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Leonard Ruoff

Leonard Ruoff

My World War II Service as a Navy Seabee


As told to Bill and Celeste Boyd

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Despite the end of the war, the battle fleet went into Tokyo Bay while we sailed around outside Yokohama Bay and eventually went into the port the following day. We were told that if we wanted to “live dangerously” we could go on liberty for a few hours in Yokohama, which we did.

Everything looked deserted. We could see faces in windows and people on the road at a distance but they never made eye contact with us.

— Leonard Ruoff

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  Joining Up

After the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States joined the Allies in their fight against the Axis countries of World War II. In January 1942 both my father and I received our draft notices from the Army.

We did not want to be in the Army so the next month I drove home from Pasadena City College, where I was a student, and my dad and I drove to San Francisco to join the Navy. We were the only enlisted father/son pair in Tuolumne County at that time.

We chose to join the Seabees, a Navy construction battalion, because we had the building skills and we hoped we’d be away from the action.

The Seabees built bases, miles of roadway and airstrips, and accomplished many different construction projects during the war.  I was 21 years old and my Dad celebrated his 42nd birthday in May of that year.

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Boyhood

I was born at the Tuolumne County Hospital in Sonora, California in 1921.

I was the only child of Hazel Rudorff and Henry Ruoff, and the third generation of my family to live in Tuolumne County.

Both of my parents were descendants of German immigrants who moved west during the Gold Rush, one grandfather in 1847 and the other in 1851.

They were never gold miners, however, and instead became merchants and haulers to service the hordes arriving in California.

Leonard's parents, Hazel and Henry

Leonard’s parents, Hazel and Henry

My mother and dad were graduates of Sonora High School, as was I, after which I graduated from Pasadena City College and then enrolled in College of the Pacific in Stockton.

In the 1930s Dad owned the Central Drug Store located on Washington Street over the creek where Coffill Park is now.  At the age of 12, I delivered orders from the drugstore and the grocery store and special delivery items from the post office for 10 cents an hour. I rode my bicycle all over Sonora and had to learn where everyone lived – at that time there were no street names or addresses.

In 1940 Dad sold the drugstore and bought Tuolumne County Realty.  He was a well-known figure in town, was a founding member of the Sonora Motion Picture industry, and helped contact and contract extras whenever a Hollywood movie was filming here.

Growing up in Sonora I hung around with six or seven other boys my age up on Bradford Street after school.  The three Dambacher boys, who lived in the jail with their mom and dad, who was the jailer, often had to bring in firewood for the stove.

One time the rest of the kids helped them and then decided to take a cigarette butt someone had found down to the basement of the jail.  Someone lit a matchstick and the smell of sulfur drifted upstairs to the kitchen. Mrs. Dambacher soon appeared at the door and put us all in one of the jail cell blocks. Hearing that door close and the click of the lock gave you a strange feeling.

This was late afternoon and around five o’clock I could hear my grandfather calling me for dinner but, of course, I had no way to tell him where I was. I believe Mrs. Dambacher eventually called all the parents to keep them from worrying.

Finally about eight o’clock Mrs. Dambacher turned us all loose. But I had missed dinner and if you weren’t there you didn’t eat. Grandma slipped me a cookie and some milk, and Granddad brought me a small sandwich he’d made, so I didn’t suffer much.

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Dad was a great father because he instilled in me the drive to finish tasks and to do my very best at everything I tried. He could do almost everything from construction to sales and he worked very hard to support his home and family.

I remember several times when I got in trouble he found out of course, from a friend or neighbor.  However, he might not take me to task for several days, just let me stew before he asked me what happened.

His method was to give me choices, such as the times when my pals were all going swimming at Melones and I really wanted to go along.  He just said, “You can go if you want but the work that needs to be done will be waiting for you when you return.” Sometimes I chose to stay home and sometimes I went with my pals. I never held it against him when I stayed, because it was my choice.

I respected my dad so much because he used logic and good questions to determine if I was being honest or not.  He had very high standards for my chores and taught me to be dependable and hard working.

My grandfather, Charles Rudorff, lived with us and the three of us worked on many projects together very compatibly. This work ethic transferred to my time in the Navy and for the rest of my life.

Training

Dad and I were sent to Navy boot camp, which only lasted for three weeks, in two different states. Dad went to the Seabee base in Davisville, Rhode Island, and I was sent to Camp Perry in Williamsburg, Virginia.

When we finished boot camp the Navy didn’t seem to know what to do with us. My unit left Camp Perry one morning and went to Davisville and sat on a train siding waiting for another train to pull out. As it happened, that was my dad’s group leaving and my group moved into the barracks they had just moved out of. He went to Gulfport, Mississippi, and I stayed in Davisville for about six weeks.

Our training consisted of building pontoon barges which were then loaded with all kinds of construction materials, which were towed out into Narragansett Bay to await the next convoy leaving for England or to Murmansk, Russia, as the U.S. was supporting both England and Russia at the time.

One morning we got orders to pack up and be ready to move. I happened to be in a group known as the Channel Four Detachment. The officer called out some of our names, including mine, and we were assigned to the 17th Construction Battalion and ordered to leave with a certain convoy – but we had no idea where we were headed.

U.S. Naval base in Argentia on the island of Newfoundland, Canada

U.S. Naval base in Argentia on the island of Newfoundland, Canada

Our destination was Argentia, on the Northeastern part of the island of Newfoundland, Canada, where Churchill and Roosevelt had discussed war strategies at the Atlantic Conference of August 1941. The U. S. Navy was helping to build a naval station there to provide coastal patrol, convoy protection, and fueling stations for anti-submarine aircraft. The base was 25 miles south of the strategic post of Gander where American and Canadian-built fighters and bombers stopped en route to Europe.

When we arrived at Argentia there was a contracting company named Merritt-Chapman & Scott out of New York that had already started to build the naval air station dry dock and ship repair. However, it was decided that they were civilians working in a military area and the Navy pulled them back.  As our unit arrived on a transport ship, the civilians were already at the dock to get on board and sail for home when we de-boarded. Eventually the rest of our unit arrived and we took over building the naval air station on the north coast of Argentia Harbor. We were there just shy of two years.

 V-Mail

While I was there, one night I borrowed a typewriter to write a V-Mail home. V-mail, short for Victory Mail, was a process used by American friends and family during WWll to correspond with soldiers stationed abroad. To reduce the logistics of transferring an original letter across the military postal system, a V-mail letter would pass through censors, be copied to film, and then reprinted back to paper upon arrival at its destination.

As I was typing, a division officer who happened to be in this office was watching me. He approached me when I was done and asked to see my work, which he declared “mighty fine.” A couple of days later he asked me to apply for a position as a clerk, known as a yeoman in the Navy, to order parts.  I did so and was designated a clerk soon afterward.

Henry, Hazel and Leonard Ruoff

Henry, Hazel and Leonard Ruoff

Home Leave

We left Newfoundland in April 1944 to get ready for assignment as the Allies prepared for the Normandy invasion. I was given a leave to come home for 10 days so flew to New York and caught a plane for California; I spent one long day flying to Cleveland, Chicago, North Platte, Salt Lake City, Reno and finally San Francisco. When Dad was given leave after boot camp he was not so lucky, as he had to fly on a military transport, space available, and it took him four days to get home.

When my leave was over I flew back to Davisville where we stayed for a short time until we were sent to Eastport, Maine, at the Canadian border.  It is on the Bay of Fundy where the highest tide fall in the world is located. During the few days we were there the cookhouse burned down and so our meals consisted of box lunches until we were sent to Portland, Maine.

First WWII Duty

The U.S. government had conscripted all the private yachts 50 feet long or more based on New England’s rugged coast. These boats were stationed in coves all along the coast to use for coastal patrol. Our job was to patrol an area in one of these yachts and challenge any fishing boat that came into our area. The incoming boat would then hold up a large card stating their assigned number and we’d register it to keep track of every boat along the rough coast.  Some of the boat captains gave us a few lobster traps and now and then we managed to catch a few.

We’d be on a yacht for four days and then onshore for four days at our Cape Elizabeth base where we could trade the lobster for “goodies.” At base we stayed on our own ship and would be assigned some kind of duty every day. This lasted for about three months and then we returned to base in Portland, Maine.

By then the Allies had made the Normandy invasion but plenty of Seabees were stationed in Europe so we went back to the Naval Operating Base at Newport, Rhode Island. The younger sailors were sent to Fort Pierce, Florida to learn how to run a landing barge at the Amphibious Landing School.

I was in an older group which was called in and told that this would be the only time we’d be able to volunteer for our next assignment. Two new ships were being commissioned in Baltimore, Maryland and we could choose either an ammunition ship or a gasoline tanker. I figured that a tanker must have to come back to port to get refueled (that was wrong) so I picked the tanker and proceeded to Baltimore.

Shortly after that I got notice that my dad, who was a chief carpenter’s mate with the 55th Battalion in Leyte Gulf in the Philippines, was coming home on leave. He had been responsible for putting together a crew to construct various projects all through New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and then the Philippine Islands prior to the invasion in the Leyte Gulf.

His commanding officer was a construction worker from New York, and they had become good friends. This officer got orders to return to the states for a new assignment and asked Dad if he wanted to accompany him. Of course Dad said yes, and when he arrived home he discovered that because of his age bracket he could work stateside duty. The whole family was relieved to know that he wasn’t on the front line any longer.

He was assigned to Port Hueneme, California until he was discharged at the end of 1945 and came on home.  I was glad to know that he was out of danger.

USS Chipola (AO-63) refueling the Princeton

USS Chipola (AO-63) refueling the Princeton

Navy’s Secret Weapon in the Pacific

I was assigned to the newly commissioned USS Chipola AO-63 in Baltimore which launched on October 21, 1944.  We made a shakedown cruise in Chesapeake Bay, supposedly for two weeks. I was designated a diesel motor machinist to service and repair the diesel motors and the huge diesel generators aboard ship. The ship also had about eight diesel pumps which were used to transfer fuel to other ships. She was 553 feet long and had a beam of 75 feet.

About three days out on our shakedown cruise we were called back to port and put into dry dock where we were told to take inventory of everything on the ship. We never did know why, but our next destination turned out to be Aruba, in the Netherlands West Indies off the coast of Venezuela.

During that cruise we took on water two or three times to learn how to use the pumping system. At Aruba we took on a load of fuel and sailed through the Panama Canal to Hawaii.

The USS Chipola became one of a group of ships called the “Secret Fleet” because her assignments were changed every few days or weeks from one fleet to another. Chipola was a Cimarron-class fleet oiler which carried petroleum products used to refuel combat ships such as carrier task forces and assault ships during World War II.

The job of an oiler was to transfer fuel to the ships in combat while still out to sea thus avoiding the need for them to return to a port for refueling. These tankers played a valuable role in the defeat of Japanese forces in the Pacific because they made it possible to refuel the warships a short distance from their combat operational areas. It was like having a vast floating service station.

There were three wide rows of fuel tanks on an oiler. The outside row contained heavy bunker C oil, the next row was diesel oil and the center row was high-octane gasoline.

We also transferred supplies and injured men to and from the Chipola to other ships via a “breeches buoy,” which was a crude rope-based device similar to a zip line.  It went from ship to ship using a light line tied to a heavier line. It was sent over by a shotgun-like device from one ship to another. When the light line was secured, the larger line followed it and was attached to the sending ship so personnel and supplies could be sent to the receiving ship.

When refueling, the fuel hose was attached to the larger rope and once secured the fuel was sent through it at about 200-300 pounds pressure. The only exception to this routine was in fueling a carrier.  In this case the line originated from the carrier to us due to the difficulty of accurately targeting the line to their side hatch doors. The large fuel hoses had automatic shut off valves in case of emergency or if the sea pulled the two ships too far apart. One of my jobs was to watch the exchange process and be sure the pumps worked because they were steam operated with a diesel engine backup.

We were in Hawaii for three days to take on deck cargo and then sailed for Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The Navy was trying something new with oilers so instead of bringing one to port to take on fuel, two merchant tankers – one on each side of the ship – would refuel us at sea. Whenever we were refueling other ships, we were about half a day behind the action together with a hospital ship, a refrigerator ship, and sometimes a couple of small escort carriers. We were seldom in a port except for Ulithi Atoll in the Marianas islands east of the Philippines where we refueled.

We seldom went into port but had to anchor outside the break water just in case we took a bomb or torpedo which would have resulted in destroying the whole port.

We could take a motor whaleboat into the beach if we wanted to during the day and drink hot beer. Motor whaleboats are light, double-ended, open boats with high bows and sterns. Their interior is divided into three distinct compartments with the engine (ordinarily diesel) occupying the middle one. They are equipped with watertight, metal air tanks to increase their buoyancy and are particularly well adapted for use at sea, as lifeboats, or for any other service for which boats are necessary.

War Experiences

We found out that the USS Chipola was a replacement for the USS Mississinewa, also a Cimarron-class oiler. It had been hit and ultimately sunk by a small Japanese Kaiten, a one- or two-man “suicide” torpedo, while at berth in Ulithi harbor in November 1944. That’s why the Navy was in such a rush to get us out to the South Pacific as a replacement. After that event, the “no oilers in port” rule came into effect. We had to stay outside the reefs and use the motor whaleboat to land.

We left Ulithi with a fleet assigned to follow a Japanese fleet up toward the Philippines. The Chipola took on as much deck cargo as we could hold: munitions, barreled oil, foodstuffs and medical supplies.  Unfortunately on our way, a huge monsoon developed and both Japanese and U.S. fleets lost a number of ships. The orders were that no one was to go topside for three days because of the rough seas. The ship would go into the waves bow first and if you happened to be standing up in the engine room you’d get thrown against the bulkhead very hard. Fortunately I never experienced sea seasickness.

The Chipola had a 37-foot draft and we still took water through the air intake funnels down into the ship; the bilge pumps worked for three days straight to keep us afloat. The smaller ships such as mine sweepers and destroyer escorts were no match for the monsoon and just capsized, so the U.S. lost many ships and crews.

In Action

A fuel replenishment oiler was a sitting duck for Kamikaze pilots and the small manned subs known as Kaitens, which were also suicide crafts. But despite several attacks we were never hit by one.

Not that the Japanese didn’t try.  Once the Chipola and a destroyer escort several hundred yards away were attacked by a Kamikaze plane.  Somehow he missed us and then went for the destroyer. When the smoke and spray cleared the destroyer was gone. It had sunk completely, taking a full complement of crew with it.

In mid-February to late March of 1945, several months before the invasion of Iwo Jima, we participated in a fast-run sneak attack.  The fleet was provided with plenty of air support and then withdrew just as fast. It was not a planned attack but the fleet just flew in and bombed the heck out of the emplacements on the island.  We remained where the fleet was, but could see some of the action and returning planes.

There was another attack on the Japanese mainland where we just tagged along with two or three carriers to replace fuel, supplies or whatever they needed.

We returned to Ulithi several times and reloaded with supplies and we were refueled at sea by the merchant tankers before we reached Japan. We always tried to keep a full load of gasoline because refueling the fleet was our main task.

We were a few hours behind the action but could still see the explosions when the invasion of Iwo Jima took place. At one point about daylight we refueled the carrier USS Franklin, which we later heard was badly damaged by a Japanese Kamikaze plane down its outboard elevator shaft.

We eventually went up next to it and took on many of their casualties and sent supplies and our Seabees over to help make repairs on the carrier. We stayed with it for a number of hours until we left to take the casualties to Ulithi.

Soon after we headed back to port, the Franklin was slowly sailed toward Ulithi to be repaired enough to return to Hawaii.

We were at sea from March to August 1945, supporting the carrier task forces in raids preceding and during the 82-day assault on Okinawa. The Allies planned to use Okinawa as a base of operations for the upcoming invasion of the Japanese mainland.

Beginning in July, Chipola provided the oil which enabled the carriers and their screening ships to carry out a constant series of air attacks and bombardments on the Japanese home islands.

The heat and recoil caused from constant firing at the Kamikazes buckled the deck plates and caused our three inch deck-mounted gun to break loose.  It was taken out of action but we were still able to use our 40mm guns to shoot down a Japanese plane that kept trying to target us.

The Kamikaze pilots knew when they took off from their base that it was a one-way flight and so they made every effort to take down a ship during the attack.

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Battle for Okinawa

The fight for Okinawa was my most frightening experience in the war due to the number of Kamikaze planes in the sky. Whole squadrons of these planes would come over and attack the ships both at an angle and just above the water. During the attack we were so busy that we hardly had time to think about what was happening.  But afterward when events slowed down a bit you realized how close you had come to a fiery death.

The only fatality we had aboard the Chipola was a first-class sailor whose job was inside the ship so he had never seen a refueling operation.

He came on deck and when the order was given to “Clear the deck” he went down behind a group of barrels to look through a crack between them. The line slammed into the deck, ricocheted and came down right between the two barrels where he was.  He was dead before he knew what was happening.

In early August we were informed over the radio that the atomic bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9. Shortly thereafter the war ended with the Japanese surrender on Sept. 2, 1945.

Chipola after the War

Despite the end of the war, the battle fleet went into Tokyo Bay while we sailed around outside Yokohama Bay and eventually went into the port the following day. We were told that if we wanted to “live dangerously” we could go on liberty for a few hours in Yokohama, which we did.

Everything looked deserted. We could see faces in windows and people on the road at a distance but they never made eye contact with us.

One time we took a truck a short distance to a Japanese base where a huge supply of Japanese guns had been stored and we were told we could take one as a souvenir. We had about 400 men on our ship so we took one rifle and one pistol for each man.

Most of what we took to the crew was traded with the merchant sailors for bottles of booze. I took two Japanese rifles, a sword and a knife which I kept for a number of years and finally gave away because I no longer wanted them around.

Just before Christmas in 1945 we took on a load of oil from a merchant ship and received orders to prepare to get underway. For some reason there was a big hurry to get the boilers steamed up and we managed to do that in an hour and a half instead of the usual four hours.  We steamed around Kobe and Nagoya through the Inland Sea where we were told that the Japanese stored their ships in coves around the islands and built their machine shops in tunnels on these islands.

They had hundreds of the little suicide torpedoes known as Kaitens stacked on the docks after being assembled in the tunnels. The Japanese sailors volunteered for this duty (almost like being a Kamikaze pilot) which usually resulted in them getting killed when they smashed the sub into another ship to detonate the torpedo.

We sailed around on the Inland Sea and then went to Sasebo on the other side of the islands. The weather had turned very cold and ice had formed on some of our rigging so after a few days when the weather started to warm up we wondered where we were headed.

It turned out our next port would be Singapore, where we were given liberty. Then we went to Ceylon in the Indian Ocean where we laid over for three or four days waiting for orders to head to Bahrain for fuel.

After refueling in Bahrain we headed back to Singapore where we got liberty again and then the ship left for Canton, China. From there we went up the Yangtze River to Shanghai and provided supplies for the Aussie ships along the way.

When we were finished in Shanghai we returned to Ceylon and the Persian Gulf for another load of fuel.  That time when we returned to Japan we serviced American ships around Tokyo, Yokohama, Yokosuka, Kobe, and Nagoya. We made five round trips to the Persian Gulf to reload fuel and return to Japan.

Captain of the Chipola

Prior to the war, the captain of the Chipola had been captain of a merchant ship. He was not officially in the Navy so he volunteered for every mission available knowing that the moment he “stayed put” the Navy would get rid of him.

He liked the Navy life and wanted to stay in so that’s why we kept moving. He was kind of like Mr. Roberts in the 1955 film: He did his own laundry, ate mess with the crew, and grew potted plants on the deck.  Occasionally he’d hang his laundry topside but had to take it down before daylight so another ship would not misinterpret his clothes as a flag message.

During the late 1930s my dad had a German Leica camera which he taught me to use.  There was a good camera aboard the Chipola but no one knew how to use it except me.

I began taking pictures aboard the ship and processing them with the printing materials sent over from the carriers.  If another sailor wanted a copy of one of my photos they had to make a donation to the ship’s store so replacement photographic supplies could be purchased.

I went on to photograph many of the places we visited and still have those photos although some of them are starting to fade after all these years.

Long Journey Home

We made five different trips in the Pacific during 1946 and soon my time to be discharged passed by. One day as we sailed toward Okinawa, an announcement came over the loudspeaker that if we could get our “Title B” cards, which list the duties a sailor has to perform, all signed off by the next afternoon we could go home.

I had a tall stack of Title B cards and had to find someone who could release me from my responsibilities. Fortunately, I talked a shipmate into signing them all for me, including the materials I was in charge of plus those of a buddy who was a chief boiler maker, and we were ready to go home.

The Navy flew us to Okinawa to wait for a flight home but then we were told a number of “rust bucket” ships needed to get back to the USA.  So instead of flying we were put aboard one of these ships to sail home.

We took on about 12 days of supplies to get back to San Francisco but every few days something would break down on one of the ships and we’d have to go only as fast as the slowest one could go. It took 21 days to get from Okinawa to San Francisco and we had to portion out the supplies to make them last more than 12 days. Thank God we had enough canned food – spam and beans – to last that long but the stores were very empty when we arrived in California.

Just outside of the Golden Gate another one of these ships broke down and they wouldn’t let us go in except as a group, so the port pilots were sent out and we sailed around the Farallon Islands all night and part of the next day while the “rust bucket” ship was being repaired enough to dock.

Our ship docked at Pier 7 just beyond the Oakland-Bay Bridge in May 1946. Only the sailors who had their dress blues ready could go ashore. I had learned a long time ago to always keep my good clothes handy as did three or four other sailors, so we were allowed to leave.

I had my sea bag packed and locked with three rifles, two Japanese and my own, sticking out the top. On the pier a Marine guard asked what they were and stated that I could not take them with me because they were government property.

I replied that they were not U.S. government property but Japanese government property. Some of the fellows were turning theirs in and the Marines would just take them over to their own car, open up the trunk and toss them in.

The three of us who were together wouldn’t give up our rifles and we showed them a tag signed by our captain with the gun serial numbers and a statement that said they were our personal property. They couldn’t pull rank on that so we got to keep them.

San Francisco

We hailed a cab and went to the Commodore Hotel on Sutter Street, which was owned by the Segerstrom family of Sonora. I had grown up with some Segerstrom boys and we had stayed at the Commodore before the war started. The desk manager said that there were no rooms available so I said, “Charley Segerstrom told us to check in here and that you’d take care of us.”

He replied that he could put our sea bags in an office and lock them up, but otherwise he wasn’t too sure what to do with us. Finally he got us a room. We spent the next couple of days roaming San Francisco to show the city to two of the fellows who came from the East Coast.

At the end of the third day we returned to Pier 7 and were put on a bus to Camp Parks in Livermore, across the road from Camp Shoemaker. Parks was where seagoing sailors were discharged and Shoemaker was for Seabees so, since I’d been aboard ship, I decided I’d go through the three days of processing at Parks.

At the final checkout the officer questioned why I was at Parks instead of Shoemaker.  He wanted to send me over to Shoemaker to go through it all again. I told him all he had to do was sign his name at the bottom of the form, which he finally agreed to do.

Ruth and Leonard

Ruth and Leonard

Marriage and Family

The first thing I did when I got home was to get married. I’d met Ruth in Maine when I was stationed there and we’d been writing back and forth. I flew to Maine where we were married and then we returned to California. However, after about nine years she decided she didn’t like living in the small town of Sonora and wanted to go home. By this time we’d had our only child, Sandy, but when she went home she left Sandy with me and with the help of my Mom and Dad we raised her.

My dad had sold the pharmacy before the war and bought Tuolumne County Realty with a partner, Jennie McCullam, selling property and insurance.  I went to work under the G.I. Bill selling insurance but hardly anyone was buying then. Dad’s office had a policy that if a house didn’t sell within a set number of weeks, he and his partner would buy it, modernize it and then try to sell it.  I frequently helped with the rehab on those houses.

This was about the time that Dodge Ridge was going through the preliminaries to build a ski resort east of Sonora. I knew one of the county supervisors, and he asked me to be in charge of repairing all the large equipment being used in the construction.

During bad weather all construction ceased, and I got a call from a friend in Southern California to come south and help him build floats for the Tournament of Roses parade.

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Roses Galore

I spent three months – November, December and January – each of the next five years helping to build and then tear down Rose Parade floats, from late 1948 through January 1953. Every year four of us built the metal work and the steel chassis for several floats and covered each one with apiary wire according to the design. I remember four of the sponsors whose floats we worked on: the City of Glendale, City and County of San Francisco, Helms Bakery and General Motors.

Schoolchildren would cover the float with the appropriate flowers over the painted areas all day and all night just before the parade on New Year’s Day.  One year Helms declared that they wanted a trophy winner so we built a huge baby buggy with the top back and the baby sitting up inside. The theme was “Firsts” and the baby in the buggy had his “first tooth.” Sure enough they won a prize.

Logging

Next I went to work for Westside Logging Company in the machine shops for three or four years until I injured my back and had to take some time off. During that time one of my neighbors, who was a supervisor at Pickering Lumber Company, asked me how I’d like to fire locomotives for Pickering. It was a sitting-down job so I could continue to heal my injury and still bring home a paycheck. Unfortunately after a few months the employees of Pickering struck for a raise in pay.

When work resumed Ray Maddox from Jamestown was looking for a partner to run helper engines which got the train from Standard to the top of Twain Harte grade. We would work from 8 at night until after midnight getting the empty cars up the grade and then they would go on to Schoettgun Pass.

We would work from six to eight hours and always be paid at least two hours of overtime. During the day I went back to work with my dad at Tuolumne County Real Estate selling real estate and insurance. Dad planned and carried out four of the Seabee 55th Battalion reunions held here in Sonora where 200-300 men gathered to share their stories and reconnect with friends. Over the years this group had 50 reunions from Seattle to San Diego because most of the men were from the West Coast.

Lasting Love

My present wife, Marge, came from Roseville and we met the first time in 1939 at the College of the Pacific. We both married other people after the war but were divorced and renewed our friendship at a college class reunion during the ‘60s.

We married in the Bay Area where we were then living. We have been happily married for 40 years. As for family, Marge has two daughters from her first marriage and five grandchildren and, of course, I have Sandy and her two children.

During the years that followed I worked as a mechanic for a Ford dealer in San Francisco. I got the job because I knew how to put a Model T Ford together when the other 40 men in the shop did not. I had built one in high school with a buddy and many of my friends used them for transportation. Gradually I got to do a variety of other jobs as part of the Ford dealer’s export business, such as preparing all the paperwork. Learning to type in high school was certainly a big help to me in both the Navy and the business world.

School Service

In 1970 my Dad wanted to retire, so I returned to Sonora to sell real estate and manage some rental properties that we owned. When I’d been here about a year, the bus driver for the Curtis Creek School District retired and I was offered the job of being groundsman, maintenance man, and driving one of the three school buses.

The school was growing really fast during the 1970s because of development in the county. Curtis Creek went from 300 students one year to 600 the following year and then 900. The school added six more buses to their fleet to transport their students to school and back.

Eventually Tuolumne, Calaveras and Amador Counties joined their Special Education programs into one large program. Orville Milhollin, county Superintendent of Schools, offered me the job of supervising the buses running their routes throughout the three counties.

I did this for about four years until Sonora High School took over the maintenance for the Tri-County Special Education buses. I retired in 1984.

Leonard Ruoff, January 2014

Leonard Ruoff, January 2014

Reflections

I never regretted the time I spent in the service.  In fact, I believe that every young man who graduates from high school ought to have some military obligation for at least two years. Compulsory service gives youths the opportunity to work with and get to know people from all walks of life and all levels of society. It also develops some self-discipline in a young man along with respect for authority.

During my time in the Navy I visited many places in the world that I would never have seen otherwise. I had a variety of assignments requiring me to develop the appropriate skills to perform my best.

These experiences helped me to gain confidence to do the different jobs that came my way during my working years.

I am grateful for this and proud to have served my country in a time of need.

A sample of places visited in the U.S.A.:

Williamsburg, Virginia;  Davisville and Newport, Rhode Island; Eastport and Portland, Maine; and Baltimore, Maryland.

A sample of places visited abroad:

Aruba; Panama Canal; Hawaii; Enewetak (Marshall Islands); Greenland, Iceland, Newfoundland,  Ulithi, Guam and Tinian, (Marianas Islands); Tokyo, Osaka, Kitakyushu, Japan; Singapore, Malaysia; Ceylon; Canton, Zhanjiang, Hong Kong, Shantou, Shanghai, Jingdao, Tangshan,  and Peking (now Beijing), China; Pusan, South Korea; Colombo, Sri Lanka; Bahrain.

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