Over the Hill

The revival of Camp Roberts

Here’s a puzzle: The 1950 Census listed Paso Robles’ population as 6,148. The Paso Robles Yellow Cab Co. had four cabs. But in August 1950, the cab company’s owners, Frank Stockalper and Al Christensen, bought seven more cars. Why?

Hint: The answer was on The Tribune’s front page last Friday. Still stumped? Don’t feel bad; the Korean War is called “The Forgotten War.” It started June 25, 1950, and increased the taxi business.

The Korean War cost America 33,574 battle deaths. The shooting stopped in July 1953 when an armistice was signed, but there’s still no peace treaty.

This column, however, isn’t about the fighting in Korea; it’s about the home front in Paso Robles and San Miguel. For those two towns, the big Korean War news came Aug. 9, 1950: The Army announced it was reopening Camp Roberts.

In 1950, most North County people vividly remembered Camp Roberts being built nine years earlier. During World War II, Camp Roberts trained 436,000 soldiers and turned Paso Robles and San Miguel into jam-packed boom towns.

But the boom had all fizzled away by the time Camp Roberts closed officially in June 1946, nine months after WWII ended.

When Stockalper and Christensen heard Camp Roberts was reopening, they hustled to Los Angeles and bought five seven-passenger De Sotos and two five-passenger Packards.

You see, during WWII, Camp Roberts held as many as 40,000 trainees plus other military and civilian personnel, many of whom needed taxi rides. Most Army trainees who got passes or furloughs wanted to quickly get away to enjoy their brief taste of the life civilians take for granted. Six to eight would gladly jam into a cab for a ride to town.

The Army announced the Camp Roberts reopening on a Wednesday. The following Monday, 200 civilian workers were already starting $3 million worth of rehabilitation and repairs.

By the next day, all San Miguel floor space and street frontage was reported entirely leased, and Paso Robles was experiencing an immediate surge in demand for retail space and rental housing.

By the end of 1950, the available housing was full. Many military and civilian personnel from Camp Roberts commuted 100 miles per day. And new people continued to arrive.

I arrived in March 1952, when the Army transferred me to Camp Roberts. Mamie Woods arrived later that year, when the telephone company transferred her from Hanford to Paso Robles.

We were married in a Camp Roberts chapel Sept. 19, 1953. We never forget the Korean War.