Evelyn Mason: Rosie the Riveter

I was born on a farm in Colorado in 1913. I moved to California in 1941. In the meantime I had married and had my daughter Joyce, and I went to work at Douglas Aircraft in l941 in El Segundo, California. We made the Douglas B-2 bomber that helped to win the war. It was the most outstanding airplane during the war. They did a lot of bombing with the Douglas plane. Then I retired.

We moved here from a farm in Eaton, Colorado in Well County. It was maybe ten miles over to the foothills. We used to go over to the foothills to fish and to camp. We caught trout. I didn’t know there was any other kind of fish.

I was the oldest of nine girls, and I had two older brothers and three younger brothers, so we always had a game of some kind going. The neighbor kids would come and we’d play ball. I had lots of friends, neighbors’ kids’ friends, and friends at school. My best friend was named Margaret. She was kind of a tomboy. She was fun. She and I played baseball or softball together. My favorite thing was to play games with my brothers, I guess. I sure didn’t like paper dolls!

We could dance at home to the phonograph, but we did not dance in school because the school board was made up of men who were anti-dancing. You were not allowed to dance at school. I liked western music, hoedown music.

School was probably just like it is for you. We had good days, bad days, and mostly wished we could stay home.

We walked to school or rode in a horse and buggy. My older brothers had their ponies they rode, but they had to take turns driving the buggy to take us to school. And I’m telling you, sometimes we caught it all the way to school. They were not happy to have to drive the buggy. And I had two sisters with long, curly hair. And at the last minute, sometimes Mom was still curlin’ hair, and my brothers would have to wait. So all the way to school, we’d get lectures about being ready to get to school on time. Younger sisters can be a real aggravation.

I had to hoe beets and pull weeds, I didn’t get to drive the tractor or anything like that. I did the manual work. I was the oldest of nine girls, so there was always someone to take care of. I shared my room with about three others. I even shared my bed. When you have eight sisters and five brothers, I don’t think there’s any place you can go to be alone.

We had to harvest beets and potatoes. There was a machine that would go down through the field that would loosen the potatoes in the ground and leave them lying along the road. We had to go and pick up those potatoes and put them in a basket, and then the horse and buggy come along, and when we got the basket full, we’d drop the potatoes in the wagon, and we did that all day long. Poor back!

We had horses to pull the equipment through the fields, and horses to ride. We had milk cows and little calves, and big pigs and little pigs, and chickens, and turkeys, and you name it we had it. I never had to milk the cows because I couldn’t. I would squeeze and squeeze and squeeze, and nothin’ would happen. My sister – she was younger than me – she was good at milking. She tried to teach me how to do that, but I could only do this, and it didn’t do any good.

I went to a Baptist church. I still go to a Baptist Church. They probably had more potlucks and socials than I got to go to. Anything they had, my dad would have to take me, and he wasn’t too good about that. It was about two and a half miles into town. Walk, walk, walk. It was just a little country town with a park and a street with stores on both sides. There was a big high school because it was a consolidated area and high school kids came from the surrounding area. My mother didn’t always have food handy to pack lunches for us, so dad made an arrangement that we could go to the grocery store and buy our lunch. And did we ever splurge! Candy bars, candy bars, candy bars!

I’ll tell you how I learned to drive. Anyone know what a potato cellar is? It’s a long cellar, dug-out. My father used to park the car in there, and my sister Georgie and I would go down and it had big double doors and was quite long, maybe half a block or so and we’d get in the car and we took turns, and we’d drive to the end of the dug-out, and then back up to the doors, and then it was my turn, drive to the end of the dug-out, back up, and then it was Georgie’s turn. That’s where I learned to drive. My dad opened the door one day, and we thought, “Oh, boy. We’re in trouble.” He said, “What are you kids doing?” “We’re just driving.” He says, “If you’re just driving, why don’t you get that car out in the field and drive?” So we got out in the field and drove the car around and around the field. We thought he’d be mad, and he wasn’t mad at all.

Christmas was terrific. We didn’t get a lot of gifts, but the relatives would all come to our house. The grandparents came… we had turkey, of course. Mom raised them, and we ate ’em. We had a tree. We’d go to bed at night, and there’d be no tree. We’d wake up the next morning, and there’d be this beautiful tree, all set up. In the later years, my brother-in-law worked for the forest service in the mountains, and he would bring us down a tree.

My mom baked all kinds of pie. She raised pumpkins, so we had pumpkin pie. We had an apple tree, so we had apple pie.

Sometimes we had snow so deep we couldn’t get to school, but we didn’t think that was so awful. Eventually somebody with a horse and buggy would go through and make a track, so then the car could follow those tracks. But the snow would be so deep, the car couldn’t get enough traction, so the wagons would go through and kind of pack the snow down. I didn’t do any skiing, ’cause it was flat land, but we used to have snowball fights.

It was hard to leave Colorado, but my husband never cared for farm work. He was a real mechanic, and this is what he wanted to do. He already had a job when we left. A man had come to Denver seeking aircraft workers. He was really happy to get a job making airplanes. So we moved to California. First we lived in Alhambra for a little while, then we moved down to Inglewood.

I remember the drive from Colorado to California. We stayed two nights at motels along the way. We could have made it faster, but there was no hurry, and my husband wanted to kinda look at the country.

I felt very proud because Douglas had a plant in El Segundo, one in Long Beach, and one in the desert at Edwards Air Force Base. And I was the first woman to make lead woman in all the plants. It means I had several women working under me, and they came in not really knowing much about aircraft. It was my job to teach them how to run a rivet gun and assemble things.

The work was different. I was used to pulling weeds and hoeing beets on the farm. This was a drill and a rivet gun, an entirely different thing. I had a man boss, of course. But it was enjoyable work. I was proud of it. I worked night shift, and my husband worked days, so he was at home with Joyce at night.

So I was Rosie the Riveter. And I had lots of friends. I made friends with everyone in the plant.

The day the war ended? How could I say how I felt? Up. I had lost a brother in the war. That was devastating. He was two years older than me. And I had two more brothers still in the service. I had three sisters who were married to boys in the service, too. So we had a lot of anxiety. I was so thankful it was over and those still there would come home safe.

Let’s just hope we don’t get involved again. If people want to fight, let ’em fight. Let’s stay home and mind our own business.

I worked until the boys started coming home from the service. It bothered me. I was the lead woman and had girls working under me, but these boys came back from a war and some had worked at Douglas before they were drafted into the army, and when they came back, they should have their jobs back, but here was a woman bossing them around, telling them what to do. I didn’t like that. That wasn’t my role. I didn’t want to do that. So I quit working. Some boy could have my job.

There’s really nowhere else I’d like to go, except maybe back to the farm…

The Lord has been good to me. I have a great family, and I’ve had a great life.

My advice is this: Live every day to the fullest, and have fun, and if your parents are still living, praise them.

1 Response to Evelyn Mason: Rosie the Riveter

  1. Jeannie Caldwell says:

    I love reading real life stories about how women grew up and lived. They were so strong emotionally and physically, they had to be back then. Each of our Grandparents have a story to tell and it is important to listen for they have struggled and survived, they knew what hard work was. They knew the importance of family bonds. Grandparents have so much to share about history, family and love. Thank you for sharing.

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