This interview was conducted by Chelsea Anna Connors on March 19, 2008 in Pipe Creek, TX. as part of Palo Alto College’s History 1302 – Spring 2008 class.
Roger Conn Borchers was born on August 27, 1941 to a Werner Oswald and Katherine Fries Borchers. He was born in the “old” Baptist Memorial Hospital in Downtown San Antonio. Roger had no siblings. He was raised in Fredericksburg Texas, and lived there all his childhood life. He Went to St. Anthony Grade school for eight years then to Central Catholic High School. He worked at the Indian Oil Co., the public library, an apprentice to a Taxidermist, and in auto rebuilding. After One year at San Antonio College he purchased a Gulf Oil Co. He was the youngest in Franchise history at the age of 19. He met Cora Awilda Helms who worked across the street from his oil company. Soon after he met her he received his draft notice and sold everything he bought. When he returned from the war they got married and had two kids and he adopted the kids that she had from a past marriage. Celeste and Candace were his blood children and Robert and Teresa (My mom) were the ones he adopted. He started working at South Western Bell Yellow Pages and stayed there for about thirty years. Roger follows the Catholic religion and is independent; he was in the lower to middle class economically. His hobbies when he was younger included gunsmithing, welding and auto repair.
What do you remember the most about growing Up in San Antonio / Fredericksburg?
Well the Main thing about growing up in San Antonio, is we didn’t have anywhere near the violence we have currently. Every time | turn around and see on the six o’clock news or pick up a paper, there’s somebody killing somebody or naming somebody. We would play outside and never have to worry about an adult being with us or Chaperone around. If there was dope anywhere, I didn’t know about it. The main thing was the peaceful side. Which was everybody would take their bikes to Brackenridge Park and to sunken gardens and everywhere else and never have any fear. We could hop on the bus and go all over San Antonio by ourselves and spend the day all over San Antonio and go to all the nine cent matinee that the movies used to have and that was for eight hours and never fear anything, on the buses, on our bicycles or playing at night.
You said you grew up in Fredericksburg but then you said you went to school in San Antonio, What was the deal with that?
I was born in 41, the war broke out and everybody in Fredericksburg, Man and Women, anybody over the age of seventeen back then came to San Antonio to enlist, in either the navy or the army. My aunts, all of my aunts were Captains because they were Registered nurses. All of my cousins, my dad, not my dad he had polio when he was three but he went to Kelly field rather than go overseas to fix bomb sights because everybody had to go. We all moved to San Antonio and left Fredericksburg in 1942, 43 because of the war, and that’s the reason why I was in San Antonio. That’s the reason why we all were in San Antonio, all the Borchers all the Lots all the Thatches and all the Frizes. We left Fredericksburg to join up in the service to fight.
What are the biggest changes you remember about San Antonio when you were younger to now?
Well, back then San Antonio, Tip Top Cafe off of Fredericksburg road was way in the country that was almost like packing up and now its inner city almost. The growth of San Antonio, in the homes back then everything was 105 siding, wood siding you seldom saw a brick home. My mom’s house on 1115 east eulicid is a replica of the Alamo and it still is and it is still there but it was made out of stucco. I guess the major thing is the size, the size, the size and the increase in San Antonio.
What kind of clothes did you have growing up? And where did you get them?
A lot of the clothes growing up, everything was rationed in the forties everything, I don’t care if it was tires, batteries, sugar, or gas, it was all rationed. Most people had sewing machines, so most of the clothes were sewn by my mom or my cousins and seldom did we actually go out and buy any clothes till probably the early fifties. Back then there was solo serve and that was an inexpensive place and the biggest, hugest, best in the world department store in San Antonio was Joskies down town next to the Alamo and it had a bargain basement way down deep in the basement and that’s where my mom would take the bus with me and we would get clothes from Joskies Bargain Basement but other than that they were all made of materials that were laying around and were modified that you would have to patch up. You just didn’t buy any new clothes during the forties hardly at all.
Were you the only one getting their clothes made and from bargain stores?
The majority of people that could afford it solo serve and Joskies were just about the only places that the middle class would go. Most of the people that were in the service and that got out of the service lived in Victoria Courts which is no longer there and that was a subsidized housing not for welfare people necessarily but for people getting out of the service and those people would stay there a very short period of time about six to eight months until they could get a job. Everything was so difficult that everybody even back then was making their own clothes and most of them would go to the bargain stores. There wasn’t a Dillard’s, there was a Sears and you could get some stuff through the catalog. JCPenny and McGomery Ward were kind of reasonable. The majority of people had to try to save money because they just came back from the war and they would go to the less expensive type places and a lot of them would go to the goodwill type of thing, Goodwill wasn’t established but second hand stores and purchase clothing. Later in the fifties when it came a fluent it was a little bit different.
How many pairs of shoes did you have growing up?
Not a whole bunch these new fangled tennis shoes weren’t invented yet we had the old regular tennis shoes that look like tennis shoes, they were flat not all these computer generated Nikes and all of this everybody had one pair of regular tennis shoes and one pair of going to church Sunday shoes, leather shoes and that’s about it. Hardly anybody had more than two pair of shoes. A lot of people that went to school with me at Central Catholic High School would take old tires and glue them to the bottom of their shoe, so everywhere you looked you would see tire marks out there thinking who would be driving over here but they weren’t driving they were actually tires that they would glue to the bottom of their shoes and save some money cause those things they’d be good for a hundred to two-hundred miles.
What was school like growing up?
It was great! I went to Central Catholic, about eight, ten or fifteen blocks from my mom’s house on north St. Mary’s Street. They were all brothers of Mary back then that’s what they were called. It was an all boy’s school and they wouldn’t hesitate to hit you up side the face and they were rougher than a cob. I know they were religious people but in today’s environment you couldn’t do that, you would have law suits but back then you could it was a military school, an academic school and I used to work at the Indian Oil Company cause I had to pay tuition to go to that school, and the tuition was ten dollars a month and I was getting fifty cents an hour but I’d make enough after school to go in there and pay brother book that was his name the ten bucks a month to attend Central Catholic High School. It’s probably seven or eight hundred now for all I know.
What was it like going to an all boy’s school?
I guess I enjoyed it! I went to St. Anthony Grade School for eight years and that was a co-ed school we were all little and I enjoyed it because you didn’t have to close the doors in the bathroom so much cause there was no girls and nobody really gave a darn. We were all on the foot ball team or in ROTC. If there was a disagreement we could get out and duke it out and nobody would say anything about it in the parking lot after school that was normal. Most everybody had homemade hot rods. So I thoroughly enjoyed it. Across the street we had the all girls school, Providence High School so you could wave at the girls if you so desired.
Why did you only go to college for one year?
I basically only went to one year of college because; when I got out of high school I bought a franchise for Gulf Oil Service Station on Euclid and St. Mary’s. I was nineteen and the youngest franchise owner of a Gulf Oil Service Station and I went to SAC a year before I graduated at age eighteen and at nineteen I bought the Gulf Oil Service Station. I went full time for one year and I was going to night school I would have to operate the service station by franchise agreement six in the morning to eleven at night. I would have somebody come in, in the evening while I would go to night school. As I kept growing in the business I missed some classes so they dropped me out because of the hours dropped and as soon as that happened I got drafted and had to go to Ft. Poke Louisiana and that was it no more college no more oil franchises that just pretty well stopped it right there.
When you were growing up were there black people in school with you? How were the blacks treated when you were younger?
As far as I can recall there were I think by law if I’m not mistaken all of the young blacks had to go to Weadly High School they couldn’t go to a public school and none of them were in Central Catholic, Providence or any other private schools that I can recall. The blacks were discriminated against, when I would go to the Empire Theater, the Majestic Theater, the Texas Theater the State Theater they had a separate entrance, separate water faucets, and yes they sat on back of the bus, they weren’t allowed to sit up front. The blacks could not go to any of the white peoples restaurants a few of the places would have a section in the back of them where the blacks could go but they couldn’t be seated in the front and I guess the only one that allowed that was one beautiful restaurant called the Chatter Box which was next to the Wrestlethon which was a giant wrestling place on Josephine street and they had black waiters, curbside service waiters behind the Chatter Box restaurant, but they weren’t allowed in the Chatter box but they were employed on the back side, the curb service Chatter Box which was kind of unusual.
You said you got drafted what did you get drafted to? To which war and what did you do?
I got drafted and went to Ft. Poke Louisiana I remember hopping on the bus at the corner of Broadway and some other street at the trail way bus station there is no more trail way bus stations I guess Greyhound ran them out of business and I ended up in Louisiana for basic training and then I had medical training after I got out of the basic training so I was a combat medic in the army, which was awful I would be assigned to a headquarters company and get shipped around a bazooka team, a tank battalion, I was stuck with a air bard squad and those guys run everywhere. It was a miserable part of my life being in the army. After that I got out of the army and I didn’t go to war because Korea was over with and Vietnam had not started yet but we still had the draft. The only ones that had the draft was the army,
The navy, the coast guard, the marines, and the air force didn’t so you would have a lesser clientele. The people that were drafted in the army didn’t want to go and didn’t join up and the people in the navy and the marines volunteered and they were a little bit better educated and the army to me was just a dark point in my life. When I went in the navy, the naval air station in Dallas, Rhoda Spain, I loved every bit of the navy in that one I was called not a combat medic but a pharmacist medic and they cycle you through everything. You’d work in Pharmacy for six months then setting casts and X-rays for three months you would work in blood work labs for three and six months. You felt like you were doing something productive not just running around with an M-14 strapped to your back like you did in the army. In the army I hated it and in the navy I had a blast.
You were in many occupations in your life can you tell me some of the ones you enjoyed the most and what did you did in them?
I started out buying the Gulf Oil Service Station then I had a Paint and Body shop, a used car lot, and a wrecker service and that was all ran out of the Gulf Oil Station. After I got back home from being in the service I went to TCU for about six months because I was recruited by paint manufactures to be an understudy to the chemists that worked on the development of new paint pigments. That was interesting but I wanted to go with a dry coating of magnetic melting which I had been real familiar with and that I had studied and that particular Kelly Moore paint company did not want to switch to magnetic AC/DC pipe coating and everything else which they are all doing now I guess I was ahead of my time. I could have stayed there but I came back home to manage a paint manufacturing company. I hired on with South Western Bell Yellow Pages for thirty five and a half years. Working for the Yellow Pages was entertaining because I had all of Texas was my area of the majority of it. I was gone nine months out of the year and a lot of people just thought that was bad for my children but I often took them with me on weekends and vacation, so it turned out that the people were wrong.
What was your first job?
My first job was the Express News Paper Rout. I would get up Sunday morning at two thirty and I would go down to the toddle house which was the name of a group of six to eight restaurants. One of them was on main avenue and all they had was eggs, eggs and more eggs in different variations and we would get some and gout on our paper rout at four in the morning. That was my first job, it was so unusual everybody would demand that they would want that paper right there on their porch because they didn’t want to walk out in the yard to get it. We would have to do our own collections so when we went to collect for the month and ask for the three dollars they would say “Oh I don’t have it will you come back?” So I learned that something so simplistic as a paper route that people demand stuff but when it came back to them having to pay for the service given they wouldn’t always hold up to their end of the bargain. I guess that’s what happens many times today. You can learn a lot about people just by a simple paper route.
What was it like having immigrants for parents?
The immigrant side of it didn’t really affect me because we didn’t know any better. Back then not everybody was so thin skinned, occasionally since we were from German heritage and my mom and dad spoke, wrote, and translated German for various agencies when requested to. Nobody would speak German in front of a group of people that did not understand German; they would only speak it amongst themselves when they played 42 which was a domino game on Saturday nights they would talk in German. If they were with each other in front of the department stores or in them they would never talk German. Never in front of people that did not understand German. I remember that I would be called a square head or a crout and in return I would call somebody a poloc or a pepper belly and then we would all laugh and go down the road and nobody would think much of it. One point in my life I was with Little Henry and his dad Henry Sr. or Henry B. Gonzales in his 54 dodge he was our congressmen for gosh 32 years. He took me, Little Henry and two other I can’t recall to the bridge in New Braunfuls Texas there was a swimming hole down there and you could pay two bucks to go in and I still remember when he pulled up they said that no Mexicans were allowed down there. I wasn’t a Mexican but because of my dark skin I guess I looked like one. That made Henry B. Sr. mad, He was on the city council and there I saw what discrimination really looked like. It didn’t apply to us to much because we were considered Anglo. Some people would saw something about Hitler to us and we were so young at that time during WWII that being 6 or 7 years of age we never quite understood it so we didn’t take it as a racial slur with the Hitler side of it but somebody else might have.
What was it like owning your own service station? Was it hard because you were so young?
I guess the draft was the best thing that ever happened to me to get out of that service station because I was going from 6 o’clock in the morning to 11 o’clock at night and there was a requirement that you stay open all the holidays it didn’t matter that was part of the contract that you had to follow by Gulf Oil and by the time I finished at 11 at night I would have all this book work and I would have to go to this thing called the main bank which is now a Luby’s Cafeteria and make a night deposit but then again on that same thought I would have Eight hundred to a thousand dollars with me in my bag. I had no fear I didn’t have to have a gun with me or anything. That was a full service, service station it was $.19 a gallon I would have to check the air in the tires, the oil, and check the battery. It was extremely difficult, so I’m kinda glad that Uncle Sam made me go to Fort Poke. You don’t have any more service stations I can’t recall any, we would never in our wildest dreams thought that there would be these do it yourself type of things. We just couldn’t picture some old lady getting out of her car to pump her own gas.
What did you do for fun when you were younger?
Those were the simplistic days! We spent a lot of time on the San Antonio River Walk which was right there we would make rafts. We would have BB gun fights, which I guess is dangerous but we didn’t know any better. At night we would play kick the can that was a simplistic game and catch fire flies and put it on our T-shirts and the chemical would glow for hours. Back then the bottle caps on all the colas would have corks in them, you could take the bottle caps off and get the cork out and put those on your T-shirt and by pressing the cork back in to the bottle cap you could make all kinds of designs. It was simplistic and all free that was the good thing about it. Just about everything that we had was made or invented by us.
What were the movies like back then, like the drive-ins?
The Drive-In movies were super and I just hated to see them go. My mom and dad used to take me; they would take their own supper because we didn’t have enough money to buy snacks at the snack bar. We would go in their old 46 ford coupe and they would have everything, they would bring the sodas and all kind of goodies. Then you could just hang the speaker on your window. We would have an all night affair we would bring our own food and have supper. It was great I loved the drive-in movies! They had several locations in San Antonio and they were so successful, I really don’t know why they all went away? I often thought it was because there was no air conditioning we didn’t have AC anywhere so we were used to it but I guess now they thought that no one would want to sit out in the heat and watch a movie.
What were the cars like back then and how fast did they go?
Most of the cars that the youngsters had were all homemade we could take a drive shaft and cut them into hunks and reverse the base on the carburetor and make a six barrel six carburetor unit out of a drive shaft. Most all of them were a form of a hot rod. Everybody would try new things and tell their buddies about the new thing the invented. Nothing was bought out of a car dealership that ran fast, the 57 Chevy I guess was the first one they called it a power pack. The V on the back of the 57 Chevy that had the power pack was gold in color the ones without the additional engine boost was chrome. That was really the first Muscle car that I can remember and that’s when the Muscle cars started to be a big thing, and that when my service station started selling hot rod fuel, we had regular gas, super gas and golden esoil, and when that went out of business that’s when the Muscle cars started to go away too.
What do you think about the Economic change from then to now?
The economic change has been giant, the cars seem to go up 8, 10 percent a year and people always worry about their retirement and worry about inflation. In the last year with this ethanol it’s just amazing. The government is not telling you what inflation is but it’s just ungodly. Back then it was so simple and easy you could get five hamburgers for a dollar at the burger barn. It’s just been escalating so much that it’s no wonder that people are so worried about health care and everything when you’re paying so much for just a little hamburger at Cheesy Janes and almost four gallons for gas. I was buying eight and ten thousand was the usual amount for a home and now you can’t get in for less than a hundred thousand and you’re not buying a whole lot.
What was your best childhood memory?
My best childhood memory would have to be getting together with my friends. I don’t mean to be repetitious but if you had a bicycle that was the ultimate you could go to Brackenridge Park and to Sunken Gardens. That and the buses they had unlimited transfer for a nickel, you could go all over San Antonio where ever you wanted to go all day long for a nickel. As long as you had a handful of free transfers you could go anywhere. You could go to the Palace Theater which was in a tunnel in front of the Alamo. We could go all over San Antonio for a nickel that was my best childhood memory.
In doing this Oral History Project I learned many things about my grandpas past that I did not know happened, I also learned that it was a much safer world back then than it is now. The most important point made in this interview was that my grandpa lived a very fulfilling childhood, and with this project I was able to capture all those wonderful memories that he remembers. I learned that even though my grandpa has lived through a lot he still had fun, all he ever used to tell me is that he walked to school bare foot and that he worked all his life, come to find out he was out more than I ever was riding his bicycle all over San Antonio. My view on this topic did change, my grandpa said he rode his bicycle all over downtown San Antonio when he was little until nine o’clock at night, now these days I wouldn’t even think about going outside in downtown San Antonio at night unless I had a gun. I know things about San Antonio have changed a lot, but talking with my grandpa really made it clear that it was a whole lot different then, than it is now. When I began to listen to my grandpa I really didn’t understand some of the stuff that he was talking about, I would ask him a question and he would give me an answer that didn’t even pertain to the question, so at the end when I went back over what he had said, I understood it better and what I didn’t understand I would go ask what he meant, that way I would have a little feedback on the answer. The benefits of this project in learning about the past is you can really find out some good stuff that explains some questionable stuff that you may want to know about, the bad thing about this project when you are trying to find out stuff about the past is that you only get one persons point of view. In some aspects I believe this is a very good way to learn about what went on a long time ago, because the older people went through a lot long ago, but in other aspects I don’t think it would be a good project to do if you wanted to know more about the whole picture and not just one persons experiences.
- Roger Conn Borchers was born August 27, 1941 to Mr. and Mrs. Borchers
- Attended St. Anthony Grade School beginning in 1946
- Started his first job in 1958 at the Indian Oil Company
- Graduated from Central Catholic High School in 1959
- In 1959 bought his own Gulf Oil service station
- Attended SAC beginning in 1960 for one year
- Joined the Army in 1961 to serve as a medic
- Joined the Navy in 1966 to 1972
- Moved to Pipe Creek, Texas in 1993
- Married Cora Awilda Helms on August 30, 1968
- First two children, Robert and Teresa, was adopted in 1968
- Third child, Celeste, was born in 1974
- Last child, Candace, was born in 1979
- Daughter, Candace, died on Memorial Day in 2006
- Worked at Southwestern Bell Yellow Pages beginning in 1967
- Retired from Southwestern Bell Yellow Pages in 2004
- Father, Woerner Borchers, died in 1986
- Interviewed by his granddaughter, Chelsea Connors, on March 19, 2008
- Brackenridge Park is an official website of the History of Brackenridge Park this website explains that the park has dated back to 11,000 years ago and that scientists have found Native American artifacts that date back to 9200 B.C.
- Central Catholic High School This website is the website that is for Central Catholic High School today, it tells you how long the school has been open and the history of it, it is a college prep school for young boys.
- San Antonio River Walk
This website tells us information about the river walk today, it also tells us all the history of the river and how the River Walk was developed.
- Small Town Texas Projects.
- Photographs and/or documents on this website were provided by Roger Conn Borchers and Awilda Borchers.The Childhood pictures were taken from Katherine Borchers, Rogers mother. Most of the photos are of Roger himself as a child and then in his service uniform, there is one photo of Roger and his wife, mom and dad at his wedding ceremony, the last photo is of Roger and his Granddaughter Chelsea Connors which Awilda,Rogers wife took during the interview at Rogers residence in Pipe Creek, Texas. The document is of Rogers Graduation ticket.