“My fellow Americans, I ask your help. On behalf of all your fighting sons, brothers, and husbands whom I command in the Pacific, I ask that every skilled man and woman in America who can work in a shipyard volunteer immediately.”
Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet
World War II started and Boyd Fergus was almost called to war. He went to work in the shipyards in Portland, Oregon, and it was this important wartime job that kept him from being drafted. During this time period the Kaiser Corporation built two large shipyards in Portland. Changes in the shipbuilding process allowed the wartime shipyards to produce ships at unprecedented speed. The use of welding rather than riveting to assemble the ships saved labor, time, and repair costs. Welded ships were put together in large sub-assemblies,
which allowed much of the work to be done in fabricating shops at the shipyards. The sub-assemblies (such as bottoms, deck, bulkheads) were then welded together on the ways (the structures on which the ship is built and launched). These changes allowed the shipyards to hire workers who were specifically trained as welders rather than skilled craftsmen. With the cooperation of the shipbuilding unions, the lengthy apprenticeship system by which a worker became a journeyman was replaced by training for specific skills. Boyd was trained as a ship fitter which meant that he did the measuring necessary to get ready for welders and riveters. He worked on Liberty Ships. The Kaiser Company bus service began in 1942 to serve workers who needed transportation to the shipyards. Buses ran 3 roundtrips daily, serving Forest Grove, Hillsboro, and Beaverton.
In addition to his work at the shipyard, Boyd also took his turn as a lookout on Pumpkin Ridge in Washington County, Oregon watching for enemy aircraft at night. His son Darwin often went with him. All over the Pacific Northwest, volunteer watchers were on duty day and night. Their lookout posts varied from shacks on beaches, water towers, roofs of skyscrapers, or a high hilltop like Pumpkin Ridge. Reports from the volunteers would help monitor the movement of aircraft. They were called as aircraft watchers or local spotters and each one served a few hours a week at no pay. By telephone, they reported the type, direction, speed, and height of passing planes to filter boards at information centers.
Wartime also brought rationing in the spring of 1942. Tires, gas, sugar, coffee, butter and meat were all rationed. Each community had a ration board made up of citizens who volunteered their time to administer the regulations, a thankless job. Shopping required an elaborate system of ration stamps and red and blue points. For example, one pound of hamburger was worth 7 red points. Ration books were issued to individuals and it was against the law to sell or use another person’s book. Stamps were often traded between friends, however, for items most in demand like sugar and coffee.
Another effect of war was the shortage of men to help with farms. Women and children were needed to help with harvesting and Cleo took her children from the time they were small into the berry and bean fields. It was hard work, especially for children, but they soon learned that the more money the family could earn, the more things they could buy, including clothes. To get through the monotony of picking the fields they often played games and had races to see who could get the most done.
To read more about life on the home front in Oregon during WWII click here .