Norris Chambers Old Timer's Tales

A Tribute To Clifton Chambers

by Norris Chambers

Clifton and Norris Chambers in 1945, U.S. Maritime Service

   I have received several letters asking about Clifton. I have told you about many adventures with Clifton, but have never told a whole lot about him. He was just there when we needed him. This tale is strictly a tribute to Clifton.

  Clifton Chambers was my nephew, although he was about four months older than I. His father, my only brother Tom, always lived near us from the year we were born in 1917 until the WWII years. Clifton and I were as close, or closer, than most brothers. I have told you some of the things we did together. I will tell you of other things that we did. We even did some things that I will never tell anyone!

  Other tales have pretty well covered our childhood. I will start with Clifton's courtship. The oil boom had slipped away and so had the enrollment at Cross Cut High School, to which we had just been promoted. When a new student arrived, everyone noticed it. Mary Lou Dibrell was a new student. She had pretty red hair and a beautiful disposition. Clifton thought he would like to call her his "girl friend". He had gone through a few "girl friend" episodes in the past two years and was beginning to get a little serious about girls. The romance really got serious after we made a school bus trip to the State Fair in Dallas. Clifton and Mary Lou rode together and became pretty well acquainted during that trip.

  From that time until their marriage in about 1938, they were sweethearts. I married Ella Sudderth in 1939. Clifton got a job on an oil lease. He kept the power house running and the wells pumping.

  About the time the war started, Clifton got a job at North American in Grand Prairie where they were building AT6 and P51 airplanes. He had attended an aviation school in Dallas where they learned to do aircraft assembly. I had a job at Kelly Field in San Antonio working as an aircraft electrician. The pay was better at North American and the overtime was unlimited. In 1943 I got a job at North American as a Field and Service Mechanic, and since I was very familiar with the electrical system of the B-24, which they had just started building in a new plant they called the B plant, I did very well.

  By the time the draft caught up with Clifton and me, I had two children, Ann and Pat. Clifton had not started a family at this time. We both got draft notices at the same time ordering us to appear at the induction center in Dallas for physicals. We were both healthy and expected to go at any time. After talking it over, we decided to join the Maritime Service, which was the training service for the Merchant Marine. It was staffed by Navy and Coast Guard Officers, but was never officially recognized as a branch of the service. We enrolled in the Dallas office and waited for our traveling orders.

  I sold my house and we moved back to Cross Cut with Papa and Mama. Clifton and Mary Lou moved back at the same time. We expected the notice to leave the following week.

  The mail didn't come for two days on account of a big rain. There were no paved roads to Cross Cut in those days. When we did get mail on Monday, we found out we were supposed to have reported to Dallas on Saturday for transport to St. Petersburg, Florida for basic training. . An anxious call to Dallas assured us we would be on the next call. It came during the week, and Ella and Mary Lou took us to Dallas the next Saturday.

  But the destination had been changed. Instead of going to Florida, we were to go to Avalon, Catalina Island, located about thirty five miles off the coast of California in the Los Angeles area. We boarded the train and left about noon. There were 25 in our group and we were assigned to a Pullman car. It had comfortable seats and sleeping bunks. The bunks were pretty narrow, but they put two of us to each bunk. There was a dining car, and as I recall the food was pretty good. Nothing much happened during the three and a half day trip.

  The training was rough. We had obstacle courses, running and boxing as well as lifeboat instruction, abandon ship exercises, seamanship classes and active training with several types of big deck guns. Clifton was 28 years old, and I was just 27. They had a regulation which stipulated that those who were 28 or older did not have to do many of the really hard exercises. Clifton got to play ball while I climbed cargo nets, ran up and down the mountain and boxed with big guys who didn't want to play, but wanted to fight. He thought that was funny. I still don't grin much about it.

  After six weeks we got a weekend in Los Angeles. We checked in at the USO club and they took good care of us. We went to the Hollywood Canteen and saw a few more sights. They found us a room in a private home and told us which buses to ride to get there. But it was soon over and we went back to the island for another six weeks.

  They told us that Catalina Island was owned mostly by Mr Wrigley, of Wrigley Chewing Gum fame. He had a big mansion on one of the hills overlooking the town. One day they announced to our group that the ranch located on the island's interior needed help in rounding up cattle. The Maritime Service had offered volunteers and if anyone had experience with cattle they were asked to step forward. Clifton and I were pretty well experienced in all phases of cattle handling, so we exchanged glances and stepped forward.

  The cowboy experience broke the monotony of the basic training. We spent four or five days riding horses and driving cattle out of canyons and brush thickets. The few dollars the ranchers paid us for our work was also welcome.

  When we finished the training, Clifton went to an engineering school in Los Angeles and I went to a Maritime Service School in New York where I studied to be a radio operator. Clifton finished his training and immediately set sail for the far east. I was still in school when the war was over, although I had received my license and had been measured for my uniform. I went home as soon as possible.

  Clifton sailed around from island to island moving cargo. It was over a year before he was able to come home.

  I didn't see Clifton much after he came home. He got a job in west Texas with the Shell Oil Company and worked for them until he retired. We saw each other occasionally, but didn't have much time to spend together. He bought several houses in Monahans and made other good investments. After he retired, he moved to Abilene and got a good position with another oil company.

  While still employed he bought a well drilling machine and he and a younger brother started drill oil wells. They were successful in finding production, and he continued to acquire new leases and drill more wells. He was a financial success.

  Clifton bought the old Rushing Place, where I was raised and where we did so many interesting things. He even bought a donkey, although he didn't do much riding. The old Rushing place had changed - the fields were covered with mesquite tress and prickly pears. The old trolley wires and merry-go-rounds were missing, there was no sign of the fleets of Model T's that once littered the area back of the barn. The barn was gone. All of the house was gone except the old original log portion, and it was in bad need of repair. The old cellars had caved in and the cistern was full of rocks and trash. There was nothing left to remind me of home.

  In high school Clifton was an excellent athlete. He played basketball and baseball, the only sports available in our little country school. Our teams were usually very competitive in the county. He was friendly and well liked. Like the rest of us, he would fight if it became necessary. Several times he came to my assistance when I was being overpowered by a bully, and a few times I helped him out. I might explain that the fights in those days were usually more of a wrestling bout than a real punching fight. When the struggle was over, the participants were friends and more than likely it wasn't necessary to fight again.

  Neither Clifton nor I drank any form of alcohol. He did acquire the tobacco habit at a very early age, and continued its use until his death in 1988. In the early 80's he was stricken with MS and for the last few years of his life he was confined to a wheel chair. It was sad to visit him and find this active, robust individual confined to a chair.

  Clifton and Mary Lou started their family after the war and had two fine children, Ronnie and Jeana. Both have developed into active, productive adults and have beautiful families of their own. Ronnie now owns the old Rushing place, and has oil production there. He manages this while working at his long time job on the railroad. Mary Lou lives in Brownwood and is approaching her golden years.

  It would be hard to visualize a childhood and early adulthood without Clifton. He is one individual who made the world a better place for many people.


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