As a baby born July 3, 1909, to Jessie Marie Comer Donnell and Oscar Alphonso Donnell I don’t remember too much! I was born in Lebanon on the street that now connects North Cumberland to the street in front of the Woolen Mill. There were three houses on that street, and the Sweatts lived in one of them. We moved to a house on the farm belonging to my grandparents on Cainsville Road (Ewing Alphonso Donnell and Molly Mount Donnell – his second wife. The Graves relatives are descended from his first wife). My other grandparents were the Comers (James Freeland and his wife, a Layne, who died when my mother was about five years old). Bob was not yet born. In 1910 (December 10) Bob (Robert Dorris Donnell) was born. Oscar Howard was born November 17, 1912.
Papa was a rural mail carrier who also ran a farm. He was tall (6’1″), slender, dark hair. He chewed tobacco; one Sunday he was taking a nap in the living room and his tobacco fell out of his pocket. Bob and I decided to try it and we both got sick as dogs! My mother’s wedding picture hangs on the wall here in my dining room. She’s wearing her wedding dress; she made that wedding dress. She and Aunt Mamie Comer sewed for the public. They had a place above Weir’s Dry Goods Store on the Lebanon Square. When my mother made up her mind she wanted something she was willing to work for it, but she was going to get it. When she decided she wanted electric lights, she made enough money sewing for other people to install an electric system, a generator operating off batteries. She was about 5’2″ or so. She was very pretty with light brown hair.
We went to Union Methodist Church on Tater Peeler Road. When I was small we would drive a horse and buggy and cut across Frank Comer’s farm and the Lannom farm – that way it was about a mile or a mile and a half to church. We only had two gates to open. Somehow the five of us got in the buggy. Later when we got a car we’d drive around by road -approximately 5 miles.
At church Dad led the singing and Mother taught Sunday school. I guess Martha got all that singing, because we boys didn’t get any of it!
Growing Up in the Country
We got in trouble every once in a while. We had fun living in the country – there were about nine boys within a mile’s radius: the Thackstons, the Laynes and we three. We’d get together and play Fox and Hound on Sundays. The fox gets in the woods and every once in a while drops a piece of paper down. You’re supposed to chase him and catch him. We played baseball and also rode cows, mules, and horses. We didn’t ride too many cows, but I do remember one old steer that we rode. We saddled up that steer one day and just before we could ride we looked up and saw Dad coming in. We just let the steer go around the back so he ended up in the woods with a saddle on. We caught up with him the next day.
One day we were all down at the Thackston farm. It had been raining and for some reason we started a corn cob battle around the barn. Joe Thackston stuck his head around the corner and someone hit him on the back of the head, knocking him out as cold as a cucumber. He was soon able to get back into the fight. I was in the loft and they got to throwing cobs up there. There was a wasp nest up there and I couldn’t get down. I finally got stung, but just once.
We were down at the Thackstons another time when it was snowing. They had a horse pulling a sled and we were taking turns riding around on it. Blake had a smaller sled and looped the rope to the one being pulled by the horse and he was riding on it. Mrs. Thackston ran and got on the sled with Blake, holding on to him. That pulled the sled out from under them and Blake fell on her, breaking her leg.
When I was twelve or fourteen, somewhere right along in there, I was out in the woods helping my Uncle Walter cut wood. At that time he was supplying people in town with wood. Bob was doing something with the cows and the young bull got out and came after us. We both climbed up in a tree and started calling the dogs to come chase the bull back. The dogs didn’t come, but Bob did, riding on a pony. He chased the bull who then went over next door across the fence where there was an older bull. The two had been bellowing at each other that morning. They got into a fight and the older bull whipped ours who came running home back over the fence!
Later on Bob and I decided we’d cut some wood and we got into a grove of persimmon wood. We cut at least a rick and when we got home Papa told us that we’d just wasted our morning. Persimmon wood wouldn’t burn!
When I was in the eighth grade, a bunch of us boys were kicking the football back and forth. Jim Vance and I ran into each other and it knocked me out. It was about noon. Old Brother Harris (Tom’s dad) was the principal and he carried me down to the doctor’s office on the corner of College Street and East Main, upstairs. Dr. Ray and Dr. Huffman and one other were there – I don’t remember for sure. I was still unconscious and the doctor sent me home with my dad when Dad finished his route. On the way home in the horse and buggy we came to a package in the road and we stopped and picked it up. That’s the first thing I remember. After I got home I began to come back to normal. My nose was broken, and my face would turn black and blue. I was out of school about a week or ten days. Some might say the size of my nose is related to this incident!
My Mother’s Family
My mother’s mother died when my mother was only five years old, leaving my mother and her brother Frank. My grandfather Comer would remarry (Jenny Birchett) and have two children more: Herman and May. May married John Hewgley and had three daughters and a son: Dorothy May, Frances, Katherine, and John , Jr. Uncle Herman and Aunt Nancy (Rushing) had three boys: Herman, Jr., Billy, David.
My mother’s brother Frank married Mamie Young. A short time after they married they lived in town on East Spring Street and later Cherry Street and then moved out on Cainsville Road on a farm. (Before he married, Uncle Frank had bought a farm on Coles Ferry Pike. When he went to service in World War I his father – my grandfather, “Captain” Freeland Comer – sold the farm!) When I was big enough I’d come to town to stay with them. Out on Cainsville Road Uncle Frank had a shop where he’d build furniture and restore antiques. They would later move to Lebanon sometime in the forties and buy a house on North Greenwood behind the Law Barn later Lebanon Bank/First Tennessee Bank. He built a shop there. He would live there until his death in 1968. Aunt Mamie clerked in a ladies shop on the Square until she retired. She and my mother had established a business sewing, but Aunt Mamie didn’t continue after my mother’s death. Aunt Mamie would move to McKendree Manor and live there for many years until her death in 1997 at the age of 103. Aunt Mamie loved the news of Lebanon and kept up with community events until the end of her life.
Papa had a brother and a sister, Walter and Vera. Both of them married and had children. Vera first married a man who was killed by a runaway team in Chicago. They had a daughter Lucille who eventually would live in Texas with her daughter. Vera later married Ed Smith and had one son (Ed) and they lived in California. Walter lived in this area.
Early School and Cainsville Road
When we were in about the fifth or sixth grade, we had ponies we rode to school. People would holler at us and want to know when we were going to get off and let the pony ride awhile – they were so little. Bob and I could do anything we wanted with that pony, but if Howard came around the pony would bite him. Then the pony would run into the corner of the fence because he knew we were going to whip him for biting!
While we were living on Cainsville Road, it was a one-way road kept up by the people living on the road. They would either pay six dollars cash or work their time out – six days, a credit of a dollar a day. At that time there was a pencil factory on Cainsville Road and the people there either had to pay the six dollars or work the six days. Bob and I would contact them to pay us the six dollars and we would work their time out on the road. Papa would let us use the wagon and team (that was worth $4 a day) and one of us would be the driver. The other one would get a rock hammer and sit on a sack full of hay and chip the rock – that was worth $1 a day. We’d alternate jobs.
I started first grade in Lebanon and Miss Mary Mosher was the teacher. We’d ride in with our father every morning as he went to the post office. After school we went to the post office and he’d bring us home. He was a mail carrier (rural route). Later after we got big enough we drove a horse and buggy to school. The horse’s name was Frank. You could turn him loose and he’d go right to the barn.
Recess was surely the best part of school. We played baseball and marbles. I liked math the best. English was my worst subject. I got along fairly well with spelling – you might say we were on speaking terms. I went there through the eighth grade and then went to Shop Springs for two years and then back to Lebanon High.
Miss Ida Cason, the music teacher at Shop Springs, formed a group of musicians, about seven or eight of us, and we performed in public. These performances were a part of the plays put on by the school and were held in different locations. I played the saxophone. Ida Bryant and Allie Coe Arrington played violins; Georgia Hankins sang and played the piano. Ollie Foutch from Smithville was the bus driver and he played saxophone with us. Jay Evins, an attorney, would come and play trumpet. There about two or three others. We would go as far as Old Hickory and put on these plays. Our group furnished the music.
We also had moot court. It was very carefully done with cases prepared and argued before the “judge.” It was so well done that once when a bunch of jennets got out and crossed the road onto someone else’s property, the property owner sued for damages done by these animals. He sued in moot court, with both parties agreeing to go by the verdict. The whole community got involved in this.
Mr. Davis, the principal at Shop Springs, presided over one of the best high schools around. We had to learn. Mr Davis was a good school man. He kept discipline, no matter how big the boy. I remember one big old boy said something Mr. Davis didn’t like and Mr. Davis told him he had two choices: either leave the school or get a whipping. Mr Davis involved the whole community in school activities. People would crowd in to come see the plays, for example. Later he would leave to go to North Carolina where he did a fine job also.
I started my football career in Shop Springs. There were only thirteen boys in school and twelve of us went out for football. We had one substitute! Our coach was named Hugh Bass; he had graduated the year before and was coaching us for free so we learned very little about football. It was hard for us to score and even harder to stop the opposing team! We played McMinnville and when the game was finally over the score was 60-0.
Dad didn’t want us to play football at first. We finally persuaded him to come to see one game (I don’t remember who) and luckily I caught a pass and ran for a touchdown. After that Dad wouldn’t miss a game! After I went to Lebanon I played there; the team was pretty good.
One of the reasons teams were so tough on Shop Springs was that the year before I joined up they had imported some really tough boys from GPI (Gallatin Preparatory Institute) to play. The coach was Fred Delay. All the teams that had been stomped the year before wanted to pay us back.
I played on the Lebanon High School football team, right end. Stroud Gwynn played left end. We had a right good team: Bob played fullback. Others players were Ralph Eskew, Robert (Shabby) Harrison (a doctor up in Maryville now), Ned Vaughan, Carl Swann, William Carlos, Mat Carlos, James Ray Harris, and I can’t think of the rest of the names besides a boy whose last name was Moore. We used to play up at Cumberland and have approximately 1OO people for spectators. We didn’t win too many games, but we played a right good game. My senior year I was captain.
High School: Meeting Mattie Walker
At Lebanon High School one of my teachers was Winstead Bone’s sister. She was my homeroom teacher and she also taught me one or two subjects.
When I came to Lebanon High I would first meet my lovely wife Mattie (my junior year). I fell right in love, but she was busy courting Cumberland boys and couldn’t notice us country boys! Perseverance pays off. She was always kind; she never in her life did anything unkind. I had my eye on her, but she didn’t have much of an eye on me! I made an excuse one day to sit in the seat with her and put my arm around the back. She said for me not to do that. From then on we all ran around in the same group, but I don’t think I started dating her until we got in college. That year I remember dating Margaret Eatherly.
Mattie and I played the leads in a high school play. I remember her character was called Amy, and mine was named Bright. Those plays were given in the old Law Barn.
Airplane and Courtship
When we were in high school Penhook Moore who was from Cookeville had a one-engine airplane. We met downtown one night (Carl Swan and I) and we decided to take an airplane ride. We drove out where he had his plane parked and I parked my dad’s car (’29 Chevrolet) and left the lights on. We took off using those car lights and landed safely. We flew around Lebanon taking in the sights.
The next day the Goodyear blimp was coming to Lebanon, so we decided to meet the next day and go up and fly around the balloon. However, Bob was courting Peggy Harrison, and Dr. Harrison had bought a new Oldsmobile and was letting Peggy have it for she and Bob to drive to Rock Island. They asked Mattie and me to go with them. However, Carl and Penhook decided they would fly and go around the balloon, but for some reason he lost control of the plane and fell into Winstead Bone’s house on West Spring Street (across and down from the present Bone house). Carl broke his arm but there was no other injury; even the plane wasn’t too badly damaged. Winstead was home for lunch!
I don’t remember anything in particular about my graduation in 1928.
Working in Cleveland, Ohio
In the summer of 1928 I worked in Cleveland, Ohio. Roy Crowell, Guy Thackston, and Carl Swann were with me. We bought a $25 Ford T-model to drive to Cleveland. It took us about 3-4 days to get there. The biggest excitement was hitting a railroad track and blowing out a tire. No one stopped to help; we had to walk into town, get a tire tube, bring it back, and put it on the car. We continued on, taking time to view the scenery along the way. I have some pictures from this. We arrived at Cleveland and rented an apartment in a nice brick apartment house. We moved in and Carl and I decided to take a walk. To go to Cleveland, Carl and I bought high-topped boots which we were wearing at this time. Several of the Ohio folks hollered at us , “Hey, cowboy! Where’s your horse?” We were already homesick and this didn’t help a bit.
Roy Crowell had worked in Cleveland the year before so he had called before he left home and gotten a job in a restaurant. Guy got a job selling shoes; hefore that he and I went hunting for a job. Our first offer was with East Ohio Gas Company. They sent us out to the edge of town. When we got there the job was digging ditches. The ditch was so narrow you had to stand sideways to dig. There was also water – about 2 or 3 inches. We set down on the edge of the bank. I said, “Guy, are you going in?”
He said, “What are you going to do?” We set our picks down by the side of the ditch and went back to town.
There were several Lebanon boys in Cleveland: George Evins had a job in a factory welding. He carried Carl with him and got Carl a job working in the same factory; however, Carl got homesick. He worked two weeks and headed back home. The restaurant that Roy was working for had another restaurant on another street about a block away and I got a job waiting on tables from 11-2 and washing dishes from 4-7. I have always said I’ve washed enough dishes for a lifetime!
We soon found out that our rent was higher than our paychecks. We moved into a frame house on the third floor for the rest of the summer.
We used to ride around in the Ford (which we would sell for about what we paid for it) and we noticed the police were keeping an eye on us. One day after one of us had run a red light the police stopped us and said, ” You boys from Tennessee think you can come up here and run the place.”
When it was time to come home to Tennessee we called Mr. Herbert Watson, the Dodge dealer in Lebanon, and made arrangements to drive some new Dodges from Detroit to Lebanon. We met Mr. Watson in Detroit (Guy, Roy, and myself) and each drove a new car back to Lebanon. At that time the highways were not marked very well. Very often we got off on a side road by mistake, but we all stayed together with Mr. Watson as the leader. Finally we landed in home territory. Even with that arrangement I had to borrow $50 from George Evins to come home on! I liked to have never paid that back.
The Drug Store
My freshman year I worked at Williams’ Drug Store on the first block of West Main, next to the hotel. I jerked sodas and clerked. Roy Crowell worked there, too. The three of us ran the store, and Mr. Williams got it in mind that he should sell it to us and just get out of the business. Roy and I talked it over and decided to do it. My mother lent me the money, and I set out from home to open the store as the proud co-owner, the check in my pocket. On the way I met Mr. Lewis Chambers, a fine local attorney, who warned me against the purchase, telling me that in Tennessee law, the debts of the business went with it when it was sold. I went on to the store with a lot on my mind. After a while Mr. Williams came in to say the sale’s off – he wouldn’t make enough from it to pay his debts! I had spent only one night as the owner of a drug store.
In the summer of 1929 I was working at Wilson County Motor Company selling cars when a fellow named Trusty came in looking to buy an automobile. I showed him a clean little 1928 Chevrolet roadster. He acted as if he were interested in it and would like to try it out. So I drove out on Sparta Pike and I asked Him if he wanted to drive and he said yes. He seemed to get along very well until we came to a one-way bridge out at Greenwood. As we approached the bridge another car came up on the other side. I told Mr. Trusty to stop and he asked me how so the two cars ran together. As I was trying to help him stop the car my head went through the windshield, cutting my nose and chin. They carried me back to the hospital and it took three doctors -two holding and one sewing! I told them I came to get it sewed up but they were hurting me more holding me on the table than the sewing! After he had sewed it up on the outside Dr. Gaston asked me if I wanted it sewed on the inside. I said no. An infection later set in and claimed four lower front teeth. The man we hit was named Winfree. When it was all over Mr. Trusty said he’d never driven before and just wanted a ride to Watertown.
Cumberland College and Ms. Mattie Walker
On page 118 of the 1932 Phoenix, the Cumberland College annual, you’ll see Mattie and me in a picture. On page 129 of that same annual you can read in “Campus Chatter”:
DONNELL DISMISSES GUARD
The secret bodyguard who for the past several weeks has watched over the safety of Comer Donnell of this city was dismissed today. Mr. Donnell made a statement to the local papers in which he declared that he no longer needed the protection of the guard, since Red Cook, who recently visited Lebanon, had returned to Kentucky.
It was only recently revealed that Mr. Donnell’s life had been threatened, and that the guard, heavily armed with a slingshot, had been his constant companion for many days.
Miss Mattie Walker, alleged sweetheart of Donnell and the “Red Knight from Kentucky,” refuses to entertain reporters from Liberty, New York Times, and other periodicals, to say just what was her feeling in the whole affair. It is rumored, however, that she vigorously opposed the dismissal of the guard.
I was in the Lit School one year and than on to law school. I never planned to practice law. I thought that would be as good an education as I could get and then go into business.
I went to the Lit School at Cumberland University in 1929-1930. I worked the next year at Wilson County Motor Co. and then attended Law School starting in 1931. Winstead Bone paid me $50 a month and let me go to school half a day. We had moved to town in 1928.
I enjoyed my two years at Cumberland and still have friends who graduated at about the same time. Ralph Donnell was one of my teachers as was Mrs. Mabel Jones. I already knew my future wife Mattie Walker from high school. I had quite a bit of competition from another of her admirers, Red Cook. Years later my young son would call him “Blue” Cook.
Bob Turner’s Wedding
I remember Bob Turner’s wedding in a small town (Allardt) the other side of Crossville. I was best man and Mattie was in the wedding party, too. Lois Johnson, Ethel Kidd, and Miriam Edgerton, Mattie and I set out in my dad’s 1929 4-door Chevrolet sedan. After the wedding we came out into snow – so heavy there was no chance to return to Lebanon. We spent the night in Crossville and the next morning the town was all excited. A man and woman had come to town with a baby and folks decided it was the missing Lindbergh baby! We drove home safely after that.
Working in Carthage, Tennessee
When school was out Winstead said he’d have to put me on a commission basis. He didn’t intend to keep paying me $5O a month. In 1933 Wilson County Motors bought the Chevrolet garage in Carthage and named it Cumberland Chevrolet. He paid me $135 a month (and furnished a car and gasoline) to operate the motor company in Carthage. I moved and lived in Carthage until I got married August 3, 1933, to Mattie Walker. I commuted to Carthage.
One sale I made while I was living in Carthage involved a large amount of silver in a tin bucket. I picked out the old silver and took it to my room at the hotel. It was stolen.
When I first went to Carthage it was hard – very competitive. After I got to know the folks of Smith County I enjoyed the work very much.
Mattie and I married August 3, 1933, at First Methodist Church (then on East Main Street). The reception was at the Walker home on South Hatton. The preacher’s name was Jarvis. Enoch Comer was in charge of taking care of my car when we got married. He got a fellow named Wooden to put a cowbell with a chain and lock on it on the car. We drove all the way to Carthage with it on. They took it off for me at the garage. We picked up Buddy Humphries who was hitchhiking to Cookeville to school.
When Mattie and I were married she had already taught school a year – first grade which paid more, $95 a month. We rented a house on the first block of South Tarver (the first house on the right after you turn off West Main). Our rent was $22.50 a month. My mother gave us a coal oil New Perfection stove. Mr. and Mrs. Walker gave us a lot of used furniture. I bought an antique bed and an ice box from people I ran across in the car business. With our wedding gifts we set up housekeeping. We went to Grove Park Inn in Asheville, N.C., on our honeymoon. I still have the bill -$12 a night (American style which included meals). We missed one meal and they gave us $3 credit so our 2-night stay was $21. We then went to Blowing Rock for 2 nights and then came home.
Mattie was teaching at Highland Heights.
My Mother’s Death
My mother was diagnosed with cancer in September of 1933. She lived only a few more months and died in March of 1934. Later my dad remarried; he married Mrs. Coe and he died in 1952. Dad had retired and was operating the farm. John and Laura Ann Tapley were living on the farm. My dad was on the back side of the farm, which is a long distance from the house. They had been planting seed for hay and finished and started to the house. It had begun raining, and Dad went to open the gate, and when he did, he fell over dead. John picked him up and held him in his lap on the John Deere tractor and brought Dad to the house. Laura Ann helps me today by cleaning and generally keeping house.
Movie and a Rumble Seat
In 1933 Mattie and I and Evelyn and Gwynn Vaughan went to a movie in Hillsboro Village in a Model A Ford Sports Roadster. “Roadster” means a seat for two in the car and a rumble seat for everyone else. The Vaughans rode over in the rumble seat. When we got out of the movie it was snowing heavily. The only thing to do was to have all four of us ride on the front seat! Someone also had to operate the windshield wipers which were hand operated.
The Ford Agency
In 1934 I came back from Carthage and Oris Philpot and I signed July 4, 1934, the contract for the Ford agency for Wilson County. We operated the Ford agency until 1940. During that time we took on also Plymouth and Chrysler and the Sinclair Oil distributorship. We had some good and some bad times during this period. In 1940 we sold the Ford agency to Bob Padgett. I made Philpot a give or take proposition. He’d take the Sinclair agency and I’d keep the Plymouth-Chrysler and Ford Ferguson tractors. He accepted this (with a stipulation to pay me a certain amount of money).
Our Home on Greenlawn Drive
I sold Mr Tom McAdoo a Plymouth 4-door sedan and he traded me a lot on Greenlawn Drive giving him credit of $400 on purchase price of the car (about $800). At that time I did not think about building a house, but later my grandfather died and we three boys each received $2500 inheritance. Mattie was teaching and I was of course in the automobile business so we decided to build a house and got Clyde Seal to draw the plans. After several changes we decided to use these plans and contracted with Mr. Hugh Chenault (who bought the first new car I ever sold, in 1929) to build a house according to specifications – contract price: $5400. He started in March of 1936 and completed it by August 1936. There were several ups and downs. I came home one day and Mattie was crying; they had put the furnace controls in the middle of the large wall in the living room just where she wanted to hang pictures. We got it changed. The carpenters were paid $1.35 an hour; helpers, 35 cents an hour. After the house was completed, Hugh Chenault told me he had some lumber left and he would build me a garage for $75. I took him up on it.
I had $2500 to pay down on purchase price and borrowed the balance from Mr. Ed Jackson payable annually at 2% interest. We were fortunate enough to pay for it in about three years. We moved in on August 3, 1936, our third wedding anniversary, also election day. Mr. Walker suggested we wait to move in until we voted so we spent the night before in our little house on South Tarver, voted, and moved our bed (and everything else) to Greenlawn!
In 1954 we added the den and added the part which is now the bathroom – this enlarged the kitchen. This cost approximately $15,000. For the kitchen cabinets I swapped the fellow who sells them a Plymouth, taking the cabinets in as part of the deal.
I filled in my yard and I had traded for a dump truck at the garage to haul the dirt in. It came from a creek bank at the farm. I got the bricks from a building face being removed downtown. I hauled sand in from the creek to build the driveway. You could run a truck over it and it wouldn’t move.
One of the most striking features of our house is the staircase. In 1928 my parents moved to town. They eventually moved into an apartment house on the corner of Greenwood and Gay, renting out the apartments. Part of the house is still standing – most of the part we lived in. Our staircase was in the frame part of the house which was taken down. Frank Neal tore it down. I passed by one day and saw the staircase. I asked Frank what he’d take for it and he said, “$25.” I bought it and stored it at the garage. We had an elevator and I could store it up above. I didn’t have any idea what I’d do with this staircase at the time because I wasn’t thinking of building. We built our house around it!
Working During the War
Bob Donnell and I formed a partnership, Donnell Motor Company. We kept the Chrysler and Plymouth contract and sold the Ford Ferguson contract to Bob Padgett and Clark Harrison. We took the John Deere farm equipment contract. The company stayed in existence until 1968. During World War II we were interrupted; 1942-1944 I worked for OPA (the Office of Price Administration). Bob took a job with US Geological Survey, working from (Lebanon) and was around the garage on Saturdays with the help of Finney Hamilton as manager. I was there on some Saturdays, but I started traveling and wasn’t always here.
Mr. Walker took me to Carthage to check with Judge Gardenhire about a job during the war. The judge was quite a character and when Mr. Walker came again (with R.P.Gibbs) the judge quite colorfully said something like, “Lewis, what are you doing here again trying to get these Methodists a job?” The judge called his friend John T. Gray and sent us to see him. Gray said he’d be in touch. I came to Lebanon and was talking to Howard Edgerton who turned out to be a good friend of Gray’s. Howard called him that night. Gray was being appointed administrator of the Office of Defense Transportation. Gray sent word for me to see Tom House in a certain building in Nashville. I knew the young fellow who was acting as his secretary so I got right in to see Tom. It turned out his sister lived with the Walkers when she went to Cumberland! I got the job!
I was sent to Atlanta for a week’s training. They wanted five of us to go to North Carolina to help install the gasoline-rationing plan. German submarines off Cape Hatteras, N.C, had sunk American tankers. The man sending people up to North Carolina was a Chrysler Plymouth dealer from Atlanta, so I got sent! Tom House was in charge of the group and was stationed in Raleigh at the ODT headquarters. Later the name was changed to Office of Price Administration. I was stationed with another fellow at Little Washington, N.C. The regulations weren’t even printed – just mimeographed. I was given about 3 days to study the regulations before I started making calls. We were given towns on the East Coast to contact and explain the regulations. Our mode of transportation was buses with no air conditioning. The first ones there got the seats so you had to be on time or early.
Wilmington, NC: First Meeting
My first meeting was at Wilmington with about 200 fresh vegetable growers. I explained the regulations the best I could at a meeting which lasted over 2 hours. Each one there wanted more gas than allotted. We had a good meeting. After two hours I was exhausted. My main objective was to go to the county seat towns. Usually they would have a board set up with secretaries and a man or woman as manager. My job was to explain the regulations to the board and staff and assist them in issuing ration stamps. Also, we would hold meetings with oil distributors and service stations, instructing them on the rules of the gas plan.
I worked in Windsor, Edenton, Elizabeth City, Newbern, Jacksonville, Wilmington, Swan Quarter, Fayetteville, Morehead City, Jackson, Camp Lejune, Cherry Point, Hatteras Island. In Jackson I couldn’t find a hotel room so the local chairman of the board kindly offered me a bed at his home. Right outside the window where I tried to sleep a dog scratched all night long.
At Cherry Point difficulty in establishing the board meant that for three days we opened the Marine gasoline tanks and let the workers use them until we could get the board set up.
We ran into a problem on Hatteras Island ( I wanted to go over there but I never did). The cars there were not required to have license tags and our plan called for cars with license tags. We accommodated them by using the rules for “non highway use”.
German Subs in Morehead City, North Carolina
While I was staying in Morehead the German subs were destroying the tankers. People were driving down trying to see this. The lights from their cars were making the tankers an even more visible target. Finally the cars were all turned away. We were in blackout conditions with blackout shades and curtains to prevent any light escaping.
In Swan Quarter there was only one bus in and one bus out so you had to spend the night. The mosquitoes were so bad that you couldn’t turn your light on at night. You ate supper (a very good meal there – I enjoyed my stay) and then stayed in the darkness.
Return to Nashville
In Tarbor, I got word from Raleigh to return to Nashville. I was on my own to get back. I called Bob and he wired me money. I’d been gone from home 5 weeks with only one paycheck. I was lonesome for my wife and my 2-year-old son. I had lost 25 pounds from all the traveling and exertions; Mattie said she hardly recognized me, but we surely were glad to see each other! I also had to learn to shave myself; I never had, I just went by the barbershop and usually Jack Swafford did the honors. I had to buy a safety razor and learn how!
When I got back the name had been changed to Office of Price Administration Later I spent two weeks in Athens, Georgia, visiting towns in the vicinity – this time with a rental car. I drove my car from here to Knoxville; Mattie went with me. I got the call to go to Georgia and I took the train and Mattie drove the car back. They never did pay me back.
I was transferred to the Price Department and Sam Boney was the director. I was assigned the Price Regulation on automobiles, trucks, tires and tubes, farm machinery, manufacturing equipment, and construction equipment. I worked with the OPA 2 years: 1942-1944.
My office was in Nashville and we controlled from the Tennessee River – all of eastern Tennessee. I had a secretary and 2 men in the Nashville office and a man stationed at Knoxville. I worked in the price department. It was very effective because most of the people were very conscientious about supporting the war effort and, given the information that applied to their particular item, they would be very cooperative. Of course there were always a few who caused problems. Most of these were investigated by an attorney and referred to the legal department.
After we got back from North Carolina Mattie thought we should have the group up from North Carolina. We had Tom House and his wife, Eugene Frazer and his wife, and others: a man named Hall and his wife and Craig Moss and his wife. We all enjoyed it very much. I also remember Mattie’s visiting the Nashville office. The women there had all bobbed their hair and were very impressed with my wife’s beautiful, long hair. Mattie cut her hair about six months after everyone else!
During the Army maneuvers we operated five taxicabs. We started off in Lebanon with a fellow by the name of Everett Alsup managing the operation. We then set up in Tullahoma with five cabs there being managed by a fellow by the name of Pepper McDonald. We had several rather interesting experiences and no unfortunate events. Bob and I were partners in this for about three years. When the maneuvers were over we got out of the business. Since we were in the Chrysler business we got some of the cars from there. We were able to get five cars from a dealer in Detroit before the sale of cars was frozen by the war. We were able to get these and license them.
I resigned in 1944 when Bob was drafted into service so I could operate the auto and implement business; however, I was appointed as chairman of the Wilson County local board and served until the boards were discharged.
Selling War Surplus Vehicles
During the war people had money to buy merchandise, but most all the factories had been producing for military needs. Dee Manning, a partner in Wilson County Motors had a son living in Connecticut, J. D. Manning, whose wife was a sister to Hamlet Halbert. Hamlet is married to Linda Halbert, a longtime and invaluable part of the staff at church. I couldn’t remember why we had gone to Connecticut to get cars until I was telling this story to Gerald Noffsinger at the church and Linda overheard. She recalled a family member driving a car from Connecticut and we put it all together, including the tie between the Halberts and the Mannings. Anyway, about 1943 or so, my brother Bob from Donnell Motor Company, Dee Manning from Wilson County Motors, and John Robert Turner, manager of the Smithville Motor Company, went to New Britain, Connecticut. Going or coming back, they weren’t able to get passenger tickets and they had to ride in the baggage car! J. D. helped them locate the cars and buy them – I think the total was about 12. They were shipped to Lebanon by boxcars. We made pretty good money on them. I sold a Pontiac sedan to Mary Williamson Thomas. She worked in Nashville and used the car to go back and forth. I rode with her to Nashville to work, also, as did Mary Lester Smart and Byron Dinges.
That was so much better than riding the bus to Nashville. It would be so crowded that I’d often have to stand up the whole way. For a while I rode an Army bus that was pulled by a truck with a fifth wheel. We had two drivers – one driving the truck and one checking on him in the bus.
We were able to get Army surplus to sell. One of the places that we bought it was at Oak Ridge,Tennessee. These sales were made by the War Production Board. R. P. Gibbs was working with them at that time. He and a fellow named Hunt were in charge of the sale. Dee Mannning, Jim Home Hankins, Bob and I were able to buy (bidding on them) and got 20-25 cars and trucks and a bus! We sold the bus to Ashland City and did right well. The problem was getting the vehicles back to Lebanon – they’d blow out a tire or something. We had them scattered from here to Knoxville! We made several other purchases at different camps of cars, trucks, motorcycles, trailers.
During the time I was gone, Mattie moved with our little son, Comer Lewis (born October 15, 1940 – weighing close to ten pounds. Before his birth two little girls were playing across the street – Mary Ann Bone and Katherine Gilreath or her sister – and one of them said, “Mrs. Donnell’s about to have a baby,” and the other one said, “Reckon she knows it?”) into our dining room and rented out the bedrooms. She had not meant to rent the downstairs one out, but confusion in orders left a couple without a place, so she let them have the downstairs bedroom.
In 1945 (May 12) we added Martha Marie, a beautiful girl, and always the apple of my eye! Around this time my son and Billy Ray Lea (next door) “smoked” Walter Lea’s supply of pre-war cigars (rationed and hard to get). What they couldn’t smoke they chewed and threw away. When Alice Leath and Martha were in McClain School together they would both ride home with whichever mother got there first leaving the other one waiting! Martha suffered from the careful “attentions” of her older brother who served as a patrol guard in front of the school.
One day during the war Comer Lewis and either Billy Ray Lea or Bobby Vaughan were missing. The store on the other side of West Main called to say they were there having slipped through all the Army traffic to get to it.