2008-08-14 / Community
Longtime resident reflects on 62 years in T.O.
Ruth and Emmett Pruett came to town with their three children seeking employment after WWII
In 1946, when Ruth and Emmet Pruett and their three children— Carroll, 9, Linda, 4, and Gary, 2— moved from Missouri to a small California town, they found roaring lions, a few paved streets and about 500 people living in what was to become Thousand Oaks.
"We were sharecroppers who couldn't find work after the war," Ruth said. "Emmett had family living in Hidden Valley, and they said there was farmers who needed workers, so we came to California."
After they arrived, she said, Emmett took a walk and stopped to watch a man building a house. Soon the man asked him, "You looking for work?" Emmett answered, "Maybe." The man told him to pick up a shovel and get busy.
That's how Emmett, who later built the original Lupe's and Sizzler restaurants in Thousand Oaks, began his career as a carpenter and contractor, his son Carroll said. He was also "carpenter to the stars," doing work for his friend, singer Dean Martin, and other celebrities, including Robert Wagner and Richard Widmark.
The local celebrities did their grocery shopping with everyone else at Oakdale Market on Thousand Oaks Boulevard, Ruth said.
Carroll recalled how his father and Martin used to go out and shoot pool together. The character of Emmett the bookie in a recurring barbershop sketch on "The Dean Martin Show" was named after Emmett Pruett, Carroll said, and his brother Gary still has the barber chair that Martin gave their father.
Many of the families' Christmas decorations came from a Dean Martin Christmas special. Some of those decorations were sold recently at a garage sale held to help Ruth prepare to move out of the Crescent Way home where she had lived for 62 years.
The 1,200-square-foot house was originally much smaller. Linda said she used to sleep on a rollaway bed in her parents' room while her brothers shared a twin bed in the hallway.
The Pruetts paid $5,000 for the home when lots in the area were selling for $50 each, Carroll said. Property tax cost $48 for the first year.
Emmett added on to the house, and he and Ruth lived there together until he passed away eight years ago. On Sunday, with the help of all three of her children, the 92yearold packed up her belongs and moved to live with her daughter in Oregon.
"It's okay that I go now," she said with tears in her eyes and a sigh in her voice. "I'm going to miss my friends here—and the weather— it'll be different."
Before she said goodbye she and her children took time to remember what life was like in Thousand Oaks almost two decades before it became a city.
Emmett served on the water board. The water company consisted of one truck and one water tank, Carroll said. The land surrounding them was ranchland with cattle on it. Neighbors raised steers, chickens and goats. Everyone had a garden.
Not far away they'd hear lions roaring every night and morning at Goebel's Lion Farm. Once a black panther escaped, and the children worried they would get eaten. Many years later, Newbury Park High School's mascot was named after that escaped panther.
"The worst escape was the monkeys. About 400 or 500 of them got loose, and everybody had monkeys in their trees," Ruth said.
It took two or three weeks before the monkeys got hungry enough to go back to Goebel's, she said.
The chimpanzee trainer for Goebel's lived across the street from the Pruetts. He trained the chimps to work in films, and some of them appeared in Tarzan movies.
"He had chimps over at his house wearing clothes. He'd bring them over to play with Linda because she had a small table and chair set that was just the right size," Carroll said.
"I liked it until one of them bit my finger," Linda said.
Children would leave the house early in the morning to go outside and play and would not return home until after dark. They ran wild through the open fields, had dirt clod wars, played hide-and-seek and kick the can. The older boys would hunt rabbits.
As a child, Carroll worked at the lion farm, which later became Jungleland, selling bags of peanuts to the crowds who came to see the elephants, lions, camels and other wild animals. He earned a penny a bag and would sell until he sold 100 bags and made $1.
With his earnings he could go to the closest movie theater in Camarillo, buy a malt and have a couple of sodas during the next week, he said.
When Carroll and his siblings were teens they would swim with their friends in a community pool at 223 E. Thousand Oaks Boulevard, where a four-story building now stands. A season's pass for a family cost $10.
There were barbecues at the Janss Ranch, located where the Janss Marketplace is now. There was an airport, and the hangar stood where Denny's restaurant is at Thousand Oaks Boulevard and Moorpark Road.
In the early 1950s when Marlon Brando came to town to shoot the movie The Wild One, every boy in town had to get a motorcycle. Usually, though, things were pretty quiet around town, the family recalled.
There was only one school in town for younger children. High school students were bussed to Camarillo.
Moving from Missouri, where all of her family lived, was not an easy thing for Ruth to do 62 years ago, but she fell in love with Thousand Oaks.
"I was never as close to my family again," she said, though she did keep in touch, driving with the children back to Missouri each summer in a car with no air conditioning.
The Pruetts recalled a lot of snow in the winter of 1948 and a flood in 1951. They welcomed the boom of the 1960s because it brought dependable water—the old water used to stink—and more shopping and schools.
Ruth has been a volunteer at Manna, two doors away from her home, and will miss the gang over there, she said.
Gary lives in Vancouver, Wash., and Carroll lives in Arroyo Grande, Calif.
Ruth, who has seven grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren, said she's ready for a new adventure. And she and her family plan to come back and visit Thousand Oaks, their hometown forever.