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Interview with Robert Thorsen, March 14, 1995 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Robert Thorsen, March 14, 1995
March 14, 1995
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Interviewee: Thorsen, Robert Interviewer: Date of Interview: 3/14/1999 Series: Southeast North Carolina (SENC) Length

Thorsen: William R. Thorsen, I was born in Southport right across the street from where I live right now. Born in my grandmother’s home.

Interviewer: Where is that at?

Thorsen: On the corner of Brown and Clarendon Avenue. My grandfather was a light keeper at Bald Head and he was a river light keeper in Southport and he was killed, fell off the tower on buoy 14 in an ice storm. Fell across the bottom of the boat and died and my grandmother raised me and my four sisters and brothers, her five children, her son’s three children so she had a pretty good houseful. And she was pretty good at it.

Interviewer: Where were you born?

Thorsen: January 30, 1928. Now let me say something. I’ve always wanted to say this to future generations. The people were talking about were born in the roaring 20’s. We were forged in the great Depression, tempered by World War II and hardened by Korea and Vietnam. We built the ships, the planes, the computers, the roads, the buildings. We built everything that we’ve got here today. All the yuppies are doing are just adding to what we built and we did it without all these computers and schoolrooms and all this kind of stuff. We did it with pencil and paper and I think we did a damn good job.

Interviewer: That’s for sure.

Thorsen: I’ve always wanted to say that (laughter).

Interviewer: Okay, well good. I have a note here that says, “Ask him what people in Southport called him”.

Thorsen: Twit.

Interviewer: Okay, how did you get that name?

Thorsen: Good God, I don’t know.

Interviewer: Bobby?

Thorsen: Well Bobby was the polite name, but they called me Twit and I got that name because when I was real little, I couldn’t talk plain, still can’t. When they were picking on me and stuff, I’d say Twit, Twit and it kind of stuck. That’s where I got the name from and it stuck. All kids in Southport had a nickname of some sort. I got a list of them here.

Interviewer: Oh great.

Thorsen: I’m not going read them, but I do have a list of nicknames. Things such as Andy Gump, Banjo Sam, Beans, Blackie Blinkem, Bohunk, Boobie.

Interviewer: Great, we need a copy of that.

Thorsen: Well I’ll try to make a little list of them. But that’s by no means complete.

Interviewer: That’s super, to have that recorded somewhere. Bob, go ahead.

Thorsen: I was born in Southport in 1928 and raised by my grandmother. My father was a fisherman and my mother later became a seamstress. She worked over in Wilmington and my father of course worked up and down the coast. He was a commercial fisherman, a shrimp fisherman. During vacations and things like that, I used to shrimp with him, not shrimp with him, I played with him (laughter).

He took me down to teach me the trade. A side note, I could have become a right fair net maker if I had listened to him (laughter). He was probably one of the best net makers on the east coast, him and of course Louis Hardy.

I started school in Southport. Went to kindergarten. The Masonic Hall now had a wing on it and in one end of it was a library, but in the middle of it was the kindergarten. I started school there. Miss Annie Lou Newton and Miss Olive Dean Smith were the teachers there. Of course Miss Annie Lou doubled as a cook for the cafeteria too. Had a lot of fun in school, but when it come time for first grade, I didn't want to go to school.

My grandmother took me to school and by the time she got back home, I was there (laughter). She did that about three days in a row. Finally she convinced me in her gentle, firm way that I ought to stay in school. In fact, Miss Norman was my first grade schoolteacher and my Aunt Cassie Jorgensen lived in what is now the Episcopalian Church Sunday School I guess it is. I’m not certain.

Anyway Miss Norman had instructions to stand at the back door and point me toward Aunt Cassie’s house where I would go eat lunch and Aunt Cassie would stand at the back door and point me toward Miss Norman when lunch was over. That way they kept an eye on me.

Interviewer: The school was where the post office is today.

Thorsen: Yes it is, Southport High School. I finally got used to going to school. Miss Norman is probably the one that started the first grade in the country. She had a great influence on me and the two librarians we had here, Mrs. Lockland and Mrs. Beth Grimes, had a great influence on my life. They taught me how to read. Taught me to enjoy reading. They taught me to enjoy it because they at a very early age I guess, third, fourth, fifth grade, they figured out what I liked to read.

Every time I’d go in the library, they would put me a book there on that subject. Usually it was history of some sort or Edgar Rice Burrows jungle books. I liked to play Tarzan (laughter). Loved to play Tarzan. In fact, when we were in school coming from my home on Bowery Hill, the oaks were so thick in the streets, we used to say you could almost walk the top of the oaks from home to school. It’s a shame that we don’t have them now.

We did a lot of tree climbing on about every tree in Southport. Us boys, girls didn't participate in it much, but us boys we used to stop at the corner in the park, Mr. Bussie Watson used to have a bunch of cows that he would let graze in the park on the grass. He had four or five milk cows. He would let them graze in the park and we would catch those darn cows and ride them (laughter).

Another sort of a cowboy incident, we had a favorite swimming hole called Yellow Hole. It was down the road from where I lived in the Clarendon/Brown Street. A path went by Uncle Jim Lewis’ house. Old Jim worked at the post office. He did everything but postmaster down there I believe. He might have done that, I don’t know, but he and his wife were fine people. Had some of the best fresh water you ever drank in your life, pump water.

Anyway we’d go down that road by his house to what we called the Yellow Hole. It was on Cottage Creek, the bend of the creek. On one part of it was what we called a shallow hole and about 100 feet up was what we called the deep hole. That deep hole was about 15-20 feet deep. We’d go there swimming.

Interviewer: Why did you call it Yellow Hole?

Thorsen: Because of the high yellow sand back there. In the early days, Captain Willing who was Lawrence and Robert Willing’s father, had a crab plant down there, processed crabs. That failed or something during the early part of the Depression and we used to go down there swimming. It was a beautiful place to swim. I mean it was clean, a beautiful place to swim.

All us kids, black and white, would go. There was no segregation, no thought of it down in that Yellow Hole. It was integrated racially and sexually (laughter) if you want to call it that. That was before we found out what boys and girls were. But we would go down there swimming and across from the Yellow Hole was a place called the pasture. Sergeant Garrett, who used to be the caretaker of Fort Castle after World War I, had a big open pasture there. It’s all grown up and scrub pines now and everything. This is where Bald Head Island is developing a place over there. Anyway it was all open over there. It must have been about 20 acres of just pasture.

Interviewer: Indigo Plantation.

Thorsen: Indigo Plantation. Anyway Mr. Joe Moore and his brothers Claude and Wallace used to bring longhorn cattle up here from Texas, feed them, fatten them up and butcher them and sell them. So we had a favorite trick of bogging across that marsh, go over to Garrett’s pasture and riding those old cows (laughter).

Mr. James St. George was one comical incident. Incidentally Mr. Joe Moore’s son, Joe Jr., was with us. Anyway Mr. James St. George was the caretaker of the cattle. We were over there one day and this daggone old bull kept running around. All of us climbed up in the tree to keep that bull from stomping us to death I guess is what we thought. We were 6, 7, 8 years old, maybe 9.

We set up in those daggone trees all day long waiting for that bull to go. In the evening at about 5: 00, Mr. James St. George comes down there and he tapped on the gate and said, “Come here Bullet” and the old bull toggled over there to him and Mr. St. James is standing over there scratching his head, about as harmless a thing as you’ve ever seen in your life and he kept us in the tree all day long (laughter).

Interviewer: Probably didn't stop you from going over there.

Thorsen: Oh no, no, oh Lord no. We figured that bull out quick. I don’t exactly remember how many of us kids about the same age there was in Southport, but there was a heck of a lot of us. Sports, we played baseball, softball, football. In fact down here where Port Charlie’s is now and behind Mr. St. George’s house, there was an old marsh. Us little kids, we filled that place in with dirt that we hauled from down there on the waterfront where the dredge fill was and everything.

We filled that thing in and made a ball field out of it. Red wagons, wheelbarrows, carrying buckets of sand. We filled that thing in. All that fill down there now, we put there to make us a ball field. We had a couple of Coast Guards. Ray Meck was one of them, he’s one I remember that was one of our coaches. Of course Toby Thompson was one of our coaches.

Football, we had several teams in Southport. Bowery Hill Nanny Goats, Raggedy Ass. Rangers (laughter) and the Grove Isles. I was 10 years old and I played center on the Bowery Hill Nanny Goats. Imagine me 10 years old and a gorilla like _____ Lonn and Wesley Holden and that bunch climbing up over your back. My face stayed in that shell road most of the time (laughter). Those boys were about 6, 7, 8 years older than I was.

Interviewer: All ages came out.

Thorsen: Yeah, I must have been a fairly good center At least I was hard enough, they didn't kill me. There was another team called the Wharf Rats too. I’ve got to say this. In Southport during the Depression, there wasn’t much money. I mean there was very little of it. I can remember, there were only about 10-15 cars in the whole town. I don’t remember any hard surfaced road. They all started out with a clay base and then shells on top of them, oyster shells on top of them.

Mr. Cecil Lewis ran the old shell barge down there and he’s the one that put the shells on the road. Of course Mr. Danford and Johnny McRoy assisted in putting the clay down and they picked up the trash. Had an old horse and wagon to pick up the trash to start with and then they got some kind of old piece of truck that I don’t think ran all the time (laughter).

Used to make my grandmother mad as hell. Mr. McRoy would come by and he’d take the can and dump it out on the ground and pick it up with a pitchfork and leave half of it on the ground (laughter). We played a game that was called dodge ball. That was an intramural sort of thing, with girls and boys, playing dodge ball. I can’t remember what the name of the game was, but throwing a ball back and forth over a building.

We played Capture the Flag which was a holdover from the Civil War. Played hide and seek all over town. You might be down at the whittling bench where the base was and you’d find some kid hiding up there in Franklin Park. Southport then and it should be now, was one huge playground. It was centered around youth. You couldn’t go anywhere in this town that there was not some adult watching you. They’d keep you out of trouble.

We didn't cause any trouble, tearing up things, things like that, but we got in our share of mischief. We liked to go down there and play on those old boats. We would help the fishermen in times of storms and things like that. We were big enough to swim ashore with a line. We’d take the boat up to Dutchman Creek up to the high yellow banks up in there, take the fleet up in there and swim ashore and tie a line to a tree or something to keep the wind from blowing away. We were old enough for that and it wasn’t that far a walk back home by the Yellow Hole there and down through the Cottage.

We liked to play on those old boats in the summertime. We worked on the shrimp boats. Not many of us worked on the pogey boats because that was a big man’s job. There wasn’t much a little kid could do on a pogey boat, but a shrimp boat, we could cut up shrimp. We could help pull the net in and things like this.

Other work, I’m telling you, I’ve got to emphasize this. Not many of us wanted to go to school. Every chance we got, we would skip school. We would be over there behind Battery Island on Bald Head in the bay or somewhere climbing, oystering or fishing or something. That was our playground. We enjoyed every minute of it. We learned more about the sea from these old fishermen around here than people do going to school for years.

We learned how to make nets, splice, sail a boat.

Interviewer: What kind of boats did the kids use? Row boats or sailboats or what?

Thorsen: Whatever we could find in the marsh (laughter). My first boat, my grandmother had a big steamer trunk with a lid on it about 5 feet long you know, kind of deep. I must have been eight years old. I took the lid off of that trunk and launched it down there by the old shell barge. Got me a piece of board for a paddle and I was taking off across the Cape Fear River in that trunk top going over to Battery Island clamming or just playing around.

It wasn’t really that rough, but it was kind of choppy. I managed to keep ahead of it. Merle Hood, bless his soul, was with the Coast Guard over at Oak Island and he saw me out there in the middle of that river in that dad-burn trunk top and he come out there and picked me up, put the trunk top back in the boat and set down there and talked to me for about 30 minutes bringing me home and wore my tail off (laughter). Words to the effect of “don’t you ever pull that stunt again”.

Anyway he took me home, told my grandmother about it and of course the result was the same. Put the trunk back together. Didn't hurt the trunk. Within a short time, I found a little dingy that some yacht had lost or something over in the marsh. Well they might have thrown it away because it had a board out of the bottom of it and it was old, needed paint and all that.

I hauled that thing back to the beach there by Bell’s Dock. Captain Charlie Swann, my dad and Merle Hood helped me fix the bottom of it, make her kind of seaworthy you know. And old man Rab Hankins, old colored gentleman in Southport, the rest of the world has their Rube Goldberg, but we had Rab Hankins. Now he could make something out of the nothing (laughter) and make it work.

Anyway he gave me an old sail, a small sail. His wife Annie I believe had made it out of overall legs. It worked, it worked. I named the boat the Hesperus cause I just finished reading the book that Miss Lockland had given me called The Wreck of the Hesperus. I named the boat after that. I kept that old boat for four or five years. I would use it to go anywhere, Bald Head, the bay, Battery Island, Fort Castle, anywhere. Of course the main propulsion was rowing or sail.

We didn't have anything like outboard motors and stuff like that around here. We enjoyed getting out in the river or just going down there and playing on those old boats. Swimming. Most of us learned to swim shortly after we learned to walk. I remember my dad used to tie a line on me and dangled me off the deck of the old Vera, the old shrimp boat he owned. Dangle me off the deck of the old Vera and said now swim, learn to swim.

Joe Sam Lockland and my brother and Joe Moore and some of the older boys, they would do the same thing down around the old shell dock. They’d put a line on me and I learned to swim real early.

Interviewer: I guess you did.

INTERVIEWER 2: What do you remember about _____ Creek?

Thorsen: What was at Moore Street.

Interviewer: Past _____ Creek on Moore Street going up the river.

Thorsen: Some fine chinquapin trees. I’m telling you in the fall of the year, chinquapins come out. I mean there were big trees up there.

INTERVIEWER 3: We spent many an afternoon picking them.

Thorsen: And more than that, back in the colonial era all along about the Civil War, they did a lot of logging up there, lumber. In fact there was a lumber mill right down there now where Cass Carune’s, just east of Cass Carune’s crab house. There was a lumber bill down there and they actually used the current in the river to turn the shaft to saw the boards. It was owned by old man called William Weeks I believe, Captain William Weeks.

Later on after they had power and everything, you could see huge mounds of sawdust up there toward the ferry. There was a little town up there, Boyville?.

INTERVIEWER 3: My daddy had a sawmill in there.

Thorsen: Yep, I knew several of the kids, well they came in to go to school that lived up in there. We used to just go up there and ramble around in the woods. Just playing in the woods. There’s some fine old oak trees up in there. We’d go up there and climb the chinquapins, these kinds of things. So many kids, Ann McCracken, Wallace Moore and a few more lived on _____. There was an old dirt road up there. We called it River Road.

Wallace and Ann and her sisters, people lived up there toward Walnut Creek Bridge. They lived up there and they’d come to school on a bus. Glenn Jones drove the bus and that’s where I learned to drive. Glenn taught me how to drive on that school bus.

Interviewer: When was that?

Thorsen: This was in 1940’s, I got my license in 1944, June of 1944, 20 days before I went in the Navy. No, I’d ride with Glenn every day up there to take the kids up as far as Orton. The first principal we had that I had in school was a fellow named Dawkins. He must have taught the first Marine drill sergeants that ever existed. He was mean. He ran a tight ship. I’m telling you, he ran a tight ship.

INTERVIEWER 3: His wife was the drill sergeant.

Thorsen: I can’t remember much about her, but I do about old man Dawkins. After him of course there was Pop Lingle. He was a prince of a fella. He taught us how to play basketball and everything. He never did say “help you”. He always said “hep ya”. We enjoyed school such as it was. I guess I learned something. I quit school after the 10th grade and went in the Navy, 16 years old. Ears all out on the side of my head.

I’ll show you a picture of a fine young fella. That’s the old Garretson Bridge. I was 16 then, just got out of boot camp. That was about 20 days before I ended up over in the South Pacific.

INTERVIEWER 3: Is that the bridge?

Thorsen: Yeah, Whitegate took that picture. He sent me a bunch of them the other day before he died.

Interviewer: You look older than 16.

Thorsen: To get in the Navy, I had to fudge. I wouldn’t show them my birth certificate so he said if my grandmother had anything recorded in the bible, they would accept that. I knew she had. So I went in and I erased the 8 and put 7, 1927. He said that was good enough. All he wanted was a warm body.

We had another fella, Adrian Sellers, who joined the Navy when he was 14. Hoop was 14 when he joined. He did right well.

Interviewer: They didn't catch up with him?

Thorsen: No, no, they didn't want to. All they wanted was labor, a warm body. I ended up in the South Pacific in the Mariana’s Islands the 1st of October of ’44 and in my battalion, they split my battalion at Camp Perry, Virginia. Half of them went to Hawaii to train for the invasion of Iwo Jima. The other half went into the southwest South Pacific in the Mariana’s Islands and later were supposed to go to the Philippines.

In my battalion which was from the H’s to the Z’s, that’s the way they divided us, but in my battalion I think probably 40% of us in that battalion were 16 or 17 years old. And the rest of us were 18, 19, 20. We had a few older men who had been in construction and those guys were princes. They taught us everything. They taught us about heavy machinery, how to run bulldozers, cranes, trucks.

At one time when I was 17, I was driving a 50-ton federal diesel that had 64 gears forward and a stern (laughter). The wheels on that truck were ____ and here I was 17 years old running that thing. I learned to run bulldozers.

Interviewer: You went to the Mariana’s.

Thorsen: Yeah, I went to the Mariana’s Islands.

Interviewer: Didn't have to go to Iwo Jima then?

Thorsen: No, a friend of mine here, Marion Dozier, Edwin Dozier’s brother, he went to Iwo Jima. Our main purpose was building air fields and ports. We built air fields and ports. We built the air field in the Mariana’s, the B-29’s took off from for Japan.

INTERVIEWER 2: Like John Wayne.

Thorsen: Yeah, me and John Wayne. Get back to Southport. Early baseball. We loved baseball. We had…it would qualify as a major league team here.

Interviewer: Probably would today, I’m sure.

Thorsen: Well I’m telling you in 1933 or ’34, they played 35 games throughout the state of North Carolina and South Carolina and they won 34. We had people on that team, Toby Thompson’s still alive. He played right field and Eddie Spencer played right field and pitched. Reggie Pinter played centerfield. Reggie was a long, lanky fella.

He could, I’ve seen it, he could throw a ball from the woods in centerfield which was our fence. He could throw a ball from there to home plate and put somebody out. They said he could throw a clamshell from the banks of the river down here to Battery Island. Wouldn’t doubt it a bit. Never saw him do it, but I wouldn’t doubt it. That cat had one arm on him.

Tang Dozier played first base and they said Tang, if he would just kick his feet, he could fly (laughter). Gus played second base, he was a good player. Can’t remember who played third or short, but it was mixed in there together.

A pitcher, Edmund Lewis, his dad owned the grocery store up here on the corner where the Baptist place is now. Edmund was so good at pitching, one of the scouts from the St. Louis Cardinals came all the way here to watch him pitch and took him back to St. Louis. This is long about the time of Dizzy Dean and all those fellas. Took him back to St. Louis to pitch. Edmund stayed out there a year and got homesick and came home. He later became the postmaster of Wilmington I believe.

Interviewer: This was a town team.

Thorsen: This was a town team. We had a fella named Hook Moore, was a catcher and Hook looked like Yoga Berra and later on Billy DeLuth became a catcher. Mr. Charlie Goss organized the team. He built a stadium and he built the fence, but he was going to charge admission, but nobody ever had any money so he just financed it himself.

Interviewer: This was out on Leonard Street, wasn’t it?

Thorsen: Yeah right across from John Smith’s cemetery. Odd thing about it, Shell Road ran right between left field and third base and when a wagon or a truck or something come through there, they’d have to stop the game and let the traffic go by. It ran right between them.

We learned to play baseball out there with those guys. The club house for the whole club, we just called it the Southport team, it was out here in Mr. Gus McNeil’s gas station. They had a shower nozzle out back and we’d take a shower and put the baseball uniform on and go play and win.

Toby Thompson, who later in 1946-47 played on the Coast Guard team over here, he was offered a job at one of those big teams, major league teams as a first baseman. Toby at the time, he was a pilot down here and he said he had a job, he didn't want to go out there and so he didn’t go.

INTERVIEWER 2: What did you do after the war?

Interviewer: When did you come back from the Navy?

Thorsen: In June 15th or something like that, 1946. I went to school, business college, three years and commercial fished. I fished on the Dorothean Lela with Len McKeithan for a while. In fact, every summer at the break from school, I would usually got to school from September to May or something like that and then I’d go to a job fishing and stay fishing until the money got piling up at the dag-burn bank and the beer was cold (laughter).

I’ve got to say and I apologize for it that I didn't contribute a hell of a lot to Southport during the period of 1946 to 1950.

INTERVIEWER 2: What did you do in the Air Force?

Thorsen: I went in the Air Force in October of 1950. A friend of mine, Alton Toller, called him Brown Boy, he and I were talking about…he had just gotten his draft papers and I knew they wouldn’t draft me being a veteran of World War II and in the Reserves right up until I went into the Air Force. So when he left to go in the Army, I joined the Air Force and stayed there 20 some years. It was good to me.

Interviewer: What did you do in the Air Force?

Thorsen: I was an operations superintendent, air defense tactical and strategic operations, radar, computers, these kinds of things. I was a superintendent, master sergeant. I went all over the world, married well up in Caldwell. I was stationed at a little radar site up in Caldwell, Washington and married a young girl up there.

Interviewer: What was her name?

Thorsen: Lenne, Lenne Alred. She was a beautician and we got married and we had five children, four are still living. They’re all over the world. Lenne was a good soldier. Wherever we had to go, she would pick up and go. I mean we moved 18 times in 20 years, not just across the street, but across the world. She did it, well she loved to travel. You could start that car up and she’d be in it. She loved to travel. She’d been all over the world.

Even after I retired, in the last years of her life, she would go to Germany several times to visit my daughter. My daughter is a personnel officer with the Army over there and she’d go over there and they’d go all over Europe traveling around. She loved it.

Get back to Southport. Vinnie Davis, Mr. Rob Davis’ wife, Mrs. Vinnie was a little old short thing, about 4’5” or something like that. Mr. Rob had one of the few cars in town. I think it was an old Hudson Tear Plane, I’m not certain, but it looked like a box running down the street. You know back in those days, there were oak trees all over everywhere in the street in Southport.

Down on the corner where the bank is now, where the United Carolina Bank is, there was a huge oak tree sitting sort of out in the street. Every time Miss Vinnie would come from Mr. Lancaster’s store going home, us kids would be around there playing and we would see her coming and we’d go behind that oak tree (laughter). We used to say she was driving and couldn’t see over the steering wheel so she was driving at the openings of the trees (laughter).

Interviewer: That Tear Plane, that was a big car, wasn’t it? It wasn’t just a little T model or something.

INTERVIEWER 2: He was a lawyer, right?

Thorsen: Yeah, Mr. Rob was a lawyer.

INTERVIEWER 2: What do you remember about Bald Head?

Thorsen: Oh lord, have mercy. I think my mother was born over there. My grandfather was a light keeper there. Well I had another great-grandfather who was a light keeper there, John Casey Spencer. He was in the war between the states. Bald Head was a playground. You could find anything in God’s world you wanted to.

You could go over…my grandfather, Captain Charlie Swann and all those fellas put goats, sheep and hogs over there and we’d go over there and chase those things. We’d go over there and just camp and fish. Go over there and sometimes camp for a week at a time. When the turtles would come up and lay their eggs, if we wanted turtle eggs, Miss Bessie Swann and my grandmother could make a real fine cake out of them.

But if we wanted them, we’d dig them up. Usually all we did was ride them back down to the ocean, the huge turtles.

Interviewer: Sit on their backs?

Thorsen: Yeah, sit on their backs and ride them back down to the ocean. We’d walk up and down the beach picking up junk that washed ashore, but Bald Head was a huge playground. Everybody around here enjoyed it. We loved it.

Interviewer: What did you get involved in during the war when you were a teenager before you went in the Navy? Were you in civil defense?

Thorsen: Yeah, I was a safety patrolman for the school. I was a block warden, a junior block warden. The man who was our block warden, the older man who was our block warden was Mr. Charlie McKeithan, I believe he lived up there in our neighborhood and two or three of us boys used to walk around with him when he would make his rounds.

Scrap drives, Lord have mercy. Ann McCracken said that her father had found something on the back end of their farm up the river road of the Sidewallen Creek. You know Fort Anderson was up there in Brunswick County. Well when the Confederate artillery disbanded up there, they buried a lot of their ordinance, buried it. They buried several cannon on the back end of Ann’s daddy’s farm.

We went up there with Reverend Brown and dug them all up. I mean we uncovered them, but they were so heavy, we couldn’t get them out of there. Now I heard later that they did salvage them. I don’t know whether they melted them down for bullets or not, but they did salvage them. I heard they did. This was after I went in the Navy.

Interviewer: I think Bobby Shannon has a newspaper clipping from the Wilmington paper about that. That’s too bad. We sure would like to have them nowadays.

Thorsen: That’s right. They didn't help much as bullets before.

Interviewer: No, they didn't.

Thorsen: I want to say something about Bobby. I haven’t seen him since we were kids, but Bobby was one top-notch bicycle mechanic. Now he was. He taught us how to overhaul a new departure brake system on the bicycle and that thing had a hundred little old wafers in it and everything else. Bobby taught us how to do that, he taught me how to do that. He might not have known he taught me how to do it, but he did. He taught me how to repair my bicycle.

Very few of us had new bicycles. I remember I won one time, Blue Horse Cabinet Company composition books and all that. If you saved so many coupons, they’d give you a bicycle. Well I think everybody in town was giving me coupons cause I certainly didn't write that much. Everybody in town was giving me coupons and I wanted a bicycle. I won a Blue Horse bicycle.

It just so happens that in playing games, we would go down in one of the docks down there like old man Bowman’s dock and we would go down that dock just as fast as we could and see how far that water would be at that bicycle. Usually we had a line on them. We’d pull them up, we’d pull them back in. But I took my bicycle down there one time and I went a long ways out in the intercoastal waterway. Just so happened a damn line came undone and I lost my bicycle. It’s still down there as far as I know.

Things we played with during the Depression, a wire hoop off a barrel, a stake with a nail in it. We’d run around town. We’d build little wagons, take a limb off, an oak limb, cut a wheel off it, put a nail through it, nail it into an old piece of driftwood 2 x 4 or something and make a wagon, you know, with a box on it and ride little kids in it or whatever you wanted to do. That was fun. We had ropes on it that you could steer it with. We did that.

We played a lot of cowboys and Indians. There was a cane field over here by the cottage, had some real good canes on it, with horses. In fact, I got hung once. I was the bad guy. Swann was Judge Roy Bean and him and Walters and that bunch hung me to a pecan tree in Swann’s backyard. If it hadn’t been for Miss Smith come over and cut me down, I reckon I wouldn’t be here now (laughter).

Interviewer: Good grief, that’s a little bit of too much realism there.

Thorsen: Well it was real.

Interviewer: Was the town gate still there when you were a kid? The posts were and the iron railing was still there. The gate wasn’t there anymore. Fishing, I reckon every kid in Southport in my age group at that time was an expert fisherman. We could think like them. Had an old gentleman around here named George Wortham. That guy was something fantastic with a cane pole and a sheep head.

He lived up there pretty close to me. He’d go fishing every morning about 4:00. When he’d come by my house, he’d give us sort of a low whistle. I’d crawl out the window and go down to the beach with him to one of the docks to fish. He wouldn’t let you use anything but a cane pole and we would stop down by Bell’s dock and get some of those gray back, diamondback fiddlers. That’s another kind of fiddler, it’s a black fiddler with a yellow beak on it. But those gray back, diamondback fiddlers are good for sheephead fishing.

We’d get a can full of those things and go down on the dock. George taught me, he said you put your sinker all the way to the bottom, only use one hook, put your sinker all the way to the bottom. We used fishing cord then, not nylon line or anything. Sinker all the way to the bottom and then pull it up about 6 or 8 inches and about 2 inches from the pilot because sheephead like to come in and eat barnacles off the pilot. They would see that fiddler there and they’d snack it.

Well they didn't bite it and pull. They just sucked it and if you were lucky, you would feel it and you could catch it. That’s the way you catch sheephead. You don’t go down there charging in with a $500 rod and reel, a piece of shrimp or something like that. You’ve got to work at it. But George taught us how to catch fish.

Interviewer: When you retired from the Air Force and came back to Southport in 1970, what did you do after that cause you were still young?

Thorsen: Well I was 42. I taught school. I taught history and civics.

Interviewer: At Southport High School.

Thorsen: At Southport High School, well it was Southport Brunswick High School then because Southport High School had burned down by then. The first year I also taught biology and physical science because I had been involved in computers and all kinds of electronics and everything.

Interviewer: Towards Boiling Springs.

Thorsen: No, no, right over here, Brunswick Community College is using it now. I taught high school, history, civics, biology and physical science. I also taught a course in geography and economics. I had a lot of fun, got along good with the kids. I admit that I might have been kind of rough on them at times, being an ex-military man, but they loved it. They learned something.

Then they wanted me to transfer somewhere else in the county, teaching in the middle school. I didn't want to go so I resigned from teaching. Then I got my real estate license and I saw a need for teaching real estate to new brokers. I knew a little bit about land, deeds and research and all that kind of stuff so I started teaching real estate to people who wanted to get their salesman and broker’s license and I taught that for 15 years.

Then I also worked down at the ferry. I was an administrative clerk. I took care of the office down at the ferry. I retired from everything March 1, 1990. It’s the most boring life you’ve ever seen, don’t ever want to do it. I was active in the rescue squad with a few more. We were charter members of it. I drove the bus, I drove the ambulance for five or six years. I did a lot of heavy lifting. I wasn’t much, you know, Mary and her sister and a few more were better at the medical part of it than I was. I did the heavy lifting and the driving. I was pretty good at that.

I also started, helped start the Little League football team here when I was teaching high school. It seemed like the few years I taught, we lost every game and I got tired of that. So Irvin Smith and I got together and we said we look we need a dag-gone embryo program in this town.

Interviewer: Yeah, start them younger, yes.

Thorsen: So we started a Little League football team. It’s done pretty good. We got people in the town to donate money for the uniforms and the equipment that we needed. We played down here at Taylor Field by the cemetery. I’m a charter member of the Historical Society, former past president.

Interviewer: Coming up 20 years now. January next year is the 20th anniversary of the Historical Society.

Thorsen: Yep, we helped Bill Reeves put that book together. In fact, my wife and Susie, Eleanor and a few more stood around a table down there and put the thing together. All the copies of it. Grateful to him for writing it because it’s been a hell of a lot of research.

Interviewer: Volume 3 is about to come out.

Thorsen: Is it?

Interviewer: Yep, pretty soon.

Thorsen: Well that’s good.

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