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Kent Montgomery Hom

Interviewee: Kent Montgomery Hom
Interviewed by: Connie Young Yu and Barre Fong
Interview Date: 2018
Location: Los Altos Hills
Length of Interview: 18 minutes, 33 seconds

00:00 Kent Montgomery Hom: My name is Kent Montgomery Hom. I’m born in San Francisco and lived here since. I was born in 1967. My grandmother, in the early 1990s, gave me some boxes of memorabilia and said this belongs to my great grandfather, Mai Tai Gong. And these items, at that time, I was really not interested in them. I was pretty young, and I was more interested in World War II history. So, my discovery of these items recently laid in my storage for many years until I opened them and start finding pieces and bits out of what my grandfather had collected, which is given to him from my great grandfather who is Moi Chin Wan.
00:54 Connie Young Yu: So, would you like to explain some of the memorabilia that you have?
00:58 Hom: Yeah, this is one of the first things that I found, which was the Bank of Canton bag that was in their safe deposit box. There was a number of items my grandmother said that they extracted from the Bank of Canton, that safe deposit box. And then this particular box, there was some kind of a gold replica of a spike. And when I did my research, I found that this was a replica of the spike that was used by the Chinese railroad workers, which were the short model, five-inch models. And looking at photographs of Stanford and compared to this spike and what is found on the commercial market for collectors, this isn’t a piece that was bought, you know, that way. It was presented to our family at some point.
01:52 And from the research that I did from a railroad collector was this was made back in probably the late 1920s for the anniversary, one of their earlier anniversaries. So, this gold spike was in this bag, part of my grandfather’s goods that he had stored along with some other things. Like I found this box here, which was a gold spike tie tack. And as you can see, it’s unused. So, the significance of this obviously is not written down, excuse me, in our family history. It hasn’t been written down in our family history or anything but why is there this connection of these small things that deal with the railroad and Stanford of that period?
02:44 Barre Fong: Is there an inscription on the spike?
02:46 Hom: No, there’s no inscriptions on the spike. I found out these spikes were actually given to special people, as I understood from this collector. And he meant that these were people that worked on the railroad line, people who had something to do with CPRR and things like that. So, this wasn’t available commercially in the market and there still isn’t anything of a replica of this kind that you can buy today. That’s what I found out. Then, the other piece I found was a very interesting medallion that says on it “Jupiter,” and it’s basically says “CPRR of California.”
03:34 Yu: That’s the name of the train.
03:35 Hom: So, that’s when I asked you. I said, you know, what are these, you know? So, there’s some kind of significance with this because I don’t think my great grandfather would have passed this down or my grandfather would have them and kept by my grandmother for so long. So, for the longest time, I didn’t even know I had the stuff, which is really sad.
04:04 Yu: Well, you had an article of the 60th anniversary, a newspaper article of the 60th anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad.
04:12 Hom: Right.
04:13 Yu: There was some ceremony. So you’ve made that connection, right?
04:19 Hom: Well, you know, I think that my great grandfather died in 1936. Moi Chin Wan passed away in 1936. So, if something was happening before that and somehow he was involved or was given some mementos, which I think is the case because I think the next anniversary wasn’t until 1944, I believe, right? So, it was 1929 and then 1944. But I have some things also from 1944 that I found as well, too. So, there’s some kind of connection or something was given to my great grandfather at that time because of this relationship with Stanford that, unfortunately, we don’t have the information in a written form. But what we do have is I know stories that were passed down to my relatives, my aunts, etc. Because everyone knew that he had some connection with Stanford, and this is something I found, of course, a lot later, which led me to the interest recently after you and I had discussed this and then I find memorabilia and these pieces that belonged, you know, to my great grandfather.
05:33 Yu: Well, your great grandfather, Moi Chin Wan, worked for Leland Stanford on the farm.
05:40 Fong: Let’s go back.
05:41 Hom: Okay.
05:41 Fong: Sorry. So, we have these little items that connect your family to the railroad, but did you ever discover when he left China, where he came in, where he arrived, maybe the times he was working, maybe before and after the railroad where he was? Can you locate [inaudible]?
06:05 Hom: Well, I could talk about that. I mean, because most of that is fairly known, so to speak, right? But I think that what’s interesting is that because when he came, he was fairly young. And I could be wrong. I don’t feel that he physically worked on the railroad at that early period from ’62 to ’69, I believe. But I believe that because of this relationship with his brothers and the fact that they worked for the Stanford family, working for Leland Stanford and his wife in some capacity, that the wife eventually, as I know today, wanted to adopt him as a son. And it was not allowed by the brothers, etc. But I feel that there was a relationship that was kept with the Stanfords throughout until probably Stanford’s death, because we also heard the story about the gold ring that Stanford gave to Mai Tai Gong, Moi Chin Wan, and I believe that gold ring was passed on to my grandfather, Daniel P. Moi because he had a gold ring on the opposite side of his hand and his marriage ring was a jade ring.
07:22 I don’t have confirmation of that, because he’s buried with that ring I’m pretty sure. But it could have been passed down to what I believe is Daniel was the favorite son of Moi Chin Wan.
07:33 Yu: I think it’d be good if you talk about the article by William Hoi, which is based on the oral history of Moi Chin Wan’ son. Therefore, lot of facts mention that Moi Chin Wan was an agent for the railroad.
07:47 Hom: Yes. When I discovered my grandfather’s artifacts through my grandmother, the box that I received from her and reopening it decades later, there was an original copy of the 1936 article that was done for the Chinese Digest. And in that article, it was the only one-on-one interview, first-person interview with Moi Chin Wan with a historian at that time named William Hoi. William interviewed my great grandfather and found many pieces of information. Although the article was only two pages long, it was the only complete sort of interview that was ever done on him from the time he arrived in 1860 in San Francisco, having worked for Stanford as perhaps a garden boy to some capacity in his early days, and then later still having to work with Moi Chin Wan and Leland Stanford’s team for the CPRR as an agent for the railroad, possibly as a translator or something of that capacity.
08:52 And in the story, it also told that they had a relationship. It was known that he was supposed to be a prot‚g‚, and it’s written in this article that he was supposed to be a prot‚g‚ of Leland Stanford, which is subjective today because we don’t have any written information. But we did hear the story growing up. We heard this from our relatives. We heard this from our aunts that he had a close relationship with Stanford. Now on my recent times talking to our relatives again, I heard that there was some type of a business deal with my great grandfather and Leland Stanford in his later years. And this is before Leland Stanford had passed away that he possibly had given my great grandfather a piece of property downtown San Francisco. And, eventually, my grandfather could not keep up with it because of taxes or something to that matter and had to give it back to Leland Stanford.
09:53 Yu: There’s the one story that has been told actually in Chinatown that Mrs. Stanford wanted to adopt your great grandfather, Moi Chin Wan.
10:02 Fong: Can you call back a little later? For you.
10:08 Hom: Oh, okay. Sorry. Okay. It’s [inaudible]. Okay, so let me…
10:11 Yu: [Inaudible] live longer.
10:12 Hom: So, we wanna go back, Barre, to, did you… Oh, yeah, sorry. You got the ring okay, right?
10:21 Fong: Yes.
10:21 Hom: We covered that.
10:21 Fong: Yes.
10:22 Hom: And then maybe we wanna talk about…maybe bring it into like the rediscovery of these artifacts and what she just asked me like, like how…
10:33 Yu: Yeah, how come you [inaudible]? And what did you do with?
10:36 Fong: Yeah, I think your timing would have definitely [crosstalk].
10:38 Hom: Yeah, okay. Okay. I’ll bring that back. Okay.
10:42 Fong: [Crosstalk].
10:49 Hom: So, when my grandfather passed away, unfortunately, I was there when he passed. And a couple years later, I remember my grandfather said, “You know, I have a bunch of stuff that belongs to your grandfather. Just take it and keep it.” And there’s some papers and things and she said to me in Chinese. So, I said, “Okay, sure.” And I think I took a cursory look at some of these things and I didn’t even really think about them and I didn’t care. And I brought them to Los Angeles, where I live now, and I put them in, you know, our garage and storage and they’re boxed up. And I didn’t really think much about them except that they’re probably some pictures and little mementos of my grandfather because he also worked for the Navy Department of World War II. So my grandmother, you know, knows I like military history.
11:45 So, she said, “Oh, you might find something interesting about your grandfather.” So, it wasn’t until I would say maybe about four years ago, five years ago, I started to go through all my things and I opened boxes. The first thing I found was my grandfather’s birth certificate from 1898, which was a replacement because of the 1906 earthquake and it was signed by his father as an affidavit witness and said, “This is now the original because the original was burned and destroyed in the 1906 earthquake.” When I saw the name Moi Chin Wan, that completely jogged my brain and I pulled out the Chinese Digest copy of 1936. I looked through the box, and I just kind of said to myself, “What the heck is all this junk?” I mean, you know, I find these metal pieces and these railroad spikes. I had no clue at that point that there was some connection to the Chinese working in the railroad and Leland Stanford, because when I start to look at that article about William Hoi going through my artifacts, going through my paperwork, I just said, “Wait a minute, there’s something more here.”
13:03 And I had to dive into it. So, I guess I’m guilty of not asking these questions to my grandfather when he was alive back in the ’80s and the ’90s when I was growing up. But now, when I look back at all this, I feel like they’ve left me with a bit of a mystery. I feel that there’s something significant to this because you don’t get pieces like this given to you for no reason. And certainly, they were not store-bought items back in the day, too. And this involves also a press photo that I found, which was one of the foremans of the CPRR who worked with the Chinese. And this particular press photo was dated in 1929, re-released for the anniversary. So, there’s some reasons why my grandfather was given that or kept that from Moi Chin Wan, his father, excuse me, my great grandfather. So, I have some questions and, you know, and it’s sort of this is a journey for me as well, too, because I feel like I’ve discovered something in our family most recently. And there’s a larger connection, a larger story to this.
14:17 Fong: So, maybe quickly talk about the document you have. Do you have the digest? Maybe what else stands out.
14:29 Hom: Let me look through this. Well, this is the original birth certificate, right?
14:35 Yu: With the signature.
14:36 Hom: With the signatures? Okay. So you wanna start with this, Barre?
14:41 Fong: Yeah.
14:41 Hom: Okay. So, this is the original certificate that was reissued to my grandfather and his father, Moi Chin Wan, as you can see the signature below. And this was issued because of the 1906 earthquake had destroyed all the original documents. So, this became the replacement papers. But this is now what we call the original of his birth certificate. My grandfather was born in 1898 in San Francisco. Got that okay?
15:12 Fong: Yes.
15:14 Hom: And then this was the press photograph taken of the actual one of the foremans that worked for the CPRR. Shaw Bridge, correct. This is Shaw Bridge of the CPRR. It was the press photo that was in my grandfather’s stuff basically, all those paperwork. And then one of the things I recently found, Connie, is we were talking about the 1906 earthquake. I don’t know, Barre, if this is applicable but check this out. Gosh, this is crazy stuff, man. Shoot. This is the 1944 issue. I just want you to see this. I don’t think it’s really interesting. Oh, you want this? Okay. So, some of my grandfather’s stuff, this is the 1944 first issue of the railroad, transcontinental railroad with the stamp mark of San Francisco and the timestamp of 1944. It’s one of those first issued, right?
16:36 Yu: 75th anniversary.
16:37 Hom: Right, this is 75th, May, right? With this piece, I discovered, which is really interesting? You’d probably go, “What the heck is this?” But I discovered this in some original schoolbooks dated 1909, 1908. This is a rail car ticket from the day of the earthquake, 1906. As you can see here, it’s clearly dated April 18th, 1906. April 18, 1906, a rail car ticket from San Francisco, on one of the lines. So, again, so these little pieces of history is just starting to pop up and it’s bugging me because I wanna know the story and I want to know the significance behind a lot of this, especially the railroad pieces. I mean, it’s kind of odd. It’s kind of weird, I could say, you know, but my grandfather has all this and he was given all of this. It was kept in his possession, and there’s a big reason why he has all these things.
17:51 Yu: The Jupiter badges. As you can see, those are very special because Leland Stanford car was the first, but the Jupiter was sort of the lead car.
18:04 Hom: Right, so that was the lead caboose, right? The engine car. So, these are some type of memorabilia that was also kept with my grandfather. And it says basically right here, “CPRR of Cal,” California. And in the back it just says “60 Jupiter.”
18:23 Fong: Can you hold it up? Closer to me. [Inaudible].

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