Raised in a rural community in Wyoming during the 1930s, Sophie Adams ended her schooling before the ninth grade to help out on her family’s farm. Eager to join the war effort, Sophie travelled for the first time to California, eventually landing a job at the Lockheed Corporation as a riveter.
In this interview, Sophie speaks about her experience growing up in Wyoming on a farm during the Great Depression. After Pearl Harbor, she witnessed the young men in her community, including her little brother, leaving for war. Despite her family’s reluctance, Sophie packed up and headed to California where she acquired a job packing lemons. She later found work riveting at the Lockheed Corporation. Sophie discusses rationing books, saving stamps, V-J Day, and her advice to the youth of today.
Hurrying Home to Share the Car Radio After Pearl Harbor
AM: Do you remember the first day of the war? Do you remember Pearl Harbor Day?
Oh yeah, sure do. In fact, I wasn’t at home when that happened. Of course, we just had a family car, and I happened to be in another town when I heard that on the news. So I hurried home, ‘cause we didn’t have no—we just had poor beginnings, really. So I hurried home so my parents could hear it on the radio, ‘cause the car had the radio in it. [laughs] Yeah, not everybody had radios where we lived out on the prairie.
The Oldest of Twenty-Three Children
I was the oldest, and then my sister Leila. Then my sister Vicky, and then my brother Ray, and Chris. There was twenty-three of us kids.
AM: Oh my God, you’re kidding me. Twenty-three children? [laughter]
One mother, one father. No twins, no nothing.
Singing While Lemon Packing for Sunkist
So then I got down to a little town named Carpinteria where my sister was living. And I was just there about a day or two, so then I went and applied for a job. And they hired me right away. And I worked where they packed lemons—I packed for Sunkist. I packed lemons, and that was all young girls and they were a lot of fun. We brought sheet music and sang and learned a lot of songs. Oh, we just had a barrel of fun. To me all that was like playing after working so hard on the farm.
Of course, my dad, he depended on me a lot. I drove the tractor and plowed—I did everything. Only think he wouldn’t let me run was the sickle mower. That was the only thing. But I could handle all the other farm equipment that he had, the disc and harrow, all that. My dad was real patient and just taught me everything.
How to Wrap a Lemon
We wrapped them and boxed them. We had a lady that taught us how to do it. And the smaller the lemons, the more money you made. They was in graduated sizes. I was trying to work in the bins where all the little lemons was at, ‘cause I could wrap pretty good and I was pretty swift at it.
AM: Now, you didn’t wrap every lemon? You just wrapped—what does it mean to wrap a lemon?
Oh, you just had like a board on one side of you and you had like a rubber finger stall. And you just hit that paper and then pick up the lemon and put it in that paper, and then you give it like a swirl to wrap it. And in the box where you put it in, it was [like a] a hat: you put one, two, three; and then you go back and put one, two, three. And that’s the way that you filled up the box.
AM: Now these lemons were not used in the war effort—were these lemons sent over as food for the troops?
That I never did know.
Clothing and Hair Regulations at Lockheed
You had special clothes that you wore. You wore like a jumpsuit. It couldn’t be tight; it had to be pretty loose. And your shoes had to be a size larger than what you normally wore. And you had to wear your hair in a snood. Because at that time my hair, it came down clear to the middle of my back. So I wore a snood all the time.
AM: And a snood is basically, it’s almost like a very loose hairnet?
It’s like a loose hairnet with big weave, like a fishing net, you know? You put your hair in it and you brought it up and tied the big ribbon right at the top. It’s how it was.
Standing Up to Teasing for Working in the Fields
I did find that at home when I worked on the fields. Girls used to say stuff to me about working in the fields all the time, you know? And I just ignored ‘em, I just ignored ‘em.
AM: So, when you worked in the field sometimes you were made fun of, but when you worked in the factory you were not?
Uh-huh. If I worked in the fields, I said, “Well, you know what, this isn’t the first time women have worked in the fields. Way back in the earlier part of days before I was along, they worked in the fields—they had to.”
Trading Sugar Stamps for Shoe Stamps
Of course, I didn’t do a lot of baking, so I used to trade my sugar stamps for shoe stamps.
AM: In other words, you didn’t want your sugar, you wanted your shoes, right?
[laughs] I wasn’t doing any baking, so I didn’t need all that sugar.
AM: So you had two pairs of shoes, huh? Big deal, right?
And then I knew a girl in Santa Barbara at the cosmetic counter. And I don’t know why she just took a liking to me. She would save toothpaste for me, the stuff that you couldn’t get.