I was born in 1924 on Flagler Street and 57th Court. The house I was born in still stands. My father was born in upstate New York in 1878. He went to school in New York, moved to Virginia, went to engineering school and then moved to Palatka, in northern Florida, in the early 1900s. He met up with the railroad gang of Henry Flagler and worked with Mr. Flagler’s company. He worked his way down to Miami, where he worked on the Overseas Railroad in 1903.
In the 1903 Hurricane, my father was working on the rails in Duck Key and was blown away. He survived and was picked up by a tramp steamer. An article about this event appeared in The Miami Metropolis. My father was the first to build the viaducts from Florida City to Key West. The old photos show the construction of the concrete pillars, which supported the rails that carried the first railroad trains in 1912.
My father moved back to Miami. He visited his two sisters in Merritt Island, near Cocoa Beach, in 1917. There he met my mother, Ruby Griffiths. They were married in Titusville, then returned to Miami and the house on Flagler Street. All six of the children were born in that house. My father worked for a Miami engineering firm building sea walls and bridges. After the 1926 Hurricane, he went into real estate and was doing quite well until the Great Depression came along. We went from being very rich to very poor.
We then moved into a house on Southwest Eighth Street near 32nd Avenue, near an orange grove. We had a two-story house. The first floor was a filling station and a grocery store. We were next to the Seybold Railroad. As kids, we used to flag the traffic down for the trains or steam engines. I went to school at Kinloch Park at Flagler Street and Le Jeune Road. At that time, Le Jeune Road and Flagler Street were set up like a little pigtail. All the decent roads stopped at Ponce de Leon at Flagler, where the street cars turned around. By 57th Avenue, it was all hunting grounds.
In 1945, I married Ivey Ritch in Key West. After graduating from Miami High in 1941, I served in the military and participated in World War II. I saw many things during the war. I remember one day when I was in Italy and we were very hungry. We went to an Italian family’s house to see if we could get some eggs. A German Messerschmitt fighter plane flew over a hill and swooped down with machine guns firing at us. There were five soldiers, one woman and three children. I remember running all over them trying to get into the house.
I was a member of the Great Impersonators, which raised money for terminal children. In 1980 I was elected president of Post 72 Fraternal Order of Police Association, (FOPA) Everglades Lodge, which I enjoyed very much. The photo of me standing in front of the No. 153 is a steam engine FEC Coach 136. I am a member of the Gold Coast Railroad Museum, which is near Metrozoo. We have some wonderful pieces out there. The Ferdinand Magellan is a Presidential Pullman Car. This was the first train custom-made to carry the U.S. presidents. It carried presidents Roosevelt, Truman and Reagan.
I will be 85 on Nov. 30, 2009. I have a daughter Terry and two grandsons, David and Reed, who live in Sebastian. I work every day six days a week. I arrive at work at quarter to five in the morning. I get up every morning around 3:30. I work for MEI which is Master Excavators Inc. I have been maybe 17 or 18 years. I enjoy working for this corporation and we are working really hard to get through these rough times.
I have been through these rough times before with my family in the 1930s. I remember and I know we will get through them.