Jim Taboni

Jim Toboni

Although Jim Toboni was born in San Francisco, he spent most of his youth in the Cloverdale area attending grammar school across the street from the high school. He was too young to remember much from 1938, but the next year he remembers quite a lot of conversation from adults concerning the upcoming war. He still says: “I remember the sound of fear in their voices.” Germany, the most powerful of the axis countries, had abandoned Turkey, a former ally, in favor of Russia. With the invasion of Poland, WWII was definitely on.

From 1940 on, the thinking of Jim’s family and friends was: Can we stay out of it? Second: Who do we dislike the most so we know what side to be on? Although Jim’s family was 100% Italian, when Benito Musselini, the Premier of Italy, publically stated he would not honor the naturalization of Italian emigrants and that they all had to immediately return to Italy, there was increased fear in all Italian-Americans. Jim remembers his father saying: “If we lose the war they will kill or make slaves of all Italian US citizens.” Of the hundreds of relatives and friends that Jim’s family had, not one returned to Italy. When Hitler double-crossed Stalin and invaded Western Russia, Jim’s father was no long afraid. He said: “Russia and Germany are about equal strength. They will knock each other out. They will never come here.” The fear returned one Sunday morning when Jim’s grandfather, father and uncle were all gathered around a world map on the wall. They kept pointing to Japan, Hawaii and San Francisco. Jim, who was still young, knew what pearl meant and what harbor meant but did not know the meaning of the two words when joined together. It was not long before they were talking about how far the family would have to run away to. The Sacramento Valley was not far enough. On the other side of the Sierra, the desert was too inhospitable. Denver seemed to be the choice. After the battle of Midway all talk of leaving ended.

Jim never actually lived in the City of Cloverdale. He resided on a 2000 acre ranch four miles west of town called The Caesar Mazzini Ranch. All of the skyline to the west looking up from town was part of the ranch. School Street went right up to the south gates after passing through Rathbone’s Homestead. The ranch grew many products. Jim’s family sold cherries, pears, apples, prunes, grapes and walnuts. They also had milk cows, pigs, goats, and sheep. The big money generator was a bonded winery producing thirty thousand gallons per year. Located at about 1500 feet elevation, above the smog and below the snow, the vineyard was dry farmed. Plowing was done by horses and the wine quality was excellent. Life was good. It’s hard to believe in this day of most people eating like grazing livestock while key punching their computers, but Jim remembers all family members, including working mean, all eating together while sitting at a twelve foot long hand-made oak table. Laughter was always heard. Jim’s grandmother always announced what city in Europe (usually Italy) today’s entrée was the specialty of. Church feast days were the best.

WWII was won by America and its allies. It was similar to J.R.R. Tokien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. The good guys banded together and with superior engineering, greater combined population and perhaps some Divine providence, beat the bad guys.

After the war, produce prices plunged. There was a slight recovery during the Korean War but by the mid-fifties, Jim was told by his father that he had better do a career change. There was no future for an indie farmer no matter how wholesome the lifestyle was.

Jim enrolled at Santa Clara University and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering. His first job was at Aerojet in Sacramento. His staring pay was three times minimum was and 100% free health insurance for himself and his immediate family. Through serendipity he got a dream assignment. He was assigned to test fire Titan ICBM rocket motors before they were sold to the US Air Force and placed in missile silos. He tested 140 first state and 92 second stage motors. All were successful. After that he worked on the Apollo program. He test fired the very first rocket motor that went to the moon. It was a team effort but he was the visible man. His work was good and he was given a promotion. He got to spend six years designing the secret rocket-ship to Mars. Testing was done at the now infamous Area 51 in Nevada. No detail shall be given here as a lot of the work did not come under the automatic fifty year declassification law. Jim was the youngest man on the nine hundred person team.

On this earth all good things come to an end and the engineering phase of aerospace was finished. Jim did another career changes and went back to school at the Sacramento campus of the University of California specializing in heavy industry. By now he was married with children. He later moved to San Jose where he worked designing what is today called the Bradley Tank. Sick of producing more efficient ways to kill people, he quit his job in the midst of the first oil crisis and moved to New Hampshire, unemployed. In three weeks he had a job designing safety equipment for coal mining machinery. From there his work accomplishments read like an American industrialist documentary. His products ranged from equipment to manufacture of computer chips to a bread board model of a hybrid automobile. Modest to the point of embarrassment, Jim always says he never did anything along; that it was a team effort. Just as in football, a quarter-back is nothing without every man on the team doing his job.

Jim’s design philosophy was simple:
1) Learn the fundamentals of science really well
2) Design right up to the limit
3) Put in some safety factor
4) Camophlage the safety factor so nobody can take it away from you

One of the proudest moments in Jim’s life was when he took his family to the Smithsonian in Washington DC. Three of his products were there. Nobody had ever told him they were placing them there. At first thought one would think: “Wow! Jim is really great!” After you ponder that for a while you likely say: “If they’re in a museum, it means nobody is using them anymore. What’s so great about that?”

Every trade has its certificate of success. For amateur sports it’s an Olympic medal. For pro sports it’s a championship ring. For engineering, it is a patent. Jim was awarded a patent for a design improvement on a medical cat scan. It involved improving the dynamic seal on the rotating anode so that the radiation the patient receives is reduced by 75%. Sadly they don’t use cat scans much anymore. It’s all MRI now.

As people age they lose some valuable part of their body. Jim had to retire at the relatively young age of 59 due to failing eyesight in both eyes. He could not see the cursor on the computer screen anymore. He was diagnosed with Fuchs Dystrophy, a disease of the cornea. In affects 15 million Americans. So many cells in the cornea die that it becomes opaque and no light can get into the eye. Jim was retired for six years and finally received that status of being legally blind, a dubious honor. Nine more years after that a new cure was developed called DSAEK. It involves cutting out the old cornea and implanting stem cells. Then presto, the patient grows a new cornea. Jim was able to see the oranges on the tree outside his window five days post-op. A hundred days later his vision was 20/200. Another three months, it was 20/100. Now it is 20/23 in one eye and 20/32 in the other – and that is without glasses or contacts.

Sadly after 49 years of marriage, Jim’s wife died due to complications of a stroke. He likes to believe she graduated to a better life. Jim filled out the State form, paid the fee and Audrey B. Toboni is buried in his rose garden. When the weather is good he sits in a special chair by her cross and enjoys her spiritual company.

Nowadays Jim sits in the sunshine in his living room overlooking the Russian River Valley and watches the world go by. Twice a week he goes to the Senior Center to do yoga or play games.