Robert Fine, Sr.
October 31, 2002 and February 18, 2003
This is Joyce Hanson interviewing Mr. Robert Fine Sr. at his home in San Bernardino, and this is for the San Bernardino Oral History Project. Today is October 31, 2002.
Hanson: Good morning, Mr. Fine.
FINE: Good morning.
Hanson: Why don't we start off by talking about your family and your family's migration to California, because that's a really interesting story.
FINE: Okay. Bushrod and Catherine Wilson, which were my late great-grandfather and great-grandmother came from Missouri and Illinois with the Mormon's to Salt Lake and spent some time in Salt Lake then were ordered to come down to San Bernardino. They came down with a wagon train from Salt Lake to San Bernardino, and Bushrod's name is on the bronze plaque in front of the court house. He bought property on Mission Road, which was in San Bernardino. He had 20 acres that he bought from [Amasa] Lyman. He had a general store and did some farming, and of course, Catherine was a homemaker. And so that was the start of that side of the family. And on the Fine family, my grandfather William A. came for the gold rush and ended up in Fresno area, Visalia. He didn't stick with the gold, instead he became a teamster. He drove a twenty mule team from Newport Beach and supplied all the mines with their mining equipment, and it took him about a six months to make a round trip. My uncle, which was fourteen years older than my dad wanted to go along in the worst way, and so William said, if you complain one time, you're going get put on the stagecoach, and go back to San Bernardino. He said he never spent a more miserable six months in his life, taking care of twenty mules, and then everything else so he never wanted to go again. My grandma, Rhoda, daughter of Bushrod Wilson, lived on Mission Road with her husband, which was William Alexander Fine, teamster. Of course he was gone a good part of the time. His brother's family had settled in the Visalia-Fresno area, and he wanted to go back to that area and do some farming. Rhoda's parents lived down the street, and she didn't want to leave. He went up to Fresno, Visalia area. She stayed here. She had a hard time. She did ironing, and my dad would pick up the clothes and deliver the clothes as a small child, so he stayed and helped his mom. When he became a teenager he became a lineman, putting in power lines in the Fresno area. He later became an electrical contractor. He owned his own business here in San Bernardino and later became the business manager for IBW. He was killed in an auto accident when I was nine. After that my mom had a rough time. She grew up in Redlands. Her father and mother, William C and "Dolly" Farquhar, were orange growers in Redlands. Mom worked for Field Electric, and my dad went to work for Field Electric, which is how they met and later married. They bought a piece of property clear out in the "country". Everybody in the family thought they were nuts for buying out so far, at 19th between G and H, just open fields. My dad built the home there, which I still have today. I have a lot of fond memories of where I grew up. I went to Elliot, at Highland and E, did my grade school there. Junior high, I went to Arrowview at Highland and G. I kept getting closer to home every school I went to. Ended up in San Bernardino High School and graduated from there in 1954. I went out to Valley College after I got out of the service. Had a wonderful childhood. Everybody in the neighborhood were working people but everybody took care of their yards and maintained not a new car, but a nice car.
FINE: It was just a nice place to grow up. A lot of fond memories. We had Haywood's Ice Cream and Hobby Shop, so I lived there as I was into building airplanes and, then of course, I could always get some ice cream on the way out and walk home eating ice cream. We had Harry's Roller Rink which is where we'd go skating. At the Orange Show they had an ice skating rink. I enjoyed the ice skating more than the roller skating. My sister went to the roller skating, I went to ice-skating. My sister, Lois was five years older than myself. She, of course, grew up in San Bernardino and now lives in Seattle. The school system was good and enjoyed it.
Hanson: What's the most fond memory you have of school?
FINE: I enjoyed all the sports and I played all the sports; which I think was probably my fondest memory. I took some of the shop classes and enjoyed them. I took woodshop in junior high and I still enjoy woodworking. I have my shop here in the garage and I restore the old music boxes and the coin operated Nickelodeons from the turn of the century. A lot of them I have to buy unrestored, and so they've sat idle probably for fifty, seventy years, and when you hear them play again there's a thrill to it.
Hanson: What did you do for fun when you were a kid?
FINE: Played sports.
Hanson: What sports did you play?
FINE: Baseball, was my biggest interest, and then I played football, and I ran track in school, but I enjoyed all sports. As I said earlier ice-skating was a favorite. There was a bunch of us in the neighborhood and we would do a lot of things together. We made our own toys. We would take an ironing board or pair of skates and make some kind of automobile, it was just, as I say, a lot of fun times.
Hanson: What about during war years. What was San Bernardino like? I know you were young.
FINE: I was young. I was about five. I think the biggest impression I remember was the shortages and having gas "chips" and, various stamps used to get a piece of merchandise. Everyone in our neighborhood planted "Victory Gardens" (vegetable garden). My dad was killed in an automobile accident in '45 and it totaled the car. My mom went to buy a new car. You didn't walk down and buy a new car. You had to have a trade in to get a car. She had to go to work, of course, and so, through the help of my grandfather, she was able to get a car, but she went a long time before she got it because she didn't have a trade-in. It was a different time. We had Sage's Market, which was an all-purpose market. I remember going with my mom down to Sage's and they would have canning jars full of grease that they would take in. I don't know if they got paid for it or not, it was for the war effort. And then of course, Norton, a lot of people went to work for Norton out there, various jobs for the war effort. And it was a different time. It left an impression.
Hanson: Do you think more people in the community were united?
FINE: Very much so, yes, everybody was out to help everybody and, in fact, when my dad was killed it was the neighbors that came to assist her and help her in any way that they could.
Hanson: What about social life in high school? Let's go up to high school years. That's, usually where people remember the most. It's when they were in high school.
FINE: I really didn't socialize a lot after I went to work at the city library when I was nine. I was a page. In high school I got out an hour early because I had a work permit so I could leave. I also went to work at the county library. I worked two hours at the city library then I went over to the county library and would work two hours. On Saturday, I would work four hours at each place. The principal called me in and asked me if I was working, and I said "Yes." He asked, "Where do you work?" and I said, "At the library" and he said, "Which library?' and I said, "The one downtown" because I knew you could only work two hours after school. He finally got frustrated and said, "I'm tired of playing games. Which library are you working at?" So I had to confess that I worked at the city and the county, and he said "You can't do that by state law" so I had to quit the county and I stayed with the city. I was there for about seven years. So, I was there quite a long time. It was a fun job and, met a lot of interesting people.
Hanson: Tell me what you did as a page. What were your duties? What were your responsibilities?
FINE: People would turn the books in. The librarians would take them back to a back room and put them on the shelves. I would go through and organize them by number and letter, as they were, and then I would take my cart and go out and put them back on the shelf for the customer to get the book again and check it out.
Hanson: Well, why the library? What got you into the library? That seems like an odd job for a young man to do.
FINE: My sister, her present husband lived down the street from us. I believe Creighton went to work at the library first. He was a bookworm. He enjoyed books, was just a good student. I believe, he went to work, and then he talked my sister into going to work in the library. She worked down in the children's department, in the basement. I had had a paper route before that, and so she said "You can make more money if you come down to the library. I get a whole thirty-five cents an hour" and so, anyway, I went down and applied and I got the job and so that's how I ended up at the library. Later on, when I was a teenager at Highland and G, which was just up the street, there was a brand new gas station built, and Dee Fondy, the baseball player for the Chicago Cubs bought it, and his dad worked it. When Dee was in town or during the off season then he would come and spend some time. My being interested in baseball, I thought this was wonderful, I could work for Dee Fondy. So, I went to work for Dee Fondy at the gas station for about one and a half years there. I mainly lubed and changed oil, but at that time you just didn't lube and change oil, you cleaned the car inside and you washed the windows and vacuumed the trunk and it was quite an ordeal to service a car at that time. And then of course, when the people pulled in for gas I'd go out and pump the gas. At that time, they would stay in their car and you would check the fluids under the hood as well as put the gas in and wash the windows so you had quite a job. Not like today.
Hanson: Right. Not today where you just collect money.
Hanson: Well, if you, you were into cars and things, you must have been into Route 66.
Hanson: Okay. Tell me about Route 66 and it's genesis.
FINE: Well, in high school I got into drag racing and we had Morrow Field in Rialto, which was big in drag racing on Saturday nights, and then down Santa Ana they had a drag race. We were just racing the cars that we drove every day, and of course, I had to work on a car and put a cam in it and have the heads milled and, and two carburetors and, and eventually put louvers on the hood, and in fact I think I was one of the first ones in San Bernardino to have louvers. We'd cruise all the drive-ins. We'd go from Snow's, which was on E Street below Baseline and then we'd go up to Ruby's which was at Highland and then we'd go up to Mimi's which was way up on Sierra Way above 40th. We would cruise the streets and we would pull up beside the girls. I had a cam in the engine. The engine would "loap" so they would all point the finger and ask, "What's that on your hood?" and we would laugh. There'd always be two or three guys in the car and we would laugh and we'd say those are louvers. "Well, what do they do?" and then we'd have to explain louvers to them. We pulled up beside a car full of girls one night and David, I think said, they were pointing their fingers at the louvers and he said, "They're going to ask what's wrong with your hood." And with that the gal said, "What do you have in your mill to have louvers?" And, so it kind of opened our mouths and just stood there speechless. A couple of us bought a '36 coupe and we put a Jimmy truck engine in it and we would tow that to the drags. That was our Saturday night and Sunday, not every week, but quite a few weeks, so anyway, it was fun, and kept us out of trouble.
Hanson: You're an interesting man working at the library and drag racing. In my mind this just doesn't fit. A true Renaissance man (laughter). So tell me about all these drive-ins that popped up here in California. Back east we didn't have drive-ins.
FINE: They were great and each one was probably known for their specialty. There was a drive in over on Mount Vernon named Roxy's and they made wonderful malts, and so when we got hungry for a malt, we'd drive to Roxy's. The other ones, I think one of them was known for their cherry or chocolate coke, and then Mimi's was just a hangout for everybody who had really nice cars and did things that we were interested in at the time. Everybody would sit there with the tray on the side of the door with whatever they were drinking, and they would have their hood up cause we'd have to look at the engine and see what they had. So it was an education, too. A lot of fond memories, a lot of neat cars. People would come up from the beaches where they had the beautiful '32 coupes and roadsters and things that you just drooled over so we'd go down there on a Sunday on Pacific Coast Highway and watch the cars go by. It was a fun Sunday.
Hanson: Yes. About how many kids do you say would congregate at the drive-ins on any given Friday or Saturday night?
FINE: Mimi's was probably one of the favorites and probably at times there would be approximately fifty kids there, I would imagine. To the north of Mimi's was kind of a vacant lot and we'd have to even park there, of course you didn't get service over there, but, as I said, just to hang out and look at the cars. They'd even come from another area and you'd have to go talk to them and see what they had in their mill and various things.
Hanson: What about drive-in movies?
FINE: Drive-ins was a popular thing. We had the Baseline and the Tri-City, the Roubidoux and Mount Vernon, yes. So we had quite a variety of drive-ins to go to, and there again it was a fun experience. Sometimes we would double date and go to the drive-in and sometimes just a bunch of guys would go. I remember one night there was probably four of us in the car and we were short on money. We didn't have much money that night cause we had been at the gas station and put a quarters ($0.25) worth of gas in. So somebody got the idea that two of us would get in the trunk and then two of them, the driver and the passenger, would drive in and then we would climb out of the trunk. Dick Howell and I were elected to get in the trunk. We could hear some conversations and all of a sudden the driver took off and a car was chasing it because he went in the exit, he backed in the exit and they saw him. We had some kind of car chase and at, forty, fifty miles an hour slapping corners back in a trunk is kind of spooky plus a lot of rolling around and I kept saying Dick, get on your side, and, and with that we'd turn another corner, so it was quite a night.
Hanson: (laughing) I'm sorry, that's so funny.
FINE: Oh, somebody got the bright idea that we should drive down the street with nobody behind the steering wheel, so we figured out if somebody laid on the floorboard of the of the car, they could work the clutch and the accelerator, and then somebody would lay across the front seat and could steer the car from the steering wheel on the bottom and also shift, if it was necessary. Of course we wouldn't do a great amount of speed, and then either one or two would sit in the back seat and say, "A little to the right, a little to the left, stop, stop, Stop!" We would pull up to somebody and they'd look over and take a double take with that we would, when the light turned green, we would go on and you'd see them scratching their head, you know, who in the world was driving that car? I'm not sure I should say some of this, but this friend Bill had a four door, '39 Chevy. We had cruised the drive-ins quite a few times and got kind of bored. There wasn't much happening at the drive-ins so somebody got the bright idea (the one Jim, had a real baby face, and was kind of chunky) that we would go down to 3rd and F and let Jim out. He would walk down to the bus depot and stand there like people did in front of a bus station, they had a taxi zone in front and so we would pull up and we would act like we were beating Jim up and we would throw him in the car and take off. So that sounded like a fun thing, so we did that, and let Jim out then drove up and opened the back doors and we threw Jim in the back and we all jumped in took off and spun the tires a little bit, and so the next morning, about 7 o'clock my mom was reading the paper and the doorbell rang, and I thought, who in the world is calling at this time, so anyway, it was Jerry, and he said, "We made the papers! We made the papers!" I said, "Shhh, what are you talking about?" so he said, "Look!" He had the paper with him, and it said, "Mysterious Kidnap Told by Taxi Cab Driver" and so we chuckled. We never gave it another thought, never did it again. And about six months later I got a note to go into the principal office at high school and I thought what in the world have I done? So I went down there, here was the four or five of us, had all buddied together, sitting there and a couple of guys in suits and I said, "Hi Jerry, what's going on?" The guy in the suit said, "Sit down and shut up." So I sat down and he finally got down to serious business. He said they had been investigating this for six months, this kidnap, and finally determined that it was us, and that we'd cost the city three thousand dollars, or so, anyway, there was a financial figure put to it and we said we never realized that we were causing this much trouble and he said "Don't ever do it again." We said, "We won't" and so anyway, it didn't turn out to be quite as funny as we originally thought.
Hanson: Funny when you were a kid.
Hanson: That's great. That's a great story. You were in the air force?
Hanson: Let's talk about the air force and your stint in the air force (laughter).
FINE: I graduated from high school mid-term in February and I was working at a gas station after school so I thought I really need to get a "real" job. I went to the phone company and Edison and various places like that and everyplace that I would go to put an application in, they'd say "Have you been in the service?" and I said, "No," then they would say "We won't hire you unless you've been in the service" because they would just train you or whatever and then they would lose you to the service costing the companies a lot of money. I got tired of hearing that story, and of course I continued to work at the gas station. I had talked to somebody and they said they had a buddy plan in the service, that you could go in with a buddy and I thought that would be the way to do it. So I asked all my buddies and of course a lot of them were still in school. They hadn't graduated. And so anyway, I didn't get any takers, so I continued at the gas station. Jim called me one night and said that he and his dad had had an argument and that he was just going to move out of the house. He'd had enough and he said, "Let's go in the service" and I said, "Okay" and I said, "We'll go down and talk to the army and the navy and the air force, and see which one offers the best deal." That sounds like a plan. So we went to the air force first and the first thing I knew I was signing on the bottom line. We didn't get to the army and the navy and the marines, I said, "Okay, now what do we do?" to the recruiting officer and he said, "Here's a bus chit for each of you, at four o'clock in the morning be at the bus station and you'll go into Los Angeles." I said, "That quick?" and he said, "Yes" so, I said, "Okay" and I looked at Jim and Jim kind of said okay, so at four o'clock in the morning we were at the bus station, got on the bus and went into Los Angeles. We got to talking to a bunch of guys down there that were getting enlisted and some of them weren't leaving for two or three months. They were just going to do the physical and that, so I asked the sergeant that I spoke to at the end. I said, "We didn't even get to tell anybody good-bye. Could we go back home for a week or so and then come back then?" He said, "What day do you want to come?" so he picked a date off the calendar and I said "That's wonderful" so Jim and I came home. I was playing basketball that week and came down on my ankle and turned my ankle and my ankle was two or three times it's normal size. Couldn't walk, was hobbling around, and I went to ol' Doc Patterson here in San Bernardino. He said, "You can't go in the service on that foot" and I said, "What do I do?" He said, "Go home and cut a shoe at the It was about, I don't know, two weeks later I called the recruiting sergeant and I said, "I can't, we can't make it on that date" he says, "No problem" then they called and said that they were going to knock this session off and if we wanted to go into the service we had to do it by the nineteenth of January, I believe it was. And I said, "Okay." I went down to talk to Doc Patterson and he said, "You can't go in the service" and I said, "I have to" they gave me until the nineteenth of January. He said, "Well, okay, do whatever you have to" so I wore this shoe that I'd cut up and got down there and we signed some papers and a block away we had to go down and do the induction into the service there. I was hobbling on this foot, and two sergeants were standing out there and the one sergeant nudged the other one and he said, "My God! Look what we're taking now!" Here I am hobbling on this foot. He thought they were really getting hard up.
So we went down and we took the oath, they put us on a commercial plane and flew us up to San Francisco, which is where we went through basic at Parks Air Force Base. Flying up to San Francisco, I got airsick so the stewardess came around and said sometimes if you chew gum it will help the airsickness. She gave me a stick of gum to chew, and I put it in my mouth and I got to Frisco, and made it all right. They had a bus there to take us out to Parks Air Force Base, so I'm sitting in the bus chewing the gum, which I did at that point in my life, and never gave it another thought. They said, "We're gonna take you to the chow hall." This was at two o'clock in the morning when we got to Parks Air Force Base, and they were going to take us to the chow hall and feed us breakfast then take us to the barracks. So they stopped the bus and we all went into the chow hall. I didn't even think about it that I'm chewing the gum and some guy came up and put his nose on my nose and screamed, "Airman, what are you doing chewing gum?" I just kind of shrugged my shoulders and I took it out of my mouth. I was looking for a trash can, or a napkin or something to put it in. He said, "Uh-uh. Put it on the end of your nose" so I went through the chow hall with gum on the end of my nose-and from there it went downhill. There was such a bunch of guys going into the service, they didn't have barracks, so we had to sleep in an old chow hall, of course, they had no restrooms or shower facilities or anything so then we'd have to be marched down the street to a barracks and then we would have to shower and they only gave you a short period of time. We had the metal helmets that we had to wear anytime you were outside, there was fifty of us in the flight, and of course, they didn't have that many shower heads, so we kind of had to take turns. The TI came in and said, "Everybody out in the street in formation." Well, I had just got into the shower, so I really hurried scrubbing and got into my fatigues, had my boots on and had this metal helmet under my arm and ran out there to get into formation. He came up and yelled at me and he says, "Airman, you're supposed to wear that, not carry it under your arm." I tried to explain the situation. He didn't want to hear that. He said, "When we get back to the barracks (as he called it,) come into my office." I just walked over there and knocked on the door like you would, two or three times, and I knew he was in there because I had seen him just walk in. He wouldn't answer the door. So, I knocked again. He yanked the door open and he said "Airman, don't you know how to knock?" I said, "I guess I don't." He said, "You knock one time." So, he slammed the door in my face and with that I knocked one time and he opened the door and he said, "What are you doing in here?" He knew what I was doing in there and so he said, "I want you to put the helmet on and sleep with it all night tonight" and "When I turn the lights on in the morning at four o' clock it had better be on your head." The way I turned and tossed in bed, I knew it would be everywhere but on my head, so I went and got a big towel and tied it from the sweatband. I had these two knots pushing on my temples all night long. I don't think I got much sleep. But anyway, it was on my head the next morning. I thought that we did the marching and all the things everybody else was doing and it was supposed to be a ninety-day basic. But we were in the chow hall for almost ninety to eighty some odd days, I thought we would be graduating here in a few days and I was really tickled to death to get out of that situation. Then we moved into a barracks that came available, that was when our ninety days started. So, we spent about six months up there and we didn't get to leave the base. My sister lived in Frisco at the time so she came and saw me a couple times, but, I was glad to get through basic. And then I thought, well, I'd like to see the world. I was single so I put in for Japan and I don't know where all. They said, "Well you can't go to Japan" and they gave me three or four bases to pick from. One was March Air Force Base and one was George and I can't remember the other two, so I thought, I might as well be at home. So I picked March, so I got a whole 20 miles from home. I did go to Alaska. Oh, I lived at home, yes. I lived off base and then I did get to go to Alaska for six months on TDY [temporary duty]. So, when my four years were up I was glad to get out of it.
Hanson: (laughter) Not exactly the world you wanted to see.
FINE: No (laughter).
Hanson: That's great. Let's see. Let me pause. I had an interview a couple of days ago with a man who worked at the banks, Pacific Securities Bank here and he started there during the depression and he was telling me about the banks that closed and the impression that it made on people here.
Hanson: How the banks consolidated when someone went out of business, and it really had an impact on how this area developed.
Hanson: And I was talking to another man who was telling me that he grew up during the depression so he remembers it, he's going to be ninety-three, he was telling me he's paid cash for everything his whole life.
Hanson: Just like your dad.
FINE: Yes. A friend of mine that his dad was a, well he did a lot of things, he had the first Model T agency in Rialto, and then he became a building contractor and he built a lot of markets, a Market Basket, and I don't know what they were- but big buildings at that time and so anyway I befriended J.W. He had a huge shop with every wood working tool you could dream of and I was at the height of my glory. He had two old recliners in there with a pot belly stove he'd take a two by and throw it in there and that's how he would heat the shop. He was from the same generation my dad was and he said, "Don't buy it unless you can pay cash." He had four or five realtors that were working with him so we'd be sitting there, and the phone would ring and he'd reach over and pick up the phone and he'd say, "Hello." The realtor would say, "We have a nice little two bedroom one bath house on Mount Vernon and 21st and it's so much money" and J.W.'d say, "Yes? I'll go over and look at. C'mon Bobby, let's go look at it." So we went over there and he'd say, "Yes, the living room floor's sagging a little bit. We could jack it up and we'll put a big beam under there and we'll get Gus in here to paint it" and then it would become a rental. He said, "But you want to pay cash" and he was buying 'em like seven thousand dollars. He'd paid for this house all at once. He said, the more rentals you get the faster the houses come, and so, then, a few days later, or a month later he'd get a call and here's another house down here on Mill Street. And we'd go down and look at it. He lived to be a hundred and two, he worked every day of his life up till the day he died. He ended up with 435 houses when he passed away. A friend of ours that worked for the county assessor and retired went into his own assessing business, so when the government contacted Uncle Jack and said we need all your properties appraised for tax reasons, he contracted Johnny to go over there and appraise them, well of course, that was when a twenty thousand dollar house became a two hundred thousand dollar house. I saw Johnny later and I said, "How're you doing on the appraisal?" and he said, "Oh, I'm just about done." He said, "Boy, it'd knock your socks off if you knew what those houses were worth." And of course, the rents went from sixty-five to three, four hundred dollars at that time. So, it was, quite a business. In fact, they still have a bunch of them.
Hanson: That's a lot of houses.
FINE: A lot of property.
Hanson: Yes, a lot of headaches for that. I noticed when we moved here that you get a tax break for being an owner occupied house.
Hanson: That is very odd to me. I was raised on the east coast. So, I was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in New Jersey, lived in Connecticut, once we got married, and some people did buy houses for investment, but not like here. It's very different here. That came up yesterday. I was at this old timers lunch and one of the problems they were saying with San Bernardino is there are a lot of non-owner occupied dwellings, so people come and go a lot and the owners don't even live here. They live elsewhere.
Hanson: So the property gets run down and that means the neighborhood gets run down and how do you fix that? I think that's one of the problems with getting investors in, buying on speculation. I love being here. I love San Bernardino. I know it has city problems. It's a city after all. My home town had sixty thousand people- actually it was called a city and it had sixty thousand people so you multiply that by three and you have the same kinds of problems. Yes, and my husband was a police officer for twenty-three years, there were problems there. Certainly nothing like you have here because it's so much bigger.
FINE: Right, right. I think San Bernardino just hasn't taken care of business for a long time. They've just ignored it and Redlands, they have their problems also. San Bernardino was noted for gambling and the houses of ill repute and D Street was all ill repute houses.
Hanson: Yes, I heard (laughter).
FINE: My mom had grown up in Redlands and her father was a very stern person. When she said she was going to marry my dad and move to San Bernardino, he just threw a fit. Hell no, no you stay here in Redlands, and this and that, and of course, people didn't travel then, if you traveled ten or twelve miles, you went on a good trip. My aunt lived in Riverside and we'd go over there for Christmas and Thanksgiving and we'd go back and forth, and that seemed like a big trip to me as a kid, to go to Riverside.
Hanson: Why do you think San Bernardino ended up being the city of the houses of ill repute and gambling when the other cities didn't?
FINE: Well, we're taking a history class at the Senior Center on the history of San Bernardino and of California. He [the instructor] was saying when the Mormons came to San Bernardino they were known for their honesty, and if they said something they'd follow through with it. So if you dealt with a Mormon, and you could just shake your hand or whatever, and you knew you were gonna get paid. They didn't allow smoking and drinking and he said in Los Angeles people said, "Gee, San Bernardino is wonderful. There's no drinking, no smoking, there's no brawls" and of course L.A. had it's problems, and then when the Mormons left is when it all turned and then of course, prostitution even back then the girls would be upstairs in the hotels and display a little leg or something you know, to encourage the guys to come up, in fact, I own one of the Nickelodeons that came out of a house of ill repute and I thought, I wish it could talk. Well, the military's the one that said, "Clean up the town." When Norton was established. I still think San Bernardino didn't take care of business for a long time, they just ignored everything and let it go on, and I think there was some payola. A friend of mine had a garage that I worked for when I was a kid. He was at Marshall and E but he rented the building and so he had tried to buy the building and the owner didn't want to sell it and so one of his customers was a real estate guy and he said, "If you hear of any building that I could use as my shop in this area-" because he wanted to stay in the area because he had a good clientele. He had doctors and attorneys and people that had money, and he liked the customers that he had, so he said, "But I want to stay in this area." And so the realtor came in one time and said, up at 33rd and E, there's a- I guess it was two houses, anyway, the E Street property had a little wood frame house and then on 33rd was a wood frame house but it was owned by the same owners and the couple that owned it passed away. Their kids were out of town and they just wanted to sell it. The realtor said, "It's really a good price. But it's not gonna last, if it goes in the multiple listing, it's going to be gone. If you want it you got to make your decision right now." Carl went and looked at it and said, "Yes, I'll take it." And so he went down to the city and said, "I bought this property on 33rd and E and I would like to put my garage on that." Whoever he was speaking to, he was speaking to one of the higher city employees in the planning department, and they said, "Yes, that could probably be done." The house on E Street was commercial, but the one was on 33rd was residential and he said, you could only use the property- it was like a fifty foot lot, you know, it wasn't very wide, and he said, "That won't get it, I need parking and I need a shop" and I need this and that and he said, "I need both properties" and they said, "No, you can't because it's a residential zone." And he said, "There's no way to do it, huh?" and the guy said, "Yes, we can do it." Carl was a very honest, straightforward, straight shooter and he walked out of the office. He wasn't about to grease the guys' hand. He walked out and then he later got thinking and he went back down and they got into a regular argument about it so he said, to heck with it and just rented the houses and stayed where he was at. And so, anyway, later in years, one of the city officials came in, he was Carl's customer, and Carl said, "You know I own this property up the block. I'd really like to have my shop and everything up there because I can't do any changes here or anything." So the guy said, "Well, let me see what I can do" so he came back and he said, "Go down and talk to Mr. Blah Blah." Carl said, "That's useless. He and I've really went to battle." And the customer said, "Well, he's the one that's got the control." Carl went back down and he met with the guy and Carl finally gave in and paid him some money. I don't know how much, but it set wrong with him all the time that he owned the place.
Hanson: Yes, yes, yes, well even smaller cities have it. It's not unusual. I've been kind of wondering if San Bernardino, being a railroad town has anything to do with it, with it's reputation.
FINE: Right. It's always been a working mans town. As a kid everybody in San Bernardino were little people who made a lot of money. The Mc Donald brothers and J.W. There were a lot of people who made a lot of money in San Bernardino. Xerox started here in San Bernardino and Culligan. He was quite a guy. He came into Carl's shop to have his car worked on and I got to know Mr. Culligan. I'd take him home or whatever. He came in later years and he always had a chauffeur, so I lost out on taking him home. I don't know if he was from San Bernardino, but he was from this general area. And Baker's drive-in, oh, there's quite a few.
We belong to the Music Box Society and it's an international group. Every year they have a convention, and they have it in different parts of the country. There's five or six hundred people at a convention, and we get to talking to people from the Midwest. We'll say that we drive to the beach and there will be a car with snow skis on the top going north and there'll be car or truck in front of us pulling a boat with water skis. He'd say, "I can't believe it." You really have the best of all worlds, and then you go to Palm Springs and be there in an hour or you can go to the beach and be there in an hour or Los Angeles, or mountains.
Hanson: Yes. One of the things that attracted me here was the fact that it was so centrally located, you know, and coming from the east coast, when I interviewed for this job, they kept saying, "Well, you could live up in the mountains if you really miss the snow" and I said if I'm going to move to Southern California, I'm not buying snow tires.
Hanson: If I miss it, I'll visit it.
Hanson: And that was great, you know, my son lives out in L.A. and it takes us a little over an hour to go visit him and it's just a great location.
FINE: Yes it is very centrally located.
Hanson: And I think over all, this is a really good city.
FINE: Well, I'm glad to hear you be so positive because so many people, in fact, Carol's cousin, they live in Missouri, and they had a daughter that moved out here to Palm Desert. And so, anyway, they came out here, I guess the daughter was saying, "Why don't you come out and see me" or something. So, okay, we'll come out for a couple of days. That was dead of the winter back there and they came out here and the sun was shining and people out in their shorts playing golf. He enjoyed it so much the next year they came out for like two weeks, and then the next year they came out for a month and then the next year they came out for three months, and so, it gets longer and longer and I said, "In a short time you're just going to move out here" and he said, "No we still got three or four kids back there" and then the grandkids, of course.
Hanson: My husband and I talk about problems and downtown is dying and what not, but everyplace we've been, downtown is dying. Downtowns are just not what they used to be. A lot of that isn't the city's fault, it's suburbanization. It's the malls that draw people out of downtown, and how do you bring downtown back? I think Redlands is a much more provincial little town, and I came from a town that was very provincial, and you don't get the development but that means that your tax base is low, and that means you have to have higher taxes. It's what you're trading off. I suppose it depends on what you really want.
FINE: Sure, sure.
Hanson: You know, I don't mind development as long as it's controlled, as long as it's going to bring good things to the city, and there's going to be a minimal of negatives that come with it, and I think it's a matter of balance.
FINE: Yes. We decided a few years ago that we'd go over in Redlands and look at some houses and they were showing us utterly twenty thousand dollar houses. I mean, these were just a track house, you know, and had nothing, and they were probably built in the fifties They just had four walls, and living room and then the bedrooms, and we weren't impressed with the houses at all, wooden sash, and the paint's chipping and things and we'd say how much is this house, "Oh, this is really a steal. Two hundred and fifty thousand" and I thought, "Wait a minute, something's wrong with this picture." We're living in a custom built home here, and you move ten miles and move into a plain Jane or something, it just, made no sense. We were better to stay where we are.
End of tape one.
Hanson: This is an interview with Mr. Robert Fine at his home in San Bernardino. Today is February 18, 2003. Good afternoon, Mr. Fine.
FINE: Good afternoon.
Hanson: Nice to see you again.
FINE: Nice seeing you again.
Hanson: We're going to talk about some stories from your younger years today, right?
Hanson: Why don't you just go ahead and I'll listen?
FINE: I was born in 1936 at St. Bernadine's Hospital in the old original part. Dr. Patterson was the one that delivered me and I think Norman Rockwell could have done wonders with Dr. Patterson because he was plump and gray haired and to me looked like a typical doctor. We had him for our own family doctor my whole younger life. I believe I was going in for my childhood shots and we only had one car so mom called a taxi to come and pick us up to take us to the doctor. She called the cab and then shortly after she called, the cab came up and tooted the horn and mom and I went out and got in the cab and there were two other people in the cab that had been picked up at two different locations. So mom and I got in the back seat and the cabbie turned around and said, 'where am I taking you?' and my mom said, 'Doc. Patterson up on Baseline.' And everybody broke into a roar. Come to find out all four of us were going to Doc Patterson's. So we got down there and I was in the waiting area and they called my name and said for me to go back and mom stayed in the waiting area and I marched on back into the examining room and there was a nurse there to assist me and there came Doc Patterson he didn't have the best approach and he got this big needle and he reached over and grabbed me by the arm and scared me half to death so I took off in a dead run. His office was a series of doors and he and I had a race and I got into his private office. He had a big mahogany desk there with a leather covered chair and I got behind the leather chair and used it for a shield, and he would go one way and I would go the other and we had quite a race. He finally gave up and went out into the waiting area and said, 'Mrs. Fine, you have to control your son.' So my mom came back and explained that they were going to give me a shot so I wouldn't get lockjaw and this and that. I walked back into the examining room and had my sleeve pulled up and put my arm out. Doc Patterson said, 'My God, what did you do to that kid?' and she said, 'All I did was talk to him and reason with him.' So that was one of my first experiences with Doc Patterson. And then later he removed my tonsils in his office.
Hanson: He removed them in the office?
FINE: In the office.
Hanson: No hospital?
FINE: No hospital, just the office. Of course he was a doctor that made house calls back then and occasionally he would have to come to the house to take care of a cold or whatever it was that we had. He smoked a cigar, and before he would leave I would make him blow smoke rings. He could really blow neat smoke rings. So that was his penalty for coming to the house. And then later I had a bicycle and my mom was going out for the evening and told my sister that she needed to do the dishes and that I needed to trim the bushes. When she was just ready to walk out the door she said, 'Under no circumstances do you ride your bicycle.' I said, 'Okay, mom.' So she left and she wasn't gone very long and my sister said, 'I'll make a deal with you, Bobby.' And I said, 'What's that?' She said, 'If you ride your bike over to E Street to the Frosty Freeze, I'll buy us both a sundae.' And I said, 'You're on, sis!' and with that I grabbed my bike and roared down the driveway and took off out to the street and the goose neck broke on the bike and the front wheel went out from under and I went over the handlebars. I guess it knocked me out and so there I laid, and the man across the street came and picked me up and carried me into his living room. He laid me on the couch and was doctoring my face and I had a wound from the top of my hairline down to my chin and three front teeth missing. I finally came to and I told Mr. Walden, 'Under no circumstances, tell mom about this.' And he said, 'I think we're in trouble.' Of course I had a scab from my hairline to my chin and the boy down the street which later became my brother-in-law, he and my sister were going to go the movie so Creighton said it would be nice if we took Bobby with us, and my sister said okay. I got to go to the movie with Creighton and sis, and we went and saw Ma and Pa Kettle. It was funnier than funny, but every time I would laugh it would pull that scab and hurt so I would sit there and go hahahah like that. That was my laugh. An elderly man had sat on my right side, but on my right side my face looked perfectly normal and every time I would go hahahah, he would look at me as if what kind of weirdo am I sitting next to and then at intermission, Creighton got up and asked if anybody wanted anything from the snack bar. I said, 'Yes, I'd like a candy bar.' So here he comes back with a love nest- was a cylinder type candy bar with nuts and if I would open my lips, it would pull the scab, so I had a habit of taking my forefinger and my thumb and opening my right side and then I crammed this candy bar in my mouth and the guy looked at me and moved over about five feet and so that was the experience at the movie. And of course I went to Doc Patterson for all these problems.
Hanson: Now, obviously your mother had to find out that you took your bike out.
FINE: She did find out.
Hanson: And what happened when she found out?
FINE: She came and saw me and she looked at me on Mr. Walden's couch and she said, 'Oh my God, I wish you'd broke your arm' instead of my teeth and I thought that was a terrible thing to say, but I think now I realize what she was saying, the arm would heal, the teeth wouldn't. In later years, the teeth abscessed, I was probably a teenager, and my face swelled up and I didn't have a nose, just two holes for nostrils so mom took me to the dentist and the dentist looked at me and said, 'This is beyond me. You'll have to go to a medical doctor.' She took me to Doc Patterson's and he looked at me and he says, 'Take him home and put cold packs on his face.' I was working at a gas station at the time and of course, if you didn't work, you didn't get paid. I went home, put ice packs on my face and three or four days had gone by and it hadn't made much improvement and so I called Doc Patterson and I said, 'This isn't going down very fast.' I said, 'Can you do anything?' and he said, 'Yes, we can lance it and then it will go down fairly fast.' And so I said, 'Can we do it?' and he said, 'Sure, come on down to the office.' I went down and he looked at it at and he gave me a porcelain pan about the size of a wienie, in a wienie shape, and he said you're going to have some debris in your mouth so I when I get done I want you to use this to spit in and I said okay, and he got this nail out, I think the one he gave me the shot with originally. He stuck it in my mouth and started pulling back and I could feel my toenails coming up and the pain was excruciating. He finally pulled out the needle and said, 'Okay, you can spit.' And we both looked down into the pan and I had crushed that pan and the porcelain was in my leg. He said, 'Oh my God. Look at my pan!' So that was another experience with Doc Patterson.
And then Doc Patterson decided he wanted to build a studio theater where his office was. My dad was an electrical contractor and he was lucky enough to get the job of wiring the theater and of course they had a lot of electric controls then that opened the curtains and brought the screens down and various things from the projection booth. He had all this wiring that he took up too the projection booth, and he got the rough wiring in and rolled it all up and had it laying neatly up there on the floor. Later they called him and said, okay you can come back and do your finish work. So dad went down and uncoiled all this wiring and took it out to where the balcony would be and Doc Patterson happened to come by and he said, 'My, My, look at all that wiring.' He said, 'Ray, are you going to know where all that wiring goes?' And he said, 'There's one thing about it Doc, I have to repair my mistakes. You bury yours.' And he turned around and left and he never saw him again until he made the final payment.
I went to the school system in San Bernardino. There was a boy named Bart that lived two streets up from me and he and I would meet at the corner of his street. There was a little mom and pop grocery store there and we would get occasionally thirty five cents for lunch. We could eat lunch at Arrowview Junior High. I asked Bart, 'Do you have any money?' and he said, 'Yes, I have my thirty five cents for lunch.' Well, we'd go into Lancaster's Market and load our pockets with penny candy with thirty five cents. On this particular day Bart got Redhots. He had his pockets just bulging with these Redhots. We walked to school and he was reaching in his pockets and eating them like peanuts, just throwing one or two at a time in his mouth.
We had an English teacher that was a typical teacher, an Old Maid. She would cry occasionally because of us boys. She was putting a sentence up on the blackboard and Bart had a handful of these Redhots. He was popping one or so in his mouth and was sucking on them, so she turned around and looked at the class, 'Come up and punctuate this sentence Bart.' Well, with that he threw the whole hand of Redhots into his mouth and before he got to the blackboard his mouth was fire and he ran out the door to get a drink of water and she thought he was running from the class, and she called, 'Bart! Bart, get back here!' And then one time I went up to her and asked 'Do you believe in interdigitation before marriage?' which means holding hands, and she sent me to the dean. I was down in Philbin's office, and he came in his office and said, Bob, what are you doing in here?' I told him what I had said and he said, 'Oh my God. Sit here till your next class and then go to your next class.' We had fun with that teacher.
My grandfather lived in Redlands; my grandfather got the idea that my mom and dad. He and my grandmother needed a parrot so he went and bought two parrots. And he gave my mom and dad Billy and he kept Dick. They had Billy on a perch and they would move the perch wherever they were. If they were in the living room they'd take him in the living room, if they were in the kitchen he would be in the kitchen or service porch area and he got to be quite a pet around the house. They had company over one night and they decided to play cards at the dining room table. Of course, every time they would deal, Billy would reach over and try to grab the cards. It fascinated him. Then when the cards were laying on the table, he would stretch from his perch but he was a little bit short of reaching the table. Then he would flutter his wings and get his balance and get back on the perch. And my dad had commented two or three times that you can see the wheels turning in his head trying to get these cards. So towards the end of the evening, Billy finally got smart. He came down the perch to where he was even with the table and then he could stretch across and get his foot on the table and my dad said, 'anybody who can engineer that deserves a card!' and he handed Billy a card and he just tore it all to pieces so that was the end of the game. My grandmother's parrot lived in the kitchen. My grandfather had orange groves and they had Indians that worked the grove and he had little houses on the grove that the Indians would live in. My grandmother would get up very early in the morning and she would spend all day in the kitchen until bedtime and she made the best pies and she would make seven or eight pies a day and all the other goodies. I have fond memories being at grandmas. But, of course, she had time on her hands so she had taught Dick to sing Old Black Joe all the way through. As a small boy, I would go over there and say, 'Let's sing Old Black Joe' and Dick would start in and I would sing along with him. But being a boy, I would alter the words a little bit and Dick would say, 'Back up there. Back up there.' So we'd have to start all over again. He got that 'Back up there' because he would go down his perch and chase grandma on the floor and she'd take the broom and say, 'Back up there! Back up there!' So, that's where he got that. Anyway, he'd make you start all over and you'd do it until you did it right. So, I learned Old Black Joe, pretty well. When my grandparents died my aunt took Dick and I believe she was probably close to eighty when she passed away so Dick was close to a hundred years old when he passed away. Dick outlived her, and it was just my uncle, and Dick thought, I'm not going to live with this guy, so he keeled over. He would eat anything that we would eat. He had quite a vocabulary. So, I have fond memories of Dick.
And we have a parrot today that says, 'Hi Bud' and 'Hello' and he gets in moods. He doesn't talk all the time depending on who's around and when we had Chuck living here he taught him how to do the wolf whistle and that bothered Carol a little bit I think, but anyway, Chuck had left home and got his own apartment and he brought this girl he was dating by one summer evening. It was warm. She had a pair of shorts on we met her at the entry hall and then she came into the kitchen and as soon as she went into the kitchen, Buddy took off with this wolf whistle. She wasn't sure who was doing the whistling so she was a little bit uneasy for a while. Our grandson son, John, was born the same year as Buddy, so John and Buddy are both about 22. Buddy can get messy at times. But, he's a lot of fun and when we travel in the fifth wheel or anything, we take him with us. He's just a part of the family. In fact, we had a little dog that we made a big trip with the fifth wheel and we took Buddy. We had the cage on one side and Jelly Bean (the dog) was on the other side. We'd pull into a gas station and the gas attendant came out to put in the gas and they had more fun looking and talking to the animals and it was a fun trip. Jelly Bean had the time of her life. She learned about ducks and all kinds of animals. We would stay at RV places out of the city and they would have a lake or something like that, and she just had the best time. When we got to Kennebank, Maine and stayed with some friends. They had a little dog so Jelly Bean and this little dog went to the beach down there, and there was a few people on the beach but it was chilly. So Jelly Bean made the rounds to everybody just say, 'woof woof' as if 'look where I'm at' and then she'd run to somebody else and she had quite a time. She learned about squirrels and ducks and deer. We stopped at some friends in Kerrville, Texas the Hunt Brothers had owned the property and they divided it down into ten acre parcels and what you did is you built your home and then you fenced what you wanted for your own yard and then the rest of it was open range. We got there in the afternoon sometime. Richard said I better feed the deer. So, on their back fence they had a bucket that hung over and they would give the deer oats or grain or something and of course the deer came and they were used to this around that time that they would get a treat. So here come the deer and we were just talking and Jelly Bean was loose and the grass was probably two feet high and Jelly Bean spotted the deer and took off. She had deer running everywhere and she was going everywhere and we looked and we looked and we called her name and of course she just kept going. And Richard got on a little Honda motor scooter type thing and went hunting for her and then Carol started crying. She knew that Jelly Bean was gone for the rest of her life. And so we were starting back and here's Carol crying and all of a sudden we heard this deep breathing and here laid Jelly Bean in this grass you couldn't even see her but you could hear her. So she was pretty well exhausted and then we put her on a leash so she wouldn't do that again, so we had left and went to dinner and came back and of course the cattle roamed at will, too. And where we had the fifth wheel parked we had put Jelly Bean on the leash and snapped her to the step. We came home and there was a big old cow that had fallen in love with Jelly Bean. It was tugging at her leash and chewing on it, trying to get Jelly and she was as far under that fifth wheel as she could get. Just scared, just shaking to death because that old cow was trying to give her a little loving, I guess. So she had quite a trip.
But getting back to my school days there was a chili place that was run by a husband and wife at Evans and E Street. I went to coffee with guys that I worked with and I mentioned it and a couple of them remembered it but they didn't remember the name, so I don't know. But they made anything out of chili- chili fries, bowl of chili, chiliburgers and the chili was superb. And after the games we would go and get a chili size or a chiliburger or something like that, and it was a husband and wife that ran the whole restaurant. That was a fun place to go and get chili. And then there was another place my mom and I had kind of adopted. They called it, Maid Right, and the lady that owned it was called Mom. And my mom used to get her hair done once a week or whatever and right next door to where she got her hair done was where Mom's place was. We would go there and get a chili size or something like that. Then she moved on Baseline and we followed her up there. She did wonders with chili.
Later in life I worked at Thompson Lumber Company. I went down and applied for a job and Mr. Thompson interviewed me (I was an extremely skinny kid growing up) and he said, 'this is hard work, a skinny kid like you. I don't think you can handle the job.' And I said, 'Oh, Yes, I can do it.' And he said, 'you're going to have to handle big beams, toilets and bathtubs and things like that.' And I said, 'I can do it.' So he gave me a test and I passed the test and I got hired at Thompson which was at 9th and Waterman. Then later in life, I went in the service and after that I went to work for general telephone and worked with most of the guys for about thirty years there. There was a lot of fun times there. We had a guy that I worked with, Dick Belicki and he just always said the wrong thing at the wrong time but he had a heart as big as he was. I had a job at Community Hospital and they had made an addition to the hospital. I had run the fish tape into these conduits they had for telephones and I looked and I looked and I looked and I couldn't find them. I called in and I said I need help to pull some cables and locate where they go and they sent Dick Belicki out. Dick said, 'What have you got going?' and I told him. I ran the tape and he walked up and down the halls and in other offices and he came back and he said, 'I can hear it everywhere but I can't tell where it's coming out.' And so we fussed with it for a couple of hours, I guess and I said, 'Well, let's go out to engineering and talk to Dave,' which was the head engineer and, see if he has electrical print that will help us. So we went out and talked to Dave and Dave pulled the prints on the new edition and he said, 'it doesn't even show the telephone conduits, but the nursery for the newborns are just on the other side.' He said, 'they may have went in there and then used those conduits to go home with.' He said, 'Why don't you go into the nursery and see if you can find it in there?' So, I went back, pushing on the fish tape and Dick went over into the nursery and I kept pushing until my hand gave out and so I walked over to the nursery and Dick was in there where the bassinets were and the newborns. I said, 'Dick, can you hear it?' He said, 'I hear it everywhere. It's in the ceilings, it's in the walls, but I can't locate it.' And about that time here came the head nurse and she was flipping her hands and saying, 'What are you boys doing in here. You can't be in here. Get out. Get out!' and Dick turned and looked at her without a smile on his face and he said, 'I'm the caretaker of the stork and I'm here to feed him.' And she about lost her teeth on the spot. I was sitting there just roaring. I couldn't believe that he could think of something that quick. But, he did that quite often. We would take our coffee breaks and a lot of times when we were downtown working, we would go to the Yum Yum which was on D, just north of 5th Street. A young couple owned it. Rick did the cooking and Dee Dee was the waitress and of course she got to know us. There was three or four of us in there, and it was in the afternoon so she came over and said, 'what do you guys want?' And somebody ordered a Coke and somebody else ordered an iced tea and somebody ordered a cup of coffee. And she looked at me and said, 'and what do you want?' I said, 'I want a tin roof.' And generally in a restaurant they would say, 'what is a tin roof' and I'd say, 'something on the house.' She didn't say anything. She just walked away like she does it everyday and she brought the coffee and the ice tea and the coke and went back to get my tin roof and here she came with a cup of coffee with a chili sticking out of it and a pickle, whipped cream and with Tabasco sauce all over the whipped cream and set it down in front of me and she said, 'and you will drink this before you leave.' And she kept coming back and checking to see how I was doing. It was the worst thing I ever put in my mouth so I never ordered a tin roof again, especially there.
End Side 1
FINE: So Dick was a trip to work with. He was a lot of fun and we would be down town and working a job and he'd look out there and he'd say, 'that lady's got a catch in her get a long.' And I'd look out there and here some lady would be limping like my wife does, down the street. So, I learned quite a few sayings from Dick. Later I went out to Valley College and I took an electronics major out there. I couldn't believe the difference in instructors that we had run into. We had this one electronics teacher that was just really a neat, neat person and the first night he had two tables set up; big tables, with all the test equipment. And he said, 'don't get scared. You're only going to use one at a time,' and he said, 'just visualize that you've never seen a car and somebody tells you to get in the car and sit down.' And he says, 'you look at the radio and you look at all the controls on the dash and the instruments and that.' He said, it would scare you to death, but all you're worried about is the key and where it goes and starting the car and then you're going to worry about putting it in gear and that's the way he ran his whole class and I couldn't believe what a good teacher he was. And we had an elderly man that took the class. He must have been in his fifties, I'm assuming, and he had a terrible time in the class and the further the class went along the further behind he got. He knew he wasn't doing very well. And the tests he would take, he didn't do very well. The instructor would get us started on our projects or whatever and then he would go over and spend most of the evening with this guy and the light didn't come on. So one night he came to the class and the instructor went over to help him and he said, 'well, tonight will be my last night.' And he said, 'Oh, are you moving out of the area or what?' And he said, 'Oh, no,' and he knew the reason and he said, 'Well, what are you going to do on Wednesday night?' And he said, 'Well, I'll be at home and,' and the teacher said, 'you'll be watching the TV won't you? There's nothing on TV. That one program is terrible to watch and that other one is stupid.' The teacher went through all the different programs that came on Wednesday nights and put them all down and said, 'I'd much rather have you here in the class.' And he talked the guy to where he would stay and the guy came out with a pretty decent grade and the light came on and I couldn't believe how he worked with the guy and brought him around. And then I had another teacher. I took an algebra class and he walked in and said, 'I'm a calculus teacher. I'm just teaching this lower math to see how the average person handles it.' There were probably thirty two of us in the class and I think about the second or third week we were down to about thirteen.
Hanson: I am surprised you had that many.
FINE: From there it went lower. Anyway it was quite an experience just to see how different teachers would teach the class. Then when I was in my twenties I met an elderly man that was about the age of my dad and so we just befriended each other and had a great relationship. I met him when I had bought an old Brunswick pool table. I was probably about twenty and the only place that I had to put it was in the garage. Then we started looking for a house and I told the realtor that I wanted a house with a family room where they'd show me a ten by twelve room and say, 'This is a family room.' And I'd say, 'Wait, you don't understand. I have a pool table that I want to put in.' So we purchases a house on Muscupiabe and it didn't have a family room but it had an area that I could add on a family room that wouldn't look like an add on. So I started adding on this room for the pool table. We got it completed and I put the pool table in there and the room was 27' by 30' and the pool table looked like a postage stamp on an envelope. I thought, I have to have something that goes with this. I sat and racked my brain and I thought well, a player piano would maybe go with it. So, I went on the hunt for a player piano. We hit all the antique shops and over in Fontana we found one and I bought it. I brought it home and it didn't play very well. Then I had to educate myself how a player piano worked so I got down to the point that I needed some tubing, I think, and I went to the hardware store and I said, 'Do you have anything like this?' and they, 'What is this out of? I've never seen this.' And I told them. 'Oh, Lord, no. We don't have anything like that.' So Dick Belicki said don't you remember Roger Randall that we went to school with. In high school he played around with player pianos and then he worked for Colton Piano doing their player work. I said, 'I didn't know him.' Dick said, 'I'm sure he's in the phone book.' So I called this Roger Randall and he lived in north San Bernardino. I told him what I needed and he said, 'Well bring it by and I'll see if I have some.' Well, he didn't particularly have any of that size. And he said, 'Do you know George Carr?' I said I never heard of him. Well he lived right down town. Dick said, 'He monkeys around with the nickelodeons.' I didn't even know what he was talking about. But, I thought, well- and he gave me his phone number, so I called him and he said, 'Yes, come on down and I'll see if have some.' So I went down there and that's how I happened to meet Mr. Carr. As I say, he and I just hit it off. When I saw his collection of Nickelodeons, I went home and threw rocks at the player piano. After I'd been down there a few times, I said, 'Where could I find a nickelodeon.' He said, 'I don't have the slightest idea.' But he knew all the big collectors in Los Angeles, which mainly were doctors or attorneys or something of this stature. He didn't like to drive the freeways because of his age so he said, 'If you'll take me into Los Angeles, I'll take you to Wyatt's Cafeteria and feed you and then introduce you to all the big collectors in Los Angeles.' And I said, 'You're on!' So occasionally we would take a Saturday morning and take off for Los Angeles. He would introduce me to the different collectors and of course, he was talking and he would see their collection and we would end up out in the garage or something if they were working on something. I would ask him, 'Do you have anything for sale?' and the one collector said, 'Well, you're ten years too late.' And I said, 'Well, I probably am but what's the next ten years going to bring?' and it stood true. They're harder and harder to come by and as we would leave a collectors house, Mr. Carr would say, 'I don't think he does his own work.' And he would maybe proclaim that he fixed this one. And I said, 'how did you make that determination?' and he said, 'there was no sawdust in his garage.' Mr. Carr didn't have a great education but he had a lathe and he would turn something out on the lathe and it would come out as a work of art. It was just unbelievable what he could turn out on that lathe and he would nudge me with his arm and say, 'not bad for a third grade education.' That was one of his favorite sayings. And then rolls, which were made of paper, were getting hard to find. These take a different role than the regular player piano. Each one, made their own roles, so you couldn't interchange them, and things like that and as the years went on the paper would get brittle and then rip or tear and then of course the roll is useless. So Mr. Carr decided to make his own perforator. There was only probably six or seven of the original perforators in existence. So he made his own perforator and would cut his own rolls and he made it so he could cut the various roles. He wasn't limited to one type roll. He would borrow rolls from somebody and copy them and then he would mail them back their original roll and then he would mail them one for their trouble. He got to be known all over the world for cutting roles. And people would order them. When he made one, he would cut thirteen. That's the way it was set up so he had twelve to sell. And people would come from all over the United States and hunt him up and buy a roll or something and I would be down there occasionally when somebody would come in and I would get to meet the different collectors from the east coast or somewhere. That was kind of fun. Mr. Carr had a hard time even borrowing roles to cut so he was getting player roles in tunes that he really enjoyed and he would start from middle C and go out to whatever the scale was for this particular machine. But a lot of the nickelodeons have percussion drums or triangle or pipes or something and so of course, the player role didn't have these perforations and they were out at the far end on each side and he had this orchestration role and he could play the roll but it didn't have the drums or anything. So there was an elderly man that lived in Long Beach and Mr. Carr and he were very good friends. I had taken Mr. Carr down there two or three times. He was a machinist by trade but he was a genius in his own right. It was unbelievable what he could make, but he was educated with the machines and that. He and Mr. Cooper were funny. Mr. Carr asked him one time when we were down there. He said, 'I just cut this role, and I put on this tune and that tune,' and most of them were ten tune rolls. He said that, 'My dilemma now is how do you know where to put the drum beat in?' and Mr. Cooper turned like he answered this question every day and said, 'When you listen to the roll and anytime you tap your foot, that's where you put a drum perforation.' Which, I thought was a quite an answer. It intrigued me. Anyway, that was his answer to that problem.