Wednesday, May 6, 2020

52 Ancestors - SERVICE: Davis Radios and Service

This week’s prompt makes me think how often we say “Thank you for your service” to men and women in the armed services. Now in that greeting we are including health-care workers, postal carriers, grocery store employees, garbage collectors, and many others who risk their own health keeping us safe during the current Coronavirus pandemic.
Items found in Davis attic 2020
Stuff from the attic
Before the “stay home” order, I was contacted by the current owner of my grandparents’ house after she discovered several boxes of my family’s STUFF hidden away in the attic. I was glad to retrieve it even though none of it is especially valuable except to a family historian.

Three pieces of paper held together with a rusted paper clip outline my maternal grandfather’s work career. I can think of only one logical explanation for why Orvin Davis made a list of places he worked and when. The family moved from Shenandoah to Portsmouth around 1940, so it is a reasonable assumption that he was preparing an application to the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

O O Davis list of jobs
The smallest piece of paper is the least complete. The numbers at the bottom of the page might be a reminder to check his employment for the years 1914-1917 and 1918.
1 Natl Heat & Power 14 mo Left 11-39
2 Owner – garage 1922 to 1938
3 Gibson Motor Co 2 yrs Left 1922
4 U.S. Post Office 1 yr Left 1920
5 Combs Motor Co 1 yr Left 1919

O O Davis list of jobs

This next page fills in some gaps and includes more exact dates.
May 15, 1940
Oct 1938 to Oct 1939 Nat Heat & Power
Massanutten Co Inc 11-39 to present time
National Heat & Power Co Oct 38 to Nov 39
Own Garage & Machine Shop 1923-1938  - lathe
Gibson Motors 1920-1922 Machine Shop
U.S. Post Office 1919 Auto rep Feb to Dec
Combs Motor Co 1918 Auto rep Apr to Feb 1919
Mich State Auto School 1917 Oct to April 1918
Shendo Planing Mills 1914-1917
Jan 1918 – Oct 1938 Town of Shenandoah

The large paper is the one I noticed because of the letterhead.
 (See what I did – SERVICE). The papers all confirm one thing I knew about my grandfather: that he owned his own auto repair shop for a time.

O O Davis list of jobs

6-1914 to 11-1917 Carpenter Shenandoah Planing Mill
11-1917 to 5-1918 Mechanical School Detroit Mich
5-1918 to 1-1922 Auto repair Shenandoah Va for self
1-1922 to 3-1937 radio and electrical contracting for self
3-1937 to 3-1938 Electrician J.D. Cash Shenandoah, Va
3-1938 – 10-1938 [Ditto] Virginia Skyline Corp
10-1938 – 12-1938 out of employment
12-1938 to 11-39 present time Electrician National Heat & Power Co Shenandoah Va
11-39 to 7-1-40 July 1, 1940 to present time Massanutten Co Inc

Just about everything was NEW information to me.
  • That he worked for his father at Shenandoah Planing Mills from 1914-1917. He was a teenager of 15 when he started there. I knew my great-grandfather was a carpenter who built many homes in Shenandoah, and I was aware of a building that he worked out of. However, I never knew it was a separate business with a NAME.
  • That he attended the Michigan State Auto School. The school did an awful lot of advertising.
    Ad for Michigan State Auto School
    Part of ad for Michigan State Auto School
    appeared in Popular Mechanics
    from Google Books
  • That he worked for the post office. It appears he might have been performing auto repair for the post office, not delivering mail.
  • That he worked for two motor companies – Combs Motor from 1918-1919 and Gibson Motor from 1920-1922. That seems to be about the time he went into business for himself.
  • That he worked as an electrician for various companies: for Virginia Skyline Corporation, National Heat & Power Company, and Massanutten Power Corporation.

While I knew the Davis Store was never my grandfather’s main interest, I was still surprised that it was not in his list in any form. His father Walter Davis was the builder and owner. Over the years the store receipts bore various names: W. B. Davis, W. B. Davis & Sons, W. B. Davis & Son. After Walter died in 1934, my grandmother continued to work there. According to the 1940 Federal census, Granddaddy was manager and owner of the Davis Store.

Ironically, in the 1940 census, Granddaddy also claimed to have been out of work during 1939 and received no income. Methinks Granddaddy contradicted himself.

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

© 2020, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.


  1. Wow, what a wonderful find! Such great information. Maybe on the census where he stated no income he was just having a bad day and decided it was none of their business what he made!

  2. Great documentation of your grandfather's career changes...all of which made his life. Building houses too!

  3. Your family history luck just never ends. I am so envious of all your photos and now this! I love being able to see things in their own handwriting, but getting all that new information that is first hand is a real bonus.

  4. He did have a full career I do believe! Nowadays with all stuff kept on computers I wonder how future generations will find information like this.


  5. My great-aunt made a list like this for her long life. I really appreciate having it as I work on a possible book for the family about her life.

  6. What great - NEW! - information. So glad the owners took the time to find you and share this with you.