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My American Adventure 1954-5
The idea of a working visit to America was stimulated by a book I read about a young man who had spent a year there working his way around.
I was 22, was working in the Careers Office in Manchester and yearned for something more exciting. I had relatives in the US, who had regular reunions of the Paterson clan, most of whom were descendants of people had emigrated from Scotland in the early part of the 19th Century and made a good life as farmers in the area just West of Chicago.
I had to apply to the American Embassy and, as I wanted to stay for a year and work, I needed to apply to be an immigrant. For this I had to have either a sponsor, a job or a lot of cash. Fortunately a relative in the USA (Russell Patterson) was prepared to sponsor me. In fact, during the war he had even offered to take my brother and I as evacuees. It didn’t happen when one of the children’s boats was torpedoed with great loss of life.
The American Embassy granted me the Immigration Visa and assured me that, as I had done two years National Service in the RAF, I would be exempt from service in the US. Unfortunately, I was misinformed. It turned out that only ‘Active Service’ (in a war) allowed me this exemption. Had I fought against the Americans, for Germany, that would have been alright !
My employers kindly granted me a year’s leave of absence and on 4th May 1954 I set out from Liverpool on an American Press cargo ship (£64 one way). I paid for this by selling my beloved BSA B31 motorcycle that had served me well while I was in the RAF for two years. I was only allowed to take £40 with me and this had to get me to Chicago.
The crossing, which took ten days, was very rough and, during the last day or two, we made hardly any progress against the storm. I nearly became sea sick but walked around the deck for an hour and turned up for dinner. The food on board was good.
There were five other passengers on board and one became very sick.
I am a non smoker and one of the passengers asked me to take a packet of cigarettes through customs for him. At £1 for 200 I could see the advantage.
At long last, on 13th May I saw the green shores of New Jersey and the skyscrapers of New York. In those early days I was intrigued to hear one of the crew talking to someone who was driving along on the mainland. A mobile phone 1954 style !
Eventually I was pleased to find myself in the 'Big Apple' starting my adventure. I stayed for a couple of nights doing the usual touristy things, such as a visit to Times Square at night, sightseeing from the top of the Rockefeller Centre (Radio City) building and visiting the UNO building.
Americans, particularly New Yorkers, never miss a trick. I suppose I stood out like a sore thumb in my English tweed jacket but was still surprised when someone tried to sell me a lightweight pink suit from his car as he stopped at some traffic lights! On another occasion a big bear of a man walked down a crowded street offering me a gold ring he reckoned would be worth a lot more in a jewelry shop. I asked him why he didn't just take it in and he gave some lame excuse. He handed me the ring which, sure enough, said GOLD on the inside. It was made of plastic.
I then set off for Chicago by plane (DC7). Although Hinsdale, where my sponsor lived, is a mere 15 miles from the airport I finished up having to take a cab down town and the train out again, despite every effort to go there direct. It seemed to be against the taxi driver's rules. He had to stay in his patch.
From there I took the train to Hinsdale. Having a few minutes to spare I walked outside the station. A scruffy tramp asked me for a dollar "for a poor guy with a wooden leg". I missed what he said and asked him. He said he would give me a 'slug on the jaw' if he didn't give him some money. I decided to test whether he really had a wooden leg and beat it to the other sided of the busy road !
My sponsor, Russell had been out when I phoned from the airport but met me at Hinsdale Station.
I had already arranged to start work on the farm of another relative, Dale Hartman, who was farming some of the land which had been acquired by the early settlers. Having been in the area for over 100 years they had developed the farms to perfection, with gracious white wooden farm houses and churches and perfectly painted red and white barns, all set amongst trees.
Apart from the rivers (Mississippi and Missouri) the land is as flat as the English Fens from Chicago due West for the next 1000 miles...This is indeed "The Great Plains", though the altitude rises imperceptibly to 5000 feet by the time you get to Denver (the Mile High City).
I was set to work as a greenhorn farm hand, feeding 700 chickens, collecting and packing eggs, cleaning out the cow shed and chicken run and clearing rocks from the fields, sometimes from 5.30 a.m. to 7p.m . We ground corn and planted this year' corn seed (maize). My first taste of the not so Wild West was when I was helping Dale. As we crossed a field in his truck he spotted a skunk. He had a 2.2 rifle in the truck and he drove madly around the field with the gun in one hand taking pot shots at the skunk. Unfortunately, before he managed to kill it the skunk managed to shoot the truck. It was my job for the rest of the day to drive the truck, loading it with rocks. That stench was the worst I have ever known and it was all I could do to stop myself being sick.
Before a couple of weeks had gone by I managed to pick up a dose of 'flu. I didn't want to give up and whinge, so I dragged myself around the farm feeding chickens and collecting eggs until I was finally fit to drop. So by 23rd May I was back to my sponsor's house. Fortunately they were both nurses and, after a dose of antibiotics (and a temperature of 104) I was finally considered cured but spent the next few days back out on the Wheatland farms meeting a number of relatives -Ruth Ellen (Godfrey) and the Patterson clan, Mungo, Big Jim, Jim and Helen, Tom, Stewart, Lloyd. Mungo could even talk with a Scottish brogue still. I was impressed with Big Jim's slides of a recent trip West and I determined to record my trip that way. On 1st June I went to a picnic at Wheatland Grade School (established by Pattersons). It was already 88F but the sports were dampened by a dramatic thunderstorm.
2nd June I decided not to return to Dale's farming job. He had offered me $10 a week plus full board but I decided I could do better than that and went to Aurora looking for a job. I tramped around a few places (unemployment was quite high) but finished up at the Employment Bureau, where a friendly interviewer - a Mr Messenger - chatted to me for ages, invited me to meet his wife and family (!), advised me not to accept less that $250 a week and finally sent me to a job at 'The Roundhouse' (now a museum), where the Burlington Railway had a major diesel engine service department. Basically, they serviced the diesel engines which pulled the double decker California Zephyr train as far as Denver, a thousand miles west.
They also owned the line which went to Minneapolis. The job was termed "Machinists Helper" (mechanics dogsbody) and it paid $1.69 an hour, so exceeding the recommended wage and considerably more than I had been earning as a Careers Officer in the UK. This would enable me to finance my visit and save a little besides. It also gave free basic medical facilities and free rail tickets every month, with a cheap ticket on another company line once a year, I turned up for the interview expecting to be grilled on my mechanical experience but all I got was "If you pass the medical, start on Monday week"! I booked in to stay at the YMCA.
My main problem then was to survive, not just to Monday week but until payday two weeks after that. I wandered into town looking for temporary work and managed to get a job in a restaurant washing up at $6 a day + 2.meals. I suppose that is the traditional way to start a 'rags to riches' career. I was able to start immediately and, in addition to the cash got the extremely good food on offer at the restaurant.
To reduce my outgoings I found a an " 8 x 12 four bit room" a run-down hotel "No phones, no pool, no pets....", which, at least was cheap. So, until Monday week I was set fair, working 8 hours a day feeding a washing up machine. As I was still going to be a little short of cash until my main payday, when I started at the Burlington I reduced this to four hours a day. The railway job was from 11 pm to 7 a.m. I would rush to clean up, then do my four hours, then flake out until the next shift. By then it was May and the warm weather had begun. By 18th June it had got up to 98F. Sleeping in that, without air conditioning or even a fan was pretty difficult. Sometimes I would find a shady tree in a park rather than go back to the hotel.
The relatives were kind and would invite me out when I had time off. In June I was taken out to a picnic near Maple Park. It was very enjoyable but I was only able to catch up an a little sleep. I was getting completely tired out and on one occasion at the hotel I slept through my alarm and woke up at what my watch said was 6. I couldn't decide whether it was morning or night so went outside to see which side the sun was on ! It was 6 a.m. and I had slept around 14 hours, so that was one shift I missed completely. By this time I had had my hair shorn off (a kraut cut) and dispensed with my tweed jacket ! I was beginning to feel more like an American.
The work on the railway was quite to my liking as I reckon to have a 'mechanical aptitude'. It involved the sort of thing one would do to a car, except that the pistons in those 2000 hp engines were more like a foot across. We fitted filters and changed oil, cleaned out the engines, fitted big metal brake shoes and even changed the sets of wheels. The unit was dropped down into a pit, the electric motors were stripped off and the pair of wheels and the axel was replaced. I even got to turn whole engines on a turntable before they were shunted into the sheds. The building was called the Roundhouse and the pits were located under cover all around the turntable. Although I quite liked the type of work and the co-workers were pleasant enough, I hated night work and some of the jobs were absolutely filthy. I would take my jeans and shirts to the launderette until they banned me because they could never get their machines clean afterwards.
After the restaurant work dried up I was offered something at the YM where " Two hours of pushing broom" still paid for my "eight by twelve four bit room"
When payday came I stopped doing that. It had been hard doing two jobs but I had never made and saved so much money in my life before. A number of the workers were doing two full time jobs and walked around like zombies. Some lived on farms or worked at a Wallgreens store or a similar place during the day. One guy was so tired he fell down into a pit and was off for a while. He claimed compensation and got it !
I returned to live at the YMCA for a while, where they made me very welcome and even invited me to become a member of the Wisemans group.
Got to know a couple of guys at the YM, who invited me to a party. It was a warm night and after the party we foolishly decided to go for a swim in the Fox River! Carl dived in and hit his chest on the bottom. We then tried to swim across and he got into trouble and for a while I thought I would have to save him. He was quite scared and I swam in front of him encouraging him on and he finally got to the side. But that adventure could have turned into a tragedy.
26th June 04 Daytime temperature 103f. Even at night, at work, it is 80 and humid. It seems exceptionally high, as there was a news report that it had been over 90 in Chicago for 15 days this June.
As I had been told I would be exempt from serving in the forces I had registered straight away. I was shocked to receive a card which said I was "1A and due for induction". I went straight to the UK consulate in Chicago but was told I would probably have to serve two years! I intended to appeal and, if necessary dash over the border into Canada. Already I am over $300 to the good and could afford my passage home. If it is inevitable I am told that I could sign up in the army for three years. This way I could choose the area I would serve in and would also have three years college paid for when I got out. But I was hoping it wouldn't come to that.
New experiences: Never before seen fireflies, or a kingfisher or be bitten by so many eager mosquitoes. They are trying to rid the town of them. At night a truck comes round belching clouds of DDT.
27th June. Went to Reunion dinner at Big Jim's. Met Homer, Stirling, Homer's daughters, Barbara Payne, and Sarah Jane. The oldest there was Agnes McPherson (94). Also, there were Janine McPherson, Mary Agnes, Kenyon & Sally Patterson, Phyllis Hamerick, Katherine "Honey" Payne and Stewart P. The meal was a barbeque, sandwiches, salads, fruit, jelly and lots of ice cream. Very impressive for someone who had left a country which still had rationing of some items.
Talking to one of the old timers I learnt that the early settlers paid $1.25 an acre for the land. By 1954 some sold for $525. But the early settlers didn't have it easy and had to clear the land of trees before planting anything. Cholera was quite common in those early days but most of the Pattersons lived to ripe old ages. They were hardy stock. All of the twelve children who were born at Kirtlehead on the Borders survived.
30th June. At work when there was an almost total eclipse of the sun. An
old negro worker stood by me, philosophising " Id'll never go out altogedder,,
only when God say so. Some people say there ain't no God but it must've been
created sometarm, mustn'it ? " Later the same guy bought a bike because I
had got one to get to work but he didn't get on with it because " Ma legs
jus wouldn go around". Isometimes wish I had offered to teach him.
4th July. Worked Independence Day (night) and earned time and a half. My best pay day ever!
5th July Was invited to play Scrabble with friends of Big Jim and did quite well. I was pleasantly surprised when, years after, one of the old dears left me a silver dollar in her will !
Sunday 11th July. Invited to Maple Park Centennial.
Remarkably, many of the villages around were established just a hundred years ago. I managed to hitch-hike over there. There were 20,000 people in that tiny village (normally 500) and the parade took two hours to pass. I got some excellent pictures on my Russian twin lens reflex camera. There were classic cars, a jazz band, cowboys, Indians, an ancient Fire pump (from Joliet), cheer leaders and elaborate floats. Elsie had arranged a double date and we all went to see "Dial M for Murder" in de Kalb. I had to phone work and apologise that I wouldn't be in. I stayed at a place in Maple Park - Harold's was full, and walked over to the Patterson farm in the morning - much to their surprise. I hadn't got much cash with me and went to the bank and asked them to transfer some over from my account in Aurora but I was greeted with great suspicion until I said I was staying with Harold Patterson and was then able to get some cash.
12th July Paul Hartman took me over to a Draft Board interview in Wheaton. They were pleasant but, nevertheless said I would have to go in the Forces, unless I returned home (in which case I would lose citizenship rights and the right to return). They realised that I had been misled about registering and agreed to suspend their decision until their next meeting. They could not believe that I would take the option to leave.
Afterwards Paul invited me to accompany him on a YMCA outing. This was at Indiana Dunes State Park and we took 10 boys and girls over in two cars. The park is on the shores of Lake Michigan and has beautiful sandy beaches and was ideal for swimming. I was surprised to find that the 'sea' wasn't salty. From the sandhills one could see Chicago in the distance. Paul got a barbeque going, then we went over to an open air square dance - not that I knew anything about square dancing. That night we slept out on the beach. It got cold around 5 a.m. and I retired to one of the cars. It was not a good idea as it appeared to be home to mosquitos. They counted 17 bites on my back ! After another meal we returned to Wheaton via Gary, Indiana, a sprawling steel and oil refinery town at the lower end of Lake Michigan.
22nd July Spent the day in Chicago, walking along the foreshore down to the Natural History Museum (Field Museum) and Planetarium, which are prominent features on the south side. I intended to pay homage to Karl Patterson Schmidt, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Patterson_Schmidt the world famous herpetologist. Incidentally, the foreshore is laid out to gardens and fountains and is on land reclaimed from the Lake. It was made up of sand pumped in from the dunes of Indiana that I had visited earlier. I walked into this imposing Museum and asked to see KPS. He was out to lunch but I was able to chat to his secretary until he returned. She explained that he was the greatest living authority on certain species of reptiles. But when he arrived he was most welcoming and explained about his work, which included writing several books, especially ones for children. I now have one of his books, which describes his early life on a farm in Wisconsin. His mother was a Patterson, hence the connection. He showed me around the archives; long rooms full of specimens: from bats and beetles to brontosauri. He showed me vampires, which he had studied in South America (feeding off cattle). And we went to a department where they were reconstructing a pre-historic turtle shell, which being dug out of a lump of shale. I was shown a baby brontosaurus which was show facing its egg shell in the nest. Next he displayed some of the books he had written, one about a rare coral snake, which he had been studying for 30 years. After spending more time with me than I had expected he passed me on to and assistant, who showed me round the taxidermy department. They cleaned skeletons, preserved animal skins and made plastic models of anything from a tiny frog to an Orang Utang. One student had had brief fame because of eating tigerburgers and crocodile, which he said tasted like crab. It was a tragedy that, after retiring and during a television broadcast he was bitten by a Boomslang snake. Not normally fatal, he did not bother with any serum and kept a diary of the effects of the bite, which eventually killed him..
After that edifying visit it was time to visit the Selective Service and the Immigration Offices, where both confirmed that I was still due for induction and even suggested that I might not be able to leave the country !
The following day I managed to find pleasant digs in North Street, Aurora and wished more than ever that I could at least stay for the full year I had planned.
29th July Paul had invited me to another YM outing, this time a camp in Wisconsin by a superb lake. Went swimming but the mozzies were bad. We settled down by the log fire after spraying surrounding area. But I was still awake at 3.30 a.m. and forsook my sleeping bag, took my mosquito net and got in the car. . I was accompanied by a number of mosquitoes and by morning I had also collected about sixteen bites on my back. American mozzies prefer me to the locals ! Our next stop was Phantom Lake where we went canoeing and, fortunately, there were fewer mosquitoes.
5th August. Had an invitation to my long time pen friend's in Milwaukee about 100 miles north of Chicago. Unfortunately Delores (Berger) was in hospital (giving birth) but the family made me very welcome. Arranged to go over later to see Delores, who I had written to since I was at school.
10th Aug. Went to see the Draft Board in Wheaton and wrote out my appeal as I was still classified 1A
After seeing another colour slide show I went into Chicago and bought a 35mm camera (Lordox) for $40. I checked the cost of a trip home - around $160 - but then went around Chicago taking pictures with the new camera. After a few problems I got some great results.
Received a letter from the Chicago Draft Board that I COULD leave the country and might even be able to return.
2nd Sept. Cycled over to Paul's in Wheaton, to his surprise.
Spent some time in Wheatland, staying at Jim's and helping out with some straw baling. Jim took me back to Aurora with the bike in the back of the car.
The temperature has been around 50 at night and 80 - 90 in the day. The farmers all wear big hats and finish up with tanned faces and very white foreheads !
Off work from 15th to 18th Sept with a temperature and tonsillitis.
23rd Sept. A perfect day in Chicago. Walked down to the Lake looking for a view to photograph when blonde, swim suited Emmie Flake appeared and posed for me on the rocks. Pity she had to go home to Nebraska. Took her home then went to the Science and Industry Museum - very good. I kept in touch with Emmie and I later met up with her in London - showed her Windsor Castle. In the evening I found a Jazz Club, which had a good trad band and I was even introduced to Muggsy Spannier, an old jazz great who was enjoying the band with his wife and another musician. Returned to Aurora in air conditioned arm chair splendour with music on the train. A day to remember.
7th October. Took the morning Twin Cities train from Chicago to Savannah on the Mississippi. Another beautiful day and viewing the countryside from the Vista dome - 107 miles in 90 minutes. Climbed the bluffs overlooking the mighty river which is several miles wide even 1000 miles from its mouth at New Orleans. Wonderful day, wonderful views. Took in a movie and then got the 8.30p.m. train back.
Chicago weather forecasters can get it wrong, too ! No rain had been forecast but it rained 11 inches between the 9th and 10th October. On the way to work I had to go under a railways bridge. It was flooded. A car was stuck half way through. I decided to take off my shoes and cycle through it. Was just putting them into my bag when a car came by and the bow wave washed one of the shoes away !I saw it floating but the next vehicle swamped it. Arrived at work barefoot, much to the amusement of the lads. Fortunately I had boots as well and, surprisingly I found the shoe the next day. Many flood tales in the area next day.
Apart from that the 'Fall' had been very pleasant. But by the end of October there were 6 inch icicles hanging from the Burlington water tower.
Watched the Harlem Globetrotters at the local High School. Very good.
The British Consulate in Washington is taking up my case regarding a postponement of Selective Service.
It is election time. The parties spend all their time trying to prove the other side is dishonest. Their sole policy is anti communism. Surprisingly, though, Ike expects to get some credit from proposing an extension to Social Security - and he, a Republican !
Early November. Light snow, 3 foot icicles. But by the 16th the daytime temperature was 70f. What a contrast !
The Draft Board is still proceeding with my induction and I will have to attend a medical. Went to a Cinerama show in Chicago: an extravagant tour of the States and Europe. Impressive
25th November. Worked Thanksgiving at double time and half !
Paul is trying to pair me off with a girl called Tania and several of us went to a party in a wealthy house in Glen Ellyn. There were also a couple of German girls. They are dying to stay in the US and couldn't believe I am dying to leave !
6th December. Ice thick enough to skate on in a nearby park. Eventually bought a decent pair of figure skates. Another foursome set up by Paul. We all went to a film and then on to the Sky Club in Aurora in what passes for a skyscraper. VERY expensive.
Had to go to Chicago for my Service physical, which I passed, despite trying to fail. In view of impending doom I walked back to the travel agents and booked a return trip to the UK on the Empress of France from Montreal to Liverpool on May 10th.
Christmas morning was in Aurora with the Ilseman family and then Dale whisked me off to his farm, which was full of kids - Dale's seven, Stewart's four and some others. Went to bed at 10 and, not having had much sleep slept until noon the next day. Then it was on to Stewart's then Tom's. There is quite a lot of organisation between the families with the kids drawing lots as to who gives to whom. Then they go from house to house to open the presents when everyone is there. One of the boys had a clarinet and it seemed very easy to play compared with mine.
29th December. Another Draft Board scare. Received a note to say my permission to leave the country had been refused. The following day I went to Chicago and saw Mr Sedgewick-Jell (Vice consul) who was very annoyed by the denial and rang the Wheaton Draft Board to verify the position. He said he would get in touch with me after contacting Washington but confirmed that I could leave without fear of arrest as long as I got tax clearance. By 31st I had a letter that told me I had indefinite postponement and that I should reapply for a permit to leave. Good work by the Vice Consul.
I developed 'flu again and was off work for a couple of days. But as soon as I was fit again I got lots of skating. Temperature has been as low as 10f. At that temperature the skates begin to slide sideways as they cannot cut the ice.
At work it has got down as low as -17f (49 degrees of frost) but it doesn't seem as cold as that. But one time I went out to turn an engine on the turntable and took out a damp rag. Before I got back in it was as stiff as a board.
29th Jan. Went to Milwaukee again and sat up talking to Delores and family until 3 a.m.. She played the piano well, Claire de la Lune etc. In the morning, Dad, Jim took us for a ride along by the Lake, which was well frozen. .People were skating on the Milwaukee River. Returned to Aurora.
Cycling home from work took a picture of a thermometer - 42 degrees of frost!...
2nd Feb Beautiful sunny day. Big Jim collected me and we went to hear the Plainfield High Band, who were very good indeed.
10th Feb Very cold and 6 inches of snow.
Got a letter in the local paper in response to an absurd article by 'an American in London' whingeing that he had to give a 10c tip in one of the best hotels. Had a letter from Homer and Elizabeth complimenting me on it.
19th Feb. I have booked a 4 day tour of New Orleans to see the Mardi Gras. I only have to pay a third of the rail ticket on the 'foreign' line. Up at 4 a.m. Got a cab to the station and the 5.05 train to Chicago, then the 7.50 " City of Orleans train from Illinois Central. The queue for the train was 50% coloured but I finished up in an all white carriage. It was all done by tickets. We are headed for the Deep South, where segregation is the norm on public transport. The train is not as smart as the stainless steel California Zephirs. Enjoyed the best glass of (freshly squeezed) orange I ever had; 25c, with ice. By mid day we had passed a field full off grape vines. No snow down here. Passed an area full of green coal, ramshackle, unpainted houses, then nodding donkey oil pumps. 3 p.m. Over the Ohio into Kentucky. Then down the East side of the Mississippi. Very flat and covered in small trees. Flocks of birds. 4 pm crossed into Tennessee. 5pm Memphis. Houses are hovels now, surrounded by streams and wetland (bayou). Already warm out there, like and English summer evening. Neon lights showing as we reached Jackson, the Capital of Mississippi.
I kept a note of the cost of the tour: Tour $52.50, Rail ticket $26.50; Cabs $2; Food and drink $10. Kodachrome film $6
Finally arrived in New Orleans, where we are to stay in 'Pullman City' - Pullman sleeping cars : very basic.
Day 1. Walked down to famous Canal Street and along to South Rampart Street. Back to Canal Street and got the 10.30a.m. SS President steamboat from the levee. Just the tourist run up the river and back. The sun was intermittent but it was still around 70f. Then went to see some of the parades from the Canal Street, South Rampart Street corner. The floats were elaborate and they throw out cheap gifts, strings of beads and candy, all the time. The parade went up one side then down the other. Canal Street is one of the broadest streets, being a covered over waterway. Our tour included an evening show at the Jung Hotel with Rudee Vallee, already a 'has been' by then. At least the food was good. After that I wandered down Bourbon Street to the Vieux Carre in search o Louis Armstrong who was said to be playing in town. There must have been 40 places of entertainment in Bourbon Street, mostly strip shows and here and there the strains of a Jazz band. Went into one jazz club. Good group and a great interval guitarist. Lots of clubs, Twosy Foursy, Dog Club, Cat Club, Pat O'Brians.
Monday was a big day. Unfortunately rather dull for photography. But we had a coach tour which included the above ground cemetery (too wet to dig down) , the banana docks, St Lois Cathedral , French Quarter (with all those iron balustrades) , French Market and Coffee shop (never closed), up to Lake Ponchartrain (very misty) then down through the City Park with its Spanish Moss laden trees and big palms. It is February but the azaleas were in bloom. I then accompanied a couple of the girls to the races, where we had something to eat and won a couple of races (and lost a couple) and came out even. Took the bus back to town, finding myself sitting in the 'Reserved for Colored patrons only' part. In the evening there was another tour which covered three night clubs with expensive drinks.
Tuesday 22nd was the biggest parade day. I wisely stayed in bed until 10 and, when I wandered down to Union Street, the parade had not started. . Lots of people were wandering about in fancy dress, from convicts to oversized rabbits and ogres. The parade was based on the Life of Washington. The evening parade was by far the most effective with illumination and fireworks. Big crowds in Canal Street. Had one last night in Pullman City and then we were off back up north, seeing a lot of the Mississippi by daylight. I was fascinated to see old cars being towed south along the roads, obviously worth more there than in the prosperous north. Often wondered how they managed to tow those cars with no driver in the rear car.
25th Feb. Cycled out to Wheatland and reported on the trip. Stayed overnight at Dale's.
Visited Russell and Othelia and told him of my plans to visit the West before leaving the States. He gave me a contact in Fort Collins where I could stay.
Not being used to advertising on radio or TV I was interested to hear the tempting offers "21 inch TV, nothing down, 76c a week and up to $150 trade in".
Sunday 6th March. Went to Chicago and took a bus south through to ghetto area to the Aquarium then back up Michigan Avenue to the Blue Note Club, where Jack Teagarden was performing in the afternoon. In the interval the barman introduced me to Jack and I got the following autograph.
The room was only half full, which amazed me as he was famous in jazz circles and I told him that in Europe he would be playing to packed houses. He evidently took me at my word and later did a successful tour (before drinking himself to death!)
Thought of staying the night at the Y but the weather was miserable : only 16f and the 'Windy City' was at its worst, so got the late train home.
Sunday I cycled over to Paul's. He had requested some travel leaflets as he plans a trip to England and Israel. I suggested a route he might take in England. Cycled back against a headwind - 15 miles of dead straight road on that heavy old American bike.
By March 11th the temperature was back in the 60s. - 73f in Chicago 'Loop'.
24th March. The weather has deteriorated again and this makes work even more wearisome than ever. Can't wait to finish this job but must carry on until I can get my last free trip out to Denver, then say goodbye to nights for ever.
1st April. The weather has improved again, so I took the Saturday night train to Minneapolis. Took 8 hours and I slept part of the way. The seats are very comfortable with footrests and headrests and the carriage is air conditioned. The train follows the Mississippi for hundreds of miles and the countryside is very attractive. The river is still frozen over for most of its length up there.
Drew into St Paul at 7.30 a.m. then on to Minneapolis, about ten miles. We passed a waterfall (St Anthony's), which I later learned was the basis for the growth of Minneapolis. It was used for grain milling and now powers turbines. I decided to walk back to the falls and got close to them and was impressed as great blocks of ice came over the top.
I chatted to someone who worked for the Burlington and he recommended I visit the Foshay Tower and drove me over. It is a tapering 447 feet high office block (at that time the tallest building in that area) and I was able to go up it and take pictures of the town.
Then took a bus to the Falls of Minnehaha, made famous by Longfellow's Song of Hiawatha, which were covered in ice and were quite dramatic. Talked to another camera enthusiast for a while then went to see 'Snows of Kilimanjaro' at the cinema. And so, back to Aurora by the night train.
I once asked one of the old railway firemen at work about a song my father used to sing - "Hallelujah, I'm a Bum": It went : " I like Jim Hill, he's a good friend of mine, that is why I am travelling on Jim Hill's Main Line". To my amazement he told me that I was working on it! It is a long story of capitalist ingenuity, politics and hard work which resulted in Hill, the great railway entrepreneur, being worth $53million by the time he died in 1916. In fact the final outcome was the Burlington, Northern and Santa Fe Railway which did not come about until 1995.See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Jerome_Hill. Hill is known as the Empire Builder.
Went into Chicago to get a camera repair and pay the balance of my fare home ($130)
16th April. At long last it is time for my second vacation trip. Left Chicago on the Coloradoan at 11.20a.m.. The country is extraordinarily flat all the way to the Missouri (500 miles) We reached Omaha at 9.30pm. Called Emmie Flake in Nebraska City, who invited me to stay or meet her for a show in Chicago. It will have to be the latter. (In fact I met her in London after my return). As there was a wait for the next train I wandered outside, picked up a couple of souvenirs and posted a couple of cards. Even in the evening the temperature was pleasant. I popped into a bar to get a feel of the West. There was a little group playing with an ample woman playing an electric accordion. A singer in a pink shirt and tight jeans, with a voice that twanged as much as the guitar was singing cowboy blues "I trard to lurv yer, now yer gorn". At least I had arrived in cowboy country! Back on the train chatted to some interesting folk then, after Lincoln, fell asleep until 5.30 a.m. When I awoke the scene outside had changed. Still flat but very dry and sandy with brown unhealthy looking grass. There was some irrigation with sprays and an occasional green field of alfalfa; few fences or houses. 6.20. Reached Colorado. Sage brush, occasional patch of irrigation, then dust, a dried up river, a jack rabbit, a steer skull. 7.20. I can see grey snow capped mountains on the horizon. I stood in the space between the carriages to see the famous Rocky Mountains rising straight up from the plain that we had traversed, all the way from Chicago. That old redundant firemen had told me what a trial of strength it was to feed the fire of a steam engine pulling a heavy train up hill for a thousand miles.
17th April 1955 Denver As soon as I walked out of the station I knew I was far from Illinois. I was smitten by an unrestricted sun. It was dazzlingly bright, though the shade was pleasantly cool. I managed to catch the Fort Collins bus, which travels the 60 miles north under the watchful eye of the mountains. Fort Collins seemed a pleasant college town with broad streets and expensive looking houses, I called my contact, George Spalding, Russell's friend and a few minutes later he strode down the street looking like something out of High Noon with his jeans and Stetson. George had trained as a nurse in Illinois but got TB and decided to 'go West' for the sake of his health and his family. They had liked the area, having spent holidays up in the mountains in a log cabin. He had started a lumber business, collecting it from mountain forestry camps and sawing it up ready for resale. They live in a pleasant log cabin (what else?), surrounded by cottonwood trees, by an irrigation canal.
They have several outbuildings and a friendly cow. He had two brothers, Clarence and Glenn. One helped with the lumber business while the other was hoping to make his fortune prospecting. Not for gold (he said the old timers got all that) but for Uranium - the new gold. As soon as it was dark he was excited to show one of his recent finds. He said it was Uraninite or Pitchblende, which he said is the 'vapour of Uranium'. This showed up under a scintillator with brilliant blues, golds and greens. I had to tell him that I had noticed some of the rock he had dumped by the shed and picked it up to take back to give to a friend of my landlady, who had asked me to collect any interesting minerals I might see ! I must have had a nose for such things. However, Clarence complained that his search was mad more difficult because the ground was alive with radio-activity ! He pointed his Geiger Counter at the ground and it went off the scale ! It should read about . It went to 60 and 30 on the next level. This was due to recent 'dirty bombs' which had been set off earlier in the Nevada Desert ! So we were standing down-wind of that fall out! I feel sure the Coloradoans were not aware of that (or they would be suing the government for every cancer they got). A good thing I intended to move on after a few days. No doubt the cow's milk had a high radio-active content. Can't remember if I had it on my cereal! Later George waved casually at a hill of dirt which he said was full of gold. But there was no water nearby to pan it. During the depression people would get some of that hill and take it to a stream to retrieve the small amounts of gold. But at that time it was considered uneconomical. No big nuggets !
On Monday morning Mrs Spalding and I started out for the mountains and were into them surprisingly quickly. It was a perfect day for driving. From then on it was just one long scenes of mountain grandeur, with occasional glimpses of snow capped 14,252 foot Long's Peak. It is an extraordinary mix of mountain, canyon, streams and beautiful blue skies. The air was clear and cool and the sun was hot. I took lots of shots on that journey. We reached the town of Estes Park via Big Thomson Canyon and had a walk around in the blazing sun. Then we were off again via St Vrain Canyon down to Cache la Poudre, where the Indians had hidden their gun powder. We had a walk around then down to the plain and back to Fort Collins by 4.15. A great day thanks to Alma Spalding.
Soon after we got back George and I set out in the truck to collect more lumber from the mountains. The usual passes were still blocked by several feet of snow, so it was necessary to make a 160 mile detour via Laramie, Wyoming, to the North. From Laramie he took the old truck over two high passes. George had already done a day's work and began to get sleepy, so I drive the tuck for about 30 miles. He must have been very trusting (or foolhardy) as the only driving I had done up to that point was a tiny little pre war Austin Ruby Saloon ! However, I managed very well on that occasion. George pointed out a road which went over a hill to a small town called Virginia Dale. Virginia used to be quite a character and if you crossed her husband's path he was liable to shoot you. One tavern owner used to let Mr Dale's coach drivers to drink whiskey and would arrive drunk. After a warning, the next time a driver came up drunk Mr Dale went to the tavern, tied the owner to a chair and shot bullets all around him. Then he opened a keg of maple syrup and a bag of flour and skated all over it. The drivers didn't arrive drunk again.
After we left Laramie we climbed up into the timber area where the road turned into gravel and mud. There were snow banks each side which got bigger as we gained altitude. We had to get up to the camp soon after it was dark , so that it was freezing and we could drive over the mud and get out in the morning before it thawed again.
About 10 p.m. we turned off this into the trees and had to put on chains. The wind was howling through the tall pines. It had begun to freeze. George asked me to help with the chains but warned me that if I saw a bear I ought to get back in the cab ! Looking over your shoulder while putting chains on in the dark is NOT easy. But this is the wild frontier…. By 10.30 we made it to the loggers camp and I staggered, puffing and panting up the snowy slope (because of the unaccustomed altitude) to one of the rough log cabins where we lay down on a bed and covered ourselves with mound of blankets and were soon fast asleep.
George didn't wake me in the morning… he should have ..but went off to the saw mill some way away. I fed the wood stove to keep warm and boiled some water. I say 'boiled' but at 10,000 feet water boils without getting very hot. You could put your finger in the pot. And anything sealed lower down is liable to blow up. Around 9.15 the truck came back, swaying up the hill with a full load of timber. We then started the long tedious way back. George, who had got up at 4.30 a.m. was very tired and soon we started to wander all over the road. This was bad, as with any sharp move could turn that top heavy load over and he even pointed out piles of timber over the edge where other trucks had met that fate. Nevertheless he handed the truck over to me.
Again think I did well. He explained that of the thirty gears I didn't have to use most of them. But the idea was to charge down one side of a valley so you could get part way up the other side before you had to get into a very low gear. I just had to use 3rd, 4th and 5th gears. All went well until the first main bend in Laramie when the load started swaying unnervingly ! I am proud to say that I managed to keep it on the road. The one stop we made was for me to take a picture of a convertible deep in snow that would not be rescued until the summer (if at all).
At last, at 5.30 pm we made it back to his place. It had taken nearly 8 hours. We had come through mud, a blizzard and a dust storm. George kept on working but I was "bushed" and went to bed at 9.30.
At 6.30 he woke me and asked whether I wanted to catch the train to Colorado Springs from Denver. I did want to do a trip that started there so I agreed and Alma drove me to Denver. There a I booked train journey to Salt Lake City, via Colorado Springs and got the 9 a.m. train.
Wednesday I reached Colorado Springs at 10.50a.m. It is a pretty little touristy town with wide streets up which you can see the magnificent Pikes Peak, a rugged mountain of over 14,000 feet. I walked into a travel agent. Sally took a shine to me and drove me to Trailways Tours. I booked a tour starting at 1p.m. and Sally then drove me to the YM where I booked in for one night and had a meal. I was agreeably surprised when the tour car turned up. Not only was it a Cadillac with a glass roof, it had two girls and a newly demobbed soldier, just back from Korea. So we were set fair for the day. The tour included a stop at a pottery where I bought a couple of pieces and had them sent to the Spauldings and one to take home. The next stop was the famous Garden of the Gods, which is made up of strange red sandstone shapes protruding from the floor of the valley. We went up high in the mountains and took photographs of the plain below.
It was not difficult for the defending Indians to spot the settlers as one could see clearly for 50 miles or more and their wagons would kick up dust in the dry area. At one time we were excited to see across a valley what looked like an outcrop of emeralds! When we got round to that spot we were disgusted to find that it was a pile of broken bottles someone had emptied down the hill. But most of the scenery was sublime; mountains, canyons and waterfalls … Cheyenne canyon, Seven Falls, Will Rogers Shrine.
We got back after a great four hour tour and said goodbye to Herb, who had to go home. Pity. We were all set up for a foursome. And I didn't fancy taking out Sally for the evening. The following morning I got up and sunned myself in the park until the Rio Grande train turned up. Found myself sitting opposite a very pretty girl called June, from New York on her way (with Mum) to California. Lots of photo opportunities along the Arkansas River and through the Royal Gorge and over the Tennessee Pass, the highest railroad in the USA and past Leadville, a rich silver, gold and zinc mining area. Then along the west flowing Eagle River, which flows into the famous Colorado River. Occasionally boulders fall on the track so this train is often preceded by an engine on its own.
I slept soundly from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Later we entered a huge plain set amid the mountains and this turned out to be the plain in which Salt Lake City developed. (where Brigham Young had decided "This is the Place!")
Once off the train I checked my bag and booked the usual Gray Line tour of the city. We visited the magnificent City Hall, the Mormon Tabernacle and saw the Temple nearby. Later the weather turned cloudy and having 'done SLC' I got back on the train to Denver, this time going through the mountains (tunnels, rather than along the river gorges).At last we could see the vast plain beyond the mountains. We were back in Denver. Again, I got a Gray Line tour bus of the city which I thought was exceptionally fine, the streets were wide and airy. A city ordnance ruled that houses must be build of brick and stone, so had a more permanent look than the usual wood and shingles houses. Denver has no less than 30 parks and because of the low rainfall and low humidity all have to be irrigated. It was spring and already irrigation of the lawns and trees had begun. Water is the great problem and they were hoping to pipe some through from the other side of the Great Divide. I returned to one of the parks that the driver recommended and did a little sun bathing, played tennis with a couple of girls, then we visited the open air zoo and Natural History Museum, then on to the YM for the night. In the morning I enquired about sun bathing on the roof and I spent a few hours up there between sun bathing and showering to keep cool. The sun was very hot but in the shade it was cool. And humidity was nil. Ideal. I chatted to some lads up there about travel, jobs, making money. One guy was a few shades darker than the others and he talked easily about visiting Palm Springs and Europe. His line was investing in the stock market and he suggested Walt Disney Productions as a good deal. He suggested tucking away investments for a few years.. "Don't buy that Cadillac. Once you have the first few thousand the rest is easy". He was probably spot-on. In the afternoon I went to see "A Man called Peter", with Richard Todd.
The following day I took the train back to Chicago and arrived very tired. I didn't let the cat out of the bag about leaving work until the following Friday when I was about to leave. The reaction of most Americans that I would want to return to England was one of uncomprehending. I must be stupid, ridiculously patriotic or have a girl back there. I went to the foreman and said " I want to give in my notice". "Come again ?" "er, I wanna quit!" That he understood.
Friday night I saw Jim P and Honey and Stu Payne and showed them some slides
Saturday I went over to Russell's and found they were going to Paul Hartman's, so accompanied them. More slides. Monday was a big 'admin' day. A beautiful morning with a forecast of 70 in Chicago.
But the Windy City was blowing dust about. Immigration said I might as well apply for a re-entry permit, even at that short notice. I went on to the Tax Office and that went smoothly. Had a tax rebate for '54 and would get another for '55. That was the advantage of working a year in two halves ! Went on to the travel agent and got my boat ticket and booked the train to Montreal via Niagara. Cleveland, Buffalo, Niagara, Welland, Hamilton, Toronto, Montreal. By then the temperature was 87f and not at all suitable for rushing around.
Monday night went over to Maple Park and saw Harold, Merina, Hoppy and Alma. Elsie wasn't there. Tuesday morning I was due at Stu Payne's school near Aurora. I picked up my slides and projector and cycled over. The slide show was well received and there were lots of interesting questions. I sat in a class for a while. I think they were interested to hear this strange accent.
After dinner at Stu's they took me over to Big Jims and the following day I visited the Thompsons, Eno and Louise, who still sounded English despite being there 40 years. In the afternoon we revisited Mungo, who insisted on giving me two half dollars for luck. Then managed to see Helen, Jim, Tom, Stu and Harry, then over to Dale's for supper and back to Aurora. They really have all made me feel most welcome.
Thursday I packed what I had not expressed to the boat and said au revoir the my landlady, Mrs Ilseman.
I was very pleased with my progress. I had a lot more stickers on my case than I had anticipated and even after paying for my trip home had accumulated $700.
Vic drove me to the station and I was on my way, via Chicago, Lake Eyrie. Cleveland to Buffalo, where I got a room for the night. In the morning got the bus to Niagara.
It is difficult to put into words the awe I felt on seeing the Falls. There was very little protection and it was frightening to feel that you were so near to such a dreadful death. I was able to jump from rock to rock on the three Sisters Island to get photographs and put my hand into the water, which seconds later would tumble over the edge. Then I took a lift to the base of the American Falls. Some of the usual attractions were not open. The famous Maid of the Mists boat had had a fire and there had been recent rock falls. I was unable to walk across the Rainbow Bridge to Canada because of customs problems. So I got a bus and travelled over to the Canadian side and then by train via Hamilton and Toronto to Montreal. Suddenly I was back in the old country. It was drizzly, there were people in blazers in the ill lit streets, English beer, English cars.
I arrived in Montreal, tired and impatient early on Sunday morning. The cab driver who took me to the 'Y' did so grudgingly, muttering that it was such a short way. Something very Gallic about him, like dealing with a Parisian waiter! It was about the same distance as from the house in Aurora to the station and I never had any trouble with cabs there even in the early hours of the morning and it cost MORE in Canada.
The YMCA lacked facilities. Nowhere to put my two cases until the check room opened at 10 a.m. The wash room was locked (being Sunday!) and no alternative was suggested. I lost patience and asked whether they didn't wash on Sundays and was grudgingly handed a key and instructed to lock up after me.
I got a wash and a shave and wandered round the town, leaving my luggage by the office door assuming no one would take it. I returned at 9 a.m. a booked in my cases and set off to walk up the Mont Royale. As I climbed my way up the steep steps I was followed by an equally Gallic cabbie, this time with a horse. He obviously was hoping that I would get tired and he would get a fare. He was out of luck. I got to the top, and took my usual panoramas of the city, tree studded in the morning mist, with the wide St. Lawrence beyond, crossed by many bridges. And further south there were mountains. The air was good up there; damp, laden with the smell of grass and leaves but good and cool. Why does anyone want to live in a city? I thought of my last gruelling day in Chicago, with the oppressive heat and wind borne dust. No thank you.
I carried on down the other side of the Mount. Early morning riders passed me. I got my shoes plastered in mud from the dust covered snow banks which lined the track.
I intended to visit St Joseph's Oratory, which I had imagined would be at the top of the Mount but it was quite a long way further on. It is a massive modern domed building, still unfinished inside. I climbed several flights of stairs to the magnificent portico.
Inside there were shops and even escalators and a restaurant where I got something to eat. I got down to a cobbled road where the trams rumbled and clanged. I took a tram back to town.
Began to hear English voices for the first time in a long time. Now I am just one of a crowd again. One of a crowd ? When I went to look up an old school friend, John Mair, in Verdun, I realised the English are in the minority. I asked the bus driver directions to Ethel Street. He didn't understand until I showed him it written down. " Ah oui. Ay-telle Street !" But John had long gone from Ethel Street but, fortunately, I found someone who knew where he was living and I finally tracked him down, now married to Pauline. They were in good spirits and we talked and talked.
The following day I walked down to the docks and took a snap of the Empress of France that I would sail on. Pauline had recommended a certain restaurant and I ordered a half fried chicken on an enormous oval plate. It was excellent and when I told Pauline she said "Why didn't you bring me some". As it happened I had bought them a coloured glass cockerel in appreciation of their hospitality. I then went on to bore them with some of my colour slides.
Returned to the 'Y' and the following morning I took a cab to the boat and got to know my cabin mates. One of them was returning to the UK having been disappointed with Canada. Several other people gave me this impression. High unemployment. John worked in a bank and they wanted to lend money but no-one would borrow. He put down Canada's stagnation to the kind of conservatism. Compared with the US manufactured goods were expensive. Others on the boat were going back broke.
The food and service on the boat were excellent and the company interesting, especially Hal Hunsicker, a plump, healthy looking Californian of extraordinary agility. As a bunch of the young travellers we got together and spent several uproarious nights on board. Frank (line shooter) a scruffy Aussie and an evidently successful French Canadian, who was an assayer at a mining company. He KNEW before anyone else which company had struck uranium and was able to get in on their shares before they rocketed… insider trading. He had a Ford Thunderbird on board the ship and was going to spend a few months in Europe. I was pleased to fix up Hal with him for a ride to her destination in Gloucestershire.
A superb trip. 1000 miles down the St Lawrence before we were in the open sea, then five days across (twice as fast as the merchant ship going). Back home in style.
And in the end Russell's appeals to Washington resulted in a change in the rules that WOULD give me exemption from becoming a GI ! So, I was able to go back without fear of arrest !
Keith Paterson March 2010 It only took me 55 years to get around to typing this diary !
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