At the end of the summer of 1969 we packed up our little Toyota Corolla and traveled up to Clearlake Oaks, CA, where my Uncle Jim Rogers lived with his wife Mandy and her six kids. They lived on the south side of Clear Lake, with a small boat dock right on the property so they could go boating or fishing anytime they desired. The house was large and had enough room for our family to live there for a brief time as I looked for work in Northern California.
After checking around the north bay area in Santa Rosa and Ukiah, without much luck, I was beginning to think that machinists jobs were going to be hard to find. There were several machine shops, but mostly run by older machinists working for themselves, and not needing any help. After a few days of searching, I finally found a job in Woodland, CA, at Kimzey Welding. John Kimzey had just finished building a machine shop on the side of his large welding shop, and was looking for a good machinist.
After I described my experience as an auto mechanic and machinist, he was impressed enough to hire me on the spot. There was a slight hesitation when I told him I had finished an apprenticeship a month before and was a journeyman machinist, since his was a non union shop, but I guess he figured one union guy couldn’t hurt much by himself.
As i started the new job, Carolyn came over to Woodland with me, and while I worked she scouted the town for a place to rent. She soon found a nice apartment in a fourplex, and we moved in with our meager belongings.
The first project I got was wiring the new machine shop. I had told him I had done some household wiring, but was not an electrician. He said he would help me as I needed it. He was no electrician, either, but he had confidence he could get the job done. He had one fat black extension cord he was dragging from machine to machine as he needed them, hooked to a three phase 220v. outlet in the welding shop.
So for the next several weeks in my spare time, when I wasn’t working on customer’s work, I bent conduit, attached boxes to the walls and pulled wire to each machine in the shop. Rather than directly wire each machine to the boxes, John wanted receptacles in each position, to allow him to rearrange the shop in the future any time he wanted. Since each machine already had a plug attached for the extension cord, it worked out fine.
When we were ready to tap into the electric service, John called an electrician over to inspect and approve the system that I had finished. It passed OK, with the one exception that I had run a ground wire in the conduit that wasn’t necessary, because it was all in metallic conduit and I could have just grounded to the conduit and saved the wire, but he approved the installation and I expected John Kimzey to schedule a time to shut down the incoming power so someone could hook up the new system.
I was amazed and alarmed when John told me we were going to hook up without shutting off the power to the incoming service line. He explained how we were going to do it by pulling the service phases out of the large gutter on the wall one at a time, and he would have thick rubber matting on the floor and walls so there would be no chance of touching a grounded surface while clamping the three leads to one of the cables in each bundle.
Theoretically, it looked safe, but there is always that unexpected factor that gets you. One of the real advantages of a union job is the contract, which prevents you from being fired if you refuse to do a job that you consider unsafe. Unfortunately, this was not a union job, and I could not afford to lose this job right then. So moving slowly and carefully, I untaped just enough of the major cables that I could clamp the leads to one of the cables, tape it back up, and push it back into the gutter. Then we tied a nylon rope to the next bundle and pulled it out where I could work on the next connection. I got it done without injury or death, needless to say, and I resolved to try harder to find a job with union protection in the future.
Although the boss wanted me to work six days a week, I told him I would prefer a five day week, since I had a family and wanted them to remember who I was. He was not happy, but I promised to work overtime on any evening that work needed to be finished.
We spent many weekends camping way back in the woods on Cache Creek, which was between Clear Lake and Woodland. I had spotted the road leaving the highway near Guinda, and found it led far back into the woods where few people bothered to go.
We took my mother up there for Easter in 1970, and when we tried to start the campfire, I found I had forgotten to bring matches. Rather than look around for flint, or rubbing sticks together, I took the paper sack we had brought the food in and twisted it up tightly so that I could dip it into the gas tank. I raised the hood, pulled a spark plug wire loose, and put the gasoline soaked paper between the wire and the engine while Carolyn started the engine. We soon had a roaring fire going and fried potatoes and hot dogs were on the menu.
One weekend when Darlene was away visiting, Carolyn and I drove up into one of the more remote areas of Cache Creek and found a deep pool of cool water for skinny dipping. Of course, one thing led to another and we were soon passionately enjoying ourselves together in the creek. We were standing there holding each other as we cooled down, and I looked up above us on the bank and saw a bobcat crouching there watching us. It was not more than twenty feet away. I quietly told Carolyn to move real slowly, since we had an audience. The bobcat was not moving. It just seemed curious to see what all the racket was all about. We slowly started backing away to the other bank to get our clothes and get back to the car. I guess the bobcat decided the show was over, and he turned around and walked away into the forest.
The pay at John Kimzey Welding was very low, but he had promised me if it all worked out I could eventually get a raise. There were no benefits at all, with the exception of a few national holidays, which he kicked off by passing around bottles of whiskey and other drinks starting about noon on the day before. He liked to drink a little too much, but he was the kind of drunk who got happy that way.
He delighted in finding ways to get around any regulation by the local bureaucracy, since he hated government. Sometime before I started the state had passed a regulation that all air tanks larger that 4” in diameter had to be inspected and certified every year, for a small fee, of course. So when he built the machine shop wing on the welding shop, he fabricated the roof rafters from 4” heavy pipes, doubled up vertically with plates welded on the ends and pipe couplings welded near the ends. When the shop was complete the whole roof became a compressed air storage area with no part larger than 4”. All the rafters tied together, and hoses could be attached to the rafters at any point in the shop, and he never had to pay for an inspection.
One evening my cousin Rick Cardoza rode into the yard on a tiny little Honda Fifty motor bike. He was Uncle Jim’s stepson, and we got to know him well when we stayed at Uncle Jim’s house. I asked what brought him down to Woodland, and he told me that he and his mother had gotten into an argument and he was leaving home to see his sister Shirley in Florida. He wanted to know which highway would get him from California to Florida. He was only about sixteen and obviously had no idea of the distance to Florida.
So I talked to Carolyn, and after she agreed, I suggested he stay overnight and think about it. We had him for the next two years, I think. He was a pretty good kid, and found a job for a while in a service station. He at least paid his way—he was raised in a large Hispanic family where the children were taught to get out and support the family or leave the house. He and Darlene became friends and our family just grew larger.
Then we got word that Carolyn’s brother Tommy was causing his parents a lot of grief. He was near the same age as Rick and Darlene, so we paid for an airplane ticket and he came to live with us from Oklahoma. Tommy was a handful, as he had had almost no discipline his whole life. His father was having trouble with alcohol binges, his mother had no time to spend on him, and he was already into serious trouble with whatever drugs he could find. He was sniffing glue and gasoline, and I even caught him sniffing a bag of Pam, kitchen aerosol shortening. I tried to work with him, but I had to spend time at work, and he needed 24 hour supervision.
When Darlene told us he had stolen a knife from the kitchen and hid it under the mattress I decided we could not risk having him anymore. When I went in to take the knife back, he rushed me, which was a mistake. It had not been too many years since I took hand-to-hand combat training in the Army. I grabbed his shirt by the front, lifted him off the ground using his forward motion against him and slammed him to the wall behind him with his feet dangling several inches off the floor. His eyes grew big with amazement and fear, and the fight was over before it started. We bought him another airplane ticket back to Oklahoma the next day.
Late in the summer, after I had worked for Kimzey Welding for a year, working on everything that came in the door, from airplane parts to tractor parts, I went into the office and asked John Kimzey for a raise. He told me he couldn’t do it. I asked if my work was satisfactory, and he told me he liked my work, but couldn't afford to pay me more. I told him I would be leaving in two weeks, then. He smiled and told me I didn’t need to give notice, that winter was approaching and if I wanted to leave to look for work immediately, that would be OK. He also said if I couldn’t find any thing, I would be welcome back anytime. I didn’t know whether to be glad or mad.
I said goodbye and went back home to tell Carolyn I had just quit my job. She took it well, although she was worried about it. We had saved a little money ahead, and I had one more paycheck coming to me.
Once again, we were free and looking for another home somewhere in the world.
I left the car for Carolyn and the kids, and I spent the next few days on the motorcycle searching for machinist jobs from Sacramento to Reno, Nevada. I knew there was a large copper mine in Yerington, NV, but they had no machinist openings, and neither did the town of Fallon, where there was a large Navy base.
On the way back from Fallon I stopped In Silver Springs, NV, for gas. As I filled the tank, the proprietor came out to talk and ask me where I was going. I told him I was searching for a machinist job and having no luck. He said my luck might change if I rode west about two miles to a shop on the north side of the road. There was an inventor there who was trying to build an experimental engine and was looking for a machinist or two.
Thus began my adventure with Sierra Rotary Engine Corporation.