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Tom L. Chapman- Antique Bottles of Bodie and Eastern California



By BRUCE AULD News Review Correspondent–

Not one week after I uploaded The Burro Book – A History of Sherman E. Burroughs High School – The Mighty Burros to Amazon, Kevin Martin, my go-to guy for all things baseball, texted me a photo of the cover of Tom Chapman’s book. At age five, Tom first explored the Eastern Sierra with his father, Tom T. Chapman, to whom the book is dedicated. Lately, Kevin has joined Tom in exploring Eastern Sierra historical sites in search of California antiquities. Tom, born in 1949 in Ridgecrest and raised in a China Lake Old Duplex, 304 A Fowler, graduated from Burroughs with the Class of 1967.

I try to include the subject’s family’s journey to China Lake for most profiles. Before writing a profile, I searched the index of Elizabeth Babcock’s Magnificent Mavericks and Cliff Lawson’s The Station Come of Age, hoping that the path to China Lake is in one of these essential resources. In a footnote on page 476 of Cliff Lawson’s The Station comes of Age, I learned that Tom and Delores Chapman, Tom’s parents were prisoners of war in the Philippines, as were Leroy L. Doig and other future China Lakers.

I Web searched Tom and Delores Chapman and found Delores’s obituary and an amazing journey to China Lake. Tom’s grandfather, an MIT graduate, taught English at Santo Tomas University in Manilla. Tom’s grandmother, Lolita, and Tom’s mother, Delores, lived in Manilla. Tom’s parents were married in Manilla in 1938 and welcomed their first child Carolyn to the family.  The young Chapman family was trapped in Manilla by the Japanese occupation, living in a small shanty for the duration of World War II.

After the liberation of the Philippines and given that Tom’s father was a US citizen, Tom, Delores, and daughter Carolyn with extended family were granted travel to San Pedro, California, on a US troopship. After the six-month sea journey, the Chapman family, with the newly born daughter Margarita, resided in Pasadena, with Tom working odd jobs. “Suffering from a severe case of cabin fever, Tom went to the bus depot asking if there was a bus heading north for a day trip. He bought a ticket to Inyokern. Sitting next to Tom was a China Lake recruiter.

Tom was hired on the bus!” Six months later, in 1946, the Chapmans resided on base at China Lake with their son, Tom L. Chapman, arriving in 1949. Tom T. Chapman worked as a China Lake firefighter for ten years, moving to the Safety Department. He served first as a safety inspector and later as a range safety officer. He retired in 1971. Delores worked part-time as a secretary for the China Lake Elementary School District superintendent’s office. (Delores Chapman’s obituary)

Young Tom attended Burroughs (old Murray) for Kindergarten, Richmond Elementary School for first through third grade, Groves for fourth grade, and Murray Junior High School before attending Burroughs. At Burroughs, Tom was a gifted student and an equally gifted basketball player, playing in all four high school years. 

From About the Author:

“Chapman left Ridgecrest in 1968 to attend California State University Long Beach, where he graduated with a BS in mathematics in 1973. He had originally planned to teach math in high school but returned to Ridgecrest in 1973 and got a job with an engineering firm where he worked until 1982. The following year he was hired by the federal government at the Naval Weapons Center at China Lake, California, where he worked for thirty years until retirement in 2013. Around 1975, Chapman became interested in collecting and trading old coins and started the Bodie Coin Company, which he operated until 2013. On many of his buying trips to the Eastern California area, he had the opportunity to buy other historical items such as tokens, bottles, paper, photos, and antiques. He also never missed a chance to attend local garage and estate sales, swap meets, and antique and paper shows in California and Nevada. In 1991 Chapman and his family moved to Bishop, California, to fulfill a lifelong dream of living and raising a family there. He commuted between Bishop and China Lake each week for the next twenty-two years.

Chapman has lectured numerous historical societies over the years on various topics relating to local history. These include topics such as Old Bottles, Wagon Roads and Transportation Routes of Eastern California, Woodcutter and Charcoal Camps of Inyo County, and a talk on unraveling the mystery of an old Calvary Fort in the Coso Mountain Range in Inyo County. Tom was the subject expert for Elizabeth Babcock’s video “On the Edge of Nowhere.”

Today Chapman and his wife, Vicky, live in Dayton, Nevada. He continues to collect and deal in Eastern California historical memorabilia. He has two sons, Jett and Tom Jr. Jett lives in Nevada and Tom in Montana. Both are avid collectors of bottles, comic books, video games and equipment, and other vintage items.”

In the early 1980s, I knew Tom was a collector. We lived on the same block in Sagewood Estates. One day Tom knocked on our door and asked if I would help him offload a 1,000-pound upright safe into his garage. Easy for a couple of thirty-somethings, impossible now!

Except for swimming and other school-related topics, I initially had little understanding of the profile’s area of expertise. Before reading Tom’s book, I knew nothing about how to rate old bottles’ value. I now know how bottles are valued but don’t ask me to value your collection. Ask Tom. There are at least four generations of China Lake-related Tom Chapmans: Thomas Irwin (grandfather), Tommy T. (father), Tom L. (the subject of this profile), and Tom L., Jr. (son), who didn’t name his son Tom, instead “Bodie.”