNSON: That's correct. What I had a pretty good knack at doing when driving was to get close behind them and then when they come to the turn I would speed up and bump into the back of their car and spin them into the center of the track and that way I could get around them and get ahead of them in racing.
LaVOY: Well, that sounds a little sneaky to me, but I guess that was just standard procedure.
JOHNSON: That was standard procedure. As long as you didn't do anything that was dangerous to the driver or anything like that like hitting him broadside which was not a very good thing to do.
LaVOY: With your saying that you took all the upholstery out, did that leave nothing inside the car except where you were sitting?
JOHNSON: That's correct. We had a bucket seat, and we had a safety belt. I got a bucket seat and the seat belt out of an airplane for mine and all of that and put that in the car and used that. You had to wear a safety belt 'cause in case you rolled you'd be tied in and wouldn't be subject to be getting injured in the rollover.
LaVOY: Did you have helmets at that time?
JOHNSON: Yes, we wore helmets, also.
LaVOY: Where did you get those from?
JOHNSON: We got them from a racing store in Reno. When we got racing I didn't think I would do very good with a six-cylinder Oldsmobile against all the Ford V-8s and stuff like that that the other fellows had. But, besides the track and the engine which was just a six cylinder, I took it apart and put new rings in it, and we were allowed to plane the heads a certain number of thousandths of inch, and I think I took fifty thousandths off the heads on my Oldsmobile.
LaVOY: Why would taking that off the heads help the car?
JOHNSON: Well, it boosted the horsepower of the engine which would help you in the racing. Most of the fellows held true to the rules and regulations, but there was always some person that would try to sneak by and get a little more hopped up automobiles to help him win the race. The car I drove, it seems like it handled real good on the turns and whatnot. The old 1938 Oldsmobile, of course, had the old knee action suspension, and that didn't prove out very strong, and so I had to put a front axle out of a pickup truck under the front end of the car and give it more strength in the front suspension.
LaVOY: You did this in your spare time?
JOHNSON: I did that in my spare time usually on weekends when we weren't fishing. We raced twice a month, and when we raced, Fallon was the place where we started racing, and we expanded out to Hawthorne, Yerington, and Reno which we met periodically at those places. But most often the races were held in Fallon.
LaVOY: When you went to Reno, where did you race?
JOHNSON: We raced in a place near the old airport road. It was a junkyard for automobiles, and they had a field out there that was fairly good racing, if I recall.
LaVOY: And then in Hawthorne?
JOHNSON: Hawthorne was out towards Schurz about four or five miles right out in the middle of the desert.
LaVOY: And then for Yerington?
JOHNSON: Yerington was at their fairgrounds.
LaVOY: Who kept these tracks in good shape?
JOHNSON: We had sponsors at each place. In Fallon it was the 20-30 Club. They had members that had tractors with a scraper behind it to level and smooth off the tracks after each race.
LaVOY: Did you have to pay money to enter a race?
JOHNSON: No. You didn't have to pay any money. All you did was pass the qualifications test that they gave to each automobile that entered in the race.
LaVOY: You said that there were trophies. Who bought the trophies?
JOHNSON: Normally it was the business people in town that sponsored the trophies. Racing, you had what they called time trials. You'd go around the track in a certain length of time, and, of course, the faster you got around the track, the more chance you had to get the lead in taking of the race.
LaVOY: What was your top speed?
JOHNSON: I don't know what my top speed was. The only gauges I had hooked up was the amp meter and the oil gauge and the temperature gauge for water.
LaVOY: This was so that the car would run smoothly?
JOHNSON: Yeah, that was what it was. I didn't have a speedometer hooked up. No need of having it because you were driving in such a small track, you were keeping your eyes focused on where you were going. As far as speed's concerned, probably between twenty-five and thirty-five miles an hour was all you were going, but it was such a small track you were practically running in an oval. Well, it was oval and a very short track, and it really got the cars mixed up and having a lot of fun bumping each other out of the way to get ahead of the other car in front of you.
LaVOY: You mentioned Bill Lattin. Was he one of the ones those raced against you?
JOHNSON: Everybody raced against each other. They had the qualifying times. The fast qualifiers got into the higher point driving of the race. They were entered into the race that was the fast qualifying, the next fast qualifying and so on. All it depended on the number of cars that showed up. We had the first heat, second heat, and third heat normally. The first heat the people were the slowest qualifiers, the second heat was the next best qualifiers, and the third heat was the fastest qualifiers. They also had a trophy dash, too, and that was the fastest qualifiers that ran in the trophy dash. Incidentally, I think I won about four or five trophies myself.
LaVOY: Oh, did you? Which section were you in?
JOHNSON: Normally I qualified in the upper time trials all the time. I was either in the fastest or the next fastest qualifying races.
LaVOY: Do you still have the trophies?
JOHNSON: Oh, yes, I still have them. When I went from town to town, I used our wrecker to tow the hardtop to Hawthorne, Reno, or Yerington.
LaVOY: Why did you use a wrecker to tow it?
JOHNSON: Because it wasn't a licensed car, and you couldn't drive it on the road. It had to be towed. The racing season was in the summertime.
LaVOY: Did it start usually in June or July?
JOHNSON: I think it was June, July, and August that we drove. It took up a lot of your time fixing a car up after a race from the damage it took during the racing.
LaVOY: You mean you had to take the dents out of it?
JOHNSON: Not the dents. If the frame was bent or anything like that, you had to try to straighten it out and get it driving as good as possible in a small area.
LaVOY: Did you have your car painted any particular color?
JOHNSON: Yeah, mine was painted dark blue. My sponsor was Churchill Motors, and I had my sponsor's name on it along with the Oldsmobile slogan that says "Oldsmobile rockets ahead."
LaVOY: That was a good slogan!
LaVOY: How long did the races last? When did you start, and usually when did they stop?
JOHNSON: I think they started about 1:00 in the afternoon and went to about four or maybe five.
LaVOY: Did you have many crowds that turned out?
JOHNSON: We had heck of a good turnout. Especially in Fallon. People really went for the races.
LaVOY: Did they have to pay to see them?
JOHNSON: Right. Like I said, they were held in the old fairgrounds in Fallon.
LaVOY: With them having to pay, the money that came in, did that go to you racers or to the club that sponsored you?
JOHNSON: It went to the club that sponsored us, but you were paid off according to how you placed in the racing.
LaVOY: What was the biggest purse that you ever made?
JOHNSON: The main event was the top payoff, and I made several of those.
LaVOY: About how much money did you get?
JOHNSON: I think it was twenty or thirty dollars. That was all.
LaVOY: Just about enough to take the dents out of your car after the race.
JOHNSON: (laughing) Wasn't hardly enough for that. If you didn't have a sponsor, you had a heck of a time keeping your car in the races.
LaVOY: Did you win any state races, or did you just win in Fallon?
JOHNSON: No, I won in Hawthorne, Yerington, and Reno, also.
LaVOY: Did you become a state champion or something?
JOHNSON: Yes. In 1957, I think, I was high-point driver for the state of Nevada in the Hardtop Racing Association.
LaVOY: That's very admirable! How many years did you race?
JOHNSON: I raced till 1960 when I had a chance to go into business for myself, and I wanted to give more time to my business, of course, than to that.
LaVOY: Tell me some of the different people from other towns that you met and became associated with through your racing.
JOHNSON: The ones that I got really associated with was the fellows from Reno. I recall their names as Bob Tursic, Bill Tursic, and the other fellow--he was more or less kind of the outlaw of the racing association--was Bill Dietrich from Reno. He had what they called Dietrich's Auto Body Shop, and he drove nothing but Chrysler products. Far as cars racing in the race, it was mostly Ford, Chevrolets, and the smaller Chrysler products.
LaVOY: With your car being an Oldsmobile, what product was that?
JOHNSON: That's General Motors. There were Chevrolets and I think one Pontiac. I recall one fellow had a nice big old Packard that he got in there. We called it the Tank because it was so big and bulky, and he couldn't handle it too good on the race track, and so he didn't last very long until he was eliminated out of the race by being bumped into so often.
LaVOY: Did you have any physical injuries from being bumped into like that?
JOHNSON: We were very fortunate. Nobody ever got hurt real bad. I got rolled one time, and I got a piece of glass sliver between my fingers, and that's the only injury that I know of that I had.
LaVOY: How did your wife take this racing? Did she worry about you, or did she feel that you were perfectly safe?
JOHNSON: At first she was worried about me because of the way the races were held. You were bumping each other and pushing each other around, but as the time went by and she got used to it, she was as excited about racing as I was. Of course, my son, Gary, tried to help out a little bit as far as helping me fix the car up after the races. My daughter, Nadine, she was quite young, but she didn't quite comprehend what was going on.
LaVOY: These races still continue, don't they?
JOHNSON: Not this association. This association broke up, I think, in 1960. They don't have any hardtop races anymore. They got just stock car racing which has a track out south of Fallon now, and that is nothing but drag racing and no oval track racing that I know of. They might have it, but I've never been out there to find out.
LaVOY: In other words, with drag racing they go in a straight line just as fast as they can.
JOHNSON: Right. They try to go a mile or a half a mile in a certain length of time. The first person that got through the trip the fastest was the highest qualifier.
LaVOY: That doesn't seem to me that it would be as much fun as what you were doing on the smaller track. Did you get much write-up in the papers?
JOHNSON: Oh, yeah. The Fallon paper, they really advertised us. Of course, Reno, now, didn't do it too much because it was the Reno Gazette and the Nevada State Journal, and we got a small write-up in the paper about that. Far as the other two towns, I guess they wrote it up pretty well in their newspapers in town, but we never got any paper. I think we got the most publicity. We did the most driving, of course, in Fallon.
LaVOY: It was good entertainment for a small town.
JOHNSON: Oh, golly, yes. Everybody looked forward to the time that the hardtop races were coming in Fallon.
LaVOY: With you calling it the hardtop races, you say that's because the tops of the cars were steel?
JOHNSON: They had to be. They had to have the steel top, and then you had to have the roll bars installed in the car, too, to support it in case you got rolled over to keep the top from caving in.
LaVOY: These roll bars were on the inside of the car?
JOHNSON: Inside the car, right.
LaVOY: How did you insert them?
JOHNSON: We took and cut a hole in the body of the car to the frame and welded the bars or black pipe which they used a lot of times, to the frame of the car, and then they looped it over the head of the driver and over to the other side.
LaVOY: How many bars did you have in a car?
JOHNSON: I had two of them. To qualify, I had to have at least one good roll bar in there, and then you had iron bumpers both front and rear because you'd get hit quite hard and an ordinary standard bumper wouldn't last at all.
LaVOY: How did you make the iron bumpers?
JOHNSON: We cut them with acetylene torches and arc welded them into the frame.
LaVOY: They didn't come as bumpers. Did you have to shape them and everything?
JOHNSON: They used iron and used a torch to heat them to bend them to fit and bolt them on or weld them to the frame.
LaVOY: Didn't that take a lot of doing?
JOHNSON: It took a lot of doing to get the cars fixed up in time to get ready for the racing season. During the race, a lot of times your car was mashed up pretty well and bumpers broke loose that you have to take care of that during the off times of racing to repair cars and get this stuff welded up again.
LaVOY: It seems to be that these heavy bumpers and these roll bars added a lot of weight to your car.
JOHNSON: Not too much.
LaVOY: Just taking out the seats sort of evened it out?
JOHNSON: Right. That's what I would say.
LaVOY: There was just one person to a car?
JOHNSON: One person to a car. That's right. As far as gas was concerned, I had a five-gallon can in the back of the car, and it had to be leak proof to prevent fire.
LaVOY: What did you do with that five-gallon can? If you ran out of gas on the track?
JOHNSON: You never used five gallons of gas running on the track because it was such a short track, only ten, fifteen, twenty-five laps. Then at the end of the racing season, they had what they called a hundred-lap race which the top qualifiers were allowed to enter, and I won two of the hundred-lap races during the season.
LaVOY: This gasoline intrigues me. Why would you carry it in the back of the car?
JOHNSON: For safety.
LaVOY: No, I mean, if you didn't need to use it.
JOHNSON: There was a five-gallon can of gas, and you had enough gas in that to last you for the race.
LaVOY: The gas came to the engine from that five-gallon tank.
JOHNSON: Oh, yeah, just like it comes from your regular gas can.
LaVOY: Oh, I see. It was not a loose can. It was attached and the lines went to your engine.
LaVOY: Oh! And you used only five gallons during a race?
JOHNSON: Oh, yes. I didn't use that much, I don't think. I think I probably used between three and four gallons of gas.
LaVOY: When you came to your hundred-lap race, didn't you need more?
JOHNSON: No, the five-gallons lasted me. (laughing)
LaVOY: You must have had a very fine tuned motor is all I can say. This brought about a lot of camaraderie among you and your friends here.
JOHNSON: Oh, yes.
LaVOY: With your meetings, how many normally attended your meetings on Wednesdays?
JOHNSON: Oh, I would say probably half of the membership.
LaVOY: What was the approximate membership?
JOHNSON: Oh, I'd say twenty-five, thirty fellows. At a race I would say a total of ten, twelve cars would show up for a race, and then they'd split them up. If fifteen cars showed up, they'd break that up in threes like five cars to a race.
LaVOY: But, the full contingent never showed up for one race.
JOHNSON: Very seldom. Maybe when there was a special event that they would come. We had races on Labor Day weekend which was quite a crowd.
LaVOY: Didn't they have the fair here on Labor Day weekend?
JOHNSON: Yes, they did. Of course, there wasn't too much of a fair at that time. They didn't have any fairs here. The old fairgrounds were closed up.
LaVOY: The State fair had been moved to Reno?
LaVOY: And nothing was in the fairgrounds, per se?
JOHNSON: Well, they had rodeos and so forth like that. Of course, the rodeos they didn't tear up the ground much as we did. We had to take care of that part.
LaVOY: With your saying that they had to keep the ground smooth and everything, did they have local contractors that volunteered to do that, or did they have to pay them for it?
JOHNSON: Oh, there was local contractors. It wasn't contractors. It was private owners. The farmers had their scrapers and so forth like that.
LaVOY: But, it was basically donated?
LaVOY: That is very interesting. I didn't realize that Fallon had such an active group doing that.
JOHNSON: Oh, we had quite a group, I'll tell you, and we had a lot of fun. It really got the turnout of people. Of course, like everything else, it gets old and tiresome after a while. I think it was in 1960, 1961, that these guys tapered off to nothing.
LaVOY: Did they just quit, period?
JOHNSON: I guess the association just quit. There was not enough turning up for the races, so there was no need going on.
LaVOY: You were one of the last ones to hang out?
JOHNSON: No, I was about the middle of this racing term because I had the opportunity to get into the Oldsmobile dealership with Churchill Motors, and so when that opportunity came I had to quit the racing to devote my time to the Churchill Motors.
LaVOY: Oh, I see. So, you were one of the middle quitters then?
LaVOY: When they finally disbanded, what did the people do with these cars?
JOHNSON: I guess they hauled them to the junkyards. I know that's where mine is. Mine's out Lorain Forbush's junkyard. And, incidentally, the car number I drove was eighty-eight because it advertised the Oldsmobile eighty-eight model car.
LaVOY: Oh! [End of tape 3 side A] Well, if your car that was so faithful to you is still out there, you ought to go visit it once in a while.
JOHNSON: (laughing) He had a bunch of cars piled up, and he always had mine at the top of the pile. Seemed like it when I drove out on the road by his place.
LaVOY: Did your son show any interest in continuing on with racing?
JOHNSON: No. He was too young at the time that the racing was, and then he went into the military after he graduated from high school.
LaVOY: In just a quick sort of a review, you mentioned some names of people that raced with you here. Can you tell me what kind of cars they had if you remember?
JOHNSON: Glen Shaw had a Chevrolet, of course. Hank Cornu, his were Fords. Well, Fords and Chevrolets were the most popular cars used. I think I was the only one that had an Oldsmobile, and another fellow, like I said, had a Packard in there which didn't last very much.
LaVOY: What'd you say his name was?
JOHNSON: Lorain Forbush.
LaVOY: He had the Packard?
JOHNSON: He had the Packard.
LaVOY: What did Lattin have?
JOHNSON: I think he had a Chrysler product. A Plymouth.
LaVOY: Do you remember some of the other names?
JOHNSON: That's all I can remember now.
LaVOY: I think it was a very interesting time in the life of Fallon.
JOHNSON: Oh, I think it was, too. It must have been because they sure had the turnout of people to see the races.
LaVOY: I do know they have a large turnout at the new race track, but that just started up in the last two or three years. I know also they have different kinds of races out at the Regional Park, but it seems to me those are more tractor pulls.
JOHNSON: They also got a race track on Rattlesnake Hill which they go around in a big circle, but they're just strictly no bump and run or anything like that. They're just trying to pass one another as politely, I would say, as they can. There's no bumping or spinning a person out into the center of the track to get by them.
LaVOY: What do they call themselves?
JOHNSON: Stock car racing. I don't know what they call themselves.
LaVOY: But, it is stock car racing rather than hardtop racing.
JOHNSON: Right. Right.
LaVOY: And I imagine they have sponsors just as you did?
LaVOY: That is very interesting.
JOHNSON: As far as racing is concerned, after driving in them, it's not much fun to sit and watch them.
LaVOY: I imagine not. You can't feel the excitement of having somebody hit you and knock you over.
JOHNSON: (laughing) Right.
LaVOY: Well, that has been very, very interesting, Eddie.
JOHNSON: Well, that just about concludes all I know about the racing. I know some of you people who might hear this tape will remember the days of our car racing here in Fallon.
LaVOY: Thank you very much, Eddie, and on behalf of the Churchill County Museum Oral History Project I want to thank you for this short interview, and this is the end of the interview