By Norris Chambers

By the time the big hiring spree for WW2 preparation started in 1940 I was well into electronics and related electrical pursuits. I had repaired many radios in the little country radio shop and installed several wind chargers and car radios. In the few areas where electrical power was becoming available I had wired some houses.

            My house wiring knowledge was acquired by carefully studying books that were available on the subject. The system that was commonly used for wiring residences was known as “knob and tube” because common knob insulators were used to mount single wires and a ceramic tube was used to route a wire through a sill or joist. The system provided good electrical insulation and was relatively easy to install.

            I hoped to get a job as an electrician in building the big army camp at Brownwood. The newspapers said all hiring would be done through the state employment service. I rushed to the office and entered an application for a job as an electrician. I also left an application for carpenter and one for general construction duty. The big work started but after three weeks I hadn’t heard anything about a job. If I had depended on the state office for a job I would still be waiting. I never heard from them. One of my cousins got a job and I was informed that his brother-in-law was Superintendent of Transportation and was inviting me and others who needed a job to come out to the site and he would put them to work. His instructions were to come to Freeman’s Switch and ask the foreman there to contact him about the job.

            The next day I drove to Brownwood and out the highway to Freeman’s Switch. The location was an unloading area for the railroad. There were many boxcars on the track with long trailer-trucks angled up to several of them. There was a small building where the road to the rail yard exited from the highway. A large number of autos were parked on the south side of the area. I guessed these to belong to the workers. When I stopped in front of the building a tall man with a clipboard came out and greeted me. I told him that Earl had told me that I would be working there. He asked if I had been processed. After telling him that I hadn’t he told me to stand by and he went inside the building and picked up the telephone.

            Soon Earl arrived and took me to the main office where I filled out a few forms and was told that my wages would be forty cents an hour. That sounded pretty good since the last contract job I worked on only paid twenty-five cents. Earl took me back to the switch and told the man at the entrance to put me to work. He pointed to a man along the track with a white shirt and gray hat and told me to tell him I was ready to work.

            The work wasn’t very hard. The box cars were loaded with long pieces of lumber. Most cars had four men unloading. We picked up the end near the door, dragged the boards out and stacked them on the truck. When a car was emptied we moved to another. This continued all day.

            In a few days we were unloading all type of construction material – everything from gravel to plumbing supplies. After a couple of months I was transferred to the lumber yard where trucks came and picked up material needed for construction areas. It was our job to load the trucks and go with them to unload the material. This was also easy work and I got a good view of the entire camp and the construction methods. I watched the electricians and I was convinced that I could do that work. I found that their wages were a little higher than ours.

            I asked Earl if he knew anyone who could get a job for me as an electrician. He said he would ask around and let me know. It didn’t take him long to place me with an electrical contractor and make the switch at the office of the general contractor. My new boss told me that they were very busy wiring the tents and he was glad to get more help. The man in charge asked me if I had done conduit work. I told him I had done some. At least I had read about conduit and the tools used to work with it.

            The tents were about sixteen feet square and had regular lumber siding for about four feet, then just a framework and a canvas top for the rest of the structure. These little shelters were for the thousands of troops that would be training there. There was a light bulb in the ceiling and a few outlets along the walls.

            I was taken to a large tent that served as a workshop where I joined about a half dozen other workers. My job was to bend three pieces of conduit to fit into jigs and produce as many as I could in a day. When I finally finished enough of a certain bend I would be assigned to something else – all done with a hand bender on three quarter inch conduit.

            For several months I worked for the electric company and even advanced to using a hydraulic bender for large conduit. But I never installed a wire nor connected an outlet. The job was easy and paid well but I didn’t get any genuine electrical experience.

            Did I have fun working on the big construction job? At the time I wasn’t sure, but looking back I can see it was a lot of fun. If we ever get into another hurried defense situation I suggest that you get a job bending conduit! Or unloading box cars!