Dad’s Life History

Dad was a great story teller.  He loved telling stories to his children and grandchildren. His childrens stories took place in ‘The Great Woods”.  The characters were animals, and Dad spun tales of adventure.  These can be found on the sub-tab “Dad’s Stories for Children”.

Dad also loved to talk of his family history:


The Travelers

(As told by Allen A. McMillan)

I was twelve years old, and the year 1928. Eighteen brand new cars, each with a trailer full of furs, silks, bolts of cloth and sewing supplies, left Los Angeles for the open road.  The travelers; McMillans, McDonalds, and the Williams families, covered all forty-eight states every year. They would fan out and sell goods to the farmers and ranchers, eventually meeting up in a predestined town to rest and restock.  They would buy saddles and bridles, guns and ammo, pots and pans and continue out across the country.  One of the cousins had a small store in Los  Angeles and acted as a contact person for the travelers. If one of the families dropped out for a while they could get in touch with him, and he would let them know where the travelers were.

Occasionally, one of the family units would drive ahead, and rent a storage facility and unload his trailer in it for a restocking place.  He would then drive back and refill and drive till he caught up with the travelers and join the trek. It was not uncommon for a family unit to settle down for a year, in a small town to allow kids to go to school or be born.  After the year, the family would pack all their belonging in a storage facility and catch up to the travelers.  It is a know fact that many of the stored goods were never seen again.  There were storage units filled with furs and silks, furniture, and trunks of memorabilia that were never reclaimed.

I am the youngest of four siblings, Catherine, Molly, Jim and me, Allen. Our father John, from Ireland, and mother Catherine, from Scotland, came to this country for health reasons.  You see in 1915, a Irish boyt did not marry an Scottish lass.  So, here we were, making a living the only way we knew how.

The first major meeting place was Riverside, a small place in the middle of nowhere.  We set up camp and we kids were sent out to spread the word that there were goods for sale.  It was buyer beware style.  We had goods to sell and a living to make.  The travelers moved across the country and sold product till we ran out.  Upon reaching the east coast, we again loaded up with imported silks and furs and headed west.

Along the way, there were good times and bad.  Babies were born and people died, injuries happened and struggle was a way of life. We were considered outcasts by some and Gypsies by others.  We had to steer clear of the law more often than not.

My dad, John, was called a “horse dealer”.  He would trade goods and money for horses. Sell them to the army, then head for the local bar to celebrate.  Dad was known as a hard drinking, hard fighting man of Ireland.  He wasn’t very tall, but had been known to kick a six foot tall man in the face in a bar fight.    There is the story of dad driving home drunk, night so foggy he had to follow the rail track down the middle of the street.  Unfortunately, the road turned, and the tracks did not.   Dad was found the next morning, sleeping, stuck out on the rail bridge crossing the river.  Lucky for him the train was not due for another couple of hours.

Dad bought a string of horses in Colorado and had resold them to an outpost in Texas.  I was fourteen, and dad felt, old enough to do a mans work.  The horses were loaded on the train and I was to ride along and collect the money from the buyer.  I then had to hop a freight and catch up to the travelers.

It is said that dad won 150 yards of the Santa Cruz Beach and Boardwalk in a poker game and traded it two days later for a string of horses…not much there then but a few food stands and the beach.   Who knew, huh.

We kids used to hit the boardwalk twenty to thirty strong and take over.  We all had money on us all the time, no banks.  The rollercoaster was ours; we would each give the operator twenty bucks and ride all day.   We would make a deal with the guy that was in charge of the beach, and would rake the sand and collect all the booty; watches, rings, change, wallets, etc.   We were to get twenty-five percent of the take.   But, we would stash half of what we found and turn in the rest, get paid, then after dark, go back for the stash.

Uncle Dodi learned how to pave driveways, something new for the time.  He scrounged equipment and added paving to our ways of making money.  Uncle Milty painted barns and houses for additional income. There were families to feed.

Uncle Milty got a job painting a large barn and asked me to help.  The roof was steep and the farmer wanted it painted and sealed.  We parked the truck and unloaded the hoses and set up the spray equipment.  We figured out that if we tied a rope between us, one could start out high on one side and the other low on the other; we could both spray and keep each other from falling off the roof.

We started spraying and Uncle Milty needed more hose, he flipped the hose causing a coil to run back to the compressor.  Oh, did I mention that this was a turkey farm and over one hundred turkeys had lined up and were pecking at the hose.  As the moving coil approached the compressor, the farmer started screaming, “No, no”.  Now turkeys are not too bright, and as the hose coil passed each turkey, most of them died of fright.  The farmer headed for the house, cussing and screaming, we assumed to get a gun.  Uncle Milty started yelling that we had to leave and “leave now”.  We got down off the roof and loaded up and left with buckshot following us down the road.  Paint hoses trailing along behind.

Dad and I fought a lot, I wanted schooling and that was not something travelers had time for.  I would make a deal to work on a farm or for a store keeper, so I could stay in town and go to school.  My education was limited, but I managed to get more than some of my cousins did.  I would stay for two or three months, then call our broker/business manager, and find out where dad and the travelers were.  I would hop a freight and catch up, dad and I would act like nothing had happened, until the next fight.

World War Two was in full swing and I just turned twenty four, so I enlisted.  Germany was not a good place to be, but there I was; driving an ammunition truck up and down the front lines.  I took the driver side door off for easier entrance and exit.   Ended up, that that probably saved my life. The truck got hit by a missile and I woke up in the hospital.  They told me I had been blown out of the open door and hit a tree limb, broke my back, and would probably not walk again.  I was also blind from the blast and had a concussion.  It took six weeks for the blindness to dissipate. I also got feeling back in my legs.  The doctors told me I had three crushed disks, and that they wanted to operate to repair the damage.  They told me that there was a 50/50 chance that I would walk or spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair.   I refused surgery, and they made me sign a paper releasing the army of any and all responsibility.  I had no idea what this would mean in the future.  No benefits, no help.

When I got back to the states, I joined up with the family and went back to being on the road.  I married my sweetheart that I had met before going into the army, and soon we were expecting a son.  My wife had a rough pregnancy, and we needed to get off the road.  So while in Fresno visiting her parents, I met a man that had just bought the Culligan Water Softener franchise. And, I convinced him that I knew all about plumbing and water softeners.  I was officially off the road.  We settled in Fresno, moved in with her parents, until we could afford a place of our own.

Life in Fresno was hard, especially for me, I was used to money in my pocket and no responsibilities.  I bluffed my way thru plumbing and installations, learned to deal with limited income and responsibilities.  Culligan lasted twenty years before coming to an end and forcing change upon our family, my wife, Twilight Delight Freund, and three children, Wayne, Stephanie, and Michael. After Culligan, I took what work I could get; limited education was a handicap, but a gift of gab got me by.  Eventually we moved to Monterey, Ca. for a job, taking Stephanie and Michael out of their element to start anew.  Wayne was on his own by this time.  (Side note: At my funeral, Wayne will state that each of the three siblings was raised by a different father. Wayne by the Culligan man, Stephanie by the special and different dynamics of a father/daughter relationship, and Michael, by a father who worked as a taxi driver and finally an apartment manager. Twilights response from the front row: “I beg your pardon, only one man shared my bed.”)

Monterey is a beautiful place to live and enjoy life. There is access to the coast; Big Sur, Carmel, Carmel Valley, Santa Cruz and north to San Francisco.  We found the weather much better than the hot/cold of Fresno.  Trips to the shoreline to fish for crabs and eels was always a fun day.  Getting splashed by the surf when you were busy looking at a starfish was always a surprise.  Our family settled in and Wayne moved to join us.  School graduations, weddings and life went forward.

The travelers are still out there, smaller in numbers as families settled and found permanent jobs.  We stopped talking about the Williams’s a long time ago.  They went a little to the dark side.  The FBI had them on the watch list.   The stories about them include cash payments upfront, paint that washes off in the rain, and tarred driveways that don’t last past the first hot sunshine.

My beautiful wife put up with me in spite of my faults, and we were generally happy. Money was never plentiful, but we had clothes on our backs and food to eat.  The children used to gather in our bedroom on Sunday mornings.  We would read the comics together and then I would tell a story.  All my stories were based in the great woods where all the animals were friends and helped each other.  There were stories about the fish that couldn’t swim, the bear that growled, and Ali the Alligator with the bad tooth.  There were others, but memory fails and stories are lost. Wayne managed to record me telling my last three stories to Michaels’ son and daughter. Something left of me for posterity.


5 Responses to Dad’s Life History

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.