Thanks for Noticing

“River of January,” and “River of January:Figure Eight” have garnered some recognition. Find out why today. Click this link, and order your own copies, personally signed by the author.

Award winning history instructor, Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir River of January and Figure Eight.


World War One, The Great Depression, Vaudeville, Golden Age of Aviation, Amelia Earhart, Golden Age of Hollywood, Rise of Fascism, Waco Aircraft, Professional Ice Skating, Sonja Henie, World War Two, Battle of the Atlantic, Pearl Harbor, War in the Pacific, Cold War, Sun Belt, America as a World Power.

Get the two-part Memoir, River of January and River of January: Figure Eight and connect these fascinating dots. Also available on

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Fighting Joe


His name was Joseph Andrew Tucker, and he was my grandpa–my mom’s biological father. We didn’t see him very often growing up in Spokane, and I can’t say that I ever felt particularly close to this grandparent. Yet, purely by instinct, I found that I did respect him. There seemed to be an aura of dignity surrounding Grandpa Joe, along with an abiding cloud of cherry pipe tobacco, that also swirled around him. Yet, other than my youthful impression, I knew very little about Joe.

The following is what I’ve pieced together from my family.

Joe Tucker arrived in Spokane, Washington in 1937. He came west from Arkansas following his five-year-old daughter, when his ex-wife settled in the Pacific Northwest. A short time later, Joe found work with the Great Northern Railroad, as Spokane was, and still is, ribboned across the middle with busy, screeching rail lines. At about the same time he met and married a local widow, a woman with three children to care for.

Joe Tucker had been in and out of the US Army since initially enlisting in 1929; and discharged after a second hitch ending in 1938. Following the Pearl Harbor attack, and America’s entry into World War Two, Joe realized he’d surely be called back for more active duty. Not anxious to leave his young daughter, or his new family, he requested a deferment of some kind, due to his previous service, and current domestic responsibilities. He was promptly denied. And, once again, Joe found himself in uniform.  Part of the XIX Corps, Joe Tucker and his new outfit underwent infantry training in support of an armored division. (When he departed Spokane, his new wife, Velma, turned on a kitchen radio, and didn’t turn it off for the next four years).

After six months at Camp Polk, Louisiana, the entire Corps shipped out for England as part of the buildup for the D-Day invasion. Joe and his company was stationed in the south of England, in Wiltshire, adjacent to Southampton, the primary staging area for Operation Overlord. In a letter to Velma on eve of the June invasion he cautioned her that “Your’e going to see a lot of frightening news, but really, it’s not as bad as they say.”

On June 6th, the first Allied wave crossed the English Channel, securing a beachhead in Normandy at the expense of thousands of American soldiers. Days later, Joe’s infantry unit, and accompanying tanks, rolled onto those same blood-soaked beaches; members of the XIX Corps bracing for their own European crusade.

For the next five months the XIX slugged their way from Castilly, to St. Lo, fighting their way through the storied Siegfried Line, then crossing the Meuse River in Holland. However, by mid-December, the slog to Germany came to a sudden halt with an unexpected push-back in the Ardennes Forest, later called “The Battle of the Bulge.” During the darkest days of this German counter offensive, Joe and his buddies switched to defensive warfare, retreating back into Belgium.

My grandfather’s utter surprise at this sudden German attack is evidenced by an optimistic Christmas card he mailed to my mother’s elementary school in early December, 1944.

IMG_0793          IMG_0794

On guard duty at the worst of the Bulge, his Sergeant voiced concern that my grandfather might have fallen asleep at his post. “Go check on Tucker, make sure he’s awake,” the Sarge ordered one of Joe’s squad members. But the fellow soldier came to his friend’s defense. “Sir, you can bet Tucker’s eyes are open.” And they were, Joe heard the whole exchange from his guard post.


Joe Tucker, second from left.

When Hitler’s last gamble failed in early 1945, the XIX Corps turned toward the east, battling their way into the Rhineland. Near Katzenfurt, Germany, an exhausted Joe Tucker, stumbled across an abandoned American tank left by a roadside. Weary, he crawled inside the hatch, falling asleep almost at once. Waking hours later, uncertain of where he was, or the time, Joe bolted awake to the sound of men shouting. He realized at once that the language was German, and that some kind of patrol was approaching his armored sanctuary. Alert, Joe sat up and seized the 50 calibre machine gun mounted on the tank. He opened up on the German patrol, saving his, and probably other American lives. For this action, Tucker was awarded the Bronze Star.

German resistance began to noticeably give way the deeper into Germany the XIX Corps moved. Reaching the Elbe River, in Southern Germany, the Army encountered the Red Army for the first time. When the German surrender came, and the war officially ended,  Joe Tucker received his orders to head home. Finally back in Spokane by September, 1945, Sergeant Joseph Tucker was formally discharged the next month. His wife, Velma finally switched off that kitchen radio. Her Joe had come home.

Once again, my grandfather resumed his job as a switchman at the Great Northern Railroad. And despite his earlier reluctance to activate in 1942, Joe Tucker volunteered for duty with the Washington National Guard.

In the years following the war, Grandpa became an active member of the Spokane Democratic Party. With deep Arkansas roots, Joe carried his New Deal sensibilities to Eastern Washington politics. His tireless work canvassing neighborhoods for local, state, and national candidates eventually earned notice across the Cascades, in Olympia, and from gubernatorial candidate Albert Rosellini in Seattle.

By the late 1950’s, Joe Tucker’s modest home on Boone Avenue became the center of vital party planning. Velma mentioned that on one occasion Governor Rosellini, Senators Henry Jackson, and Warren Magnusson all sat among her quilts and afghans consulting with my grandfather for major strategic planning. Joe was a valuable asset, working city precincts with the same determination that he marched from Normandy to Germany. And the party counted him a senior operative.

All Joe wanted was a level playing field–that those with power and money would have to follow the rules everyone else did. The powerful could not exploit those who lacked position and privilege. He saw firsthand the power that every day American’s brought to enormous obstacles–he fought with them in Europe. Joe believed that the rest of us were as worthy as the richest people in the country. His wartime experiences exposed the cost of tyranny, and the absence of democracy.

You see, Joe Tucker was a foot soldier, nothing more, nothing less. In war, he committed himself to serve his country–an enlisted guy who lugged a rifle for the rest of us. In peace he poured that same devotion to his family, his job, and his wider community. There was work to do for America in both scenarios, and my grandfather never shirked away from doing his bit.

Have a safe and thoughtful Memorial Day.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, River of January and River of January: Figure Eight. Also available on Amazon.








I Know What To Get Them!


Free Shipping until November 30th, for one or both volumes–“River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight,” available now until the end of the month for $18.00 each. Call 208-462-2816 to place your order for one or both books with free shipping. (accepting all major credit cards–leave a message if busy)

Return again, in this true story, to an America of another era. Fly through moonlit nights, bask in the ovation of enthusiastic audiences. Soar through enemy skies in the South Pacific, and glide over glistening ice in New York’s newest and most popular theater.

“River of January” winner of the Idaho Author’s Award, 2016. 


Gail Chumbley is the author of River of January, and River of January: Figure Eight.

The Twelve Days of River


“River of January: Figure Eight” is nearing it’s November 1st release. Get ready to continue the adventure. Order details coming soon!


Center Theater Ice Show

Rockefeller Center, 1943

See more at Book one, “River of January” still available on Kindle.

HC Lippiatt and Mr. King

In May, 1940, as British and French troops gathered on the beaches of Dunkirk waiting for a miracle, America remained lulled in complacency. Mont Chumbley, the primary figure in the memoir, “River of January: Figure Eight,” continued his sales flights for Waco Aircraft Company. The war came to the US a year and a half later.


This is Mont Chumbley’s logbook, recorded in early May, 1940. Two fellow pilots appear in this ledger, inscribed nearly 76 years ago. First, HC Lippiatt of Los Angeles, was best known as the largest aircraft distributor on the West Coast. Lippiatt specialized in Waco airplanes, and that fact frequently brought Waco sales representative, Chumbley to Lippiatt’s Bel Air “Ranch.” Another historic figure was Hollywood director, Henry King, best known for films such as “Twelve O’Clock High,” “The Sun Also Rises,” and “Carousel.” Chum explained that he sold King a Waco plane, and in the transaction the two men became fast friends.

For one week in May of 1940, Chum spent time with both airplane enthusiasts.

Henry King (with Tyrone Power & Patsy Kelly)    The grand “ranch” of HC Lippiatt

The story behind this logbook entry appears in “River of January, The Figure Eight,” part two of the story, out this summer.

Gail Chumbley is the author of River of January, a memoir. Also available on Kindle. River of January: Figure Eight, part two of the story can be found at

Polyphoto International


While composing “River of January,” I spent much of my time searching and analyzing family papers. These letters, pictures, and news clippings, along with other souvenirs, make up an enormous archive which spans over seventy years of the twentieth century. Along with Chum and Helen, many secondary individuals are mentioned in the papers, and when I stumbled upon those names, curiosity sent me on the hunt for more information. One of the characters who rose from the stacks was a proper young Belgian named Elie Gelaki.

Elie made quite an entrance into Helen’s life, and subsequently into the pages of “River of January.” His romantic introduction into the story is reminiscent of a 1930’s Hollywood musical. While taking in the premier of “Voila Paris,” at the Palace Theater in Brussels, Elie spotted the girl of his dreams gracing the stage in a solo act. Apparently the smitten young gent quickly scanned the playbill and decided that the girl must be the dancer named Lillian. In an impulse of ardent infatuation Elie sends a note back stage to Lillian inviting her to meet him after the show. Alas, Lillian doesn’t respond and fails to appear at Elie’s appointed location.

The following night the resilient young man again attends the production. Again he watches, thoroughly enchanted, by the vision that is, he thinks, Lillian, Insistent in his attentions, Elie, this night sends flowers and a typed letter composed earlier that day. Again he implores the dancer to rendezvous at a preselected spot. And happily for Elie, this time she materializes out of the dark snowy night.

The girl seems, Elie notices, amused somehow by his attentions. Then he finds out why. The dancer he believed was Lillian in fact was Helen, and that Lillian had a boyfriend back home, in New York. He is embarrassed by the mix up, but more than that, Elie is charmed by the American girl. After drinks at a late night cafe, he asks to see Helen the following day. And so began the courtship of Elie Gelaki with the breathtaking blonde from New York.

Bringing light to this man, lost to anonymity was an true pleasure. Searching through the volumes of primary sources and the internet, I discovered Elie was born in 1906 in Palestine. Further research, this time reading his avalanche of correspondence (to Helen) revealed that he supported two sisters and a mother in Brussels. Elie proudly shared with Helen his deepest ambition as a businessman, founding a company he intended to expand around the world. He had named the firm, “Polyphoto International,” and confidently assured her that the unique processes he developed would change professional photography forever.

I have thought a lot about this enamored young man, (he was only 28 when they met) and I have ransacked the archive many, many times looking for any picture that might be this steadfast suitor. I’ve never found one. His letters were so loving, so personal, that I had to ask myself why Helen, who kept every other slip of paper had no picture of Elie.

He actually complained about this scarcity as well.

In 1936, four years after they met in Europe, Elie writes Helen in New York begging her for an updated photo. He laments, “If it weren’t for the one (picture) you gave me Brussels, I would have forgotten what you looked like.” Apparently the shortage went both ways.

I had to ask myself why? Why would Helen go out of her way to omit “Elie pictures” from her vast collection of mementos? Then I chanced upon a letter Helen sent to her mother in the middle of her 1932-33, European tour. She goes out of her way to assure her mother that she would never marry a Jew. Now this might sound harsh to modern ears, but I think that Helen felt torn by her denial and his Jewish heritage. From current family members who knew Helen, she once admitted she had a “thing” for Elie, using the word “heartthrob.”

At the time she met the young man, antisemitism was on the up tick, and not only in Europe–but in America as well. What I believe pressured Helen to write such things, was placating her mother. Any single girl worth her salt knows what to say to mother when it comes to “boys.” For Helen, at that time and that place, a rejection was much easier than the truth. And her words belie her actions. She must have given the young man reason enough to continue his amorous pursuit for four long years. He pursued Helen across the world . . .  and by the end of the book, across two oceans.

This continental gentleman, this Elie Gelaki, carefully, and thoughtfully laid out his future. He aimed to achieve financial success in the business world, and he aimed to make the American girl his wife. He wrote her constantly and sailed over the Atlantic to see her when he could. In “River of January” the last readers hear from Elie is in a letter from Kobe, Japan, dated 1936. He explains to Helen that “I hope to conduct Polyphoto business in this city, (Kobe).” And that is it, he is gone. Elie just vanishes.

I know, and readers understand, that all of his plans and dreams and hopes and ambitions mattered not a bit. A war is coming. A war of explosive magnitude, fueled by hate and violence and war crimes. A war against the Jews. Elie’s individualism, his personal ambitions, his entire world was devastated in the massive cataclysm of World War Two.

Uncovering this young man left me troubled. I felt as if Helen had been compromised, as were so many others, to sacrifice her natural regard for the young man in order to conform to conventional thought. Though only an episode in the bigger picture of “River,” this ardent suitor, this diligent businessman, deserves the dignity of recognition and remembrance.