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Canfield man reflects on 100 years on farm, at war, at work

Staff photo / J.T. Whitehouse.... Relaxing on the porch of his daughter’s Canfield home, Daryl “Jim”Duffett says it all with his hat “100 never looked so good.”

By J.T. WHITEHOUSE

Staff writer

CANFIELD — Young children often get a nickname that ends up sticking with them the rest of their life. That is the case for Daryl George Duffett, commonly known as “Jim.”

“I was called Jim as a child,” Duffett said. “I don’t know where the name came from or how I got it as a nickname.”

Duffett was one of three children. His parents were George and Mildred Duffett. He spent the early years of his childhood in the Columbus area until a devastating turn of events. Mildred died of food poisoning when Duffett was 7 or 8.

His father, George, ran a construction steam engine that worked on the Pennsylvania Railroad. Because his father traveled from town to town, and with no mother to take care of the children, Duffett, his brother Cecil, and his sister Glenna were placed with other relatives. Duffett went to Vickery, Ohio, to live with his aunt and uncle, Art and Lulu Duffett.

“My job was to take care of six horses, while my uncle milked his dairy cattle,” Duffett said. “I remember we had to get up early, and one time I slept in. My uncle took the razor strap to me, and I never slept in again.”

Duffett enjoyed growing up on the farm and he became a 4-H member and showed pigs at the Sandusky County Fair in the late 1930s. He said one of those fairs was the first and last time he would smoke tobacco.

“I won a cigar playing a carnival game,” he said. “I thought it was neat, lit it, and walked around blowing smoke at girls. Later I got real sick and never smoked again.”

Duffett attended Townsend High School in Vickery, located between Fremont and Sandusky. He served as class president, and said he was “the sixth smartest boy out of the 11 boys in his class.” He graduated in 1940. The high school was closed in 1989.

George did remarry, but Duffett said the children were never brought back together.

After graduation, Duffett moved to the Mahoning Valley and lived in a trailer park on Mahoning Avenue in Austintown. While there, he got a job as a gandy dancer (working on the railroad) with the Ferguson and Edmunson Co. out of Pittsburgh. The company worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad.

“I later went to help my dad (George) as an oiler on his crane in a steel mill,” Daryl said. “I ended up getting my union card and learned to operate the crane and other equipment.”

MILITARY SERVICE

In October 1942, Duffett said he signed up with the draft board and was ready to serve. He received a letter that month to show up for service. He originally wanted to be a pilot, but failed the test by nine points. With his industrial crane skills, it was obvious he would do well to serve in a newly formed unit called the Seabees, a construction battalion with the U.S. Navy that consisted of electricians, plumbers, craftsmen, carpenters, equipment operators and other highly skilled tradesmen for construction and combat purposes.

“The average age of men in the Seabees was 38,” Duffett said. “I was 20 and the youngest one there.”

He took his training at Camp Bradford, R.I., and went on to serve in the African Theater in April 1943. He was assigned to an LST, a flat-bottom landing ship that carried tanks and mobile equipment. He helped build bridges and runways in advance of the invasion of Sicily.

In 1944, he was sent to Pearl Harbor in the Pacific Theater to help construct pontoon barges for the planned invasion of Iwo Jima, helped carry supplies in Okinawa in advance of a planned invasion, and served in the Philippines and Guam. In his duties with the Seabees, Duffett learned to operate a highly sophisticated bucket crane and, in diving school, how to weld underwater with a specialized piece of equipment.

FARMING AND CONSTRUCTION

With his new skill set, he was discharged on Jan. 14, 1946, and returned to his Youngstown home. He said he got back into construction for a short time, before moving to Vickery to farm about 250 acres of his uncle’s farm.

“When I grew up on the farm, we would plow with horses,” he said. “When I came back, we were using tractors.”

Duffett stayed on the farm for four years, after which he returned to Youngstown where he continued his career in construction. He became a member of Operating Engineers Local 66 out of the Pittsburgh District, which also covered the Tri-County area in Ohio.

“I was told I was one of the top three crane operators in the (Mahoning) Valley,” he said.

PERSONAL LIFE

For a past time, Duffett and his buddies would go to dances in the area to ballrooms like the one at Idora Park. It was at a dance that he met Louise Welther on Dec. 13, 1952. Eleven months later, he married her and the couple moved to Canfield to start a family on Callahan Road.

Duffett served on the city of Canfield’s first charter commission. He said at that time, the city was small and just began growing. Callahan Road had only 10 houses on it in 1953 and Duffett said “it was the end of the village.”

Duffett said he enjoyed 47 years of marriage with Louise. The couple had two children, James Duffett and Jayne (Duffett) Boucherle. Louise died of cancer on May 10, 2000.

As Duffett hit the 100-year mark on June 7, he had a chance to look back at the changes he has witnessed over the years. Among the highlights of his life was when he operated the crane that set the first two bays of steel for the new Lordstown General Motors plant. He also worked on the William F. Maag Jr. Library on the Youngstown State University campus.

He served on the executive board for Local 66 and helped negotiate the first apprenticeship program between contractors and the union.

Duffett said so much has changed over his life. He said families 100 years ago didn’t have stores to go buy vegetables, but ended up growing them on farms and in gardens. He said even the local Kroger store was different.

“We used to walk in the store and give the grocer a list. He would then gather your items together for you,” Duffett said.

Duffett lives next to his daughter and her husband Paul, and he still keeps active.

“He has a John Deere 48 tractor and he has mowed both his lawn and ours for the past 22 years,” Jayne said.

Jayne took him to the June 1 Canfield City Council meeting, where Mayor Don Dragish presented him with a proclamation for making the 100-year mark, and for all he has done over his life and in service to his country.

To suggest a Saturday profile, contact Features Editor Burton Cole at bcole@tribtoday.com or Metro Editor Marly Reichert at mreichert@tribtoday.com.

jtwhitehouse@vindy.com

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