I also thought it romantic, not in the sense of love, but as in history, that I was a coalminer’s daughter, like Loretta Lynn, until I actually went into the blacken depths of a coalmine. (This part of the story to follow.)
My father, William Edward (Yuknavich) Sommers, was born on October 19, 1916 in Cambria County, Pennsylvania, to Lithuanian Immigrants. His mother Anna, was stoic and artistic. She tended to wife and households duties and made clothes and carpets for the family. His father Anthony was a farmer and coalminer. Dad reluctantly followed his father’s footsteps into those mines and knew from the start that there had to be a better world and more to life than working for the Sterling Coal Company shoveling tons of coal.
Soon after dad bought his first car, a 1936 Chevrolet Master Deluxe 4-door sedan, he wrote, “it had a very good radio and excellent heater.”
In this family photograph, Dad is sitting with his youngest brother, Joseph, on the front bumper of his car.
Dad left home in September 1937 and drove to Detroit, Michigan where he got a job at the Chevrolet plant.
He was fortunate this time (I will explain that later) in getting the job because his cousin’s husband was a foremen there and got him the job. After a few paychecks, he enrolled in night school classes for tool & die making. (Both careers require talent in artistic, artisanal, creative and math-and-science areas. Job-shop machinists can be any combination of toolmaker and production machinist.)
Once he completed 40 hours of classes, his cousin said to him, “now there are two choices, which of the two are you going to choose from. You either can stay as a coal miner and there isn’t any advancement or continue to go to school and learn a trade.” Dad chose the second one.
In May of 1938 he was laid off from the Chevrolet plant because new car orders were filled up for that year. So not to spend any money to look for a new job, he went back to Pennsylvania and Sterling #6 Coal Company as a coal miner, but only for the summer months. In September that year, he went back to Detroit, however, he could not get his job back because he made a “big mistake” by stating he was from Pennsylvania on his employment application. He was told that “they don’t hire nobody out of state, just the people from the city.”
About a week later, Dad got a job at the Packard Motor Company.
It was a better job and paid more money. Again, he went back to night school for five more months, the same amount of time that his employment lasted. Once again he was laid off and went back to Pennsylvania and coal mine Sterling #6.
While Dad was back home he signed up for another school, this time a machine shop course for three months. There were two classes: one for learning how to read blueprints, the other to learn how to operate machines, such as lathes, milling, shapers and others. Since he already knew how to read blue prints, he went with learning how to operate machines.
He wrote, “All of this effort of my consuming time and money sure paid off after I got out from the Navy.”
Dad sidetracks a bit to tell a story about roller skating and learning how to dance.
Soon after started night school, he met a “very nice guy” named George. They learned together how to run and operate the machines. Dad wrote, “George was a very good roller skater like me and a good Ballroom dancer and I wasn’t.”
Over the weekends they would go to many skating rinks in the area: Johnstown,
I can imagine these two guys, sitting in the car, listening to the radio, talking and dreaming about all the things they wanted to do with their lives.
Later, Dad said to George, “I wish I somehow could learn how to dance, and if I ever did learn and if ever in some distant further I should ever get to Chicago that’s the place I sure will go.” George replied, “I’ve two sisters and I do know one of them will teach you the basic steps like the Fox Trot.”
So after school they would go to George’s home and “sure enough the younger sister put on one of the records and she began to give the basic steps.” Dad wrote, “Wasn’t long after I got to learn.” Later Dad asked her to go on a date to the Sunset Ballroom. She said ok. George, his date & sister and Dad went together and had a very nice time. Dad wrote, “She was a little taller then I and much older but very congenial type of a girl. By the way her first name was Irene.”
From February 1939 to January
1942, he must have worked in the coal mines until he enlisted in the United
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U.S. Navy Recruiting Sub-Station Post Office Building, Johnston, Pa.
Next Post: My Dad * His Story - Part II