"Knives & Schools: Yesterday & Today" by Frank Trzaska

[from the April, 2003 KNIFE WORLD]

Crozier Tech
Recently, a quick search on the internet under “knife” and “expelled” produced the following:

** A young man arrived at his high school junior prom wearing a traditional Scottish outfit, complete with all the trimmings. Two hours into the prom, a chaperone noticed one of his accessories. This was a small knife known as a sgian dubh, which was worn in the top of his sock. He was immediately expelled from the prom, and banned from attending class for the rest of the school year. Now, he awaits word on whether he will be allowed to return to high school for his senior year.

** A Beloit kindergartner who found a butter knife while walking to school was suspended for five days for possessing a weapon. The boy and a friend carried the knife to Cunningham Elementary School and threw it into the ground, trying to make it stand upright, said the child’s father, who did not want to be identified to prevent drawing additional attention to the boy.

** A Fort Myers, Florida honor student had a five-inch serrated blade kitchen knife lying on the floor on her car in the high school parking lot. Arrested by police and forbidden by school officials to attend her graduation, the student offered the explanation that she had moved her grandmother over the weekend and the knife had fallen out of a box.

** A 10-year-old in Colorado was expelled because her mother put a small knife in her lunchbox to cut an apple. When the girl realized the knife could violate the schools anti-weapons policy, she turned it over to a teacher. The school then expelled the girl.

** A Pensacola, Florida honor student was suspended for 10 days for possessing nail clippers that included a filing implement.

** In Indiana, a gifted 15-year-old female violinist was suspended for a semester in 1996 for taking a Swiss Army Knife to school to trim violin strings.

** At Curtisville Elementary School, a 5-year-old was suspended for wearing a 5-inch plastic ax as part of his firefighter’s costume to a Halloween party in his classroom. After firefighters around the country contacted school officials complaining about the incident, school officials composed an open letter to firemen across the country stating that they never intended to offend firefighters by referring to the ax as a weapon, but defending the zero tolerance policy against weapons as fair.

** A second grader who brought her grandfathers pocket watch to school for show and tell, which had a 1 pocketknife attached, was suspended and sent to an alternative school for a month.

Do you see a pattern here? Like the country singer Charlie Daniels, many of us “believe that political correctness is the scourge of modern mankind.” I carried a pocketknife to school every day that I can remember, and still do carry one. Until the recent airline ban on knives, that trusty MIL-K knife sat in my back pocket on every flight I ever took. Knives in school just weren’t a big deal as a kid; the big one was a match! “Ooh teacher, he has matches!”... now that would get you into big trouble! Somehow we, as a society, have lost the grasp on a knife being a tool and assigned it a wicked status. Combine this with a zero tolerance policy and we have a nice neat little package that politicians can sell, and sell it they do. After all, who would want their child to be in a school full of weapons? It may all just come down to a matter of semantics, but it is very real and it affects the lives of our kids for years to come.

There was such a time, before political correctness sunk its fangs into the American psyche, when knives in school were welcomed, even encouraged. We take pleasure in telling you that story.

Upon America’s entry into World War Two, our troops were painfully short of many items of equipment. Many were not even known at the time, as a new type of war was being fought. Large-scale troop movements in diverse weather conditions made supply a real problem. Clothing and weapons were the first big step, without which our troops could not enter any battle. Knives were on the agenda, but pretty far down on the list. The need was there, but the supply was lacking. From this outcry, small backyard makers and large cutleries alike came to the rescue. Drives were put on, like the “Save A Life With A Knife” campaign, which collected knives from civilians to be shipped to men in theatres around the globe. Also, an amazing thing happened in a Texas school; they decided to make knives. They would use the school’s shop and students to aid the war effort.

Norman Robert Crozier Technical High School, located at 2218 Bryan St., Dallas, Texas, encompassed five buildings situated on 5.4 acres. The school was started in 1884 when the newly formed Dallas Public School District purchased the location from the Dallas Female College. Buildings and shops were added as the District grew. In 1906 the main building was completed; at the time it was state of the art with a complete machine shop at the rear.

Who originally came up with the idea to produce knives at Crozier Tech is still a mystery. We do know that the first reference to the school producing knives credits a Mr. Loucks with heading up the program. This was in late 1942. By February 1943, the school had finished the tooling and setup for production with over 100 knives being produced to date. The goal was to attain 100 knives per month from the students. In the process of making knives, several of the school’s shops were put to work. The Beginners Metal Shop would anneal the used files and saw blades obtained from the local North American Aviation War Plant and a Louisiana lumber mill. Next, they would proceed to the Advanced Metal Shop for forging and milling into the familiar knife shape. Back again they went to the Beginners Shop for fitting of guards, and then off to the Welding Shop to have the guards and handles, depending on the style of knife, welded in place. If a wood handle was to be installed, it would naturally make a stop at the Wood Shop to be fitted with a “bois d’arc” handle — bois d’arc being a tree common to the southern and central U.S., also known as osage orange and hedge apple. Word soon spread and the “Texas Bowie Knives” and “Scalping Knives” as they were termed were very much in demand. And why not? It was a good deal for the students, who learned a basic skill and the formula of production as well as supply and demand, while the servicemen received a good quality knife for only the cost of shipping. That’s right, they were given away at no charge to any serviceman or family member who requested one, shipping was $0.25 for the package.

One of the instructors in the Metal Shop was a Mr. Tom Merry, who gave his age as 86 in 1943. Mr. Merry, an Englishman, would walk nearly four miles to school each day to teach his trade to the students. Born in England, Mr. Merry worked in blacksmith shops and metal shops his entire life. He wanted to pass along that hard-earned knowledge while also helping the war effort. Making combat knives filled the bill.

As the requests started to pour in, the school recruited the Adult Evening School students to take up where the daytime kids left off. This helped to boost the output required at the time. By April 1943, over 300 knives had been completed and sent to just about every active theatre in the war, but this still couldn’t meet the demand. Servicemen, WAAC’s (Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps) and WAVE’s (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) stationed around Dallas were asked to lend a hand a few hours a night, no experience needed. By this time, the requirements were so high that all six periods of the general machine shops were at work during the day with as many volunteers and Evening School students as could be found. The Science Department was also recruited to test every knife before it was shipped as the final inspectors. They developed a “pull” test and a “hardness & tension” exam to be passed before the knives were pronounced fit for duty. The school was turning into a full-blown cutlery!

Among the many requests that came in, the most notable was from Gene Autry and the officers of his unit, who urged the students on. Others, from former students now in the service, were posted and written up in the school’s paper. Lines like “Those Bowie knives the fellows at Tech are making come in handy. I know, for I used one in the South Pacific.” were posted to spur the students on.

Another fact to consider is that it wasn’t only boys or men who made these knives, for girls and women were also encouraged to participate. One who stood out was Ms. Frances Ingham, who was actually the President of the General Shop Foreman’s Club. They say that Frances could swing that eight pound sledgehammer at the forge with the best of them!

Knives kept flowing out while the orders piled up. To help alleviate the problem, the local Kiwanis Club started to supply additional adults to the Evening School to up production. In a Dallas Times-Herald newspaper article dated August 5, 1943, they note that the number of knives produced and delivered had surpassed 1,000. A Mr. Ed Thatcher, who was now in charge of the night shift production, said that No. 1,000 went to a Marine sergeant finishing advanced training in Cherry Point, N.C., while No. 1,001 went to a Marine Private “somewhere in the South Pacific.” Mr. Walter J.E. Schiebel, principal of Crozier Tech, stated that the knife makers would be taking a week off as all the supplies were exhausted. Work was scheduled to resume in one week, when the fall day school classes started. The shops were silent for a week, and then it started all over again.

How is it that a high school made well over 1,000 knives in less than a year, yet we had not heard of them before? Another mystery of life to ponder on, or so it seems. To tell the truth, I stumbled over the tip while doing research on another topic. In the July 1944 issue of Popular Science, there was an article about a man named Frank Jordan, who made knives for servicemen. This article included step by step instructions on how he made his knives, and seemed like a good article to use in the identification of these knives. Off to the library I went to obtain a copy. In the course of the article, mention is made of the Crozier Tech High School knives; only in passing, but it was enough to light the fires. Over the next few years I asked many folks who were knowledgeable on theatre type knives if they knew about the Crozier Tech knives. Most had a simple reply, “never heard of them,” and so it went. I finally hit a substantial lead through the internet. A quick letter to the Dallas Public Library on some history of the school produced what I thought was the main vein of information. Associate Librarian Amie Treuer located a Crozier Tech scrapbook with articles from local newspapers and the school paper, walking us through the setup and production of the knives. What you have read above was based on that information. One point was missing; in all the information there was not one photo of what the knives looked like! We knew when they were made, who made them, what they were made from and where the materials came from, but we didn’t know what the knives looked like! A few years went by as the trail smoldered but would not produce a flame. I decided to put a quick blurb on my website, www.usmilitaryknives.com, to possibly dig up some new information. Nothing. I tried contacting the Alumni Association but never received a response; perhaps knives are not to their liking today. The trail went cold, or so it seemed. But the internet is a funny thing; with search engines one can enter a word or name and search millions of web pages at the flick of a finger, even those posted years ago. Well, it happened one day; someone visited the website and sent me an e-mail out of the blue. I love it when a plan comes together!

I received an e-mail from Mr. Daniel Rutledge stating that he had a Crozier Tech knife his grandfather had obtained from the school and mailed to his father for use in his new occupation. Not only did Daniel possess the knife, he had the letter from his father requesting a knife and his grandfather’s response letter. Along with that, he had a flyer from the school advertising the knives, which also contained a brief background on them and a request for help to make more. The flyer would not pass the test of today’s politically correct crowd, but they did get to the point. “You will find it interesting… and, many times inspiring… your knife may find a Jap gullet or a Nazi heart.” After an exchange of e-mails, Daniel made copies of his possessions and shipped them off to me to add to the puzzle. The photos of the knife confirmed what I had already known, but added another dimension. I had not seen one like it before, and with such a handle design it would be hard to miss.

Rutledge's unit
Daniel’s father, John McClure Rutledge of Dallas, Texas, entered the Navy and attended boot camp in California. After graduation he attended radar school, ready to enter the war on board a ship equipped with the newest gear. That was not to happen. Instead, the young Rutledge was selected to attend infantry school and receive specialized commando training; issued a steel pot helmet, green uniforms and a .30 caliber U.S. M1 Carbine, he was not headed for the sea bound Navy he expected. At the time, the Navy had just started to form the new radar direction finding units, known as ARGUS. This was all very secret at the time as it was a very new technology. The teams would hit the beach with the Marines, set up the radar equipment and fix a triangulation to pinpoint incoming Japanese fighters or bombers. In turn they would scramble allied fighters from the Navy, Marines or Army Air Forces to intercept the inbound enemy flights. ‘Top secret’ was the status the units held, and they were a priority to set up even as the battles raged on. Men just returning from Guadalcanal, who had seen the type of jungle fighting the men would encounter, conducted the infantry and commando schools. After much training, John was finally assigned as a member of ARGUS 12. [As an aside, the name “Argus” comes from Greek mythology. Argus was a watchman employed by the god Hera to watch over whatever she did. Argus had one hundred eyes with only two ever closed at one time, even when asleep. Likewise, the radar men were to be ever vigilant and look in all directions at all times.]

In the first letter from John McClure Rutledge to his father John Carroll Rutledge, dated June 23, 1943, young John requested a knife. “I’ll be issued a light hunting knife. It’s not a weapon — these knives are the tools you need to live in the jungle. I want a heavy knife similar to a light machete or bolo. It must hold the edge well, be of sufficient weight to be used for hacking, about the weight of a meat cleaver. Its blade should be about the thickness of a file and about eight or ten inches long. It should be well balanced. Take your time and look around plenty. I know this is a big order, any knife is hard to find now and you probably won’t be able to locate one. If not it’s okay because I’ll have a little one anyway. I’ve talked to Marines off Guadalcanal and a knife like I described is what they recommend. One man’s was cut down from a machete, a very good knife. If you do find a suitable knife it’ll probably cost plenty — soak those bonds in on it, it’ll be worth what it costs to me if you can find one. But if you can’t find anything except the ordinary hunting knife — just forget about it.” As you can see the young man had done his homework and knew what he wanted. He even went as far as to ask the vets of the ‘canal what they would recommend. Smart kid.

John McClure Rutledge
In a return letter from the senior John Rutledge, we find the first mention of the Crozier Knife. “...I went up to the Tech Hi yesterday evening, and thru the good graces of the Kiwanis Club I obtained one of their Combat Knives, and gave them a shipping label to mail it to you. Those knives are made by the club members at night out of steel furnished by North American Aviation. The club uses the machine shops of Tech Hi. I am signing up to go one night a week, and help make these knives for the Marines. They make 3 lengths of knives. I picked out the longest, which I hope you will like. The edges are not finished off as sharp as they can be made, so I will try to send you a small file so you can put a good edge on it. They say it will hold an edge you can shave with. If you have a good friend who would like to have one of these knives, have him write Mr. Kenneth Kitch, c/o Crozier Technical High School, Dallas, enclosing 25 cents for mailing, and it will be mailed without further charge direct to him. Be sure and let me know if you receive the knife.” As we see, not only did the senior Mr. Rutledge find a knife for his son, he even volunteered to return and help make knives! A patriotic family for sure! With his new knife in hand, the junior Rutledge went on to do his duty at the invasion of Tarawa and several other islands in the South Pacific theatre, his knife always by his side.

The knife is not much to look at, to put it mildly. It is interesting to note how it was made. The knife started out as an old mill file from a war production plant. It was annealed, forged, ground, had a full steel guard installed and two half round files cut down and welded on as a handle. Very simple and very effective for quick production. The example in the photos shows a thin strip of leather wrapped around the handle much like on a bicycle handlebar. This leather is thought to have been installed by John while in theatre. The half round files were left with some of the cutting teeth exposed to allow for a solid grip. While this was good for grip, the knives would soon become blazing hot in the tropic sun. The overall length of the knife is 14 inches with the blade being 9 inches exactly. The blade is 1-1/4 inches wide at the guard, tapering to the bowie type clip point. The top clip is sharpened back to 2-1/4 inches from the point. A 2 inch by 3/4 inch oval full cross-guard is welded into place. As Daniel put it while describing the knife to me, “make no mistake, it’s a crude and rather ugly blade.” The sheath is made from a section of khaki colored cotton duck webbing, doubled over and stapled with heavy metal fasteners through bits of leather. A top loop is formed with the doubling of the webbing to create a belt loop that will fit a 3-1/2 inch belt. At the throat of the sheath is a metal buckle that holds the throat open so the knife can be inserted easily. There is no hold down strap for the knife to prevent it from falling out, but a leather thong is wrapped around the sheath, most likely for that intended purpose. The camouflage and printing on the scabbard were done by John while in theatre.

To date this is the only documented Crozier Tech knife I have seen. I hope that through this article we will see more of them and hear other stories associated with the knife and the school. We still do not know what the wood handled knives looked like!

So there we have it, a school that not only allowed knives, but actually embraced them. They had students making them full time while learning a trade, and they actively recruited anyone who would come to school and help make knives. Every department of the school pitched in with labor and know-how when the need arose. I can’t remember when I’ve had this much fun writing an article. Just thinking back to those times when common people had common sense brings a smile to our face — back before “mandatory sentences” or “zero tolerance” or the “feminization” of school grounds where even playing dodge ball is “prohibited.” Just thinking about the state of things today makes my blood boil, but I guess it is just a sign of the times.

The author would like to thank the following individuals for all the help associated with the forming of this article: Mark Zalesky for pointing out the Popular Science article that started the whole ball rolling; Amie Treuer, Library Associate, History Section, Dallas Public Library; Daniel Rutledge, for supplying the personal letters from his father and grandfather and the photos of his knife and scabbard; and finally, all the volunteers who pitched in their valuable time and labor to produce the knives when our servicemen needed them.

copyright 2003 Knife World Publications

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