Hard Work Will Eventually Pay Off
Part 1: Early Years
The story of our grandfather TM (“Daw” to us) is of a lifetime of hard work that was rewarded with success in business and friendship. He was born in Parker County, Texas (northwest of Fort Worth) in 1914 to Elmer Everett Moore, a blacksmith by trade, and Leona Louise Slate, a housewife. He had two sisters and a brother, who were all quite a bit younger.
If TM grew up in any house, it was on the southwest corner of Athenia Drive and Slate Street, where his grandfather (Leona’s dad), William Lewis Slate, owned some acreage in the bow of the West Fork Trinity River outside of Fort Worth off White Settlement Road. But they really didn’t settle there until later. His father Elmer was a speculating type who was always looking for work, and took the family to the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma (where Daw’s sister Mary was born), and maybe even Wyoming.
Eventually they settled down though. Mr. Slate gave each of his six children an acre or so on which they were able to build a home, so the area where Daw’s and his uncles’ families lived was named Slate Street. (These were all dirt roads back then, even White Settlement which is now a highway.)
The house had no plumbing; Mom says she was scared when they carried her to the outhouse at night visiting as a child in the early 1940’s. Plumbing was added when she was 8 or 9; electricity probably didn’t precede this by much. She remembers going down to the end of Athenia to a nursery, where they then walked down to the riverfront.
stone church garden art of which mom has fond memories playing as a child
Mom has a fond memory of the tall “ice box” when visiting her grandparents there in the summer. A new block of ice was delivered every other day. She loved getting homemade snowcones; either TM or his brother (Uncle Bob who was then a teenager as he was 14 years younger than TM) shaved the ice with this shaver and then poured orange juice over it. I’m sure that was a refreshing treat in the Texas summer heat. Hard to believe we still have the ice shaver!
As mentioned the family traveled during TM’s younger years. Daw started school in “Haney, on U.S. 80 between Fort Worth and Oak Cliff” (Per kathy’s notes; I can’t find this town but did find that “In the early days, the stretch of Highway 80 between Fort Worth and Oak Cliff also was known as the Dallas-Fort Worth Turnpike, and . . . created a direct connection between downtown Fort Worth and downtown Dallas. https://oakcliff.advocatemag.com/2015/07/roadside-views-a-look-at-the-old-bankhead-highway/
It was there that TM first worked for wages at age 7 in his Uncle Todd’s (Mamie Beatress Slate’s husband’s) coffee shop washing dishes. Todd was the cook and he featured home-style cooking. Each plate had to be washed before the next diner could be served. TM would laugh when remembering the kitchen adventures later. Todd cooked large pans of baked sweet potatoes, a favorite menu item, then left the pan sitting on the open oven door to keep it warm. One time TM was standing at the sink, washing dishes, turned around, and somehow knocked the pan of sweet potatoes off the oven door. Cooked potatoes went hither and yon on the kitchen floor. It was right at the start of the lunch run. Todd calmly picked up the pan, gathered the potatoes back into the pan, and put the pan back on the oven door.
The house in Haney was about two blocks off the highway, on which there was a grocery store. TM was not allowed to cross the highway, but he was sometimes allowed to go to the grocery store alone, since it was on the same side of the highway as his house. One day, his mother gave him a dime and sent him to the store for a loaf of white bread. On the way, he ran under a piece of wire fencing which caught him across the head sending him tumbling. He returned home bloodied, limping, and ragged. His mother panicked, thinking he’d been hit by a car, but for TM the worst part was that he’d lost his dime, which he’d been carrying in his hand. His spirits brightened the next day when he returned to the low spot and found his dime.
They also lived for a brief time in Borger, a town in the Texas Panhandle where there was an oil boom in the early 1920’s. The first oilwell of the panhandle was drilled there in 1921, and Elmer Moore had piled his wife Leona, son TM, and in-laws William and Mary Slate into his Willys Knight car and moved up to Borger to find work. Daw attended fourth or fifth grades there, so around 1924.
Daw would later tell how the family was driving along the highway, TM standing up in the back seat of the convertible, when suddenly he saw something bright on the side of the road and started hollering for them to stop. “I saw a little devil!” he hollered until Elmer turned the car around, at which point TM jumped out and grabbed it. It was an iron figure of a devil in a contemporary dress, painted bright red and crouched forward with coat tails blowing back behind him. This became TM’s favorite toy. We aren’t sure but it might be a custom hood ornament from an early car.
Eventually the family made it all the way to Wyoming; here he is in the snow, and with a friend .
Later, when living at the home on Athenia, TM attended Castleberry School in Fort Worth, a school with two rooms. The larger room could be divided by a screen that pulled across.
At Castleberry, three teachers taught grades 1 through 12, but as the number of students increased, the upper grades were dropped, and so in the seventh or eighth grade TM transferred. He chose to attend Vocational, a boys’ technical school in downtown Fort Worth, which moved to a new location on Samuel the next year.
When TM began attending Vocational School, his family leased their Fort Worth home and lived for three of four years on farm near Azle, at a place called Indian Springs. It was a dairy and chicken farm owned by a prominent lawyer (Mr. Alexander of Alexander and Bird law firm, who lived on the bluff in Arlington Heights). TM’s job was to milk the 7 Jersey dairy cows before sunrise. The opening to the milk shed faced east, allowing the rising sun’s warmth on TM’s back as he sat milking in cold weather. The milk was put through a hand-cranked separator, the cream placed into large bottles which were then stored in a contraption Elmer made to function as a cooler, with water constantly circulating around the bottles of cream. On Fridays the family churned the cream intro butter, then hand-formed it into half-pound molded shapes, each hand-wrapped in wax paper.
After his morning work, TM hitched a ride into town and caught a bus to vocational high school. On Saturdays, he chopped ice from blocks which he used to deliver the week’s butter and eggs to restaurants. He kept track of invoices and Mr. Alexander paid TM’s family their uncollected share.
TM also worked for Elmer’s gravel and sand business, through an arrangement made with a black man named Arthur Vining, who owned several acres of river-bottom land with a good source of gravel. Elmer had two mules which he would use to pull a large, wide plank he had made himself. It was pulled across the field, deep below ground to loosen and remove the soil and expose the gravel. The soil was placed in a pile and the gravel was then dug up. Two men sorted and sifted the gravel into grades by size. Elmer took orders from building contractors around Fort Worth – for soil, fine sand for plaster or coarse sand for mortar, gravel for paving, some large material for land fill.
TM’s drove the delivery truck to construction sites. On some jobs he just dumped the load, but sometimes he had to spread it out as well. If it needed to be packed down, he would drive the truck back and forth over it. The truck carried two and a half yards of material, which was the legal load limit they could carry on the roads. Patrolmen would stop loaded trucks, lay portable scales out on the road, and have the drivers pull the truck onto them, to check the weight. There was a fine for being overloaded, but Elmer was never fined.
He was in the vocational work-study program at Vocational, so he attended classes half a day and worked at United Motors the other half. When he was 15, he got his first vocational degree, in auto mechanics, after which he worked for 2 years at a Fort Worth car repair shop.
This was a card he could carry to show his training.
When TM was 16 (in 1931), Elmer gave him his first car, a 1925 Model T, which Elmer had purchased a year earlier.
In the fall of 1932, he met “Billie” (Willie Jeannette Polk), and within a year, on March 1, 1934, they were married. (More on how they met later.) They eloped to Oklahoma because she was 15. Decades later, Mema would drawl from her leather recliner, “We were young and duuumb, Val.” They were married for 64 years. The young couple rented an apartment in Fort Worth.
Billie said “this picture was made March 1934 two or three weeks after we married. Fort Worth Fat Stock Show and Rodeo.”
Also in 1932, TM had returned to trade school for a more “advanced” shop degree; Billie said he really just wanted to play football. He was a starting Right Tackle. In his later years we saw him limp from his bad knee, although it didn’t keep him from being an excellent golfer.
He could block a punt!
During the Great Depression, TM bought his tools on payment plans and used pawn shop loans to make ends meet. (We have some of the receipts but I won’t burden you with those depression era artifacts here.) Billie’s notes tell us that TM was working in FDR’s WPA program when they married, making $14.00 a week. He also worked part time nights at Montgomery Ward at their big catalog operation in Fort Worth. (We have that card too, ha.) It was a large warehouse with rows of bins of merchandise offered in their catalog. Girls were hired to go up and down the rows on roller skates, picking up the items each customer had ordered. TM was a stocker; his job was to keep the bins full. The girls notified him a bin was empty, and he’d go to the storage areas to get more merchandise and refill the bin, perhaps with ladies’ slips or corsets of a certain style and size. He enjoyed this job for some months and was disappointed when he was let go after Christmas. The Christmas orders were finished, business declined, and the most recently hired people were let go to reduce the staff.
However, the day after New Year’s Day, a friend came by and told him they needed a mechanic at Binyon-O’Keefe, the trucking firm where the friend was working. TM was hired immediately to maintain the engines of the big trucks during the night so the trucks could be used during the day. Billie, left to spend her evenings alone, would sometimes take a bus down to see a movie, then telephone him at work afterward. He would leave work and go pick her up; sometimes he’d have to go back to finish a job, so she would wait and they would have breakfast together.
Photo in 1935 of TM and Billie dressed up
Billie said that TM was an excellent auto mechanic; he was so good and honest that people came from all over Fort Worth to get him to work on their vehicles. TM told one story about a Fort Worth man who became irate when TM said his car didn’t need a major repair. He said the man was so obnoxious that he went ahead and did the job, the only time in his life he ever charged someone for unnecessary work. This job was the last time he made his living fixing auto engines, but he continued to work on his own cars and those of friends and family until the era of electronic and computerized vehicles.
At age 22 (in 1936), he became a professional and specialized welder, which remained his trade for 25 years. He did “arc and gas” welding, which utilized both electricity and acetylene and was highly pressurized and dangerous. He was an expert at repairing oil storage tanks and silos, sometimes doing the welding at lofty heights. In 1937 he worked as a welder for the American Manufacturing Company in Fort Worth, which manufactured oilfield drilling equipment.
Daughter Linda was born in 1938, in Fort Worth.
The next chapter will be about some of the early welding work, eventually owning his own business, and on to the world of Whataburger.