Over the Hill

Memories of a Paso Robles, rescued community

Phil Dirkx
Phil Dirkx

Dorothy Baxter of Paso Robles turns 100 next Friday.

She no longer drives, but she’s still independent in many ways. When I called her house, she answered the phone. When I rang her doorbell, she opened the door. There was no one else there to do it. And her memory supplied most of the dates, quotations and opinions in this article.

This is the second column of a two-part article about Mrs. Baxter. Read the first column here.

Let’s start with her opinion about Camp Roberts, which the U.S. Army built in 1940 and 1941, 10 miles north of Paso Robles.

She said, “The camp saved Paso Robles.” Certainly the construction and operation of Camp Roberts lifted Paso Robles out of the 1930s’ Great Depression.

Times had been tough. Dorothy and her husband, Curtis Baxter, worked in an almond processing plant owned by her father, Frank Slate. She was paid 25 cents per hour, and Curtis got 50 cents.

He emptied sacks of picked almonds into the huller machine, and she took broken nut meats off the conveyor belt.

They had been married on Jan. 1, 1938, in the music room of the El Paso de Robles Hot Springs Hotel, which stood where the Paso Robles Inn is now.

Paso Robles’ population in 1940 was 3,045. Then, in 1941, Camp Roberts started training soldiers for World War II. The camp was built to accommodate 29,000 soldiers and officers. Eventually it held 45,000. Paso Robles was saved.

Curtis found jobs at Camp Roberts building mess halls and repairing vehicles. Toward the end of the war, a metal particle got into one of his eyes. Dorothy said he received an overdose of anesthetic at the camp hospital and suffered seizures. It took him at least a year to recover.

In 1947, he suggested opening an office supply store. They had only $250 and no bank account. But she agreed, and for the next 28 years they operated Paso Robles Office Supplies store at 608 12th St.

At first, no office machine maker would accept them as a franchised dealer. They had to sell San Luis Obispo dealers’ machines for 15 percent commission. But they kept trying and landed the county franchise for Hermes office equipment.

“Then we started making money,” she said.

In 1974, Curtis saw that computers would soon supplant typewriters. So, the Baxters stopped replacing sold merchandise. Then in 1975, they closed the store and retired.

Curtis died in 1995 with Alzheimer’s disease. They had no children. But a nephew and his wife have organized a 100th birthday party for Dorothy, with 55 people invited.

At the end of our interview, Dorothy told me, “I sold office machines for so many years and still don’t have a computer.”