In May of 1942 I graduated (barely) from Hamilton High School in Greenwood County, Kansas. I lived with my folks in the Seeley school district where Daddy worked as an oil field pumper for Phillips Petroleum Company. By the time school started in September I was offered a job caring for three-year-old Ann Neumayer and doing light house work for her family. Her mother taught at the Seeley grade school, her dad was a pumper for the Ohio Oil company, and she had an older brother, Robert and an older sister, Peggy, who went to school with their mother.
Hamilton High School in Kansas where Gail Lee McGhee graduated.
My job was like any babysitter of today. Ann was a darling toddler, who loved to tag-a-long doing whatever I was doing. That family ate big servings of fried potatoes every night for supper, with fried meat and gravy. I used to say after peeling that big pile of potatoes every night, I might as well be on KP in the army.
At the start of the next school year, Mrs. Neumayer was allowed to take Ann to school with her. So I was wondering what I was to do, then we heard about the government’s NYA program for the young people of America. The closest school for girls was at Winfield, Kansas. My folks agreed for me to go and they took me down there. My boyfriend, Johnny Faylor, had been sent to Fort Leonardwood for training in the army. Our friend Clyde Martin was rejected when he was called up because he was a farm boy and was needed on the farm as his older brother, Ralph was already in the air force. He went to the boy’s camp in Cherryvale and took welding classes.
1942 postcard of Cherryvale, Kansas’ downtown.
My parents took me down to Winfield shortly after school was out in May of 1943. There they tried to teach me to be a riveter. But I was a skinny kid weighing only ninety-nine pounds so I couldn’t hold up the big heavy rivet gun. So they tried to teach me to hold the bucking bar on the back side of the sheet metal. I couldn’t even do that the way they wanted. I was so disappointed that I wasn’t going to be one of the famous Rosie the Riveters.
Due to politics and shortage of funding the NYA closed down July 12, 1943, just a week or two after I arrived. Most of the girls decided to take the bus to Wichita and try to get jobs in the aircraft factories. I went with them. I was lucky and got a job with Boeing helping build the B-29s in the electrical wiring department. I was thankful that Boeing was not union! After all the Phillips employees trouble with City Service union guys, I didn’t want anything to do with unions.
I found a room in a castle looking house at 1313 N. Emporia. I was on the second floor and in the north turret. The biggest problem was having to go downstairs to the basement for the communal bathroom.
Photo by Karen Kolavalli. The rooming house that Gail Lee McGhee stayed in during WWII while working at Boeing.
My paycheck sure looked good but the money disappeared so fast. I had to pay for my room and all my meals plus bus rides to work and back. No matter where I went I had to ride the bus or walk. The winter approached and I had to buy a warm coat, mittens and a stocking cap that would pull down around my ears. I bought a few things for Christmas presents but also had to save money to buy my bus ticket to Emporia in Lyon County for the holidays. My parents and little sister, Carol drove up from our home in Greenwood County to Emporia to pick me up. Being with my loved ones was so good that I do not remember what gifts were given to whom.
After working in the electric wiring department for several months I became unhappy when the inspectors ran a slight electrical charge to see if my work was OK. They didn’t tell me when they were going to do it and I became scared that the charge might get stronger so I asked to be transferred to another department.
The next department was in the tool shed, where the employees checked out tools they needed to work with. I enjoyed this after learning what each tool was called and where each was stored. It was kinda like working in a library only at the end of the shift all tools had to be checked back in and I had only a short time to get them put where they belonged before I could check out.
(Aug 11, 2012 email from Gail Lee Martin to daughter, Virginia Allain)