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Transcript of interview with Joe Burton by Bob Barrera, March 11, 1980







Bob Barrera interviews businessman Joe Burton (b. February, 26, 1940 in Texas) about his business and life in Nevada. During the interview Joe discusses moving from Texas to Las Vegas, Nevada. He talks about his business; procedures and practices; and how the equipment he uses has changed over the years. Joe describes Downtown and how he felt about the Mafia running the casinos on the Strip. He also weighs in on the MX missiles being located in Las Vegas.

Digital ID



Joe Burton oral history interview, 1980 March 11. OH-00305. [Transcript]. Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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UNLV University Libraries Joe Burton i An Interview with Joe Burton An Oral History Conducted by Bob Barrera Ralph Roske Oral History Project on Early Las Vegas Special Collections Oral History Research Center University Libraries University of Nevada, Las Vegas UNLV University Libraries Joe Burton ii © Ralph Roske Oral History Project on Early Las Vegas University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 2017 UNLV University Libraries Joe Burton iii The Oral History Research Center (OHRC) was formally established by the Board of Regents of the University of Nevada System in September 2003 as an entity of the UNLV University Libraries’ Special Collections Division. The OHRC conducts oral interviews with individuals who are selected for their ability to provide first-hand observations on a variety of historical topics in Las Vegas and Southern Nevada. The OHRC is also home to legacy oral history interviews conducted prior to its establishment including many conducted by UNLV History Professor Ralph Roske and his students. This legacy interview transcript received minimal editing, such as the elimination of fragments, false starts, and repetitions in order to enhance the reader's understanding of the material. All measures have been taken to preserve the style and language of the narrator. The interviewee/narrator was not involved in the editing process. UNLV University Libraries Joe Burton iv Abstract Bob Barrera interviews businessman Joe Burton (b. February, 26, 1940 in Texas) about his business and life in Nevada. During the interview Joe discusses moving from Texas to Las Vegas, Nevada. He talks about his business; procedures and practices; and how the equipment he uses has changed over the years. Joe describes Downtown and how he felt about the Mafia running the casinos on the Strip. He also weighs in on the MX missiles being located in Las Vegas. UNLV University Libraries Joe Burton 1 [Tape begins mid-sentence] Who has lived here for twenty years, he’s self, he’s a self-employed businessman, who manufactures frozen foods. Mr. Burton, what was your motivation for coming to Nevada? Well, I heard that it was a growing town. I lived in Texas and I don’t know, I really didn’t get along with my wife’s mother and father, my in-laws, and I figured I needed a change. I just gotten out of the Marines and we got, I got married like two years prior or two years after I got out of the Marines and me and my wife Kathy, we decided, we ought a just get up and leave and start out somewhere new. And I heard about Las Vegas as being a place that was growing. So I just took off. I lived here like for twenty years. Yes, twenty years, and see, I have no regrets. Are you happy with your move here in Nevada? No. Like I said, I don’t like, everything looked pretty good to me. I came out here and you see my brother-in-law, my sister’s husband, they’d been living out here prior to, you know, me coming out here. And they said it was pretty good. He had started this business, with the foods. That’s how I kinda got into it. And he was making fresh, they’re called, turnover pies. And his name was like, the name of his business was Mrs Redd’s, and so, I went into working for my brother-in-law and it worked out pretty good. We worked long hours, sometimes thirteen, fifteen hours a day. We used to sleep on the flyer sacks and (unintelligible). Sometimes— That’s alright sir, keep going. Sometimes it seems my wife never thought I’d ever come home. It used to be pretty funny, you know. It’s just kind of a standard thing in the family. She’d call up and ask me if I was coming home, and I’d say, “No. Imma sleep on the sacks, tonight.” She knew what I was talking about. Yes, so I worked with my brother-in-law for about five years and I don’t know, it’s kind of tough to work like two bosses and stuff. And so I decided to split off and so I started this business and I UNLV University Libraries Joe Burton 2 call it Telco right now. It’s a pretty good business. We supply all the Carl’s Jr.s; they’re like nationwide right now and it’s, the pie that we make is the frozen turnover, it’s the apple turnover. It, you know, suffices for my living today. Sir, what are the sacks you’re talking about now? Those are flyer sacks. Okay. Have things changed much for you since you lived here? Oh god! Have they changed? You see, when I first came here there was, (unintelligible) I think there was one red light in the city. It was—(Laughs)—it was really barren here. There wasn’t many people here. There was a few casinos Downtown. The place is growing like overnight, it seems. And, you know, you’re talking about twenty years; that’s not much time in comparison to our life, or how many years that people been on this earth. Sir, what type of machinery did your job involve? And, how did, you know, it grow through the time you’ve lived here? How did it change? Well, that’s a pretty funny story. See, we used to make pies by hand. We used to create ‘em, like crank ‘em off, one at a time. We had this little hand crank, I still got it in the shop. It’s a, it’s got like the, it’s called a die. And it’s one little die and you crank it with your hand and makes one single pie. It makes the cover for the pie and all you have to do is put in the filling. And god, now today with the way technology’s taking over and all, we can produce 14,000 an hour. And that just kinda shows you where we’re at and the city of Las Vegas is growing just about like that. Why, you look around now, there was nothing like that when I came here twenty years ago. Sir, where did you live when you come to Vegas? Did you live in an apartment? Did you buy a home? Motel? You know, what type of living did you and your wife live in when you come here? UNLV University Libraries Joe Burton 3 Well, when I first came here we didn’t know much about the town. Tell you the truth, we lived—(Laughs)—I lived with my brother-in-law for about two weeks. And then we went looking for a nice place and we found a nice house and we bought it. It was real cheap. We bought a house back then, what was it? Just a real nice house, I think we bought it for twenty thousand. Hm. That house today would cost about sixty-five to eighty [thousand]. Sir, how many kids do you have? You, we haven’t talked much of your family. How many kids do you have in your family? Right now, I got six kids. I got three girls and three boys. The only ones living in the house are like our youngest. And he’s sixteen. He’s still in high school. He goes to Chaparral. Ah, yes sir. How many schools were here in Vegas when you got here? When I got here in Las Vegas—(Laughs)—there was only one school. And there wasn’t that many people in the town. What they got now, ten high schools? Ten to fifteen high schools. I’m not real sure. I don’t keep up on it anymore. Sir, about the air conditioning, was it pretty inconvenient for you? Did they have air conditioning, then, you know, what were the facilities like? When I first came here, Robert, there wasn’t any air conditioning. It—(Laughs) used to get so hot at night, me and my wife thought we were gonna die, sometimes. (Laughs) But, you know, when you got a business and you’re running it and you’re on your own and you’re making it and you can see progress and everything, things like that don’t get in your way. I mean, I saw things before my eyes that I never thought, you know, would ever come true. I never thought I’d be my own boss and that was something that, you know, not too many people UNLV University Libraries Joe Burton 4 had the fortune of having. And so I, you know, you’ll probably see it, don’t you play football here in Las Vegas? Yes sir. Well, you’ll see it. It gets so hot out here sometimes, you think you’re gonna die. (Laughs) (Laughs) My god, I have sympathy on you when you have to go through hell, weeks on it, it gets so damn hot—by the way, what position do you play? I play defensive line. I just signed this year with UNLV. It—(Laughs) it’s pretty wild right now. But—(Laughs) I’m getting by. No kidding, you know, I used to play some ball in high school, back in Texas. They got some pretty good ball down there. You guys play Texas? Nah. (Laughs) we haven’t got that big times yet. (Laughs) Oh, is that right? No. Okay, sir, let me ask you, what was your social life like? Did you go out on the town, you know? Well, like I, like when we first moved out here, like, I said, and we were trying to build that business up, you know, we really didn’t have time for much nightlife. Like I told you, some nights I never even got to get home. On the weekends, occasionally, me and my wife catch a show, one or two, but, you know, we really didn’t, didn’t have that much. We had each other and we had a family and it was growing pretty quick. And you know, you’ll find when you get married and have kids that you just ain’t gonna have time to do the things that you do, you know, you get to do now. UNLV University Libraries Joe Burton 5 Mm. ‘Kay. Did you notice, was there a lot of tourists that come through to what casinos were here in Nevada? Tourists, god, do you see tourists here? (Laughs) You probably been up and down the Strip, haven’t you? Yes sir. There’s tourists all over the place. (Laughs) Have you quite run into one of those taxicab drivers yet? (Laughs) I run into ‘em all the time. Well, I don’t know about you, son. (Laughs) But we used to have a nickname for those guys. (Laughs) I don’t know, we used to call ‘em, “Hemorrhoids.” (Laughs) (Laughs) Oh, yes? Yes. ‘Cause—(Laughs) they were always a pain in our ass. (Laughs) (Laughs) I can see how they can be. That’s pretty crazy, sir. (Laughs) Tell me, did you have a hard time find, getting vehicles for your business to deliver, and what type of vehicles did you use for your delivering and type things like that? I went out and I bought, well, an old used pickup truck. It was a Dodge, I think. And me and my wife, you see, we used to make pies during the week, and well, like we’d go out every Sunday and we’d drop off the pies. We’d deliver ‘em in our pickup truck. ‘Cause you see we didn’t have that many stops, then. We served all the local places that we could and, you know, like whatever we could scrounge up, we got most of the places that, like the drive-ins and the little places like that and we even sold the pies at one school when we first moved here. And since then, things have just kept growing and growing. The demand for our pie kept getting bigger and bigger. Then when me and my uncle split up we kinda changed our whole businesses around. He went to UNLV University Libraries Joe Burton 6 the fresh and I started the frozen. I picked up still like, we both had the same accounts and everything. But he just sold a different type of pie. He sold more to the stores now, and then, whereas, I kept the drive-ins and stuff and he had all the big stores around town. And us both growing about the same, today, my oldest son, Tom, he runs Mrs Redd’s. ‘Cause he bought off, we bought out my uncle. Now we have like both businesses in the family. Hopefully the rest of my kids would get into ‘em. I got two younger boys that are coming up. One’s in college and like I said, Tony, the one that goes to Chaparral, they both express interests in being in the business when they get older. I just hope they do ‘cause it could be a pretty good business. Yes. What was the police force like when you come here to Vegas? By the looks of it, it’s pretty big now, how big was it then? When I first came to Vegas, like, well, there was always those security guards, but, I mean, there was only one station. I think it, or it had about five to ten cops in it. There wasn’t that many cops at all. (Laughs) They really didn’t do much. I never really saw ‘em, tell you the truth, I mean, I take it, around here was pretty unheard of, just because of the crazy town it is. Everyone, you know, the taxicab drivers kinda set the pace and everyone else followed. And you never really saw that many people get tickets. Today, it’s changed a lot. There’s a lot of cops, but you know that’s just because of the way everything is growing now. The crime rate and void of it and the place Vegas is, I mean, there’s money all over this place. You gotta have some sort of, you know, police force behind it. Yes. Could you remember the mayor? You know, what type of guy was he? Did the people like him? Well, to be honest with you, son, I’m, I really never got into the politics around here, really. I don’t know, I kinda sheltered myself and my business, kinda went from there. I’m just now, I’m UNLV University Libraries Joe Burton 7 like, in the past ten years I’ve really started getting into these things. You know, Watergate was pretty big to me. But that’s really the first interests I really went, all out and watched on TV. I never really, I don’t know, it’s just something that I never really got into. I don’t know—you, you’re a college student, do you really know much about politics now? No, sir, I don’t. Do you have any like, why is it, just it doesn’t catch your interest, does it? Oh, no. Not too much. Not really. Well, when I first came out here, I was only like twenty-five, like, I think I was twenty-five years old. And, you know, I was kinda like the same way you are now. It just never really interested me that much. Okay. Let me branch off to a different type of politics. What did you think about our governor, now? What do you think about our governor now? Oh. He seems pretty fair, to me. I don’t, like I said, I don’t follow ‘em that much. But it seems to me that the place is running pretty smooth. And, you know, I don’t have too many complaints. As far as my business goes, they haven’t done anything to affect it, so, you know, I guess he’s doing a pretty good job. Okay. How ‘bout about the MX missiles that are going to be here? Well, the MX missiles, like, I’ve read up a little bit about them and, you know, I think they’re good to have, but at the rate this world’s going and as far as in like Las Vegas, you mean the MX missiles as far as in Nevada, like Las Vegas is concerned? Well, more or less there, what do you think about them bringin ‘em here, if they do bring ‘em? UNLV University Libraries Joe Burton 8 Oh. Well, I guess it has its pros and its cons. If they bring ‘em here, I don’t, you know, like, you know, we’ll probably be more of a target, during, you know, if a war does break out. Because they’ll know that, what’s that the only missile that, it’s better than the missiles that Russia has, right? And, so, in that respect, you know, I’m not real excited about ‘em. But if it, if they have to bring them here, then it’s just like if a war breaks out, people gotta fight, you know, And if they have to bring ‘em here, I’m not gonna raise, I’m not gonna rebel against it. Well, wouldn’t you think that the jobs rates, you know, the jobs would go up around Vegas, if they brought that type of—? Sure. I think that, that’s probably one of its pros on. You know, like anything, anytime, you know, you bring something new into an area, you’re going to have something like that. And I think it’d be great for that. ‘Cause I’m sure a lot of people would get back into working. You know like, it’d be better because it’d keep ‘em away from the casinos. It seems like everybody around here works in a casino or something like that. And I don’t think that’s that bad but oh, I think it kinda, you know, it shelters people, it doesn’t give them that many diverse opportunities around Las Vegas. Whereas, I think there should be more of that. Where do you work, son? I’m on scholarship, so they don’t really let us work on scholarship. It’s against the NCAA rules. Oh. Is that right? So. (Laughs) Well, what are you doing for the summer? Well, I was just planning on going back to Salt Lake City for the summer. Little bit cooler there. (Laughs) so, I could work, you know, I don’t really like the heat. I have to go through it through the fall. So. UNLV University Libraries Joe Burton 9 Oh. Is that right? Yes. ‘Cause I was thinking you could probably work in, you know, if you need a job this summer, just look me up. Oh. No problem. And, you know what, it seems like I might have an opportunity for you. Wouldn’t be too bad, the money. Okay, sir. Let me get back to this real quick. Well, did you know that there are enough cement, there aren’t enough cement companies that can supply cement to the mix, the MX missile cities? No. I wasn’t too aware of that. Kind of a, well, it looks to me that we’re gonna probably have to bring in something. Because we don’t have enough cement companies right now that, like build an underground for the MX missiles. But like I told you, I’m not real up-to-date on it. I mean, I did a little reading but it really didn’t cover much on that aspect of it. Sir, what, like, could you tell me, what type of a holiday, what were the holidays like, you know, did they have parades, carnivals? What type of thing, you know, did they have going here? Oh. The only exciting holiday I’ve ever, the only exciting holiday that I’ve ever kind of experienced around here is, I kind of like the Fourth of July here, and also New Years. New Years has always been, I like that a lot. I like to go down to the casinos, ‘cause I remember, oh, about two years ago, I went down there and boy they got, it’s kind of big thing. I think I was in the MGM and—(Laughs) it hit twelve midnight and everybody started going crazy, you know, UNLV University Libraries Joe Burton 10 and everybody was pretty intoxicated. It was pretty good. (Laughs) They were just pretty good times, really. Well, say for the Fourth of July, did they have a rodeo, a parade, or what? Oh, they had, they had some pretty big parades around here. They march up and down the main drag there, you know, and it brings out a lot of people. I really don’t get that much into parades that myself, that much, but my wife likes to go and watch ‘em. And, you know, she used to bring the kids there, when they were little. My kids, right now they really don’t care that much about ‘em, either. Did, were shows really popular on the Strip as Vegas grew more and more? Did, when about the shows get popular there on the Strip? Oh. They always seem pretty popular. It seems now, lately they just, it’s like main like, when people want to go to a big show, seems like they’re attracted, they go to Las Vegas. That’s the place. ‘Cause it seems like Las Vegas has everybody. I mean, it’s one of the biggest places for the fights. That’s where they hold all the fights. And it’s just, seems like a main attraction. It’s kinda like a, it’s the Hollywood of Nevada, you know; and it’s pretty good. I’ve been to a few of the shows and I really enjoy many of them. I just kinda— Well, like a, what shows have you seen? Oh. I’ve seen, have you seen (unintelligible)? (Laughs) yes, I hear that’s a pretty good show. Well. I haven’t been to see it, but. UNLV University Libraries Joe Burton 11 (Laughs) I really don’t get much into that stuff but, you know, that show was pretty excellent. I took my wife to it last week and, you know, for something I didn’t think was gonna be that good, it turned out really good. You ought a go see it. Let me ask you one more question before we close this interview, sir. What do you think about the Mafia running Las Vegas? Or do you think the Mafia is involved in the casinos in Las Vegas? Well, Robert, you know, I do, as a matter of fact, I know the Mafia’s involved in Las Vegas, just from personal experience. You know, about five years ago, when I was, you know, in my business, one day this man came in and he sat down at my desk and put a briefcase on it, on top of it and opened it up, and pulled out a .35 Magnum, held it up and pointed it down on the ground. He said, “You know, I don’t want you to sell the certain distributor that you sell to.” And I said—you know, I sat there and I was really stunned, and, you know there’s not much you can say, and I just told him, “Okay. I won’t sell to him anymore.” And he just put it back in his briefcase and he left. And I really think, you know, things like that kinda, they really get you, but there’s not much you’ll see that you can do about it. I mean, they’re a real powerful organization. I don’t really think they run the casinos but I think they have a lot of influence on some of the things that are done in them. And I really don’t know that much about it. I just know from experience that it really does exist. But did you sell ‘em to them, anyway? Or did you obey them? Or, you know—? No. I didn’t. I mean, when I saw that gun, you know, like, I don’t know about you, but the first thing that came to my mind was my family. And I figured if they were that intent and they were that serious about something like that, I mean, one account doesn’t mean anything, it has no priority over my family. UNLV University Libraries Joe Burton 12 Well, sir. I’d like to thank you for giving me your time and I really appreciate this and— Well, Bob, it was a real pleasure and I just hope you really get a good grade on this. Okay, sir. Thank you again. Thank you.