Bob Gurr, Disney Imagineering legend behind such attractions as the Monorail and Autopia, is back to spin the Wheel of Years for us once again. This time he takes us way back to his days as a goat farmer. Yes, you heard that right. Set your clocks for 1943.
Today’s Wheel of Years has stopped at 1943, so here we go. Everyone was slowly getting into the rhythm of World War II with all the sacrifices and shortages in our daily lives. Most young men had been drafted, the ladies hired on in the war factories, typically building airplanes in Burbank California, home of Walt Disney Productions. My dad ran Harry Gurr’s Sandwich Shop in nearby Glendale, not far from today’s WDI Creative Campus. Since times were tight, my dad saved a lot of money by not buying frying chickens from a commercial supplier, but having me raise them. We’d buy chicks for 25¢ each, then raise them about three months until they’re frying sized. I had about 1,000 to take care of at any time. Every day I’d kill about 50, my little sister pulled feathers, while mom yanked out the insides – yuch!
For this I was paid $1 per week, sister and mom got nothing. But then my dad passed away suddenly leaving us with no income. Thankfully, I had been raising a goat, added two more, and built quite a business selling goat’s milk. Doctors would prescribe goat’s milk for folks with certain ailments. This worked out great for me since goat’s milk sold for four times the price of cow’s milk. The downside was that I had to milk my goats every morning and evening without fail (soon a dead goat if I missed). I also had four paper routes six afternoons a week plus 1,000 “shopping news” to deliver before dawn twice a week. So the goats got milked and the papers got delivered, again all without fail! Between that and school, my days were pretty full. But at least we had a bit of money coming in.
Since we had 1/2 acre of fruit trees, I could pick and sell apricots and peaches during the summer. I rigged up a little fruit stand on our busy North Hollywood highway, hopefully to attract speeding motorists to buy a few bags. We made an extra $350 in the summer of 1943. In between the fruit trees, I planted what was called a “victory garden”. Families were urged to grow their own so more commercial food would be available for the war effort. It was great having fresh vegetables every day. Everyone had chickens, so fresh eggs were always available. We bought very little food at the corner grocery store.
I learned a very useful economic lesson; if you don’t have much money, barter! Here’s the deal. For your goats to be milkers, they must be bred. The lady with the male goat would not charge me the stud fee. When the goat birthed kids, I’d let the little males grow big enough to kill for cat food for the stud lady. She’d show me how to skin and tan hides which I could swap for other stuff. See, no checks, no cash, no sales tax. The female kids would be next years milkers. Most goat milk customers came to my backyard farm to drink some milk raw and warm, taking a quart or two home for later. One lady had the most gorgeous car; a 1940 Cadillac Fleetwood with dual fog lights and covered side mount spare tires. She would arrive several days a week at early morning milking time in this fancy car wearing a white fur bathrobe!
I did have to pay cash, which I collected from the paper route subscribers, to buy alfalfa and goat feed, but I came out way ahead with the barter methods. I’d usually make enough from delivering papers to buy a war bond every month – $18.75 at purchase and $25.00 when the war ended. Everyone that didn’t have a family with two working parents learned to scrounge anything. Tin cans were priceless – I could use them as raw material for projects in the middle school metal shop class, “Found” wood could be built into neat stuff in the wood shop classes. Our school would have big paper drives several times a year. I’d snitch some of the best magazines from which I could study architecture and read about cars and airplanes.
Funny, today’s kids complain about everything, smart phone on the blink, mom can’t drive me to soccer games. Golly, we were in an awful war and still managed to have fun. A bike gave us total freedom for miles. Since there was no TV and electric gadgets, we had time to run all over doing crazy stuff for entertainment. For me, the highlight was the sky filled with all kinds of warplanes buzzing overhead. Sometimes, they’d crash and we’d all gather around the wreck waiting for the army to clean most of it up. Then we’d rush in to grab the small bits to play with. It was common to see a biplane trainer on it’s back in a field while the uninjured pilot thumbed a ride back to the flying field.
I do cherish the memories of those sacrificial WWII days as I worked my way from sixth up to ninth grade, learning how to survive without complaint. And it was a heck of a lot of fun to boot!
– Bob Gurr