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June 17, 2003  
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This story is written about my own life and my experiences from childhood to my retirement in 1973 especially the attitudes and feelings between myself and my Panamanian friends and how we all, as two different groups, got along together. During our lifetime my first wife Barbara Clarke and second wife Emma Louise saved various numbers and types of literature that I will be using to make my point on the relationships of the American and Panamanian people.

Some of my early memories of where we lived and the conditions that existed. We lived in a large bachelor quarters near my school. The bachelor quarters was very large and I guess it housed a great number of Canal Employees mostly bachelors. The rooms consisted of one or two single beds, one table two chairs a chest of drawers with a mirror and a large closet for ones clothes, shoes and things that you did not want stolen, this closet had a large lock which the renter had to supply. The showers, toilets, commodes were in a separate room that was large and would hold about ten to fifteen men shaving or whatever. My Dad paid a small rent for two rooms one for him and one for my brother and myself. This bachelor quarters was kept clean and looking well by one local rate employee he was in charge of that one building. In the front and back of the inside of the building there were rocking chairs for lounging. In later years some of the employees had ice chest or refrigerators to keep small things for snacks and a few beers. These types of buildings were located all over the different cities on the Canal Zone.

As my Dad , brother and I lived in a bachelor quarters we had to go out to eat, well my Dad left for work early and he went to Carl Strom’s restaurant across the street from our bachelor quarters and when my brother Leslie and I awoke to go to school we also went to the Carl Strom’s restaurant. My Dad never left any money for us to pay for our meals but had Leslie sign a chit at the check out booth in the restaurant and he would pay it later. It seemed to me that my Dad lived from chit to chit.

The meals were very good and we always had plenty to eat, I can't remember if my Dad told Leslie that we only had so much to live on and had to eat just as much as we wanted but not to waste any food. The reason for this is he did not want use to splurge or spend any money for foolish things. I do know that Leslie and I would take a couple of pieces of limes or lemons with our ice tea and when that was finished we would make lemonade with the left over pieces of lemons and we could get water and sugar, we had fun.

Another experience I can remember about Carl Strom’s restaurant or I may say a couple of experiences. One was my brother Leslie had a paper route and after he delivered his papers he would sell some he had ordered in front of the restaurant to the men going to work. When he had something to do or some place to go I used to relieve him and take over the route. There were times us paper boys waited for the paper truck's from the Star and Herald or the Panama American and we would take a nap and some of us including myself would crawl into a barrel that had some excelsior and fall asleep, boy some mornings when I awoke it was light and the papers were on the platform and I was in trouble. My brother Leslie did well with that paper route.

When I was a bit older and aloud to go hunting with the older men we used to gather at the same back platform and go into a fast food short order place in the rear of the restaurant and have breakfast and talk over the hunt for that day which was usually Sunday. I never had a gun at first and used to go with an elder person that was hard of hearing and listen for the dogs that was running the deer and tell my friend which way they were running so we could try and cut them off and kill the deer. Later on a good friend gave me a second hand Remington automatic shot gun. And I also had to bum some buck shot of my father.

A story about me and the shot gun. Years later when I was living with my brother Leslie in the same Bachelor Quarters I was cleaning my gun and I did not remember that I had a shell in the chamber and when I cocked it the darn thing discharged a shell which was a buck shot and blew a hole in the roof of the bachelor quarters. Boy did I catch it for that foolish and dumb trick.

Above I mentioned the place my brother Leslie and I ate called Carl Strom’s Restaurant. Well for the younger generation's information there was a Carl Strom’s Restaurant in most of the large towns in the Canal Zone. There was one in Balboa, one in Pedro Miguel, one in Ancon, one in Old Cristobal. I guess the reason for all these restaurants was the fact that there were more single men on the Isthmus during the building of the Canal and just after the building of the Canal. Also for our information the restaurant in Balboa became the Canal Zone Police Station in later years. As I can remember the Police Station in Balboa when I was a teen ager was in front of the Balboa High School, just below the Administration Building it was a wooden building and some of the police lived on the second floor and there was holding cells also. The Judge at that time was named Blackburn. At times when the kids like myself got into some minor trouble the cops used to bring us to that police station and put us in one of the holding cells to scare us and it did.

The school us Canal Zone kids went to was located right behind the Police Station and was a large wooden building with a number of classes and was a two story building. I think it was built just after or during the canal construction. There also was a large tennis court adjacent to the school and the Balboa playgrounds and a large building for basketball and other sports, also where they kept the sporting paraphernalia for us kids to use such as bats, balls, gloves, basket balls,etc. We were well taken care of, there was a aseball field, track oval, score board, jumping pit, grand stand and another tennis court close by. We used to pick sides for all the games we played and of course we had some classes on sports as schoolwork and were graded on that. In latter years my wife Barbara and our two kids Howard and Patricia lived real close to this Play shed on the Prado from where we were transferred to Cristobal in 1950. The School I referred to at the start of the paragraph only went to the 8th grade and then we went to the Balboa High School for the next four years.

During our grammar school days the Canal Zone kids did what I guess all school kids did. We had games we played and had fights with our peers and tried to get by the best way we could.

One of the unusual things that I had that set me apart from other kids was I was left handed and in those days it was a "big" problem. The reason I say this is because there were very few lefties in our school program and everything was geared for right-handed school kids. In those days we had pens with only tips for plain ink and we had inkwells that for me was on the wrong side of the desk. The desk were the type for only one student with a place in the bottom for books and other necessities. Well when I reached over from my left hand to the right side of the desk to dip into the ink well and brought the pen back to the paper the darn ink would drip all over the top of the desk, and as other kids in other classes used the same pen the pen nibs most likely would be bent or damaged some way. All the teachers would not allow me to right with my left hand but when they were not looking I would use it and if they ever caught me it would be heck to pay.

Along with that all the baseball gloves were right handed and the Play shed did not have any left handed gloves so being a first baseman I was in real trouble I either had to use a catchers mitt or use an outfielder's mitt, neither was any good for that position.

I guess the first half way decent first baseman glove I had was given to me by a first baseman that came to the Canal Zone to play for the Balboa Baseball Team. His name was Leo Stephens and he came from Texas, he also chewed tobacco. I think he was playing in the minor league, the class I don’t recall after all these years, but he turned out to be my idle. I kept good care of that mitt, even though it was second hand. I renewed the lacing, and oiled up the mitt all over especially in the pocket. Funny how things can happen to a person, in later life when I was out of school I played for the same team in the Isthmian League. Now let us get back to high school. ***********

After a hard fought battle on my part to get through high school, by the way I had to go an extra few months to make up some grades I had failed, but I finally made it with lots of help from my teachers. I just did not want to study, it seemed like a waste of time to me. Oh, how I thank all the folks that helped me get through high school, without that diploma I would have not gotten my jobs that I did with the Panama Canal Company and went so far in my trades. At last out of high school and on my way.

At this time period in 1937 when I finished school, I was working as a helper for the Panama Canal, Clubs and Playgrounds and I cleaned up the projecting booths and at times depending on the operator I would check the reels for that nights movie. I got paid in cash, not much but a wage to say the least.

I filled out an application bland for a job as a locomotive operator, first choice and second choice was an electrician. I got such poor grades that I finally got a Learner Rigger’s job and had to serve three years, along with that go to school and do some more dam lesson’s, which I hated.

I started my Learner-ship in Mount Hope in the Mechanical Division, the place where this was a dry dock, it was very small. I worked for a large man by the name of Leonard Scranton. A little about Mr. Scranton;. He was a first mate on a schooner owned by his father, they were in the business of picking up mahogany logs in South America and sailing them to the United States where they would sell them, of course they had to go through the Panama Canal. He finally quite his job on his fathers schooner and go a job as a Rigger in Mount Hope. How he could do that was a mystery to me. I had to serve three years to get my Learner-ship, and he just walked in and they gave him a job.

Mr. Scranton had just trained his brother-in-law in the trade of Rigging and also trained Ernie Erickson, so I would be the third Rigger he would train.

I guess I should tell my audience what a ship rigger does in a shipyard. A rigging and consists of four helpers, a rigger and at that time I was part of that gang. Leonard Scranton was the boss. He was a large man, and he had lost all his teeth for some reason I did not know. Riggers usually are used to transport heavy loads, in and out of large vessels. They also have a large crane handy to handle these heavy loads. These loads consist of large engine parts such as crankshafts that weigh in the tons. And we handled all the staging in the dry dock or anywhere else where needed. I had to learn to splice wire rope of all dimensions, also rope splicing of all dimensions. I also had to learn to sew canvas of all weights, usually using a large canvas sewing machine. We also handled the propellers, rudders, and crankshafts. Most of the time this work was done when the ship was in the dry dock, but we did it when a ship was balanced down by the bow and got the rudder and propeller out of water. Riggers usually had to go out and handle a train wreck, we had a crane we called a “wrecker” that lifted 35 tons. We turned over the wrecked locomotives and cars and put them back on the track. All the while using this “wrecker”.

One of our jobs also was to handle the large manila lines that were attached to a vessel and haul it into a dry dock, usually four large lines on each side of a vessel with around five to ten helpers and a rigger taking orders from the Lockmaster. We would position the vessel so it would lie on the dry dock blocks where the Lockmaster wanted it to go. My brother Leslie Clarke was a Lockmaster. But he never did show any partiality.

We also worked on submarine’s which was an every day job, the sailors even had a nice barge along side of the submarine, so they could eat and more or less live on the barge. Some of them went to homes they had in the various towns in Margarita or Cocoa Solo. Mostly the married men did this.

Mr. Scranton had a very quick temper and so did I, so we did have some discussions from time to time, we really never came to blows but very close, he was rather large for me but in those day I would take a chance. Years later in the Balboa Shops during the war he became the big boss over me and others and I think he held my temper against me and never gave me any chance to become a boss in the Rigger shop.

Mr. Sheep Shreaves was our boss in the Mount hope shop and from time,to time I was sent out to help on diving jobs Mr.,. Shreves would go on and that is where I first got interested in Salvage Diving.

While I was working at Mount hope shops I became acquainted with Mr. Parker, he worked in the Wood shop, and I also worked out of the same shop. Well, he owned a nice motorboat, it was about thirty by twelve foot, and was rigged for sea duty. He made trips to the San Blas Island’s and asked me if I would be his deck hand. He did not mention any pay but I sure thought there would be some. He did know that I had been to sea on my school vacations and knew how to handle a compass and all the things that pertained to taking care of a vessel. After taking on provisions and getting everything ship shape, the passengers started to arrive. Boy there was about ten to fifteen people to make the cruise. And would you believe there was a few very good looking girls along, about my age.

It was an overnight trip, time wise to make the trip to San Blas. We arrived very early in the morning and everyone was anxious to get ashore on the Island. We anchored the vessel and the San Blas Indians came to our boat and took the passengers ashore.

Mr. Parker and I would clean up the boat, get things in ship shape order, and make up something for chow, for that day. Then I would go out with a spear and bucket and catch some lobsters, sometimes around ten or twenty large ones for chow. I would cut of the tails and throw the rest away.

The passenger’s would be going around taking photo’s of the strange things they saw and the Indians they met. The island was bare except for a couple of shade trees. Of course the San Blas Indians had molas for sale. They made them up themselves and were very colorful.

The Indian’s did not bury any of their dead on the island. The dead were taken to the mainland near a river, and the families of the dead had a hut to cover their loved ones.

Twice each day the women paddle their Cayucos far enough up the river on the mainland to get fresh water for cooking and bathing. Water is carried in calabashes that are hollowed out gourds that grow on trees. Such a load of fresh water weighs the Cayucos down so it is only several inches out of the water.

The village of Alligandi is close to the mainland. This island is not more than fifteen hundred feet long and eight hundred feet wide; yet it had at that time a population of about 1, 200 people. The houses are close together. There are very few trees and no other vegetation. Sails are left spread while the Cayucos are pulled on dry land.

I also saw a medicine man return home from his farm with leafy plants for medicine tea, herbs for medicine baths and plantain for food for his family. These were all tied up to the two ends of a pole that he carries over his shoulder. His daughter and granddaughter were sitting outside the house. A parrot was sitting on her shoulder, a pet for the grandchild.

I was invited inside the medicine man’s home to see his stock. There were leaves and stems of plants out of which medicine was made. Also there was several lengths of rubber hose and some dried bones which may be grated and put into the tea. I also saw some images that are used to treat the sick.

Our passengers took group photo’s of the Indians, especially the Indian ladies that had colorful molas on, they also purchased some of these. So the Indians made out alright. They also treated Mr. Parker very well. As I can recall he had made numerous trips to these island’s with passengers, that left the American dollar there which pleased the Indians.

On one of our many trips I met a very nice looking young lady, and she took a shine to me, so I treated her very good on a trip she went on. After that we went out together a few times but we did not hit it of to good, so we said adios and parted. That was before I met Barbara, the girl I married and loved for so many years, and still do.

While I was serving my learner ship in Mount Hope, on the tlantic side of the Isthmus I made quite a few trips with Mr. Parker to the San Blas island’s. I could depend on a few bucks on the side from these trips, and during these hard times I could use that money. Mr. Parker retired shortly after these trips we made. He did live for many yeas after his retirement in Colon, and his hang out was at the Cristobsl Yacht. He had raised two boys that worked for the Panama Canal Company, and also retired from there.

During my time in the shops at Mount Hope, and living in Old Cristobal in a bachlor quarters, I met Joseph Hayden, my future father-in-law.

Joe and I did some drinking together at his famous Chinese place, where he always went. He could sign chits there and pay on payday. Like my father used to do. We would sit in the bachelor quarters, where we lived and talk over old stories about our lives, past and present. At that time I had just met Joe’s daughter in Balboa where she had moved with her mother and her mother’s new husband Eddie Napoleon. This Eddie was the father of Eddie the ball player and once upon a time a first base coach for the Texas Ranger baseball team. At this time young Eddie was not even born. I will bring up the Balboa times with this family and my first wife Barbara Hayden. Much later

While I am about it I should also tell a little story about another girl that I dated in Cristobal, we spent some fun times at the Beer Garden in Colon, that was run by a friend of mine. We danced the nights away and had lots of fun.

One night I did get into a bit of trouble with a fellow that I worked with in the Mount Hope Dry Dock. I guess he was a little jealous of me dating this particular girl, she was the elder sister of Carl Starke, another good friend of mine, and we stayed friends until his death many years later. Carl and his family lived in Old Cristobal, the town where Carl’s mother worked in the Cristobal Commissary as a person that worked at collecting the money as you purchased things in the Commissary; I regret to say I forget what these people were called. This girl and I finally did break up as we said in my day over something that was very serious, which I will not write about.

I am sorry to say that I did accumulate a large debt while I was working in Mount Hope Dry Dock, the debt was an even $500. The only person that would come forward and help me out was my brother Leslie. He was married to Lillian, his wife at that time. When Barbara my first wife and I got married we repaid Leslie back for this debt. We also lived with Leslie and Lillian Clarke for a while in Balboa, more about this in a later chapter.

My brother was very kind to me during our life times. We did not get along very well when we were teens, but later in life we did well. He was the only person that did care about me when I was a very young boy, he did lots for me then and later in life, I loved my brother.

Working in Mount Hope Shops was real hard work for riggers, we had to handle all the large heavy loads in the shops and on all the ships that came in for repairs. A lot of these ships had regular dates to come into the drydock for reparis and hull painting, so that meant they had to go into the main drydock in Mount Hope, it was small compared to the dry docks in Balboa, Mechanical Division, that was in the late 1900. We also did lots of annual overhauls on submarines, we had lots of work in those days.

When our gang did not have much work my boss, Lenny Scranton would send me over to the canvas shop and either help the canvas man sew canvas or splice wire rope, or steel cable. Also manila rope, splices had to be made in great numbers, I did become very proficient at these chores that would do me in good stead in future life as a rigger.

When I became a journeyman rigger and supervisor in later years I trained my apprentices in the same manner. Keep in mind when I was a General Foreman Rigger and Salvage Diver, we were getting into the local rate phase of teaching them, the local rate did well, and the shop is still going as far as I know.

I used to get grades on my work from time to time and as I can remember I did not hit the top of the class, school always has been a pain in you know what for me all my life. Now my brother Leslie, there was a different story he did well in school, liked by all his teachers and got all A’s and B’s. It showed up in his work and made him a better mechanic.

I served a year in the Mount Hope shops and then they transferred me to Balboa Mechanical Division. On the Pacific side of the Isthmus in the town of Balboa, where I was born and raised. There is a small story I should document here before I leave the Atlantic side of the Isthmus.

A friend of mine Alex Erick whom I used to box against went out on the town and ended up in the Hotel Washington. There were three or four Americans drinking at the bar and one fellow joined Alex and I playing liars dice. Well and argument ensued between this out of line person and we stepped outside to settle the discussion. Well to make a long story short during the fight this fellow hit me over the right eye and opened it up to take a number of stitches. Alex saw the blood and said “Howard you better let up he is bleeding a lot.” I told Alex “that was my blood.” Consequently I went and had some stitches put over my right eye and a large bandage to cover the stitches.

The next morning I checked in at the Balboa Rigging shops to my new boss, and he asked me what happened. “I told him I was in a fight last night and forgot to duck.” My Boss’s name was Mr. Ted Marshall. I learned later in my years at the Blaboa Shops, he was not a rigger but a machinist. In those days (1939) that is the way the ball bounced in the Balboa shops. If you were well liked and had the education to become a boss of any kind they would put you in charge of any shop. Soon after I arrived in Balboa my new place of employment, Ted Marshall retired, I will guess at this age and time it was two or three years. I will close this now and send it to my Nephew. He will correct the grammar and the spelling, I will continue with this at a later date, so keep in touch.

It was just before the Second World War and during the remainder of the War that I will write now. In order for me to learn the trade of rigging my boss, Mr. Marshall had to put me with other Riggers so “I would learn by learn by doing” The first rigger he put me with was a man that had worked as a logger in the North West, as a tree topper. I don’t think he ever worked as a ship rigger or ever served any time at the rigging trade. He was working on a large vessel that had been sabotaged by the crew, they put sand in both crankshaft bearings and main engine, which cause all the babbit to melt and then they froze up. He and his gang of men were taking out the main crank shafts, well, I worked with him for a short time and then they put me in another Rigging gang. I think the reason for this was that Ernie Erickson, a school mate of imine was working with this rigger and he did not want two learners to work in the same gang.

So he put me with a Spanish man that had been a Rigger for many years during the construction of the Panama Canal, also he worked on the Wrecker. The wrecker was a large crane that was used for cleaning up the wrecks on the construction of the canal and along the railway.

At this point let me say a few words about the man I am going to spend a lot of time with, and try to learn the trade of Learner Rigger. Pepe could not speak much English, so it was hard at times trying to understand him, and what he wanted me to do. Even though I did speak some street Spanish. Most a ll of his crew spoke fluent Spanish, and some English. During the larger Rigging jobs where something weighs up in the tons, a mistake could be a disaster.

As time went on we did get to understand each other very well and became good friends, Although at times he showed me he was the boss, and don’t forget it.

On must remember that this was in the late thirties, just before WW2 came along and the United States got into it.

Also at this time I started to get into the Salvage diving work. I did make a few trips out with the person that was doing most of the diving around that area of the dry dock and the Pacific side, his name alludes me now which is not important. Now at that time I did not have much training as a Salvage diver, but I did most of the small jobs around the Dry Docks, the small jobs got larger and larger, and I became more proficient at this trade. When I was not diving, I continued on with the learning of my main job as a rigger. I loved diving and I got extra money for this work. I was married and had a wife and son to take care of.

More to come later....

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Page Author Dale C. Clarke.
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