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Welcome To Inquisitive Quest…

August 30, 2017
Perpetuating an Inquisitive Quest

Perpetuating an Inquisitive Quest

This is not a opinionated blog – but a autobiographical journey of 70 years of remembrances by Gary (Mike) Willson beginning at the age of two in 1943 pursuing an inquisitive quest for the sentience of life. – I’ve begun embedding the youtube narration videos of the respective chapters for those who are subservient to technology and have relinquished the proclivity to read…(Hmm…just a little humor)


About and Gary

August 28, 2017





Gary has changed occupations,  no longer participating in the world of commerce,  but has retired to the realm of antecedent anamnesis.   His prescription for life is renewed by sharing the aspects that frequented a diminutive journey.   The episodes on Inquisitive Quest are recollections and reflect a time in his life.   He writes in the third person, or attempts to observe the surrounding environment because it can be more authoritative than the actuality of celebration.  His pursuit is to enlighten his experiences in absolute and abstract principles with no predication, sharing his true-life experiences presents avaricious pleasure and he accentuate them as a chronicle of his presence,  not as pedantic writings,  but a perspicacious journal.

     Following a January 1959 graduation from high school, a missile electronics & nuclear warhead army school enlistment parlayed Gary to Oklahoma, followed by a marriage, 2 children and aspiring music career at the keyboard lasting for almost two decades.  Ensorcelled with a second marriage, 2 children, fulfilling various occupational opportunities in Kansas, including a introduction to a healthcare profession serving as a EMT, Hospital Engineer & Plant & Environmental Services Director, elected president of the Kansas Hospital Engineers Association in 1996.  A return to California after a forty year pilgrimage, a marriage and a 2009 retirement from healthcare service. Gary resides in Modesto California by happenstance,  seizing a pause before adjudication.  The countenance of his life having been arrested by the passing of his wife in 2014,  with intrepidity his journal will continue to document those events remaining.


August 26, 2017
  • Word Press Format publishes in reverse numerical order,  I reentered the publishing dates in a descending mode so the Chapters would be in numerical order.  
    • August 2017
    •          Welcome – About – Archives
    • July 2014
    •  Once Upon A Time – The Life Of Betty (Potter) Willson
    • June 2017
    •          Gary’s 275 Autobiography Chapters  starting with 1 – 16 – the 40’s & early 50’s, elementary school & the sulphur mines
    • May 2017
    •          Chapters 17 – 31 the 50’s – Life entering Jr. High
    • April 2017
    •          Chapters 32 – 46 – the 50’s –  Jr High & High School
    • March 2017
    •           Chapters 47 – 63 – High School days
    • February 2017
    •           Chapters 64 – 75 – Adventure & the army
    • January 2017
    •           Chapters 76 – 89 – The 60’s & the band
    • December 2016
    •           Chapters 90 – 105 – The 60’s & OKC
    • November 2016
    •           Chapters 106 – 120 – OKC  & Kermece Rice
    • October 2016
    •            Chapters 121 – 134 – The Band
    • September 2016
    •            Chapter 135 – 149 – OKC, Jan Murrow
    • August 2017
    •            Chapter 150 – 164 – John Deere, Kiowa Ks.
    • July 2016
    •           Chapters 165 – 179 – The 80’s – South Barber Elem.
    • June 2016
    •          Chapters 180 – 193 –  The 80’s – CA. vacation
    • May 2016
    •          Chapters 194 – 208 –  A move – Anthony Hospital
    • April 2016
    •          Chapters 209 – 223 – The 90’s, Lee Adams, Kiowa Hospital
    • March 2016
    •          Chapters 224 – 238 –  Rob & Sandra graduate Chaparral H.S.
    • February 2016
    •          Chapters 239 – 251 – Separation, divorce
    • January 2016
    •          Chapters 252 – 265 – Westward Ho….Fran – Modesto
    • December 2015
    •           Chapters 266 – 274 – (2006-2012)  $ Fran’s New Jersey class reunion
    • November 2015
    •           Nancy’s wonderous journeys  Chapter 275 – The passing of Gary’s beloved Frances Marion Willson
    • February 2010 is
    • the video of Gary Playing the piano with Dino Kartsonakis at the Grand Palace in Branson Mo.
    • February 2010

First Memories………….#1 (the 40’s)

June 30, 2017

Baby Mike and Dad

This is the genesis of a chronological journey spanning more than 70 years of remembrances of Gary Michael (Mike) Willson commencing at the age of two in 1943.  Gary Michael Willson achieved this world by the grace of God, his Mother Betty Irene (Potter) and Father Robert Willson on March 18, 1941, his father’s 22nd birthday.  The infants inaugural residency, Yreka California, population 2465, the county seat of Siskiyou County, central California’s most northern province.  The new-born not acknowledge by his given name Gary but endowed as Mike.  The first two years of his life spent in transit with his parents, abiding in many northern California communities as dictated by  his father’s employment.  Between the age of two and three with sparse uncertainties the remembrances of life events and surroundings began their implantation.

7 months and ready for the world

Tree house home in Atascadero

Mike and his Dad

Mike – 1942

Residing at 1368 Brookside Drive,  San Leandro in 1943  was an eventful time.  Two-year old Mike was excited,  his Dad having brought home a stray dog but sadly it wasn’t well and soon died.  What was surreal about the event was watching his Dad bury the dog in the backyard near the fence, it was dark and  was done by flashlight.  The toddler soon experienced an expanded world not just limited to his house or yard, but one that knew no bounds with thoughts of  venturing off.  One day to the dismay of his Mother he did so, only to be stopped several blocks from the house and returned by a Good Samaritan in a pickup truck.   The young adventurer soon experienced the meaning of being confined to the premises, his mother tying a rope around his waist to prevent his wandering off,  just long  enough to allow freedom to roam about the yard.   It was later in the summer having been told his mother was going to have a baby and on July 15th Mike’s sister Katherine Jane, anointed as Katy complemented the family with her arrival.

1368 Brookside Drive

The Apartment House, 215 Butte St. Yreka

Pearle and 3-year-old Mike

Mike and sister Katy

The country was still at war when the local draft board in Yreka summoned Mikes dad to report in August 1944.  His home in Yreka was in an upstairs apartment with his Mom and Sister Katy and was able to visit and spend time with his Aunts and cousins, but his interest was elsewhere.  The Westbrook family also lived upstairs and their daughter Pearle would visit reading to him, taking him to places that were exciting.  On one afternoon taking  him to a Frankenstein movie covering his eyes during the scary parts and on other occasions going on picnics and riding together on her horse. One afternoon they ventured on a walk crossing Yreka Creek to go up on the mountain where they were able to look down on the town below, what Mike thought was fun was that they didn’t cross the creek on the bridge, but under it, stepping on the rocks in the flowing water.

Mike’s mother Betty 1944

Mike soon discovered going to the store with his Mom was fun,  buying him candy, animal crackers and sometimes even Cracker Jacks.  One day noticing his moms purse with dollar bills sticking out, decided that this would be good time to go the store.   Taking only one bill, the three-year old proceeding out of the apartment to the store alone and once at the store the clerk however notified his mother of what was transpiring,  Mike learning a lesson, it’s best to go shopping with Mom.  He like staying with Aunt Ann and cousin Billie who lived on the other side of the Laundry on Main St.  For some reason the Laundry whistle,  which was extremely loud signifying the noon hour and the end of the workday, frightened him.  He would find himself hurrying pass the laundry going to and coming from Aunt Ann’s house and for some reason not wanting to be caught if the whistle would sound.

A favorite event at the apartment house was when the fuel truck would deliver the oil for the stove.  It would back up to the house, Mike could see it through the window watching the man hook up the hose and fill the tank,  thinking that someday he might be able to do this.  His life was not without tribulation, he got into serious trouble one day and learned a never forgotten lesson. He found the matches, the wooden ones used for lighting the stove discovering that by striking them on the side of the box they would burn.  Mike got caught and his mother gave him a good talking to, but he did it again only this time he got a spanking.  He knew better but it was still great fun deciding he would do it in secret  next to the house but out of sight.  He got caught the third time and his Mother proved to him that fire would burn.  She lit a match and burned the ends of his fingers and all the while telling him over and over again fire burns and to never play with matches.  It was lesson that was implanted permanently and never again would there be a desire to play with matches.

Mikes Dad with cousins Pat and Louis O’Toole

Getting attention was never a problem, Mike having an abundance of relatives, he and his sister were the youngest members adorning his mother’s family.  There was always visits from his many cousins,  Jerry and  Bobby Potter, Billy Potter,  Bud and  Johnny Eastlick, Pat and Lewis O’Toole.   He was told that a new family member was coming, and that he would have a new brother or sister, his mother asking him if it was a girl what name would he choose.  Mike had no hesitation, he liked the name Nancy, because his mother had a friend whom he really liked with that name.  On November 2, 1944, Nancy Louise Willson made her announcement to the world.

Six week old sister Nancy

Aunt Alice, Cousins,  Jenny, Bud, Pat, Johnny, Katy, Mike & Nancy

The summertime thunderstorms were exciting, four-year old Mike would stay out and watch the lightning strike the surrounding mountains.  He was not alone, the adults took an interest in it also, but their interest was a concerned one, they worried about forest fires as many family members  were in the logging business.



Mike was watching his Mom take down clothes off the clothesline one August afternoon, when the Laundry whistle started blowing and blowing, continuing  on for a long time.  Mike was curious to why the whistle was blowing for so long,  a person happening bye talked  to his Mom, he could tell by her expression that it was important.  She came over and with a smile said the war was over and his Daddy would be coming home.  She finished taking in the clothes and his Dad did come that Christmas Eve.

The Oakland Projects………….#2 (the 40’s)

June 28, 2017

The High Street Bridge

Young Mike never liked Nursery School,  it wasn’t taking a nap that was so bad but that daily dose of Cod Liver Oil  they made you take before laying down.  Thankful his enrollment in the Nursery School didn’t last very long,  a change  was in progress, the family bidding a farewell to Richmond, moving to Oakland,  an area  called The Hull Street Projects.   The units were low-income housing built and used for the worker during the war effort.  There were six apartments in each building, three two bedroom units on each of the two floors.  The housing units were located northwest of  San Leandro Blvd between 50th and High Street.  The unit his family moved into was between 44th and 45th Ave just off a street called Hull Road.  The dwelling built for the most part with sidewalks across the  front and the units situated so they form three sides of an open square.  Mikes family lived in a building just west of the railroad tracks at far east end and  from his bedroom at night could hear the trains shuffling boxcars.  During the day he would watch the activity, the switch engine locomotives at work,  often wondering what it would be like to sneak aboard and travel to distant places.   There was a  time he got into trouble for placing a board on the railroad tracks, and another time for throwing rocks at the passing train, but this too would pass.

Katy, Mike & Nancy at the Hull St. Projects.









Not a good idea to throw rocks at the switch engine

Excitement – The Jewel Tea Mans arrival

In the summer the Jewel Tea Man would stop, sometimes in panel type truck, other times an old bus filled with groceries and sundry items.   His Mother on occasion would buy something for him and his two sisters.  His favorite was either a banana Popsicle, or a flavored push-up.   One day he took notice of  the older boys going door to door with newspapers and people actually would give money for them.   It was then that he decided to become an entrepreneur,  it wasn’t a hard decision to make, proceeding to collect several old newspaper and assemble them neatly.   The rest was easy,  he would knock on doors and sometimes the person answering would look at this little fellow and pay him for his delivery and other times they would say “not today”.   He lost interest in this endeavor that second day, as for some reason unknown to him, his previous customers didn’t want to buy his newspapers again.

A unforgettable event – the sky raining stars

Ships from another era

Crossing the High Street bridge into Alameda

Crossing the High Street bridge into Alameda

The  sky was buzzing with activity,  the youngster having seen shooting stars before, but not like this, it was something to behold, it was reported that there were hundreds of sighting that night.   It was the first time that he noticed his parents paying attention to the night sky.   Never had he seen such a display and apparently neither had they as they all gathered  outside and sat on the fenders of the car to watch the sky raining shooting stars.   Sometimes during the day his Mom would take him and his sisters across the High Street Bridge to grocery store in Alameda, the High Street Bridge was a Draw Bridge that forged the bay estuary.   He had one main concern when crossing the bridge and that was getting to the other side before the horn sounded, as he didn’t want to get caught halfway and plunge into the water as the bridge raised up.    He thought himself fortunate because this never happened.    The best part of crossing the bridge was watching it open for the passing boats and noticing all the old wooden sailing and fishing boats moored in the estuary,  most of them looking sad and forlorn,  their wooden hulls beginning to rot away.  To him it was like seeing the past come alive on one hand and then die on the other.  He could only imagine all the places and sites these sailing vessels had seen in days gone by.

Starting Melrose Elementary School was a big change for him.   His mother would take  him, along with his two younger sister the eight blocks every school morning to 53rd and San Leandro Blvd.  Once across the four lane Blvd. he would walk the last three block to school alone,  stopping at a little grocery store  buying  a Hostess Cup Cake for a nickel to go with his sack lunch.  The school wasn’t much fun, it was dark and dingy and cold in the mornings.    The outside playground was dirty looking and the backboards that you could throw a  ball against had several  boards missing,  life at this project school was not a happy one.

Didn't want to reach the end of the tunnel

Didn’t want to reach the end of the tunnel

He enjoyed the playground not far from his home, there were swings, teeter totters and slides and along with others he enjoyed spending his time there,  the big slide was 12 feet high and his favorite.    One fateful day he attempted to go up the down side of the slide, hand over hand pulling himself up, when reaching the top he lost his balance falling to the ground,  striking his head on the cement anchoring  the slide.  One of the Nelson kids told his mom that he had fallen and wouldn’t wake up, his mom rushing to the park taking him home.  He regained some consciousness and when his dad got home they took him to Highland Hospital, Dr. Parson’s   informing his Mom and Dad that he had a nine-inch fracture from his forehead to below his ear.  His recovery was very slow with his bandaged head and during that time there something he never mention to his Mom and Dad, a recurring dream.  He would dream of finding himself in a dark tunnel then falling inwards towards a light at its end, but knowing that if he didn’t wake up before reaching the light he would never awaken and with a start he would open his eyes.

Mountain Blvd A New Home……..#3 the (40’s)

June 26, 2017

7964 Greenly Drive

The family car 29 Chevy

The 1929 Chevrolet pulled up to 7964 Greenly Drive, the five members of the Willson family seated on the Coupe’s only seat,  Mike straddling the floor mounted gearshift and hand brake, making for a tight fit even though three of the five occupants were children.   The six-year-old boy gazed with amazement at the surroundings, their new hillside home on the corner of Greenly Drive and Shone Ave was almost  located in the mountains, oops, not quite,  but compared to The Hull Street Projects, the rising hills of east Oakland was a wilderness.   Shone Ave initiated off Mountain Blvd, intersecting Greenly Drive four blocks up the hill, culminating  when merging with Sterling Drive.  Sterling continuing its upward journey terminating at an elevation of  486 feet with Crest Ave above the city.   From Crest one could look across the bounds of Oakland,  San Francisco Bay,  the Bay Bridge and even see the lights from Golden Gate.  A narrow switchback allow thru traffic to traverse down to Sunkist Dr and the six block descent on 82nd Ave to MacArthur Blvd.

View of 82nd Ave from Crest and Sterling Drive.

The view from Mike’s yard down Shone Ave to Mountain Blvd and the East Oakland Hills rising 1200 ft.

 Four blocks down from Greenly Drive on Shone Ave was Mountain Blvd,  the two lane Blacktop which snaked along the valley formed by the sentinel east Oakland hills, rising to an elevation of 1200 feet.  The concierge east Oakland hills watching over the city,  a two lane drive appropriately named Skyline Blvd  atop the summit remained a haven of peace and solitude, the landscape still virgin to residential construction. The mountainous distance between Mountain Blvd and Skyline beheld a series of rising hill and valleys, the terrain once home to horses and cattle with an abundance of spring fed creeks with an undergrowth of  flora and the oak trees native to Oakland. Further north a visual marker, the active Gallagher and Burk Quarry, its prevalence  devouring a large chunk out of the  hillside.  To the south the pinnacle remains of the old San Leandro Mental Hospital and disseminating  towards Mountain Blvd was the expansive Oak Knoll Naval Hospital,  the largest Naval medical facility on the west coast caring for 2500 patients.

Oak Knoll Naval Hospital

Greenly Drive and the other two neighboring north/south parallel streets, Winthrop and Earl abruptly ending a block and a half  after crossing Shone Ave and Holmes Street bordering the vast fenced acreage of a hay and alfalfa farm.  The farm was apparently operated by immigrant farmers,  unlike the farmers who baled their harvest, they gathered and stacked it,  Mike having seen this means being done in a National Geographic magazine.    The opposite direction to the north on Greenly was what the locals called the Water Works, formally known as East Bay Municipal Utilities District Water Filtration Plant.  It stretched from Keller to Field St and From Greenly Drive  to Mountain Blvd, an area of about twelve city blocks.  It was fenced and wooded with mostly pines and maintained like a park.  For a bristling youngster, this little known part of Oakland was an exciting place to live.

Willson home as seen from Shone Ave.

His Mom always thought the house was small, but to a six-year-old it was huge in comparison to the apartment in The Projects, at least it seemed that way, most likely because of the corner lot,  large yard with an old leaning wooden garage.  The south-side of the house having a small living room, dining room with French Door opening to the outside with the kitchen having a small adjoining  6 x 10 addition.  Two bedrooms, with a bathroom between on the north giving the upstairs a total area of 700 sq, feet.   Because of steepness of the hill, although not deemed two-story, it had a downstairs with an outside entrance which was also accessible from the upstairs dining room thru an unfinished basement laundry room with a cast iron double sink.  Mike was told the downstairs was destined to be a rented as a downstairs apartment having a 9 X 14 bedroom/living room,  a 9 x 5 kitchen with sink, gas stove, folding wall table and the household water heated.  A door from the kitchen opened to bathroom with a stool and shower which also exited to the laundry room.

Katy & Mike

6-year-old Mike

The family settling in, the three children occupying the back bedroom, Mike successfully  lobbying for a bunk-bed to at least give himself some dissimilarity from bunking in the same room with his sisters.  The only complaint jointly shared was that the only heat in the house was from a floor furnace in the living room.  On those cold damp morning it wasn’t unusual to find his sisters in the living room getting dressed by the floor furnace.  After living in the projects, six apartment units to a two-story building,  having a spacious yard was unbelievable. It was overgrown with many varieties of plants, not necessarily all weeds, his little sister Nancy who had yet to turn three years of age could totally disappear in the flora and there was even a relic of an old neglected fish pond.  These new surroundings gave new life to an impressionable young Mike and cast the foundation for an unlimited realm of future boyhood adventures.

Burckhalter School Days…..#4 (the 40’s)

June 24, 2017

Mike having started school once again, this time at Burckhalter Elementary,  walking the equivalent of ten city blocks,  his home located in the 7900 block  and the school in the 6900  block.   Because of his earlier fractured skull injury  he started school in late April,  joining the January  midterm class.   He discovered his 1947 class was somewhat smaller than most,  thirty-one students in all,  sixteen boys and fifteen girls,   a reason for the size could possibly be attributed to being a mid-term class.   Because of his late enrollment,  being a transfer student from Melrose Elementary,  the semester had already begun.   Arriving with his mother that first day, the class in session,  he was introduced to Mrs. Drury and the first grade class.    So Mike Willson once again began his educational journey, destined to spend the next six years with his newly acquainted classmates at Burckhalter. The school building adjacent to Sunnymere Avenue was new having opened the previous fall semester,  the original building which stood parallel to Burckhalter Avenue still remained.

Pledge of Allegiance

The Burckhalter school building was new having opened the previous fall semester,  the original building which stood parallel to Burckhalter Ave still remained.  It looked it age, barren and standing, boarded up with a haunted look.  One morning being late for school the playground vacant, Mike noticed at the old building, the normally locked and fastened door chain hanging loose and did the unthinkable.  Entering the building, briefly pausing in the hallway experiencing the stillness of the darken hall that once hosted generations of students.  Realizing what he done, making a hasty retreat, the shortness of breath subsiding,  a feeling of accomplishment pulsated through him.  After the  removal of the old building that summer, he would never forget that visit of being in the forlorn empty building,  he reasoned it was because of the secret they shared.

Fun With Dick and Jane

The first grade at Burckhalter was a reflection of American heritage, each morning the class would stand, place the right hand over their heart, facing the flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.  Monday morning were designated as ‘sharing or show and tell time’.  Those who desired could stand up in front of the class and share a weekend outing  or something they had brought from home.   The classes first book, Fun With Dick and Jane, a reader that was introduced to the school classrooms in the 1930’s.   At Burckhalter normal progression for a class would be one teacher for each semester, the semesters designated as  L (low) for first semester and H (high)  for the  second,  normally not having the same teacher for two consecutive semesters.  There were exceptions and with the advent of the 4th, 5th and 6th grade there was additional instructors for band, music and other non-curricular activities.

Inkwell laden desks

With the curriculum  came the introduction of numerical addition and subtraction, the elucidations and penciling of the written word.  Later with the class advancing in grade level they experienced the convention of penmanship, the ritual of filling the desktop ink wells, the passing out of the pens, instructions on the proper holding position and the practice of cursive and slant.  Mike soon making a discovery, by volunteering to pass out the pens in class,  he could retain one with a perfect point, thus ensuring better penmanship. Along with the grade advancement there was the inevitable homework assignments, the all-important spelling list handed out to be studied at home and the notorious spelling and arithmetic pop quiz.    School was like a giant puzzle, the enlightenment of discovery and fitting the pieces into perfect precision and sometimes spurning a captivating  interest like listing to a never-ending favorite radio program.

The Lone Ranger

The Lone Ranger

Sky King


The boy found that fervency of life was everywhere, all you had to do was seek it, listing to the radio was his door to the world of adventure.  The Lone Ranger, Cisco Kid, Superman, Straight Arrow, Sky King,  Gangbusters, I love a Mystery, the list was never  ending.  He emulated his hero’s in games as most kid would do and explored their world and behold it opened his eyes to all that surrounded him.

No sidewalks - fun walking

No sidewalks – fun walking

There was a sense of aspiration in the little things that surrounded one, the clouds, the stars, the wind and even walking to school in the rain, his slicker and rain boots protecting him.   The ending four blocks of Greenly Drive having no sidewalks and the rain puddles were like little lakes to sail ice cream sticks on, skim rocks across or splash with his wadding boots.  In a heavy rain the water would gush down the open culvert on the steep hill of Shone Ave. with a roar and bellow over the covered openings  under the cross streets, sending it into the air like a raging river.

Greenly Drive and the Water Works fence.

On the way to school journeying by The Water Works, adjacent to a bus stop was a large three-tiered decorative fountain that had been  placed within the fenced area among the pines.   On many occasions the Plant employees would leave the water circulating through the fountain.  One winter day there was an unusual event in the city, a hard freeze occurred and huge ice cycles formed and hung from the different fountain tiers like sword blades.  Mike having never experienced this aspect of nature  was mesmerized with the event.  It was something that needed to be shared with others.  He located an area along the fence line where he could crawl under and proceeded  to do just that.  The ice cycle was cold, but  he could sacrifice discomfort for what he had to do.    A proud bearer  carried it to school to show all his trophy.

Gibson Branch Oakland Public Library System

The school library was on the second floor and available, but he soon discovered the real treasure source was one block from the school, the Gibson Branch of the Oakland Public Library System.  On a scheduled bases the class would form a line outside and march down the sidewalk to the Gibson Library.  Once inside the librarian, Mrs. Salo, would assemble the class, arousing their interest by reading an excerpt from an exciting story.  Once the reading session was completed the class was on their own to browse.  The atmosphere of the library was mystifying,  an echo of solitude resonating to a point where you could hear your thoughts or so it seemed.  The varied fragrance of the bound multitude, an aire of leather, the musty smell of damp parchment serving notice of a presence, a wealth of  stored knowledge,  its exploration  a young person’s adventure.

The corner store across from Burckhalter

On the corner of Greenly Drive and Edwards Ave., directly across from Burckhalter was a family owned  small  convenience store.  It was the place where you purchased the authentic necessities such as gum or candy before or after school.   It also was where the younger students got their real education from those older student who presented the facts as the Gospel having acquiring their knowledge from the previous older students.    Important issue were relayed, such as the anatomy of the body and reproduction of the species.  The ‘Facts of Life’ being detailed in a vernacular never before heard by a third or fourth grader.  The pride and prejudice concerning the importance of the world to those under twelve were discussed,  opinions and ideals formulated, some even shocking, but  most  to be lost or forgotten on the walk home from school.

School Block “B”







Through the grades he trekked acquiring  skills needed for goals and task before him.  School sports for the most part were all intramural, but discovering that participating in after school sports activities sponsored by the Oakland Recreation Department could be rewarding.     It was symbolized by granting those attaining a certain level of participation could earn a block “B” and a trip to a University of California football game at Berkeley.  Mikes after school pursuit achieving this goal, attending his first football game with several others in 1951.  Other activities he participated in included the school traffic patrol, which provided uniformed insignia hats for participants to sling their signs and halt traffic at the two school intersections as guardians of safety.

Members of the 6th grade class

Before exiting his tenure at Burckhalter Mike was subject to  a monumental task thrust upon him by an unexpected person, Mr. Hayden his sixth grade teacher.   The students of Mr. Robert Hayden’s Low sixth grade class were asked to suggest classmates names for the position of  Student Council President for their upcoming final fall semester. Several classmate names were submitted, but to Mr. Hayden dismay, for some reason  all the boys declined.  Having not raised his hand, Mike suddenly hearing his name spoken, put in nomination but not by a student, but by none other than Mr. Hayden his teacher.  Upon hearing his name given, he followed suit and immediately declined, but his declension was rebuked by the instructor followed by a list of acolytes why he should accept.  Mike finally giving in, his opponents for the presidency would be the two most popular girls in the class, Marion Wheeler and Janet Roemer.  From his view-point his election attempt for president would be futile, but because of only three candidates he was assured  the either the Vice Presidency or Council Secretary position.

Janet Roemer & Marion Wheeler

The students eligible to vote in the election were members of the  fourth, fifth and sixth grade classes, each class having two representatives in the Student Council.  Most of  the fourth and fifth grade classrooms occupied the old portable buildings moved in during the war, these buildings having oil burning stoves and wooden floors.  Mike having written a prefatory presentation on an index card and when entering the portable’s to introduce yourself as a candidate finding it a was a very audible experience, especially for someone wearing horseshoe taps on his shoes,  in fact,  some teachers bringing it to Mike’s attention,  asking him  to re-enter the room in a quieter mode.  This in turn brought a humorous reaction from the kids in the class, drawing more attention to his campaign.  Mike suspecting after the ballots were counted, that this event was what won him the election, Marion serving as Vice President and Janet as Secretary.

Johnny Youngblood and Mike – duet practice

Part of his duties as President of the Student Council was to conduct the scheduled school assemblies, each program starting with the pledge of allegiance and the playing of  the national anthem by the school orchestra.  It was these  stage appearances that instilled in him a confidence of stature and public speaking.  Upon completion his elementary school grand-finally was a surprise to his classmates and those in attendance, he and Johnny Youngblood performing a piano duet and each a solo composition at  the  graduation festivities.

An Abiding Entity “Music”…..#5 (the 50’s)

June 22, 2017

When conversing – it has an unimaginable number of stories to tell

Mikes first remembrance of music was the melodic sonnet voice of his Mother, for she was one who bequeath lullaby’s.  As a toddler  the sound of  her voice  provided a sense of comfort and security in his new-found existence.    As he proceeded thru adolescents he found an almost surreptitious aspect to the harmonious meaning of music, an artistic paint to score the canvas of the melodic world and at the same time to underscore events and project stargazing visions.  There was unspoken adventure in music, he was able to find it in movies,  the radio broadcast,  the concert hall, a vitality of inspiration to those who understood its prevalence and meaning.


Burckhalter music curriculum was made up of several affiliations, the lower age classes being shepherd into a session called Rhythms, where they perform various exercises to recorded music.  Upon reaching the fourth grade those students with music interest are given the opportunity to satisfy their curiosity and discover hands-on the mechanics of the instrument of their choice and make a decision to continue on participating in the 5th and 6th grade orchestra.  The final music contribution was Dance.  Mikes mother along with volunteered help  instructed the H-6 grade class in the classic Waltz, Virginia Reel and Ballroom Dance.  Mike’s 4th grade-school musical ambition was to play the french horn, but was told by the instructor he might first see if he could blow a cornet.  After failing in his first attempt he was handed a tonette, a plastic toy appearing elongated instrument with finger holes and told if he wanted to proceed with the band music class he would have to practice with it.  After the second class, he gave his notice that he had no desire to play a tonette in an orchestra and dropped out of the class.

Class in position for the Standard Oil Broadcast

Class in position for the Standard Oil Broadcast

Appearance was deceiving, there was no such thing as nap time in Mr. Hayden’s fourth grade classroom,  the class students having been asked to lay their heads down on folded arms at their desks.   It was ten o’clock and the weekly Standard Oil Company School Radio Broadcast was about to begin.  The Broadcast was an instructional music program introducing students to an organized group of musicians commonly known as members of a symphony orchestra and their world of classical music.  Apparently Mr. Hayden in his wisdom thought that by laying one’s head down would make the person more conducive and attentive to the broadcast.   It was during this class time that a young Mike realized that his elicitation  what he believed to be the true meaning and scope of music was shared by others.  Mr. Hayden confirming his music appreciation by sharing the Standard School Broadcast and during the program’s absence, sharing his forte as an accomplished pianist performing  request from his students in the school’s music room.

Pictured on a musical canvas

It wasn’t a piano,  it was an entity and it was now residing in his living room.    There was  some doubt if the piano would remain,  something to do with ownership and family, but this didn’t concern him, it was here.    He had touch the piano once before when it sat at its original residence and it beckoned to him, at last he could  give it voice and  discover what it had to say.    The Upright had a name, Monarch,  but those gazing upon it couldn’t see the plaque hidden away inside that read, “Made by the House of Baldwin”.    He was truly impressed because Baldwin,  Steinway & Sons,  Bosendorfer,  were all renown names of concertmaster quality.  If only it could talk,  it could relate an unimaginable number of stories  it had experienced thru the years.  The young man having found a friend, soon discovering that it could discourse and he wouldn’t be the only one sensing what it had to say.  His friend could emit every emotion from light-hearted happiness,  to  largo despondency, it could paint a pictured aria on its musical canvas,  the  oceans bellowing the song of the high seas or  a forlorn  Wagon Train crossing the plains and the tapestry sound of a babbling brook on hillside.  This magical instrument knew no bounds,   providing a means to transport one to unlimited horizons.

Miklos Rozsa 1942 musical portrait of Rudyard Kiplings Jungle Book.

Miklos Rozsa 1942 musical portrait of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book.

The young man’s discovering his fingers would effortlessly transfer  his melodious thoughts and emotion to the keyboard reaching a crescendo point his accompanying euphonious friend could read his every thought and give them revelation. There were times he could sit and play at his discretion and other times that were deemed not appropriate.  He respected the restrictions when applied and some weeks his total playing time was less than ninety minutes,  but only because other adventures called.  There was an unlimited amount of musical resources at his command, his family having accumulated a large collection of 78 rpm recording which were at his disposal for listening.  His older cousin Bud O’Toole was a collector of extended play 78 rpm recordings of all the great classical compositions, which were left  in Mike’s  possession while he was on active military duty during the Korean War.  His father’s taste in music was a limited one,  but occasionally while traveling with in him by car his Dad would turn on a local country-western station.   Mike’s mom enjoyed the light classics, big band and the pop music from the thirties and war years.    The young man kept current by radio with the Hit Parade and later with The Burgie Music Box and Lucky Larger Dance Time.  His younger sisters Kay and Nancy never encountered the affection that was apparent within, their predilection of music was something to listen to, not experience.

A young Sergei Rachmaninoff

Responsibilities and time limits prevailed when seated before the piano,  not everyone in the household shared his enthusiasm, his dad when returning from work at 5:00 p.m. preferred the solitude of a quiet house, thus the piano forte ceased before 5:00 .  With no formal training, despising the term “play by ear” he took it upon himself to learn the treble and bass cleft scales, the time and key signatures, able to discern sheet music but not a sight-reader.  Returning home from school one day the 5th grader was totally surprised when his mother asked if he wanted to take piano lessons. Visions of grandeur coming to mind, to journey down the same well-traveled road of Chopin, Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky.

Mike giving voice to a friend.

 The first lesson was spent with hand position, finger crossover, rudimentary scales, a enlightenment of the basics which the youth had already acquired.  The second lesson was one of sight-reading right and left hand elementary melodies.  The middle-aged instructor somewhat at awe with her new student before leaving placing a very simplistic arrangement of Home On The Range in the key of G on the piano instructing him to practice sight-reading and not to memorize it.  On her return the following week, Mike played Home On The Range, trying his best to stop a natural instinct to add progressions and flourishes that were not in the musical score, but to no avail.  The piano teacher immediately arose, walked to where his mother was seated in the dining room, giving noticed that she would no longer be available, emphasizing that the young man lacked the discipline to play the music as written.

Korla Pandit & Liberace

  With his favorite radio programs enriched with their classical background music now a signpost of the past and with the advent of a television’s new personalities such as Korla Pandit and Liberace both attempting to placate the past classical heritage.  Mike was very much aware of a transition, the popular standards of the thirties that were broadcast were soon overshadowed by the hits of American Bandstand.  As a youth he soon discovered discernment comes with age,  surprisingly he never acquired a desire to memorize a lyric, finding he was not prejudicial but holding fast to a belief that lyrics were poetic works, whereas the euphonious rainbow performed by instrumentation was an illustrated canvas of interpretation and symbiosis painted by the composer and residing within the musical spectrum were the meaningful signatures of life.


The Tag Along Gang…………..#6 (the 50’s)

June 20, 2017

Greenly Drive, the Water Works on the right – (East Bay Municipal Utilities District Water Filtration Plant)

Mike had no close classmate friends at Burckhalter those first years,  almost all the boys in his class lived past the Water Works on the other side of the school.  His closest friend was Mark Tweeten,  a year older than Mike having two older sisters, Joann and Carol, the Tweeten’s living  across the street.   The two boys spending hours together emulating their favorite matinée movie, or radio program hero’s in activities, the Cisco Kid, Lone Ranger, Gene Autry and Gunsmoke, episodes enacted with many a roll of caps being spent in shoot-outs after school and on a weekends.

(1948) Front – Nancy,, Esther Pepitone Back – Milton Pepitone, Mike, Mark Tweeten, Katy

  When Mark entered the the 4th grade his most envious and greatest personal possession was his bike.  Mike’s first bike riding learning experience was on Marks bike and with this accomplishment he began his effort to secure a similar mode of transportation.  To his dismay, the Tweeten family announced they were moving to Concord  and he could no longer use “Well Mark has a bike” as a reason for his parents to get him one, the quest for a bike now seemed  more unattainable.   After Marks move  he received an invitation to spend the night at Marks house in Concord,  his Dad providing transportation for this last visit.  It was a double blow, losing his best friend and being a victim of the family imposed bicycle rule.  NO BIKE UNTIL YOUR TEN YEARS OLD.

Richard Brehmer & Gordon Meyers

The building of a new house on Greenly Dr. catty-corner across Shone Ave was finally completed,  a family named Telford moving in.  The Telford’s had a son, Larry, a year older than Mike whom he soon discovered wasn’t very sociable. It may have been because he was an only child or possibly because his dad was an undertaker and for some reason mike thought it bothered everyone.  Mike was somewhat envious of Larry after seeing his big bedroom located downstairs next to the garage,  but it wasn’t the size it was what was in it.  Lining the walls on two sides was a continuous expansion of a shelves displaying dozens upon dozens store-bought miniature metal cars.  Mike having but a few and in the past entertaining projects,  constructing roads in the dirt, parking area’s.  Deciding the difference between him and Larry was, Larry never took them off the shelf,  they were always on display.

The only boys in Mike’s class that lived on his side of the school was Gordon Meyers and possibly Richard Brehmer.  Gordon’s house was a block from the school and Richard lived somewhere on the other side of Mountain Blvd,  a pretty good distance from his house.  The youth didn’t share any interest with Gordon but if he had a bike he could visit Richard, as well as Roger Monroe, Karl Kreplin and those that lived on the other side of the school. He briefly thought about using “No Bike,  No Friends” as a valid approach to his parents to get a bike, but decided that wouldn’t work because next door lived a house full of kids, younger, but still company.

Diamond Pepitone

The family of next door neighbor Bob and Diamond Pepitone numbered five.   Mike could never figure out the association of the kids nicknames with their real names.  The nicknames, Babe,  Sis,  Turnbay,  Turtle and Bugs,  translated into Milton,  Esther,  Faye, Christine and Diane.  The eldest  was Babe, the only boy in the brood,  2 1/2 years younger than Mike,  his sisters Kay and Nancy spending much more time playing with them.  He would join them in a game of hide-go-seek or kick the can and it was becoming more often now that he was devoid of a best friend.

View of the East Oakland hills

Four blocks down Shone Ave. and across mountain Blvd. rose the East Oakland Hills ,  its forestation,  fresh water springs, valleys, and relics from an earlier era were beckoning.  The hills cresting at the 1100 ft. elevation on Skyline Blvd. high above Oakland,  providing a panoramic view of San Francisco Bay,  Mike wanting to  ventured into this vast uninhibited expansion, the youth knowing it was hiding untold secrets just waiting to be discovered by an inquisitive person  aspiring for excitement and adventure.  His Mom wasn’t to keen on Mike trooping off alone into the hills and the young man knew this, but a plan prevailed,  a hillside picnic outing with his sister Nancy, the two eldest Peptone’s, Babe and Sis joining them.  This first organized outing for the group was a start and the beginning of many,  Mike was now able to explore but finding himself being accompanied by what he referred to as the Tag Along Gang.

The hidden valleys







Cresting the first hill and walking down to what is best described as a small valley  wandered a deserted unkempt dirt road which in years past had probably been subject to the ferrying of horses and cattle.   Standing before the youthful explorers  was an old stable, dilapidated by the  years neglect and rain-soaked wear.    The old timbers attempting to maintain the crumbling stalls,  the air still retaining the smell that only old barns and stables have,  even through time this remnant odor, its pungency still permeating the air of primordial history.  In all probability, the young people making up this  group probably didn’t realize or understand the significant of what they were experiencing, but there was one inquisitive among them that recognized and felt the indelible imprint of the past and the quest that remained.

Cardboard sliding on 82nd Ave.

During the summer, the grass and sedges grew tall,  sedges resembling what most people thought was wild wheat,  turning golden in the late spring and abundant thru out the state for three seasons , thus giving California its name,  The Golden State.  This was a great fun time  for the itinerant group of youngsters, gathering cardboard to use as sleds, the tall grass and sedges on the hills providing a natural slope to sail down.    The prime area was the unpaved top section of  82nd Ave. the city deciding not attempt to connect 82nd with Crest Ave,  the hill being too steep,  a switch-back being built around it for motorized traffic to reach the top.   Another area  was across Mountain Blvd above the dirt fire break road that led to the Oak Know Naval Hospital,  mother nature providing these recreational downhill slides.  To everyone’s disappointment,  by the third or fourth day of use the grass lost its slickness, and the sliding season was over for another year.

26 inch mobile transport

The Day of reckoning finally arriving, Mike’s transportation problem  reconciled,  a new Monarch, 26 inch bike with center tank and luggage rack over the rear fender, he was ready, the world would know no bounds anymore.   Like all new owners he had designs for changes, the fenders could stay for now because he was a rain or shine riding person and fenders were definitely a necessity.  A color change for the existing red and white stock paint but this too could wait for another day.  His answer for deliverance having finally been conceived with the arrival of  this new acquired conveyance, it would be the young mans  best friend for the next five years, not his only friend,  but truly his best friend.

Laundry Farm Canyon – Revealed…..#7 (the 50’s)

June 18, 2017

During the 2nd and 3rd grades at Burckhalter elementary,  mike willson having experienced his classmates standing in front of the class sharing something from home, it was called show and tell.  But in Mister Hayden’s 4th grade class,  it was an opportunity to share an event from the weekend.  Steve graham standing before the class talking about the hills above his house, and following Leona creek that flowed into Mills College’s Green-lake to the abandoned sulphur mines and an old rock quarry called Devil’s Punch Bowl.  Just the mention of the creek, abandon mines and a quarry named Devil’s Punchbowl sparked Mike’s sense of adventure and to think that it was within hiking distance.  Although Steve wasn’t in Mike’s circle of closer friends,  Karl Kreplin and roger Monroe were, and they both lived in Leona heights near Steve.  mike deciding to visit with both of them about what Steve had said, the two nonchalantly saying they had been there.  Mike couldn’t let go of what Steve had shared with the class about the Sulphur Mines and Devils Punchbowl,  mentioning to Roger about wanting to see it for himself, his friend listened but was hesitant,  finally agreeing to show him what Steve had talked about in class.

Laundry Farm Canyon Map

(The amazing history of Leona Heights and Laundry Farm Canyon) .    –  Nestled in the foothills of central east Oakland was what later became known as Leona heights and laundry-farm Canyon.  The native Huchiun Ohlone Indians having established a village deep in the redwoods above the bay inlet with its full-flowing spring-water creeks cascading down from the hillsides amongst the fog draped forest of the redwood evergreen Giants.   Spanish explorers having passed within a half-mile of the canyon and in the late seventeen hundreds,  Missionaries and  Spanish Californios would finally settle in the area.


On August 3rd 1820,  Spanish governor of California,  Pablo Vicente de Solá presented Don Luís Maria Peralta a land grant of 44 thousand-eight hundred-acres embracing what would become the east bay sites of Oakland, San Leandro,  Alameda, Emeryville, Piedmont, Berkeley, and Albany.  With the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo signed at the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848 and with California becoming a state in 1850,  the U S Federal land-act required the Spanish Californios to prove their land titles in court.  By 1879 all that remained of Don Luís, son Antonio Peralta’ s 16,067 acres inheritance from his dad was 23 acres,  the years of attorney fee’s having pillaged the estate .



Sadly, in the 1840’s logging had started in the redwood-covered-hills just beyond laundry farm Canyon,   and within 20 years, men numbering 400 at their peak had logged out the entire redwood-forest.   In 1851, three men, Horace Carpentier, Edson Adams, and Andrew Moon began developing what is now downtown Oakland,  and on May 4th  1852 the Town of Oakland was incorporated.  two years later in 1854 it was re-incorporated as The City of Oakland




Mills Seminary 1889

In the 1850’s Pliny Bartlett, a recent San Francisco businessman decided to incorporate a laundry business, associating himself with George H Hallett and P. E. Dalton. Their idea was to establish a white labor laundry,  at that time being almost exclusively operated by the Chinese.  Bartlett and his associates would  ferry the laundry from the numerous San Francisco hotels across the bay to the southeastern end of Alameda. The laundry was then hauled up the hill to the spring-water fed horseshoe branch of Leona Creek, where it was washed, bleached and dried on the grass, the hillside area now becoming referred to as Laundry-Farm Canyon.  In the 1860’s the laundry enterprise moved to west Oakland,   with the redwood-forest logged out, the hillsides of Laundry-farm Canyon and Leona Creek were now sparsely populated,  but that would change when Cyrus and wife Susan Mills bought 55 acres of pasture and a cottage alongside Leona Creek.  Mrs. Mills an educator who had operated The Young Ladies Seminary of Benicia, moved it to Oakland,  building Mills Seminary on the south end of laundry-farm Canyon bordering Leona-Creek,   the creek being dammed to form tiny Lake Aliso as a flood control means during the raining season for the school.


In 1876,  a flat hilltop site above the canyon, referred to as Observatory Hill becoming a popular picnic spot, a foot trail led high up above the creek to the meadow on top of the hill with a 360 degree view of the surroundings.   an enterprising man named Lane ran a 4-horse-drawn canopy sightseeing tour buses up the hill.  Later in 1887 the Laundry Farm Railroad was built across the Mills property, the incorporated Mills Seminary, now renamed Mills College. The railroad continued north into the laundry farm Canyon across the creek from where the original laundry shack had stood,  a Car Barn being build where the trains were switched and stored.  With the scenic area becoming a major attraction the 3-story Laundry Farm Hotel was built in 1892,  a quarter-mile east of the Car Barn on a 200 acre site on the south bank of Leona Creek opposite of Observatory Hill.  the railway track from the Car Barn was extended to provide service to the hotel.  The hotel suffering a fire in 1897 but being rebuilt.  the train service and tracks to the hotel removed in 1902, the track beds becoming roadways, but the hotel experiencing a second fire in 1907 and was not rebuilt    .


Francis Marion ‘Borax’ Smith







The Leona Heights sulphur mines began operation east of the Laundry Farm Canyon in 19 oh 6, the project of  Francis Marion twenty mule team  Borax Smith,   a Oakland businessman and civic leader born in Richmond Wisconsin in 1846,    leaving Wisconsin at the age of 21, to prospect for mineral wealth in the West,  making his fortune in borax mining,  but also invested locally in real estate.   the innovating Borax Smith having a bunker built at the railway car barn at the laundry farm Canyon site connecting an aerial cable tramways to the sulphur mines, able  to transport over Two hundred thousand  tons of Iron Sulfide, known as Pyrite from the Leona Heights Mine. The mineral was trammed by aerial tramway down the hill to a sizing mill, crushed and shipped by railroad to Stauffer Chemical Company in Richmond for the manufacturing of sulfuric acid    .

Macadam rock quarry – Oakland

Devouring the hillside

The Leona Heights rock quarry opened in 1909 a mile northeast up the hill. The quarry,  its face being over 125 feet high,  operated with a crew of thirty five men.  Two gravity trams, one 2500 Ft. long, the other, 1200 ft., along with concrete chutes, would take the rock from the quarry down to the crusher and then loaded to be transported by rail.   The rock was a fine-grained basalt and is used for roadway macadam and concrete.  macadam getting its name from John Loudon McAdams, a process he invented in 1816 using aggregate stone for road construction.  The quarry had the perfect quality rock needed to make up the three two and smaller three quarter inch stones for a road.  It was later when they poured tar on the cracks between the laid stones it would better support a load,  giving the road mixture a new familiar name,  Tarmac.


The adventurist weekend to explore Devils Punchbowl and the sulphur mine having arrived,  Mike riding his bike past the school, then proceeding down Sunnymere Avenue to where it intersects Mountain Boulevard.  his anticipation bursting at the seams,  when arriving at Rogers house on Kuhnle Avenue, Roger nonchalantly saying, “Let’s Go”    .