Living Off The Land

Sometimes it’s necessary for a kid to live off the land (for a few hours). For instance, a young person might want to go hiking or might want to go to the river or some other neat place to play. He certainly wouldn’t want to go home to get something to eat. “Home” is the place where plans get changed after a mother sniffs out the plan for the day. So, now is the time for this young person to use his wits and be resourceful enough to subsist for the day. It will be my pleasure to pass on some of the things my friends and I came up with to quiet a growling stomach.

What’s available depends on what time of year it is because so many things are seasonal. Of course, we should start with the things that can be found all year long. A person would probably be accompanied by one or two of his friends so the first thing to do is find out if they can come up with a snack without their Mom squashing the plan with a bunch of chores or something.

During the growing season there are a number of food choices available. We had a number of places we liked to go that were within about a 2 ½ mile radius of home. A couple of them took us past corn fields and if the corn was in season we could grab a couple of ears. Then, as we walked, we would keep our eyes open for a tin can large enough to boil some roasting ears and whatever else we would find.

If we were going out to Dry Creek there was a riffle there that was good for two things. First, the water ran over rocks and sand for about 20 feet and according to camping lore that was enough to purify it. We only half believed that but figured that boiling the water would finish off any germs that might be present. Secondly, the riffle made a wonderful hide-out for crawdads. I know the people in New Orleans call them crayfish but in Kansas they are crawdads. There were flat rocks laying in the riffle and just moving a couple of them would cause the crawdads to scatter in all directions. So, at this point, we’ve got a can, a couple of ears of corn, some crawdads, and some water. A prudent young person would have one of those waterproof Boy Scout match holders for wooden matches in his pocket and, son-of-a-gun, we’ve got lunch.

We also knew of some abandoned farm houses and sites within our hiking territory. One of my favorites was on the west side of town. There was nothing left of the house but a fireplace and chimney and some stone footings. However, behind the site of the home you could see the remains of a rail fence that was practically overgrown by an old blackberry bush. Every year that old bush produced berries and it made us a delicious snack.

One of the other old places had some old tomato vines that somehow produced a few tomatoes every summer. Another place had a gnarly-looking old peach tree that could give you a snack if you got there before the birds did.

A few times we tried fishing with a hand line but I don’t recall ever catching a fish let alone eating one. One time, when we were carrying our rifles we spotted a covey of quail. We got down in the prone position and after laying there forever the two of us got off shots about the same time and bagged two birds. We plucked them and roasted them on sticks. It was a lot of time and work with a very small reward.

I f we were near the railroad tracks west of town there was always the alfalfa mill. Alfalfa  was grown by some farmers and sold to the mill rather than being used to feed their own livestock.. It was hauled to the mill where it was pulverized and turned into powder. Later, the powder was pressed into pellets and was an efficient way to feed cattle and rabbits. I think some of that powder was put in gunney sacks but I believe that a lot of it was blown into railroad cars. Near the blower or conveyor, on the side of the building nearest the railroad tracks there was a gap in the galvanized siding and there was always a pile of alfalfa powder there. It was like having our own food dispenser. You could reach down and grab a handful of powder and start eating. It actually had a pretty good taste.

Schneider Brothers Granary was like a buffet. Besides the elevator and a silo they had a long building full of bins and each bin contained a different kind of grain. You could scoop up a handful and have something to chew on. My favorite was wheat. Once in a while we would go into their store where the smaller bins were kept and sample the rabbit pellets. The Schneider brothers were a couple of really nice guys and they never complained about us.

With these examples you can see that a young person (kid) can come up with a lot of ways to keep from going home for a snack or lunch. Chores and homework can be avoided all day long.

Dave Thomas

December 14, 2013


Our Beach House

It was early 1999 and Pat and I had been living in Avocado Estates for eleven years. Avocado Estates was a gated community of 110 homes in the hills on the south side of El Cajon. The common areas included three avocado groves, a pond, tennis courts, an Olympic-size pool, and a hiking trail. The streets all curved around the hills and gave the development a charming rural look. It was a beautiful place to live and we had thoroughly enjoyed being there. We were getting restless though and were ready to try something different. Pat had taken early retirement and I was just two years away from retiring at 65.

We owned a 3 bedroom condo in University City that we had been renting out for 10 years. We decided that when the current tenant moved out, we would sell our home in Avocado Estates and move into the condo until we decided what we were going to do. By mid year we had received notice from our tenant and we were able to close a deal on the Avocado house. We had the interior of the condo painted, installed new carpet in the bedrooms, replaced the downstairs carpet with wood flooring, and then, Pat remodeled the kitchen. It was a tiny, galley-type kitchen but she designed the cabinets to maximize storage space and bought all new appliances. The kitchen and the rest of the home looked great and you kids were generous with your time in helping us move in. Remember, we had to put a lot of our stuff in storage since we were downsizing considerably.

We enjoyed living in the condo with its proximity to downtown, Old Town San Diego, and the coast. As the crow flies, we were only about 5 miles from the beach and the Pacific. Still, we weren’t quite satisfied with our circumstances and were thinking about a beach house with a view of the water. Since we had just renovated the condo and moved in, it wasn’t practical to just pack up and go somewhere else. After a lot of back and forth conversations, Pat suggested that a large picture or a mural might give us what we were looking for. We decided that a mural would be just the thing and the kitchen was the only place downstairs that would be suitable. The next consideration was that hiring an artist would cost us some big bucks. Pat suggested that we do the job ourselves. Neither of us had ever shown any artistic ability but what the heck…? A coat of paint would cover anything that was too ugly for humans to view.

We bought some paint and got started. Pat and I enjoyed working on it and Jeff got involved for a while. Terri stopped to see us one day and we convinced her to add a few strokes. When we got done it kind of looked as if you were stepping out the kitchen door onto a porch and then a sandy beach. Maybe you could call it “hokey” or even “tacky” but it was fun to do and we enjoyed it all the time we were there.

We only stayed in the condo for 2 years. Pat and I continued searching the Multiple Listings online for the Fort Worth, Texas area. We had some friends down there we had been talking to and ended up buying a new 4 bedroom, brick home in Keller. So much for downsizing but I guess we satisfied our itch for something different.

Beach House

Dave Thomas
February 12, 2015


Seaplane Story 10: SAR

Search and Rescue duty (SAR) is mostly remembered as an uncomfortable 24 hour period that happened about every 6 weeks. It was uncomfortable because after checking our plane and turning up the radar and all the other electronic gear, and the other guys checked the engines and controls, we spent the rest of the time in the “Ready Room” trying to sleep on some wooden benches.

We had 4-section duty schedules which meant that you had to stay on the base for 24 hours and be prepared to work at any time, day or night. It’s tough on married guys because you can’t go home and see your wife and kids. It’s part of the deal you signed up for so you just grin and bear it. Search and Rescue duty was divided up between several squadrons so you didn’t catch that assignment very often.

My crew never got called out once for a SAR mission but there was one night that was out of the ordinary. The Control Tower called and said that a fog bank would be rolling in about midnight and the bay would be socked in until at least 10 o’clock the next morning and take-offs would be impossible. We were ordered to get airborne and head east to the Salton Sea for the night. On the east side, San Diego County ends in a range of mountains that go up to 6 or 7,000 feet and then the terrain drops to the desert floor and is below sea level. The creation of the Salton Sea is a fascinating story in itself. You might want to look it up on a map and Google it. As an aside, about 3 or 4 miles east of the Salton Sea is an abandoned Army Training Ground. I was told that the U.S. Army trained the Tank Corps here in this desert environment during WWII to get them ready to take on Field Marshal Rommel and the Germans in North Africa. The buildings are gone but you can still see the concrete pads where the barracks stood. Anyhow, the Salton Sea is a giant lake in the desert that was used as a diversional landing spot for seaplanes when the San Diego weather got bad. For some reason the Atomic Energy Commission had a place there on the water’s edge and they had a boat dock, sleeping accommodations, a mess hall, and some buoys anchored in the water that we could tie up to.

We flew over to the Salton Sea, landed, and tied up to a buoy. The normal procedure when leaving a plane secured to a buoy, or “swinging on the hook” as they called it was to leave two crew members aboard the plane to handle any emergency that might come up. We drew straws and I was one of the lucky guys. As we were in the desert and the weather was hot, we elected to sleep out on the wings rather than in the two bunks in the after section of the plane. There was a gentle breeze that stirred up the water and rocked the plane just enough to make it perfect for sleeping. I thought it was great…what a life! The wind came up about dawn and rocked the plane more seriously. In less than 30 minutes I was sick as a dog. This was the first time in my life I had experienced motion sickness. Growing up, I had always ridden every carnival ride, merry-go-round, Ferris wheel, and anything else that looked like fun. When a couple of crew members came to relieve us for breakfast I went ashore but couldn’t eat. My equilibrium was such that I indeed looked like a drunken sailor. It took 2 or 3 days to get back to feeling normal though I still can’t tolerate boats or carnival rides. Fortunately, airplanes don’t bother me.


Seaplanes were big during the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s. Besides their Navy duties there were many commercial models that carried passengers and cargo all over the Caribbean and the South Pacific. The Russians have finally developed a jet powered seaplane but it will probably never gain widespread use. I guess the seaplane has gone the way of the horse and wagon.

Dave Thomas
March 26, 2012. revised February 17, 2015

Scroll Down For Pictures

10a vp48p5m & Hangers 

Picture 10a: Shows the seaplane hangers at NAS North Island. The two hangers look like giant concrete Quonset huts. They can still be seen when looking across the bay from San Diego or from Point Loma.

10b Last P5M-now a museumbird

Picture 10b: This picture is of the last P5M. It rests at the Flight Museum at Pensacola, Florida.

10c On the Ramp

Picture 10c: This plane has just been pulled up the ramp by the tractor and the recovery team.

10d vp48p5m

Picture 10d: I’ve never seen P5M’s flying in formation like this. It must be a fly-over for an air show or special event.




German P.O.W.’s In Peabody, Kansas

I can’t remember exactly what year it was but WWII was still going on. Our friends, the Watsons, had invited our family to take a drive one weekend to Peabody, Kansas to see the Prisoner of War Camp.

Peabody is a small farming town about 60 miles northwest of Augusta. It’s surprising to think that it was the location of a German prisoner-of-war camp during the war. When I was older, I learned how it came to be that there were several prison camps in Kansas and in other states as well. During WWII all of our able-bodied men were either in the service or working in a job that was critical to the war effort. There was no one left to plant or harvest the crops that were so desperately needed. A lot of the women were working in the factories as “Rosie the Riveter” or some other much needed capacity.

Someone came up with a plan to use the captured German prisoners as farm-hands and it worked out well. If you would like to learn more about it, check the Internet. I did a search on “German P.O.W. Camps in Kansas” and found a lot of information.

Getting back to our trip, we kids were a little bit apprehensive about going. Every day we heard the news about the Germans killing millions of people. We heard about how they gassed them and some people were skinned and lamp shades were made from the skins. Altogether, we thought we would be facing some real monsters and the idea was pretty scary.

We got there and the compound was a large area contained by chain-link fencing. The place was full of men in black uniforms, some sitting and some standing, and all of them just taking it easy. Our Dads, Al and Frank, went up to the fence and started talking to a couple of the older men who spoke English. After a time, Jack and I got a little closer so we could look things over. What we saw were a bunch of young guys much like we would see on the streets of our town. This was not the dreaded SS. They may have been brave and loyal soldiers but they were just kids. They were probably thankful for 3 squares a day and a chance to work without being shot at.

Well, more lessons learned. You might enjoy spending a few minutes researching this.

Dave Thomas
May 10, 2016


“A” IS For Armadillo

  We’ve covered a lot of animals and a few days ago even had some zebras. To make sure we have covered the animal kingdom from A to Z, let’s go with some armadillos.

We were living in Keller, Texas and decided to drive up to Wichita and Augusta Kansas and visit friends and relatives. It’s a straight shot from Keller to Wichita on I-35 and usually an uneventful ride. This trip, we must have been out during mating season as there were armadillos everywhere. No, we didn’t see a one that was alive…they had all been run over on the Interstate! This was so hard to fathom that Pat kept track of how many we had seen. I forget how many we saw on the way to Wichita but by the time we got back to Keller, the total was 43! My vision was already getting poor when we took the trip so Pat was the official counter. What looked like a “lump” to me, she would identify as an armadillo or a rabbit or a possum or whatever.

Pat has got sharp eyes and I’ve always known I could rely on her to see things correctly. This particular trip though we had a little credibility problem. We were rolling south through Oklahoma, on the way home, and we passed another road kill. Pat yelled out, “Oh, my gosh, that was a monkey!” “No”, I said, “there are no monkeys running loose in Oklahoma.” “Yes,” she insisted, “that was a monkey!” All I can tell you for sure is that we argued the rest of the way home.

In 2005, we invited all the kids and grand-kids down for Thanksgiving. Almost everyone made it and we had a great time. Besides the Thanksgiving dinner, we also enjoyed a day in Old Fort Worth at the Stockyards. We ate and shopped and the kids went through the maze and rode the mechanical bull. Some entrepreneur had even set up an armadillo race in front of the Live Stock Exchange. The kids had never seen armadillos before and the only ones I had ever seen had been squashed on the highway. The grand-daughters, Michelle and Christie, got to participate as starters in the race. They held onto the armadillos until the guy yelled “go” and then they acted as cheerleaders for their charges. It was so exciting I could barely contain myself. Sorry, I don’t remember who won. 


A Contender


The Track


Christie and Michelle 

Dave Thomas
November 9, 2014


Such A Deal!

I think I started going hunting when I was about eleven so that would make it about 1947. I went out with two neighbor boys that lived three doors to the south of us. Gary Casner was a good friend and was my age. His brother, Billy Bob, was about four years older than Gary and I. Bill had an old Stevens .22 Single-Shot rifle and he would let Gary and I take a shot now and then. We felt pretty good when we managed to hit a tin can or two.

I dreamed of owning a .22 and my Dad promised I would get one on my 12th birthday. Well, my 12th birthday came and went and no rifle showed up. I didn’t really expect it to happen because I knew there was no money in the household for an extravagance like that. I knew I would have to make it happen myself.

Across the street and two doors north lived the Breeden family. “Red” Breeden was a WWII Army vet who had managed to bring home some souvenirs from Europe. He had a metal helmet, a helmet liner, canteen and web belt, German money, and some German equipment. To me, the prize was a German Officer’s dress knife. It was a beautiful thing and you could see it was made of the finest German steel. Sure enough, stamped on the blade, right under the hilt, was the name “Solingen”. The hilt was a cast piece with some decoration. The knife had a beautiful stag handle and the butt piece was cast in the shape of an eagle’s head. The sheath was also of beautiful and shiny chrome-like steel with cast decorations attached.

Red kept his souvenirs out in his garage and if he happened to be working out there when we came by we would stop and talk and he would show us those articles he had brought back from the war. While looking at his stuff I also noticed that Red had a pair of men’s figure skates. I was really impressed with them because all we kids had at the time were clamp-on ice skates that rarely stayed on more than a few minutes at a time. A pair of shoe skates would have made any kid happy.

Talking with Red I discovered that he was interested in getting his young son an electric train set. I happened to have a nice train set that I had outgrown and never played with. Red mentioned that we might make a trade so I began thinking about the stuff in his garage that I might be interested in.

Meantime, Bill Casner had just acquired a new Mossberg .22 caliber Bolt-Action Repeater. While showing me the new rifle, Bill indicated that he would be getting rid of the old Stevens single-shot. I had already told Bill about my possible trade of the electric train and had told of the items I might trade for. We talked about the shoe skates and I told him they were not my size and he indicated they would be perfect for him. I took this information into account and went home to think about it.

The following Saturday I went over to Red’s house to make a deal. I proposed trading my electric train to Red for the ice skates and the German officer’s knife. Red told me he had taken that sheath or scabbard from the knife and used a hacksaw to cut a couple inches from it so it would fit another knife he had. I couldn’t believe it! That would be like painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa! I couldn’t believe that Red placed so little value on the knife and sheath and was broken-hearted. I still wanted the knife though and went back at him with a new offer…my electric train for his ice skates, the German knife, and an American Army bayonet. Red agreed and we exchanged items.

My target was still the rifle so I went to Bill next. After a couple of days of thinking about it, Bill was eager to swap his old single-shot for the ice skates and an old stripped down Schwinn bicycle with no fenders. (I had a nice Schwinn bike but figured this old one would keep the wear and tear off my good one). I couldn’t have been happier. I hunted with the old single-shot for a few years until I was also able to buy a Mossberg bolt-action. I ran my hands over the German Officer’s dress knife and admired it for its superior craftsmanship and beauty. All of the wheeling and dealing I’ve described took place in 1948. In 2007, I decided to sell my collection of knives and started listing them on E-Bay. The German Officer’s Knife sold for $237.00. Such a deal!

German Knife 

I don’t have my original pictures but found this similar knife on the Internet. My knife had a more attractive stag handle with a silver casting in the center of it.

Dave Thomas

May 14, 2014


The Big Trip of 1944, Part 3

One big thing that we all enjoyed was a parade that was part of a War Bond Rally and featured General George Patton and General Jimmy Doolittle. I believe the parade was on Wilshire Boulevard. I remember that Grandpa drove us over there and we sat on the curb and waited to see the war heroes. There were several cars in the parade and the two Generals were riding in the back seat of a convertible.

Grandpa had been telling us about Walter Knott and his berry farm and the delicious boysenberries he grew there. We went there one day and I remember it as being out in the middle of a large grove. We drove down a lane, through the trees until we got to a clearing where there were a few old buildings.

Knott's Jail 1940's

Knott’s Berry Farm Jail, 1940’s

We got out of the car and walked over to a building that looked like a jail. Inside, there was a dummy that looked like a real bad guy. It scared the devil out of us when he started talking! We talked to him for a while about his plight and his sorry history and then were completely amazed when he started talking about our trip and other personal things that we hadn’t mentioned. We kept up a conversation but kept wondering how this dummy knew so much about us. We soon heard Grandpa yelling for us from around the corner of the next building. We hadn’t noticed that he wasn’t still with us. We went around the corner of the building and found Grandpa and Walter Knott laughing like crazy. Mr. Knott held up a microphone and told how he and Grandpa had conspired and tricked us. We continued to have a great time and bought several jars of boysenberry jam before we left. Even today, we’ll be in a grocery store and I’ll see jars of jam with the distinctive Knott’s Berry Farm script and I’ll flash back on some of these memories.

Knott's 2

           It’s been 70 years but I still recognize this guy that talked to us from the jail.

I didn’t know where we were but one day we drove past an aircraft factory. I would guess now, that we must have been in the Santa Monica area. There were planes parked everywhere and the whole area was covered with camouflage netting. The top of the netting looked like grass, vegetation, and homes. Remember, at this time of the war, we didn’t know but what the Japanese would be attacking the west coast at any time. The way the netting covered the whole area, it made it look like homes and farms. I don’t remember now what types of planes we saw, but I recognized them at the time. Like most American kids, I had studied my “spotter” cards and recognized almost every plane I saw. For you young people who haven’t seen them, the “spotter” cards came in a deck and were the same size as regular playing cards. Each card was devoted to a different airplane and told what it was and what its identifying features were. Also, there were 3 or 4 different views of each plane so you could identify it when seen from any angle. Anyhow, the sight of all those planes and that camouflage brought the war a little closer to home.

Lockheed Plant-before

Lockheed Plant Before Camouflage

Lockheed Plant-after

Lockheed Plant After Camouflage

Mom and Dad wanted to visit Ruby Mae in San Diego. She actually lived in El Cajon, just east of San Diego. Grandpa loaned us his car and we headed south on Highway 101. Dad had promised that we could go swimming in the ocean and as soon as we began seeing it, we began begging to swim. We finally got to La Jolla and Dad stopped in a good area of the beach and we all put on our swim suits. It was a gloomy, overcast morning, and pretty cool. This was what we now know as “June Gloom” and we were miserable. My sister and I had run down to the surf and waded in but turned right around and got out. That water was freezing cold and we weren’t about to go in again. Dad said that we had been whining for 100 miles and we had better get in the water and enjoy it. He finally gave up on us and dived into the surf and pretended that he was having the time of his life. Mom had already changed back into her dress as she wasn’t getting into that water either. We got through that experience and made it to Ruby’s place in El Cajon.

Ruby lived in the first or second block of west El Cajon Boulevard, just as you come in to town. She owned or managed a pottery shop there. Her house or building where she lived was set back from the street and the whole front yard was full of pottery. I remember the impression of an organized place of business and I imagine that it was because Ruby Mae was a high energy type of person.

Ruby took us to Tijuana and I remember it as being very colorful. My sister and I had our pictures taken while seated on those donkeys that have the “zebra” stripes painted on them.

Mom and Dad were surprised to receive unusual gifts from Ruby. They were a pair of flesh-colored highball glasses shaped like women’s torsos. She said the originals were made for ventriloquist Edgar Bergen by the pottery factory that supplied her with product.

The biggest thrill for me came when we attended the Roy Rogers Rodeo at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. For quite some time I had been going to the cowboy movies on Saturday afternoons and to get to see Roy Rogers and Trigger in person was a fantastic experience.

Roy and Trigger

Dave Thomas
February 4, 1994; Revised and added pictures March 5, 2015.