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Finding Father: Ralph Lewis Croy

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The folder contained a pile of paper my father saved. The contents provide a glimpse into the life of a fine father, Ralph Lewis Croy. My brother gave me the file a couple years ago for an obvious reason. I’m the historian for the family. It’s a curious phenomenon. I hold together a family history for an independent, often distant, family. But we are, I discovered, after opening his folder, shoots not far from their roots. Dad did not keep everything—no random terrible artwork, no diary—he wasn’t that kind of guy. But what he kept provides a roadmap to his life.

Obviously, he kept his birth certificate. He was born at 9th and Moore Street (no hospital involved) in Henrietta, Oklahoma. Henrietta was always the place where he said he “grew up.”

that old gang of mine

This picture was a favorite of his. He labeled it “that old gang of mine.” He is bottom center. They are holding sticks for a game of hockey, I think.

But when the Great Depression hit in 1929, his dad lost his foreman position in a coal mine in Henrietta, and the family was forced to move. He often told me he planned to go to college at Alabama State, maybe even on a basketball scholarship. He was always athletic. His dreams were dashed and his father got a job as a miner in Spiro, Oklahoma.


He kept his high school diploma. He graduated from Spiro High School on May 16, 1931, with 19 others classmates. He likely knew none of them well.

Spiro High School

Dad wrote right on the photos. It drove Mom nuts, but, hey, it’s pretty clear, right?


There is no record of what he did during the next four years. The most impactful period in my dad’s life, based on the stories he told, was when he road the rails out to see his brother, Muriel, in San Francisco. I’ve never been able to pinpoint when he lived his “hobo” life. This is one possibility but I don’t think Muriel live in San Francisco at the time. A paper from the file that Dad typed up outlining his work life (in an attempt to get social security benefits) gives 1937 as his first work year, but he had forgotten about the following service.

He kept his release papers for his service with the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC’s) in Oklahoma. He worked in Pine Valley, Oklahoma from June 25, 1935, through December 1, 1935, as a truck driver in road construction. The CCC’s, formed in 1933 as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, was in full swing by 1935, employing a half-million men across the country. During his six-month stint, Dad sent a total allotment of $25 home to his father Justus Croy, care of general delivery, Spiro, Oklahoma.

No records exist for 1936. From my father’s stories, I know Justus Croy and family traveled up through Colorado, working along the way. By the first of 1937 my dad, if not the rest of the family, was in Farson, Wyoming.

He kept a letter dated January 14, 1937, from the regional director of the Department of Interior, Department of Grazing. “Dear Friend Ralph, As I was interested to know, at my recent visit to Farson, of your progress in Engineering, I have taken the “liberty” to list your name with the R. Hardesty Mfg. Co, and they will send you their Handbook on Hydraulic Data, which I trust will be beneficial to you…” I had always thought his studies began by “mail” after his time in the US Army Air Force. I was wrong. His interest in engineering began as early as age 25.

He kept his CCC release papers for his service in Wyoming. He worked in Farson, Wyoming from May 6, 1937, through September 30, 1937, doing clerical work with the CCC’s and was paid $45 (no allotment sent).  He gave the address 1016 Lee St, Rock Springs, Wyoming for any further correspondence.

He kept a Union Pacific Coal Company Certificate of First-aid Training for “Aid to the Injured” dated 1939, the recipient: ‘Ralph Lewis Croy of Reliance, Wyoming.” According to his typed work record, he worked for Union Pacific Coal Company in Rock Springs, Wyoming from 1938-1940.  My brother recalls the story he told of how he walked off the job after seeing a man, one of many, injured in a mining accident, never again to work in the coal industry. His uncle Gardner had been electrocuted in a mining accident in 1920. Four years after he left Union Pacific Coal, his uncle David died in a landslide while working coal.

He kept a letter of recommendation dated August 29, 1942, from contractors Radich and Brown of Oakland, California. He worked for them as a transit man at the Oakland Naval Supply Depot. The letter stated: “It is our experience that his integrity is beyond reproach.” According to his typed record, he worked for contractors in Oakland from 1940- October 10, 1942.  I know my uncle, Muriel Croy, worked in construction in the San Francisco area at this time, so Dad likely followed Muriel there after walking away from Union Pacific Coal. There is a discrepancy. It is more likely he moved to Oakland in early 1941. Why? He, with his father and his mother Mollie, are listed in the same household on the 1940 census. His father Justus Croy died of emphysema (black lung) on December 13, 1940.

He kept his discharge papers from the US Army Air Force. He enrolled on October 30, 1942, in San Francisco, CA. He listed his civilian occupation surveyor and his home address 5016 Calaveras Ave, Oakland, CA. He trained at Bombsight School at Lowry Field in California as a Bombsight Mechanic. On February 11, 1946, he separated from Squadron C, 2619th Army Air Force Base Unit at Indiantown Gap Mile Reservation, Pennsylvania. He had married my mother Hattie Beatrice Schulz on August 4, 1944.

dad and dog

Always wondered exactly when they were in Carlsbad, NM. No doubt now.


He kept the March 27, 1946, letter he received from US Bureau of Reclamation Construction Engineer, O.G. Boden. “There is a vacancy in the position of Engineering Aide (Survey, SP-6), $2320 per annum, with headquarters in Antioch, California. This work will include operation of instruments of field survey party engaged in location and property surveys for the Contra Costa Canal System. Please advise at your earliest convenience if you are interested in employment in the above position.” He became a permanent employee with the Bureau on March 9, 1947, and I was born October 18, 1947, in Pittsburg.

Of course, there is more to the story, the stuff of another post. What I write here is about one file. The artifacts my dad saved help us trace his movement through time and place with exacting detail. He loved history, of his family and his nation. He preserved the remnants of it.

I often wonder why I do what I do: the blog, the historical fiction, the research, the amassing of artifacts. Not because my family reads these missives, if they do, which I doubt. I do it for love of Dad. I do it for me. I spring from his roots, where the past is forever present.

Happy Fathers Day, Dad—and thank you.



Honoring the Veterans Who Made Me

marriage photo of Ralph Lewis Croy and Hattie Beatrice Schulz

My mother, Hattie Beatrice Schulz, and my father, Ralph Lewis Croy, met during World War II, State side. From my perspective, they are a couple of very important veterans. Here is the newspaper article from the Rock Springs Rocket recording their marriage. Rock Springs Rocket article marriage August 4, 1944

Treat #7: The Buck Mine Explosion

article on 1903 mining accident J CroyNewspaper articles often bare witness to family members caught up significant moments in history. The Buck Coal Mine disaster fueled a growing concern for the safety of workers in a newly industrialized country. Calvin Harrison Croy and all of his sons worked in the coalmines that proliferated at the height of the Industrial Revolution. Regulation was a word unknown during those early days and three of his sons died in work related accidents, one in a railroad accident and two in coal mining incidents. His son Justus Croy, my grandfather, was to die of Black Lung, a common coal related illness of the time, but, as this article shows, he and these early workers regularly came close to disaster.  Ironically, my father remembered Justus, as a mine foreman, warding off unionizers at gunpoint and then later challenging a bank official with gun in hand to get payroll for his workers. Obviously, the union efforts of the time were a matter of life and death. One of my dad’s favorite songs was Tennessee Ernie Ford singing, “Saint Peter don’t you call me ‘cause I can’t go. I owe my soul to the company store.”

Treat #6: Depression era photo of the Croys

Justus, Mollie, and Ralph Croy

Justus, Mollie, and Ralph Croy

Exuding working class strength, Justus Croy,  Mary Elizabeth (Mollie) Ison Croy and Ralph Croy gaze directly into the camera. Many photographs exist of Justus Croy as a young man, but this picture provides a window into his world as an older man at the height of the depression. A best guess for the date of the photo is 1935 to 1940. Justus Croy died of Black Lung on December 13, 1940 in Rock Springs, Wyoming at the age of 61.

Treat #4 for a New Year: Ralph Lewis Croy as a boy

Here are two pictures that show Ralph Lewis Croy, my father, as a little boy.

Muriel, Ralph, Calvin Croy

Muriel, Ralph, Calvin Croy

The first, thanks to a special relative, shows Muriel in his WWI uniform and Ralph and Calvin dressed to impress, all for a studio photograph. With hair neatly parted and combed, they stare solemnly into the camera. The photographer shot this picture in about 1917-8, the approximate time that Merle “ran away to join the army.”

The next photograph is a personal favorite. I had searched for it unsuccessfully some years back and recently found it tucked away inside an inconsequential piece of paper.

Ralph Croy, circa 1920

Ralph Croy, circa 1920

Taken perhaps a year or two after the first, it shows Ralph Croy as the resourceful, outdoor loving person I knew but residing in a child’s body. Never leave a card or envelop unopened! Treasures are everywhere.