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  • Writer's pictureDerryl Dumermuth

Dentists: Charles L. Smith, DDS (1858-1945) and Tom Drilling

Charles L. Smith, DDS

Charles L. Smith

In the wild, wild west of the nineteenth century, in communities without a resident dentist, a person suffering a toothache usually had only one recourse – he could seek out the local barber who was ready to remove the offending tooth with a pair of pliers. Some have claimed that the red stripe on the barber pole represents the blood lost during extraction. A dentist with even a modicum of training would give a patient more confidence in the treatment.

Charles Leipt Smith was born in Adams County, Wisconsin, on August 13, 1858, son of Valentine and Miena Woak Smith. In 1885, four years after his father's death, Charles brought his mother to California. She homesteaded in Kern County, while Charles found work, at one dollar a day plus board, with several companies drilling artesian wells.

In 1890 Charles decided to become a dentist and learned the profession's rudiments in the office of Dr. E. K. Belfils on the second floor of the J. Goldman Building on the northeast corner of Tulare Avenue and J Street. It seems a significant transition from drilling wells to drilling teeth, but after only one year as an apprentice, Dr. Belfils sent him to open a Lemoore office. In 1892 Charles left Lemoore, loaded his dental equipment into a wagon, and spent the next several months as a traveling dentist. His friend, John Wilson, a horse trader, and entertainer accompanied him. Their route took them south to Bakersfield, across the mountains through Walker Pass, and then north to Lone Pine, Big Pine, and Bishop. Along the way, Smith practiced dentistry on all in need of his services, including Indian patients, while Wilson traded horses and entertained. Back in Tulare, Smith continued his work as a dentist.

In 1893 Charles entered the College of Physicians and Surgeons in San Francisco and graduated with a degree in Dentistry in 1899. He then returned to Tulare and opened an office in the Cosmopolitan Hotel on the south side of the 100 block of East Tulare Avenue.

Dr. Charles Smith married Alma C. Latimer (born March 7, 1875) of Delano on October 24, 1894. They had two children, Edgar and Esther. They resided at 322 North N Street with his mother, Mrs. Miena Smith, until 1920, when they built a new home at 144 North N Street.

Dr. Charles Smith was an active member of both the Odd Fellows Lodge (the IOOF) and the Masonic Lodge. He was an early member of Tulare's volunteer fire department when its only equipment was a hand-drawn hose cart and served on the city council for 12 years. Dr. Charles Leipt Smith died on August 21, 1945; his wife died April 22, 1955.

Tom Drilling

If ever anyone was to adopt a particular occupation, it would have to be Dr. Tom Drilling. With a name like "Drilling," it seems likely that he must either drill in the ground for water or oil or cavities in a patient's tooth. It was Tulare's good fortune that he chose to study dentistry. Born March 20, 1921, in Lakeview, Iowa, he came to Tulare with his parents in 1936 and graduated from Tulare High School with "The Great Class of' 38." He graduated from USC Dental School in 1944 and then served in the U.S. Navy as a dentist until 1946. While stationed in Bremerton, Washington, he met and married Patricia Ann Boyle.

After World War II, Drilling returned to Tulare and opened his practice at 202 South N Street. During the Korean Conflict, his practice was briefly interrupted when he was recalled to active duty, as a dentist, in the Marine Corps. His patients soon returned to his office for $2 filling and $2.50 extractions. He retired in 1984.

Like many of Tulare's professionals, Drilling was eager to serve his adopted hometown. In 1948 he was a charter member of the Kiwanis Club and was elected its first president. In 1951, shortly after his 30th birthday, he ran for City Council, polling the largest number of votes, and was chosen by the councilmen to be Tulare's all-time youngest mayor. During his tenure, Drilling helped clean up corruption in the city government, and organized prostitution on infamous Front Street was closed down. In 1956, Dr. Drilling was elected president of the Tulare Rotary Club and is still an active member today.

Tom and Pat Drilling have three daughters – Kathleen Ann, Christine Claire, and the youngest, Paticia Jeanne, who has followed in her father's footsteps as a Tulare Dentist.

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