By Harold Fuller
He was a renegade Irish Australian; one of Hawthorne’s most memorable characters. He was J.F. McLaughlin, who readily proclaimed himself a socialist; was a full blown atheist and given the opportunity, he would readily die a revolutionary. He believed in communism before most anyone else knew just what that meant. He was a businessman who sold gasoline and oil, and occasionally a little whiskey on the side during prohibition, all while renouncing capitalism and all that those other “money grubbers” stood for. He was an independent thinker who wouldn’t hesitate to defend his political position; argue his economic beliefs or just let you know what he thought about the sun coming up each morning. Mac was Mac and people loved hi, for it.
He came to Hawthorne in 1928 after he heard about the impending opening of the naval depot. He procured property on the corner of 6 and E Street. He proceeded to build his Highway Service Station and a few adjoining cabins. He opened for business on August 10, 1928 and operated his station a little different than most; he would wash your windshield, check your oil level and the air in your tires but if you wanted a flat fixed, forget it. He wouldn’t just do it; said he was too old. He believed that if these younger kids couldn’t do it, they shouldn’t be driving. With Mac loving to converse and expound his beliefs so much, he spent as much time as possible up at Jed Chapman’s Barber Shop.
Jed had received his discharge from the local Marine Barracks and while being a fine barber and well respected man around town, he loved to get Mac’s goat. It happened time and time again that one of the “just finished hair cut customers” would leave Jed’s shop, get in his car, go around the block, pull into Mac’s station and lay on the horn. Someone would holler “you got a customer, Mac.” Mac would bail out of the shop; run down to the station just in time to see his “customer” pull out. He would turn the air blue with his strong Aussie accent.
Jack McCloskey, our esteemed local newspaper man, would tell these stories about mac and laugh until he about choked on his pipe.
It wasn’t all one way; Mac could give it back too and frequently did. Mac got a BB-gun somewhere and enjoyed sneaking up the street and taking a pot shot at Jed or R.B. Peterson now and again. Worked fine until Mac hit one of Jed’s out of town customers.
Jed, Mac and R.B. were close friends but a newcomer would never know it.
Then, on Christmas Eve night 1935, Mac was set upon by a hatchet swinging robber who just about did poor old Mac in. He had been reading that evening in the rear housing until just next to the station when he heard a lady’s voice call out to him. Answering the door, he looked out into the darkness and that was all he remembered. After regaining conscience, sometime later, he made his way to Lou Berrum’s house and Lou made arrangements to get him to the Naval Depot Hospital, where he was taken care of by the CCC camp doctor.
Mac had been hit six times in the head and suffered severe cuts and a slightly fractured skull. R.B. would later say, “More stitches went into his head than a fresh made dress.”
Sometime later Mac would recall, “I remember hearing a woman’s voice and seeing a woman’s skirt but she must have had someone with her. What I can’t figure is why they left two ten dollar bills in my wallet and never bothered with the silver. I had 57 dollars in my wallet and still have the two tens.”
It was believed by some of his friends that it was a good thing the attack was to Mac’s head because he could have never survived that hatchet anywhere else.
Mac’s assailant was never apprehended and after a short stay at the Mineral County Hospital he was back at work, the same old mac at the same old stand.
Fuller’s Note: Excerpts taken from Jack McCloskey’s oral history.