Silicon Valley: A Father and Son Conversation

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Verle (Father)

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Chuck (Son)

CHUCK: You first came to came to California in 1954?

VERLE: 1954, yeah.

CHUCK: And you just had Tom at that point?

VERLE: Yeah, well, actually it was 1955 when we came. Because Tom was born in 1954 in September and we came down to California in June of 1955.

CHUCK: Why did you come?

VERLE: Because there was no work in Portland. And your mother’s, Lorraine’s, mother and father were living in California and they wanted us to be with them. We had your Aunt Joanne living with us and finishing high school. So when she graduated we packed up and moved to California.

CHUCK: Why was Grandpa down here?

VERLE: He moved down here and got a job with Litton Corporation as a maintenance man. He did maintenance work, cleaned up the machines and everything. Your Uncle Sam got him the job at Litton. They lived in a little two-bedroom house in Los Altos. We came to California and lived with them for a couple of months, and then we lived with your Uncle George for a couple of months. And then we bought a house on the G.I. Bill on Walker Drive in Mountain View. Our monthly payments were $96 a month.

CHUCK: That was quite a stretch back then, though?

VERLE: I had to work two jobs to make house payments. They didn’t build fences around houses like they do nowadays. You had to do your own grass and landscaping. We moved in there, I guess, September-October? I never did plant grass because I never had the cash.

CHUCK: So, Uncle George beat you down here?

VERLE: Uncle George was here before Grandma and Grandpa. He was here with your Uncle Sam and Uncle Howard, and they sold Grandpa on the idea. Grandpa came a year before we did then, leaving Joanne with us to finish high school at Milwaukie High. El Camino Real was US 101, and 101 was US 101 Bypass, was only a three-lane road with a center passing lane in the middle. There were truck stops starting in San Jose going all the way into San Francisco, all along the peninsula.

CHUCK: What was your first job when you got here?

VERLE: We got here on Saturday. Sunday, I returned the trailer we rented, and got the want ads. There was an ad in the San Jose Mercury News for Culligan Soft Water. They were looking for driver salesmen. Well, I was considered a driver salesman with Consolidated Freightways in Portland. After putting in an application that Monday, I went back to my car and looked up and there was Erickson Van and Storage across the street, so I said, “Aw, the hell with it. I’ll go put in my application.” I walked across the street and asked if they were hiring. They gave me an application, and I went into the driver’s room to fill it out. I handed it into Herb Erickson who asked me, “Are you available right now? I need someone to drive a shipment into San Francisco.” So I started working for them on that day. CHUCK: You worked for Erickson before you worked for Bekins?

VERLE: I worked for Erickson for four years, from 1955 to 1959. We went on strike in 1959. I left and went to work for Neville Moving and Storage in Mountain View for four months until work got slow and I was only working two days a week, so Bekins was hiring warehousemen. I hired out with them for warehouse work. After seven months, the new operations manager asked me if I could drive a truck. He said, “We need drivers. I’m going to pull you out of the warehouse and make a driver out of you.” So I went to driving, then I got the job as driver trainer. Then I went into dispatch, and got out of the union. Otis Blake, who had bought Erickson from Herb Erickson, called me one day and offered me a job as their operations manager at $250 a month more than I was making. So I went to my boss at Bekins who offered me $500 more a month to stay. Back then in 1962 was a lot of damn money. Otis said he’d match that, and he’d give me a pick-up to drive back and forth to work and buy the gas. I went back to Bekins and quit, but they asked Otis if I could stay for two months to help out with a couple of big jobs I’d staged. I wound up staying for three months before going back to Erickson.

CHUCK: Is this the Bekins that was at Stevens Creek and Saratoga? That’s now a computer company?

VERLE: Yeah, but I worked at the Bekins in Palo Alto first.

CHUCK: What were your first impressions of what was once the Valley of Heart’s Delight?

VERLE: I loved it. First off, on Sunday your mother and I, when we just had your older brothers Tom and George, your mother would make a picnic, and we’d drive to San Jose when the orchards were in bloom. We’d bring moving pads to spread out and have our picnics in the orchards.

CHUCK: What kinds of orchards were there?

VERLE: Oh, all kinds. Cherry, walnuts, pears, and peaches. Oranges. No apples. And lemons. The whole part of where Bayshore is now, where 101 Bypass was, was orchards all up into San Francisco, besides the restaurants and truck stops.

CHUCK: Working back and forth until 1964, having more kids, then you bought this house here in Campbell, right?

VERLE: We bought this house brand-spanking new and moved in June of 1964. My house payment was $103.67 a month. I gave $17,250.

CHUCK: Which at that time was an investment.

VERLE: Hell, I couldn’t afford it, but I did it. When I worked at Bekins, your mother and I figured that with our budget, we could buy a $50 war bond a month, so Bekins took that out of my check. I saved up $1,500 to make the down payment on this house. CHUCK: You know people would clip off their thumbs to have that kind of down payment today.

VERLE: Shit, that’s not even a month’s pay for most these days.

CHUCK: In 1955 there were orchards everywhere, you guys were picnicking, and Grandpa worked for Litton who made microwaves.

VERLE: Litton actually made one of the first household microwaves.

CHUCK: Microwaves weren’t a household thing in 1955.

VERLE: They were new. In fact, your Uncle Sam worked at Litton. He didn’t have a diploma, but he was smart. I mean smart, smart. He engineered parts that went into the earliest household microwaves. But he was just an employee so didn’t see much money from developments.

CHUCK: When you first went to work for Erickson how much of what you did was household moving and how much was office and industry?

VERLE: 98% household and a very little bit of downtown office moving. There was no Apple. Fairchild had just started and became a mainstay of the electronics industry. They made the discs. Gordon Moore worked at Fairchild. I think he was the first president of Intel. Then National Semiconductor was a take-off from Fairchild. Many who went for later firms started at Fairchild. Then Hewlett Packard started in a garage in Palo Alto.

CHUCK: Which was the first IT company to use your moving services?

VERLE: First was Fairchild. Erickson had that contract. I moved one of the manager and shareholder’s house. He asked if I’d ever done any office moving. I said no, but he gave me a job to do a small office move, seven offices, and he like what I’d done so he gave us a contract.

CHUCK: By the time you bought into James Transfer and Storage in the 1970s, office and industry was pretty much your bread and butter, right?

VERLE: Well, when I left Erickson and went with Campbell Moving and Storage they hired me as an office and industry salesman. That was in 1968. In 1973 there were three of us – Sam Teel, Danny Hughes, and myself — that bought James Transfer and Storage together. By 1977, we were the second largest booker as a Mayflower agent in the United States. That was mostly electronics. I had contracts with G.E., IBM, Intel, Fairchild . . . I was selling almost a million dollars a year.

CHUCK: Before your partner got other ideas

VERLE: Sam and his brother were stealing from the company and going on world cruises on a three-mast schooner they’d bought.

CHUCK: You bought this house in 1964, and I was born a year later. What was this neighborhood like back then?

VERLE: It was a dead end.

CHUCK: There was at one end. We actually called it “the field.”

VERLE: A church owned it. Lemoyne dead-ended into it. It was strip that ran from the orchard behind us, through Lemoyne, our street, past Acapulco into Rincon.

CHUCK: Wasn’t there a barn on Acapulco, right around the corner from our house?

VERLE: Oh, yeah. Well, on Rincon.

CHUCK: The barn was on Acapulco, but the property ran back to Rincon. The barn sat on the corner of the lot on Acapulco, but the rest was empty land. And that and all these orchards you mentioned were owned by Bianucci?

VERLE: Yeah.

CHUCK: What do you remember about the guy?

VERLE: Never met him. He let you kids play in his orchards, though.

CHUCK: I looked into him a little bit. Daniel Bianucci was born in 1901 or 1902, and he died in 1975. We know what happened to the neighborhood in that year, right?

VERLE: Hell, they sold the properties and all these houses came up.

CHUCK: The barn went away.

VERLE: The orchard went away too. They built right behind us.

CHUCK: The prune orchard went away, and San Tomas Park and all the houses around it appeared. The field was developed too.

VERLE: They built houses there, and now the streets were no longer dead ends.

CHUCK: This was the year IT started booming right?

VERLE: Actually, the industry started going nuts in about 1961 or 1962. I had contracts with Four-Phase and AMD had all kinds of buildings. I moved a lot of IBM from New York to here. Most of their stuff came by rail cars. We emptied those rail cars into the buildings on Cottle Road. Now that’s the Think Tank.

CHUCK: In 1968 Doug Engelbart did the “Mother of All Demos.” Did you ever do any work for Xerox PARC? Palo Alto Research Center?

VERLE: No, not that. We did lots for Xerox itself though. At this time, our moving was about 80% office and industry.

CHUCK: Between the mid-1950s until the mid-1970s you’d progressed from 98% household to 80% office and industry.

VERLE: Office and industry was daily, not one-time operations like household. So you wanted the contracts. They wanted men and trucks every day. All the moving companies competed for these contracts.

CHUCK: This is what I was doing for you during the 1980s. You’d park my ass every day at IBM, AMD, or United Technologies. You had trucks every day at Hewlett Packard too. They’d park us in the warehouse until someone came to have us move a desk, maybe a couple of file cabinets, and then we’d go back and wait some more.

VERLE: We moved United Technologies from Sunnyvale on Arquez Road out to the Coyote Valley.

CHUCK: Yes, I went there most of one summer. An engineer had left plans for the Minute Man missile on his desk. I spent a lunch hour reading through them, not understanding what I was reading, of course. I pulled a lot of cable at IBM too.

VERLE: Yes, IBM. The mainframes, the 407s and 402s, were mainframe IBMs. They had floors thirty inches off the ground, and they ran a multitude of cables in those spaces. IBM hired us to come out to pull those cables out of the ground. I never did that kind of work myself.

CHUCK: I pulled a lot of that cable for you. Some of those cables were about as thick as an elephant’s trunk and long, long. Some project manager pointed and we pulled. We never laid them, however. Techs did that. By pulling cable I added major beef to my arms. The bullies started backing off at that point.

VERLE: We hired in to do that work for years.

CHUCK: You always sent me out with the man who is for me the archetype of the blue-collar workingman, Clifford Leveritt. VERLE: Yes! Cliff was with me at James Transfer. His helper had one leg, a peg leg, remember? We had a contract with UTC too that required we pull a forklift out to the site for second-story work. Cliff had a flatbed with a trailer behind it. He’d be coming down the hill from UTC, and Cliff would say, “Those damn brakes are going soft again.” So, I asked, “How’d you deal with it?” He used his helper’s leg to press down on the pedal really hard.

CHUCK: Wasn’t that Ron? He worked in the warehouse. Ron Day. He had that leg he could detach. Cliff is a fucking legend. His wife was named Doris.

VERLE: Yes, a very nice woman.

CHUCK: He came to California about the same time you did, right? From Arkansas, I think. He was a country boy with a duck-tail or pompadour haircut.

VERLE: He worked for me for quite a few years.

CHUCK: He was Mr. High-Tech all the way with his newfangled hump strap.

VERLE: Oh, yeah. He hated hand trucks.

CHUCK: See this scarred knuckle?

VERLE: Cliff did that?

CHUCK: Five of us had to move these fireproof file cabinets up three flights of stairs, about twenty of these sons of bitches, and Cliff wouldn’t let us use hand trucks. Four of us had to grab a corner on these cement-lined monsters and lift them step by step. My knuckle never quite healed right.

VERLE: Cliff was his own self, but he was a good driver.

CHUCK: Did you know they wrote a song about him?

VERLE: Oh, yeah?

CHUCK: Cliff it! Cliff it! Get a hump strap and lift it!

VERLE: Another driver of mine, Pete, broke his hand one day bringing a Hide A Bed sofa down steps in San Francisco. I sent him to the doctor who wrapped it in a cast. Pete went right back to work. Never missed a day even with that cast.

CHUCK: How quickly things changed after those days.

VERLE: Right after I came to California things started changing. Fairchild was on Whisman and Frontage Roads. They had five buildings near where we lived on Walker Drive. But it went crazy in the 1960s. You couldn’t find a house until they started building later. This house was a good investment.

CHUCK: You only bought this house, because you were having more kids, right?

VERLE: And your mother was sick of cement floors. She wanted wood floors.

CHUCK: So, the first extension you added, this very room, has a cement floor, of course. What an excellent husband you were.

VERLE: Well, it was the cheapest. This room with a half bath costed me $4,800.

CHUCK: And it had that awful tile on the floor.

VERLE: I got that free from Fairchild. They ordered it for a new building but didn’t like it, so I was told to haul it to the dump, but I kept it instead. The sheet rock came from Fairchild too.

CHUCK: How did you keep kids occupied during the weekends? We didn’t have video games or computers.

VERLE: Games. Monopoly, Clue, card games. You kids liked that one where you took the body parts out of the guy and it buzzed. What was it?

CHUCK: Operation.

VERLE: Yes! You kids really liked that one.

CHUCK: What can you tell me about Frontier Village?

VERLE: Frontier Village was over on Monterey Road. James Transfer and Storage had one of their first moving wagons, an old Conestoga, parked out there. There were rides, horses, you kids loved it. This was before you had all these huge amusement parks everywhere.

CHUCK: What was then Marriott’s Great America appeared in the late 1970s.

CHUCK: What can you tell me about the building of the Century domes on Winchester?

VERLE: They were an oddity. I think Century 21 was the first one to go up. Then 25 was over by Westgate, right?

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CHUCK: Yes. Do you remember them building Westgate?

VERLE: No, not really. But we never went into the theaters . . . that was once fruit orchards too.

CHUCK: What about the Winchester Drive-In?

VERLE: Well, the Winchester Drive-In was in Campbell, and we’d go there on Friday nights. You get the car in for a dollar. Your mother would pop three big bags of popcorn, and I’d back the car into the spot and drop the gate so you kids could watch the movies out of the tail end.

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CHUCK: What kind of car were you driving at this point?

VERLE: An old Mercury station wagon. It was cheaper to pop the corn too. We took our own concessions to the movies and only paid the buck to get in.

CHUCK: Didn’t you and Mom ever go to movies alone?

VERLE: Not really. Your mother and I had a friend from Bekins named Kyle Kennedy. He was blind in one eye. He and a friend bought a bar in Watsonville, got a dance license so then they came to San Jose out on Almaden Expressway called Cowtown.

CHUCK: I remember the one on Monterey Road.

VERLE: The first one in San Jose was on Almaden Expressway. There was more than one bar called Cowtown. I remember that your mother and I could go there on a Saturday night and drink for free, because Kyle Kennedy and I were really good friends, and we could dance. Then they expanded Cowtown across the street, and it was twice as big. He had all kinds of Western stars come in. He charged a cover to people. We’d close the place at 2 AM, and Kyle would charter a plane to take us all to Las Vegas, ten to twelve of us. Then we’d come back from Vegas on Sunday morning, go home, and go to bed.

CHUCK: Was this during the 1960s or 1970s?

VERLE: The 1960s.

CHUCK: Mom wasn’t part of that?

VERLE: Hell, yes, she was.

CHUCK: She went to Vegas?

VERLE: Oh, yes. She flew to Vegas with me and Kyle. She liked Kyle.

CHUCK: When did it go to Monterey Road?

VERLE: When Bill Cannon bought into it with Kyle. Because the IRS closed Kyle down. So he opened up again with Bill.

CHUCK: Wasn’t Kyle the fellow who kept sheets of cash under his carpet?

VERLE: Yes. Hundred-dollar bills. That was when he in Watsonville. He didn’t claim his earnings like he should have. And, like I said, later the IRS shut him down. So he opened on Monterey Road with Bill. And that went belly up. So they wound up in Sunnyvale, but we used to go to another bar of that kind . . .

CHUCK: The Saddle Rack?

VERLE: The Saddle Rack. I used to ride the bull there.

CHUCK: That was off of San Carlos.

VERLE: At Meridian, right behind the Sears that was there at the time. But, no. No movies alone with your mom. Just the drive-ins.

CHUCK: We were drive-in people all the way. We only started going to theaters because they closed the drive-ins?

VERLE: There weren’t any drive-ins after a while. The only one left was out on Old Oakland Road.

CHUCK: Capitol Drive-In too.

VERLE: Yeah, yeah. But it’s not a drive-in anymore. But it’s still there. There was Old Oakland Road and Brokaw though. They showed porn.

CHUCK: I remember seeing the cops pull up outside the fence to watch it. What if anything do you miss about the valley the way it was?

VERLE: Things were much slower. It didn’t take forever to get place. Heck’s Fire, if I had to drive to work now, I’d never get there.

CHUCK: Do you miss any restaurants?

VERLE: Not really.

CHUCK: I miss the Round House Delicatessen. I was buying these huge Italian cold-cut sandwiches at 13. Brisket too. I miss that damn brisket. Oh, and also in Kirkwood Plaza we had Joe the Pharmacist.

VERLE: Oh, yeah. Invariably your mother would run out of one prescription or another, always in the middle of the night. Joe would come to the store to meet me and give us enough to last three or four days until I could get an appointment with the doctor. He’d go to prison today.

CHUCK: I think the barbershop is the last existing small business in the neighborhood, what’s now Jerry’s Barbershop.

VERLE: And Freddie’s Liquor. It moved across Campbell Avenue on to San Tomas Aquino. But it’s still in business.

CHUCK: To the spot where that bar used to be, the one that had fifty different names over the years. What would you like to see for the future of Silicon Valley?

VERLE: I’m not sure. But it’s interesting to see people buying up these old houses, tearing them down and putting in these bigger places.

CHUCK: People are selling out and retiring.

VERLE: Or they’re dying.

CHUCK: And their kids are selling out and reaping the profit, like Bianucci’s kids did back in the 1970s.

VERLE: Exactly. I’m hungry. What do you want for dinner?