Rosie the Riveter: Women Working During World War II
I spent two years of the war in a small town in the San Francisco Bay Area, at the Yuba Manufacturing Company, making 155 millimeter howitzer field guns.
The word “howitzer” is usually defined as, a cannon with a short barrel; however, the 155mm howitzers we made were not short. The barrel alone was twenty-three feet long and the finished gun weighed fifteen tons. This gun, often used for high trajectories, was capable of firing over any obstacle, including hills.
When I arrived in California from Utah , I was told that a war plant had opened up in the town of Benecia and was hiring women, so that is where I applied for work. After a battery of tests I was put to work operating one of the large boring lathes.
The plant was camouflaged with big swirls of brown and green paint so it could not be detected from the air, and dark green paint so it could not be detected from the air, and dark green paint covered the windows. Many men and women worked at Yuba in ten hour shifts.
I was later told that when I applied for a job, the plant had been testing women to find out if they were capable of running one of the big machines. I was hired and was the only woman to ever operate one of them, and in six months time I was training men for the job.
My machine was thirty-five long and rested in an oil pan that was thirty-eight feet long. The oil constantly lubricated and cooled the machine as it bored the metal. I spent the war years standing on the rim of that oil pan so I could look down on the section of the barrel that I was working on and be able to reach the part of the operation which I performed. My job was to bore out the inside of the barrel where the breach lock fit. It had to be perfect, the measurement within 1/1,000 th of an inch.
While my girl friends worked in the shipyards at Vallejo for 65 cents an hour, I was among the elite: I made guns at Yuba, and was a machinist second class. I joined the union, paid my dues, and earned $1.31 an hour. And on that grand amount, with the help of three housemates, I bought a house and furnished it.
Women working the plants usually wore denim coveralls. They were quit trim, tight at the waist and rather becoming. Hair had to be covered so that it did not get caught in the machinery. This was done with a “snood”. A snood was a heavy hairnet that hung loose on the back of the neck to accommodate our long hair. There was a denim cap that came with the snood attached and matched our uniforms.
Most of the men employed at the plant were older and had worked at Yuba before the war when the company manufactured dredges.
One of the men “Mac” ran a machine that was sixty-four feet long, it bored out the inside of the barrel. His was one of two machines at the plant that were on lend-lease from England . Mac used to bring me gardenias in a brown paper bag. For someone from the desert mountains of Utah , who only saw gardenias on Prom Nights, this was a real treat. So too, were the home made cookies his wife would back and send to me. These sweets were indeed special since food was rationed and sugar, especially, was very hard to get.
But we were living in a special time and place. There was an energy in the air and in the people. We were wanted and needed and important to the war effort.
V-E Day, on May 8, 1945 was a day of celebration, but one of mixed emotions for us. We lost our jobs. Yuba would no longer make guns. We said our good byes, and when the foreman of my section shook my hand and said goodbye, he added, “You were the best man I had.”Delana Jensen Close