By LOWELL LEHMAN
As told to Paul Benton, Barry Hillman and Chace Anderson
“It was horrible is all I can say. And it’s just wonderful that you can forget all of that … These people we fought, they didn’t want to fight anymore than we did.”
— Lowell Lehman
I was one of five children, and though my brother, Edward, and sister, Laverne, are deceased, my other two sisters, Alberta and Viola, are still alive. Apparently there had been an older brother who died before I was born, and from what I was told, my dad buried him up in the mountains somewhere. That was what they did then.
My dad, Ed Lehman, was a logger, and he worked for Pickering Lumber for years. He had a big drinking problem, so he was rough on the family. My sister Laverne was the oldest and just recently passed away in Pacific Grove. She never married, and one of the reasons, I think, is on account of the way we were raised. My dad being on alcohol, according to her, made her not want to marry. She’d seen enough of the abuse.
My dad was born in Michigan, and my mother, Leota, was born in Sonora. Her maiden name was Sierra, and there’s quite a story about her being poisoned when she was little. The story I heard is that her parents didn’t really want her. They locked her away in the basement and tried to poison her. I don’t know if that is true, but that’s the story I heard. Her side of the family was from Mexico, so according to my dad, I’m Mexican-German.
Anyway, I was born right across from the fairgrounds in Sonora. Everybody asks me, “Where were you born?” and I tell them, “Under a rock across from the fairgrounds,” and that was in 1926.
All five of us kids were born here in Sonora. We went to the grammar school up at the Dome. I went to Sonora High School for one year, my freshman year, but I just wasn’t interested in it, and when the war came along, I eventually decided to join up.
I was just about 16 when I went by the school and found out I wasn’t going to make it there. My freshman year the teacher, Mrs. Baker, asked me to leave because I was a comedian and kept disturbing the class. Now let me tell you an interesting story about that teacher. She told me back there in school that I wasn’t going to amount to nothin’.
I think she scared me, so what happened is that through the years I became very ambitious, and I started buying property and real estate. Now off and on throughout my adult life, I would go to church on Sundays for an hour in the mornings, and she was in there.
Just before she passed away as an elderly lady, she saw me at church, came over and put her arm around me. She hugged me, and she says, “Oh Lowell Lehman. I am so proud of you.” For the success I had built. I says, “Elaine, you scared me to death, so I had to amount to something.” Anyway, that was kind of cute and had something to do with my life.
I have a lot of memories of growing up, probably too many to tell. I think if I did today what I did then, I’d probably be in some prison. We were pretty bad pranksters, but we never hurt anybody.
One thing we used to do was put mud in the highway; cars would come along and hit it, and we’d be hiding behind a bush watching. That’s when the highway was just a couple of lanes going to Jamestown. I think those are things I do remember, and there’s probably some I don’t even want to talk about. Today it’s a different world.
Playing with Dynamite
When we grew up one of our favorite things was playing with dynamite. You could buy dynamite over the counter at Hales and Symons or any hardware store. You’d just walk in and say, “I want six sticks of dynamite.”
My dad was up on everything—logging, mechanics, dynamite. He taught us kids all about dynamite and blasting caps. We learned how dynamite is only sawdust and glycerin, and you can throw it in the stove and it will burn. But most people were fearful of it. When I later got to the service, I was pretty up to date on explosives, so they didn’t have a hard time teaching me.
Delbert and Larry Rotelli’s dad owned the Sonora city dump, and it was on Stockton Street just down from JS West. Their dad had an old dump truck with a manual winch on it to raise the bed. They’d collect the garbage from Sonora and then hand-winch the truck bed up to dump it.
I remember a short old man who wore a great big old hat, and he worked for the Rotellis. His name was John Hopelander, and he would save all of the wilted vegetables that grocery stores like Jacobs Brothers and Mallard’s would toss out. He picked up their garbage to dump at Rotelli’s dump, and he would separate vegetables like turnips, beets and celery that had wilted a little. And every night after we came home from grammar school, we would go down and pick up a box of those wilted vegetables.
As a kid I used to go hunting every night. And the thing is, we were raised to do that for food because my dad drank up every dollar he made.
My mother was an angel; she was the most wonderful woman that anybody would ever want as a mother. She raised four of us children, and my grandmother took care of Laverne. And we all lived where JS West is now.
My mother, now she was a gourmet who had been raised in poverty, so she knew how to stretch things, and she kept us kids alive with those vegetables from Mr. Hopelander. And there was a butcher shop in Sonora right across from the Bank of America on Washington Street called the Palace Meat Market. The butcher, Joe Garaventa, owned it.
They had sawdust on the floor, and we would stop by after grammar school and ask, “Joe, have you got a bone for our dog?”
He always had a big bone, but the bone had a lot of stew meat that they could have cut off. He knew that meat was going to go with those vegetables that came from the Rotelli dump.
So anyway, I knew the Rotelli’s dad, and they used to have a home there across the street.
To this day I always say to Delbert, “I can’t understand how your dad was so thin and you’re a little bit huskier.” Delbert’s brother Larry was the mayor and was involved in city and county politics for many years. Delbert is still going in his 80’s.
There are so many things I could rattle on about that I can still remember. Back when I was in grammar school, people could order groceries from Jacob Brothers or Mallard’s. They would put them in a box and deliver them to your house. Of course my brother and I knew the people who worked there. After school each day we would hurry downtown, go behind all the stores and grab the empty paper boxes they stacked there. Then we’d turn them into the grocery stores for a penny apiece.
For two cents, we could run to Fordyballs gun shop up by the Veterans Memorial Hall and buy a shotgun shell. They used to sell them out of the box one at a time, and we’d only buy one or two. My grandfather had given us an old shotgun, and that was another way we helped feed our family. We’d go out and get a jackrabbit almost every time because we were so accurate—we had to be with all the work involved in getting a shell. We were quite the hunters at that time, and just young kids. Every shot that we ever took had to be a positive shot.
Oh I can’t get into some of the things we used to do. I will say my grandfather owned the Gold Bar Saloon, and it was on Washington Street right across from the Candy Kitchen. There was a time as a kid when we made a key and would go driving my grandfather’s Packard all over Sonora at night. We had cut a hole in the floor of our house and would sneak out. My mother always thought we were in bed, but we were downtown pranksters, you know, running around having fun.
When we were kids, my mother thought we should be baptized so we wouldn’t go down “below,” and for a while we went to the Methodist Church. Ollie Stevens from Jamestown was a Protestant, and she became my godmother.
The preacher at church thought we were too rowdy, and he told us to get out and stay out because we were disturbing the service. My mother would still get us ready for church every Sunday, and to the day she died, she never knew we weren’t going. She’d give us a penny or two—if we could even afford that—and tell us to put it in the collection. But we’d take the money downtown and buy candy and read funny books. We’d come home, and she would say, “How was church?” We would say, “Oh it was good.” And we’d add some other stuff in there to change the subject so she wouldn’t know we didn’t want that conversation. To this day she didn’t know we weren’t going to church.
As kids we learned to swim up at Hales and Symons in Fred Leighton’s irrigating tank, which is probably still there on the Symon’s property. Hunting up there one day when I was 12 or 13, I had to use the stile to go over a fence. I had a .22 rifle, and I dropped it up on the style. It fell and hit one of the rails. The gun went off and blew a hole through my hand. I had a hole here, one there, and one where a piece came out my thumb. I remember yelling at my brother, “I just dropped my gun. It went off and went through my hand.” He hollered back, “What’d you do that for?”
Now my mother never drove a car, never had a license. So that day she tucked and wrapped my hand in towels and walked me down to the county hospital. Put me in there, for tetanus shots and all.
On Dec. 7, 1941, we were up by Pinecrest getting Christmas trees. At that time you could cut Christmas trees and haul them. I remember we had a Model T Ford, and I had no driver’s license. Everyone in those days drove without licenses more than likely. But anyway we pulled into this little station with that old car and our Christmas tree, and the radio there was blaring that war had been declared!
My brother joined the Army in November 1942. He ended up across the Atlantic, and I ended up in the Pacific. He went in fairly early and earned three purple hearts. He was with Patton through the Rhine. I have his discharge papers and other stuff from the service.
I decided about then that I didn’t like school, and I wasn’t really welcome because they didn’t think I would amount to anything. I figured with the war on and me being very patriotic, I would go fight for my country, which I did.
I went in the Navy in January 1944. I had an old ‘32 Ford that I got somewhere. Gas rationing was going on, and you had to have stamps and all that. You couldn’t buy gasoline at just anytime, but we were clever, and I came up with a plan. My dad was a genius, and even though we didn’t have anything to do with him, I guess we picked up a lot of his genes.
Standard Oil was across from the Holman Foundry—the whole Standard Oil plant was there. They had gasoline, and their delivery trucks came out of there.
Well, I got an idea. I knew I couldn’t get gasoline, so I went there and bought pressure appliance fluid that was for stoves and torches. I raked up enough money by doing yards, and I bought a 55-gallon drum. And that’s how I went to Sacramento and joined the Navy. I drove there using pressure appliance fuel from lanterns. It’s something you don’t often hear.
I always say I drove up to Sacramento and joined the Navy in order to get a dry bed. I had never been out of Sonora, and what happened was they sent me to Farragut, Idaho for six weeks of boot camp.
I wasn’t used to being out of Sonora. I had a pair of tennis shoes and a T-shirt, and I’m guessing the temperature was zero—I practically froze to death. While I was stationed there I got scarlet fever. They called it cat fever during the Second World War, and a lot of people, service people particularly, died from it.
After boot camp, I was transferred to Coronado, California. I got on the train, and I never let them know that I was so sick. Now as I said, I have always been a prankster—that’s why that teacher threw me out of class. On the trip to California, we pulled up alongside another troop train. Even though I was sick, I jumped out the window and went over in the kitchen of the other train. They had a turkey sitting there, so I swiped it and brought it back to our train. I had no appetite; I just did it as a prank and to help out the boys in our train.
We made it to Coronado, and I was really sick by then. People were dying from the epidemic of scarlet fever in those days. When they finally figured out I was sick, they put me in Balboa Hospital in San Diego.
There was only one bed left in the hospital, and I kidded the nurses that they had to make a choice between me and some other patients. I guess I was funny and they wanted me, because I got the bed in Balboa Hospital.
And it’s lucky I did. Before I went into the hospital, I had been scheduled to board a troop transport and ship out. Well that ship left without me and was later torpedoed by the Japanese. It sank and most of the men on it were killed.
I found out about that troop ship sinking years after the war. You see, a guy named Carl Ott was with me in Farragut, and after the war he settled in Modesto. He knew I was from Sonora, so one time when he was up here to go deer hunting, he asked around and found out I was one of the owners of Anderson-Lehman down on Mono Way.
He asked my partner Andy Anderson, “Is Lehman here? I’d like to talk to him.”
Andy told him, “He’s on a ready mix truck, but he’ll be in shortly.”
Ott and the fella he was hunting with sat and waited until I came in. When I did, we shook hands and hugged each other. I asked what had happened to him, and I told him what had happened to me.
He was on that ship I would have been on, the one the Japanese sank with a torpedo. He survived, but quite a few people were killed, and I could have been one of them. I have a guardian angel, I guess. I say scarlet fever saved my life, and when I meet people now who have had scarlet fever, I tell them, “You don’t know how lucky you are.”
When I got out of the hospital, I returned to the amphibious base in Coronado, California. Old-timers will know who the reporter Walter Winchell was, and Winchell said at the time, “If you want to go to a concentration camp in the United States, you should go to Coronado, California.”
We wore numbers on our shirts, and they taught us to kill women and children. They showed us movies where women in Japan killed many, many servicemen because our guys were like gentlemen. They would open the door for a lady and tip their hats. But I was raised a little different than most people. We were raised like animals. And I loved it.
Well anyway, at Coronado they would watch us from towers like we were in prison, and if they saw you spit on the ground or drop a cigarette butt—I never smoked but some people did—they would punish you. They wanted to make us so mean we could kill anybody.
They wanted us to go overseas, and if we saw an old lady with a baby—kill her. They brainwashed you. I never believed that brainwashing could even be done, but after that training, I know I could have come home and cut my mother’s throat. I really could have.
I couldn’t believe that it could be done, but if anybody’s alive yet that was there, they could tell you.
They sent us from Coronado to Port Hueneme for gun training. They took us over there and taught us to throw hand grenades, shoot rifles and handle machine guns. Then they taught us to shoot 20-millimeter and 40-millimeter quad anti-aircraft guns, and we used both of them over in the war.
I can remember a night when we went out to train, and everyone wanted to be shooting guns. Earlier when they had asked for volunteers to work in the kitchen, there were no takers. Well, this one particular night a 40-millimeter quad we were training on blew up. It threw shrapnel all over the whole bunch of us.
One guy had his finger blown off, and I remember the next day they were looking for it. Let me tell you, the day after that thing blew up and the shrapnel flew around, they had a lot of volunteers for the kitchen.
I learned to shoot .30-caliber machine guns and a 20-millimeter cannon like the one that’s up at the Veterans Museum in Sonora. That’s a dual barrel; I shot a single barrel. We used that training later to shoot at Japanese pilots. After Port Hueneme and at the very beginning of 1945, I was assigned to the USS Braxton up in San Pedro. We picked up troops in San Francisco and sailed for Hawaii, arriving in Pearl Harbor on March 1. I have a picture of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel there on Waikiki Beach.
On the Braxton I was in the engine room because I was a motor machinist’s mate and a fireman, and that’s what we did. Because I was part of ship’s company, I stood my watches in the engine room, and I was a gunner up on deck, ready to shoot any Jap planes.
The food on board? I’m not even going to mention the word we called it because it shouldn’t be in writing, but you know, it was s— on a shingle.
Another thing I could talk about that was on board the ship is segregation. The colored people took care of that. They had their own bunk compartment. The colored people, they didn’t hardly associate. Nobody would let them. It was mandatory. It was just that way.
Horrible, like slavery. That’s what went on when I was in there. The colored people were on their own, but they would still fight and do just what we did.
Mainly on the Braxton, we picked up troops and hauled them from island to island.
[Editorial Note: From April 18 to July 25, 1945, the USS Braxton transported troops throughout the South Pacific, making stops at Eniwetok, Saipan, Guam, Pearl Harbor, back to Eniwetok and Saipan, Ulithi, and then Okinawa, arriving there after the battle was over but while wartime conditions were still in evidence. Japanese planes would periodically attack into the month of August.]
Okinawa was a bloody battle. Lots of dead people. There were a lot of planes and some of them were kamikazes … suicide pilots. There weren’t many shot down, but we shot at all of them. All of the ships were blasting away. The sky was just full of flack, and planes were crashing.
But anyway, I think it was quite an experience. As I say, I was raised like an animal so I fit in very good. As a kid we lived like… well, I could get into some of the detail but it’s not worth talkin’ about.
On board ship we had about 18 LCVPs or Higgins boats for transporting troops, and two LCMs (Landing Craft Mechanized) for carrying Jeeps or small tanks. Each LCVP had two .30-caliber machine gun turrets. I was assigned to one, but I was supposed to be keeping the engines running, too. That was my job, as I was the mechanic. The LCMs had two .50 caliber machine guns.
On the ship we had a five-inch cannon, twelve 40-mm gun mounts and ten 20-mm gun mounts. Of course we had gunnery training, but I laugh about this even today. They had cans on the side that carried the bullets, and every fifth one that came out was a tracer. So if you were a bad shot it was your own fault – you had a fireball ahead of you to show you where to aim.
I can tell you I was on all the islands. I would go in on one of those Higgins boats, and we’d pick up the mail for the troops. They’d dump the mail off in Saipan and Guam and Eniwetok and all those places.
I want to get into one story here that shows I am just so lucky to be alive. We were going to pick up the mail on one of the islands. They would let those Higgins boats down into the ocean with winches, and most of them boats are made out of plywood.
You remember Kennedy when he was on that wooden PT boat? Well, the man who drives the boat is called the coxswain, and I was the fireman and the gunner. Here’s how I know I have a guardian angel, and that’s the reason I’m alive. This one night they let us down to go in to one of the islands, probably Saipan or Okinawa, to pick up the mail. And right about then a typhoon comes in. The sea wasn’t too bad when we went in to pick up the mail, but when we came back, the sea was rough and going up and down. They needed to lower the winch a big hook down, attach it and pull us back up, but there was no way they could do it with us bobbing in the swells. If the hook came down when the boat was rising, it would go right through that plywood, and we’d sink.
So anyways, they hollered down with the bullhorns. We had enough fuel, so they told us to circle the ship all night long in that LCVP. The coxswain was so seasick he was lying on the floor of the boat—dying is what it looked like he was doing. I never got seasick, so I drove that boat around the ship all night long.
The next day, when the sea got to where they could get a hook on the boat, I got us hooked back on and they pulled us up. We had lost our equilibrium—we couldn’t even stand up. They had to put us on stretchers and take us into the sick bay. But that coxswain, I saved his life by not gettin’ seasick. And I did that all night long. We just kept going around and around. So I know I am blessed. I guess the devil didn’t want me, and the Lord was trying to make up his mind.
I do pretty good at 90 to remember all this stuff.
When we went in on Okinawa, I ran the machine gun on a LCVP, and we sprayed the beaches. When I was on land, I carried hand grenades. We just went and dropped troops off, and then I’d go in and set up generators for communication because I was a mechanic.
On Okinawa, I went into some caves and got some swords and other stuff—all Japanese. [Lowell has donated the swords and a few other items to the Tuolumne County Veterans Museum in downtown Sonora.]
After Okinawa, things calmed down. The atomic bomb went off over in Hiroshima. I’m gonna tell you one thing; if it wasn’t for the atomic bomb, I wouldn’t be here. I know that, because we were right in the middle of it, and we would have had to invade Japan. The Japs were pretty tough people. They were crazy, and we all knew that.
End of the War
After the bomb was dropped, we spent some time in Japan moving troops in and out.
I have a nameplate I took off a Japanese tug. All the writing is in Japanese; probably gives the engine horsepower and all that baloney. At the end of 1945 and the beginning of 1946, we brought troops back to the States from areas in the Pacific.
That April in San Pedro, the Braxton took on 164 officers and sailors from the German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, a war prize that had been brought to the U.S. from the Baltic. We sailed through the Panama Canal and up to New York, and then crossed the Atlantic to Bremerhaven.
The Germans that were on that ship were young boys, all young boys. They hadn’t wanted war any more than we had. They were so pleasant and nice. They couldn’t believe how easy going the Americans were and how nice they were being treated. I can remember going in the kitchen when we were out to sea. I swiped a ham and brought it up. We cut the ham and gave it to the German boys. A bunch of them were named Lehman, the same as me. They had two “n’s” on their name. I used to, too, but my grandmother had one of them taken off.
The war was over so we took those German sailors back to their country. And I never forgot how they were; I mean, they’d just hug you. They knew my name was Lehman, and here I’m an American. Kinda cute. You’d have to see some of this stuff to believe it, to see what I’m talking about.
That was the last voyage for the Braxton. It was decommissioned in Norfolk in June.
And then there was another thing that really sticks in my mind. Any old servicemen will remember it. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it, but all over the place you’d see written “Kilroy was here.” We even saw it on the Panama Canal. They’d take spray paint and some of the good artists would put “Kilroy was here.”
I never forgot that. Like a tattoo on the walls of the Panama Canal.
They kept certain people in the service that they needed, but my time came up, and I was ready to get out. They always called roll every morning to see if sailors were all there, so they were still pretty disciplined. I figured, “Hey, today’s my day, and I’m out,” so I just stayed in bed.
You should have heard the loudspeaker looking for me. I told ‘em, “Well, I’ve got my time in. I’m outa the Navy now.” It didn’t work. I’m not even going to tell you how they scolded me.
There are a few things that are starting to come into my mind that happened back then. There’s probably a lot of good interesting things that I forgot. I don’t know anybody who is still alive that was with me.
Oh, there was one guy. On the Braxton, I was one of the youngest on my ship, and there was a Canadian, a little short husky guy. He was a Canadian citizen, and he took me under his wing like I was his son. He would always do things for me and go places with me. His name was Frenchie Phillip August Le Clair.
He would say, “Lehman, when we get out of the service, you’re going to come to Canada.” And I almost went.
If I had gone, I would still be in Canada, and none of my personal life now would have been the same. So anyway, it comes back little by little, some of the things I went through.
I at least did what I was told to do. I was discharged in May 1946. I was in the service I think for two some years, or something like that. It wasn’t a full four years. That’s why I joined, for patriotism, and boy, I was heavy into all that in those days.
It’s just hard to believe that I can remember some of that war stuff yet; a lot of it did bother me.
I can remember when we all came out of the service, we went to the movies, and this one time they had some type of war thing on the screen. It brought back a lot of bad memories. My brother and I had to get up and leave or they’d a probably threw us out.
It’s quite an experience how it left you after the war.
It took a long time to … you kept getting these visions of people being killed. It was horrible is all I can say. And it’s just wonderful that you can forget all of that.
The way I look at it today, I’m a positive person.
Those people we fought, they didn’t want to fight anymore than we did.
Nowadays you hear them talk about the Japs and such, but you can’t let that bother you.
Memories from growing up keep coming back to me, too. I could tell you stories about being in Sonora. That’s probably why I have a complex or I am funny about certain things. Like I can remember my dad had such a bad temper when he had been drinking.
When he was sober he was a completely different person. Pickering Lumber would bail him out of jail and bring him up every season to the logging camps because he was a genius. He could fix or make parts for anything — trains, logging cars and things like that. But he holds the record on Bradford Street for time spent in jail.
They left the cell door open on my dad. Sometimes he would let himself in and out. He spent the winter in jail for spousal abuse, child abuse and disturbing the peace in Sonora. When he was in Sheriff Jack Dambacher’s jail, he would whittle toys. He made Puny Dambacher and a lot of these other servicemen’s childhood toys.
When he was sober, he was like an angel. But alcohol is a disease like cancer. I look at it now, and I could tell you stories about how when I came out of the service I was going to go kill my dad.
I’ll never forget when Jim Salvarezza and Ray Sciaroni tried to talk me into joining the Knights of Columbus. Remember when the high schools had initiations? They were horrible. Well, the Knights of Columbus had an initiation down in Sacramento, and I went down with those guys. It’s a good organization, and everybody has shaped up since then, I imagine.
Well, they had a fella there, and for the initiation they dumped alcohol on his body and clothing, and he looked like my father. He came toward me acting like a bully, and that reminded me of my dad. I became violent, and some other guys had to grab me and hold me until I calmed down and came to my senses.
I’m not gonna get into all that stuff. I was a tough son of a gun in my younger days. I’m glad the boys stopped me.
I had some pin-up pictures on the ship, but those were movie stars. I remember we would have parties on board. At Lingayen Gulf in the Philippines they brought beer over in bottles. Two percent alcohol. It was like drinking water. It was nothing. They just wanted to keep our morale up, and they did.
Family and Business
My wife’s name is Darleen. She came to Sonora from San Francisco. After the war I drove a tow truck and worked as a mechanic down on Stockton Street. Sometimes I would walk up to town. When I met Darleen, she was walking on Washington Street right by the Sonora Inn. Oh man, she had a cat, and he was always after me. Anyway, that’s how we met.
We got married in 1949, and we’ve been married 66 years. I have three daughters, Linda (Miller) is the oldest, Wendy (Sanguinetti) is the middle daughter and Cindy (West) is the third daughter.
We have five grandchildren—four boys and one girl, eleven great-grandchildren, and one great great-granddaughter, Piper Sanguinetti. Some of the boys are running the ready mix plant and LK Lehman Trucking right now. They see me when I come in from time to time.
After the war I eventually went into business. I began by working for Oakie Queirolo at Queirolo Concrete. For three and a half years I was a mechanic, and I drove dump trucks and ready mix trucks there at his place over by where General Plumbing is today.
Then I met Andy Anderson because he had the service station next door. We became real good friends, and we were both workaholics. We decided that we would try to go into business together. Oakie Queirolo got real sick, and I told him if he ever sold his business, we would like to buy it. And we did.
Andy Anderson came from Canoga Park, and he had had a business down there. It’s a long story how I raised my half of the $12,000 we needed to get started. I could tell you stories about how we did all of that.
In 1957 Anderson-Lehman Building Materials opened in that little shack where Oakie had been, then we moved over where the furniture store is now. After that we built that big building which the hospital bought and is tearing down to make a cancer center. We are the ones who built all of that.
The Delneros were involved. Mrs. Delnero was the one who was really good to me, giving me right of way for water. She later sold me land that I developed into much of the Greenley Road medical stuff.
Andy and I were partners for about 45 years. We even had a division of Anderson-Lehman in Montana, and we did some development there.
He was good at business and pretty hyper, but not very mechanical. He had diabetes, and we got to a point where we decided he would take the hardware store, and I would take the trucking and ready mix business.
I am the one who promoted precast septic tanks. Bob Cowden, who just died last year, is the one who inspired me. His dad was my principal in grammar school. I poured all the foundations for Bob and did stuff like that.
Well, one day I was setting metal tanks down on Chicken Ranch Road and Bob says, “You know, Lehman, why don’t you make precast tanks?” Apparently he had seen some down in Modesto. I didn’t even have a clue, but I thought about it as I drove back in my ready mix truck.
If I hear something and think about it mechanically and all that, I can do it. I got my brother involved. He was never in the company, he just worked part-time, but the guy was a genius.
I told my brother, “You know, we’re going to go into the precast septic tank business.” All’s you had to tell him was what you were going to do. The guy had a mind like a predator.
I said, “Let’s go down to Modesto and look at that operation.”
We went down and talked to the people there, and then my brother came home and made all of the forms. He built a truck that handled those tanks, which weighed four tons each. And he lifted them with a winch he designed using a 12-volt battery. He did all the gearing and built all of the equipment. Stuff like that is just amazing.
We’ve done a lot of stuff. I’ve bought a lot of land, and I still have about 15 rental properties. I do all the maintenance work on them. But I don’t like to talk about a lot of things that I did because it sounds like you’re bragging.
And my wife said the same thing. “What did you bring that up for?” she says. “You’ve done it.” A lot of people howl on about how great they are. All I want to do is be me.
I think I’m in pretty good shape. Years ago I had a shoulder replaced, but nothing else. I have all my own teeth, don’t ever wear glasses and don’t need hearing aids.
My key to longevity and reaching this age — my secret — is to have a positive attitude.
If somebody talks about somebody else, don’t join in. And hard work is the key to a prosperous life. Everybody will verify what I do. I just can’t wind down. Maybe it’s nervous energy, but I just love it. I’m the energizer bunny.
Oh, I could rattle on here all day on certain things now that they are coming back. Things I had forgotten about.
You know when you’re young, you just do a lot of funny things. It’s been a very interesting life. Sometimes I can’t believe what I’ve done. It’s kind of a miracle.
I guess I’m blessed to have made it through a lot of these things. I think if they made a movie of everything I did, it would be a best seller.