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Interview with: Felix Del Valle
Interviewed by: Louis Marchiafava
Archive Number: OH282
FDV: We didn’t have very much work in 1931. There was a Depression at that time, no place to go, no place to look for a job. I was by myself. I didn’t have no family. I was boarding with a lady who was pleased to take me in. She gave me shelter. I stayed there for about 6 months. After that, I got tired of staying there without paying anything. I decided to go to another house with an old lady. She said that she would charge me $4 dollars a week for room and board in the house. I stayed with her until I got married.
LM: Where were these boarding—? Where did you stay with people—which area?
FDV: This lady—this old lady—was on Navigation when I came to her. She was on Navigation. I think it was 72-something on Navigation. The house does not exist anymore. But we moved to 71st. I was upstairs in the house. She was taking care of me and taking care of her son. Finally, they didn’t like that house so we moved to the 7400 block over here on Avenue K. I was working already for the Armour Fertilizer Company. I was getting 15 cents an hour at that time. After I started working there, I worked from 1932-1934. In 1934, I worked with Houston Compress. Now, there was just—it was just named Anderson Clayton Compress. Now it’s the Port of Houston Compress. But I worked for the Houston Compress from 1944 to 19—no—let’s see—from 1934 to 1943. I worked for them for 27.5 cents an hour, rolling trucks with cotton. I didn’t know how to handle it, but finally I learned, and it was the easiest job I ever had. After that, there was a Depression again in 1936 when the Social Security come on. I went for it, and got mine. Then I worked until 1943 for Houston Compress. Then I left Compress to go to the Houston Ship Yard. I worked for about 6 months at the ship yard. I was buffing, when I had my eyes shot. I had my ears shot. Something happened. It’s hard to tell. Out of the 6 months, I don’t think I worked 3 months because every day I was a mess. But I quit. All the buffers made a strike one time, so I just left; even though after 3 days work I lost my badge and I couldn’t get the money. So then I worked for—I went back. I went to the Port of Houston. I was getting 97 cents at the ship yard, and I changed to 60 cents at the Port of Houston in 1943. In 1943, I kept working there. I worked for 3 years in the maintenance department. From the maintenance department, they sent me—in 1944—the end of it—they sent me to the Houston Grain Elevator that belongs to the port—belongs to the city. I worked for them about 30 years, from 1943 to 1973. That’s my first—I mean—apart from that, I come to Houston, when I come to Port Arthur, when I come to Newgulf. You ought to see that little town now. It’s beautiful. When I went over there, when it first started, they didn’t have houses—they didn’t have nothing at all. It was bad. Now it’s a beautiful town.
LM: 05:40.0 Tell me about the events surrounding you leaving Mexico. What was your life like in Mexico? Go back to that.
FDV: Well, when I was 12 years of age, my father told me to select one thing out of two. He said, “Either you go to work or you go to school.” He said, “I don’t have much money, but I can send you to any school you want.” And I was 12 years of age then.
LM: Where were you living at that time? What was the name of that town?
FDV: At that time, I was in La Paz.
LM: In the state of?
FDV: In the state of San Luis Potosi. That’s—I mean—mineral, gold mines. You get everything there. You can get copper, iron, lead, zinc, gold, silver, anything. So I went to work. I told my father I wanted to work, so he said okay. It was on a Saturday, and he told me, “You’re going to work Monday.” I guess he called somebody or talked to somebody—I don’t know—but he sent me to work the next Monday. I went to work for 75 cents a day.
LM: Doing what?
FDV: Shoveling metal that would come from the mines. They laid it out on the top and made piles, and after that you’ve got to move the piles to make it drier. You move the pile from one side to another.
LM: Was it a pretty tough job?
FDV: Oh, yes—all day—shovel and shovel and shovel. That was fun for me because they’d give you so much to do for one day. So I did it in half a day one time, and the next time I told the boss man to give me two times, and I made it to about 4:30. But my mother never knew about it so I had to keep the 75 cents for me. (Laughs) So after that—after the 75 cents—I worked, I think, about 3 months, and they had me to deliver baskets—food baskets—to the miners. I’d go down at noontime—you know—11:00. You had to go down the gate to get them and put them in the elevator and send them down to whoever they belong to. I was getting 1 Mexican Peso. That was a raise of 25 cents. About 3 months later, they put me to clean up the apartments where the big shots—I mean—the engineers and all that, and they raised me to 1 Peso and 25 cents a day. And I kept on getting raise after raise until I got one day to be a helper of the payroll man. I was helping him to count the money and put it up to the banks or whatever they had to put it up. On Saturday, payday, I had to be there with them to pay the people, give them their money. After that, one day the paymaster got—I think he took 36,000 Pesos away from the mine, and he took off. Where he went, I don’t know. So they questioned me because they thought I knew about it. I said, “No, I don’t know anything about it. I don’t know where he went or what he did with the money, how he took the money—I don’t know.” So they hired new people, and down I went. I had to start from the bottom again, only on a different mine and a different company. I kept on going up and up. I got a little bit up on the other side then I came back to the same mine. They gave me my job back. I was a weigher. I was weighing all the cars that were coming through—all the little cars coming on the elevator—bring them up then roll them off then put them on the plate so they now. Then you’ve got to give them a ticket for the contractor—belongs to that stuff coming in the car. I was getting 15 Pesos a week.
LM: 11:14.9 About what year was this?
FDV: That was 1926—1926. That’s when it was. Then after that, I got to thinking that I couldn’t do anything there. I didn’t know much reading or writing. My mother was the one who was showing me how to read and write. She gave me the first five letters—A, E—those five letters, and from then I started out with the first book. After I got to the second book— She was kind of a doctor. She took care of the ladies. She was only seeing the ladies. I went to—
(Break in tape)
FDV: And after that, I decided to tell my mother that I wanted to get out and do something that felt better, maybe different. I was already 19 years of age. So she gave me 100 Pesos, and she said, “Here’s 100 Pesos. Where do you want to go?” I told her I wanted to come to 12:55 (Spanish phrase). That’s what we called it—(Spanish phrase). So I came down. She gave me a letter to ride—house on Piedras Negras—Fort Wheeler—the other side of Eagle Pass.
LM: A house was there?
FDV: Yes, there was a house that a lady lived there. That was my mother’s. So she gave me a letter to take to her and let me stay with her while I got everything ready to come to the United States. I ran out of money there. I didn’t have no money, but I had already bought my passport. I bought both passports—Mexican and American. I think it cost me $20 dollars all together. I think it was $8 dollars for the American passport and $12 dollars for the other one. Anyhow, I got everything ready, but I didn’t have any money to keep on coming. One day, I came to Eagle Pass, and I worked on the onions—picking up onions. I worked 2 days, and I made $5 dollars. So I said, well, this is good. Five dollars in Mexico was 10 Pesos then, because it was 2 to 1 then. But that was only 2 days. Ten Pesos wasn’t going to last me too long. So I decided to come to the United States. I told the lady that I was leaving. She made me a bag of little cookies and everything, and she told me goodbye. I crossed over here. When I crossed to the United States, I had 1 Mexican nickel and 1 American penny. That was all my money.
LM: 15:09.2 You were 19 years old at that time?
FDV: Yes. I started walking on the road, and finally I found a guy that was walking too. He told me—asked me where I was going. I said, “I’m trying to go to San Antonio.” He says, “Well, I’m going over there too. You want me to go with you? You want to be my partner—my companero?” This other lady, when I left, she gave me a letter—a recommendation letter—to 15:48 (s/l Pienverra), on the side of Crystal City. There was some (s/l Pienverra) working then. There was a boss man that was a Mexican, and the lady knew him so she gave me the letter so that I can come to work for him. But on the road, the guy said, “We’re going to look for jobs. I know where we can find it. Both of us can work. If I find work and you don’t find work, then I’m not going to work. If you find work and I don’t find work, you're not working.” He said, “You satisfied?” I said, “Sure.” Well, I was the first one to give up to that because I had a recommendation letter. I told the guy what happened—that I had this with me. So he says, “Well, you’ve got the recommendation letter. I should give you the job. I said, “Can I get a job for him.” He said, “I don’t know. In the first place, I don’t know him, and I don’t need no more people.”
LM: What was the job doing?
FDV: I think it was picking up rocks and putting them on the railroad for some reason. I don’t know. It was on the hills, I think. They called it (s/l Pieverras?), so I think that’s what they were doing—digging up rocks and putting them on the railroad cars. But anyway, I didn’t work for them because of that. So we kept coming. And we got about halfway to Eagle Pass and Crystal City, and then we got a ride. We got a ride, and we came to a little town. The fellow had to go another way so he let us off. There was a patch of watermelons there, and we didn’t have nothing to eat, so the other guy jumped the fence and went over and got a watermelon. We got under a bridge and started eating watermelon. We got up on top of the highway again, and they gave us another lift. It was a Model T, and it was a guy and a lady. And they stopped and picked us up. They asked us where we were going, and we told them we were coming to San Antonio. And we came to San Antonio and he said, “Well, we’re going over there.” But I think they passed some place—I don’t know where—because they got off the road and told us, “If you all are going this way, we’ve got to keep on this road to San Antonio.” He said, “No, we’re coming back. We’re going to San Antonio.” So they went over the other side. There was a bunch of weeds and everything, trees, and the guy was driving. We got off and went inside the trees and weeds and all that. Where did he go? I don’t know because it was kind of dark already. After that, another one came out. The other one was driving and stayed there and there came another one. They got the car and drove off. So I don’t know what they were doing.
FDV: 19:59.9 But anyhow, on the road we came to San Antonio, but before we got to San Antonio, we stopped at a garage because one of the water hoses was leaking and they had to put gasoline in there. They didn’t have no repair kits there, so I got my handkerchief and worked on it—tied it up. It stopped the leak. They had two cantaloupes they were selling there, so the lady bought 6 of them. They gave one to me and one for him. I got mine because the guy was sleeping. He was already asleep. I was calling him and calling him and he didn’t listen, so I got the cantaloupe and cut it up and ate it up. After he got up, I got his cantaloupe too. I ate it up too. So we got to San Antonio about 3:00 in the morning. They left us at Plaza de Zacate. I guess it’s still there. About 6:00, I got kind of cramped in my stomach, so I was trying to find someplace. I went to some kind of river there. When I got back, I lost the place where the other guy was. But anyway, I looked for him and I looked for him until finally about 9:00, he was still sleeping on the same bench. So I told him, “It’s about time to wake up. We can go see if we can find a job, see if we can find somebody, some enganchistas.” He says, “Yeah, let’s go. But before we do that, let’s go drink some coffee.” I said, “I aint’ got no money.” He said, “You’ve got one penny—one cent—and I got three.” So we went to the restaurant, and I guess he talked to the people there. We got doughnuts and coffee, and after we ate that, we got out of the restaurant and went and looked for the enganchistas. We looked for everyone. Everyone gonna want some money—from $17 dollars to $22.50 and $10 dollars and all that stuff. We just about gave up when we went to the railroad—SP. There were enganchistas there. We told them that we didn’t have no money, but we wanted to work so we could make money. We told them that as soon as we could make the money, we would send it to them. He said, “Well, I’m going to do that because we need the men on the railroad right now, but be sure you send the money to the company because this is the company. This does not belong to us.” Okay. So I gave the paper to him—to the other guy—address and everything. This is Southern Pacific Company and all that stuff. I gave it to him. And after that, we came close to Sanguine, Texas. And there was a camp there—a railroad camp. We got there about 6:00. We couldn’t talk to the boss man, so they gave us something to eat.
LM: 24:08.6 Let me interrupt you right there, Mr. Del Valle. Would you describe the enganchistas that you ran into? What were they like?
LDV: Well, they were people that tried to take you to a job. They assured you that you would get the job, but you had to pay them. Enganchistas means that not only you--buncho. That’s what they did, the enganchistas, because they get like that. They get the people and send a bunch of them wherever they need people. And those people there that were working for the companies—whatever people were needed—they’d get paid for it. But if they get paid for it, they’ve got to get profits. That’s where the money comes from for them. The money they made from each one of us, that was money for themselves.
LM: I’ve heard them described as being pretty exploitive kind of people. Did you have bad dealings with them, or did you think—I mean—did people view them as all right, or they didn’t like them? I’ve heard all sorts of bad things about them.
LDV: Well, maybe some other people. The ones we talked to—only one said, 25:46 “Tu quieres (Spanish?), pero no tienes dienero. No tienes dienero, no puedes trabajar.” That’s the worst he told me. If he said anything else bad to me, I don’t remember. They were nice. Also, the railroad man that sent us to work, he was nice. He treated us pretty good.
LM: They did feed you all?
LM: So when you all go to Sanguine?
LDV: We worked there. We got to Sanguine, and we got to stay there until in the morning. But in the morning, we got up and my partner wasn’t there. I had a coat with a little bitty watch. It was a wristwatch, and it had a little heart on it. My mother gave it to me for my birthday, I think. Anyway, he took my coat, my watch, and took the quilts that they gave us to cover up with. (Laughs) We didn’t know where he went. So the next day, when it was time to work, I told the boss man, “Well, if you don’t have any place for me, why don’t you send me to another place? You’ve got the power to do it. All you’ve got to do is find out where they camps are and send me.” He says, “Well, wait for me at 9:00 over in the depot, and I’ll see where I can get you.” So he called somebody. At 1:00 we took off—at 2:00. The 1:00 train was passing from San Antonio to Houston, so I got on it. I think we got to Rosenberg about 6:00. Those days, the train was not fast enough. But anyway, we got there about 6:00 and supper was already passed. But the guy was pretty nice. He was an American. I don’t remember his name, but he was nice. He sent me to eat supper. I ate all I could. I was hungry.
LM: 28:44.6 What kind of food was it?
FDV: Oh, there was good food there. When I started there, it was good. Maybe it was because I was hungry. I don’t know. (Laughs) But after that, I started working for them. The next day, when we were fixing to go to work, he called me. He said, “How old are you?” I said, “Nineteen.” He said, “I’m afraid you can’t work here.” I said, “Why?” He says, “You’re supposed to be 21.” And then I told him, “What do you want me to do? I don’t know English. I don’t know nothing. I don’t know where to go. Why don’t you just give me a chance? Let me work here and maybe I’ll get you satisfied.” And he took his time and was thinking, and after that he says, “Well, I’m going to give you a chance, but anybody who comes over here and asks you how old you are, you’re going to tell them you’re 21, because I don’t want to get in trouble. I’m going to try to protect you all I can because I think you’re a good worker.” He was a fine fellow.
LM: Were there a lot of Mexicans working there with you?
FDV: They were all Mexicans.
LM: How many would you say—? Were there a lot of them that were under 21, or were you one of the few?
FDV: I think I was the only one, because all the rest of them were about 30. There was one or two about 26-27 years of age, but I was the only one that was (s/l illegal) there.
(End tape _01)
(Start tape _02)
LM: Okay. He had 160 men working there?
FDV: Yes, there were 160 men working there. We had to put up a half a mile of rail in the morning, and finish it in the evening—one side—one mile. And we had to do that from 7:00 to 4:30. That is, if they didn’t have many trains to come. But we had to lay one mile of rail every day for one side. The next day we’d take the other side. So it takes 2 days to make one mile.
LM: 00:57.2 And 160 men were doing that?
FDV: Right. Well, some of them were crow barring—you know—get the spikes, and some other people would put some plugs in the holes where they dug the spikes out.
LM: So you all were repairing the track—replacing the—?
FDV: Just the rail.
LM: Oh, I see.
FDV: Just the rail. Whenever they had something to do, if you lift the rail up to level it, then we had to do it because it was dangerous. It was dangerous for the train. But all we had to do was just lay the rail. We had to lay the rail and change plates, because the plates we’d take off from the old rail were the little bitty ones—from 70-110. It was a little bit of rail, and it was about that wide—so 110—and the other was a 70. So we took all those things out. And then we got to the switch yards—the switch on the road—we had to work faster because we had to take even the ties—we had to take the ties out and rebuild the ties. We’d put new ties—because it took longer ties on the switches—and also work on the holes in the rails. So when we got to Flatonia, there was a roundhouse there—in Flatonia, Texas. I think it’s either 16 or 17 switches there. And we had to work— By that time, I was already nailing nails—I mean—nailing spikes myself.
LM: With a sledgehammer?
FDV: Yeah. I didn’t want to— When I was too good at it, I was left with the hammer. I had a partner—about this size only a little bit taller, a little bit darker—and he was just in the same barrack. I don’t remember his name. It’s been a long time. Anyhow, he had big ol’ muscles. We switched over once in a while—one time the left hand, the next time the right hand. We were used to it, both of us. So whenever we hit the spike, we wanted to go faster, but we was playing on it. We gave them about 50 or 60 hits on it, and the spike never moved and the hammer was coming up like that. It came back again. We kept on hitting that spike and it wouldn’t go down. But that’s the way we were just doing it. But whenever we were on the 04:27 (unintelligible), 3 licks and the spike was down. I worked for them from May twenty-sixth—on the railroad track—to, I think—it was May 26, 1927 to about September, 1927.
LM: How did you all—?
FDV: I mean—1928.
LM: 05:10.4 Where did you all live while you were doing this?
FDV: We were living in railroad cars. They called them camarotes. Inside there were bunk beds. There were four on each side. There were eight of us. That’s all we had; we didn’t have anything else. We had to buy a lamp. If you wanted to read, you had to buy a lamp—kerosene—to read at night. If you don’t want anything— We got a big ol’ heater—wood heater—right in the middle of the wagon. In the winter time, we’d get some wood, put it in there, close the door—
LM: Did it get cold in those box cars?
FDV: No, no, it wasn’t cold. Even when I got to Sanguine—there was only nine there, after we passed Flatonia, Texas. They cut off all the rails to come through. So we didn’t get no rails. So we had to move to Sanguine and wait for the rails. It was about December then—1927. When we got to Sanguine there were only nine left. Then we had nice breakfast, nice dinner, nice supper and everything—eggs and bacon and biscuits and molasses. And at noontime we had stew and steak, all different kinds of things.
LM: Where did all the other guys go?
FDV: They let them go. There was no work.
LM: Oh, because of the Depression?
FDV: Yeah, there wasn’t any work so they let them go. And every time that they let a bunch of them go, I was in the bunch too, but the white guys—you know—the big boss came and put me back in. And until that time, there was only nine. When it was only nine, they came three cars of rail. In the morning it was cold, cold outside, and I didn’t have no clothing. I didn’t have nothing, just—I think it was one change that I had. But I didn’t have no winter clothes or nothing. So I told a friend of mine. He got in touch with my mother and let her know that I had a good friend. And my mother wrote to him to take me in and all that stuff. So that day, when the rails came, I didn’t know. It was too cold. I told that guy, “You go into the kitchen and bring me—” (Phone rings)—excuse me.
(Break in tape)
FDV: So when he went over to the kitchen, I told him to bring me my coffee, bring me a sweet potato and bring me eggs and biscuits and all that. So he left, and whenever he got back he brought it to me. But I was warm inside. All of the others, they were all ready to go to work. When the guy found out that I was not there, he came out of line and he says, “Felix! Felix!” I said, “What you want?” He says, “You better come out here. We’ve got work to do.” I said, “Oh, no. I can do anything but that. I’m not going to work. I ain’t got nothing to put on. It’s too cold to go out.” And he said, “Come on. We need you.” I was the one that was taking over the rails—you know—me and another guy. There was one on each side, then the spacing. You put the rails from the cart—the gondola—and roll them over. It’s got spikes about that far from each other. But you’ve got to do it right, because if you are behind, the other guy might slit your head off. You have to be good. Anyway, he says, “Come on. Let’s go to work.” I said, “No, I’m not going. I don’t want to go. If you don’t want me to stay here, you can do what you please, but I’m not going to work. I ain’t got nothing to put on.” He took off. About 5 or 10 minutes later, he came back. “Felix, que pasa?” He says, “Come on out. I’ve got something for you to put on.” And they had a big ol’ jacket with wool inside and all that stuff—a big one. He says, “You put on this and let’s go to work.” Well, after I got that I couldn’t refuse, so I took it and put it on and I went to work. I got my gloves and everything, but it was pretty cold. My fingers were cold. And I never did give the jacket back. After that, we got along fine. But before we got rid of those people, we had a bad, bad food, and we couldn’t say anything because the cook couldn’t do nothing about it. The boss man couldn’t do nothing about it. The meals we were getting served at dinnertime were—I don’t know how long it had been there because it was dissolving. It was dissolving. Whatever they put in it, it would dissolve. And the beans that we were eating, they were all full of weevils—right on top—the beans that we’d get. We had to spread them out and get the beans from the bottom. Maybe you’d get a bunch of weevils anyway, but you had to get something to eat because we were working 10 hours—27 cents an hour. I got $2.77 a day. Out of that $2.77, we had to pay $1 dollar a day for food and shelter. So we got only $1.77 each day. And by the time we got the paycheck every 2 weeks, you’re here, you’re there. You’ve got to have something to show wherever the 13:05 (unintelligible) is. And some of them it was playing cards; some of them were playing dice at night—you know—having a good time. And then I left the camp. Before I left it, we had a strike—the crowbar men and the hammer men. We made a strike. We told the boss man that we needed some money. He knew that we were needing it. He said, “All right, this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to Victoria, where the roadmaster is. I’m going to talk to him. It is possible that they might give you a raise, but I don’t know if it will be much of one because it’s the price we pay to everyone no matter what they do—hard job or little job or don’t do nothing.” Because you had three or four men who didn’t do nothing. They’re standing over there with a flag, flagging the trains if they have to, put up the torpedoes on the rails, wave back. That’s all they had to do. And the others over here were just about getting crazy from the sun and sweating all over. My shoes were just splashing on the inside from the sweat. And not only me; it was a bunch of us. The sun was pretty hot.
FDV: 15:02.3 When he came back from seeing the roadmaster, he said, “Well, we can do nothing. We can give you no more raise. This is standard for everybody. So if you all want to keep working, you’ll work. If you don’t, do what you please.” So my partner—another hammer man—we used to call him el Diablo. He was the one who started this. But whenever he asked who started this mess—who started this strike—el Diablo said that I did. So I told them yes, I did. I started it. He said, “Well, you want to keep working?” I told him, “No.” We got together and we said if we got the raise we’d keep working. If we didn’t get the raise, we would quit. We’d leave the camp. Everybody went back to work except my partner and I. He said, “Well, okay.” And everybody left. He said, “Felix, I want to talk to you.” “Okay.” So everybody went back to the cars, and I stayed with him. He said, “Felix, how come you did that?” I said, “Well, you know how we work. We work hard. You know that. We give ourselves—everything we can give—to the railroad and the railroad doesn’t give us nothing. So what do you think? That I was wrong?” He says, “No, you are right. You are right because you are trying to ask for what you are worth—what your work is worth.” But he says, “It’s not the way you’re supposed to do it because you’re not even 21.” He said, “And I’m going to tell you one thing. Any other place you go from now on,” he says, “do the best you can and don’t be ungrateful.” That got to me.
LM: This was the boss that—that railroad boss?
FDV: Yes. He was nice—him and his wife. We sat one time, talking.
LM: He spoke Spanish good?
FDV: Better than I do.
LM: Did you ever see him again after that?
FDV: 18:19.6 No, I never have. I never have, and he was a nice fellow. After that, I left and went to Port Arthur. I went to Baytown. No, first I left the railroad camp, and I went to Newgulf Sulphur Company and worked for them. I worked for them about 7-8 months, I think. But in those days, I was young and I didn’t care for nothing. We were working 12 hours a day. It was not worth it. I didn’t have any obligations yet, so I worked for a couple of months, I think, or maybe a little longer. The boss man was (s/l seeing) different boys 19:33 (unintelligible). They would get off 1 or 2 days a week—take off and come back the next day—come back the next day to work—and they got tired of that. So they said whoever wants to be off, you can stay off. If you want to be off 10 days, you can stay 10 days off. And I was working with the operator of the crane. I was the one that was heating up the crane every morning. I had to start at 6:00 and go to—start the fire on the crane—have steam enough by 8:00. So we got off about 11:00, 10:00, 11:30 until we finished up taking off the tubing that was on the cars. We got them ready for the tubing and put in the tubing to get the sulphur out—big tubes, pipes—big ones and little ones and all that stuff.
LM: Were there a lot of Mexican people working there?
FDV: Yes, even the boss man—three boss men—were Mexican. But the operators, they were American people. But a bunch of them didn’t know English. I didn’t know English then. So I had a partner there—a man who was just assigned with the crane operator. He was taking off the gravel from the railroad cars and putting it on the hopper and then taking them off the trucks and putting them on the streets. When they said that about this 10-day layoff—when I got off work, I told them I was tired. I told the boy that was working with me, “You better tell that man there that I want 10 days laid off and 10 gallons of whiskey.” So he went and told him. He said, “You can take them. I don’t care.” But I was just joking. Anyway, after we got off, we went back to the sleeping quarters. We were sleeping in the barn, right on top of the mules. They were sleeping on the bottom, and we were sleeping on the top.
LM: Oh, in the barn? Oh, I see. Was it a company barn?
FDV: I don’t know. I guess they were.
LM: Were you all renting it?
FDV: No, we were sleeping free there. We had different houses to give us boarding—you know—all we need to eat and everything. The sleeping quarters was there. So I had a friend of mine that was just like me. I bought a suit—suit of clothes—and dressed just like— I used to use a hat—a black hat—and he bought a black hat. His name was Primitivo, and my name was Felix. Sometimes, they made a mistake and called him Felix. Anyway, we got along pretty good together. That night, when I told that operator that I had to have a 10-day off and 10 gallons of whiskey, I went to the barn and went to sleep. About 2:00-2:30, Primitivo came in. He says, “Come on, Felix, get up.” “Oh, man, I got to start at 6:00. Let me sleep.” He says, “No, come on. I’ve got some beer.” And he had a big bottle—a gallon of beer. “Take a drink.” I said, “No, I’ve got to work at 6:00. Don’t you know that?” He said, “Oh, come on.” And he had just bought a 1926 Dodge Truck. After he started nagging me about the beer, I got the bottle and drank, and he says, “Drink a little more.” I said, “No, man, I’ve already had enough.” He said, “Drink a little more.” And then, after that, he says, “Let’s go to Wharton.” I said, “I can’t do that. You know I have to come back to work at 6:00.” He says, “I’ll bring you back at 6:00.” Well, I got up, got dressed, and I went with him. It was 4:00, 5:00, 6:00, 7:00, 8:00, 9:00, and we were still in Wharton.
LM: 25:27.9 What were you all doing there?
FDV: Drinking and having fun with the ladies there. But I was just—every time I was reminding him, “Take me back. Take me back.” He said, “I don’t know. We’re already past the hour anyhow.” So when I got back, I was working on the side of the road when the boss man was coming. He was coming on the truck—a little pickup. He says, “What happened, friend?” in Spanish. “Que pasa, amigo?” I said, “Well, I got a little sick last night.” He said, “Well, take 10 days to get well.” (Laughs) So he gave me 10 days, and then after that, he took me off of the crane. I thought this was going to be better for me because I didn’t have to work long hours. But he sent me to the big pipes. I was laying the big pipes. There was a whole bunch of people covering up the pipes with— First we had to put some clamps around, and after the clamps, we had to put a sheet of iron, and tie it up with wire. If the wires weren’t tight, we had to push asbestos in. We pushed it in. We had some bags of asbestos right close by, and every time you stuck your hands in—no matter if you had wet gloves on you—you got some glass inside—the asbestos—and it hurt. So one day I decided, “Well, I’m going out and have some fun,” so I went to Wharton again. When I came back the next day, he called me and says, “Take 1 month.” “Okay.” I didn’t tell him anything. I knew he was right. So I just took off. I even left my clothes there and everything. I just took off. I came over to Baytown to try and see if I could get a job.
LM: 28:19.1 Now, where was this plant? In La Porte?
FDV: This one? Newgulf.
LM: Newgulf, I see.
FDV: Newgulf, Texas—it is now—is the name of it. I don’t know if it still exists. They had an Old Gulf too. It’s pretty close to 28:41 (s/l Mount Gorda), I think.
LM: And then you moved to Baytown?
FDV: Yeah, I came down to Houston. From Houston, we went to Baytown looking for jobs at this refinery that they were building in Baytown. I think it’s Exxon or something. Well, I was trying to get work there. They were hiring people. I got in there, and they gave us all the applications to fill out. We turned them in, and they told us to come back Monday. And after that, I came back—I mean—after we got the applications filled out, we went to the house of a friend of mine. They had a big tub of beer. It was already in bottles and everything, with ice on top of it.
LM: What kind of beer did you drink?
FDV: That was a home brew.
LM: It was home-brewed?
FDV: Home-brewed, yes, home-brewed beer. He was making it. He brewed it himself. So we started drinking that beer, and it was not ready. It was kind of in between.
FDV: Yeah. So we drank until we got—the whole bottle was empty—nothing left. I think there were five of us. We went to sleep. We got up in the morning because the man that was with me, he was married and he was living in Boling, Texas. He had his wife there, but he was laid off from the sulphur company; they laid him off. I don’t know why, but they laid him off. Anyway, he was looking for a job. I don’t know if he ever found it—if he ever worked there or not, because whenever we were coming back to Baytown— Before that, we were going back to Newgulf. We passed through Houston, and there was a big ol’ restaurant on Congress Street, and it was named the International Restaurant. I think that was the name—International. It was on Congress. What’s the first light after you pass the—?
(End of tape _002)
(Start tape _005)
FDV: I was living in the Alacran. That’s why my wife went over there, because of the snake.
LM: It was just that—? She got out of there because of the snake?
LM: 00:12.1 You lived there when? From 1947 to—?
FDV: At the Alacran. We lived there until 1952.
LM: Whey did you move over there to begin with?
FDV: Because my wife didn’t want to stay.
LM: Oh, I see.
FDV: That was the purpose of this. She said she didn’t—if you want to stay there, you can stay, but I’m going to my mother’s. So she went to her mother’s, and I thought, well, I can’t stay without her, so I had to go with her. And we lived there. And after that, my brother-in-law moved out from that house because he found another one, and we stayed there.
LM: What street were you on?
FDV: Well, it was pretty close to Reynolds, I think—on the side of Reynolds Street. That’s where the Alacran is.
LM: But you don’t remember the street that you were on?
FDV: No, there was no street.
LM: On, there wasn’t?
FDV: No, there was no street. The street was the one that still is, right now. The one that goes straight to Navigation—straight over to the Freeway. That’s the only street that’s there. Back this way is nothing but housing—the one they’ve got now. That’s what it was before, nothing but old houses. I lived in a three-room house there. We had to rebuild it. I had to rebuild it and there were no electric lights. I had to call Houston Light and Power to put me a post. They charged me $80 dollars for it. I got the lights in the house. No water—no inside water—until I got it in there—a sink—and no facilities on the inside. We had to go outside. The barrio there was full of alacranes.
LM: 02:34.0 Scorpions?
FDV: Yeah, scorpions and snakes—big ol’ snakes.
LM: That’s how it got its name, because of the scorpions.
FDV: Yeah, that’s where I lived. My wife was— I think she said that she had one, one time, climbing over her body when she was laying on the bed. She saw a snake inside the house too. By that time, my boy—the biggest boy—was already at school. I think he was about 11 years old. He took care of the snake. My wife killed the thing—the scorpion away from her—killed it. We kept the house with medicine so they don’t get too us, but they were still a mass all over. You didn’t see nothing clean over there.
LM: How big an area was Alacran? How big of an area was it, would you say?
FDV: Well, it extends from the railroad—let’s see. It takes about 5 blocks—a square 5 blocks—because the river crosses it. All the other rest of the rooms—now they’re big ol’ rooms. You can see they are better now. Before that time, you couldn’t see nobody. There were old trees. The houses peeked through the trees. You couldn’t see. You had wood fences around the little houses, old rotten things around.
LM: Were most of the people pretty poor at that time?
LM: What about was there much crime there at the time?
FDV: I don’t think so. I don’t remember because I never did see anybody. Now there’s more crimes. Sometimes they rob the apartments and all that. Do you know, I was supposed to be the manager there?
LM: 05:14.6 You were supposed to be the manager at (s/l Clayton Home)?
FDV: Yeah, they called me. I think they offered me—I think it was $360 dollars a month. At that time, I already had a job. I told my wife, “I’m not going to be responsible for getting all the people there.”
LM: Did you know Bertha Wolfe?
LM: Bertha Wolfe.
LM: Yeah, we talked to her about Alacran.
FDV: Yeah, she was a teacher of the Marshall School?
LM: No, she worked at Ripley.
FDV: Yeah, but she used to work at the Marshall School.
LM: Oh, she did?
FDV: Uh-hunh (affirmative). Another one—I think the other one—hers—told my boy one time, “Why don’t you tell your daddy to get his citizenship papers?” And he came and told me. And I told him, “You tell you teacher that I don’t have time to do that.” And he went and told her. So she told him, “If he doesn’t get his citizenship papers, you know you are a son of a father without a flag?” And he came back and told me. And that put me on thinking. I said, “Well, it’s on me now.” So I went over there trying to get those papers straightened out. I forgot. That was in 1948, I think—something like that—’47 or ’48. I got the papers, made an application, sent it in, and they sent it back to me. I was supposed to go get an examination and all of that—you know—to get two witnesses. I just didn’t pay it no attention. At that time, I was drinking too much. I drank for 7 years, from 1945-1952—7 years of drinking.
LM: Pretty heavy?
FDV: Yes. I haven’t for— I’d get off work at 6:00 at night, and I went home at 12:00 at night. I never did see my family. I’d get up in the morning again, and instead of drinking coffee, I’d take a bottle of beer and put it in my hand, take a gulp, and take off for work. I’d work until about 6:00, 7:00, 8:00. I’d go to a beer joint and stay until about 1:00, come back home. I did that for 7 years. And then I found out that I was ruining myself, ruining my family, and I cut it out. I went without drinking beer for 3 years—3 years without drinking a beer. Because I was with them when they were drinking beer—you know—my partners were drinking beer. But I would just try to see if the temptation would take me back to it. It didn’t. I drank soda pops and stayed with them—about 3 or 4 hours with them—take off. I drank a couple of soda pops and that was it. And at the end of 3 years, I said, “Golly, some day maybe somebody important—they might try to get me in some place and get me a beer and I can’t drink it.” So I went down to buy me a 6-pack. I brought it home, tried it. I think I just drank a couple of drinks and put it back in the box. I didn’t feel good. But after that, I just kept on tasting—tasting—until I got to drinking again. And I drank every day after that. I drank from 5:00 to 6:00 every day. But I started about 11:00, 12:00, 1:00—the latest I started was 2:00 in the afternoon and finished at 10:00 when I go to bed. A lady that I went to see yesterday, she told me, “Felix, you’re supposed to be taking care of yourself. Why don’t you quit drinking?” Because I got a rash on my face and my hands and all that. What do you call it? I can’t see the sun. I can’t walk in the sun.
LM: Oh, you’re sensitive to the sun.
LM: I couldn’t notice it. I didn’t know you had a rash.
FDV: Yes, I have one—since Saturday. I had to go see the doctor because I was miserable. I couldn’t stand nothing. I had to be out in the cafeteria—because we had cafeteria Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
LM: What did she give you for it?
(End of tape _005)
(End of interview)