DESIGN: Those Were The Times No.7 – 1942 Living in Wartime What Was it Really Like

Written by Bob Gurr. Posted in Bob Gurr, Design: Those Were The Times, Features


Published on April 03, 2013 at 4:59 am with 22 Comments

Bob has once again spun the Wheel of Years and this time it has stopped at 1942. WAR!

Just two months after the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, war began to take over our lives in North Hollywood California where I was 10 years old at the time. One of my 5th grade buddies was sad and crying that we can’t play together anymore. The big US Army truck had arrived at his home to pick up his whole family and take them away. He was an American, born in Los Angeles just like me, except that he was of Japanese descent.

President Roosevelt had ordered all Japanese to be rounded up immediately and sent away to internment camps. They could take only what personal items they could carry, the rest, along with their home, was confiscated by the US military. I never saw him again. I had followed the war in Europe in the newspapers since 1938, and knew that the Nazis had put people in concentration camps, but with the war now here at home, we had concentration camps too – to lock up American citizens!

In a few short weeks, everything had changed. We had to put blackout curtains on all our windows at night because of the air raid drills. All our lights had to be turned off. Everyone had to arrange a safe place deep inside our homes where we were to hide during the drills. All of this was inspected every week by the the local Air Raid Warden, a volunteer who turned out to be the neighborhood snoop. You had to let him in – he’d prowl thru all your stuff – empowered by the US government. The air raid sirens went off randomly a couple of times a week. It interrupted my homework, so it was OK.

Many city lights were turned off, no more brightly lit business signs. The idea was that Japanese submarines could target war plants by reference to these lights. My dad had a sandwich shop in Glendale that had to have a light trap double black curtain entrance so customers could enter without any light leaking out. If you drove your car over the hills to near the ocean, you had to drive with your lights off. My grandmother would take me from North Hollywood to visit relatives in Pacific Palisades only on full moon nights. It wasn’t very dangerous since the war time speed limit was only 35 mph.

Gasoline was rationed, maybe 3 or 4 gallons a week per family, more if you were a doctor or government official. That sure put a halt to any trips anywhere for fun. The worse situation was that whatever tires you had on your car – they had to last until the end of the war, whenever that was going to be. All the rubber was directed to the war effort, none for any civilian products period! Golly, even balsa wood was forbidden. I had to make my model airplanes out of pine and cardboard.

Lankershim grammar school in North Hollywood, where I was in the 5th grade, was next to the local fire station, which had the biggest, loudest air raid siren in town. Whenever that thing started up we had to run and hide in the hallway, hands over our ears, head buried between our legs – sometimes for an hour or more until the all clear sounded. We had paper drives to collect any kind of paper for the war effort. All kinds of metals were in short supply to build tanks and planes. We had scrap drives too – bring in every piece of metal you could scrounge up, including your mom’s favorite old aluminum pots and pans.

Going to the grocery store was always a scene. You could barely buy anything without ration stamps. Everyone was issued their very own personal war ration stamp book. We received a new one every once in a while. But if you used up your stamps too soon, sorry, you go without. Sugar was really tightly rationed, I never knew why. But mom’s could bake cookies without sugar anyway. Before long anyone who had a bit of yard space soon planted a victory garden. By golly, the government can’t ration what you grow yourself! Chickens were super valuable, un-rationed free eggs. By summer 1942 I had a ton of stuff growing that fed our family real good, just as long as you could stomach tomatoes, swiss chard, carrots, and the like. Luckily we had fruit trees – apricots, peaches, and plums, but only in the summer. Besides the garden, I was raising chickens and goats for milk (future spin story).

Any big vacant lots were taken over by Army anti-aircraft gun emplacements, great places for us kids to hang out with real soldiers. Every few miles, elevated airplane spotter towers were built, manned by civilians to watch out for invading Japanese bombers. Little booklets were published showing the outlines of their planes for reference. One night was real spooky – seems some mystery airplanes were seen flying over Los Angeles, which triggered spotlights and the anti-aircraft guns. The noise sure scared me. Some of the shells fell back to the ground where they blew up a few buildings. No one ever figured out what that was all about.

The sky was filled with our trainers and warplanes, Stearmans, P-38s, B-17s and such. It was a fabulous time for me, being such a rabid airplane kid. Don’t get me started here – that’ll have to wait until the Wheel of Years stops at another war year.

About Bob Gurr

Bob Gurr is a true Disney legend who was hired on to design the Autopia for Disneyland. Over nearly four decades, Bob would become famous for developing the Monorails, Submarines, Flying Saucers, antique cars and double-decker buses of Main Street, Ford Motor Company's Magic Skyway (at the 1964-65 New York World's Fair), Omnimover ride system, Matterhorn and lots more. It has been said that if it moves, Bob probably played a part. Upon leaving Imagineering in 1981, Bob worked on a number of "leisure-time spectaculars" and "fantastical beasts" for parks and developments all over the world. Most notably, he created King Kong and Conan's Serpent for Universal Studios Hollywood, A UFO for the closing ceremonies of the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics, and the memorable T-Rex figure featured in Steven Spielberg's motion picture "Jurassic Park." You can find Bob's column, Design: Those Were The Times, right here on MiceChat. Though don't pin Bob down to a schedule, he's busy being "retired."

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  • Jeff Heimbuch

    It’s amazing to think that this really wasn’t all that long ago in American history. My, how things have changed!

    Thanks, as always, for sharing, Bob!

  • I can’t even imagine what it was like to have a 10 year old friend rounded up and put in a detention camp. And the ability of your young mind to cut through the horrors of war and find the nuggets of technogy to amaze and distract you.

    Thank you once again for sharing your stories with us Bob!

  • BC_DisneyGeek

    Amazing how much people were expected, and willing, to sacrifice during war time back then. Today, not so much.

    The treatment of the Japanese during that time was shameful. Some people would have done the same to Muslims after 9/11, and we should be thankful that such a viewpoint was a minority one and certainly not shared by elected officials.

  • Gullywhumper

    I’ve heard stories from relatives about the WWII era, it’s amazing that our country can now enter into ten year long wars without most Americans even noticing, much less giving anything up. How times, and our nation have changed.

  • VonBaroketch

    Actually, in 1942 the Supreme Court decided in Wickard v. Filburn that the government CAN ration what you grow yourself for your own personal consumption.

  • gauchogirl

    Always interested to hear others’ stories from this time period, especially from the perspectives of children. They usually have such a different way of seeing things, and it’s always interesting to hear what things they remember. My relatives were sent to Manzanar (probably where your friend was sent too); it was a very different experience.

  • Wanda Woman

    What fascinating recollections of a period where horrific injustices and incredible shared sacrifices existed together. Thank you so much for sharing your memories, Bob. I really enjoy your articles.

  • Norman Gidney

    This history is fascinating Bob.I want to plant my own victory garden now.

  • SnorkletsMom

    Fantastic read. Thanks, Bob, for sharing.

  • nunz

    What a great article! My Mom, although older than you, had very similar war recollections..she was in the San Francisco area and also lost a friend to the camps one day. Love the articles and hope you have your very own presentation at the Expo!

  • wec

    Bob, when you get an opportunity, can you share you memories of working with George Whitney?
    He was a cousin of mine and as you know, has a window on Main Street USA at Disneyland.
    I know all about George and his father (George Whitney Sr.) owning Playland at the Beach in San Francisco. I even know which horses on King Arthur’s Carrousel came from the Whitney’s.

    But I know so little about what George Jr. did for Walt & Disneyland.
    I’l love to hear you memories of him.


    Warren Crandall

  • JiminyCricketFan

    Great Story! I cannot imagine driving by moon light. What a time!

  • heysi

    I used to love talking to my grandpaernts about WWII and how it affected daily life, both here in the US and overseas, underfire, as well. Sadly they have all passed and the rest of the stories will go untold. I cherish the few I was able to relive with them. Thank you for sharing a small part of your experience and I hope the wheel lands on the War Years again soon.

  • brian11811

    “No one ever figured out what that was all about.”

    Yes, the Battle of Los Angeles. Depending on who you talk to, it was one of the first mass sighting of “Foo Fighters”, or UFOs, but it could have also been high altitude weather balloons lit up with flairs and exacerbated by war jitters. Sounds like it was scary with all the falling shells.

  • robbiem

    Wow really interesting. Growing up in London I heard lots about the blitz and the war here in the UK but its interesting to see what was happening in our allies homes across the world.

    Thank god we never has WW3