By Christina Rice
Katie “Toots” Sherrow, 95, a local Rosie the Riveter, recently rode in an aluminum overcast B-17 in Topeka, KS. The B-17 was the type of plane she worked on during World War II more than 70 years ago.
Sherrow, a Graham native, went to work for Agriculture Adjustment Association, Maryville, after graduating from high school in 1939. While working for the association, determining crop acreage from airplane photos, Sherrow became fascinated with planes.
A friend, Winnie Berg, Clyde, saw an ad for Morton Aircraft School in Omaha, NE. Neither girl could resist enrolling in the aircraft program, which they felt would lead to opportunities to serve their country in the war.
After graduating from the Morton Aircraft School, they worked as a team doing blind riveting for United Airlines in Cheyenne, WY. They repaired aircraft damaged during combat.
“Sometimes as you saw the blood stains and bullet holes, you felt you were close to the war zone. One B-17 Flying Fortress was estimated to have 500 bullet holes,” said Sherrow.
Because living quarters were not available in Cheyenne, the girls rode a school bus for 25¢ a day and lodged in Fort Collins, CO.
On December 7, 1942, Lockheed Aircraft, Burbank, CA, opened employment opportunities to women. Sherrow and Berg became the first two women to work on the mechanized line. Sherrow said the men were not welcoming and gave the girls tough assignments, including attaching the tail assembly on B-24s and fitting cabin doors.
The pair had worked as a team since aircraft school and were able to handle the intense work environment. Due to their short height, they often had to stand for hours on one-inch connecting rods to reach and complete their work.
Sherrow and Berg were reassigned to blind rivet on the experimental plane, the First Constellation, and were rewarded for their work with promotions. Berg was promoted to inspector, while Sherrow was promoted to work in the P-38 fighter plane cockpit. Her new job included bringing up motor controls and adjusting tension on wiring circuits.
“My base pay when I left Lockheed was $1.10 per hour. I worked a lot of overtime hours my first two years and bought my folks a house in Graham, Missouri. That became my mother’s home for 50 years. In 1945, my dad had a damaging stroke so I resigned from Lockheed. My family was very involved in the war. My oldest brother was drafted and served four years in the Army. Another brother enlisted in the Navy and served over 20 years. Twin brothers enlisted in the Air Force at age 17 and also served more than 20 years,” said Sherrow.
After the war, Sherrow worked at Robbins Lighting, Maryville, manufacturing and installing lightning rods. She was then hired as the deputy circuit clerk in Maryville, a title she held for 17 1/2 years.
Sherrow was active in the community and played softball on the Maryville team, Zipp Inns, and later with St. Joseph’s Goetz Girls. She played in two world tournaments as a catcher.
In 1965, she moved to Tecumseh, KS, where she spent the next 10 years breeding, raising and training registered Greyhounds with Patricia “Pat” Martin of Tecumseh, KS. She met Martin while playing against her softball team. She and Martin still reside in Tecumseh.