Interview with Jim Claybourn
Summer of 2003

Q: What's the earliest childhood memory you have?

Jim: My dad took me to Chicago to "The Century of Progress" in 1934. I was eight years old that year. We went the second year, it was 1934, and they had a transportation show. They had all of the big engines and early airplanes and early trucks and early cars that they paraded across the stage and that really fascinated me. I'd never seen that many engines before.

One of the earliest childhood memories was when I was 10 years old in 1935, dad took me to the Railroad Veteran's picnic at Mesker Park. And he volunteered me and my good friend to open soft drinks for all of the people. It seemed as though for every soft drink we opened for the veterans and the families, we had one for ourselves. And we got so sick it was a bad day all around.


Q: How would you generally characterize your childhood and your mother and father?

Jim: I was spoiled. I was a late arrival; I think my dad was pleased as punch to have a son in his advanced age. Mother was disappointed because she just wanted a daughter so bad, which attests to the five pictures they have of me in a dress with long, blonde curly locks. It shows her disappointed that I was a boy instead of a girl.


Q: What are your fondest memories of high school?

Jim: I didn't have many fond memories in high school because at Christmas time when I was 13 years old my father died of pneumonia. From then on my life went in a completely 180 degree different direction. I didn't think about going to college, I didn't prepare to go to college, I didn't know about . . . the GI Bill of Rights that would let me go to college so I took all of the easiest courses that I could get to get through high school because I knew I'd go through the draft. So there's not a lot of fond memories in high school. Working every night riding the bicycle all over Evansville and riding four miles home from the drug store to Howell. . . fall, spring, and summer and then riding the bus downtown and leaving the bike at the drug store took up most of my $3.50 pay.

An unfine moment was I got a new bicycle - it cost $27 dollars and I was paying $.50 a week for it - and the third week I had it someone stole it from the sidewalk outside the drugstore. That was a rude awakening to life and honesty. I had to pay that bicycle off $.50 a week even though I didn't have it. I had to go back to the one I had that I had ridden for five years because that's all I had and no one would want to steal it.


Q: What plane did you fly in WWII? What was the scariest moment of the war?

Jim: I was in the B-24 liberator four engine bomber. It was larger and faster and carried more payload than the B-17 did. But the B-17 got all of the publicity because it was an earlier one. The plane that we flew in, our crew flunked out of bombardment training and they sent us to Oklahoma City in a converted B-24 which was called an F-7 photography ship. We made maps in the map-making squandron in India. It was like being on vacation because the Japanese couldn't take off from their bases in Burma because their airfields had been bombed. If we stayed away from the main city in Burma, Myitkyina, we didn't have any activity at all. But our navigator wanted to see what Myitkyina looked like so he routed us on one flight over close to it. We were shot at from the ground with ack-ack, which was very invigorating.


Q: Describe your courtship of Betty Morrow.

Jim: It's an interesting story in itself. I worked at George Koch Sons in the paint shop. One of the ladies who worked at the paint shop had a relative getting married at the E&R Church. I asked this gal who worked in the paint shop...in the...drug store to go with me to the wedding and then we went to the Eagle's Nest that Saturday night with another couple. After the wedding was done we went to go to the Eagle's, and we went into the Eagle's and got there first. Three other couples came in and one couple had brought their teenage daughter with them who was going to be a junior at Reitz High School that fall. We hit it off real good and I forgot all about the gal that I took to the wedding and to the dance, and spent most of my time talking to Betty Jean. We kinda hit it off together. [Her parents] felt like I was six years older and that wasn't too good, but then they decided that if they didn't okay it we'd see each other anyway, so they finally agreed to it. So after two years, after she went through her junior and senior year, we were married in October of 1948. It was the beginning of a twenty year marriage, which for eighteen years we were happily married.


Q: Map out your career moves and what led you to change when you did.

Jim: I was working at Birch Plow Works and very happy with my position and with the people that I worked with; happy as a hog in slob. [Betty Jean] wanted me to quit and go with our Sunday School teacher from church, who had been a personnel manager at [inaudible] and he was looking for somebody to be a personnel manager for Shawnee Plastics. I said I don't know anything about it. He said, "I can teach you to be the personnel manager - the mechanics of it - and you can mix with the people because you're a good mixer, and that's what a personnel manager needs to be." I didn't want to, and [Betty Lou] hounded me so [much] that I finally gave in and tried it. Shawnee Plastics moved down to Kuttawa, Kentucky, which was the pits of the universe to me at that time. Freshly divorced, and taken away from three kids - I only got to see them on the weekend once in a while - that was my big career move and why I changed.


Q: How has your faith shaped who you are?

Jim: My folks sent me to Sunday School every Sunday morning with a nickel tied in the corner of my [inaudible] but I couldn't hardly get the nickel out after I got there. And then they would come to church and I would always sit with them. But they never came to Sunday School, yet always sent me. I kinda felt like a prisoner, and when I got into the [military] service and left, I thought, "Boy, I don't have to do that every Sunday from now on." And when I came back, I had change my outlook on life. For a little bit, for two or three months after I was discharged, I stayed home on Sunday morning and worked out the bowling league handicaps because I was secretary of the bowling league. I didn't go to church and found out that I missed it. So when the bowling season was over I started going back to church. It made a ... I feel like ... a profound change in my life. I didn't want to miss the activities, or the interaction, between the people and the neighbors and the relatives that I met at church. It was kind of like a huge extended family. It was a lot better than I thought it was going to be; I thought I was going to be out at "Bowling Church" every Sunday and I found out that I didn't really want to be.


Q: What brings you the most joy?

Jim: What brings me the most joy now is my grandchildren. I have eight. Nema, my wife, has eight grandchildren and three sons. They're active and it's interesting and I'm involved with them to a small degree. I'm involved to a large degree with my own eight. And they're eight individual people and they all have traits that are admirable and some that are less than admirable, but they all are going a different way and they are all good kids. None of them have ever been in any trouble with the law or with the schools.

One son was picked up one night by the police and his mother had to go down to the police station to get him out. I think that put the fear of God in him and he never strayed from the straight and narrow after that. And all of the grandkids are high-type folks that you're proud to introduce to people as your grandchildren.


Q: In the last twenty years, what really stands out?

Jim: I regret that I didn't prepare myself in high school for a college career ... never dreaming that there would be money available and that the GI Bill would come along as a result of World War II. I wasn't qualified, and went to night school at Evansville College and was making my way toward a degree when my divorce happened. After that I didn't care much if I graduated or not.