I was born and raised on a small Flower Farm in Fresno.
My first experience with electricity began when I joined 4-H club at Central Union high school in Fresno, circa 6-th grade. All the projects seemed to be related toward farming and we were not farmers. The leader was complaining about the drop in the membership and interest in 4H due to the more suburban kids at the school so I asked the 4H leader "Do you have anything that will interest suburban kids?" He asked me "What would you like to learn?" I said "Well, how about electricity?" I thought that would send him away muttering, never to be heard from again, but guess what?
About two weeks later the teacher came back and told me "PG&E says they have some books they could send out from New York and would I be interested?" I said "YES! I would like to be the first one to sign up." When the books came I remember they had dark green covers and they had a cartoon character of Ready Kilowatt on the cover. Ready Kilowatt is a play on a measurement on the amount of electricity used.
The teacher gave us a class every two weeks. We learned how to make western union splices and a little bit about Ohms law (used to calculate amps, watts and volts) and lots of stuff including safety issues like, don't fly kites near the wires and all that kind of grammar school stuff.
One day, I was using the vice in an out-building (shed) and I wanted to work after sunset, so I needed a light closer to the vice. I asked my Father to put up a light for me and he told me go ahead and do it yourself son. I said - but what if I get shocked! He said turn off the electricity. Duh!, I thought to myself.
I had made a table lamp by turning some redwood on the wood lathe. I added a lamp holder and wired it up with a special knot that keeps the cord from pulling out of the base.
Since I had taken some of the Ready Kilowatt 4-H classes and I knew how to make a Western Union splice so I went ahead and spliced on to the two parallel wires that were running near the vice. I stripped the rubber insulation that covered wire twisted the copper wires together and added a pull chain light over the vice.
After using the light for a while, it started to flicker. That was how I learned that splices need to be soldered for a permanent connection. This was before wire nuts were in common use.
When I was 16 or 17 years old, my parents built a new house on the property in Fresno. I wanted to do the electricity myself, but they said "No - You're too young". So . . . I watch as the electrician worked. I asked questions and learned how to work with romex wire. He did the drilling and let me pull in some of the wire. When it was ready, the house was inspected by the County Inspector and found to be ok. While the sheet rock was put up, and the painting was done the electrician took off for another job.
When it was time for the finish work, or the trim work as we call it, the general contractor called the electrical contractor to come out and finish the work. He was a no-show and after two or three days I asked could I could do the work but the General said wait for another day and one more phone call. This time the electrical contractors wife said the last time she saw him he went to the bar, so the general contractor gave me a chance. I wonder if he really was a drunk or a very nice person who let me have my first chance at real electrical work . . .
I went ahead and hung all fixtures and put in the devices and plates. Everything worked except for one three way switch in the hallway. I told the GC that I thought the electrical contractor have wired it incorrectly and he said "Well if you know what you're doing go ahead and fix it." I had to crawl in the attic which is very hot, since Fresno can get up in the hundred degree weather sometimes, but I was able to fix it. I had to run in another cable. This convinced the general contractor that I knew what I was doing. When he built the next house he called me and asked if I could come and work for him. I was happy to earn some money for college.
I worked on two or three projects. I still remember the one that was in the winter when I got very cold including my hands. I would collect a few pieces of 2 x 4 wood scraps left over from the framing work. I built a fire to warm my hands but that effect was not long-lasting. Working inside a building with walls up but NO WINDOWS can be pretty chilly in a Fresno winter.
Later on I was working on another house when a friend asked me if I would like to go to Hawaii. I thought that was a good idea because at least it would be warm and I wouldn't get cold hands while I'm trying to work. I went to work for Mr. Johnson in Hawaii on the Reef Tower Addition, and it was pretty low pay. I had brought my tools with me on the airplane and he was glad to hire me and I thought - This is terrific, I'm able to earn some money while I'm in Hawaii having fun.
However working on the 16th floor of a building looking down at the surfers was kind of not as much fun as it could have been. I got a little bit of sunburn while I was wishing I was surfing instead of working. It worked out okay though and one day I decided to ask for a raise. Mr. Johnson said go next door in a high-rise and ask for Mr. Kelly and see if he'll give you a raise, "But I don't think so". I entered a room with the gentleman behind the deskan I asked for a raise and he said no $3.65 an hour is all I can afford to pay you. Since I was in Hawaii and happy to have a job I said okay and I left.
Even in those days there were some problems with copper theft. One day I came to work and Mr. Johnson asked me if I knew anything about the roll of copper wire that someone rolled off the roof and smashed onto the deck, 16 floors below. Of course I was not able to help with that problem.
One of my jobs was to go around and solder every splice. Because the Hotel was right on the ocean each copper wire connection was twisted and then dipped into a pot of molten solder to solder the joints. I have to be careful not to miss any splice because you don't want to have a bad connection in a resort hotel. I continued working as an electrician for a while but eventually I quit and started a business with a friend of mine called color unlimited where we get custom color photography and processing. I lived in Hawaii for seven years.
In 1968 I came back to the mainland and eventually applied for work at the union hall, local #6. When the union dispatcher found out that I had worked on knob and tube wiring in Fresno he said "Great, I have just the company for you". He gave me a pink slip which I think seems kind of funny because it's an application slip, not a dismissal slip. He sent me to Brookline Electric Inc. When I arrived John Brookman said "Super". I'll never forget that.
I was assigned to work with John's brother on the largest wood frame building in San Francisco. It still stands kitty corner across from Safeway at 14 & Market. The building had been in the fire and we had to redo much of the knob and tube wiring. My first task was to take 10 or 15 feet of loom (sheath) and push the #14 copper wire down the center so that we could use it to extend some wire and move some panels to a better location. After working for John Brookman at Brookline Electric and the Union for a while I decided that rather than have to get up so early and go to work for some one else, I would rather start my own business again as a continuation of what I had been doing in Fresno.
In order to get my electrical contractor's license. I had to have a net worth of at least $1,000 or more. At that time it did not have that much, so I worked out a deal with a friend and employer named Ronnie Ciancarulo. I took test and got my license under his company name. The funny thing was, my first license was named The Leather Shop Inc. Of course people continually asked me what's the deal with an electrician named The Leather Shop? So eventually I earned enough money to get my own license. Even so money was not that plentiful. I remember one time I got behind on my federal taxes and one day these two IRS Agents came up my stairs and demanded money. I told them I would be paying soon and they said 'No you're paying now." I said what about my operating capital and they said "You're paying now". So I did. Things gradually got better and eventually I got married and moved into my current house. I picked up some employees as business grew and now I have a reasonably successful company. In 1994 Brookline Electric Inc. became for sale and I purchased it for $40,000.00. My original company was named Aries electric and I thought by purchasing Brookline, I could double my business. Well that did not happen but I did increase it by half again and it helped a lot. I'm still continuing in business to this day.
I very much enjoy my work.
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