Friday, August 8, 2014

Joseph O. Richmond, Hobo'd from Nebraska to California (52 Ancestors #30)

This is another article for the series "52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks", a challenge by Amy Johnson Crow on No Story Too Small.

Please welcome Guest Blogger and my husband, Scott Richmond with a remembrance of his father.

Around noon on Sunday, February 16, 1913 in Orleans, Harlan County, Nebraska, Joseph Otho Richmond, the sixth of nine children was born to John K. Richmond and Jane Irene Phelps Richmond. 

He was “Joe” to most who knew him.  I called him “Dad".

Joseph O. Richmond
Wedding Day 12 Jun 1937
From Author's Personal Collection

By all accounts, he was a very pleasant child.  My dad told me someone once said to his mother, “You’ll never raise that one, he’s too good”.

Much of his boyhood was spent on the family farm, located just outside of Alma, Harlan County, Nebraska[1].  There he performed a wide variety of farm chores, went to school, and did the kinds of things that boys do in a rural environment.  In these years, he likely developed his life-long passions for hunting, fishing and the great outdoors.  Family conversations left me with the impression that my dad was always quite close to his mother but not so much to his father.  Perhaps this was due to the fact that his father was often engaged in local politics, having served two terms as Clerk and two terms as Treasurer of Harlan County, Nebraska.

Little information is available regarding his school years except that he left school in the middle of the 10th grade, most likely in late 1928 or early 1929, and just prior to the beginning of the great depression.  From that point my father began a period of cross-country travel, primarily on freight trains that took him cross-country, notably Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and eventually California.

My father lived in California when he received word of his father’s unexpected death in 1932.  He returned home to the farm in Nebraska to help run it and then later, assisted his mother in its sale.  During this period, he had to shoulder a good deal of responsibility since his two younger brothers were still in high school and a younger sister only seven years old at the time.  Upon the sale of the farm, the family moved west to Oakland, Alameda County, California.  They joined a number of other Richmond family members, mostly his older brothers and sisters who had already relocated to Oakland and the San Francisco Bay area.

After moving to Oakland, he took up the watch-making and repair trade and became a certified horologist[2].  For a time, he plied this trade while working in a jewelry store owned by his brother-in-law Vern.

Marriage and Family
In May 1937 my dad met his future wife, Cecilia Caballero.  They met while in the company of his brother-in-law, Floyd, whose brother, Paul, was married to Cecilia’s older sister Connie.  Just five weeks later, they were married in a civil ceremony at City Hall in San Francisco, California.  This marriage would last just three months short of 40 years and produce three children: Donald, Ronald and me.

Early in their marriage, my dad studied refrigeration through correspondence courses and was ultimately able to obtain his certification as a journeyman refrigeration mechanic.  Unfortunately, WW II intervened.  He attempted to enlist in the Navy the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Since he had a wife and child, he was told that his service could wait until additional manpower was absolutely required.  As a result, his war-time service was limited to acting as an air raid warden in San Francisco during the early years of the war.

After moving back and forth across San Francisco Bay several times, the family moved to Alameda in 1943. They lived there comfortably, renting an upstairs flat on Alameda Avenue for over ten years.  During this period, both their second and third sons were born and an effort to establish and operate a refrigeration sales and service business was unsuccessful.  The business lasted less than a year, and probably failed, in part, due to the instability of the immediate post-war economy.

My dad’s mother died of heart disease in 1946.  Prior to her death, she had lived and worked as a seamstress in the flat just below my parents.  The flat had been configured to serve as a shop in the front, with living quarters in the rear.  Following her death, my father and several of his brothers took her back to Nebraska and buried her next to her husband. 

In 1953, the family moved again, this time to an apartment building on Central Avenue in Alameda.  Joe and Cecilia had agreed to manage the apartment house for Joe’s brother Don.  This proved to be a difficult time for a couple of reasons.  My dad was on the road in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys as a traveling salesman for the Hinshaw Supply Company.  He had also badly broken his leg after being thrown from a horse while deer hunting in the autumn of 1953.  As a result, the apartment management experiment lasted all of about six months.

More Moves
This time - to Modesto in Stanislaus County, California, then a small town in California’s Central Valley.  The move occurred in May 1954 and was intended to put the family in the middle of Joe’s sales territory.  It was during this period that their oldest son, Donald, graduated high school and joined the Marine Corps.  Eighteen months later, the family of four now moved again, this time to Sacramento in Sacramento County, California, approximately 80 miles to the north.

It was November of 1955 and Joe had accepted a promotion to manage the Hinshaw Supply Company store in Sacramento.  Another upstairs flat at 30th and C Streets became the family residence but was rented for only a little over four months because a significant milestone had been reached.  Joe and Cecilia purchased their one and only home located in the Tahoe Park neighborhood in what was then the east end of the city.  Both would reside there until their deaths in 1977 and 2012 respectively.

Joe’s time as a store manager lasted only about a year and a half.  He did not enjoy either office politics or inside work.  He returned to “working with the tools” as he said in the summer of 1957.  He would continue working as either a refrigeration mechanic or industrial pipe fitter until his retirement in 1973.

Joe’s life was defined in some respects by three health episodes.  He suffered heart attacks in both 1953 and 1962.  The second of these forced him to give up refrigeration work but he was able to continue working at the pipe fitting trade.  As a result, he was involved in the construction of two major oil refineries, a nuclear power plant, at least one nuclear missile site, and several test stands for the testing of rocket engines for the American space program.  Perhaps one of his less notable projects was the building of the Gemco store (now a Target) at Riverside and Broadway in Sacramento which happened to be constructed on the former site of Edmund’s Field, the home of the city’s first of three minor league, professional baseball teams.

Christmas 1963, Scott, Joe and Cecilia
From Author's Personal Collection
Joe’s other major health issue revolved around stomach ulcers that he developed while organizing a union of General Electric employees in San Francisco in the 1930s.  While living in Modesto, he began experiencing internal bleeding and it looked like surgery was his only option.  As a last resort, he consulted a Chinese herb specialist.  Miraculously, the ulcers were healed in approximately six weeks, and he never experienced any further difficulty with them for the remainder of his life.

Joe was virtually a life-long union member and believer in the labor movement.  He belonged to the Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Union and served for many years as a classroom instructor in the union’s apprenticeship program.

His experiences with the medical community also left him with certain skepticism of conventional medicine and some physicians.  Although respectful of medicine in general and certain physicians in particular, he was never willing to give doctors the god-like status that many in his generation gave to them, often without question.  This attitude probably both helped and hurt him in the later years of his life but it was based on real life experiences leading up to these final years.

A Fine Man
Those who knew him appreciated his many fine qualities.  He was a mechanic’s mechanic.  He could find a way to build or fix most anything.  He freely offered his mechanical skills to friends and neighbors, always without charge.  He loved helping people and always seemed to find time or ways to do so.

He made friends easily and these relationships seemed to last.  He was quietly proud of his kids and their accomplishments and equally reserved in his disappointment over their failures.  He was an extremely responsible husband and family man and although never aspiring to wealth or material possessions, always provided more than an adequate living for his wife and children.  He obeyed the laws, at least for the most part, willingly paid his taxes, treated others the way he wanted to be treated, and displayed a generous spirit often to strangers or people he barely knew.

Like so many in his generation, my father preferred to build things that were solid and lasting and of benefit to everyone.  Even though he never achieved fame or fortune in the broader sense, he definitely made significant contributions to the world in which he lived and more importantly, to those who had the good fortune to know him as a neighbor, friend or relative.

My dad passed from the earth on Sunday, March 6, 1977.  As he wished, his ashes were scattered a few days later on land where he loved to go deer hunting - a friend’s ranch located near Coloma in the California Gold Country of El Dorado County.


[1] Alma is about 9 miles from Orleans according to Google Maps.
[2] Merriam-Webster: Horologist: a maker of clocks or watches.


  1. Nicely done, Denise! It really conveys the essence of the man, and of his times. I enjoyed reading it very much.

    1. Thanks Robyn! I read your comment to Scott and he appreciated your thoughts. I wish I had known Joe. --Denise


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