Column 1: More memories

Martinez News-Gazette Columnist

MORE MEMORIES recalled; some good, some not so good, all interesting to this aging columnist because he was there. A first-hand experience of history, one might say.

A recent memory recall goes back to September 1941, moving day for the Sharkey Family coming from Sacramento to Martinez to our new home on Alhambra Valley Road (then). Now Alhambra Way sourth of Highway 4.

During the hustle of movers and family member, each with hands and arms full, a boy on a bike showed up in the long driveway to watch the activity “Hi,”, he said, “My name is Stuart Holden, and I live down the street.” ‘Who are you?” ‘I’m Billy Sharkey, and we are going to live here, and I have two little sisters.” Stu Holden became the first ‘kid’ I met as a new Martinez resident. He lived five houses toward town, and was one of six other ‘kids’ among those five homes. Stu and I were in the same grade all through school, graduating with the Class of 1948 at Alhambra (Union) High School, and only one month apart in age. We later were long-time Shell employees retiring many years ago.

My first friend in Martinez was eulogized last Thursday 78 years after our first meeting during a drop-by visit on moving day. Hard to believe so much time has passed so quickly. RIP, Stu, and bless your wonderful wife, Beverly, four adult children and grandchildren.

DEDICATION festivities for the new refining complex on Pacheco Boulevard prompted a visit by Shell’s Board of Directors, including a bus tour of the refinery and chemical plant on the property at Shell Avenue and Waterfront Road. I had the pleasure conducting the tour and , then, the luncheon at the old Newell House in Walnut Creek. The additional pleasure was sitting across the table from General Jimmie Doolittle, the leader and hero of the April 1942 raid over Tokyo which took the Japanese by surprise and took the war to their homeland. The conversation around us, and the General, who was a vice president of Shell before the war, and member of the Board, was something to recall, for sure. A very short man with a very large reputation was very special. His presence was special, also.

Neighbors downwind of the new complex, in the Vine Hill area, began to complain about impact of the operation during startup procedures. The complaints seemed plausible to our operations personnel. A plan was made to send the manager of Fire and Safety, (later Health and Safety) to comb the area to determine what we were doing to the neighbors, and what we could do to remedy the situation. I was made part of the two-man team as I knew the area and was a recognizable member of the community, having been here in the family newspaper most of my life.

With a title company plot map in hand, we went door-to-door downwind (north/northeast) introducing ourselves and asking if the resident had noticed any impact from our new complex operation. The responses were most revealing, and each impact cited was marked in a specific color for that piece of property. Many were startling.

Incidents mentioned included vibration, noise, odors, bright lights at night, flames from various columns, smoke. The colorful array was studied by experts to determine which units in the complex could be the cause of each impacting situation.

Some reports included cracked walkways next to homes from vibration. Some reported pictures on walls hanging crooked. Bright lights making sleep at night difficult. Obnoxious odors on breezy days. Flames from tall flares causing safety concerns. Strange dust on buildings, plants. hanging laundry and vehicles.

The detailed survey was immediately turned over to professionals to study, mitigate or eliminate completely, if possible, and as soon as possible. We had been a good neighbor to the community for 50 years, and did not want to ignore or minimize their concerns now.

One by one the impact-causing units or operations were identified and mitigated or eliminated. However, some -larger-than-all-of-us issues did happen on occasion.

The catalytic cracking unit (cat cracker) did, on occasion, decide to ‘burp’ causing huge plumes of dark catalyst to flow up through one of the tall concrete towers and out over the countryside, the distance being determined by the amount of wind and its direction. On those several occasions over many months, we received hundreds of reports from neighbors about vehicles covered with oily grit, shrubs and laundry dirtied, garden furniture discolored, and anything else out in the open. Not pretty.

Insurance adjustors were brought in to respond to complaints, and to make recommendations for appropriate action. Monetary compensation was the most practical resolution. There was little chance of finding sufficient manpower to dust off rose bushes, clean garden furniture, etc.. Cash payments provided residents the opportunity to handle the cleanup as they wished. Or take no action, if that was their decision.

Old vehicles up on blocks in non-running condition were the most ‘sticky’ (no pun intended!) complaint to resolve. An inoperative vehicle on blocks covered with sand-like material? How to take care of it? Cars and trucks being used on a regular basis were not a problem for compensating the owner. We wished to be good neighbors and take care of any damages or inconvenience. Decision was made to pay for each vehicle, running, registered of not, at $75 each. Fair deal?

Another similar incident some months later brought complaints again. A revelation occurred! Owners of old vehicles, non-operative and up on blocks filed complaints for another incident of the material on their vehicle. Another claim for $75 to clean the vehicle. Adjustors found that the vehicle still had material from the previous incident on it. No cleaning had been done. After spending many thousands of dollars of compensation for such claims, we changed the rule.

New rules: vehicle must be currently registered and in running condition in order to be compensated for cleaning.

The startup process gradually moved into a smooth-running giant ‘chemistry set’ providing Shell Oil Company with a modern refinery turning out hundreds of thousands of gallons daily of gasoline, jet fuel and other products needed to keep the U. S. economy running. The Martinez community was the beneficiary of the expansion, and remains so today.

Over the years there have been incidents of interest which I plan to tell about just for fun?

CHANGES continue to fall from the tweeter-in-chief’s office seemingly willy-nilly depending on how the Oval Office Ogre feels at that moment. The most outrageous and egregious statement recently, aside from his chest thumping regarding Iran, was announcing that ICE would start rounding up ‘millions’ of illegal undocumented residents and sending them back south. The trauma which that statement caused is difficult to imagine. And, it was made without consulting with the Department of Homeland Security. Unbelievable!!! Trump has to go!!

CHEERS to the arrival of Summer last Friday. Days will get warmer and shorter. And deadly fires, already reported, will be with us again. We must be prepared for both the weather and fire season.

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