Army Surplus

33 thoughts on “Army Surplus”

  1. The old base in Alameda is amazing! My brother worked there in a bookstore about ten years ago, and I loved walking around. Thanks for the photos!

    1. You should see the old WPA-era public housing we’ve still got here in Austin. Low-rise, and still have the same original clothesline posts!

  2. A few years ago I bought a bank foreclosure and rehabbed it from the studs up. It was a WW II GI house that was disassembled (along with 20 or so twins) from where it was built in the late 40s and moved a few hours away to the neighborhood where it is currently. If the attached garage hadn’t been converted to living space and a third bedroom not added, it would have been about 90 sq ft or so, about the size of those cottages out there in Cali it looks like. The studs were very high quality, as was the foundation.

    It’s a good thing the stuff we’re still using from the WW II era was so well built. It’s funny to think about trying to leave our built environment to the people a few generations down the line with our current shitty-built stuff that Johnny has documented.

    1. As I’m so fond of saying, no one will ever inherit their great grandmother’s Ikea furniture or her home made of oriented strand board and vinyl siding.

      1. Yes. I’m working on a brick 1959 ranch, and the studs are all good straight kiln-dried lumber. The poured concrete basement has exactly one crack after 60 years. It’s getting rot repairs, new mechanicals, new baths and kitchen, some wiring updates, and new windows. (The integrated one car garage had a “hillbilly conversion” that I am upgrading also.)

        A young family with a moderate income will get a good small house (1050sf is small in the Midwest) that shouldn’t need much until their kids are grown.

        It has a newer huge garage (24×36) suitable for a tradesman or hobbyist.

        Punch line: It will sell for a shade over $100K and is in a decent public school district.

    2. I live in a WW2 house on Vancouver Island. It is identical to the house and neighbourhood my parents owned and brought me home from the hospital to after my birth in 1948 in the interior of the province. There are the same housing tracts built by the Veterens Land Act after the war all over the country. My folks/my house are the larger 2 story version, 2 bedrooms up,1 down at 1100 square feet. On my block as a child there were 2-4 children per house. 54 kids on our block. The construction is solid- real first growth 2×6 framing. Fir flooring 1/2″ thick. My neighbours now are mostly retired with only one family with kids on my block. Great little houses. We’ve come a long way from 1946 when our house was the standard size for a family of 5. The small houses and apartments in the photos above look solid and totally adequate for families. Too bad about all the rules and regs these days. There are a lot of families who’d love to get their hands on those you’ve photographed.

  3. I’ll bet that base is seriously at risk from global warming driven sea level change. Already some Bay Area landfill areas are being affected by king tide flooding, and it might accelerate markedly this century.

    1. I’m beginning to believe that some facsimile of the Reber Plan will be used to combat Bay Area flooding.

  4. Everyone who has an interest in WW 2 accommodations should visit Angel Island. Beautiful views and a history lesson on several levels.

  5. I can’t locate the source at the moment, but I recall reading that advancements in chemistry from wartime research along with a surplus of chemicals at the end of WWII changed farming forever (e.g. the use of pesticides and factory-produced fertilizers soared). I’ll have to see if I can find the source later this week.

    1. Synthetic nitrogen fertilizer was invented by a German chemist named Fritz Haber just before WWI. He won a Nobel prize. Carl Bosch was the engineer who built the equipment. The Haber-Bosch method is directly responsible for artificially increasing the food supply. Haber went on to invent chemical weapons that were used in the war. He also invented insecticides for boosting agricultural production and preserving grain after harvest. Those same chemicals were later used in the Nazi camps. Haber was a Jew who had to escape Germany. Crazy how things unfold…

      1. Ooops. I had my World Wars confused. Anyway, I found the article buried deep in my bookmarks.

        “By the end of World War II, the United States had built 10 large-scale nitrate factories to make bombs. With Europe’s and Japan’s production facilities in ruins, the US entered the postwar period as the undisputed global champion of nitrogen production. The industry quickly shifted from munitions to fertilizer and domestic consumption began to skyrocket, driven, Smil writes, by the rise of new hybrid strains of corn, ‘the first kind of high-yielding grain cultivar dependent on higher fertilizer applications.'”

        I didn’t know that background on Haber. Interesting.

        1. The hybrid corn and wheat story is also interesting. Norman Borlaug was behind that. Google him. And then check out Charles C. Mann’s book / videos about the “The Wizard and the Prophet.”

  6. It’s interesting that every one of those clothesline stanchions in the back yards has survived the intervening 75+ years since WW-II. Those must be the best-built closelines in history. They weren’t talking about “carbon footprints” during WW-II but frankly much of what was done at that time was pretty energy-efficient for other reasons.

    1. I noticed the clothes lines too, although I focused on the fact that none of them were being used and didn’t even have rope attached to them. Drying clothes on a line has become a mark of poverty and shame and is effectively outlawed in many places – either by an HOA or municipal ordinances. I suspect this might change during the next period of national emergency when clothes dryers fall off the priority list.

      1. Does that have anything to do with Americans’ distaste for private gardens? If you neighbour has a back garden with a proper wall around it, you can’t see their clothesline and they can’t see yours, so you can’t tell if they’re dragging down the tone of the neighbourhood. Good fences make good neighbours.

        But Americans don’t like privacy. It stops them from being busybodies.

        1. Since those are Army housing I’m guessing they left off all the fences so that the crews can mow 20 yards at once. If it were regular suburbia, every yard would have long ago been enclosed by cedar privacy fencing.

      2. I’m fortunate to live in a community which hasn’t outlawed clotheslines. We and only two neighbours regularly hang laundry, thereby avoiding spending a pile of money on electricity or gas.

        We don’t have an electric or gas dryer and tell people we have a solar and wind powered dryer . . some get it. Folks ask ‘what about in the winter?’ We hang our laundry outside then as well and it gets mostly dry. Then we bring it in to finish in front of a fan or portable heater.

      3. Here in Austin, where the summer temperatures regularly exceed 100 degrees in low (semi-semi-arid) humidity, the utility company will credit you $300 for new a gas dryer hookup and an additional $300 to a new gas dryer.

        Because of the strain put on the electrical grid by Air conditioners and dryers run simultaneously.

        But G-d forbid you put your clothes on a string and let the sun and breeze do the job… What if the neighbors see? MY PROPERTY VALUES!

    2. > frankly much of what was done at that time was pretty energy-efficient for other reasons.

      One big reason was that people were just less comfortable. They wore sweaters indoors in the winter and sweat at night during the summer. This was because houses of that era, despite being made of nice “heirloom” wood, were unsealed and uninsulated, and therefore were very inefficient to heat. Of course residential A/C was very uncommon.

      1. Also, heating fuel was much cheaper back then, so people didn’t mind burning a lot of it. That all started changing with the oil shocks of the 1970s.

        Since 1952, fuel oil prices have seen 4.82% inflation, vs 3.42% for the overall rate:

        It’s not an apples to apples comparison, since today we mostly heat with natural gas today, but the general trend of escalating fossil fuel prices since the 1970s holds for natural gas also:

        But the greenest thing they did back then was just live in smaller houses. An inefficient 1200 sqft house is still going to consume far less energy than a 3000 sqft home that is insulated per 1980s to early 2000s specs.

        1. Not so sure about that. My son lives in a barely-insulated 1941 2-br bungalow under 900sf, and my wife and I live in a 90s 2,400sf house. The heating and cooling bills on the smaller house are not “far less” (same metro, same utility base costs).

          1. The best of both worlds is to insulate the smaller older homes to a modern standard. I’ve done that myself with a 1941 two bed one bath 700 square foot place. Comfort is 100% and the energy consumption is rock bottom.

            1. It’ll need new doors and windows to properly tighten up, and that will whack a notch off the charm…the original wood windows are 8 over 8 divided light, and the doors are half-light.

              It was a perfect divorced dad house for me when I owned it, but I never had the heart to get rid of the windows and doors.

              1. My grandfather would put up storm windows in fall and take them down in the spring. Grandma put up heavy wool drapes in winter and then light chiffon in summer. Works 90% as well as modern double glazed units.

                1. The front door is the worst culprit and I always rolled up an old towel or rug in winter and laid it at the bottom. (Everyone used the side door anyway. )

                  I also kept the thermostat at 67 winter, 78/80 summer, and ran a dehumidifier.

                  1. The moral of the story seems to be that you need to do the work – or pay someone/something to do it for you, i.e. fossil fuels, air conditioners, etc.

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