Tom Wilson

Interviewers: Mari Martinez & Shannon Kuleto 
Interview Date: March 23, 2014

MARI MARTINEZ: Today is March 23. My name is Mari Martinez and I am the Spanish Services Associate at the St. Helena Public Library, and with me…

TOM WILSON: is Tom Wilson. I was born in 1927 and I was born on Spring Mountain. Dr. Booth was the one that delivered me. The Sanitarium… I was probably fast in coming and I…we couldn’t get there. But he delivered me there. 

The thing is, my uncle was an electrician in the Navy at Mare Island, and he built the first telephone line from Grandma’s house, which was actually at the top of the hill, up by Charlie Volpe’s place, where Pride Mountain is today. And it was 6 ½ miles long to town. He built that whole line, along with four other farmers, and it was called a farmer line. So, it was a magneto farmer line. It cost each subscriber, I think, $600, ‘cause you had to buy poles, wires, phones, insulators, and hired, probably, help, ‘cause I don’t think five guys could dig all the holes and put up the poles and stuff. But at least Grandma had a phone, and it was a farmer line. There was five people on that farmer line. And I have a 1930 telephone book today that has my…Grandma put it in her son’s name, Vernon Wilson. That’s who it is, in 1930. That was the first phone. We didn’t have electricity until, I think, after the war, probably ’47. That’s when they came out with the Rural Electrification Act or something.

SHANNON KULETO: I didn’t realize that extended into California.

TOM WILSON: Yeah, and we got our power in ’47. My uncle, who, like I said, was an electrician, he really knew how to do things. So, they wanted to get a radio, so he strung antennas from the barn all around and picked up a signal. He got a radio, and it was operated on a six-volt battery. He put it in the living room and we could watch, well, not watch, (laughter)… listen to the news and different programs. I remember once my Aunt Edie said, “Tommy, sometime you should listen sometime to this new program that’s come on the air.” I said, “Well what is it?” She said, “It’s ‘The Lone Ranger’”

MARI MARTINEZ: Oh wow! And where did the signal come from?

TOM WILSON: From The City.

SHANNON KULETO: What was the sound quality like?


SHANNON KULETO: The sound quality…Was it crackly?

TOM WILSON: No. It was pretty good. He had antennas all over, crisscross and everything. But no flush toilet! (laughter) That was my pet peeve, you know. We had running water in the house, but it was gravity flow, coming down from Charlie Volpe’s place, where Pride Mountain is now. That’s where the old school was there, because Grammar got started for school up there on Spring Mountain. It was a one-room schoolhouse and that started there. The thing is, I was gonna go there, I went there on a summer, just to see how it was, you know. But the next year, the school opened down here in St. Helena, in ’33 I think it was. 

My cousin, Jewel Marie, that was my aunt’s daughter, she lives in Reno now and she’s 96. She’s the last surviving member of the 1935 class of St. Helena High School. So, when she goes, that’s it. There’s nobody left of that class, and I have her yearbook with all the students in it. She’s the last one. I think Elwood Mee was the last one. No, no, I think the fellow out here by the cemetery, who passed away about a year ago. I’m not quite sure what his name was. I think he was the last one. But I have all the names, and I knew a lot of those people that are in that book, you know… that class, ‘cause that was the class of ‘35.

MARI MARTINEZ: What was your class in the school?

TOM WILSON: My class was ’36. She’s ten years older than me. Even today, yeah, she’s 10 years older. But she, her and her brother, Dick Marie, came to school in St. Helena, but her dad bought her an old car, I think it was a Durant, and they came down off of the hill in that old car to school. And I think the School District paid them $8 a month for gas for that car. But gas, in those days was 17 cents a gallon, so they didn’t need a lot of gas, and they probably coasted down there. But she told me the other day that all the time she had that car, she never had a flat tire. And I said it was probably because your father, who was in the Navy for 35 years, made sure that you had new tires, because that road was notorious for punchers, you know.

MARI MARTINEZ: And what was this road?

TOM WILSON: It was just dust and gravel, and partly impassable in the wintertime, you know, really bad.

MARI MARTINEZ: That was the road to come into the downtown?

TOM WILSON: Well, it was Spring Mountain Road, and it went over to Santa Rosa. Yeah, it was a county road. Yeah, she just came down that road.

MARI MARTINEZ: So, we’re seeing a picture… Oh just in case, the other woman’s voice with us is Shannon.

SHANNON KULETO: Shannon Kuleto

MARI MARTINEZ: And she is a Board of Director…

SHANNON KULETO: Director of the St. Helena Historical Society Board.

TOM WILSON: And I’m a member.

MARI MARTINEZ: So, we are actually seeing a picture of Main Street and the restaurant that…

TOM WILSON: Well, I actually remember the Chevron Station here. Three different times it was rebuilt in my lifetime. Three different stations, you know, but it changed during my lifetime. ‘Cause you know they do that pretty often; they’ll keep putting in new pumps and stuff like that. But it’s been here a long time.

SHANNON KULETO: Was it Standard Oil? Chevron, now?

TOM WILSON: Well, it was Standard first, then Chevron.

SHANNON KULETO: But it’s always been a Standard Station.

TOM WILSON: Yeah, um-hmm. But the other day, Carolyn Wilson and myself, that is my wife. I wanted to go to The Tides in Bodega Bay.  So, we went over there. When we were just pulling in, there was a station right there, and I says, “Look! It’s $3.99 a gallon! In St. Helena it’s $4.17 a gallon!” Now I think it’s $4.19. They’re hauling gas to the coast, and it’s cheaper in the coast than it is in St. Helena. So, we’re really getting ripped off here in this town. So that’s why people have cars; they don’t buy gas here in this town. They go to Napa or Santa Rosa. They’re not going to pay that price. But I told her about that. She says, “Yeah, well, that’s right.” 

But anyway… yeah, so I graduated in ’46, and after I graduated, I knew I had to go in the service, so I went to the draft board in Napa. Mary Lind, she was head of the draft board, and she says, “Well, you could probably have to go in, ‘cause you’re gonna turn 18.” I says, “You know what? They just dropped the atomic bomb in Japan, this war is going to be over here in a couple weeks.” She says, “Oh, but you gotta go and replace some of the people who have been there for four years.” I said, “Well, I realize that, but I want to join, ‘cause I want to get some goodies from the government, you know, like school and 52-20, which I used. I got 52-20 when I got out of school: That was $52… no…that was the weeks. I got $20 a week for 52 weeks. So, when I went to school, I got $20 a week. So that’s $80 a month, you know, ‘cause I …

SHANNON KULETO: Was that part of the GI Bill? 

TOM WILSON: Yeah, that was part of the GI Bill, yeah. But, anyway, so… after I went to Japan… And I was there… I got there just before the end of ’46. We left 2 days before Christmas. Well, we were on the open seas for two weeks, like this. We took the northern route. I can’t believe somebody would take the northern route to go to Japan in the winter. They wouldn’t let us go above, on the top deck because they didn’t want to lose anybody. I says, “Well, if we went up there, you wouldn’t go save us.” And she says, “That’s right.” They made us put on the life preservers, but we had to stay below. So, we were down there four or five days before it ever got calm, you know. And everybody was seasick. But, two weeks, we finally got there. But I was smart. In the PX, I went to the PX and bought a box of…

TOM WILSON: So, we were down there 4 or 5 days before it got calm, and everybody was seasick. But in two weeks we finally got there. But I was smart, in the PX… I went to the PX and bought a box of Butterfingers. I don’t know if it was 24 or 36, but I bought a whole box, put them in my duffle bag. So, I didn’t have to go to the PX when I was on board.

MARI MARTINEZ: Oh, you had them already.

TOM WILSON: I had my candy all the time. And I still had candy when I got to Japan, so I started handing it out to all the guys, you know, next to me. After that, I never did have a Butterfinger, until about five months ago. I told my grandson a tale about that Butterfingers. He got a Butterfinger and put it in the refrigerator, and he told me about it. “Papa, you know, there’s a Butterfinger in the refrigerator. I said, “Max, I haven’t had one for how long? 63 years.”

MARI MARTINEZ: Does it taste the same?

TOM WILSON: It tasted the same.

MARI MARTINEZ: It tasted the same.

SHANNON KULETO: Took him right back.

TOM WILSON: But I like Snickers! I’m a big Snickers fan. I don’t know why I didn’t get Snickers.  In those days you could by those candy bars for $5. So that whole box of candy didn’t cost me very much. You know, whatever, five cents each? 

SHANNON KULETO: That’s your grandson, Max Parriott.

TOM WILSON: Yeah, that’s my grandson, Max Parriott.

MARI MARTINEZ: Where in Japan did you get to?

TOM WILSON: What’s that?

MARI MARTINEZ: Where in Japan did you get to?

TOM WILSON: Oh, I went to Tokyo. We steamed into Tokyo Bay, and God, what a mess. Everything was burnt up and ships were beached on the shore, and everything, so they wouldn’t sink. We embarked there at Yokohama. That’s where we embarked. That was the Repo Depot there. The thing is, there was five… four other people on that ship that was in my class.

SHANNON KULETO: St. Helena class?

TOM WILSON: Class of ’46. Dick Lemme, (sneeze)


TOM WILSON: Excuse me. Harvey Cook, Dick Bennetu… ahh, I gotta sneeze.

MARI MARTINEZ: Ya, Ya. Go ahead. Do it, do it!

TOM WILSON: Dick Bennetu and myself. So, we, five of us met there in Tokyo. I think, I was in the First Cav., so was Dick. I met with Dick last week. He lives in Santa Rosa; he’s still alive. And we reminisce about our times over there, things we used to do. I told him, I says, “You know Dick, if that Mary Linton had told me that, when I went into the service, that I wouldn’t have sex relations for 18 months, I would have knocked her in the teeth.  

MARI MARTINEZ: For how long did you stay there?

TOM WILSON: Well, I was there 15 months! But MacArthur said “No Fraternization” with the people, you know. Well, they showed VD films that you couldn’t believe how awful they were. So, we didn’t have relationships with them, the Japanese girls. (laughter). But I told Dick that and he says, “Well, that happened to me.” I says, “Well, I think that happened to all of us, you know, after we went and watched those films.” No way we were gonna… And they weren’t very attractive. I’ll tell you; they were not very attractive.

MARI MARTINEZ: So, 15 months later…

TOM WILSON: Yeah, so 15 months later when I got home… But, luckily we went home the southern route and landed in San Francisco, and went under the Golden Gate Bridge. That was a pretty happy time, to get home.

SHANNON KULETO: How would you have traveled from San Francisco to get back up to St. Helena at that time.

TOM WILSON: Well, my folks came down in a car and got me, there in the city. I think I embarked there, Camp Stoneman, I think it was. But before I got into where we were going to embark, I had this old army wool overcoat that weighed 56 pounds. I said, “I’m getting sick and tire of this.” I took it out of my duffle bag and threw it overboard. I says, “Hell, I don’t want this damn overcoat in California.” (laughter) And you know I was out there, and everybody else was throwing them overboard. They didn’t want them either, not even the guys from Kansas. So, we were chucking our overcoats overboard, to make our dress bag lighter. Nothing was ever said about it.

SHANNON KULETO: How had things changed when you got back home to St. Helena?

TOM WILSON: My girlfriend said I changed. I says, “Yeah, I probably changed.” And I was engaged to her. We broke off the relationship. Well, you know, that’s a pretty tough time in your life, you know, when you’re away from home for the first time. Yeah, it’s kinda tough. 

MARI MARTINEZ: How old were you by that time?

TOM WILSON: Eighteen when I went in, yeah. You know, I was in the barracks in Tokyo, which was the barracks of the 7th Japanese Marine Division. Our buddies in Guadalcanal, the Marines, wiped them out, eventually killed damn near all of them. Anyway, they said, “We’re going to have a parade Saturday, so you have to sew a 1st Cav. patch on your coat.” You know, that overcoat I was telling you about. Well I didn’t know one end of a needle. I must have stuck my fingers a lot! (laughter) Well, three days later, I was at camp in Omio, which was right outside of Tokyo. It was an old binocular factory, and we used it for our camp. It was a concrete building, and that’s where we were billeted there. But anyway, I got up to go to the bathroom, and I had trouble getting there, then I couldn’t get off the stool. I couldn’t walk; I couldn’t get up. And I told somebody about it, and they thought I was kidding. I says, “Hell, I’m not kidding! I can’t walk!” 

So, they called the First Sergeant, and they came up and I told them, “My leg’s paralyzed, my arm’s paralyzed.” He says, “OK well, we’d better get the medic up here.” He said, “Well, we’ll have to take you to the 49th General Hospital in Tokyo.” So, they threw me in a weapons carrier and took me into Tokyo. If it wasn’t for penicillin, I would have died, because I had 172 shots of penicillin over the whole time I was there. And that’s the only thing that saved my life, was penicillin.

SHANNON KULETO: Do they know what was wrong with you?

TOM WILSON: Yeah, I got blood poisoning off that needle that I picked out of the window sill in that barracks. That Japanese Marine barracks.

SHANNON KULETO: Sewing your patch on for the parade.

TOM WILSON: Yeah, so they booby-trapped that place. They found a pigeon, and I was the pigeon, one of them.

MARI MARTINEZ: So, other people had the same…

TOM WILSON: I don’t know, but I got it. Those needles, they killed a lot of our people, in the olden days, especially the women that sewed, because until they invented the thimble, a lot of people died of blood poisoning by pin pricking their fingers. But I didn’t learn till after that you took a match and burned the needle to kill all the…

SHANNON KULETO: To sterilize the needle?

TOM WILSON: Yeah, to sterilize it. I didn’t know that till, you know, after that. But thank the British for discovering penicillin.

SHANNON KULETO:  How long had penicillin been discovered?

TOM WILSON: During the war, that’s when it was discovered, yeah. In fact, one of … I think it was Eichmann (ed. note: the incident involved Reinhard Heydrich), the German guy, bad guy, he killed a lot of people. 

Anyway, a bunch of parachutists from England jumped and landed in, I think it was Czechoslovakia. They waylaid him in the morning when he was going to his office, machine-gunned him and everything. And one of the bullets went in the backseat of that open car, and the open car had horsehairs in it. And it drove one of the horsehairs into his back, and he got poisoned, blood-poisoned. And he was really sick. They heard about penicillin and they tried to make some deal with the British to release some prisoners if they would give him some penicillin. And the British said, “Nope, you’re not getting it.” And he passed away from blood poisoning from that bullet that went through the backseat of the car and took that horsehair into his back.  So that was the good thing about that. But the British didn’t give in, so the Germans lost on that one. But that guy needed to be killed anyway.

SHANNON KULETO: Well, speaking of medical, can we go back from… we were talking before we turned the recorder on. You were talking about the doctor who delivered you, and maybe take a medical tack through it.

TOM WILSON: Sure. Yeah, well, my mother had three boys. I was the second boy. My older brother is six years older than me. And that house, that house is still up there on the Cadaratti Ranch, which is now the… well, what’s the name of it now? Betty March, daughter…


TOM WILSON: Keenan, yeah.


TOM WILSON: Connor was …

SHANNON KULETO: yeah, with Laura March.

TOM WILSON: Yeah, Laura, yes, the main person there. But in that house, before you get to the winery, which is off to the right there, that was where the… my dad was the foreman of the ranch and the winemaker, too. Now this was back in the ‘20s and ‘30s. I remember, I was in a box or something on the floor of the kitchen, and I was always cold. My brother was older than me, and I had a head of blond hair. He used to come by and kick me, because he thought I was a girl. He says, “I wanted a brother.” And Mother says, “Well, he is a boy.”

SHANNON KULETO: But you had all that pretty hair.

TOM WILSON: I had beautiful hair.


TOM WILSON: I remember him kicking me all the time when he went by. I can remember that, because that was… I don’t know why I remember it. I remember that and two times in my life when I went hungry when I was there. I can remember those like it was yesterday.

But Dad was the winemaker there. And I know at nighttime, when the sailors came up from Mare Island, they would throw gravel on the roof of the house, and Dad would know a sale was pending, because he went out to the winery, and they had jugs. They filled them up full with booze, you know.

SHANNON KULETO: And you say this was in the ‘30s, so that would be after Prohibition.

TOM WILSON: Well, ’29…

SHANNON KULETO: Oh, in Prohibition! Ahh….

TOM WILSON: Yeah, before, see. But I noticed, the next day, we had food in the house. That was a good thing, that Dad got some money from the sailors, you know. They went back to Mare Island with their booze, you know.

SHANNON KULETO: Do you know if your dad had any brushes with the law when he was making his secret…?

TOM WILSON: No, I don’t remember. I never did hear about it. Yeah, that was something else, to survive.  But everything was done by horses. I looked at all the stuff out here today, and I know about those pieces out there. Yeah, everything was done by horses, by hand, cultivators and stuff. Our milk came from our cow, called Edna Mae.(laughter) That was the same name that Edna Mae McCormick, that was her first name. You know, Babe McCormick. That was her first name, Edna Mae. I don’t know if mother took…

SHANNON KULETO: Babe’s first name?

TOM WILSON: Yeah, that was Babe’s first name, Edna Mae. 

SHANNON KULETO: So, somebody was teasing her, to name the cow that?

TOM WILSON: Yeah. That cow, yeah, that cow probably raised me. (laughter) And when we moved off of Spring Mountain, in ’35, Dad got a job at, I think, WPA and he bought a ranch down in Bale Lane, 15 acres. So anyway, we took Edna Mae by rope, following her in an old Dodge Touring Car, down the hill.


TOM WILSON: Yeah, she walked. They sold her to Ed. I think Ed Rule. I think his wife had a shop, Lottie’s, in town, a dress shop. Anyway, they lived out on Sulphur Springs Road, and they took it out there, Edna Mae. Anyway, but the story is, she was pregnant, that cow. Well, here about a month later, I forget Rule’s first name, but anyway, he came in to tell, “You know, Edna Mae, she walked back up Spring Mountain. (laughter) She wanted to go home.

MARI MARTINEZ: She went back to your house.

TOM WILSON: She went back to our house.


TOM WILSON: How did she know where it was?

SHANNON KULETO: I’ve never heard of a cow doing that.

TOM WILSON: Yeah, she went back up there. I says, “Well, did you go back up there and get her?” “Yeah, we did”, you know. So that was the story of Edna Mae.

MARI MARTINEZ: Did it happen a couple of times, or just one time?

TOM WILSON: No, just that once, that day, yeah. (Laughter)

SHANNON KULETO: Did you move off the hill and live on the ranch on Bale Lane?

TOM WILSON: Right, in ’35.

SHANNON KULETO: In the flatland? What a different experience.

TOM WILSON: Oh, big difference.

SHANNON KULETO: Did you have flush toilets?



TOM WILSON: Our house was a Victorian. It had six rooms, one toilet, running water.

SHANNON KULETO: Is that house still there?

TOM WILSON: Yeah, it’s still there. But it also had an outhouse, too, you know. We were used to that outhouse. So that’s where I was raised until, God, until I got married, actually. I went to school in St. Helena, you know. We took the bus. We had to walk over to Big Tree Road to catch the bus to go to St. Helena. But then when Jack Reynolds became Superintendent of Calistoga, in the sixth grade. I was in the sixth grade. And he says, “You know what? You and Bob have got to go…” because my brother already was six years ahead of us, so he already got out of school. He says, “You gotta go over to Calistoga.” I says, “Wait a minute. I don’t want to go to Calistoga.” He says, “Well, you gotta, because we’re not getting any money.” So, we broke down and went to Calistoga for sixth, seventh, eighth grade. Eighth grade, I graduated, and I said to myself, “Calistoga doesn’t have a football team.” My brother and I were going to be football players. I told him, “Myself, I’m gonna go to town and live with my aunt, Stella Williams, she lives right in town. I’ll stay there with her.” So, I did.  That’s where I went. I went with my aunt and uncle in town, and I stayed there. Then after a while, things calmed down and we still couldn’t take the bus, but we moved back out to the ranch and we hitchhiked and whatever.

SHANNON KULETO: You hitchhiked to school in the morning, huh.


SHANNON KULETO: How many of you?

TOM WILSON: Well, my brother and I

SHANNON KULETO: Your younger brother?

TOM WILSON: Yeah, Bob was two years younger, he was a year behind me. Yeah, we became football players. And Jack Reynolds was the coach up there later on, and he had two boys.

SHANNON KULETO: Was the mascot “The Saints” by then? The St. Helena Saints?

TOM WILSON: Yeah, it was “The Saints”. So, we were big sporters, fans. We were football players, basketball, track, and everything.


TOM WILSON: Yeah, we were athletes. In fact, Bob was the quarterback and I was the tight end. I think in my senior year I got eight touchdown passes and a couple of conversions.

SHANNON KULETO: Sounds like a record.

TOM WILSON: Yeah. In basketball I was high point man. Bob was a shot-putter, discus thrower, hurler. In the Sub League Meet in Davis, later on, when I was in the service, Bob beat John Cavalieri, who was about 6’3” in the shotput over there. And Bob was about 5’8”, John was maybe 6’2”. He was a hunk of a man, you know. And Bob beat him in the shotput over there in Davis. And God, it was something else. I wasn’t here, but I heard about it. Then after I got out of high school, of course I went in the service, then after I got back I went to college in Napa. So, I played football there for a couple years, and come look over a college, COP, which is over… Pacific in Stockton. That’s where University of the Pacific is today.

MARI MARTINEZ: What did you study?

SHANNON KULETO: Oh, it was the College of the Pacific then, and it’s the University of the Pacific now. 


SHANNON KULETO: Great school.

MARI MARTINEZ: What did you study there?

TOM WILSON: Business, I think I took up business there. Anyway, that’s what happened. My younger years.

SHANNON KULETO: When did your mom have the business?

TOM WILSON: That was in the ‘40s, and maybe in the ‘30s, late ‘30s.

SHANNON KULETO: When you were still living up on Spring Mountain?

TOM WILSON: No, we were living out on Bale Lane.

SHANNON KULETO: After you moved to Bale Lane.

TOM WILSON: Yeah, because we went there in ’35. My mother had a second… Well she bought the florist shop in St. Helena, at 1317 Main Street, next to Joe Galewsky’s shop in ’41 or so. She had a florist shop there.

SHANNON KULETO: And did she have the restaurant at the same time?

TOM WILSON: No, no, later, she did the florist. She could do anything. So, she… Right over here was the Post Office. Pearl Harbor Day was a Sunday, and we were taking out the windows in the old Post Office there and Johnny Montgomery came up the sidewalk and he said, “Hey, Japs bombed Pearl Harbor.” Well, I knew where Pearl Harbor was, but a lot of people didn’t know where Pearl Harbor was. And I says, “Oh God!” He says, “ We’ll probably go to war.” I says, “We probably will.” I was 14 at the time, and I knew I didn’t have to go, for a while. But I remember that. We were taking out those windows because we were building a hothouse on our property out on Bale Lane, for mother’s florist shop. We were building a hothouse with the windows, you know. And they’re all like this, so we built a hothouse for her.

MARI MARTINEZ: Did she sell the flower shop?

TOM WILSON: Yeah, she sold it to somebody else. Well, no, what happened, she passed away. In ’52 she had a stroke. She died at 49 years old. She passed away.

SHANNON KULETO:  Way too early.

TOM WILSON: Yeah. That’s right. She really got gypped in her life. My mother used to take George and George’s wife to dances in the area. There were dances in Conn Valley and all over. So, they didn’t have a car.

SHANNON KULETO: Where would they hold that kind of a dance? At the Grange Halls?

TOM WILSON: Well, yeah. Grange Halls and Farm Centers, like Lodi Farm Center.

SHANNON KULETO: Right. And Tucker Farm?


SHANNON KULETO: All the way out to Lodi though…

TOM WILSON: Native Sons’ Hall, and different places.

SHANNON KULETO: Where was the one in Conn Valley?

TOM WILSON: It was out there where some winery was. I remember them, later on at that ranch they made Perlite, which is a material, made in blocks, building blocks out of a quarry they had out there. But I vaguely remember that. Our job was to… what do you call that sprinkle stuff you put on the floor, the dance floor?

SHANNON KULETO: Oh, just sand, right?

TOM WILSON: No, no, no. It came in a box. Spangles.

SHANNON KULETO: Oh, I don’t know about that!

MARI MARTINEZ: I never heard of it before.

TOM WILSON: It was silver stuff.

SHANNON KULETO: To keep it from being slippery?

TOM WILSON: Yeah, to make it slippery so they could slide across.

SHANNON KULETO: Oh, to MAKE it more slippery.

TOM WILSON: Yeah, ‘cause the surface wasn’t too great in some of the halls. 

SHANNON KULETO: It’s called Spangles? And it came in a box?

TOM WILSON: Yeah. It came in a box, so Bob and I would…

SHANNON KULETO: What was the texture?

TOM WILSON: Well, it was really slippery. But it was… I don’t know what it was like.

MARI MARTINEZ: Like dust? Something like that?

SHANNON KULETO: Like mica dust? Or talc?


MARI MARTINEZ: And then it was easier for you to dance?

TOM WILSON: Oh yeah, sure! Put that on the wood floor, boy you could really scoot around.

SHANNON KULETO: What kinds of shoes would you put on to go to a dance? What would a young gentleman put on?

TOM WILSON: Probably Oxfords, leather. ‘Cause leather on floors. Rubber wasn’t too good. But you know, at my Grandma’s house, she had a barn, and my mother and my aunt would put dances on there.

SHANNON KULETO: At the Bale Lane house?

TOM WILSON: No, up on Spring Mountain. People used to come from Santa Rosa and St. Helena, drive up there on Saturday night to these dances that she’d put on up there. She had a bunch of guys, Johnny Sculatti and St. Helena’s first… Well, we never did call him a black man, but he was a black man, Wesley Jennings.

SHANNON KULETO: Oh, his wife was the nurse?

TOM WILSON: Yeah, she was a nurse, and she was a good friend of ours, too. I think he was a drummer; I think. And I think one of the brothers down there on Pope Street was the pianist and Johnny Sculatti was the accordion.

SHANNON KULETO: Oh really! So, you put the homegrown band together.

TOM WILSON: We put them all together. One guy was the fire department, I think he played… What did he play? He played something. But there was about four or five of them. My aunt and my mother would make some kind of lunches for them, 12 o’clock, you know. You know where that soda works plant is, where you come out of Spring Mountain Road, there’s a building right there. I think it houses a bunch of Hispanics now. Right there, that was a soda water works in St. Helena years ago. But you could get all different kinds of soda water.

SHANNON KULETO: Before you head up the hill?

TOM WILSON: Before you head up the hill. So, we use to have soda water up there, and Bob and I would have soda water and ice water for the folks, with Delaware Punch and Nehi.

SHANNON KULETO: Delaware Punch? Tell us about that.

TOM WILSON: Delaware Punch, Nehi, root beer, cream soda…

SHANNON KULETO: Oh yeah. All in the bottles.

TOM WILSON: All in the bottles.

SHANNON KULETO: But the punch was homemade?

TOM WILSON: The punch was in that bottle, some kind of punch. Nehi punch or something like that. I don’t know what it was. But I remember those drinks, and we would sell them up there at 5 cents each. But they had to bring those bottles back because they wanted those bottles back. We never charged them for the deposit, so if they didn’t bring them back, we’d go out and gather them because we had to pay them, when we brought them back, we had to pay them two cents deposit for them.

SHANNON KULETO: So, when you say your mom fixed lunch, were the dances during the day?

TOM WILSON: Nighttime.

SHANNON KULETO: They were at nighttime?

TOM WILSON: Yeah, it was light sandwiches and stuff. They had made all the stuff ahead of time. I remember they made chocolate candy bars and stuff like that. My grandma was a great cook, you know. She had this big range and her oven, wooden stove. God, that was a great stove. And you could smell all the stuff she used to make in there, when you walked…

SHANNON KULETO: Do you know how fuel a wooden stove and keep the temperature steady, and that whole thing?

TOM WILSON: Yeah, right.

SHANNON KULETO: I never got the knack of that myself.

TOM WILSON: It seemed like that stove was going all the time, because I know that kitchen area was the mainstay of the house. She used to have a rocking chair and she used to get all the kids around her, and she’d read stories. God, I used to listen to those stories. She probably instilled in me my love for reading. And I’m a big reader today because, I think, of her.

MARI MARTINEZ: Did she read the books, or she just told the stories?

TOM WILSON: She had a book, yeah. And she told stories about her crossing the plains and things she had to do. They were coming down from Redding or some place, Mt. Shasta or something. She told her boys, “I have to have 24 hours if you want me to bake bread.” And she said, “You find a place where there’s water, a lot of firewood, cause I’m gonna have to have a fire all the time I’m there.” So, they had to get off the trail, ‘cause along the trail, everybody used everything up. So, they did, took a little detour and got off on a place where there was a stream. She got her 24 hours and she made bread in Dutch ovens; I think.  I think they were pots like this. But that’s where she made bread so that they could…

SHANNON KULETO: Was this your mother or your grandmother?

TOM WILSON: My grandmother, yeah.

SHANNON KULETO: What decade do you think she came across the plains?

TOM WILSON: Well, I think it was 1880. Yeah.

TOM WILSON: Their first stop was a town called Keswik, up by Mt. Shasta. That was before that reservoir was put in up there, at Mt. Shasta. All the boys went to work in mills, mining quicksilver or something like that. They built a cabin, homesteaded there. But then, oh, what happened? Grampa was a tender on a train, she told me. That was my grampa. He was coming down a hill and they lost brakes. The engineer said, “Hey Wilson, if you want to survive, I think you’d better jump. Find a soft place.” He says, “I don’t think we’re gonna live if we have to run off the track, you know.” And so, he jumped, but it wasn’t really a soft place and he got hurt really bad. So, he was injured, but he lived for two years before he passed away. But he died of the injuries from that.

SHANNON KULETO: Were they all still living in the Shasta area?

TOM WILSON: Yeah, they were living… But the company had a smelter down in the Bay Area there, by Selby, or someplace there in the Bay Area. And they said that they could probably relocate down there, ‘cause that’s where they went, down by Martinez and Crockett. There were three boys and Edie, my aunt, and Grandma.

SHANNON KULETO: And what was your Grandmother’s name?

TOM WILSON: Sarah Wilson

SHANNON KULETO: That was Sarah Wilson.

TOM WILSON: Yeah. She was a kingpin in the family. I’ll tell you, she held everybody together.

SHANNON KULETO: And she lived here in Napa Valley too? When did everybody come to Napa Valley?

TOM WILSON: Well, ’11. 1911. That’s when they homesteaded up on the hill. They came from Crockett. Somebody told them about there’s homesteads available in Sonoma County, up on top of Spring Mountain. That’s where they found out about that. It was a homestead, but it wasn’t a lot of level land at all. It was pretty hilly. So, they had to clear the land and build a home and a barn, terrace it…

SHANNON KULETO: And this was all where the Keenan Winery is now?

TOM WILSON: No, their place was right below… What did I say the first one? 

SHANNON KULETO: The Marches? Oh, the Cutter…

TOM WILSON: No. The farthest one. Where Charlie Volpe lived. That was… Well anyway they were below Charlie Volpe’s winery. Pride Mountain.


TOM WILSON: Yeah. So that’s where Grandma lived there. But you know that telephone line, I was talking about it earlier, there at Conratty Ranch, we had a phone and Grandma had a phone, so we could talk back together. That was really something to have a phone. That’s all you had.

SHANNON KULETO: So, your dad was raised in this homesteaded place?

TOM WILSON: Yeah, he became the winemaker there on the Conratty Ranch in the ‘30s and ‘20s, ‘20s and ‘30s. It was mostly jug wine, there were no varietals at all. Just strictly…

SHANNON KULETO: So, was that your parents’ home when they got married then?

TOM WILSON: Yeah, that was my parents’ home when they got married.

SHANNON KULETO: So, you lived with them until you moved to Bale Lane.

TOM WILSON: That’s where I was hatched, yeah.

SHANNON KULETO: And where the cow lived. (laughter)

TOM WILSON: The cow, and the horses, you know. The cows, the pigs, the chickens, they all had names.

MARI MARTINEZ: What happened to your older brother after he went to college? Did he come back?

TOM WILSON: Well my older brother, actually Jack, he had to go in the Navy, and he spent time in the Navy. But he was married at the time to a young lady here in town, the Woodward family. But then when he got out, I don’t know, something happened. I don’t know what happened. They got a divorce. But anyway, he got married again. He married a Tubbs girl in Calistoga, of the Tubbs Ranch. Do you know the story of the Tubbs family and all the property they owned?

SHANNON KULETO: I’ve read the story of the Tubbs.

TOM WILSON: Well they lived in a mansion there for years until that fire in ’62 or ’64 burned that mansion down in Calistoga. And then they moved out there in the Farm Center down there. But, yeah, he married one of the Tubbs girls, and I think they had over 350 acres of vineyard there. 

SHANNON KULETO: So right there next to Chateau Montelena?

TOM WILSON: Yeah, that was it. That was it. I was in that building quite a bit when they owned that place.

SHANNON KULETO: So, was the Tubbs’ Mansion at what’s now Chateau Montelena?

TOM WILSON: No, it was a separate building, but on the same property. But the fire burned that down. God, it seemed like they could have saved it, but the fire went on for several days, you know. But my niece, Jack’s daughter, still owns 40 acres there. She has a place there on the hill on the same property, today, even. That ranch used to get their water from way up on top of Mt. St. Helena. I don’t know how long… how far… it was past Hanley’s.

SHANNON KULETO: Did they have wooden irrigation…

TOM WILSON: No, it was a water line, all the way down the hill, across the field to a storage center across on the top of a hill there, across from the Tubbs’ Mansion.

SHANNON KULETO: When you say a water line, are you talking about an underground or laying on top of the ground?

TOM WILSON: It was a 3 inch-er. Well way up in the hills, it was on top of the ground, but when it got down where the vineyards and orchards were, they put it underground.

SHANNON KULETO: Was it made of terra cotta?

TOM WILSON: No, it was steel, but it was black, black iron. But it didn’t hold up like our galvanized pipeline. I think that pipeline was at least five or six miles long. But Tubbs was in the cordilage (cordage) business. He was a millionaire in San Francisco. He had made rope, you know. Tubbs Cordilage (Tubbs Cordage-source: Wikipedia), that’s where he got his money. At the farmstead, I mean the Fair, one of the buildings is named after him.

SHANNON KULETO: What is the word you’re using? Does that mean rope making?

TOM WILSON: Cordilage


TOM WILSON: Yeah, what do they call it, sisal?

SHANNON KULETO: Yeah, sisal and hemp.

TOM WILSON: Yeah, sisal and hemp. That was the business.

SHANNON KULETO: Cordilage…I don’t know that word.

TOM WILSON: But he had all that acreage on Tubbs Lane there, and it went up the mountain. It was a lot of land there. But anyway, I’ve about run out of power here.

SHANNON KULETO: You’ve run out of steam. But you know, we didn’t get on tape about like the prices at the ????

MARI MARTINEZ: Or the menu?

TOM WILSON: Well I remember the menu. You could have a meal there, whatever the specials were, for 35 cents plus two cents tax. I remember that. It was more than enough, because she had a lot of business, especially in the evening. She wasn’t open for breakfast, but I think she had lunch and dinner. Oh God, thank you.

MARI MARTINEZ: No breakfast, just lunch and dinner.

SHANNON KULETO: Did most people get their breakfast at the time down at where Ana’s Cantina is now?

TOM WILSON: No, not in those days. I don’t know where they got breakfast at, really. God, I remember the Bruni family had a restaurant down there. I think it was Domenico’s, there on Main Street. But I don’t know, remember any place that had breakfast. I remember going to Safeway to get a cube of butter for ten cents. 

SHANNON KULETO: Safeway was in the same spot, right?

TOM WILSON: No, it was across the street over there, next to the gas station.

SHANNON KULETO: Oh, it was on Main Street?

TOM WILSON: Yeah, where Donaldson’s used to be there. Yeah, it was right there. That was Safeway, yeah. All she gave me was a dime; I remember that. She probably cut it in cubes, or sliced and put it with the French bread she served on the meal. She probably didn’t put that cube of butter on the table.

MARI MARTINEZ: Did any of the other family members work at the restaurant at that time?

TOM WILSON: I don’t know if anybody else worked there. I just remember her. She’s a cook. She might have had a waitress, you know. She probably had one of the local girls. But there was an alley right there. There was an alley right back there and back here was a Napa Mill and Feed store. That’s where I learned to ride a bicycle. I put it against the wall and pushed off and went towards Adams Street and crashed. (laughter)

SHANNON KULETO: Did many people ride bikes?

TOM WILSON: Yeah, a lot of people, yeah. Couldn’t afford cars. And you notice, there’s no meters there either.

SHANNON KULETO: Was the Inter-Urban working, in your memory? 

TOM WILSON: Yeah, the streetcar went right by here. And my mother and my aunt, at Christmas time, used to make garlands for these light poles and electroliers here. And I think they did the business district and the City paid them $28 for decorating. (laughter)

SHANNON KULETO: To make fresh garlands?



TOM WILSON: But you know that was probably a lot of money, really, to make $28. And all the material, we used to gather off of fir trees. We used to cut them up with pruning shears, you know, tips like that. And Dad would make the wires, you know.

SHANNON KULETO: Wow. You know, you are just a font of information. Would you talk with us again about a directed subject or two?


SHANNON KULETO: As we begin this program?

TOM WILSON: I can do a whole program on Stone Bridge.

SHANNON KULETO: Could you? Could you?


MARI MARTINEZ: He was telling me the story about how he got the name changed to Mot, and everybody knows him as Mot, and not Thomas or Tom. 

TOM WILSON: But when I was picking prunes, you know in the prune box, you know a prune box like this… You know, I’m an artist, too. You put Mot up here and a box, too, here, and then the name of the person went here, right here. It took two half-gallon buckets of prunes to make a… to fill that 40-pound box.

SHANNON KULETO: That’s a lot of pickin’

TOM WILSON: And I remember picking prunes on Sonoma Avenue, when I went to my grandma’s…five cents a box! And I made about $1.70 all summer. Then I go to… oh, what’s that big hardware, or clothing store in Santa Rosa in those days? I don’t know what it was, but I’d buy my clothes. I mean you could buy clothes for hardly anything. But that was… Rosenbergs! Yeah.

SHANNON KULETO: But, what did Mot stand for on the top of the box?

TOM WILSON: It stood for this… my name.

MARI MARTINEZ: Tom. (laughter)

TOM WILSON: My mom said, “You weren’t dumb. You had mirror vision.” (laughter)



MARI MARTINEZ: How wonderful.

SHANNON KULETO: It was a real privilege to hear these stories “Mot”.

MARI MARTINEZ: Thank you. Well, we’ll have you back.

TOM WILSON: Yeah! OK. Thank you.