Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Happy Birthday to my Father - Andrew De La O

Andrew De La O 1950's

Andrew Salazar De La O

I'm sitting here drinking my morning cup of coffee and thinking about my father. I miss those days when my wife and I would visit with him and my mother on the weekend and enjoy a big breakfast with them. My father almost always made the potatoes. After breakfast, we would take our coffee and go outside and talk about life, the future or the family. He loved his coffee.

His time as a grandfather was short but he loved it. He would be proud of all his grandchildren and great grandchildren. I named my son after him.

Today December 16, would have been his 91st birthday. He passed away May 7, 1981. We were lucky to have him as our father. He was a decent man, a good man. He was my first and greatest teacher. His family has never forgotten him. We all miss him, especially our mother. He was the best man I ever knew. Happy Birthday Dad!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Kitchen

The Kitchen

This is going back a few years. April of 1959 to be exact. The kitchen at the old house on Charlesworth Street in Santa Fe Springs came up in a conversation with my mother tonight. This was the quintessential 1950's middle class kitchen. That's my mother Anita and my sister Evelyn in the photo. That's me in the lower left hand corner peeking into the kitchen. I can still remember that kitchen clearly.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Mammoth Bound

On the Road

My wife Jeri took this photo as I was filling up my Landcruiser somewhere along the 395 heading to the Mammoth Lakes. She and kids were inside. It was 1979. I bought the Landcruiser in March. Gas had reached one dollar the day I bought it. It seemed unbelievable that gas could  get that high. little did we know.

This was the first vacation I took since I began working at Douglas Aircraft. We were all excited. I fished all the Mammoth Lakes and the June Lake Loop on that trip. I broke my favorite Garcia-Mitchell pole on that trip too. Still, it was a great trip and we made the most of it. 

The Way I Am by Merle Haggard

The Way I Am by Merle Haggard. The song, the words and the feelings it evokes are so personal to me. This is one of my all time favorite Merle Haggard songs.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Sargent Fletcher Company: The Road to Douglas Aircraft Company

Sargent Fletcher Company
Sargent Fletcher Company
9400 Flair Dr., 
El MonteCalifornia
In 1977, my sister Evelyn was dating a guy named Gus Van Dalm. I had just been laid off from a cabinet shop in Santa Fe Springs. We got to talking one day and he mentioned that they were hiring at his workplace.

"Why don't you go down there and apply?", he says to me. 

"What's the name of the place?" I asked. 


The flea collar company? 

"Hardly!" He said. He looked a little insulted.

"We manufacture aircraft parts!"

Oh, Aircraft parts.

This was during the Christmas holiday so I waited until the new year, 1978, and then I went to put in an application. I was given an application and sent to a room with a large sofa and coffee table. There was another guy at the end of the sofa filling out his application. He looked over at me and we said hello, then he went back to filling out his application.

A heavy set man walked in and he began to interview the other guy. I couldn't help but hear the conversation. I heard the guy ask "How much will I be making?" "$2.50 an hour" replied the interviewer. They continued the conversation for a few minutes and it was obvious the guy was hired.

The heavy set man walked over to me and introduced himself as Ken Mosley, the foreman at Sargent-Fletchers. He asked me a few questions  and we talked for a few minutes and I was getting the feeling that I was going to be hired. So I asked the same question as the other guy. 

"How much will I be making? 

"$2.50 an hour: He said to me.  

I stood up, thanked him and walked toward the door. 

"Whoa, hold on, what's wrong?"

"I don't work for minimum wage any more!" I meant it too. All my earlier jobs had been for minimum wage and I made up my mind that I would never again work for minimum wage.

"Okay, how about we start you with $3.00?"

I though about it for a few seconds. I needed a job. Three bucks an hour wasn't much but it wasn't minimum wage. I accepted. 

Right then the other guy that had just been interviewed stood up and asked, "Hey, how come he gets $3.00 an hour and I only get $2.50?"

"Because you accepted it, he didn't!" was his response.

The "other guy" was Larry Cota and we became great friends during our time at Sargent-Fletchers. Gus and my sister eventually broke up and went their own ways but he and I remained friends. 

As time went on I discovered that the people that had worked there for twenty years had not yet reached $6.00 an hour. They were not a pay friendly company. I began working on fuel tanks and other small aircraft parts and I really enjoyed the work, and the people even more so. After a month or so, Mosley and the plant superintendent approached me and told me the company was putting a job on the board and they wanted me to apply for it.

The job would be a Test Stand Mechanic. I would be working outside, regardless of the weather. I would be making $3.75 and hour. Again it wasn't much but it was a step up. I applied the moment the job went on the board.

I would be working with a man by the name of Bob Cockrell. Bob was a man's man. He listened to country music, drove an old Ford Bronco an he carried himself with confidence.He was in his late 50's, maybe early 60's. I was only 23 so I just know he was older. I also got the impression I would be replacing him when he retired. They never said so but that was my gut feeling.

The McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle. The Sargent Fletcher Auxiliary Fuel Tank (Drop Tank).
Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia
My primary job was to pressurize and test  the drop tanks for the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle. It was a good job, even when the rain was coming down. It was just Bob, an older woman named Alice, who was our inspector and myself. There were other things to do, sometimes we would rig the tanks to large stands, maybe as tall as the lights in a football field. This would be an all day operation. Eventually, the yard would be filled with managers, engineers, and always, the Air Force. We would drop the tank, and the results were recorded and we would move on to the next project.

In the later part of that year, I saw one of the other mechanics that I knew -Dean Wakamora -  walking out of the main building. He was carrying his tool box. His tool box had been sealed so I could see he was leaving.

"Hey Dean, Where are you going?"

"I quit, I got hired at McDonnell Douglas. You should check it out Randy, we're never going to make any real money here!"

I did check it out. The very next day. It was a two week process for me but I got the job. I didn't give it much thought at the time but over the years I came to realize that God has his hand in every part of our lives. My sister going with Gus, me talking with Gus, and walking into the building at Sargent Fletchers at the precise moment Dean was walking out. One small shift in time in any one of these situations and who knows?

I am forever grateful for my short time with Sargent Fletchers and to the path it set me on. My wife and I were just starting out, my daughter Meranda was born in May of that year. It gave me some confidence and a little experience. Things were coming together.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

A Sign of the Times: Fly DC Jets

DC- Jets

Fly DC Jets
Courtesy of So Ca Metro on Flickr
Once, an iconic local sign of the future of aviation. Now, a landmark and a reminder of aviation's historic past. The sign sits atop the historic building 80 at the former Douglas Aircraft Company - at the corner of Lakewood Boulevard and Conant Street - in Long Beach, California.The sign originally read "Fly DC-10 Jets" but the 10 was removed after a DC-10 was involved.in a disastrous crash years ago. Building 80 was the first building I worked in when I began in 1979.

Monday, December 08, 2014

The Box

The Box

When I was hired at Douglas Aircraft, in Long Beach, back in 1979 I had to go to an in plant school to learn basic aircraft mechanic skills. I can't remember exactly how long the school was, maybe six to eight weeks. At the end of school, and before entering our assigned departments,  we had to build and complete a small box. The box was to be built "Per Blueprint" (a phrase I would become familiar with over the years). We were to utilize everything we leaned during school, including tools and fasteners that are specific to the aircraft industry.

To tell you the truth, it was not as hard as I thought it would be. It has been so long that I cannot remember if we had one day or two to finish. Whatever the case was, I was the second person to finish. The first person to finish was John DiRe. I remember him well because at some later point he became my manager.We were told that it would be okay to help anyone that needed help.The guy who sat ext me, Steve Wallace, was the last or one of the last to finish. I specifically remember him for two reasons. He was cussing and kicking his box out of frustration. I gave him a hand and he finished and got a passing grade. I remember him also because we became lifetime friends. We laughed about that day a lot over the years.

I kept my box in the garage and would forget about it for a while, until we either moved, or I was cleaning the garage or whatever. It would just pop up from time to time. Somewhere in time, one side was covered in blue paint, from one of the kids I suppose, it also got a little rusty and dirty. I never really gave it too much thought but I never threw it away. Also, if you look closely, you can see the faded strip of tape that had my name and badge number on it. My friend Steve threw his box away the same day he finished it. Over the years I found that most people did that.  It's just  a metal box but I'm glad I kept it. My wife wants me to clean it up and use it to keep the backyard BBQ condiments in. Maybe I'll do that.