|JIM AND HELEN
THE STORY CONTINUES
|In February, 1945, the BARB returned to Mare Island where it was outfitted
with deck embedded rocket launchers. This refit was going to take a
couple of months, and Jim took some time to rest and recharge his
thoughts and energies, but he also took time to go down to Taft to see
No one knew about our meeting, she said, and they went to a movie, but
Jim, she told me with a laugh, "…was very fresh...his hands were busy".
Jim's told her that she was so beautiful that he just couldn't keep his
hands off of her. She insisted that he did. He asked her to marry him.
She said no.
After 77 days on leave, Jim returned to the Barb and it left Mare Island to
start the most famous War Patrol of all submarines in all of World War II.
Helen did not hear from him again until after the war was over. She wrote
to him when the war ended, in August 1945, but Jim did not get the letter
until the BARB was back in Pearl Harbor. In this letter, she told Jim that
her feelings for him were very hard to express in a letter. She would need
to tell him in person, but she wanted him to know that she loved him and
she had always loved him beginning with that first day at the Natorium in
Jim did not respond until September 27, 1945. "You told me in your letter
that you loved me", he said, "why didn’t you tell me that a long time ago,
and I could have done something about it. Half the crew got married when
they got back to the yard in 1945".
Uncertain of Helen's willingness to marry, Jim continued to see Ruth
Baines, visiting her in Missouri and spending a lot of time with her in New
York where Ruth's sister had an apartment. She loved to go out on the
town: to plays, to movies; to shows, and Jim found himself writing to his
mother frequently, asking her to send him more of his money.
He wrote Helen, "Remember, I will always love you. I knew who I wanted to
marry, but I could not get you to say yes." I want you and I don’t want to
get mixed up with the wrong person and marry the wrong person…I have
always loved you and wanted to marry you from the day I met you".
|Jim wrote to her again, October 11, 1945, that he was not getting married
to “Ruth”. A few days later he received the only letter that his father sent
him during the war. Harold penned it on Jim's 21st Birthday, October 16,
1945. In it, he rejoiced that God had protected his son and that he was so
thankful that he was home safely. Then he went on to say:
I am not preaching just giving you sound advice…”don’t forget the master
and the blessed mother”. Your achievements have been wonderful…and
we are so proud of you. I am sure that you had lots of thrills and
And now this is all over and you are about to start a new adventure if all is
well between you and a young lady of your choosing. I hope that all will be
in order and you will see fit to get married…but remember, there is a lot
more than just getting married. This is a lifetime contract and you must
choose and choose well and that I am sure you will do.
Don’t be shocked by my first letter to you, but my heart was too full to
write before. We are always waiting for your news and are so glad to see
your spirit is so good. We are waiting for you with lots of good eats, as
usual. I have just bought a baby beef to butcher and have a big hog in the
pen ready to make sausage. Bye for now, Love, Dad
With his dad's letter safely tucked away, and his relationship with Ruth
finally over, Jim headed home for Valley Acres, for Taft and for Helen.
|Jim had "parked" his Model A Ford with Bill when he first joined the Navy,
Bill had the car painted, upholstered, fine tuned the engine and had it
running great while he used it. Sadly, for Bill, when Jim returned home
after the war, the first thing he did was reclaim the car and the second
thing he did was go looking for Helen.
In the week before Thanksgiving, Helen was walking home from high
school to have lunch, and Jim pulled up and asked to take her home and
back to school. She agreed. Remember, he had not seen her since the
warm embraces he offered to her in February 1945.
After Helen's lunch, Jim took her back to the high school, stopped a block
from the campus, kissed her and said that he wanted them to date
exclusively. The next day Jim gave her his 1941 HS Football Championship
ring and next day his Block T Sweater. They were to be a couple.
Jim said he had not been drinking since he got home. He had "seen the
light" he said. Helen's comment to me was that "he never saw the light
until it went out", and she was skeptical. But on Feb. 23, 1946, he
proposed and she said yes, but it was to be a one year engagement so that
he could prove that he had stopped drinking.
Jim told Helen that his dad had said that she was his strength and source
of ambition. He told her that his dad was right. They spent time together
every night from the moment they were engaged until they wed on August
17, 1946. I guess Jim had proven himself by that time, but alcohol was
something that Helen always kept an eye on.
Jim survived the war, distinguished himself in it, came home sound in mind
and body and now, engaged to the girl he first met when she was a high
school sophomore, was ready to set out on another one of life's pathways.
|Throughout his time in the Navy, Jim had sent home money to his mother,
Eloise, and she saved it for him. He would transmit small sums from each
of his paychecks; he also took up boxing for money and after each match
sent dollars home; he bought war bonds and as his funds accumulated,
he decided to purchase two empty lots near his parent's home in Valley
When he returned from the war, his land, along with the Model A that Bill
had improved considerably, were waiting for him.
And so was Helen.
For Harold and Eloise, Helen Slentz was the kind of woman they had
dreamed their son might marry. She had strict principles; she was fun;
she liked to laugh; she was pretty and best of all, Jim was headlong in
love with her and she with him.
Dad was right about you, he once told Helen. He said that “you believe in
marriage, children and the faith, and no one is going to change you.”
Helen's religion was Pentecostal and while she attended Catholic services
from time to time, she never embraced it; yet their marriage was a union
that deepened every decade of their lives.
As long as they lived in Taft, they spent a lot of time visiting with Harold
and Eloise at their Valley Acres home, and on one visit, Helen recounts the
only instance of Jim fighting that she ever witnessed.
It became clear when they went to Valley Acres that the lots that Jim
owned were being used as short-cut by some people who lived in a small
apartment at the back of and adjoining his lots.
Rather than drive down the highway north and turn back to the southwest
on an oblique angle intersection, they preferred just to cut across Jim's
land to their apartment. One can see in the pictures below how tempting
it was to do this.
Jim's concern was that their tires were cutting ruts into the land, and
indeed, they were crossing it without permission as though it were a part
of the roadway. He put up two "no trespassing" signs and they were
abruptly removed and destroyed.
So, not unlike the shotgun incident at the well at 33G, he moved promptly
to an effective level of notice. He took planks, drove long nails all the way
through them so that the stems of the nails protruded well out the other
side. He then buried the boards in the pathway which the neighbor was
using to get to his apartment.
Anyone driving across was going to get a flat tire because in 1946 the
impenetrable rubber tire had not been invented, and most people were still
driving around on retreads left over from the war.
Surely enough, the plan worked and the "neighbors" saw their tires deflate
and so in turn, they went out to remove the boards and the nails. Jim was
there at his dad's house watching, and he went out to protect both his
land and his obstacles.
The neighbor had been drinking and the confrontation quickly turned into
a fight, with Harold leaving the house when he saw another man coming
out and threatening to make it a 2 on 1 melee. Harold confronted him,
while Jim dealt with the first offender.
Then, the wives came running out screaming about Jim and Harold's
defense of the property. Eloise and Helen were watching from the window
and their report was that Jim shouted that "you bitches stay out of it" and
he ran them off too. The two guys retreated, Jim and Harold went back to
the house and the lots remained uncrossed thereafter.
That was the only fight Jim was ever in, Helen reported, and in August of
1946, he sold the two lots. He wanted the money to get married.
|In the 1950s, in Taft, virtually every part of every social class was
connected to oil and especially to Standard Oil Company (Chevron).
Whether one was a doctor or a lawyer, a businessman or a banker, a
worker with or without skills, a kid looking to take a swim, earn some
summer money or have a newspaper route, almost every avenue of
employment and activity radiated from the hub of Standard Oil. There, at
the 11C Camp, covering perhaps a square mile, the company daily
dispatched men to check on wells and sumps, annually trained
engineers, and ran several major repair shops where equipment, pipe,
pumps and winches were repaired and reused in the fields. Welders
worked in the shops or in the fields.
Within the camp there was everything imaginable to run a large oil and
gas company: a rail spur from the line running through Taft; steel and
timber for derrick construction and maintenance; pipe, valves, numerous
offices; an expansive and highly specialized machine shop; a group of
supply shops; the car and truck fleet; bunkhouses for workers; and
dozens of company homes for employees.
At one time as many as 6,000 of 18,000 inhabitants of Taft were
employed by Standard Oil. Hundreds more worked for other oil
companies such as Exxon, Belridge Oil, Shell, Mobile, Honolulu Oil and
many independent companies. Oil was literally the lifeblood of the town
and future generations of its workers.
After World War II., Jim's expertise quickly landed him a job in the
machine shop at 11C Camp.
There, at 11C, engineers fresh out of college had opportunity to test their
book knowledge against the challenges in the field. Some of them
remained for decades running major departments for Chevron, a
company with worldwide interests and a workforce that daily maintained
the production of millions of barrels of oil each year. One graduate of
Taft High, John Silcox, rose to the position of Vice-President,
International Division and dealt with Nikita Khrushchev on matters of
From the grounds of the camp, men would depart every eight hours,
three shifts a day, to patrol the oil fields, maintain the wells, report on
needs, damage or production. Their work fed their families, clothed their
children, supported business shops and provided essential collateral for
the loans of bankers.
There were fringe benefits too. 11-C camp sported a large playground,
baseball field, tennis courts, a large swimming pool, a cook-house open
to the public, beautifully landscaped grounds, a clubhouse with a
television, pool and card tables, and an ice-cream stand.
The oil fields represented extraordinary value, and the companies paid
significant taxes that produced enormous revenues for the school
system. In return, Taft schools were expected to provide high quality
education for the sons and daughters of engineers and executives.
While the environmental setting was certainly not scenic, nor necessarily
uplifting, teaching salaries were well beyond all other norms and Taft
attracted wave after wave of extremely talented teachers.
All teenagers, rich and poor, went to Taft High School. All athletic
equipment and locker room needs were free; daily change of socks and
jocks, towels and dowels were provided free; shoes for basketball,
football, baseball and tennis were provided without charge; all books
were free; paper was free; chemicals, frogs, tools were free; pencils were
free; in short, education was available to all.
A teen-ager had only to bring a curious mind and the energy to learn.
Many a poor child, or marginal child, gifted child, angry child, pressured
child or ordinary child without resources found the high school a
nurturing haven and rapid transit to the stations of life which called to
them all, sooner or later.
In 1932 Stanford University announced that its transfers from Taft Junior
College had the highest grade point average (3.33 on a 4.00 scale) of any
school in the country. Page 35, History of Taft by Pete Gianopulos and
In 1946, the University of California reported that for the previous five
years, students from Taft Union High School posted the highest grade
point averages of any school in the state. Page 47, History of Taft by
Larry Peahl and Pete Gianopulos)
It is hard to overstate how important Standard Oil was to Taft, and for as
long as it was there, for this small town, it was the best of times. When
the company finally closed its 11C Camp in the late 1980s, it was an
economic and social shock from which Taft has never recovered.
|Jim took a job working at 11C as a Mechanic/Machinist in the Gas Engine
Shop, and in August 1946, he and Helen married. "I enjoyed that time",
she told me. "Jim was home every night and home for lunch every day".
They lived first across the high school, in an apartment above the Tennis
Shop. When Helen became pregnant with Yvette, Jim's grandmother,
Bertha Dugas, worried that Helen might fall going up and down the stairs,
insisted that she be allowed to loan them money to buy a home at 114 San
Jim's typical day was to come home from work to eat lunch, which Helen
learned to make light and sparse so that he would not become sleepy. He
liked his coffee hot, even in the summertime, with one teaspoon of sugar
and cream till it rose to the surface. More often than not, he would play
with Yvette till time to go back to work; in the evenings, they would
frequently travel out to Valley Acres to visit with Harold and Eloise, the
two families visiting four or five times a week.
They were settling into Taft; Jim well placed at work; Helen happy to make
their home comfortable and loving; children healthy and happy with
Bernadette joining the family in December 1949. Then, in August 1950,
they came home from a Friday evening of cards in Valley Acres and the
phone rang. It was Bakersfield Naval Reserve calling to tell Jim that he
was to report for active duty in Los Angeles on Monday morning.
The Reason: Korea
|Jim and Helen
Romance is still flourishing and she is still
keeping her hands on his hands
|The Richard's Valley Acres home. The family of six lived there after 1941.
The house essentially was divided into four rooms. One can see why the
house needed to be quiet when Harold was sleeping during the day.
Sound traveled. Soon after the war, Sylvia, was the lone child at home.
|The question for those who lived in the apartments (distant right in the picture on left
and near left in picture on right), was whether they should cut across Jim's lot, pictured
above, to reach their residence. Today, the current owner has put up a steel pipe fence
to keep people from taking the short cut. One of Jim's lots now hosts a newer home: far
left in picture at left; far right in picture at right.
|Above left is the intersection where the apartment dwellers would turn toward their
home. It is about 1/4 mile north of the lots and an oblique angle turn. Then, it is about
an eighth of a mile back to the apartment seen on the right.
|TAFT AND STANDARD OIL COMPANY
|HAROLD RICHARD, SECOND FROM LEFT,
WITH THE WORK CREW AT 1C GAS PLANT.
FOR A MOMENT
AFTER THE WAR.
|LEFT TO RIGHT: HELEN, JIM, YVETTE,
GRANDMA DUGAS, ELOISE AND HAROLD
Evrard Dugas died during surgery, 1945.
|SETTLING DOWN IN TAFT
|Jim and Helen's first home on San Emidio St. When they
lived there, it did not have a picket fence.
|GRANDPA AND GRANDMA DUGAS. SHE
DID NOT SMILE OFTEN BUT HERE....SHE
YVETTE ON RIGHT AND
BERNADETTE ON LEFT, 1950