Part of the old flyer - note the downtown Ft. Worth phone numbers!
OLD TIMER AND THE BIG DEPRESSION!
By Norris Chambers
During the big depression of the thirties jobs were almost non-existent. For a teen ager to enter the workforce he had to know someone with an inside connection or just be a lucky lad at the right place at the right time. In early 1936 I was a business school graduate who had passed the civil service exam and been placed on the register. Because I could already exceed the minimum typing requirements the school had allowed me to enroll in its radio servicing class during the typing periods. I could fix radios and knew the basics of electronics at the time. I lived on South Jennings in Fort Worth and I was ready for a good job. I didn’t know anyone with an inside connection and so far I had not been a lucky lad in the right place at the right time.
I could still go back to the farm and eke out the necessities of life, but I was determined to find something different and maybe better in the big city. At this time I had found the eight by ten bedroom on the third floor of a building on a noisy street and I was paying $2.50 a week for the privilege of calling it home. I still had a little money left from my school fund that had been accumulated by selling calves, hogs and possum hides for several years. The post office acted as my banker and even paid 2% interest.
No cooking was allowed in the rooms but there were no rules against snacking. Most of the occupants brought food in and ate it in their rooms. My kitchen equipment consisted of a soup bowl, a glass, a can opener, a fork, knife and spoon. My cupboard, when stocked, held a few cans of soup, two kinds of cereals and several cans of evaporated milk. What little dishwashing that was required was done in the bath room at the end of the hall. About two or three times a week I treated myself to all the beans and cornbread I could eat for five cents at a little café on the south end of main street. For another nickel a big bowl of freezer-made ice cream was served. Chocolate syrup was applied if requested.
My big break came when I was talking with a middle aged occupant of our floor. He explained that he was on some sort of political committee and it was his job to prepare a brochure. He needed a typist to help him get it ready for the printer and since I was trained in that sort or work he could use my services. He said the committee would pay me for my work.
The office was on one of the top floors of the Fair building and was only available after the regular work day ended. I never found out what business occupied the office during working hours. I think it was some kind of insurance business, judging from a few of the papers I saw on the desks. I did not know anything about the candidates we were promoting, but my name was included as Secretary of the organization! I soon finished the secretarial work and the copy was taken to the printer. I was given a few copies to distribute.
Somehow the committee never got around to paying me for the typing but my benefactor referred me to a gentleman who owned and operated a soap factory on the south side of the railroad and he offered me a job. It paid $4.00 a week and I could sleep in the factory. My duties consisted of doing the clerical work in the office and helping the one shop employee in making and packaging the soap. Since I have told about this job in another tale I won’t spend any time telling about it. I was working at the factory and living in one of the dark corners when I was offered a job by the most popular radio personality in the state at that time, W. Lee O’Daniel. I had got acquainted with him when I was a waiter at a downtown dining room where he and his family came to dine. I had also been at the radio studio many times to see his band, the Lightcrust Doughboys, perform.
When he left Lightcrust and formed his own company he launched a massive radio advertising campaign over radio station XEPN across the border from Eagle Pass. The station claimed to be the strongest in the world and the new flour company broadcast 8 programs a day there as well as several in Texas and Oklahoma. This job paid the large salary of $12.50 per week!
I lived in a small room on the second floor of a building that housed a café and a shoe shop on the first floor. The eating equipment was about the same – lots of cereal and milk and all kinds of canned goodies. I spent about half of the weekly salary for living expenses and deposited the rest in a postal savings account. I considered this a good job but I got tired of the long hours and loneliness of the routine. I left the job and returned to the old home area to explore other avenues of employment.
You asked if we had fun under these conditions. We had a lot of fun because we didn’t know anything else. It can be funny if you step in a gopher hole and the rascal bites the end off of your favorite toe. Think how funny it would be if it happened to someone else. I reckon fun is just a state of mind!