G is for Gail’s Bookshelf – Slacks and Calluses

Slacks and Calluses is a first-hand account of women factory workers in WWII. It’s the memories of two school teachers in California who used their summer vacation to help the war effort. They took jobs in a bomber factory and found the work much harder than they expected.

 

slacks and calluses goodreads

Book Cover

This book is their lively account of what it was like and reads somewhat like a diary. It gives a glimpse into an aircraft factory during WWII. The authors are Constance Bowman Reid and Sandra M. Gilbert.

 

I found this quite interesting, as my mother, Gail Lee Martin, had worked for Boeing during the war in Wichita, KS. After I read the book, I passed it along to Mom for her bookshelf. Later, I asked how she liked it. She said it was fairly similar to her experience at Boeing.

I kept nagging my mother to write more about her memories of working at Boeing and she did oblige with several emails. Sure wish I’d been able to get her to tell more details. In Slacks and Calluses, they mention the problem of getting aluminum slivers in their hair. You’ll note in the cover photo above, the young woman has a snood over her hair.

The photo below is my mother, Gail McGhee, at that time. She has on her work uniform and has her hair pulled back away from her face, but not entirely covered.

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Gail Lee McGhee, later Martin – wearing her Boeing uniform in WWII

 

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After Graduation in 1942

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.

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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.

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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.’

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NYA poster  (source)

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 Phillip’s 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.

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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)

 

Mom’s Experience at Boeing During WWII

Boeing plane signed by Gail Lee McGhee and other aircraft workers who built the plane in 1944.

Boeing plane signed by Gail Lee McGhee and other aircraft workers who built the plane in 1944.

Allen Hauser – “Gail…how long did you work making planes during the war? How did you end up getting involved?”

Gail Martin“Funny you should ask, Allen. The Butler County Historical Society recently video interview me about my work at Boeing in conjunction with the Smithsonian exhibit “Posters on the American Home Front, 1941-1945” coming to the museum from the middle of May to middle of June. I also found some Country Gentleman magazines from those years that I loaned the museum for display. Wish you could hear & see the tape. I will see if somebody will make copies. Cindy is viewing it now.
I graduated in 1942 and worked one year as a nanny for a woman school teacher then in 1943 I signed up for a government-funded training for women to work in the aircraft field. I had to go to Ark City and when the school lost their funding I went with most of the other girls to Wichita and applied for a job. I choose Boeing because I did not have to join a union to work there. My reasoning for that is a whole different story from Daddy’s experience in the oilfields.
Boeing put me in electrical wiring department because I was small in those days. Couldn’t hold up the heavy rivet guns. A lot on my work was in the tunnel that led back to the tail-gunner in the B-29’s. In May of 1945 the war was over and I quit so homecoming soldiers could have jobs. In June, Clyde & I were married.”

Allen Hauser – “Thanks for the information! That must have been some experience, though I suppose growing up around the oil fields, heavy machinery was pretty familiar. So you mostly worked on B-29’s (or perhaps it was solely on B-29’s). Those were used exclusively against Japan. You said you stopped in May, did soldiers come back so quickly to take over jobs even before the war was over in the Pacific? It’s strange to think where all those planes you helped make went. It is also interesting the role women played overall in the B-29s, from building them, testing them, and flying them to deliver them where the military needed them. It was quite a time.”

Carol Garriott – “My, what memories this photo brings back! Being 10 years younger than Gail, I was of course still at home and in elementary school, and enormously proud and in awe of my big sister. I LIVED for the weekends she would come home.

A time or two she brought a boy a bit older than me, who was, I think, the son of her landlady in Wichita, and had never been to the country. On his first visit, he was wildly excited about the oil field we lived in. A pumping well was adjacent to our house and yard. Everyone had trooped into the house after a cursory tour of the outside. Everyone, that is, it became apparent, except our young visitor. Daddy looked back for him, and saw him astraddle, like riding a horse, of the pumping mechanism on the well. I remember Daddy walking so steadily and calmly out and snatching the boy off the well. He could so easily have gotten his pant leg caught in the mechanism and been drawn inexorably into it! We, of course, had grown up with the understanding of how dangerous they were, and knew, under peril of severe consequences, mechanical or parental, not to mess. As I recall, Daddy had a private discussion with the boy, who never went near the wells again.

An example of a Kansas oil pumpjack at the museum in El Dorado.

An example of a Kansas oil pumpjack at the museum in El Dorado.

(This discussion comes from the Martin-McGhee My Family site, May 2002)

Another Street Photo

Carol Garriott – Dec 28, 1999 “It seems like I ought to know, having seen this photo before — but, who took the picture? Boyfriend? Roving reporter, spotting a beautiful girl?”

Karen Kolavalli – Dec 28, 1999 “I’m sure Mom can tell you in a more interesting way than I can since it’s her story, but I believe it was a street photographer. There’s another one of Mom and a girlfriend of hers, too, taken by a street photographer. Both are postcards. Oh, now that I think of it, the second one is actually a postcard addressed to you, February 19, 1945, Wichita, Kansas. I’ll get it scanned and uploaded soon.”

Gail Martin – Dec 29, 1999 “Well, of course, I loved this coat too! It was a chocolate-brown & cream colored plaid. Mother never said anything about my choice of clothing I bought while working at Boeing. I lived in a home with a divorced lady and her two sons. 1000 S. Patty.

Gail Lee McGhee - photo taken in Wichita KS by a street photographer in the 1940s.

Gail Lee McGhee – photo taken in Wichita KS by a street photographer in the 1940s.

In the Photo Booth

Gail McGhee in Wichita, Kansas in 1944

Gail McGhee in Wichita, Kansas in 1944


Mom’s commented on this photo,

“I had this photo taken in a little 3 for $1.00 shops that were around Wichita. They were patronized by many military guys and their girlfriends because they were developed fast while you waited.

You’ll notice I still thought I looked better without my glasses.”

She would have been 20 years old in 1944.

Gail – All Grown Up

Back when she was Gail McGhee, my mother worked in Wichita at the Boeing Aircraft Factory. This was during the war. She has several photos taken by street photographers during that time.

Photo taken by street photographer in Wichita, Kansas during WWII. Gail Lee McGhee in a pretty suit.

Photo taken by street photographer in Wichita, Kansas during WWII. Gail Lee McGhee in a pretty suit. October 1944

When asked about the picture, she said, “My suit was Kelly green with black baubles & inserts.   Wow I loved that suit.”
Karen asked, “Do you remember where you bought it, Mom?   There in Wichita after you moved there to work at Boeing or did you already have it?   Wish it were in color!” Her answer was, “I bought it in Wichita possibly at Innes Department store.”

Mom has a quirky smile on her face here. If you look closely, in the background of the photo, there’s a little girl in a coat and hat. Cute.

It's likely that this photo is from the same time. Unfortunately, we don't know the name of Mom's friend.

It’s likely that this photo is from the same time.

Here’s a later discussion on the photos:

Karen Kolavalli – Here’s the content from the postcard: Addressed to Miss Carol J. McGhee, Route 1, Hamilton, Kansas, dated February 19, 1945 from Wichita, Kansas. Gail thanks Carol for writing and comments on the Valentine’s party Carol had. She also asks Carol to tell her about her art class.

Gail Lee Martin – Dec 29, 1999 “How I loved that suit! The flared skirt made me feel sexy when I walked. The suit was a deep kelly green with black trim. So, Carol, tell us about the art classes when you were 11 years old. Lucile Hensley was from Madison and they lived up the hollow north of Madison near the Harlan homestead. Gail

Carol Garriott – Jun 26, 2008 “You looked sexy too! Beautiful suit and the fitted jacket showed off your figure. Gorgeous! I had a Valentine’s party? Wow. Don’t remember that. The art class, I think, was a correspondence thing I did. Later, when I was a teenager, I took another correspondence art class. I wish I still had a drawing I did of a big valley, with a homestead down in the bottom of it, and the panorama is seen from a “mountain” of tumbled boulders. I drew those big rocks painstakingly, trying to get the shadows all on the right side so it would look correct, as if the sun was shining from the upper left. Maybe it was a project for the class, to hone perspective.

E is for Excellence

ImageMom was proud of the E pin awarded to her when she worked at Boeing during the second World War. It was a production award for excellence and only 4% of the plants doing war work received this award. Each employee of the plant received the lapel pin. During the fairly short time she worked there, she received two of these.

I have a page about her Rosie the Riveter experience, which you can read at Gail Lee Martin in World War II. The photo below shows her in her Boeing uniform.

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