Gene O. Chan
Great-grandson of Jim King
Interviewee: Gene O. Chan (Great-grandson of Jim King)
Interviewer: Connie Young Yu, Barre Fong
Location: Sacramento, California
Date: June 27, 2014
Length: 61 minutes, 13 seconds
00:11 Gene O. Chan: Okay. My name is Gene O. Chan. The middle initial actually is – O is Owyang and that came from my – my father’s paper says Kwon Chan Owyang. So they stuck that in my middle name. But I usually just use Eugene O. Chan so, so, half the time I’m Italian, half the time I’m Irish. See the O’Chan? *laughter*
00:34 Yu: Let’s go way way back to China, if you would start by talking about your great-grandfather.
00:43 Chan: He came as Kwon Owyang Chan, or Chan Owyang Kwon, one of those, and he came with a student visa to go to school. So he, he speaks perfect English also. And then, he had two brothers already from China here, which I don’t know them except for one, I know one, two other I don’t know. But anyway, he ended up in the town of Locke because the, the older brother had a share in the store there – called **Yun Cheung** Market. And he gave it to my father and he went back to China. So my father became the assistant manager and buyer. So I kind of grew up helping real early in the store, being nine years old I probably stocking the wall with cans, you know. I did produce later, I did warehouse loading and finally I ended up actually butchering. I did the butcher shop too. But anyway, that – I earned my way through college that way.
01:45 Yu: So it’s your mother’s side that has the railroad ancestors.
01:48 Chan: Yes.
01:49 Yu: And she’s from Locke, also.
01:50 Chan: Yeah, she’s born San Francisco. Yeah. My mother was born 1911, after grand – my grandpa, Tai King, they call him Gwun Tai in Chinese – but anyway, here’s the King family perpetuated. And he went back to China to get a wife. He stayed in China – somewhere between 1902 somewhere and he actually had two kids in China, came back. And then in 1909, he went and got Grandma and one kid. The other one died, one girl died. And [unclear] to San Francisco. And actually, great-grandpa before he went, he was in the San Francisco Kwui. Grandpa. My grandpa. He was working for the import people there. I forgot the name of the place but anyways in Pacific Street somewhere.
02:47 Yu: So, Tai King’s father is the one who worked on the Railroad. Could you tell us about Tai King, your experience in finding his railroad connection.
02:56 Chan: The grandfather? Yeah. Well, Tai King is my grandfather but his father is my great-grandfather and he’s the one that came from China from *Sun Qiong* Village, *Heung San* District. And he came in 1855, when he was only sixteen. And have to work for somebody, so he end up working, according to some literature from the wife – had some kind of history, will, said something about shepherding and railroad. So that’s only thing we knew at a time. So when my mom wrote about it, they just started from there. They didn’t know that he is already Jim King at the Railroad. So I rewrote it, timeline wise to fit all, fit just perfect. So he went in 1866, by time he was 27, he went to Central Pacific – Central Railroad, became Jim King contractor, contracting for hiring people from China. See?
03:54 And, and, and when that Railroad got completed with the Transcontinental Railroad, they laid off about 12,000 Chinese that had built the Railroad. And it was really the Chinese built most of the Railroad. The rest of them didn’t do as good. They didn’t survive that, that horrendous weather through the mountain. And I have that book you have, that you should maybe get one on, I’ll loaned it to you today and you can read it. It tells you what they’ve gone through.
04:21 And then, then after, they, they finished the Railroad, he came down to the valley here to help build the levee. So he was known as Jim King foreman here. And then, they were getting fourteen cents per cubic yard, wheelbarrowing. But finally, when the, what you call these clam shell diggers, dredgers came, displaced them from having to that, then they went farming.
04:46 Because they came from **Heung San District** – that’s farming. So you notice the whole valley were – all the orchards and pears – most of were started by Chinese. And they work for the owner, for a share, like 60:40 split, but you got to pay all the thing. And so, so the whole valley was developed by Chinese.
05:07 So that’s why Locke, Locke has a memorial there now that kind of points that out from the Railroad, to the levee, to the orchards. You know, there is a museum down there now that has, has a kind of a monument there kinda explaining that, at Locke. And Locke, I was in the original group that formed the Committee in Locke, but then I got too busy and I couldn’t follow up. And I helped them once in awhile, when they wanted someone to take a tour, like people coming from San Jose or Fresno, they didn’t have anybody they will call me and I would try to help them, but -. I mean they want to know who lives in this building, what it was you know – and so, I’m the only one left I think.
05:57 My Aunt Connie was the one doing it and she passed on about a year-and-a-half ago. And, so, Aunt Connie – we call her Aunt Connie because she’s married to grandfather’s other brother – the one, the one called Gam Lung, you know, like Golden Dragon. And he, his son, Tommy King, married Connie. Connie is from Alton. So Connie was the one that promoted all these thing about the immigrant workers, the Chinese helping develop the, the whole valley, all the agriculture – and she did a lot of good. So I helped her when she needs help, but one day when I call her to take her out to lunch, no answer. And they found her – just slept away. Passed on just a couple years ago.
06:47 Fong: And so, going back to 1855, Êdo you know, was there any reasoning why your great-grandfather left China?
06:58 Chan: Ah. On the writ up there, it says because there’s some turmoil going on in China. And there was some infighting and besides there was some flood – the thing going on. And somehow, he came, I don’t know how sixteen-year-old just can come over here and start working, but that’s what he said. And then, everything fits from 1855. 11 years later, he’s at the Railroad. Three years later, he is down the valley here. And then he got married after he came to the valley here. He found a girl in San Francisco, crying in the street that was shipped over here – her parents sold her to some people for the United States, to come over for prostitution. At that time, they won’t let any Chinese women come. So he bought out the contract from the whoever had a contract for her and married her. And then, they’re raised 8 children, 2 girls first and then 4 boys after that, and then my grandfather was a number 2, number 2 boy. And then number 4 boy is Gam Lung, and that’s where I got the picture. He had the one – the picture hanging in the house in Locke. And that’s how I got hold of Aunt Connie. Aunt Connie married Tommy, so he gave me the frame and I took it apart – and carefully because it was pretty old – and I’m able to copy some of the pictures.
08:24 Yu: So what is the name that your grandfather is losing at the time when he got married?
08:29 Chan: Jim King.
08:30 Yu: He used Jim King?
08:31 Chan: Yes.
08:32 Yu: So, what about the Chinese name?
08:34 Chan: **Jow Yu Kee.** They hardly use it. All that time, that whole Jim King ended up with my mom’s – Lilian King, Myrtle King, Bill King,
08:44 Yu: I see.
08:45 Chan: And then the other brother, you know, Chin King, and Kim King, and Tai King. And then the other, I don’t know the others well. I only know those three well. And the girl were – two girls were older. I know one they call her **Kam Po** **Kam Pol**, and I met her before, and that’s the one that didn’t have any children. And he adopted a boy. But he’s totally – he’s all blonde, all American – and, and his name was Ming. Ming Wong. Ming. Ming. And he used to come down to Locke every summer and visit with us and go fishing with us and finally he got older and went into service and back, and he come back, he’s about six foot something, all blonde, don’t look Chinese at all. And somewhere along the line, we don’t know where he went.
09:38 Yu: Last name was King? [unclear] Now, back to your great-grandfather, you know, you have a certificate of residence. So your great-grandfather was considered a laborer? A laborer?
09:50 Chan: Yes, yes. So he’s able to stay because of that. I don’t know when he came, what he came with. I don’t know.
09:57 Yu: He came before the Exclusion – way before the Exclusion. Did he every go back to China?
10:02 Chan: Yes, yes. Uh, he didn’t. His wife took – ÊI think – the two girls and three, three, five boys back. And, um, the Kim King, Gam Lung, stayed back, didn’t want to go. But he did go later to get a wife from the same village.
10:23 Yu: I see.
10:24 Chan: Yeah, so they are all Wong Shee. How come – my grandma is Wong Shee, he got a grandma that is Wong Shee. My grandma came in 1909. So it was okay. Now I have all that in writing, but a lot of it is not quite in my head.
10:40 Yu: From the archives?
10:41 Chan: Yeah, yeah.
10:42 Yu: Have you gone to the village?
10:44 Chan: No. My daughter had. My daughter brought back a lot of stuff when she went with a whole group from the college. From – it was – LA, San Francisco, became VIP, and they took a tour of China. And he, she went back to the village. But yeah -.
10:59 Yu: So the village of Jim King?
11:01 Chan: Yeah, yeah. But we, she, we didn’t have anybody left. But a cousin of her, her, her cousin had family there – still have family there.
11:10 Yu: So you did not hear stories about Jim King on the Railroad until fairly recently.
11:14 Chan: No, no, no. And it just was mentioned because all my mom write up the all the thing, just said they, they looked at that there was a leftover will for each of the boy. There was mention about the Railroad. But I didn’t find anything else related to it. And I found some article, all in Chinese, but I haven’t had a chance to try to see if something there explains it.
11:37 So, but then, when the Rail, then he said Railroad, so I thought, well, I’ll go ask the Railroad, because they want me to see if I can find someone that can put a face on as real person. So I sent them all the stuff. And then I said, I thought, what happened, they sent it all back to me. And I said, “Didn’t you find anything?” He said, “No, we found Jim King. He’s in Railroad log.” He said, if you want to come, search some more, or see if there’s other thing I could, but I didn’t have a chance yet so far, you know, but that’s the only time we got a connection. See.
12:08 Yu: Do you have anything from your great-grandfather’s – any possessions, any tools or anything he might have owned?
12:18 Chan: Oh. I know there’s lots of things that, you know, pass on to Grandma, and Grandma passed it on my mom, and then finally I had to sell the house, and I ended up with a lot of stuff. But I gave it to Aunt Connie to give to the museum.
12:29 Yu: Oh.
12:30 Chan: Some of the stuff. There were a lot of herbs left over. You know, you know, those root things. And there was like picking pair to use – they have wooden baskets. I donated it all to my Aunt Connie to give to the museum. And the two pictures – great-grandma – and great-grandma, we also gave them to the museum, but I don’t think they put it up. Because the people runs it is a Park District. They don’t know anything about it.
12:55 Fong: Which museum? Which museum? Do you know which museum?
12:59 Chan: The museum in Locke. It’s run by the Park District. What happened, Locke was only like 10 acres that was leased from Mr. Locke, actually, you know. And it was, and we had to pay land rent, even though we build a house on it. So my parents pay rent for – until 2002. My mom was the last one to keep paying. Because grandma, when grandma left – was gone – they gave the house to the oldest son. The oldest son gave it to my mom. And then the youngest son came back from China after the War. It was technically is his house but he also gave it to my mom. My mom took care of everything. And then when mom passed on and I already have a nice home here, you know.
13:51 And I had work – what, 34 years straight – for Aerojet. Building rocket motors. I’m a rocket motor designer. And I had, I had to do all the performance – I designed it to meet performances. So I did pretty good. Because I was Chinese and they said Chinese invented gunpowder. Ha. So I fit in really well for some reason, I did good. And I’m always known as Gene over there.
14:19 And I got to travel a lot. And all the test station, Vandenberg. I go do a lot of engineering in Sterling, Tennessee. I finally got to the space station – the Marshall Space Center. I worked on the super booster for the space shuttle, which got canceled after 2 years and that was my propulsion design. But I did everything in the beginning from tactical rockets. First. I learned the tricks of how to build it, how to do it – somehow. I don’t know how but I did it. And it worked out for me. Because the first job I got was they, you know, sent me out to the process line and sent me to one project engineer, but I learned a lot. And after I learned a lot, I start fixing things. And it has turned out it was working, so pretty soon, I got more experience than most of them.
15:15 So I was able to do the, like, the Standard Missile, that’s in a fleet now, that’s second stage – it had two stages, that’s my design also. I did the, they improved Hawk, also, I did the [unclear] Sparrow when they needed more power. And I went onto [unclear] even sounding rockets that exceeded the max altitude. They called, asked me [unclear]. And then I did a lot of other proposal thing that we didn’t win but then some, some, we, we did win. But then finally, I had to work on submarine missiles – they, they were in trouble, they wanted me to salve it. And I, I did. I was able to salve it. So then the Air Force started the Peacekeeper, and I got on the Peacekeeper program. And I did the second stage. And so, so I did that successfully. And they requested me for the small ICBM, I did it that also. Second stage. So, I did a whole lot of orders, probably more more than any one person that does the ballistic analysis. And I end up doing the failure analysis. So I was, when the shuttle failed, I was in the Blue Room Committee, there too. So when I asked – they were trying to tell us, you know, just how to do things, and then the last question I asked is, after all that, I said, how come nobody picked the o-ring. I said, if you had me in there, I would have been the first one to say o-ring. The whole room went silent. NASA. So, but anyway, I got real good with NASA also.
16:59 Yu: You are very successful. Very successful.
17:04 Chan: Yeah, yeah. And then, some time, I worry because when I’m the one to present the data after each test, and I bring it in the room, and I come in, I have to present in on the big screen in front of a lot of people, finally I got used to it. But sometime, the generals are there and I walk in, they put an arm around me, walk me up to the stage, everybody goes “hmm, what’s going on here.” So, I got along very well with the Air Force, the Navy, with Lockheed, TRW, Indian Head in Maryland, China Lake, all those places.
17:39 So, I’m the only Gene O’. They always looking for some tan guy. It’s very difficult in the beginning when I started going to all these places like Alabama, Tennessee. They don’t see many Orientals. I go to restaurant there with my whole group, and everybody is staring at me. So that happened quite a while, until later on, a few Japanese refugees joined us, Chinese refugees came on. Then it was a little better. But Boston was real bad too, when I got to Boston, the Raytheon, real bad.
18:14 Yu: Racism?
18:16 Chan: Yeah. They are very, somehow they segregate you out. And I didn’t realize it till next morning, when I got up for breakfast, “where are they,” and they put them in a place then I had to go to a different place. And finally I refused to go and I look for the guys. And they sat there. And then they try to wait on me. They made me a really crappy dinner. And I didn’t even eat it. Real bad.
18:38 Yu: This is Boston.
18:39 Chan: That was in Boston.
18:40 Yu: In 1950s?
18:42 Chan: That was in – uh, I started in 59, and somewhere, probably in the sixties where I was able to learn, you know, everything and, and try, were able to help out. Because somehow, I was able fix the problem – when they blew up, I fixed it. It was working. Same thing with like the improved Hawk. I did the improved Hawk. For 2 years, I tell them the way they want to do it is not correct. They fire the first one, not correct. And then gave me a week and I fixed it for them. One test, and it’s fine. So all the improved Hawk all over the world, Israel, Taiwan, Italy, they all have Hawks.
19:20 Fong: This has nothing to do with Chinese history, but my curiosity – is that a matter of chemistry or mechanical? Or both?
19:26 Chan: Uh, is both. The chemistry is the propellant where I have to work with the chemists, to get the right kind of impulse power for it. And then I put it in a design that would meet the Air Force system requirement. Just like the shuttle, it is very hard to meet that requirement. Because somebody is in it. You know, you have to worry about, about the vibration, you’re worried about the too much acceleration and then you have to worry about heat up, aerodynamic things. So all got to be handled by the designs. We thought the liquid part was going to do throttling, right? No. The solid did everything. Solid rocket motor. So –
20:11 Yu: [unclear] 20:13 Yu: [unclear] 20:19 Chan: They did the engineering too.
20:20 Yu: Engineering. So back to your, your great-grandfather, it sounds like he, first of all, he came early –
20:29 Chan: 1855. And he was 16.
20:32 Yu: 16. And he learned English. So somebody was willing to teach him English.
20:37 Chan: He was working for the miners is what we figured, for 11 years, because he can’t have his own job, right? There was prejudice there, right?
20:44 Yu: Yup.
20:45 Chan: They were taxing the Chinese for mining gold. They didn’t tax other people. So he had to work for somebody. And at least, he must be a very good worker because able to teach him enough English
20:58 Yu: But then they trusted him enough, or they would have kicked him out. Do you know if he got paid well?
21:04 Chan: That, I would have to go to the museum to see if I can find it – I find the payroll log but they don’t tell me the money part. I am sure they would have some, if you research it, maybe find out how much they were paying the Chinese. Now that book may say that. You know. I read most of it. I don’t remember having gone past it.
21:22 Yu: Well, I was thinking, when he worked for the mining company as a teenager, he was, I mean, he survived, they gave him an opportunity. So by the time they were recruiting for the railroad, they needed someone like him.
21:37 Yeah, because 11 years, he learned English. So he must have been a fairly smart and a good worker. And then when the valley also was building the levee, good worker. And a farmer? They all know him. And like I said, I got three farmer that certified it for him, on those. I can make copy of that for you. And uh –
21:57 Yu: So his labor contracting is different from the contracting that, in the Central Pacific, the history, in that, by 1860s, they would have a contractor in China.
22:08 Chan: Yeah. They contract from China to bring them over here, but he didn’t, I don’t think he went back. From here, he was able to coordinate it, hire the people. You know, there’s many many contractors, you know, whole group. If you look at that list, there are whole bunch of contractors. So he must have his own little bunch that works for him, you know.
22:27 Yu: Yeah, he was probably. After he contracted, he worked on the Railroad too. I mean, the very first Chinese that were hired were from California. Because they needed workers around so he was one of the first.
22:43 Chan: Probably one of those very first – eighteen, 1866 – when he was started on the payroll log. So that fits pretty well, timeline-wise. So I kinda corrected some of the thing my mother wrote.
23:00 Yu: And, and the fact that he was not on the payroll in 65, does not mean that he did not work there.
23:06 Chan: No. I just only found it.
23:07 Yu: They started –
23:08 Chan: Three years early, actually.
23:10 Yu: Earlier?
23:11 Chan: They started, 1863, I think it started, slowly. You know, going through Marysville, this area here. So that book that I show you, also talks about that. Talks about what did the Chinese have to do to fix all the repair work and things. And then all the other worker couldn’t survive that cold mountain weather, you know. Somehow they were able to survive.
23:37 Yu: And you have his photographs, you have photograph of his wife, that’s really amazing.
23:42 Chan: Yes. Yes. And then that book with the payroll log. At least, so at least identify him as Jim King. Now I know it wasn’t the valley here as a foreman because they made him Jim King. It was because of the Railroad. That’s why he got the Central Pacific, working as a contractor, he learned English.
24:00 Chan: So, but anyway, his eight children – so you see, the family tree is pretty big.
24:11 Yu: Did any, do you have any stories about him from any of the children?
24:16 Chan: No, not, no. Only mention is from the will. From the, the wife had a will for each of the son. And I may have it, but I’m not sure which one, because all in Chinese. I have a bunch of little booklet that my mom kept wrapped up.
24:30 Yu: That’s. But he must have made enough money. You know, his family –
24:36 Chan: Yes. He schooled them. He had both Chinese and English.
24:42 Yu: So this former Railroad worker, who spoke English, raised a large family, and by then he was a contractor for the –
24:48 Chan: Down the valley here. And then the farmer, contractor of farmer too. So the thing is, he was able, yeah, I’m surprised, eight children, he’s able to tutor two kinds – Chinese and – they were able to read a Chinese newspaper – and it said that the English part, my grandfather went to the immigration he spoke all English. When they had Grandma over, I have the questions that they ask him and then it says he spoke all English. Like, Grandma would have to have an interpreter, see? So that’s on the record also. So I got that on the file, if you need copies of those to verify that, I have that also.
25:28 Yu: Did Jim King ever own any land, any property?
25:31 Chan: No, not that I know. Because you can’t own any land. You can’t own, you can’t even buy land. And so luckily Locke was a lease land. We built a house but, but he’s, he’s gone already by then. He was going somewhere between 1898 and 1903. They don’t, they don’t know what happened to him. And there, and the nearest thing we can figure out, somewhere in Alton, after his what, I think, after, I gotta remember whether his wife went to China after he disappeared. You know they were having some labor strife in Antioch and he was in Alton, at maybe hiring as a laborer again and might have got into some, something bad. Or they said he might have fell in the river and drowned.
26:23 Yu: You don’t know where his grave is?
26:25 Chan: No, they never found him.
26:27 Yu: They never found Jim King?
26:29 Chan: No, no, they never found him. After that, after about, I think it was between 1989 and 1902 or 1903 there, they said, even the farmer worker mentioned that he was gone in that period, couple years ago, when I read through the file.
26:47 Chan: And one son that didn’t go to China, when the mom, the grandmother took them all the China, that was Gam Lung, Kim King. He, he’s known as a slot machine king. He was a farmer first, then later on he acts and he bought a whole lot of slot machine. Had it all down the valley and Yolo County, and Alton, Rio Vista. And we didn’t know that was illegal because it’s behind the stairway or somewhere, all the stores had it. And he was paying off the store. And he picked us up when we were young kids, “come here, come on, let’s go for a ride,” in his 1938 Ford, you know, and we didn’t know he was collecting. Now that I think about it. He said, “just stay in the car, I’ll be right back.” We went to Yolo, all these other places, you know, he was collecting. Then he, at, at the house, he has a house in Locke, separate from my grandfather’s house. He had a, up on the levee on the other side. And he actually had a downstairs where he was fixing the machines. And he had the other machines in a little place upstairs, where he had pinball machines and shoot the bear, remember? You had shoot the bear, go “oong” thing. And then, we ride with him, then he give us some money we can go play it. But finally, I think after Governor Brown Sr. clamped down and shut it all down, and a lot of people had to get rid of the machines.
28:21 Chan: And all the gambling house, you know. Locke had at least three gambling houses going full-time, doing keno, you know, and, and you, grandma says, you know, the sheriff is all paid off, so when they come to raid, there’s nobody there. And I used to sit in front with my grandpa. And there’s always an old man sitting there. And there’s a little hole in the wall with a rope on it, see. And in case the sheriff, you know, didn’t tell them, on a, some come, he sees the sheriff car, he pulls the thing, the pin comes off the door, and the big heavy door locks close, and everybody runs out the back into the orchard. That was the gambling part. Also, sometime, the moonshine. They were making the white whiskey, the baak zau, bai jiu. See the cops coming and run to the fence, throw all his rice cake over the fence, and all these pigs come eating it. Big, big pigs.
29:25 Yu: This is during the time when there’s a lot of gambling, and it’s mainly a bachelor’s society, with mainly single men that were living there?
29:35 Chan: Uh, there’s a lot of single men and we rented room. They just, you know, their wives in China and they send money back. And they work in orchard most of the year, but they always kept one room in Locke. Just one room, small room, with – able to put two bunks – and they have a kitchen for everybody, and a wash area, and only have one light bulb hanging down, that was it. But they, they, don’t pay very much, only 15 to 20 dollars a month or something like that. And they come back whenever holiday, they all back.
30:08 Chan: But the gambling is not most of those people. It’s outsiders. Mostly loafing Filipinos gambling. And same thing with house of prostitute. They have three or four of them there. But everybody thinks it’s Chinese. It’s not. It’s run by – the – the, I guess he’s Portuguese guy that owned the Al the Wops restaurant that’s there now. His wife was the madam I believe. And they were white girls. They were not Chinese girls. And most of the time, it was Caucasians visiting, but I do know the Chinese, after a big old party they have in here, with the tong you know, they got the Jing Hing Tong there, and I see them marching over there in a crew. So it’s, but always thought of it as being Chinese, it’s not. They’re all Caucasian. I do know that at one time there was one Chinese one in town somewhere but not very long.
31:07 Yu: You have one story about your – of that generation, your great-grandfather. And that is, he married a girl that was going to be sold into slavery. He brought out her contract? How do you know that?
31:20 Chan: Yeah. Contract. That was written down from, I guess the letter that the Wong Shee, the wife, the great-grandfather wrote, and Auntie Connie told me that. So that was written also of my mom, there it says, on that thing, you can read that one, was wrote that. So he didn’t go back to China to get a wife. He found a very young one too. You know, so –
31:46 Yu: Do you know anything about her? Was she Toishan? Zhongshan?
31:50 Chan: I didn’t see anything about that. Because she came over here and she married her and then after that, they got a kid almost every year. So I have those delineated there with the dates on there and well, how long they live on there.
32:06 Yu: And they all did well.
32:07 Chan: They all seem to have done well. The girls seem to have done well. The first one of them, we don’t know exactly where she went. But I do know one that I have met. They call her **Kam Mu** and – yeah, yeah.
32:19 Yu: The fact that the couple did well, they were successful, they must have enough money. Did you know the house they lived in? And did they live in a big house?
32:29 Chan: I, they live on the Ranch, see?
32:32 Yu: Right, the ranch.
32:33 Chan: Or else in Courtland they might have a little something, but most time, when you farm for the lofan, they, they have a ranch house for you. You know. In fact, you house the worker too. They have, you know, they have a big kitchen upstairs where they house them to pick like pears, the whole season, yeah. Because, because, I picked about four seasons of pair, you know, going to high school. And I had to stay over there on upstairs with a whole bunch of old men, and – but luckily, the ranch I go to is the Chan family ranch. And they know my father, so they kind of took care of me, at least the wife made sure I ate well, you know. And the old man says, oh, I know your father, he taught him pick pears and stuff, so, so they kind of look after me, when I was 15, 16, 18 somewhere in near.
33:29 Yu: Your family had a good reputation.
33:32 Chan: Yeah, so my dad was running the store or he was the buyer. So I got to go with him where he shopped for the food, can, candy, cigarette and stuff, so a little bit. He took me along with him while I was little.
33:44 Yu: So both sides of your family are from the valley. **Heung Shan.**
33:49 Chan: Valley, from **Heung Shan,** **Heung Shan** District. Lung Mei is **Heung Shan,** yeah, Lung Mei. Dragon’s Tail. Lung Mei.
33:57 Yu: Did, um, Dragon’s Tail? Lung Mei? Oh yeah.
34:02 Chan: Yeah, that’s pretty close to **Sun Qiong** and also **So Yun.** These next vilalge. That’s where Grandma comes from, next village, you know, yeah.
34:14 Yu: So your family must have been involved with the Sun Yat-sen’s Revolution.
34:19 Chan: Yes, because, he actually was a thing in the valley there, in Courtland, hiding, and I do believe he’s been to Locke also. You know, we have a Kao Ming Tong Chinese School. They call it Chinese school but it was Kao Ming Tang meeting place there. And I went, I took Chinese there too. I took about 4 years of Chinese. I did, was able to write a letter at one time, but there’s nobody to talk to and no letter to write to. But, lucky, my mom remembered. She went to same school I did. So my mom is – too bad I didn’t talk to her earlier, see. By time she was kinda in the 80, it was kinda off a little bit, dementia set in about 92, you know. And Aunt Myrtle, I asked, Aunt Myrtle, do you remember? She don’t remember. You know, her sister also lived in Locke. See? And marry Owyang. Owyang family. And the Owyang family is pretty big too. But Owyang is far from Dailang, huh, the other side.
35:25 Yu: You kept a lot of documents. In fact –
35:28 Chan: With my mom, you know, I had to clean house after she passed on, and before I can sell the house. So I started searching and found all these thing. You know, and my Uncle Bill, we didn’t know what happened, you know, he’s my mother’s younger brother, he went through all the schools in Walnut Grove, went to Courtland High, and went to Sacramento City College for couple years, and then he took Aeronautics. For a Chinese at that time, you can’t get a job. So his father said why don’t you go help China? China needs some pilots.
36:02 So he signed on with a group from San Francisco. And trained in San Francisco Solano County for a while and then somehow, we didn’t know where he went. His paper says vacation. He went for eight years. He went in 39. And so, when he went, he sent some pictures that got the Flying Tiger, we knew Flying Tiger, but we didn’t know what. He didn’t say much. He didn’t want to talk about it much, because he didn’t earn anything. I watch him go, he had a brown suit on, a felt hat, and a suitcase, right. He came back, I think it’s the same suitcase, but maybe a different hat. But he had a box and two swords, two Japanese swords. And I, Japanese, he escorted the Japanese General on the surrender in Nanking, and a general gave him the sword. And the other box is, I said, ‘what’s that?” He said, “oh, bunch of metal hardware.” He never, I never knew what it was. But now I have it.
37:10 When he passed on, he told his wife to give me that box that he had boxed up from China. So I got all his flight logs, so I knew where he was at all times now, and what he did and all his medals. And then Taiwan. His fighter group went to Taiwan when the Communists took over.
37:31 So they found out I had some of the stuff. When they came, they wanted it. So I gave it to him about, ooh, six months ago. And I just got a letter back from them, those pictures there, the display on the case in a museum, in a Chinese Air Force Base. He wanted to impress the cadet. Because I have early stuff where he was learning aeronautics, he was cutting things out of the newspaper and made a whole little booklet showing you how do, what, how airplane works – engines and everything. And they took that, so let them look at it. And then I made a whole compile of all his stuff. And I was ready to write a book now, but now they got everything got my notes and everything, I need to get some back. They promised me that they would copy what they take and give it back to me and what they don’t take will send back to me, so then I can go ahead and complete it.
38:24 But because my wife start getting real sick about 3 years ago. She ended with a progressive supranuclear palsy. Never heard of it before. Slowly degraded. And then what happened was when she fell, last October 8th, and fell on her face, fractured this, they had to put two plates to anchor it, sew her mouth up, but a trach and a stomach tube to feed. And that, with that lasted for about five months. And then, found out something else happened. All that bed sores and stuff, turned into cancer. After I found out, only last 7 days. So I had her hospice at home, but um, yeah that was something – took a lot of my time so I didn’t get to finish the book.
39:15 Yu: Could you say the name of your uncle – your uncle’s name please?
39:19 Chan: Oh, his name is William Chow King Ng. He spells C-H-O-W and that one is J-O-W, on the paper. So somewhere, mom didn’t see that one so I got it corrected, now.
39:31 Yu: So the grandson –
39:33 Chan: Yeah the grandson, so –
39:35 Fong: Can you ask that again?
39:36 Yu: Yeah. He’s the grandson of –
39:37 Chan: Grandson of Jim King. Yes. And he went to help China. And so, but luckily, I found out, he actually went into the Chinese Air Force Academy. And Captain Chennault, or Colonel Chennault, was the commandant of the school. So that’s how he got Flying Tigers – after he trained them, graduated, he went operational with Chengdu, and but, China didn’t have any airplanes to fight with. What they have is a biplane, Russian plane – can’t compete with a Japanese zero.
40:12 But so, so then, next thing we knew General became General Chennault of the 14th Air Force. And he remembered those students he taught that was in the 3rd fighter group in China and the 5th fighter group. He pulled one bomb group also into the 14th Air Force, as temporary. So, so they were in the Air Force, the U.S. Air Force, temporarily, but they fly with a Chinese marking. And his uniform, everything is still Chinese. He got paid in Chinese. It’s called a Chinese-American Composite Wing, so there’s American and then Chinese-American and then Chinese. A lot of those people are really alike Bill, because he can speak the language, translate for them. So he did well. They wanted him to stay but he said he didn’t want to fight against Chinese. He only signed to fight the Japanese – or Japan, more likely he said. His best friend is Japanese. When he come back, he looks up his football friend – Japanese. You know.
41:13 Yu: Did he grew up with – in Locke?
41:14 Chan: Yeah, he grew up in Locke. He was born here. He was the second boy born in Locke in 1916. So yeah.
41:22 Yu: Your uncle was the second –
41:24 Chan: Yes. Other uncle, Chester King, was the first boy. So he was the second boy. So that was still from the King side. Chester was from Chin King. Jau Cin. A lot of money? his name, Jau Cin. And he sent his son to China to be schooled. But I heard he didn’t do too good on school, he played a lot of baseball. So he came back and we always liked to play baseball, so I play with him and I go fishing with him a lot, and he’s a good fisherman, and I went water skiing with him and things like that. I grew up with my uncle. My dad just work, work work on the store, you know. He’d work on the store, come home, read a Chinese paper still, and he read an English paper. He’s only guy I know that buy all three paper, you know, the Chronicle, you know, Examiner – we got the beat and he got the Chinese paper. He reads all of them.
42:26 Yu: Your father’s name?
42:28 Chan: Francis Chan, Francis Owyang Chan, I guess. Yeah. It was the school that they went to. I guess it was kind of like a Christian School, so they named him Francis. I don’t – I have to look up that school, whether Saint Francis or not, but anyway he went to school, so he spoke good English, so he was able to run the store. And a lot, a lot of the Caucasian likes him.
42:55 Yu: So his father came from China? Or his parents came from China?
42:59 Chan: Uh, his father was here already when he came. But I don’t know about his father. He never talks about it. And I was going to ask my mom, but, too late, by the time I asked her, she’s getting forgetful.
43:09 Yu: Your mother keeping the record –
43:14 Chan: Yeah, yeah, yeah. My dad hardly said anything. He said he just got visa to come to school. The next thing you know, he was in Locke. And then he married my mom and then what happened? Married my mom, my mom lost her citizenship! But she got it back and naturalized – took all the tests and got it back. He, she wanted him to take it – Êhe won’t take it. So I don’t know.
43:35 Yu: Because she married an alien –
43:39 Chan: Yes, yes, yes. So my mom had to get her citizen back in 1935. She got it back. She got married in 1930, 32, I came along. So, 1932 – 82, goodness –
43:54 Yu: So, um, one last thing, the name King –
44:00 Chan: That’s synonymous to saying Joe, sometimes it’s J-O-E, sometimes it’s C-H-O-W, Chow, you know –
44:08 Yu: Chinese characters –
44:10 Chan: Same. The character
44:13 Yu: When you go back to the village there might be people that are sing zau.
44:17 Chan: Yeah.
44:18 Yu: Zau?
44:19 Chan: Yow. Y-O-W is how we wrote it. But I don’t know whether he just making the sound, you know, great-grandfather. Whether is was Chow or Yow or Joe. All the same. Just like Chen, Chun and Chin. It’s all the same Chen.
44:34 Yu: Well, I’m so glad you found his name on the table as Jim King.
44:40 Chan: Yeah, yeah, that has changed a story a little bit from my mother’s line – where he became Jim King. And it fits better. I have it delineated so I’ll make you a copy of those so you can take a copy with you so you can kinda follow what I said. You know, a lot of things not quite in my head. So that’s why, you know, I had all these things, but when she got sick, I couldn’t, I had to help her all that time. I had, finally had 24 hours 7 days for her, for over, for a year-and-a-half. And I had hospice at home for also 7 days, 24 hours, but with higher level of help. I had to have LVNs – very expensive. The people that I had before, you know, you hire, you can hire them cheaper, they work for you 24 hours and another person 24 hour, another person, switch around. They won’t let me do it because they had to have a feeding tube on there and also PICC line for the medicine. And they won’t let me hire those. So I had to hire LVNs and they cost three times more. But anyway, I got, luckily that didn’t last that long. So, it’s over.
45:49 Yu: Your – you have children close by? How many children?
45:52 Chan: I got four. I got four. I got a girl first, uh, Karen, and she’s in early fifties. And she was here. So came when I called and she came. She is a math major – statistics major, working for hospital in Salt Lake City.
46:12 Chan: Yeah. And then I have my boy, Mark, a couple – let’s see, Karen is 61, born in 1961. I got married in 59. I got married 1-week I got out of the school. Right? I got out Winter Quarter on St Patty’s Day, on the 17th of March. I got married on the 22nd. I went to work on the 30th. So, made my 55th anniversary with my wife, just made it on March 22nd, and she passed on March 30th. That’s my work anniversary, yeah, 55 years.
46:52 Yu: I think you have two other children?
46:54 Chan: I have, uh, Sue came next. She’s a, went to college also, and she went did physical therapist with UOP [University of Pacific] master in physical therapist, and she worked hospital, then she work for sports medication for a while, but then, once she had the little boy, retired, just took care of the little boy. Her husband has a pretty good job. Her husband is from Sacramento. Tam, his surname, T-A-M. Kenny Tam. And his mother is
[unclear]. His father was lost a long time ago. So he and I work together a lot. We play tennis a lot. Yeah. He loves tennis. He plays twice a week. Then until, I fell one day, chasing the grand kids, they want me to raise them. And I hit a little leaf and I flipped over and fell on my back. Hurt my back.
47:48 Yu: You have one more.
47:49 Chan: One more. I got Patricia. Patricia went to San Francisco State. He majored in Marketing and Finance. And she works for William Sonoma in San Francisco Headquarter. So she has a little boy, Neko. But her husband left – separated. But, then
48:13 Yu: Well, you have a –
48:15 Chan: So, she has one, Sue has one. Karen has one, Michelle. And she’s 20. She’s in college – Utah University, right now. But her, that was that was the first husband for the first child. Michelle is married to a Caucasian pilot.
48:36 Yu: That’s, that’s cool.
48:39 Chan: Yeah. So, yeah. So he’s a pilot, my Uncle Bill is a pilot, and then I became a pilot.
48:44 Yu: Hmm. A lot of –
48:46 Chan: Yeah. Yeah. But, um, but, I, I went in as a, you know, I noticed there’s always some prejudice. Every time, the people that I learned aeronautics with, my, my older friends that I used to build model airplanes and stuff with, they all volunteer in the Air Force and – to hope to fly. Right? I got the Roger Cheung and I got the Willis Tam and I got a few others that every time they went into the Air Force to – want to fly, when they finally get to the point, they say you here, you here, you here, never got to fly. And my, like the one that taught me all this building airplanes – end up a tank driver.
49:32 Chan: Ha. But anyway, so I found another way to get in. I found out there’s a Aviation Cadet Program. I have to have 2 years of college. I have to take the whole bunch of Battery test and physical, but I only have to sign on for 2 years. And if I make it, then I might have to sign for four. But if I don’t finish, I get off in two. And so what happened, the Korean War got over and I started during the Korean War so I qualify for the GI Bill. So I got out, went to college on the GI Bill. So I went to Cal Poly, got my aeronautic engineering, but my flying part, I had an option. I could have gone to the Air Force Academy. And I chose to go home.
50:15 Chan: Because I ran into [unclear] prejudice there also. I, I, was very surprised. The first, primary, I was fine. I had a pilot that was in India Theater, a Caucasian, but he knows Oriental. I learned a lot from him, primary, so I was assigned for a Fighter Squadron. So when I went to Basic, first thing I knew to introduce me to the instructor, four student, he wouldn’t shake my hand. And I tell him, “what’s wrong?” you know. And I sat there and I sat there. And finally said, “come on, let’s go.” And I went in, and I’ve never flown that plane before. And I started to go. He says, “get your hand off of this.” I said, “what’s the matter? I can fly the thing okay.” See, I already know how to fly. I went to City College – they had a flying club. I joined the flying club, I learned to fly already. Crop duster, they taught me how to fly. Crops would have the crop duster people. I used to repair their wings for them. Because I took aeronautics and I also have the power plant, air frame license, so I was able to repair airplane. I do a $100 checks for my instructor and stuff like that. So I got lot of flying time by doing work. The flying – I already knew how to fly. But anyway, every time I tried to fly, he, he did the flying. So he landed. He’d write me up for wash out, right away. I said, “what’s going on here?” You know? So I had to go check flight with the base commander. And I’ve never – I’ve only flown that plane that one time. And I pass. I didn’t see him for a while.
51:56 Chan: And then next thing I know, I went through acrobatics, also. You know, I had real good training for acrobat, because the primary pilot who trained me was a P-51 pilot from India theater, fighter pilot. And I was able to do all, you know, all the loops and barrel rolls and all the [unclear] and all those things. But I didn’t do it on that plane before, because he didn’t teach me. He just said – I sat there until he said, “come on, let’s go” and then he flies it, and I did the acrobatic like I’m used to, and he was just frozen. He was – “too fast, too fast” You know, I was able to roll things fast. And he wanted to go [motions slow turn] and he wrote me up again. So I had to go with the base commander’s flight, and I passed again. So I didn’t see him. I went cross-country, did all the things.
52:55 Chan: And finally came, formation flying. And whoa, lo and behold, who’d I got again, the same guy. Oh no. So I, he never taught me that either. So the first time I went formation, he stuck me on a force squadron taking off in number two. You know, you got one, one, one, two, on take off. And here, I’ve never flown formation. Formation, you only fly off the lead, from signals. He signal wheels up – every, just look where he goes. And you fly. Well anyway, I did, he signal up, I pull the gear up, and, and instructor in the back says, “tuck it in,” I tuck it in, you know, and I said, “gee,” and he said “tuck it in!” and I tuck it in, and he said, “tuck it more!” I said, Jesus, too close. And he told me tuck it in. I tuck it in and what happened. I hit the prop wash from the other plane. And my plane went wild, like that. And boy, I just was able to save myself, pushed in and I slid underneath it all, clear, and I tried to call him and he passed out, in the back. I flew off ways and then l call for rejoining the Squadron. The Squadron makes a turn and I come, come in. I just got all the way in, he woke up. Down. Washed out again. God. Jeez. Oh, man. So he gets me all shook up.
54:26 Chan: So I said, “well, boy, what I’m going to do now,” you know, because I wanted to fly so badly. And then, then, I also got my girlfriend at home. So I had to make a choice. But then I went with a base commander again. And he told me to lead the flight, so I led the flight. Did diagonal, did formation, did acrobatics formation. And then what happened. I was so happy. I thought I made it, I got it. And I got, I call for the squadron in a row to come into landing. As I started to almost touch in, I notice, “oh, no, the windsock went 180 from what it was when I took off.” So I landed downwind. So that was kind of the last straw but it wasn’t anything bad. We all landed safely. So I had a group board and and they gave me an option – he says for me to fly again, I will have to go to finish the Air Force Academy then I can fly again.
55:32 Chan: And I was so sick of marching and all the hazing and being the only Oriental in a flight of 123. It was not, no fun. It was hazing all the time, you know. You gotta do slam the wall when you walk, upperclassmen comes in and everybody has to be attention, when you eat and you can’t move the eyeball and things like that. And then they always harass you. If you, if you move your eyeball and see airplane fly by, and they give you one point for each violation. After 10 you have to walk one hour around the flagpole on weekends. So you can see, I never got off the base. So you know, you’re still there.
56:17 Chan: And so, and after that, like I said, I got out and signed on with Cal Poly got my Aeronautic Engineering in 59. And luckily, I already had a job before I graduated. They hired me. Kept wanting when I’m coming. I said, “can’t.” I didn’t graduate till March. And then they were going to sell A van to get my stuff. What for? I just put in my trunk. So they gave me some gas and money. I drive back to Sacramento. And then I took the job in Sacramento – where my mother is close by and my girl, my wife, was Sacramento girl. See?
56:54 Chan: And so, that was kind of a sad story for me. You know. But yet it turned out better. Because I don’t think she really wanted me to go because I was assigned to F-84, uh, jets. I stared the T-33 run when all this happened. That was one month from graduation. So what happened. My friends from the Squadron invited me to the graduation. And I went. I had enough guts to go. I went there and they had to go up to the stage. I had to sit down on our table. And that guy came over. And he apologized to me. He said, his girlfriend was giving him a hard time and he took it out on me. I said, look, you ruined my career already. He said, he will fly me home for Christmas. You know, round-robin. I said, no, I’m going to finish out and I’m going to go home, go to college and get a good job. So that was my choice. I could have gone Air Academy, but I already had two years of City College. And maybe, if they say, I can start junior year maybe, but that was the first class Air Force Academy. I could have made it. But she was more important. So that was my sad, sad story, sad part.
58:15 Yu: It was a very – it’s a struggle, and it’s very sad in one way. But the result was that you got a great career elsewhere. And it made your life happy.
58:29 Chan: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Right. Yeah. Yeah. Elsewhere. That turned out great. Yeah. And I fit in very well with no matter where I went. So I was okay. And but then, it’s getting to a point where, things I go back, this ICBM got built, we flew about 17 of them, You know, everybody says the Peacekeeper, it was too big – it was – because the Peacekeeper was called the damn exit one time, became the – ÊRonald Reagan said that the Peacekeeper [unclear], that would go 5000 miles and carry 10 warheads. Each one can go to a different city. The Russian was trying to copy us, they couldn’t do it. So they didn’t made a shotgun pattern. But after that, they work so good. See, we can have a little bus with the bomb loads on it, with dummies also, you have to put out dummy so they don’t try to knock it down. And we can hit 10 different city with one missile. So that’s the Peacekeeper. That’s why the Russians went broke. One warhead, but it has to go five thousand miles. So we had to design real hard and come up with real lightweight composite. And we made it, 5,000 miles. And then nobody wanted it – to put it to where. So that got canceled, put into the warehouse. We built about 50 Peacekeeper, and maybe about 20 small ICBM. They put it in depot somewhere.
59:53 Chan: So the only thing out there is the [unclear] – what, 40 years old. And that, I also held down. I held them read, read – pick one out from the, from the force that was no good. No, they don’t, they didn’t know it was no good. I said, that was no good. And they didn’t believe me, so they took it out and send it to Tullahoma, Tennessee to test. And they were, “oh, Gene O., don’t let Gene O. go, it’s going to be okay. Look, it has been okay all this time. But next thing, next thing, the President came down, said, “Gene O. We’ll go.” So I went, went to Tullahoma and, and then, we didn’t fire till after midnight, though. Nobody’s around when they fired. And it went 15 minutes like a boom. And everybody was cheering because they now got lots of work coming. First time you hear a failure and everybody’s cheering until the – after that, we reloaded 800. So I got into all kinds of problem.
01:03 Yu: You are a very valuable. I was thinking of getting a production shot with you. And then, I would –
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