George Walter Harless Plowing Through 1940s Yosemite

Snow Plow, Yosemite, 1930s or 1940s
Large rotary plow operated by the National Park Service, Yosemite, circa 1940s. Photo courtesy of

My 5th entry in Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” family history blogging challenge for 2015. The theme for Week 5: Plowing through — We will likely be plowing through a lot of snow by this time. What ancestor had a lot of struggles to plow through? Or take it more literally.

My 5th ancestor is my husband Jeff’s 1st great grand uncle George Walter Harless (1894-1976). George Walter is the youngest brother of my husband’s great grandfather Leonard William Harless, about whom I have not yet written. And he is the youngest son of California pioneers Leonard Harless Jackson and Pauline Adeline Gann, of whom I have written quite a bit, and whose footsteps Jeff and I chased on our genealogy road trip last summer.

George Walter Harless was born 13 April 1894 in Lewis, Mariposa County, California. He spent his childhood in Mariposa County, just outside of Yosemite National Park.

All my husband knew about his 1st great grand uncle is that he drove a snow plow in Yosemite. My father-in-law confirmed this, and told me that he thought his grandfather’s brother George had also been a miner in Madera. So when I saw the “plowing through” theme for this year’s 52 Ancestors project, I decided to try to find out a bit more about 1st great grand uncle George.

WPA Snow Plow Crew

While I have not found any records that specifically identify George as a snow plow driver, I do find some records that support this occupation.

The Mariposa County History and Genealogy Research site provides a copy of George’s obituary, transcribed by Alma Stone. The obituary mentions that he was a retired road foreman in the national park.

Merced Sun Star
Friday, August 27, 1976
page: 18


George Harless

Memorial services will be held Monday at 1 p.m. in Stratford Evans Merced
Funeral Chapel for George Walter Harless, 82, a Merced resident since 1960 who
died Thursday in a San Francisco hospital.

Mariposa Masonic Lodge No. 24 will conduct services for Mr. Harless, a
retired road foreman in Yosemite National Park.

Inurment [sic] will be at Arbor Vitae Cemetery, Madera. A veteran of World War 1,
Mr. Harless lived at 5736 E. Highway 140. He belonged to Mariposa Masonic
Lodge No. 24, 32nd Scottish Rite in Fresno and the Fresno Shrine.

Mr. Harless is survived by his wife, Olive; a daughter, Mrs. Barbara H.
Bailey, Capitola; three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Memorial contributions to the Central California Heart Association would be
appreciated by the family.

The 1940 U.S. Census shows George Walter Harless (at 46) living in the unincorporated community of Raymond, Madera County, California alone with his wife Olive A. Leonard (1891-1980). At that time, George was employed as a Flagman on a WPA Project. Raymond is 23 miles outside of the Yosemite gateway city of Oakhurst, and 38 miles away from Yosemite Village. George was quite likely the flagman on a WPA road crew in the national park. Interestingly, George and Olive’s 19 year old daughter Barbara was enumerated on the same census as living inside of Yosemite National Park, where she worked at a cafeteria in a hotel and snow lodge.

Harless George Walter - 1940 US Census - Employment
Employment listing for George Walter Harless on the 1940 U.S. Census. Courtesy of

Jeff and I just visited Yosemite last July on our Harless family history road trip. I wish I’d paid attention to these records before then. I could have inquired around inside the park about accessing old employment records. Fortunately, Yosemite is one of our very favorite places, and is driving distance for even just a long weekend.

Other Careers

Prior to the Great Depression, George worked in copper mining, per his WWI Draft registration card and the 1920 U.S. Census. He served in the U.S. Army from 1917-1919, during the First World War.

On the 1930 U.S. Census, George Walter was enumerated twice. On 2 April 1930 in Madera County with his wife and daughter. But his type of employment is not legible enough for me to make out (something “____boy”). George was also recorded on 12 April 1930 (without his wife) living back with his parents in Mariposa County, working as a farmer. It is likely that George’s wife gave his name to the Census worker because his permanent home was in Madera County, but George had temporarily left his family to move in with his parents and work on his father’s farm to raise money or food for his family back home.

By 1942, per his WWII Draft registration card, George Walter was employed with the U.S. Army Transport Service at Fort Mason in San Francisco, California, where he lived with his middle brother Francis Miles Harless. It is unclear if his wife Olive lived there too.

It would seem that George Walter Harless moved around central and northern California quite a bit seeking work, plowing through life.

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