The Dobro Guitar

Reminder: Only 232 days until the Taft Diamond Jubilee -- The Taft Oildorado, Inc., celebrating Taft's 100th birthday, October 15-24 and the dedication of the Oil Worker Monument with Huell Howser present to videotape his program called, "California Gold" for public television broadcast on the West Coast.  This year is also the anniversary of the world famous Lakeview Gusher -- the granddaddy of all gushers between Maricopa and Taft-- that spewed 9,000,000 barrels of oil over a year and a half before it stopped flowing.  A historical marker is located at the crater of the gusher.

Information Wanted
     Pete, Gilbert (Gia) of the Kern County Historical Society sent me your name and email address and said you might be able to help me out.
    We live in Tiburon, California up in Marin County. About fifteen years ago a man by the name of Dick Grey moved into our neighborhood and stopped and talked to us every day and played with our dog. He was a very nice man. A few years ago he stopped coming by and only recently we learned he died a few years ago. All we know is that he owned a company called the Taft Lumber Company.
    I was hoping to find someone who could fill me in on the history of the Taft Lumber Company.
    Many thanks if you can assist me.
    Jason Jennings        Direct 315-435-5310      Jason Jennings; named one of the nation’s three most in-demand business speakers by USA TODAY.
     For immediate assistance contact: 
   Caryn Shehi, Assistant to Jason Jennings
   1-415-440-0200 Direct Line;  530 277-2008 Cell

    (NOTE: The original Taft Lumber Co. was owned by Raymond H. Grey in the 1920's, who was president of the company.  His son, Richard, sometime later was the manager of the company.  Richard had two sons, one of which, Gary, was my counselee in the class of 1958.  There was another son who came to Taft and tried to revive the company but ended shutting it down.  The lumber company was located on the northwest corner of Supply Row and 4th Street.
    Anyone with information how to contact the sons let me know or contact Jason Jennings.)
The Dobro Guitar

    Once upon a time long ago in Taft was a family named Dopyera.  They were natives from Czecoslvavakia, now known as the Czech Republic.  There were four brothers and one sister.  The two that I was acquainted with were Louis and Bob.  I recall reading an article years ago that was published in the Midway Driller Oildorado special edition.  Bob's wife, Edith, was interviewed about Taft in the very early days.  She was true pioneer of the area.  I also recall an article about the wedding of Louis and Helen, which was a major event in Taft at the time.

    In the early days of the Westside, Bob had a Haberfield Ford agency in McKittrick. Later he was involved in the Taft Auto Specialty Company on the south side of the 300 block of Center Street, and later where it was moved to the north side of that block and better known as TAXCO.
    The Dopyera family made musical instruments.  I recall a photo of the father in his shop holding a violin that he was making.  The shop was once located on Main Street and also on one occasion in the 100 block of 4th Street on the east side of the street.

     They also made mandolins and guitars.  Their most famous instrument was the Dobro guitar.  Dobro was the name of the instrument taken from the "Do" in Dopyera and the "Bro" from brothers.

    I recall once walking down one of the main streets in Athens and was passing by a store where musical instruments were being sold.  There was Dobro guitar on display in the window of the store.

    As I recall the way that the Dobro was made it had a special sound.  It is said that because this guitar made a special sound without it being electric there were resonators amplifying the sound. Johnny Cash used a Dobro from time to time.

    Louis later bought out the brothers’ guitar business and moved it to Chicago.  After several years Louis moved the family back to Taft.  He also owned a ranch in the Grand Tetons of Wyoming where the family spent the summers.

    I got to know Louis very well as we were officers in a service club,  That meant that I had to get together with him quite often at his home.  One thing that fascinated me was to watch him make his own fishing flies for fishing in Wyoming.

    The one thing that he did every year when he would return from the Grand Tetons was bring back venison meat and have a community dinner in a large banquet room.  He really enjoyed putting on these dinners for members of the Masonic Lodge, and the banquet room would be full with probably 300 people present.  They were always enjoyable affairs.

   As I finished a talk about the Dobro Guitar at a recent Kern Historical Society dinner in Bakersfield, I introduced Louise Dopyera’s daughter (Esther Livingston), who had brought two Dobro Guitars with her. She was member of the TUHS class of 1955, lives in Taft and is a volunteer at the Oil Museum.

    And that is the way that the Dobro guitar got its start -- in Taft, of course.

Readers' Comments

From Lynne (Brooks) Woodward, BHS Class of 1962, from Taft, CA.
    Hi Pete- just a little note about the gentleman you met at the Historical Society Luncheon in Bakersfield in January whose father was the engineer on the last Oildorado train in 1955. He's my dad, Joe Brooks, and a great fan of Taft. He worked for the Kern County Department of Weights and Measures from 1951 to the early 80s. He checked all the scales and gas pumps in the Taft area for those years and knew most of the business owners and store employees. He also married a Taft girl- Ruth Wilson- TUHS class of 1940. Joe has an amazing memory for those earlier times and loves to attend events at the West Kern Oil Museum with his best friend, Dean Van Zant. Even though he's a Bakersfield native, he's a Taftian at heart! 
Lynne Woodward (BHS class of 1962) wife of Paul Woodward (TUHS class of 1967).

From Dick Walsh, Class of 1956, from Palm Springs
    Hi Pete;
    I received a copy of your latest Taft Newsletter dated Feb. 6, 2010.  I found it very interesting and would like to continue receiving any future letters you might be sending out.  I graduated from Taft High School in 1956.  I then spent one year at Taft College and then attended the University of Pacific, at that time known as College of Pacific. I was a member of the 1956 Taft High Basketball Championship team and also attended COP on a basketball scholarship.  After leaving CO I started my teaching and coaching career at Mount Eden High School in Hayward, CA. where I coached Basketball for 7 years.  I then moved to Ohlone Community College in Fremont CA. At Ohlone I coached the Men's Basketball team for 30 years and retired at the end of 2000.  I now live in Palm Springs, CA.  You might remember my brother Claude, and my Mom and Dad, Claude and Pearl Walsh.  Pete, my years in Taft were some of the best years of my life. We were so lucky to have so much for such a small town.  I have two daughters and I tell them about Taft High School and the things we had and they can't believe it. In your last newsletter you mentioned a Taft Hall of Fame-  I would be interested in receiving a copy of the names inducted.  Could you send me one. One thing I forgot to mention that you might be interested in, is that in 1981 I was selected as the director of Basketball for the country of New Zealand.  My wife  Josie and I lived there and I directed the basketball programs for the high school teams, helped coach the national team as they prepared for the world games and helped set up a professional league within the country as well as put on clinics throughout the country.  Pete, I really appreciate your efforts keeping us in touch with what's happening in Taft,  again I have great memories of my days there and your newsletter just restores those memories.  Thanks again.
    Dick Walsh - Class of ‘56

From Charles Welby, Class of 1944 from Raliegh North Carolina
    Good Afternoon, Pete,
    Sure liked your most recent Newsletter.  Hope to see you sometime later this month.  Have remembered with some happiness those baseball days while growing up in Taft.  Remember especially the Pittsburgh Pirates visit to Taft and the applause that Honus Wagner received when the Pirates came for the game in the TUHS/Taft JC baseball field with its somewhat rickety grandstand.  Tell the story to grandsons, one who is an avid baseball fan, and there is a question, of course, about who Honus Wagner was and what was so important about him.  So that is the way history goes, I guess. 
    At least in the area where I live the largest school system in North Carolina just went through a Board of Education election which involved not only questions about budget but also questions about busing to accomplish "diversity" vs. neighborhood schools. The "Stop the Busing" crew won. With the County Commissioners controlling the School System's budget and their having a very conservative view about busing and school budgets, who knows what will happen to the school system?   The diversity focuses on whether the students are eligible for free or minimal charges for meals at school.  There are magnet schools set up to attract students, but there is always a ratio of economically disadvantaged students to those who are not.   Also, the push is, of course, to put everyone in post-high school education to become "scientists" etc.  Interesting place.  Lowering the amount of busing will lower the school costs, theoretically. But who knows really.  The place still grows. 
    The Triangle Area University sports scene is a bummer this year with all of the "famed" basketball teams not doing so well!! Much sadness among the alumni, and especially among those whose school colors are blue (both light and dark) and white.
    See ya'll soon I hope.  
    Charles Welby

From Miles Turner, Class of 1956
    Dear Pete:   A bright note regarding Gary Alexander's letter pertaining to the lack of teaching  industrial arts such as carpentry, machine shop, electrical training, welding, etc. in our high schools and colleges. He is so right.
   After teaching high school physics for many years it finally donned on me that teaching physics from a hands on approach made so much more sense. So we built solar space heaters, a hydraulic car a steam engine, wind generators and other real life projects that involved physics and engineering. The students learned some welding, used some power tools, and designed something that actually worked--things that they would never do in a strictly college prep course. Class numbers went up and the school got some perks when our projects won blue ribbons at the county vocational arts fair.
   By the way, my son, Danny Turner, is the welding and hydraulics teacher at Yuba College in Marysville. He has a very robust program and is involved in a nation wide program to develop I.A. curriculum material for colleges across the USA.
    I remember when at TUHS my most useful courses were Mr. Lewis' metal shop and Mr. Curti's electricity and radio class. (Of course we learned to build a radio with vacuum tubes and wire a house using knobs and tubes!  Procedures that belong to the pre- Cambrian era.) 
    Miles Turner 1956

From Bob Foster, Class of 1965, from Taft, California
    Did you know Bob Hope stopped at the A&W when the car hops were on roller skates in the late 40s or early 50s. One of the car hops looked back at him, and ran into a pole. Knowing Bob Hope, I am sure he made a joke about it. Funny little story.