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If you've never lived in a Quonset hut

The Spirit of Tehachapi


July 21, 2018

Photo provided

First home: 724-A Homaja Housing.

My first experience living in a Quonset hut was, as a bride, in 1950. The tunnel-like buildings were one of hundreds-of-thousands that had been constructed to house military personnel and families on bases during World War II. Our group of huts, called Homaja Housing, was just inside the main gate of Camp Pendleton. The one-thousand or so huts were located on the west side of Vandergrift Boulevard as it proceeded into Camp Pendleton, a giant Base encompassing over 126,000-acres that swept from the Pacific Ocean inland. We had a great ocean view for we were no more than a mile, as the crow flies, from the Pacific Ocean. I think the term Homaja was a reference to the style (and I use the term lightly) of the hut itself. It was probably 48-feet long and 20-feet wide, but with a divider in the center that made two separate apartments per hut. There was a front door on either end and no other exits. The interior wall separating the two apartments was not sound proof and neighbor's voices could sometimes be heard. Still and all, there's no place like home!

I have read that the "tunnel-like" design of a hut was fashioned after the American Indian Iroquois style lodges. The World War II huts were made up of semi-circular steel ribs covered with corrugated sheet metal. The ribs sat on a low, steel frame foundation. The floors were some sort of plywood or fiberboard. Not pretty. The small kitchen had a tiny strip of some sort of linoleum covering the plywood. An apartment size electric range, an icebox (not a refrigerator), a sink and small counter filled the space which was definitely a one person work area. There was a living room, two small bedrooms and a bathroom that was directly off the living room. I mention all of this because the bathroom door was 6-inches too short, so there was a gap between the door and the floor in all huts. Embarrassing for guests.

What to do with a plywood floor the color of putty and hard to clean? I was not very imaginative but many Marine wives had absolutely genius ability in their skill of making a, "hut a home." Not allowed to paint them, they put shoe dye into a can of floor wax and after umpteen coats those old plywood floors were a deep reddish brown and had a luster that would make Martha Stewart green with envy.

The curtains, of course, had to be fastened both at the top and bottom of the window due to the curved outside walls, they would have otherwise hung straight down. Those same curved walls were a detriment to anyone of any great height. Walking near the wall could mean a sharp smack on the noggin when getting too close to the slanted wall.

None of the above really mattered though for it certainly wasn't hard to "keep up with the Joneses" next door; all homes exactly alike. No washers or dryers. There was a laundry hut where one could, for a dime, do a load of clothes and then take them home and hang them on a clothes line that was provided. Drying time near the ocean begins about 10 a.m. after the dew departs and ends at 2 p.m. when the dew returns.

We had our own post office and it was nice walking there each day and conversing with those who also happened to be calling for their mail. It was especially nice to view the beautiful Pacific Ocean as we walked along. That is where this "mountain girl" discovered the many moods of the ocean . On a sunny day it was a deep blue, but overcast days made it sage green. Windy times made cute little white caps on a grey sea. One could glimpse ships sailing by. The sunsets with the sun going down into the sea made a beautiful sight.

One met people from all states and countries. I saw grits cooked for the first time. I had heard of Hominy Grits but had never seen any. Soft, southern accents as well as New Englanders who dropped their Rs as if they were hot to the touch. I heard Texas drawls and the mid-western folk pronouncing those Rs that the New Englanders didn't. I guess my California accent was new to some. One friend was from New Zealand where it's winter in July and summer in December in that "land down under."

I never regretted being a military wife. Of course, there were a few disadvantages as having one's husband shipping out for a year at a time. I am glad they have shortened deployment time for the men now serving. One of my sons, who was not quite three when daddy came home from a year in Vietnam, told me, "Him's a nice guy, Mom!"

The land for Camp Pendleton was purchased on March 10, 1942. During the early days of World War II the Marine training bases were limited to Quantico, VA., Parris Island, S.C. and M.C.R.D. San Diego. The vast acreage, reaching to the sea, was perfect for amphibious training facilities and it became the west coast's largest military camp. The property was once a thriving cattle ranch: Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores.

After nearly a year in our "tunnel" house we moved to another military housing tract with all straight walls! The streets of the complex were all named after World War II battles. I recall some of them: Guadalcanal, Guam, Saipan, Iwo Jima, Tarawa, Okinawa, Peleliu, Bougainville, Kwajalein, etc. Two months later, in August of 1951, my husband received orders for Korea. Never underestimate the power of Uncle Sam! My baby boy and I came home to Tehachapi for a year, 1952, just in time for the Tehachapi Earthquake!

It sounds like life in the military is unsettled and precarious. Maybe so, but it didn't seem so, especially when you live near those who are experiencing the same sort of life. It was the norm for us. We had Little League, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and the boys had paper routes just as civilian people. Of course, people get transferred sometimes and your neighbors change. We finally moved off base and bought a house that even had a view of the ocean. We'd probably have retired there, in Oceanside, but the State of California bought our house and the land became part of a freeway. So, upon retirement we moved to Tehachapi where I grew up. A good decision.

The Quonset huts are gone now. Don't know where they went. Don't really care.


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