Harold Edgar Jessee was born on Christmas Eve, 1918. He was the third child in the family of five born to Benjamin Harrison “Harry” Jessee and Gladys Lucetta McDannald Jessee.
His birth certificate lists the place of birth and parent’s residence as Gloryetta,California, in Orange County. One source said Gloryetta was an alternate name for Delhi, which is listed as Warren’s birthplace. In any case, they still lived in the same area years later when the address written in the front of Harold’s 1935 Santa Ana High School Yearbook was 125 Central Avenue, Santa Ana. That location is – today – just a few blocks south of Warner Avenue (used to be Delhi Road, which is no longer listed in the Thomas Guide maps) and a block east of Main Street. Delhi Park is a few blocks to the east.
By the time Harold reached his high school years, the family’s economic situation had improved. His dad had steady work as a power crane operator for Shannahan Brothers of Huntington Park and was part of the work force that dug the extensive sewer system for the city of Los Angeles. Harold – often called “Hal” by family and friends – told of Harry’s expertese as a crane operator. As a way to pass the time while waiting on a job the workers would lay $1 bills on the ground and the crane operator would put their bucket on the the ground. Whosever bill it landed on won all the bills. The story is that Harry was so expert at operating the equipment that he could set the bucket squarely on whichever bill he chose to.
Hal played on the “B” football team for the Santa Ana High School Saints but baseball was where he left his imprint during both his junior and senior years. He was one of the star players as a first-string third baseman and top batter. He continued to be an outstanding ball player through his years at Santa Ana Junior College.
During the summers Harold worked on his uncle Alfred Manderscheid’s bean farm. As a share cropper situation, the harvest was instrumental in providing food for the whole family in lean depression times. Hal’s job was to sew the bags closed after the laborers picked and bagged the beans. It was here that he began learning Spanish so he could communicate with the Mexican farm workers. He would take Spanish classes in high school and major in Spanish at Santa Ana Junior College.
Hal’s love of the beach and ocean, instilled by his mother when she would take the kids to play on the beach while she fished, continued. Hot days of work on the bean farm were relieved by a truck- load of guys making a run down to Huntington Beach for cool off in the surf. He was a strong swimmer, excellent body-surfer and thought it great sport to jump off the Huntington Beach pier.
During these years, Hal also learned to play the guitar and was part of a group of guys that played and sang country and blue grass songs on a local radio station. (His brother Keith was also part of the group.) As a child I especially remember him playing the guitar and singing Celito Lindo in Spanish.
On May 27, 1937, Harold and his good friend “JR” Mulvihill and another friend joined the over 200,000 people that walked across the Golden Gate Bridge the day it opened. It was part of a huge celebration. Vehicles were not allowed on the bridge until the next day.
While at junior college, Hal took private flying lessons from Floyd Martin (brother of the famous aviation pioneer, Eddie Martin). He paid for his lessons with rabbits he hunted on his uncles’ gun clubs. After three semesters at Santa Ana JC, Harold went to work for Shannahan Brothers, first as an “oiler” and then as a power shovel operator.
In the summer of 1941 a high school friend, Jimmy “J.R.” Mulvihill, introduced Harold to his cousin, Hazel Steele, who was visiting his family for the summer with some fellow teachers from Nebraska. A whirlwind romance ensued – seeing the California sights, days at the beach, and nights dancing at the Pavillion at Huntington Beach. Hazel had to return to her teaching job for the fall term but when Christmas rolled around Harold drove to McCook, Nebraska, to meet Hazel’s family and ask her to marry him. Her answer must have been “yes” because at the end of that school term, Hazel returned to California where they planned to be married.
As it turned out, they would decide to go to Yuma, Arizona, and were married there on February 25, 1942. Harold’s sister, Pauline, and her husband, Fred Mayes, drove them and they were also accompanied by Harold’s mother, Gladys. As luck would have it, on the return drive they were stopped on the road in a black-out caused by fears the west coast might be attacked by the Japanese – this was only about two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor (12/7/41). So – they spent their wedding night in the car with Mom, sister and brother-in-law.
Upon returning to California Harold continued working at Shannahan Brothers until October 10, 1942, when he enlisted in the United States Navy. They moved to San Diego where he was stationed at the Naval Air Station. Through a special program Harold entered as a Seaman First Class (didn’t have to do boot camp) and began training as an aviation machinist. Even though World War II was in full swing, Hal was able to remain in San Diego for over two years. The story is that the base commander was a huge baseball fan. He liked having a base team that was winning and “Jessee” was an important part of that team. With special assignments (Public Safety Officer for Coronado) the CO was able to keep him and several other players from shipping out.
While at San Diego, Harold and Hazel became parents of Julia Ann born on November 27, 1943. They continued to live in a very small rental and in base housing until late 1944 when Harold was told to prepare to ship out. With another baby on the way, they moved Hazel and Julie back to Nebraska to stay with Hazel’s parents. Harold was sent to the Philippine Islands as an Aviation Machinist First Class.
Baby Billie Dale was born on August 14, 1945 – the same day Japanese announced their surrender, thus ending World War II. However, Harold wouldn’t get word of his son’s birth until August 30th because of delays in the mail being delivered – no cell phones or e-mail! With the end of the war, Harold was sent to Guam where he worked as a truck driver helping move war materials that were still pouring into the Pacific theater. Since returning such huge amounts of guns, ammunition, etc. to the United States would have had a major negative effect on the U.S. economy, the materials were “re-distributed” (meaning dumped in the ocean off the islands).
Harold returned to San Diego and was discharged from the Navy on December 10, 1945. Of course, he headed to McCook as fast as he could get there. After getting stuck in a bad blizzard and having to spend the night in a farmhouse a few miles short of his destination, the decision was made to stay in McCook a few months rather than travel with his young family in the dead of winter. They lived in a rental unit just across the alley from Hazel’s parents. He got a job (gas station?) and used the time to build a small trailer to carry their household and personal possessions back to California, as his little 1939 Chevrolet Business Coupe was barely big enough for the couple and an infant and two-year old. Even after waiting until spring to get on the road, they were caught in a bad snow storm early in the trip but were able to continue on.
Once back in California they settled in Compton where they bought a small two-bedroom house on Crane Street from Harold’s parents, Gladys and Harry, who moved a few miles away to a house in Lynwood. Harold worked as a carpenter for a time and then got a job with Owl Construction Company in Compton operating a truck crane where he would work until he retired. He provided a good, if not lavish, living for his family despite the vagaries of construction work that was always at the mercy of the weather. In about 1959 they were finally able to move to a larger home in Compton on Mayo Street.
Harold’s work gave him many interesting opportunities. He and his crane were on the set when the explosion scene from Hindenburg (the movie) was filmed in 1975. He operated the crane that held up the burning model of the derigible as the crash was filmed. On that movie set he met the star of the film, George C. Scott, when he asked Hal to hold his brief case for him. For several years he did jobs for a landscaper in Hollywood and was called to use his crane to plant large trees on the properties of Barbara Streisand, Johnny Carson, and Larry Flint, among others. These three are ones he actually talked to. Working in Newport Beach one time he met and had a lengthy conversation with Andy Devine about their mutual interest in shotguns.
The late 1940s and 1950s was an idyllic “Father Knows Best” time and Compton was a great small town to raise a family in. Harold was active his whole life in sports. He played on a local baseball team, was in a bowling league for several years, and in his retirement years became an avid golfer, even scoring a hole-in-one. He was an active member of the Compton Hunting and Fishing Club for fifty-some years where he was involved in surf-fishing, duck-hunting, crow-hunting, and trap and skeet shooting among other things. He also enjoyed deer hunting, mainly in the hills around Coalinga where his brother, Keith, lived. One Saturday night each month for many years Hazel and Harold could be found dancing at the Hunting and Fishing Club dances.
“Jessee”, as he was known by many, was a popular and friendly man. He had many circles of friends including the Club, a couples’ Pinochle group that met for twenty-plus years, and four or five couples that played poker regularly, plus dances and the famous July Fish Fry at the Club where he was in charge of making the coffee.
Harold remained active in his retirement years with fishing, hunting, trap shooting, playing golf, and Hunting and Fishing Club activities. Heart by-pass surgery and congestive heart failure slowed him down only a little. He played nine holes of golf just one week before he died in January of 2000.
News from Operating Engineers Pension Trust - IUOE Local 12 July 1988
RETIREE OF THE MONTH...Harold "Jess" Jessee - Reg. #285463
He wasn't born on the fourth of July, but otherwise there is much about 48-year union member Harold "Jess" Jessee that brings to mind the lyrics of "Yankee Doodle Dandy". Qualities as American as apple pie fit not only is personality but tradition as well.
As a part of that tradition, he's a third generation operation engineer. His grandfather, Abraham Lincoln Jessee, worked on steam powered shovels. His father, Benjamin Harrison Jessee, was on of the Local 235 operating engineers transferred into Local 12 at the time of the 1939 amalgamation. It was a natural course of events that brought both Harold and his brother Keith onto cranes and into the Operating Engineers, and it seems to be more than coincidence that their sister Paulyne married an operating engineer member of Local 12 (J. A. Mayes).
From 1940 until his retirement in 1984, with the exception of a four year stint in the Navy during WWII, Jess Jessee operated cranes in more locations and situations than even he can estimate. A long time employee of Owl Crane & Rigging, a company doing mostly rentals, he moved from job to job often, accumulating a wide variety of experiences reflecting the post-war history of Southern California.
He worked on nearly every freeway and on many of the major bridges and overpasses, including demolition and repair of those damaged in the Sylmar earthquake. He endured two months of mid-summer desert heat during installation of a gate valve at one of the pumping plants below Parker Dam, a project that was to bring Colorado River water into Los Angeles in the '50's. From his jobs in Hollywood, he remembers particularly the crane work involved in special effects filming of the dirigible Hindenburg and its fiery end. And it was Jess Jessee on his crane that allowed many of the rich and famous show-biz personalities to landscape their homes almost overnight with jungles of 60-foot trees.
Nowadays he plays a lot of golf, shooting in the low 80's. He and Hazel, his wife of 46 years, take part in the lives of their two children and three grandchildren and both are still active in a hunting and fishing club they helped to start 42 years ago.
Our best wishes go to Harold Jessee, Retiree of the Month.