by Jim Bulls
Here I am, continuing my school days saga, getting ready to start junior high school and evolving from adolescence into becoming a young adult. General Grant was the only junior high in Reedley, so both elementary schools attended seventh and eighth grade there.
My first day at General Grant reunited me with my old nemesis from the third grade at Washington School. We were in mixed chorus together. I was a prime candidate for the Vienna Boy’s Choir since my voice hadn’t changed yet.
“Nemesis” had come up with some original ways to mess with me. The scenario went something like this: as I exited the music room, he would send his friend (even smaller than I was) to try to get through the door the same time I was. He would then step in to come to his friend’s “aid.” Fortunately “Nemesis” was to graduate in the spring and I would be able to forget about him.
My seventh grade English teacher was Bob Weibe. I remember him reading The Legend of Sleepy Hollow to us. As he was reading the description of Ichabod Crane, a tall lanky cumbersome fellow with curly hair, beady eyes with a long pointed nose, we couldn’t help but see that Mr. Weibe had described himself to a tee. That did make the story more interesting and meaningful to us students.
In the seventh grade music began playing a large part in our lives. A new sound called rock and roll had infiltrated into the big bands and the kids loved it. Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly made inroads into the R&B and rock and roll charts. Being from the south, these artists were inspired by honkytonks and Black gospel singers.
During my junior high days, rock and roll record sales were segregated. Artists like Fats Domino, Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and James Brown couldn’t be found on the local record racks at Connor’s TV & Radio in Reedley. Kids started going to Fresno to Lightening Record Company to buy the music that was heard on the radio. That all changed by the time I was in high school. Local record stores began carrying the most popular renditions of the songs the kids were listening to.
During the summer between my seventh and eighth grade years, the Bombachs moved in across the street while their new house was being built. I greatly admired their son, Leo. He was into martial arts, played his drums into the night (which irritated my father to no end), drove a 1957 pink Thunderbird and had a motorcycle. His pet of choice was a monkey. If the monkey liked you, he would sit on your shoulder and groom your hair ?looking for fleas and ticks. On the other hand, if he didn’t like you, you ran the chance of getting bitten. Fortunately the monkey liked me. Monkeys have really sharp teeth!
My eighth grade year, 1956-57, was exceptional in my life. I was greatly impressed with the older boys in the neighborhood: Robert and John Seaman, Carl and Dick Kasabian and the Hagopian twins. Robert Seaman set high school records in long distance running and John loved to hunt. He was equally as fast a runner, but he let his brother have all the credit. Carl and Dick were into engineering. They designed and built their own house. They erected a television receiving tower in their backyard and were able to pick up T.V. channels from Los Angeles before we had television in the Valley. They also introduced me to Mad Magazine. The Hagopians fabricated juice tanks and gondola trailers for hauling wine grapes. I was always hanging out with them to watch them build stuff. They also hired the local kids to turn raisin trays, so I worked for them.
All of those boys drove old cars that they had fixed up themselves. This really spurred my interest in cars and I bought my first car, a 1928 Model A Ford, when I was in the eighth grade.
In 1957 there was a local talent show. I can’t remember who sponsored it, but vocal, piano and violin solos were featured, as well as a group from Reedley High School who were called Cruz Espino and the “Cruzers”. They sang their own rendition of “In the Still of the Night” which was on top of the pop charts right then. The teenagers in the crowd went wild, and despite most of the judges being considered “long haired,” the “Cruzers” won first place.
That eighth grade year seemed to fly by, and we were soon getting ready for graduation and leaving General Grant. I have fond memories of many of the teachers: T.R. Nickkel the school superintendent, Principal Beulah Leonard and Coach Luke Tremble. Coach Tremble orchestrated the play that evolved into the first and only touchdown in flag football that I ever made. Roy Sawatsky was hot on my heels, but could never quite grab my flag.
As General Grant brought together the elementary schools of the city, Reedley High brought together all the country, mountain and Orange Cove schools into one student body. It was much more of a transition for the country schools as they had not been introduced to going to different classrooms for changes in subjects. It also greatly enhanced my circle of friends. Many kids from Orange Cove knew me from having my mother as their teacher.
There was no rivalry between those of us who were Freshmen, but there was some generalized hazing of Freshmen. For the most part, the upperclassmen just wanted to sell elevator passes so you could get to class on time. The catch was, of course, there was no elevator.
John Shamoon decided that I was fair game and every day in the PE locker room he would mess with me. That’s when Lyn Potter stepped in and asked why I put up with it. I replied that it didn’t bother me that much. So Lyn took matters in hand and instead of standing up for me, his approach was if I didn’t stand up for myself I would have to fight him instead.
Well, John and I together would equal the size of Lyn, so the next day I waited for John by the apple vending machine. As soon as Shamoon started to hassle me, I grabbed him by his coat at chest level and, with all my might, slammed him into the wall knocking the breath out of him. As his knees buckled beneath him, I let loose a barrage of four letter words along with “I don’t want to fight you, so stop messing with me!” From then on we were the best of friends.
Passing your driving test was the highlight of every teenager’s dream. I got my driver’s license when I was a sophomore. Being mobile, showing off your car, being able to go on dates, dragging main and listening to the radio as loud as you wanted were all perks. I found one drawback to this scenario, there was my nemesis again. Since we went to different schools, he didn’t hassle me at school, but when we were dragging main that was a different story. It eventually took my friend Bill Cisco to give “Nemesis” an attitude adjustment. After that, he might give me the evil eye as we passed on main street, but for the most part he left me alone.
Lyn Potter introduced me to the first girl I actually dated. She ran around with some other girls and when they were all together they tended to flirt with me. I let this go to my head and broke up, so I could date the other girls. They immediately dropped me because I hurt their friend. The worst part of this lesson was not the romance, but that I ended up hurting a friend who dated one of those other girls. He heard I broke up with my girlfriend to date the girl he liked. I regret to this day, almost sixty years later, that I lost his friendship. I just wasted sixty years of good times. Lesson learned!
When I was a junior, Reedley High School suffered the tragic loss of one of our most popular students. Kurt Tolleson died of cardiac arrest during a wrestling match at school. This sad event greatly affected all the students at school, girls and boys both.
When I was a senior, the Freshmen girls took Reedley High School by storm. None of the Freshmen wore white and black or brown oxfords, bobby sox or petticoats. Instead, they wore little black pumps, seamless nylons, plaid pleated skirts, white blouses and sweaters. Francois Coigny and I used to follow them to the snack bar admiring their legs. I thought one girl in particular must have laid out by the pool all summer to have such gorgeous tanned legs. It wasn’t until I saw a “runner”, that I realized that tan was really a pair of nylons.
When the news of the Cuban missile crisis hit TV and the newspapers, it seemed like I had a large, uneaten cinnamon roll sitting in the bottom of my stomach. During my junior year I had to sign up for the draft, so I could actually be called up to fight for my country. Fortunately war was averted and I could go back to being a senior and think about our upcoming graduation.
When our class started out as freshmen, there were 256 students in the class. By the time we were ready to graduate, 155 students were out of the equation. Hopefully, they graduated somewhere else.
The Class of 1961 had 101 graduates in May. Where did that high school diploma lead us? For me, it was Reedley College.
Check out the other parts in this series on Reedley Schools and other local and California history articles, including more Reedley history articles by Jim, be sure to check out our Hometown History section.