Old Paso: Paso Robles High School Initiation

by Harold Franklin

PRHS photo courtesy of www.pasorobles-usa.com

PRHS at 24th and Spring, photo courtesy of http://www.pasorobles-usa.com

This farm boy was scared to begin high school. The Senior class initiated the Freshman the third week of school. I was not very familiar with the school but had attended various community functions in the auditorium over the years. But I was not familiar with the campus.

The brick building had been built in 1924 in a camping park. The front faced  Spring Street which was busy Highway 101 with its diesel trucks and vehicular traffic. The walls were covered in ivy. The first high school was a three storied building built in 1892 at what is now the Marie Bauer School. The third story was removed after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. This new high school was two story on the half facing the Highway. On the north end on the second floor was the library and study hall and one large classroom on the south end. On the second floor one could walk down the enclosed hallway and look to the west over the roof of the first story rooms. Large pictures lined the second floor wall with classes from the 1920’s and 1930’s. The school cafeteria was the first room on the north second floor with the chemistry room next to it. The building had been strengthened with steel beams and ties after the large 1933 Southern California earthquake. During my Sophomore year in 1952-1953, the outer layer of bricks were jackhammered off, steel reinforcing tied on the walls and gunite concrete shot onto the iron grid to strengthen the building. The bricks and ivy look was gone.

I entered Paso Robles High School in September, 1951. My father had attended the school in 1927 and 1928. It was the first time we changed classes every period. Mr. Quade was our principal, a quiet, reserved gentleman. Miss Zaph was the freshman English teacher. It seems to me we spent a good deal of the time studying careers and determining what we wanted to be in life. She was a bear. Her room was upstairs. She sucked on candy all the time as she smoked and had a dry voice. She watched us students with an eagle eye to catch anyone chewing gum or sucking candy.


The “old” Paso Robles high school, circa 1892

I was on a college tract and had algebra with Miss Beeler. I never did get the hang of that math. I had her for bookkeeping my Senior year and enjoyed the class. My Spanish teacher was a Frenchman from Quebec. Learning Spanish with a French accent was difficult for us gringos. Band was a lot of fun and we met in the orchestra pit in the front of the auditorium. We played at pep rallies, half-time football games and concerts in the Spring.  Mr. Whitesides was my band teacher 10th through 12th grade. I played a trombone all the years except in 12th grade when I played the sousaphone. Our first parade each year was the Pioneer Day Parade in October. In the Spring we traveled to a band festival in either San Francisco or Fullerton.

I got a new trombone in 1954 and when playing at a mass band festival in the football bleachers at Fullerton, I happened to look down and a bee was sitting on my right thumb riding up and down as I moved my slide. I flicked him off and away went my slide, tumbling down through all the supports of the bleachers. I retrieved it but it had a small nick in it and was not real slick when sliding.

In 1953 my brother Donald, playing a baritone, and my cousin, Elaine, playing a clarinet, went to a band festival in San Francisco. I recall that the three of us rode a street car from downtown out to the Zoo in Golden Gate Park. That was quite an adventure for us country bumpkins. Our Grandmother Combs when 14 had worked for the owners of the streetcars in 1895.

Initiation began with a Monday assembly when we were told all that was expected of us that week. We had to carry the Senior’s books to their class and not be late to our own classes. We had to have a shoeshine kit and polish Senior’s shoes. We had to learn the words and tune to the fight song and the Alma Mater and sing them when requested.  I have never forgotten them. On Friday we boys had to come to school wearing a bra, swim trunks, a necklace with 3 onions, and 3 rings of one inch tape around the calves of our legs. The girls had to have an onion necklace, as well, and wear a burlap sack dress.

I had my revenge. I got a small box and got it full of the itchiest chaff I could find off our combine – wild oats, fireweed, and tecalote. I also got several bottles of shoe polish and added some crankcase oil to it. I went around and slightly blew chaff on Seniors when they were not suspecting it. Adrian Adams, a friend, asked me to shine his shoes and I told him what I had done.

Friday when  I got off the bus, I was greeted by dozens of eager Seniors with lipstick tubes in hand and was soon appropriately decorated. The onions were smashed and began their stinking. The tape on my legs was slowly removed and restuck. We had to roll peanuts and lipstick tubes across the lawn and sidewalks with our noses during recesses. But I had my little box of chaff and used it accordingly and discreetly. Some freshmen were sticking toothpicks in all the football cleat holes leading up to the football field. Seventh period we had an assembly on the football field and all sorts of acts were done, to the laughing stock of the rest of the student body and our embarrassment.   Ah, wait until we are Seniors and we will get our turn.

The first rainstorm came and for PE we had dancing in the gym with the girls. I did not believe in dancing, a form of public foreplay, and didn’t know what to do. Bill McKinnon, my cousin and a Senior, had me sit with him and we faced the wall. The next day I had a note from my parents excusing me and that took care of that the rest of high school.

Each year each class put on an assembly for the rest of the school. We could all sit in the auditorium with around 400 students. The Seniors were in front center, the Juniors behind them. The  Sophomores sat on either side at the front and the Freshman sat in the rear on both sides. It was about 1953 and the Seniors had a scary assembly. Then at one point a .30 caliber machine gun, with blanks, opened fire from up in the balcony. It was just a loud, short burst. But a girl jumped up and ran screaming out of the assembly. We all instantly felt badly as we knew she had survived WW II in France. It was very sobering and the school and Seniors apologized to her. Coach Barnhart, the Senior advisor, was in charge of the school rifle team and he did not know this would not be a good idea. Barnhart had the loudest voice I have ever heard. He had played pro football for the Detroit Lions. His wife was an RN, with my wife, at War Memorial Hospital.

Coach Barnhart taught Sophomore world history upstairs on the big south room. In January after Christmas Vacation, I was sitting in his class when I realized that I had some itchy bumps on parts of my body. Oh, oh. I knew they were signs of poison oak. We had been hunting pigeons in Willow Creek during vacation and I had been in poison oak. I missed a week of class. Man, that sure did hurt.

I played Junior Varsity football my Junior year. My mother did not want me to play football. I had lots of chores like milking cows by hand, changing sprinkler pipes and often driving tractor. Our family did not have much cash and we had to work hard. I worked out a deal to ride home with another student so I played tackle. My family enjoyed watching me play and my Senior year I played Varsity football. I played defensive end and on special teams. We won the league championship in 1954, and lost the last CIF game, 21 to 7. I was 6 feet 1 inch tall and weighed 210 pounds. Bert Rovenstein came to football practice late with his deer rifle and a freshly killed buck. Coach Thomas was a hunter and the team gave him a new shotgun when he left Paso Robles in the summer of 1955 for Santa Maria. We all carried pocket knives to school and fellows had their guns in the back windows of their pickups.

I was in a college prep plan, but really wanted to take Agriculture. My Junior year my parents relented and I joined FFA as a Greenhand with all the freshman boys. I really enjoyed that class and learned so many useful things from Mr. Parsons. I had another initiation to go through. We were all blindfolded and towed a car all over the campus in the dark prodded on with paddles. Then we were taken into the Ag building and went through the regular rigmarole blindfolded – feeling peeled bananas in a toilet bowl, hamburger in a science manikin’s skull, a bitless drill chuck turned on our spine. About that time Brimhall bolted for home. The furor raised with that deal caused all hazing to be stopped. Period. There went our Senior initiation of the Freshmen the next fall. Now the students do not know those songs.

Sophomore English teacher Miss Easterling, known since 1934 as Easterburg, was my teacher. I liked her, as well as Junior English teacher Miss Swanson.  Miss McPeak was an excellent geometery teacher my Sophomore year. Our Spanish II teacher was not a Frenchman, Mr. Moreno. Mr. Kinkead was my Senior Chemistry teacher, an outstanding teacher who I really liked.  Miss Bobson was our Senior health teacher. Being a Christian Scientist, she skipped any medical problems. While in her class, my parents were at a church business meeting and we could not get my baby brother, one year old, to stop screaming and crying. I finally took off his diaper and saw a huge hernia sticking out his lower abdomen. I phoned my folks and they were home in 5 minutes, normally a 12 minute drive. The doctor fixed up Roger just fine.

Harold Franklin giving a school tour in 2008. Photo courtesy of www.atascaderonews.com

Harold Franklin giving a school tour in 2008. Photo courtesy of http://www.atascaderonews.com

One late winter day in February we had a big hail storm pass over the high school during lunch hour. It left about 3 inches of hail.  All we students flocked out and began a big hail ball fight. The bells rang for 5th period but we ignored them. Mr. Quade came out and told us we could stay out that period and have fun. And we sure did get sopping cold and wet. About the time for 6th period, most of the hail had melted and we were ready for 6th period when the bells rang.

Our Paso Robles High School graduation was on June 12, 1955, my birthday. We had Baccalaureate the Sunday evening before. Graduation was on the football field, just like nowadays, but not with all the flags. The band played, the Salutatorian and the Valedictorian spoke along with an adult. We were passed out our diploma covers and later received our diplomas when we turned in our caps and gowns.

At the awards assembly, I received a Scholarship letter for being in the California Scholarship Federation the six semesters of my Sophomore, Junior and Senior years. The CSF Sneak Day was at Atascadero Lake with a picnic and swimming. The only incident was when Fred Woodlawn dove into the lake and punctured his abdomen on a sharp root and had to go to the doctor for stitches. Along with a football Varsity letter with a small football pin for winning the league title. I also received a band pin for four years in band. Our Senior sneak was a trip to Greenfield and the Arroyo Seco River for swimming, sunbathing and a picnic.

We had our Senior Banquet at the Paso Robles Inn. It was a grand time. We had a grand meal and a fun program. Charlie Blair even downed a whole bottle of A! Steak sauce on a dare. I have not missed any class reunions. Next year we celebrate our 60th reunion! Where have all the years gone?  Out of 72 graduates, over 45 of us are still alive.

Our high school was remodeled in 1980 to have a full second story for George Flamson Middle School. Then the 2003 Earthquake condemned the whole building and today we have a new Flamson Middle School and since 1980, a new Paso Robles High School on Niblick Road.


2 thoughts on “Old Paso: Paso Robles High School Initiation

  1. Good memories. Just to clarify, coach barnhart played for green bay packets, not detroit. He was drafted out of colorado teachers college greeley, now univ of northern colorado, where he was inducted in their hall of fame.

  2. What a fantastic read and wonderful bit of Paso history, Mr. Franklin. You are an excellent writer. Thank you for sharing your memories.

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