Carl Lavery

Duration: 1hrs 35mins
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Interview with: Carl Lavery
Interviewed by:
Dates: January 14, 1983
Archive Number: OH 302
a

Interviewer
0:00:04.0 This is a January 14th, 1983 oral history interview with Mr. Carl Lavery. Let’s begin at the beginning. Where are you from originally?

Carl Lavery
First of all, do you want me to tell my name?

Interviewer
I’ve already done that.

Carl Lavery
I was born on Westheimer Road where Chimney Rock presently bisects it on the 16th day of June, 1915. At that time, the city limits ended somewhere around Tuam Street, and the rest of it was out in the country, and it was a gumbo road, passable only in good weather. In bad weather, you just didn’t go. You sat where you were. My grandfather built this house in 1902 or ’03 having come to Houston from Galveston, where they had been washed out in the 1900 storm. He built the 2-story house, and then he decided the best thing he could do was build that house in a way that would never be affected by a storm, so he put steel, or rather, wrought iron rods through the house and then bolts on each end and tightened them up the same way you’d do a car. In 1915, in the last part of August of 1915, we had a storm. It was far more severe than the storm of 1900. Water came up over the land. It came in from the Gulf and also from the heavy rains that were in the area of Houston, and Harris County and Fort Bend County, Brazoria County, all got this tremendous amount of rain in addition to the storm blowing in. Water got up as deep out there on Westheimer Road as my mother’s armpits, and she walked me, along with other members of the family, from Grandfather’s house down Westheimer Road to what is now known as Sage. At that time it was known as Osborn’s Lane. Carrying me on her shoulders and water over up to her breasts and above under her armpits until they got to Sage and Westheimer, where presently Sage and Westheimer is now.
The land began to rise, and even today that land, it dips some. But when she got down to where my aunt lived, Mrs. Osborn, the water was only about a foot deep because that was a higher elevation, and the house stood. Strangely enough, they had a telephone out there at that time, which was unbelievable, but they never got another telephone after that until 1940. Nobody ever did anything out that way. They just let it ride.

Interviewer
0:03:54.3 Were there many people living out in that area at that time?

Carl Lavery
Oh, yeah. This was a big farm area. Most of those folks out there were Italian truck farmers, old German farmers. There were some dairy operations in the area. My aunt, Mrs. Osborn, and her husband had a big dairy. They were running approximately 125 cows each morning and night, and they had another 125 that were dry or in the process of bearing calves. She had her dairy about halfway between Westheimer and what is now San Felipe Road on the east side. She had some 10 acres in there that they used for the dairy. What is now known as—oh, what’s that they call that area? Just east of the railroad tracks, Westheimer and the railroad tracks as you’re traveling east just as you go over—Highland Village area. That’s what it is. Highland Village, the south side of Westheimer at the railroad for about 500 or 600 acres in there was a pasture which she rented, and that’s where they put the cows every morning at 2 o’clock. They walked them down there, and they walked them back so that they could be milked at noon time. On the other side of the road, there was a gun club, which apparently now is gone. Of course, it’s a big shopping center.

Interviewer
And you all carried on these agricultural activities.

Carl Lavery
Yeah. My grandfather had originally bought about 640 acres out there, which went from Westheimer Road back to the SA and AP Railroad track, which still is existing out there. His eastern boundary, which is now known as Fountain View, at that time was known as Eldridge Road. I mean, his western boundary was that Eldridge Road. The eastern boundary is what is now known as Lamar Terrace, a little housing subdivision. Also, the eastern boundary is what is now known as Western National Bank is there. At that time, Westheimer went straight on past Western National Bank, and it didn’t cut back like it does now, and it made a sharp S turn. You had 2 of them: one over there at Sage and one on what is known as West Alabama. As a matter of fact, West Alabama was plotted to come right into Westheimer at Grandpa’s place, but he ended up with 40 acres left on Westheimer. Part of the 40 acres was bought by my Uncle Smith. His name was Smith Eldridge. The remainder was owned by Grandpa until he died, and then he divided it up among his 7 children. That 40-acre stretch was a truck garden. In other words, they grew things in a timely manner and took it down to the old market square where presently is a park. But in those days, it was a city hall and a big fish market and stores of all descriptions in the ground floor, and above it were the city offices. We carried our food in there at 4 o’clock in the morning, and we made sales, wholesale sales, and then a retail sale. If you had anything left over, you stayed there until the retail sales were done. Then you went back to the farm. You generally tried to come in Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Among other things, my grandfather made hominy, which is corn that’s been treated with lye water, boiled until it bursts open, and then it’s processed. He used to sell the old Rice Hotel most of the hominy made, but whatever they didn’t take he sold down there on the market square.

Interviewer
0:08:47.3 Did the Italian truck farmers also go down to market?

Carl Lavery
Yes, sir. They were there too, and many of them were really fine farmers, and they did an excellent job, and they had very small farms. As a matter of fact, some of them were 8 and 9 acres, and yet they made a living and sent their children to school and graduate school and to colleges and universities and graduate schools. And some of the people who were very important in Houston’s history came out of small farms. Most of the farmers were up and down Post Oak Road and Westheimer going west as far as Clodine. Even today, you can see the evidence of their farming activities by looking at the trees that are lined up where they used to come in with the road, and they would plant their trees on either side of the road, and you’d see these trees going right straight back to the old home place. This is particularly true between Highway 6 and Jerry Ashford (?). If you look carefully, you’ll still see it, although it’s highly built up and a residential area there and a commercial area.

On the corner of 6th and Westheimer—that’d be the northwest corner of 6th and Westheimer—there are still a great many trees standing there of an old farm home. The guy that lived there was an old German, whose name I can’t remember, but he planted all the trees, and it’s still there. On this side of the street is a new Foley store, and that was a big farm at one time. They primarily raised cotton. The fact is, most people raised cotton out there until after the 1917 disaster, and that was when almost all of them got out of cotton and got into cattle, with the exception of your truck farmers, who raised vegetables for local use primarily, not for being shipped. They didn’t ship anything too far away because Houston was a growing community, and it was absorbing all of the vegetables they could bring in just as fast as they could bring them in. They didn’t have to ship them out.

Interviewer
0:11:26.9 That’s definitely where you all sold your—

Carl Lavery
Yeah, all of our food went downtown and was sold locally. We did not ship. Likewise, the dairy that my aunt and uncle had, Osborn’s Dairy, originally he had a milk route where he had some 450-500 customers, and the excess milk was sold to a company that was known as Phoenix Dairy, who also was in the milk business but not in the same kind of family operation. This was a commercial operation. I think the man’s name was Olmstead that owned Phoenix. Their slogan was “Let Phoenix Fill Your Needs,” and they had a little guy dressed up as Phoenix Phil. Anyway, Uncle Ollie and Aunt Maggie and my Aunt and Uncle Osborn ran this thing out there—well, let me see. They got married in 1912, and he died in 1936. For a period of 24 years they ran it, and then from ’36 to 1950 my aunt ran the dairy until civilization got out there and it got to a point where she didn’t have any place to put her cattle. On the opposite side of the road, on the west side of Sage, then known as Osborn’s Lane, was a great parcel of land that became Tanglewood, and at the time between 1936 and 1950 that land was vacant and was used for pasture for her dry cows. She had 590 acres leased there which was owned by Amy Bering. The Bering family was very important in Houston, a well-known family, and they still are well known in this area. They had a tremendous real estate holding on the north side of Westheimer starting at Osborn’s Lane and going approximately 3 miles west on Westheimer and north, and they went all the way from Westheimer to the Buffalo Bayou area. I don’t know how many thousands of acres they had in there, but it was a tremendous property that was held by that family. Old man August Bering must have been up in his 80s when I was about 9 or 10 years old, and I remember him well because he didn’t speak a word of English. Not one word. I learned my first German curse word from him.

Interviewer
Would he go out there and look at his property?

Carl Lavery
He lived out there on the place. He lived out there. He didn’t want to live in town. He had a great big old 2-story house, and there were 12-foot ceilings in that 2-story house. You have 24 feet and then a tremendous A-frame roof, very typical of all the German type of architecture in Texas at that time. Downstairs in that house it was a so-called living room, and then there was a sitting room. The big dining room and a kitchen was outside away from the house so the fire wouldn’t burn the house up. Inside the dining room table was some A-frame—well, like the carpenter’s A-frame that he uses to put his work on. That’s what this was. It was like sawhorses, and on top of it was a 2 by 12 plank, 4 of them. Four 2 by 12 planks, so it was 4 feet wide, 12 feet long, and they didn’t use tablecloths. They scrubbed it every morning with a great big steel brush, and after every meal it was scrubbed. It turned just as white as a sheet. The only other place I ever saw anything like this was over in south Louisiana around the little town of Gueydan, and there were a bunch of German farmers in there, and that’s the same. I saw it again there, and that was late in the late 50s and early 60s. I was doing some work over in that country, and I walked into this man’s home to make a deal with him about some land problems we were having, and here was this table, and I almost fainted because I thought, “My God. It’s like old August Bering’s home again.” Here was this long table made out of 2 by 12s. You could see where they’d scrubbed it so much it had scallops in it, the most amazing thing in the world.

Interviewer
But they would scrub that thing every morning?

Carl Lavery
Every morning. Well, after every meal. Of course, the only meals they had were the morning meal and the evening meal. The noontime meal was carried to them out in the fields. How, I don’t know, but they took food to them, usually in a basket, I would assume.

Interviewer
Did he have his children living there with him?

Carl Lavery
Yeah, Bering had a large family, and I’m sure that some of them left and went into town. There was a Bering lumber company and Bering hardware and a Bering real estate company, so all these kids apparently moved off of the place, but the old man stayed out there with his wife and 2 or 3 of the younger ones. They ran it. They had mainly cattle is what they were doing. They were raising beef cattle. Well, there wasn’t anybody there that could do the farming anymore, so they just raised beef cattle.

Interviewer
0:17:58.8 Did you all have laborers out there on those farms?


Carl Lavery
No, no. If you didn’t have family, you didn’t have any labor. Nobody could afford a laborer, to begin with. First of all, there wasn’t enough cash around. You ate well, and you slept well, and you were warm and comfortable because wood was plentiful. You didn’t have any trouble getting wood. There was lots of wood. All you had to do was go out there and cut the trees down. But a laborer was not—on a small farm, a family farm, one of the reasons you had all the kids was to have plenty of labor. That’s exactly the way they worked it out there at that time. I lived out there when I was a little fellow from I guess ’15 to ’17. My father was a railroader. He was gone a lot. They were building some railroads up in Oklahoma territory, what is now known as the state of Oklahoma. It wasn’t convenient for him to take my mother and me with him because of the fact they were living out of boxcars mainly on these construction jobs. When we moved into downtown Houston in 1917 we moved to 703 Pierce Avenue. That was on the northeast corner of Louisiana and Pierce Streets.

Interviewer
0:19:38.6 Why did you all move in?

Carl Lavery
Well, to the best of my knowledge, I think there were some family problems. My grandmother said, “Look, we think you and your husband ought to get out.” My father was considerably older. In fact, he was a year older than my grandfather, and I don’t think there was any particular love lost between those families, and particularly with my grandfather being a year younger than my dad. Why, that didn’t sit well with him, and he married my mother, and she was 25 years younger than he was. I don’t think Grandpa particularly wanted him to marry her, and he didn’t want my mother to marry him. I guess the friction got pretty bad. We moved over on Pierce and Louisiana Streets. The Santa Anita Restaurant stands at that particular corner now. This was a very interesting neighborhood. Today we call it a neighborhood in transition. It didn’t have any such name in those days. It was just a neighborhood. But anyway, the wealthier people were moving further on away, and the Montrose subdivision and Hyde Park and a few others were being built and offered nicer, newer homes, and people are prone to want to move. From where they are they tend to want to move up in society, move up in their own way of standard of living. They go move off. Very, very interesting situation. We lived—across the street from us was the Zindler family. Mr. Zindler was one of 5 brothers who, with their father, owned Zindler Clothing Store, and that’s on the corner of Congress and Fannin Streets. That’s the north—that would be the northwest corner, and that building is still standing. I don’t know whether it’s still a clothing store or not, because I haven’t gone down there in a long time to look except just to pass by. I’m not sure.
0:21:46.7 But anyway, they lived over there, and they had a bunch of kids. Abe Zindler Sr. lived on the corner—he lived right directly across the street, and then he had an apartment house right next door to him which he had rented out, one of which was used by his brother Jerome. That was the youngest brother. He had another brother named Mitchell and one named Leo, and they were married and had moved out of there and gone on somewhere else. But anyway, Mr. Abe Sr. had a son named Abe Jr., and he had Marvin, who is famous on television, as you probably are aware. Warren was there, and this was an interesting area. Behind me lived the Segal family, and they’ve rented the property to my mother and father that they lived in. Next door to us lived some people called the Pino family, and I never did know what Mr. Pino did because I was a little bitty kid, but I do know he had a daughter whose name was Marjorie who was rather a stout woman, and she married a fellow by the name of Gido, who ran a restaurant in Houston. But when I was a young, shy kid growing up, I had a young sister who was born on the corner of Pierce and Louisiana. When we were, I guess, along about 1920 to ’21 to ’22, in that area, we would get in trouble. We’d do something we shouldn’t do, and of course, whoever caught us immediately took advantage of the situation and gave us a darn good spanking. Then you came back home, and your mother found out about it, so you got one from her, and your daddy comes home, and you get one from him. Now, it didn’t make any difference which mother caught who, but you got a whipping, and I can remember Mrs. Zindler whipping me, and my mother walks out on the front porch and sees it, and she grabbed me and whipped me, and then she whipped Abe Jr., and Herman and Dovey Segal got whipped. Mrs. Segal would come out, and she’d whip everybody in sight. I wonder what today would happen if you did something like that.

Interviewer
A lawsuit.

Carl Lavery
We are the most litigation-conscious people in the world, but in those days, their theory was that if you got a whipping, you remembered it, and you didn’t do it again. That’s exactly true. There was an old guy that lived in a place down the street from us on Pierce Avenue. Oh, yeah, the Bertenheim family lived on the corner of Milam and Pierce Avenue. They were at the northwest corner of Milam and Pierce. The Tamborella family lived across the street and ran a grocery store, and they lived above the store. The Taylors lived next door to the Bertenheims on the same side of the street and then next to them is a place that’s now known as—it was known as Reddick’s Ice Cream Store, (?) and that is now Borden’s Ice Cream Store. That will orient you as to where this area is. But the families in those days didn’t hesitate to whip the kids. They didn’t think anything about it. Nobody got mad. Certainly my mother never got mad at Mrs. Zindler or Mrs. Segal for whipping me, and they never got mad at her for whipping their children. And brother, they sure wielded a mean stick when they worked on you.

Interviewer
0:25:34.7 What was the house like that you all moved into?

Carl Lavery
The house that we lived in was a 2-family house, and it had a hall. We called it a dog run. I guess you could—although most dog runs are open, these were closed. The front end had a door on it, and the back end had a door, so you could protect that corridor. On the west side of that house there was a bedroom, a living room, and a kitchen. The bath was on a porch on the outside of the house. You went through the back door outside and walked into the bath, and it had a tub and a commode and an old-fashioned type commode where the tank was way up high, and it had a long chain on it. To get hot water, you put a quarter in the meter and turned the hot water on. To get heat in the house, you did the same thing. The other side of the house was identical. It had the same thing. There was no difference whatsoever on the east side of the house as the west side, and they had a bathroom on their side of the house just like we did, but the bathroom was an afterthought. Probably when the house was built somewhere in the 1880s they had an outhouse there or something. Where I never did know, but certainly that was true because the wiring, instead of being concealed, was on white insulators right across the ceiling, and you had a drop light, which is nothing but 1 bulb hanging from the ceiling. You turned it on and turned it off. Not the type of lights we have today. They were lights that were white but not frosted, and they had a carbon filament in them, and sometimes they were yellow rather than white.

Interviewer
This is a strange question, but I think it’s important. When you all moved from there were you old enough to remember—when you moved from the country into the city did people tend to bathe more?

Carl Lavery
As a matter of fact, no. They didn’t. My father was born in 1860, and he died in 1936, and to my knowledge, in all the years I knew my father I never knew him to take a bath. He was absolutely clean, because every morning he got up he would shave, and then he would wash himself off. I can see him pulling his—well, in the summer time they’d call them BBDs, (?) but he never wore those. We called them long-handled underwear. Anyway, some of them were cotton. Some were wool, depending on the time of year, I suppose. He’d pull that down, and he’d wash around his body, but I never saw that man take a bath. Now, when I was growing up, I was taught to take a bath, and I was expected to have a bath after my mother quit bathing me, which was about 4 or 5 years old, I guess. I had to have a bath every afternoon before my father came home, and I had to be dressed up, so when he came in we were starched.

Interviewer
That was in the country as well as the city?

Carl Lavery
Well, when I was in the country I was only a couple years old, so I don’t remember much about out there. I remember later being out there, but I don’t remember too much about before. My first real memory is the year 1920. I remember that well because my father was a Republican, and oh, there was a big hullabaloo over the red election that year. Warren Harding was running, and Wilson wanted somebody elected, and they had a heck of an election that year, and I don’t remember who ran against Harding, but he beat him, and my father was delighted.

Interviewer
Why was your father a Republican? That’s rather unusual.

Carl Lavery
I think originally he was a Democrat, because at one time he had been offered a job back somewhere around 1888. He was 28 years old or 29 years old. He was offered a job as Postmaster General of the United States by Grover Cleveland, but somewhere along the line, he got disenchanted with the Democratic Party, and he became a Republican, and he voted for McKinley, and from that point on, he voted Republican, which to me was a rather strange inconsistency in his life because he was also a union man, and almost all union people in those days were Democrats. He was a very staunch union individual. He was General Chairman of the Brotherhood of Railroad Clerks in Houston in 1916-’17-’18-’19-’20-’21. He was involved in the strike of ’21 to the extent that when he came back they found a way to get rid of him, so we suffered financially as a result of that.

0:31:33.7 (end of audio 1)

0:00:04.8 (start of audio 2)

Interviewer
—get that on tape. Do you remember the circumstances around that strike? Did he ever tell you about it?
Carl Lavery
Yeah, I heard about it. As a matter of fact, the strike was a rather stupid strike as I see it today. And in view of my own personal feelings, I feel like if I had been there I would not have participated in the strike had I been my father. The war was over. All of the people were coming back, and during the war a great many men were called to service by draft. A great many more found ways to get out of it, and the unions were very upset over the fact that the people who didn’t get drafted had gotten into the railroads and were literally taking over all the jobs that the ones who had served in the Armed Forces were supposed to have when they came back. In 1921, business got a little bit lousy. In fact, we had what was known in those days as the Depression, and the railroad started laying people off. Well, the people they laid off were the union people who had been with them prior to the war and had been drafted and gone into service, and they kept the ones who had been hired while these other people were gone and maintained them rather than letting seniority being operative, and it was not operative with it. This caused all these union officials, and particularly especially my father, who was a general chairman of railroad clerks, to get real hot. They called this national strike, and they did, and they finally settled it in Washington. I think they settled it by saying, “Yeah, we’ll put them back to work, but as soon as we get back to some kind of a better prosperous period.” Of course, in 1922 or ’23, I think it was, my father was Chief Clerk of the Houston Belt and Terminal Railroad, and he got this charge. There was some kind of trumped up reason for it, and of course, at that time, by ’23, he was 63 years old. Trying to find a job at age 63 in those days is worse than trying to find one today, even with our non-discriminatory clauses. We didn’t have any of that sort of thing in those days.

Interviewer
0:02:52.4 Do you think it was his union-related activities?

Carl Lavery
I know exactly that’s what it was because old man Thorn who was the agent for the Houston Belt and Terminal—by the way, Houston Belt and Terminal was a company that was owned by all the major railroads. There were at that time 19 railroads in Houston, and those 19 railroad companies went to work and got together and created a terminal railroad, which around Houston they could switch these box cars around. They didn’t have each one of them doing it themselves, and so Mr. Thorn was the agent, which meant he was the head man of the outfit. Ordinarily he’d be called president. In 1932 or ’33, I knew I was going to get out of high school, and I was looking for a job, and we were right in the middle of the Depression, and I went to see Mr. Thorn and talked to him to see if he could get me a job in the railroad as a messenger or something like that, which would pay $80 or $90 a month, whereas most anything else I got would have only paid 40 cents an hour. I asked him about that strike and what all went on, and he told me about it. He told me my father was let out because he was a union operator and a union official, and the railroad management felt like they didn’t need any more rabble-rousers, and that’s what he was. He was a rabble-rouser.

Interviewer
Did your father talk to you about the strike ever?

Carl Lavery
Oh, he would never talk much about it. I know this much. He didn’t want me to go to work for the railroad. He never wanted me to work for the railroad.

Interviewer
Did he seem to be kind of a rabble-rouser?

Carl Lavery
No. As far as he was concerned, I’ve never thought of him that way, but I’ve looked at his life, and I can look back and see that he was a very brilliant man who was educated by himself, and he had the equivalent of what we would call a CPA background today, and he should have been a very wealthy man, but he let his mouth overload himself. The result was he didn’t have any money. Some things that he did—my sister and I have talked about this a lot, and she knew Daddy better than I do. But anyway, she made a tape not long ago in which she told me about what all he did. He was not capable of handling money. He could make money, but he didn’t know how to handle it. He didn’t know how to keep it. He didn’t know what to do with the money. He’d get some harebrained scheme, and off he’d go. That I don’t understand, but that’s the way it was.

Interviewer
0:05:54.2 Was he dedicated to the union?

Carl Lavery
Very much so. Oh, yeah. He thought the union was the only thing. He came up with the union. You see, when he went to work for the railroads in 1872, he was 12 years old. He was a call boy. In other words, when they needed an engineer, they sent this call boy out to get the engineer and to bring him in and to put him on the train, sober, drunk, or otherwise. And of course, he had that minimal amount of education, but he was a person who did a great deal of reading, and he needed very little sleep. He went to bed every night at midnight, and he was up every morning at 4:30. He had plenty of time to read at night and in the morning, and he had a tremendous education. He had a good memory, and in his business he had very good judgment. We have checked through the genealogy, and we found him in Evansville, Indiana between the years 1890 and 1900. That was between his 30th and his 40th birth years. At that time, he was the chief claims agent for 3 major railroads. I have helped some good friends of mine who were railroad people, and they tell me that a man who was chief claims agent was the same as an officer of a company, and as a result, they got excellent income. One time my sister told me that he told her that he had $25,000 in gold in a pair of woman’s hose that he had saved while he was working in Evansville, Indiana. Now, whatever happened to that—$25,000 in gold in 1890 and the 1900 area was a tremendous amount of money.

Interviewer
What was his name?

Carl Lavery
My father’s name was Carl C. Lavery. I’m Carl C. Lavery Jr. I’ve dropped the Jr. from my name long ago. But anyway he was a man who spent a lot of his life—I call him a boomer.

Interviewer
How did he end up, though, making the full circle here, so to speak, to the Houston area? He was in Indiana but—

Carl Lavery
0:08:41.6 Well, from Indiana he went over to Atlanta and Atlanta to—we don’t know where he was before he went to Indiana. There was a period—we still don’t know anything about what happened to him between 1872 and 1890. That’s a period of 18 years. We don’t know a thing about what happened to him.

Interviewer
He never talked about that?

Carl Lavery
Uh-hunh (negative). He was very close mouthed about his life. As a matter of fact, we didn’t know a whole lot about him. He had a wife previously but we don’t know whether he had—we think he had no children. We don’t know that for a fact. I don’t have the slightest idea. We know his first wife’s name simply because we found where he had divorced her, and we got the name off of the records in Galveston. Galveston was his home. He was born in Galveston in 1860. His mother was German Lutheran. His father was German Catholic. There was a great deal of friction there, and the father left the mother and took off and went back to Europe. The mother remarried and changed our name to the name of the man she married, which leaves us a puzzlement again. About 120-some years ago it’s hard for us to understand what went on at that time, although we’re right on top of it. We don’t know really what happened to him, but anyhow, we know that that’s where he started and where he ended up. His mother was still alive in Galveston in 1924 when she died, and she was 84 when she passed away.

Interviewer
Where did he meet your mother? There in Galveston?

Carl Lavery
He met her in Galveston. My mother married first a man named Tuttle who was a telegrapher for the railroads, and he and my father were friends because of the fact they both were in the railroad business. Tuttle developed some kind of problem. I think it was either pneumonia or a fever or something. But anyway, he died suddenly in 1911, and he and my mother had only been married maybe a year, a year and a half and so my mother when he died—in those days people lived in boarding houses. We didn’t have restaurants like we have today. You went to a boarding house to eat if you were hungry for something unless you were in a hotel and the hotel had a dining room. But to find a restaurant like Kelly’s or Sonny Look’s, that just didn’t exist. You either ate in the hotel, or you ate over at a boarding house. Of course, in cities like New York they had places like Delmonico’s, but that was all, because they had a tremendous population. But a little place like Galveston with 25,000-30,000 they just didn’t have it. Everybody went home to lunch anyway. If you were married, you caught the streetcar and went home and ate, and then you came back and went to work again. Just to go out for lunch, there wasn’t any such animal unless you went to a boarding house. That was already a place to discuss business.

0:12:14.9 But anyway, that’s how he got down here. He came back to Galveston, and from Galveston they moved into Houston, and he went to work for the Houston Belt and Terminal Railroad, and that’s where he was when he died. When he got let out of there, he went to work for Western Wing Inspection Bureau, which was a railroad-oriented company. Their job was to help companies who got freight bills and didn’t think the freight bill was right. Western Wing Inspection would take the bill, and they’d take somebody like my father, who was well acquainted with railroad rates, because he’d been chief of accounting for this Terminal Railroad, and before that he’d been a claims agent, and he knew a great deal about it. They got their funds by splitting what they saved on the freight bill. In other words, if your freight bill was $1,000 and they could cut it to $800, the railroad refunded $200. $100 was kept by Western Wing, and the other person that put the bill with them got the other $100. That’s the way it worked. Well, he worked for them until 1927-’28, and because of his political connection to the Republican Party, they opened a post office in the little town of Stafford right down the road from here. He was the first postmaster there, and he stayed there until he died in 1936. He ran that post office.

Interviewer
Back in the 20s, though, did he lead the strike in Houston?

Carl Lavery
Yeah. He was sure involved in it. He was the general chairman of this—well, he did his section, you see. You had the Brotherhood of Railroad Clerks, you had the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, and you had the Brotherhood of Firemen. Then you had the conductors’ union. Well, he was in the Brotherhood of Railroad Clerks, so he was the ringleader of the strike in Houston for the Brotherhood of Railroad Clerks because he was general chairman, which meant he was over all the railroad clerks in Houston as far as the union was concerned. He was the man that they came to for the union problems in Houston.

Interviewer
0:14:32.4 Was there any violence in that strike in Houston?

Carl Lavery
None. There wasn’t any violence anywhere. There wasn’t any need for it. They just shut the railroads down. That’s all. As long as you have them shut down, what’s the fight about? If you had fights when somebody tries to run a business in spite of the strike, that’s when you see tempers fly and you see all these vicious and unnecessary acts of violence occur.

Interviewer
What do you think your father and his group—do you think they would have been capable of trying to stop the railroad from running their business if they would have chosen to?

Carl Lavery
If they had taken an oath, yeah. You bet your life they would have. That’s always been the history of the unions. The history of strikes is that. The history of strikes is to stop whatever is going on. Don’t let it happen. Lord, my own business, we used to have a terrible time. The only place I know of where we beat the unions when they had a picket line up was in the state of Louisiana in the parish of Plaquemines because there was only 1 road in Plaquemines Parish, and that road went right straight down to the bayou to the mouth of the Mississippi River, a little old town down there, and that’s the end of it. But then you worked out of there. The sheriff would open the road. He said that road was going to stay open because he was anti-union regardless of what it was. As a matter of fact, nobody would even think of doing anything on a union basis in that parish because it was run by Judge Perez and his group, and they didn’t countenance any such foolishness as that. The other place that we beat the unions was offshore, and there’s no place on that water out there they can put a picket line up. They aren’t walking on water yet. (laughs) Also, we used helicopters, and we could walk over their heads.

Interviewer
Where did you go to school when you got into Houston?

Carl Lavery
0:16:48.0 I went to Fannin Elementary School on the corner of Tuam and Louisiana, which is now a vacant lot. Interestingly enough, the trees are still there, and they’ve gotten larger. But the ones on Smith Street between Tuam and Anita, those trees are still there, and those are the trees we used to play marbles under. That was a big old 3-story schoolhouse. An old man named Jamerson was the principal of the school. He used to whip my fanny every time I turned around. I was always in trouble for something. I had long, curly hair. My hair hung in ringlets around my head. That was my mother’s theory. She wanted those curls. There would be some clown that would walk up behind me and grab one of those curls, and when he did, the fight was on. This happened until I was in the 3rd grade. I finally got rid of those curls, but I got to the point where I could feel the heat behind me and turn before the guy pulled my curl and clobber him, and old man Jamerson was sitting up there in that window looking out on the playground, and he’d see it, and so as soon as recess was over, why, I was marched straight down to see Brother Jameson. Oh, man. He whipped me every time he looked at me. But I bear him no grudges. Today I think it’s funny.

But anyway, I went to Fannin. I stayed there from 1922-’23-’24-’25-’26. In 1927 I went to Lanier Junior High which was out on Woodhead and Westheimer. By the way, we walked to school too. We didn’t ride. I didn’t have any money to ride the streetcar. It cost a nickel, and I didn’t have it. We walked, and I went to school there in ’27-’28 and ’29, and in June of 1930, why, that was the end of Lanier, and I went to Sam Houston High School in the fall of 1930, and I graduated in the summer of 1933.

Interviewer
That area is not too far. You mentioned last time down from the large Kirby home down there, isn’t it?

Carl Lavery
Oh, Pierce and Louisiana. The Kirby home is on the corner of—it’s on Smith Street, which is 1 block west of Louisiana between Pierce and Gray, and the street behind that is Brazos.

Interviewer
Was that the largest house in that area?

Carl Lavery
0:19:47.3 Oh, no doubt about it. It sat on a full city block and a half a block—a whole block ahead of it on the other side between Louisiana and Smith Street on Pierce and Gray. That was a vacant piece of ground owned by Mr. Kirby, and he kept it vacant so he could look out over there. Then he had his house on the next block, and across the street from Smith and Brazos he had his stables where he kept his horses and his carriages. John Henry Kirby was one of the wealthiest men in the world at that time. He was a tremendously—heck, he owned almost all East Texas. What he didn’t own, my wife’s uncle owned the rest of it. The Carter family was up there and the Kirby family and the Moses family. Let’s see. There’s some other people who were in there. Oh, yeah. The Kurth family. Old man Kurth. The guy came over in a pickle barrel. He was a very interesting old guy. Anyway, that was the dynasty up in there in East Texas Piney Woods. All those little towns over there were named for Mr. Kirby’s girlfriend, Bessie May Buner (?).

Interviewer
Did you know Mr. Kirby?

Carl Lavery
I knew Mr. Kirby. I sure did know Mr. Kirby.

Interviewer
From what years were they that you knew him?

Carl Lavery
I met Mr. Kirby in—the first time I ever met Mr. Kirby I was 7 years old, 1922, and he caught me over in the stables because I wanted to see what was over there. I was a very curious child, and he came out and caught me in the barn, and he said, “What are you doing here?” I told him I wanted to see what it was. I couldn’t imagine what was in that place. And by that time, his horses were gone. He had an old—I believe he had an old Lincoln automobile, a great big old touring sedan they called it, the biggest thing I ever saw. But anyway, that’s when I first met him, and I was introduced to his nephew, a boy by the name of Fortenberry, Gordon Fortenberry, who became an artist. Gordon and I were about the same age. From then on, why, I was in and out of old man Kirby’s home all the time because with Gordon we were always over there for some reason or another. I got to know the house really well.

Interviewer
0:22:32.3 Was it an attractive house inside?

Carl Lavery
Yeah, it was a beautiful place. It had everything in it money could buy. Everything. It originally was an old wooden house, and his daughter was going to get married, so he had the house redone and put into brick. It was brick like it is today as it stands presently. It’s an oil company headquarters now, and for a long time it was the Red Cross headquarters. But originally it is a house that had lots of rooms in it and some very strange places in it, one of which was the Thunder Room, which was where Mrs. Kirby went when it thundered. It had no windows. It was shut in, and it was quiet and dark, and you couldn’t hear anything in there. She was deathly afraid of thunder. Why? Nobody knows, but she was. Some people are. But anyhow, I knew the house quite well, yeah, very definitely.

Interviewer
Was it a comfortable home?

Carl Lavery
Oh, man, yes. Oh, yes. He had all kinds of servants, and every room in that house had comfort in it. It just oozed comfort, and to a poor devil like me, man, that was like being in a palace. I never saw anything like it. I couldn’t believe that anybody could have all that sort of thing and here we were—

Interviewer
What kind of an individual was he, to your knowledge?

Carl Lavery
Mr. Kirby was a gregarious man. He was a very kind individual. He was a tough businessman, tough, tough. But in his relations with people, he was always very pleasant and very kind, and even as tough as he was, he was still a courteous gentleman. He was not educated in the same way we think of people being educated today, although he was a natural man in the form of he had natural abilities, and he was a very intellectual man, even though he was not formally educated. His mother taught him everything he knew in the way of education. She taught him to read, she taught him to write, she taught him to cipher in those days and then work mathematical problems. But I don’t think he had any kind of formal education of any description. But in spite of that, he still picked up all of the social graces, and he was capable of knowing about them and taking care of people and making them comfortable, and certainly for a poor little kid like I was he was very, very kind. He was always interested in what we were doing, and he’d always ask Gordon and me what we’d been into and how we were getting along at school and could he help us in any way, which of course, there was no way he could help you except to be nice to you. I thought he was a fine man. I think he was sometimes gullible. He pulled—the thing that really hurt him was the fact that he got himself out on a limb financially. We had a terrific—the Depression came in the 1930s, and it wiped him out, and he lost all his properties. And strangely enough, he went into bankruptcy, and in 1965, 30 years later from the day of his bankruptcy, all the bills were paid off, and the Kirby family received like about $300 or $400 million from the oil royalties that were accumulated on Kirby properties while it was in bankruptcy. You’ve probably noticed or heard about the Kirby Oil Company. It was an offshoot of the Kirby Lumber Company. The Kirby Lumber Company is now owned by the Santa Fe Railroad. The Santa Fe Railroad bought—didn’t buy it. They got it because they loaned Mr. Kirby money on all his properties out there. When the bankruptcy took place, the oil area was spinned off from the lumber area, which is the part that became the Kirby Oil Company, and the lumber company stayed the same, but Santa Fe had no rights to the oil. To this day, they’re still griping about it, that they don’t have any rights to that oil. They still own the land.

Interviewer
0:27:37.9 Did he ever show any indication of the business hard times in his personal demeanor?

Carl Lavery
No. He was the most evenly tempered person you ever saw. Rich or poor, it didn’t make any difference. He’d been extraordinarily poor. If you read his biography, you’ll find that his early life was one of miserable poverty. I don’t think anything could be any more miserable a poverty than would be a poor person in East Texas in the 1800s—I mean 1900s. Between 1880 and 1910, that’s a period there of 30 years that if you had $10, you were wealthy, I mean really wealthy. If you had $10 in cash, you could do almost anything. Those people were just simply—well, they really lived off of the company store. They lived in these little company towns like Buner and Bessie May, and they ate at the company commissaries, and they got their groceries at the company store, and they never saw a paycheck. They got a chit, and on it it simply said you have so many dollars available to you at the store, and you owe so much money, and our Tennessee Ernie boy one time put out a song about 16 tons and what do you get? Well, that was also true in the east Kirby empire. It was true in the Carter empire. It was true in the Moses empire. All of them. They all operated the same. As a matter of fact, up until 1950, Sugar Land was a company town, and they had the company store there, and people lived and died and never did get out of debt to the company store. That was very true there.

Interviewer
0:29:50.1 Was the neighborhood tumbling down around the Kirby house?

Carl Lavery
Yeah. As I told you earlier, we were in a transition period. Well-to-do people were moving out, and the poorer people were moving in. The same thing has happened in Riverside, and the same thing has happened all over every city in the country. When you move out, the next people to come in are not able to take care of it the way the ones who were there before did. We saw this happen in the little town of Blair when we lived there. After we moved out of Blair, we went back some 10 years later. You could see that the thing had taken a slide downhill rather than going up, whereas when we lived there, why, homeowners took good care of their property. Now you see the homeowners are not homeowners. They’re probably renters, and they don’t have the interest in it. That was what was going on around Pierce and Louisiana Street. In fact, that whole area, the residential area of Houston, as you probably know, started out at McKinney Avenue and went south, and by 1910, almost all of the big homes had moved on beyond the First Methodist Church. The First Methodist Church was built in the middle of a—

0:31:25.1 (end of audio 2)

0:00:02.9 (start of audio 3)

He had a nephew, Frank, who was chief engineer and general manager, and he was around the stations at all times. He had the major license. In other words, everybody had a license to run a station except for the announcers. Anybody that touched the control had to have a license. I had a radio operator’s license 3rd class first, and I finally got a 1st class license. When I started being an operator at KXYZ, I sat for the 3rd class examination, which was really nothing. But the 2nd and 1st class were tough, and I sat 3 times for that 1st class license. I finally got it, and never did I use the information that the license called for in my work with the station. In other words, we were told under the license I had to know how to operate a transmitter which was so far out of date that no one even knew about it. It was an old carbon arc transmitter, and no one was using carbon arcs in 1930. They had been fine in 1910 when the Titanic sunk. A carbon arc was great. It announced to the world the Titanic was sinking, but there were too many other more sophisticated type equipment by 1930 than there was—and so the license that we took, questions on the examination for the license that we took were predicated on knowing about the carbon arc and about spark gap transmissions, which nobody even knows about today.

Interviewer
0:01:44.8 Were those stations run fairly well, do you think?

Carl Lavery
Oh, yeah. They were well run. Absolutely well run. They made money from day 1 in spite of the fact we were in a heck of a depression. I don’t know of anything Jesse Jones ever had his fingers on that didn’t make money. He simply had a way of putting the right person in the right place at the right time. Of all the cities in America, the only one that didn’t have a bank failure was Houston, Texas, and he was the reason they didn’t have it.

Interviewer
In those announcements, could you tell whether the hand of Jesse Jones was in those announcements over the radio?

Carl Lavery
No. Now, Mr. Jones didn’t interfere at all in the day-to-day operations of the station. Mr. Frank Jones, general manager, set policies, but he did not have anything to do about what the program director did. Milton Hall was a very capable person in spite of his alcoholism, and he ran the station in a very straightforward operation, and there was no foolishness, no monkey business, no anything that went on in that station. He saw to it that the announcements were clear, that they were understandable. They were written in a way that assumed that a small child would be able to understand what was said. There was no—the language was strictly grammatical English, and you didn’t have all these people saying, “It’s me” when you should have said, “It’s I.” On the radio in those days, you spoke clearly, distinctly, and you spoke correctly.

Interviewer
Were there news announcements when you were there?

Carl Lavery
Yeah. We had one 5-minute news summary at 6 o’clock in the evening, 6 to 6:05, and we had a closing summary when the station closed at midnight from 11:55 until 12 midnight. This stuff was prepared for KTRH by the Houston Chronicle by one of their editors, brought over there, handed to the announcer, and he read it, and that was all of the news. We had no news staff, and we had no reporters, news gathering facilities whatsoever. It was all dependent upon the Chronicle, and the Chronicle did it because they got a free plug. “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Here is the latest news. It has been furnished to us by the Houston Chronicle on such and such street, and Mr. So and So editor has prepared this information for your edification.” Then the language went right from there onto what it was, and that was it. 5 minutes.

Interviewer
And that was done 2 times.

Carl Lavery
Twice a day, at 6 o’clock in the evening from 6 to 6:05 and from 11:55 to midnight.

Interviewer
How long was this the case that they did that sort of news?

Carl Lavery
I think they really started putting newscasts out about 1935, but I was well out of the business by then, and most of the time I didn’t have any radio to listen to. We had a radio at home, but I wasn’t around much when it was on.

Interviewer
But this 2 times a day was while you were there.

Carl Lavery
Yeah, this was in the 1930s, ’31 and ’32.

Interviewer
What about community service announcements? I mean, was there anything approximating a community service announcement?

Carl Lavery
0:05:58.6 Yeah, we had community service—like church parties and such but nobody came in and said, “Well, church services will be held on such and such a date.” We did broadcast church services, because in 1931 I went out to St. Paul’s Church and wired it for a remote control transmission of their services. In the old days, you had to give so many hours to community service, so many hours to religious services, or you couldn’t stay on the air. The result was radio stations made an effort to get to the First Baptist Church, the First Methodist Church, St. Paul’s Methodist or the Roman Catholic Church or an Episcopal Church. They went around and looked for them. In those days, they did it free. Today those churches pay for that.

Interviewer
Did any politicos come up to the stations to make announcements when you were there?

Carl Lavery
In 1930, we had an election, and these guys were up there. Our rates doubled for them. Where a public service announcement, a regular announcement at that time was $15 for a minute, it was $30 a minute for the politicians. I don’t understand why, but that’s the way it was, and in fact, up to this day I never thought about why it should be or shouldn’t be, but I recall very distinctly that they did double it, and the politico politicians came up there, and old Roy Hofheinz, I remember him up there. He was running for something. I think he was running for county clerk. No, he was running for county judge, and he was up there, and I’ll never forget, he had a straw hat on. They don’t wear straw hats like these anymore. It was one of these hard—like they call them sailor hats I guess, some kind of hat. Anyway, it was an old straw hat. He had it on the back of his head, and that was the most animated human being I had ever seen. I never saw a man that was as animated as he was. He was full of energy, just bubbling over. Most people were rather sedate about the microphone. They were, quite honestly, kind of scared of it, but not him. He took to that thing like a duck to water, but we had others up there who stumbled and fumbled and reminded me of Teddy Kennedy when he was being interviewed by Roger Mud, only there wasn’t anybody to see them. In those days you just had the microphone. You could hear, but you couldn’t see anything.

Interviewer
Do you remember some—besides Hofheinz who were the—

Carl Lavery
0:08:53.7 Oh, Oscar Holcombe was up there. 3 or 4 of the city council people were there. All of the people who were running for Congress were up at one time or another. They had interviews, which they paid for.

Interviewer
How did Holcombe relate to the microphone?

 

Carl Lavery
Oh, he had no difficulty with it. Mr. Holcombe was a very capable person when it came to handling almost anything. He didn’t have any fear of it at all, but we had others who did have. I remember a congressman by the name of Engle who stumbled and fumbled around, and finally they turned the mic off and said, “Congressman, I think you ought to quit while you’re ahead. You’re going to make a fool of yourself.” That was the end of that, so they started playing a music piece. I don’t remember now which—

Interviewer
I think Joe Eagle.

Carl Lavery
Eagle, yeah. Maybe that’s what it was. But anyhow, it’s been 50 years ago.

Interviewer
But he didn’t do very well.

Carl Lavery
No. He was a pretty good person when you got to know him, but really and truly I guess he was just scared of that microphone. I don’t know what he was scared of. The thing wasn’t going to bite him.

Interviewer
But Hofheinz wasn’t.

Carl Lavery
Oh, no. Oh, no. Hofheinz went right into it and said, “Hello, there, everybody,” and talked to them just like they were all right in front of him. These other people stuttered and stumbled. I never could understand that, what they feared of a microphone. And speaking of Eagle, until this minute I hadn’t thought of that man since 1930, a long time ago.

0:10:52.4 (tape pauses)

Interviewer
This is a February 14th, 1983 oral history continuation. Mr. Lavery, I believe we had gotten you to high school, and you were going to high school or you had graduated from high school, actually. I want to interject this. Did you finish the Carol biography of Lyndon Johnson?
Carl Lavery
Yes, I did.

Interviewer
Okay. Now, tell me your association with Lyndon Johnson.

Carl Lavery
Well, let’s see. Lyndon Johnson came to high school, I believe, in 1931, and I had to take a course in speech, and I think I had 5 periods in a day. I had 1 of the 5 periods during the day that had Johnson for a speech teacher. I spent a great deal of time, which I really didn’t have, because of the fact that I was working as well as going to school. I worked from noon until midnight every day at a radio station. At that time it was KXYZ in the basement of the Texas State Hotel, and I was a radio operator who was in charge of the studio. After I got a license, then I could operate the transmitter, but at that point I had not gotten my license, and I was just operating at a station downtown. But anyway, Lyndon Johnson was the speech teacher, and I was one of the debate team. I’m not mentioned in the book, thank heavens. I don’t think the guy knows about me, and I’m grateful for that. But I knew all the people he talked about in there. In fact, I know a lot of the people he talked about, including Hollis Frasier, who is listed in the book as one of his good friends. He married a young woman who was in my class. Hollis later committed suicide, and it was a real sad, sad story about that. My business with him was strictly in school.

Interviewer
0:13:29.7 What do you think of his portrayal of Lyndon Johnson at that time?

Carl Lavery
I thought he was very kind to him. I thought he was very, very kind. I think at the time he was writing this part of the book he still had Lyndon Johnson as sort of an idol. Later on he awakens to the fact that Lyndon Johnson was not the man that he really thought he was. The more he goes into his book and goes into details of what Johnson did and how he operated and his amazing feat with the Speaker of the House, whom he double crossed time after time, Sam Rayburn, and Sam Rayburn really was very fond of Johnson. He went out of his way to be nice to him when he didn’t have to be and he was thoroughly—I think thoroughly enjoyed being around Mrs. Johnson. Mrs. Johnson is obviously one of the really fine people of this world. How she maintained her equilibrium being married to Johnson in view of the things he mentions in this book I absolutely can’t see.

Interviewer
What are your most vivid recollections about Johnson as a teacher?

Carl Lavery
One was his complete assuredness of himself. Absolutely certain that he was right whatever he did, and whatever he told us, there was no equivocation, no ifs, ands, buts or otherwise. He just flat said this is it, and it was it, and 99 times out of 100 he was absolutely right. His theory was you had to work like hell and be smarter than everybody else if you wanted to get anywhere in this world, particularly in view of the fact that in the 30s we were in a heck of a depression. He was a victim of poverty, and he didn’t want to be a victim of poverty, and he did everything he could think of to keep from being one. He was very sure of himself about everything he did, because before he did it, he always made certain he covered every base.

Interviewer
Was he a good classroom teacher?

Carl Lavery
Yes, he was, and one on one he is absolutely irresistible.

Interviewer
0:16:08.6 Even as a high school student, you found that?

Carl Lavery
Yes, sir. He overshadowed and overpowered everybody in the room, even though we had some extraordinarily strong individuals in there, and I’ve never felt like I was a weakling, and yet I felt somewhat under his control but not as much as, say, Latimer did or some of the others that he mentioned. LP Jones, he never did really get LP to knuckle under. There were a lot of kids in there in the classes that wanted to be part of the team, and they did almost anything to get in it. In fact, there was an argument a lot of times about who was going to be in his classes the 2 years he was there. But he was absolutely certain of himself. He never failed to be certain. The more I think about it, the more I’m certain that probably some of his problems that came later on when he became president were as a result of this absolute certainty and absolute refusal to listen to other people. He just wouldn’t do it. If he didn’t know it himself, he wouldn’t hear it. You might talk to him, but the words didn’t implant themselves in his mind.

Interviewer
You had him 1 class.
Carl Lavery
1 semester, 1 year.

Interviewer
Did you ever go to any places with him on the debate or anything like that?

Carl Lavery
Not the way—no, I didn’t go, because I was working. The only debates we did were right in Houston, and I did a lot of that. But I couldn’t leave my job. I had to work. I wouldn’t have gone to school if I hadn’t been working.

Interviewer
But you think his depiction of Johnson is fairly accurate.

Carl Lavery
0:18:06.6 Oh, I think it’s just exact as it can be, and I think he did a fair job. In fact, I think throughout the book he’s very kind to him, and had I been writing the book, I would not have been as generous to him.

Interviewer
Do you think he was generous to him as a teacher as you knew him?

Carl Lavery
Yeah. I mean, he was generous to him as a teacher, but he did portray the man correctly, exactly as he was as a teacher. We used to think he was hell on earth. He shouted at you, screamed at you. If you made the slightest little mistake, or if you hesitated one little bit, boy, you heard about it quickly, right now, not tomorrow, but right that minute. And people either liked him a great deal, or they hated him a heck of a lot. One or the other, and this was true in the classroom.

Interviewer
Did you like him?

Carl Lavery
No, I didn’t like him. No, I never did like him. I had little or no use for the man. I never felt that he was the kind of guy I wanted to associate around, be with at any time. There’s a thing that happens to people when they are together. You either have the 2 negatives and 2 positives, or you have a complete eruption, and you either can get along fine, or you can’t, and that was the case with him. His chemistry and mine didn’t mix.

Interviewer
Were there any particular incidences that you remember to illustrate this?

Carl Lavery
Yeah, I think so. I never did feel like you had to do the things that he did. Like one morning I was in there making a little short—I had a 5-minute speech to make, and 1 series of my facts were just a tiny bit wrong. I guess maybe I said something was 15 percent, and it should have been 19 percent or 17 percent. But anyway, I used 15 percent, and he jumps up from the back of the room and screams out at me, “You have to have your information correct, or you can’t get anything. What the hell is wrong with you?” Well, that raked me over the coals wrong, because first of all, I was a student and not an expert to begin with, and I was giving a 5-minute speech that didn’t really amount to a heck of a lot anyway. It wasn’t going to affect the grade that I got in the course either good or bad, and I was working, and the people that I worked with didn’t treat me that way even when I made some mistakes like cutting the station off the air one night for 15 minutes and lost all that revenue. They never came in there and screamed bloody murder at me, and I couldn’t understand his ability to do it, and from that point on, I always watched him, and he did the same thing to other people. I felt like if you’re going to be around a guy like that, how are you ever going to get along with him? You can’t. He treated most of us like we were less than smart, less than bright. There’s something wrong with your mind. You can’t get yourself going. I guess I was a pretty touchy sort of person anyway, because I had a heck of a lot to overcome. I was also awful poor too, just like he was, and I wasn’t happy about being all that poor. I was trying my darnedest to get good grades to get out of school so I could go to Rice and get a degree maybe and end up with a good job. A good job in those days was $50 a week. Really that was my ambition. If I got out of school, I could make $50 a week. Now people make that in an hour and think nothing of it like they’re not getting anything.

Interviewer
0:22:32.1 When did you graduate from high school?

Carl Lavery
1933, June of ’33.

Interviewer
What did you do then? What did you do after you graduated?
Carl Lavery
Well, the summer of 1933 I spent learning analytical geometry and college algebra by myself. I had been accepted at Rice, but they’d informed me that when I came to Rice it was assumed that I’d had college algebra in high school and that I’d also had analytical geometry, neither of which we had. I was working at Henke and Pillot store on South Main Street. It was actually Travis and Tuam Streets. That building is still standing there now. It’s some kind of unemployment office or something. But anyway, I worked there in the summer, and I learned this math, and then I went to Rice that fall. While I was at Rice, I worked too. I worked at Henke’s all the time. That’s the only way I could get there.

Interviewer
0:23:42.6 What was your stay at Rice like?

Carl Lavery
Pretty rough. Rice is a place where a person has to spend a great deal of time studying, and I just didn’t have a lot of time to study. I took an awfully tough course to begin with. I had freshman English, freshman German, physics and chemistry and math. You couldn’t ask for 5 tougher courses in a place, but I made it through 1 year, and then I was out a while, and I went up to Oklahoma University for a while to school. Then I had to go back to work. I ran out of money and everything else. But it was a tough period of history. Rice is an extremely tough school.

Interviewer
It was tough then.

Carl Lavery
Oh, yeah. Their theory was—Dr. Heaps, who was head of the physics—well, he was not head of the physics department. There was another man who was head of the physics department, but I guess Dr. Heaps was the number 2 man. He taught freshman physics. We made our first visit to the amphitheater. He told all of us to shake hands with the man in front, the one behind, the one on our other side. And after we did that, then he said, “Everybody sit down.” He said, “Now, when you come back after Christmas holidays, those 4 will not be here.” He was almost right. They weren’t. There were a great number of them gone, and peculiarly enough, in my freshman class there were only 2 people in there who were not salutatorians or valedictorians. I was one of them, and a boy named BS Frederick was the other one who graduated with me at Sam Houston. We got into Rice without exams. We got in strictly on high school grades without tests, without college aptitude tests or any of those things. That’s the only class I know of that ever accepted them that way. But at any rate, there were some awful smart people in that class that got thrown out. But as you grow older, you begin to realize that all of them didn’t come from the same quality schools. There were a lot of kids there that had come in as salutatorians and valedictorians, but the school that they went to didn’t have a really strong academic environment. They didn’t insist that you learn really well. Now, the school I went to was Sam Houston, and these teachers were sharp enough to tell us, “Now, look, you either make good grades, or when you get out of this place, you’re not going to get a job,” and every one of us from Sam Houston High School didn’t figure they were going to go to college anyway. We needed to work. It was a struggle. I graduated in the upper quarter of my class with a 94.5 average, but I wasn’t in the upper 10 percent of the class. Yet Rice looked at the grades from Sam Houston and said, “We will accept these students.” They didn’t accept them from San Jacinto without a test, peculiarly enough, and San Jacinto was more of a school of the elite. Sam Houston was a school of the working stiffs. It was in downtown Houston. It drew from the near north side, the near west side, and the near south side, which was in the transition areas we talked about previously.

Interviewer
0:28:01.0 The near-poverty side.

Carl Lavery
Yeah. Well, it was mostly poverty. As a matter of fact, when we got out of high school we didn’t even have a yearbook. We couldn’t afford it. All they gave us was a little slip of paper with our names on it, all the names of your class. We didn’t have a yearbook. We just didn’t have the money, and you couldn’t get the ads for it because the business community was strapped. Now, some of the other schools did because the parents were able to come up with the money to pay for it, but none of ours were. I couldn’t even afford a high school graduating ring. I graduated from high school in a pair of tennis shoes, and if it hadn’t been for the academic jacket that they let us have I would have graduated in a pair of pants and a shirt and that was it. I didn’t have a suit. People talk about tough. They just haven’t been through one until they go through something like that. It’s absolutely amazing what—and peculiarly enough, most of us didn’t even know we were poor. We really didn’t. When you grow older, you look back and you say to yourself, “Well, you’re poor.” But you weren’t poor, because everybody else was in the same condition you were in. You looked over here, and this guy was wearing the same kind of ragged clothes you were, and he was just as satisfied as you could be, and then, of course, at Sam Houston High School we didn’t have any great wealthy people, people of great wealth. I suppose the one person in it who was the class president, his father was the superintendent. He was the principal of a school. He probably was better off than any of the rest of us.

Interviewer
What took you to Oklahoma to go to school?

Carl Lavery
I wanted to be a petroleum engineer. OU had the best reputation of any school in the United States for being a petroleum engineer. In fact, petroleum engineering as a degree course at the time that I went there was very new. OU had been giving a degree in petroleum engineering for 4 years when I went up there in 1935. Their first degree was awarded, I think, in 1931. A fellow from Stanford had written the only textbook on petroleum engineering. Stanford had a petroleum engineering school, but it was not a major school. It was just a minor school for it for them. They had an awfully good geological school over there at OU because they had lots of geology hard rock mining. It was just natural that they would pick up the petroleum engineering, which was simply a combination of chemical, geological, mechanical and civil engineering. That’s all that petroleum engineering really was. You were supposed to be able to be reasonably good in those 4 fields, chemical, geological, mechanical, and civil, because you did all 4 things out there as a petroleum engineer. You sure had to know what the rock was about. You had to be able to look at the oil and test it, and that was the chemical part of it. You had to be able to figure out the equivalent, and that was the mechanical part, and you had to be able to locate your well, and that was civil. The combination of those became—OU offered 2 degrees. One was in petroleum production, and the other was in petroleum refining. Now, the refining school was really—

0:32:14.7 (end of audio 3)