Category Archives: Ralph’s Writings

The Red Room

by Ralph Jones

When I first came to Memphis in 1959 my first employment was with Wallace E. Johnson, Home Builders.  My position was assistant to the foreman, Mr. Robert Herring, in Winchester Heights Subdivision on Knight Arnold Road.  Robert was an excellent teacher and an excellent builder.  There were 409 lots in the subdivision and we built 408 of them, the only one that we did not build was built by another builder (and he built it entirely of concrete blocks).  The builder found out quickly that it would almost rain inside the house because of the humidity in the area, consequently he did not build any more concrete block houses.

The houses we built were 900 to 1200 square foot homes, on grade concrete slab, 3 bedrooms, one bath, all siding with just a handful of brick on the front for looks, and there was only one model with a single carport, the others had a gravel parking space..  The driveways were all gravel, the front yard was spot sodded with nothing planted in the rear yard.  It did have a 2” tree in the center of the front yard, which I laughed at when we planted them; however, I drove back through the neighborhood recently and those skinny little trees are about 24” through now and much taller than the house.

These were not sub-standard houses; just small and low cost.  All were Federal Housing Administration (FHA) insured houses; the down payment was only 3% and the notes were in the $50-$60 per/month range.

If you bought a house before it had been painted inside or outside you got to pick your colors.  Inside we were using a flat, oil based, wall paint; good paint, but it sure had a strong aroma.  The largest plan, with the carport, was our model house on the main street and the middle front bedroom was painted red with white trim.  Now when I say it was painted red, I don’t mean just red, it was red, red, red, with a capital “R” and a capital “D”.  It looked like red velvet on the walls, beautiful is not a big enough word for its color.  None of the other colors gave us any trouble; however, there was one big drawback to the red color; the walls could not be touched with anything.  If you put your hand on the wall it left a smudge.  If your shirt rubbed against it there was a streak remaining, not that it was not still red; but you could see every smudge mark and it changed the texture from flat red velvet to shinny red in that area.  Well, it did not take long for us to realize that the customers were not going to accept this; we must repaint these red rooms.  The frustrating part was that another coat of the red would not adhere to the other.  It simply ran off the wall, onto the base boards, and the floor.  We finally discovered that the only way to cover the red with the same color, or any other color, was to shellac the walls first, then reapply the new coat of paint.  What a mess we had until we figured all this out!  The sales contract was changed to address this situation and the red rooms became a thing of the past.

There are some pretty room colors around today, I just hope they don’t pose the problems this red paint invoked.


by Ralph Jones

The first subdivision I worked in had small, lower cost homes in the south-east part of Memphis.  These houses were only 900 to 1200 square feet in size, 3 bedrooms, one bath a living room and eat-in kitchen.  A sink with a two foot cabinet on each side of the sink and a washing machine hook up was the extent of the kitchen.  There was a space allotted for the range and refrigerator as well, but neither of these was furnished.  All were built with a concrete floor, no garages and only the larger units had a single carport.  All the driveways were gravel unless extra money was paid, and most folks did not have enough to purchase the house hardly, much less, a concrete drive.

We had regular sub-contractors that did all of the building, be it concrete work, framing, electrical, plumbing, heating or whatever.  There was a foreman and one hourly labor, “step and fetch-it” guy on the job other than the sub-contractors.  This hourly laborer cleaned windows, hauled debris, and was there just in case an extra set of hands were needed.  Except where I was concerned and they were trying to teach me how to be a foreman so they put me with one of their best, Robert Herring.  I took almost every step that Robert took and sometimes more.  I learned all that I could from him and soon enough they turned the subdivision over to me to complete and moved Robert on to a new area.  We started early in the day, about sun up, and quit late in the day at dark or past.  It is almost like Mr. Kimmon Wilson, founder of Holiday Inn use to say, “You only have to work half days for me, the first 12 hours or the last 12 hours.”

The company I worked for had about 8 or more subdivisions going at any one time and these sub-contractors would move around to the other jobs as needed.  There were three brothers that did concrete work for several of the subdivisions, named Bohannon.  These guys worked for me out in the Parkway Village are and one day the payroll clerk, Pat Roper, called me in and asked me about their payroll.  They had worked for three different foremen that week and had spelled their names different on each work sheet they had turned in.  I told her they were indeed all the same people and to just pick the name that looked right and pay the guys, they too were good men and hard workers.

One of the contractors we had was a very nice person that did our electrical work.  He had a crew and they did a good job.  However the boss of that crew, let’s just call him “Frank,” had broken his neck in the past somewhere, and although it had healed; his head always leaned to one side.  We all got use to this head leaning and thought nothing of it, like I said; he was a real nice fellow and a hard worker.

Sometimes when things were very busy he would jump in and help his men wire the house.  I could tell when he had been helping with the “finish-out” of the house.  All the receptacles and switch plates were crooked.  They all leaned in one direction.  I’d walk into a finished house and there it would be staring me in the face, all the electrical plates leaning.  I’d call him over to the house and say, “Now Frank, you’ve got to straighten all these receptacles and switches up before it will pass final inspection.”  His reply to me was always, “Well, they look alright to me!”  We’d both laugh and he would have them repaired and corrected before the inspector came.

I would have him wire anything we had and never would there be a problem except if he did the “finish-out” all the visible plates would be crooked; but they “looked alright to him.”



Introducing Ralph’s Writings

Ralph Jones, now retired, began his lifelong career in construction, and later home design way back when he was just a kid.  He began working on construction sites back in High School in Pontotoc Ms.  His parents had always taught him to be a hard worker and give a man an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.

Through the years, he has collected some rather good stories of people he worked with, or worked for.  He has learned some lessons along the way too.  These are too valuable to let fade into obscurity, so I have decided to have him write some of his favorite stories down and I will forward them on to you, his friends, family and former co-workers.  I hope you enjoy his stories.

If you are interested in reading his stories, be sure to bookmark this page.  You will see off to one side or another the topics covered in this Blog.  If you click on “Ralph’s Writings” you will see all the stories I publish for Ralph.  Feel free to click on any of the other topics as I think they are also worth the read.

I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Janne (aka Ralph’s daughter)