Thursday, February 1, 2007

The Casual Comment

Most of us would like to feel our life has some meaning. That we’re doing something worthwhile. Perhaps we would like to be a great singer or artist, maybe of owning our own business and becoming successful. Maybe a politician or an attorney {I can’t believe I mentioned those last two, please forgive me}

Whatever you aspire too is possible, but lets face it, you’re going to have to work hard. A little god given talent would be welcomed and even then, it may take you a lifetime to achieve any feeling of success.

. Not all things worthwhile are hard to achieve. It’s as easy as calling your dog and giving him a pat on the head; Talk about success, the tail wags, you get your hand licked and those big brown eyes reflect total love. Now for those who don’t like dogs, don’t despair, there’s still hope.

People are not that different. When someone gives us a pat on the back or a kind word, we also experience that feeling of joy and well-being. We probably won’t lick any hands or start wagging our tails, but we will respond in some fashion. Have you ever stopped to think about why you like to be around certain people? It’s not only because they say nice things about you, but others as well. They go through life looking on the bright side of things. These folks have as many problems as we do but they seem to cope so much better.

Having given this subject considerable thought, I would like to pass along the following observation. Most people seem to be happiest when they have achieved something worthwhile. It may be some great project completed or merely spending time with a friend. It may be just a casual comment.

It takes but a moment to say something nice to someone and yet so often we don’t take the time. We assume they know. A casual comment like, that dress looks nice, your lawn looks great, I like that color or maybe just saying thanks! Now that’s a really powerful casual comment. The casual comment not only makes someone else feel good, but you’ll feel good as well.

The casual comment cannot be thought of in advance and given for effect. It must be an idea that has just occurred to you. Why is this so powerful? Because the person you’re saying it to knows you’re sincere.

Your success may be only a casual comment away.

The Deceptive Diet.

The word deceptive in the dictionary reads, false, fake, bogus, phony and misleading. The word diet is defined as meals, nutrition, foodstuffs etc.
Hundreds of books have been written on how to diet correctly and lose weight. People buy book after book that explain how watching carbs, sugar and salt intake will help. Counting calories and drinking a lot of water are often suggested Diet books may be helpful and yet are they also deceiving because of what they often omit. Few suggest the importance of eating less. It’s too simple and for that you don’t need to buy a book.
The next time your eating at your favorite fast food place look around. Check out the guy with the double cheeseburger and the super order of fries. Look closely, he’s the one with the stomach hanging over his belt, the guy who looks like he’s about to give birth to a watermelon. Now look over at the woman that resembles a water buffalo wearing stretch pants, Her plate is full. She’s got the biggie fries, the biggie drink and the biggest burger on the menu. She doesn’t think she’s eating too much. Why? Because sitting across from her she notices a very slim lady having the same meal. The fat lady thinks to herself, “I don’t eat any more than her and yet I get fat, it’s just not fair.” What the fat woman isn’t willing to do is eat only one big meal a day, like the slim lady does; instead She eats two or three.
The restaurant that features the all you can eat buffet is the home of fat people. I’ve watched those overeaters wearing out a soupspoon trying to get that very last drop. These people have given up trying to lose weight. They are eating themselves to death and deceiving themselves into believing it won’t happen to them.
My deceptive diet plan is for those who want to lose weight. You can be helped. First you must cut back on” how much you eat.” You have been led to believe that if you count carbs, eat the right foods and exercise you’ll lose weight. That may be true but it will take a long time on this strict diet and when you don’t keep it up you eventually fail.
Now comes the deceptive part, you feel good about yourself because you are on a diet. You have carefully eaten just what the diet calls for and still you can’t seem to lose weight. Now it’s time to blame it on your age or my mother was always heavy so it’s in my genes. All very valid reasons except other people are in your same boat and they diet and lose weight. What are they doing that you’re not? They have simply accepted as fact that if you want to lose weight, it’s not as much what you’re eating as how much.
Quit worrying about calories and carbs and start paying attention to how much food and drink you’re putting away each day. There is one sure way to lose weight,

Don’t Eat So Much Dummy!

Do you enjoy a good movie?

Not a tough question to answer for most people. The question becomes a lot harder to answer though if you ask, what is a good movie? We are as different in what we like as what we don’t like. Some folks watch a movie to get scared or frightened, others want to be transported to a distant galaxy. Many prefer a picture that has a car chase ending with cars crashing into everything on the street and finally each other.
Unfortunately gone are the days of the movie with an interesting plot and a bit of romance and minus all those special effects. Today’s youth orientated society driven by television and its all-consuming desire to make money will program only that which youth will watch. The rest of the world, those over forty. Has been forced to endure in our television and movies, what the youth market wants, at least what they think the youth market want. It would appear the formula that has worked best with this “In your face attitude” the younger generation has adopted seems to be Sex and Violence. The plot may alter who gets shot first but the basic formula remains the same. As much as I would like to see things change I know it won’t. The formula works. The movie producers are making money delivering what most moviegoers. (Those under forty). Go to see.
At one time people said (Life begins at forty) In today’s world it doesn’t. I’m not saying it’s over but if you’re not in a supervisory position beware. There was a time not to long ago when people with seniority were considered a company’s greatest asset. Not anymore. Now companies look for ways to get rid of you with your accrued vacation time and hospital coverage. It’s the bottom line that counts and if replacing you saves money, your gone. If there is any justice in any of this, it is that the S.O, B. who let you go is also getting older as each day passes. His time will come.
Try not to be bitter there are lot of great old movies available on tape and DVD.
I myself plan to stick around and watch what happens when that “In your face world” bites them in the ass.

Buying Your Dream Home

So you’ve decided to buy a house, congratulations. This is of course part of the American dream. (Keep in mind the key word “dream”.) After having looked over the newspaper and TV listings of homes for sale, it has probably become apparent that buying a home is going to be the largest purchase you’ll ever make. Don’t screw up! Dream all you want to but don’t forget that mistakes can make your dream into a nightmare.
Don’t fool yourself into buying a home you can’t afford. Don’t let the real estate sales person sell you a home you can’t afford. Most realtors are going to work with you. But select wisely. Ask your friends and associates who they might recommend. Don’t select one because they have the biggest add in the phone book. They could be the best but check around.
As equally important as the house itself, is where it’s located. The same house, with the same features, the same overall size, same number of bedrooms etc. can be worth thousands of dollars more in a good neighborhood. I don’t care if it’s beautiful and just what you like, if it’s in a lousy part of town, no matter how low the price, your buying into a bad investment. This is not to say that in thirty years or so the area may come back, but can you wait and are you willing to live in an crummy area that long.
What kind of a house are you looking for, two bedrooms, three, and four. How many baths, what about a basement? Do you want a big yard, fenced in with a few trees or a small yard with no lawn to cut and no leaves to rake? What about a town house or a condo? I only bring these choices up because before you waste your time, and the real estate agents as well, give it some thought. You may have a pretty good idea what you want, but can you afford that dream house. Don’t waste time looking at houses you can’t afford. Buying a home can be and should be a lot of fun, don’t spoil it by being unrealistic.
One mistake often made is thinking you can fix up the house your planning to buy for very little. If it’s only painting a room or two, and you’ve done that before, this is possible. Now when it comes to remodeling a kitchen or baths your talking a whole different ball game. Kitchen cabinets and a new countertop may cost as little as three or four hundred dollars but if your looking for something top of the line. it could run several thousand. Here again be realistic. The bath or even just a half bath can cost a lot of money to remodel. Keep in mind that it’s not just the fixtures the tub; shower, stool and vanity with sink that costs money. It’s the plumbing. I’m talking running the hot and cold water lines and the all important drain lines as well. This is not work that most home handy men can do. When you start plumbing a kitchen or bath, you better know what your doing, My advice if you haven’t done it be careful, it may be less expensive to call a plumber before you tackle the job than after. Replacing some bath fixtures can cost only a few hundred dollars but a major remodeling job can run several thousand.
Another pitfall people often fall into is by thinking “This room is a little small, but we could just take out that one wall and that would really make it a nice size room” Anything is possible, but what would it cost? Sometimes removing a wall can be done quite easily, without costing a lot, and other times it can be a major construction problem. It may involve moving plumbing lines and electrical wiring and putting in a support beam in the ceiling. Now were talking some real money.
Are you scared? Well you should be. I have only mentioned a few of the many things that can turn the search for your “dream home” into a nightmare. There are other things you need to check. How good is the foundation? Does the roof leak? What about the furnace? How old are the windows? Are they energy efficient? How much insulation is in the walls and attic? Many times those looking at a house are more concerned with the color of the walls and how new is the carpet? These things if they don’t suit you, can be easily fixed and not to terribly expensive to remedy. Installing a new roof or replacing the air-conditioning and heating systems will require a big outlay of dollars.
Many of today’s homes feature an outside deck, which can add a lot of enjoyment to a home when weather permits. A deck will last several years if properly treated for the weather, be sure to check it out. Not just from the top. But underneath as well.
There are many things that can provide value to the home your looking at and one you may take for granted is the landscaping. If you’ve ever tried to put in or keep a lawn looking nice you know what I mean. A good lawn represents a lot of work, care and money,
If I haven’t caused you to change you mind about buying that “Dream House” by now, then your ready. Keep in mind. When in doubt, ask someone you know and trust who has some knowledge and experience as a homeowner. The best and safest way to proceed is to pay for a home inspection. It will be money well spent. Now it’s time to hold your partners hand, stand up straight, don’t be scared. And what the hell, go for it!


I n 1928 Herbert Hover was elected President, Amelia Earhart flew across the Atlantic, Disney introduced Mickey Mouse and in Michigan City, Indiana I was born. My childhood was very normal, at least to me it always seemed that way. We were family of six. My brother Harry was ten years older than I and then came my two sisters, Betty and Virginia. As a family we were never without the necessities of life but it was often a struggle, even with both my folks working to make ends meet.
We lived a few miles outside of town in a two-bedroom house with a full basement and an unfinished attic. My room was in the attic, which wasn’t heated, and in the winter talk about cold, I would put on warm socks and my flannel pajamas downstairs and then make a dash upstairs and jump under the bed covers. Whenever it got bitter cold, mom would fix me up a bed on the sofa downstairs.
The house sat on fourteen acres that had a small stream running thru it. The landowner offered to sell us the property for five thousand dollars and my folks wanted to buy it, but they didn’t have the money and finding a bank that would loan you money near the end of the great depression, was just about impossible.
With my folks working and my sisters attending high school in the city. I spent about three hours alone each day before the rest of the family got home. When the weather was good I played outside with my dog " Jeep." and often take the six baby ducks dad had bought me down to the stream to swim. It was a bit lonely at times but between my dog and the ducks I found things to do until the folks got home.
I didn’t see much of my older brother; he and his friend had bought a semi truck and did long distance hauling. My sisters were in high school and worked part time at an ice cream parlor. I did chores about the house and a little yard work for which I received a weekly allowance of ten cents.
Comic books had become a part of my early teen culture. Like most kids I would save up till I had ten cents and then hurry to the store to get the next exciting issue of superman, batman or one of the many other comic book heroes. At about age twelve I started reading the adventures of "Tom Swift" and then a year later discovered "The Hardy Boys’ stories. My mother and father encouraged me to read and would often take me to the bookstore where I could pick out another of the "Hardy Boys" books. At an early age I had found that excitement and adventure could be mine by reading books. As I look back on my folks buying me a book every couple of weeks (they cost fifty or sixty cents) I’m sure at times it was a strain on the budget.
Another major source of enjoyment in the late 1930’s and early 40’s for
Young and old alike was "Radio". For the kids each day after school it was "Captain Midnight", "Terry and the Pirates," "Jack Armstrong.""Sky King", "The Lone Ranger" and a host of other’s. There were the daytime "soaps" of course and then at night great family entertainment with "Fibber Magee and Molly" "Jack Benny" "Charlie McCarthy" "Bob Hope" and then thrillers like "I Love A Mystery" The Inner Sanctum" and many more.
At age twelve one of the exciting things that happened to me was learning to drive. Because I was small for my age mom had to put blocks under the cars front seat so that I could see out. With the car parked and the engine off, she taught me how to use the clutch and shift the gears. Our gravel driveway stretched about two hundred feet from the road to the house and with mom sitting beside me; I would drive out to the road (never getting it out of first gear) and then back up. Learning to back up wasn’t easy, there were many wild attempts before but I finally managed to stay in the driveway. It was exciting and more fun than going to any amusement park.
When I was fifteen we moved back into town. As a student in Jr. High School, I was about average, getting a few A’s but more B’s and C’s. To me the real challenge in school was to get a passing grade with out taking books home. Many things changed on December 7, 1941 after war was declared. My brother who was in the Naval Reserve was called to active duty right away. It wasn’t long before tires, gas, meat, coffee, sugar, cigarettes and many other items were rationed. It wasn’t something people liked but they knew it was necessary and everybody made the best of it
My world also changed because of the war and the fact that at age sixteen I had joined the Sea Scouts (a branch of the boy scouts) The Coast Guard station in Michigan City was short handed because of the war and the Sea Scouts helped out by standing harbor watch on weekends. I was quite proud walking about town in uniform (our sea Scout uniform looked a lot like a navy uniform.) With the men away serving in the military service the women were faced with a definite shortage of men to date. I was only seventeen, but because I was in uniform I had no problem getting served a drink in any bar. Most of the women I went out with were twenty-five or thirty and enjoyed broadening my education. The women assumed seeing me in uniform that I was close to their own age. (Either that or they were just hard up and didn’t care.)
While my male classmates in high school were hoping to get kissed by the girl next door, I was taking precautions to prevent getting a social disease from my more experienced female companions. I managed to keep my parents unaware of my nighttime escapades by going in and out thru my bedroom window. Looking back I’m surprised I was able to stay awake in class long enough to got a passing grade in high school
In the spring of 1946 I read about our church looking for men to work aboard ships transporting cattle and horses to Europe. It was part of "UNRA"(United Nations Relief Administration) a plan to aid the impoverished people in Europe. Most of the cattle were for food of course but the horses were to be used for farming. Those horses that didn’t take to farming would eventually find their way to the butcher shop along with the cattle. The pay for taking care of the animals on the sea voyage was one hundred and fifty dollars and the trip would take about seven to eight weeks.
It sounded like the adventure of a lifetime; me getting the chance to become a real sailor plus the one hundred and fifty bucks wasn’t bad money. My folks helped me fill out and then signed my application. The following day I went to the high school and ask for permission to miss school for seven to eight weeks. They could not officially authorize my being gone that long, but because it was part of a humanitarian relief program they gave me verbal permission to go with the stipulation that I would make up all the schoolwork missed. I had told Mac, one of my Sea Scout buddies about the trip and he asked his parents if he could go. If the school gave us permission they agreed he could go as well.
Since I would miss several weeks of school in the fall I decided to take a summer school class for an extra credit. That way should I fail any subject I could use the extra credit and still be able to graduate with my classmates. Summer school came and went as I anxiously wondered if I would be accepted. Finally by mail on September 19th a letter arrived telling me to report to the Coast Guard station at Newport News Virginia by September 24 th. At that time I would be given a physical and after taking the necessary shots I would be issued Merchant Marine seaman’s papers and assigned to a ship. That meant that Mac and I had five days to pack, get on a Greyhound bus and report for duty at New port News Virginia.
We left early on the morning of the 22nd and arrived at the Coast Guard station in New port News late the next afternoon. The following day twenty of us were issued our Merchant Marine seaman papers, got our shots and were assigned to the S, S. Cedar Rapids Victory. We were told our cargo was seven hundred and fifty wild horses from the plains of Dakota and that loading was almost completed. Stalls had been constructed below decks in the ships holds and a few had even been put on the main deck. The loading was completed the following day and we went aboard. Each of us was assigned thirty-five horses to feed, water and take care of during the voyage. The good news was that we wouldn’t have to clean out the manure from the stalls. The dockworkers would do that after we arrived in Bremen, Germany, the manure was needed as fertilizer for the farms.
Our ship the S S Cedar Rapids Victory was about four hundred and fifty feet long with a width of 62 feet. (That made her a hundred and fifty feet longer than a football field.) There were five cargo holds with hatches twenty-two feet wide and about twenty-eight feet in length. Next to the hatches stood three masts one hundred feet tall that were used for loading and unloading cargo. The S. S. Cedar Rapids had been built near the end of the war and had a speed of fifteen knots.
We sailed September 26th for Bremen Germany, the trip over was expected to take about ten or eleven days depending on the weather. Our luck was not good. We had no sooner cleared the harbor and moved out into the Atlantic, than a tropical hurricane came storming up the east coast and hit us with it’s full furry. Braving the weather, the ships crew managed to get a safety line strung from our quarters located near the stern to the hatches and then onto the midship deckhouse. At the end of the first day we had gradually moved out of the hurricanes path only to find ourselves right in the middle of a north Atlantic gale With morning came the first of our crew feeling the rolling effects of the ship and getting sea sick. The storm raged about us making the ship shudder from bow to stern and the towering waves tossed us about like a small rowboat. As each day and night passed more of us became sea sick, and by the fourth day it was a real problem staying on your feet and being able to care for the horses.
Few of us had any desire to go topside for food as hour after hour the gale force winds and mountainous waves continued to beat against the ship. The old-time sailors on the ship told us we had to eat something and they suggested we try crackers and a swallow or two of water. This was some help and that became food for the next couple of days. Whenever we had to go on deck we wore rain gear and held tight to the safety ropes so we wouldn’t be swept overboard. The horses managed to stay on their feet only because they were so close to each other in the stalls they couldn’t fall over.
These horses, with only a rope halter and short lead rope, had been hard to handle when brought aboard but now with the ship crashing and pitching about day and night, they were crazy with fear. When you went down the narrow passageway between the stalls to feed and water them you had to watch out, because they would try to take a bite out of you. Mac had one rip a chunk out of the shoulder of his jacket and I had a number of close calls.
In the middle of the hold, bales of hay had been stacked ten feet high for feeding the horses and we used a hose to fill water buckets attached to the front of their stalls. If a horse fell down in the stall he was in immediate danger of being stepped on by those next to him. When that happened you had to get someone to hold the nearby horses out of the way while you tried to get the horse back on his feet. Believe me getting a wild horse back up on his feet during a gale was no easy job. It only happened in my section one time and that was one time too many. We had our share of problems below decks but what amazed me was that the horses and stalls on the exposed top deck weren’t washed overboard.
On the sixth day out the storm was beginning to let up, the sea was still rough but the wind had died down and most of us were no longer sea sick. Late in the afternoon on our seventh day at sea, we started through the English Channel with a light rain falling and the sea much smoother. I ate my meal in the galley that evening and then went aft to our quarters and sacked out. I slept like a log, it was the first good sleep I’d had in days. The following morning, after taking care of my horses, I went on deck and in the distance could see the White Cliffs of Dover. That day everyone was in good spirits, we were on schedule and should arrive at Bremen within two days.
The weather continued to clear as we left the English Channel and headed into the North Sea. We were off the Belgium coast as darkness fell and when the sun rose the next morning we could see the Holland shore off our starboard bow. The ship continued to make good time and by days end, we entered the harbor and dropped anchor at Bremerhaven, Germany. We enjoyed our meal in the galley that evening and afterwards stayed on deck to look over the port of Bremerhaven. It was getting dark out as the fog came drifting in and blanketed everything from view and so we decided to turn in for the night.
We awoke early the next morning and by the time we had finished breakfast, the fog from the night before was gone. The tugs soon came alongside, tied off and started assisting us up the Weser River to Bremen.
Standing on deck as the ship moved up river I saw the great concrete submarine pens that had been built to protect them from bombings during the war. These massive submarine pens had been reduced to piles of broken concrete by the air raids. As we made our way up river you could see the grim evidence of wars destruction everywhere you looked. It was about noon when the tugs slowly nudged us against the dock at Bremen Germany. As soon as the ship was tied up German dockhands came aboard to help with the unloading. The cargo booms were soon swinging out to remove the hatch covers so they could start unloading the horses. We had a chance to talk to the First Mate and he told us that it would take about two days to get all the horses off and then the cleanup crew would come aboard. Their job He said was to haul out the manure and then hose down the ship from one end to the other. The ship was to be completely clean below decks and all our fuel and supplies brought aboard before we sailed for the states in five days.
Over the ships loudspeaker, our crew was told to the ships galley. As soon as we were assembled the first mate gave us the good news, we could go ashore the next day and with an army base located nearby we could expect to see G.I.s about the town.
The First Mate reminded us that even though the German people might appear friendly they didn’t like our occupying army. They needed our food and supplies though and weren’t about to "look a gift horse in the mouth."(Forgive my play on words) We had destroyed their country and so they didn’t like us. They conveniently overlooked the fact that they had started the war by bombing the hell out of Poland, Holland, France and England. The tide of the war changed and it was Germany that was destroyed. For them it was a bitter pill to swallow. We were told to be pleasant when dealing with the people but to be on the safe side we should always walk about with a buddy and we were advised to return to the ship each night.
With the war over, bartering was part of everyday life in Germany and for this reason it was suggested that we purchase cigarettes, candy bars and chewing gum in the ships store to trade with before going ashore. There was however a limit as to how many cartons of cigarettes we could buy and take ashore. A carton of cigarettes (ten packs) cost us about two dollars; a candy bar or a package of chewing gum would cost five cents at our ships store. The unofficial currency-trading rate ashore gave "each" cigarette a value of fifty cents. There were ten cigarettes to a pack and at fifty cents each and that made a pack of cigarettes worth five dollars. A carton would then be worth fifty dollars at the going exchange rate.
We were allowed to purchase only one carton a day while in port. This gave us (in cigarette barter money) about fifty dollars a day to spend. The following day when we went ashore the weather was cool but comfortable if you wore a jacket. After being aboard ship for the last twelve days we looked forward to stretching our legs and doing a little sightseeing. Bremen had been a primary military target and because of this had been bombed many times. There were a few churches and public buildings that had miraculously been only partially damaged during the air raids and were being rebuilt. What had once been a beautiful city of almost a half a million people had been reduced to miles and miles of rubble. Everywhere you looked were gutted buildings facing streets littered with bricks and debris. In the heart of the city was Market Square with buildings that had spanned seven centuries. The impressive Gothic Bremen City hall and the beautiful St Peters Cathedral, considered to be one of the finest in Europe were being rebuilt. With the devastation everywhere you looked it wasn’t hard to imagine how terrible it must have been during the air raids.
The war had ended in May of nineteen forty-five and a lot of reconstruction work had already been done. Along a few of the streets we found some small shops that had leather goods, woodcarvings and of course Bavarian cuckoo-cuckoo clocks for sale as well as tailor shops; bakeries and repair shops open for business. Were looking for a restaurant and beer garden and luckily found one where we could sit outside and eat. The woman that waited on us was pleasant and spoke enough English for us to place our order. It was really pleasant sitting there eating and drinking and watching the people.
There were few automobiles on the streets, occasionally a small truck drove by and most of the men and women were either walking or riding bicycles. Occasionally a child would stop at our table and ask for ( kaugummi) the word sounded like cog-ah –mint to me, I called over the waitress and she told us they were asking for chewing gum. It was interesting because they weren’t begging they were asking, much the same as if you ask a friend for a stick of gum. We had been advised to bring some from the ship and now we knew why. We gave them each a stick or two, (secretly believing that we were on our way to better relations.) After we finished eating we went back and browsed through some of the shops and then headed back to the boat. A few of the G I’s we talked to had told us where the Red Cross Club was and we planned to look it over tomorrow. That night with the ship not moving and rolling about it was hard to fall asleep.
I awoke in the morning to the noisy clanging and banging of the cranes as they continued unloading the horses. Mac and I took our time getting dressed and then went to the galley for breakfast. They fed us but explained that with all the additional work the mess crew had to do while the ship was in port, for the next couple of days we should have breakfast and lunch ashore and then come back to the ship for our evening meal.
Next morning with the temperature about seventy degrees and the sun shinning we left the ship and headed for the Red Cross Club. It wasn’t hard to find thanks to the directions we had gotten the day before. The building was about the size of a high school back home. We showed our seaman’s papers at the front desk and were shown about by an English-speaking woman wearing a Red Cross uniform. She couldn’t have been nicer as she sat down with us and handed us a cup of coffee. As she talked about the area, she mentioned that during the war there had been a P. O. W. (prisoner of war) camp for merchant seaman located only ten miles north of Bremen called Milag. Over the course of the war about five thousand merchant seamen were held prisoner there. The Red Cross had inspected the camp every month during the war to make sure the men were treated in a humane manner. The prisoners were merchant seaman from several different countries including America, England and France.
After we finished our coffee She introduced us to a couple of soldiers that were with the 78th Division, which was in charge of the occupation of the Bremen area. They were nice guys, and they filled us in about the nighttime curfew that was in effect for all German civilians. They also mentioned (with a wink and a smile) that all soldiers were forbidden to fraternize with any German civilians particularly the German girls. They went on to explain that since we were not a part of the military, they didn’t think that would apply to us.
We spent most of the day at the club playing ping-pong, talking with the G.I .s and hanging out around the snack bar. I asked one of the soldiers what else they did in their off time and he said there was a beer hall where they went that was approved by the military. He told us where it was and Mac and I said we’d go the next day and check it out. It was after four that afternoon when we decided to go back to the ship for evening chow and then catch up on our sleep.
In the morning like it or not we had to do laundry. All my clothes needed to be washed and the same was true for Mac. We decided to wash out some shorts and socks and do the rest later. That turned out to be a wise decision because a little later one of the crew brought a German around that was looking for anyone that wanted to have their laundry done and we struck a deal with him. For a half a pack of cigarettes the German agreed to wash them all and bring them back the next day. With that problem solved we were in good spirits as we left the ship and went looking for a place to have a late breakfast. By the time we finished breakfast it was nearly eleven and since the train station was across the street we went to look it over. The station was busy as a lot of people were getting on and off the trains. We couldn’t help but notice as we walked about, that the men seemed to go out of their way to avoid talking to us but the women would nod and wish us a good day.
About noon Mac and I decided to head on over to the beer hall the G.I.s had told us about yesterday. It wasn’t far only seven or eight blocks and we had no trouble finding it. The building was quite large and consisted of one huge room about the size of an enclosed tennis court. We showed our identification papers at the door and went in. Long wooden tables were lined up in rows from wall to wall. There was a raised platform at one end of the room and on it a German band was playing away. The room was filled with several hundred soldiers talking; drinking beer and everyone appeared to be having a good time.
We sat down at one of the tables and after exchanging a few cigarettes with some of the soldiers for some scrip money we ordered a couple of steins of beer. We were enjoying ourselves talking and swapping stories with the guys at our table when all hell broke loose; a few beer steins went flying by and smashed against the wall right behind us. I looked at Mac, yelled duck and we both made a dive under the table and to our amazement came face to face with a friend of ours from Michigan City. We had all worked together last summer as bell hops at the Spaulding Hotel. Since none of us had any desire to join the fracas that was going on, we sat under the table, drank our beer and caught up on old times. It wasn’t long before the military police arrived, restored order and hauled off the guys that had started the trouble. When it appeared safe, we climbed out from under the table and continued talking about what a strange coincidence it was running into each other in Germany. I don’t know how many pitchers of beer we drank but we were feeling no pain as walked out the door to head back to the ship.
We weren’t in uniform and sitting outside in a jeep were a couple of M.P.s who asked to see our papers. I thought we were in trouble but after they checked our papers they offered to give us a ride back to the ship. As soon as we got aboard we headed to our quarters and crashed out.
We got up the next morning to find that the horses had all been unloaded and the clean up crew was aboard and working away. The man had brought back our laundry all washed and ironed as promised. What a way to start the day. As we were leaving the ship the officer of the day stopped us and reminded us that we should be aboard early because we would be sailing first thing in the morning. The thought of going home had a nice ring to it and as we walked along we talked about what to do on our last day in port. Looking across the street we noticed the sidewalk café where we had eaten breakfast our first day ashore. It seemed only right that we should have breakfast there again on our last day ashore.
We went in and sat at the same sidewalk table and the waitress took our order. She was pleasant and said she remembered us when she returned with our food. We got busy eating breakfast but not too busy to notice two young girls who came riding up on bicycles and sat down at the next table. They were both attractive and as we finished breakfast, Mac nodded to them and asked if they spoke English. They replied yes and then asked why we weren’t wearing uniforms. I explained that we were merchant seamen and asked them to join us for a cup of coffee. They did and both spoke surprisingly good English. They told us a little about Bremen and it’s history. We didn’t talk about the war, only how people were managing with out jobs and what the future might hold for them. They were pleasant to be with and after chatting for a while, I asked if they might know of somewhere we might be able to rent bicycles, then we could all take a ride around Bremen. They liked the idea and left to see if they could find anyone who might rent us bikes.
. After the girls had gone Mac and I waited and wondered whether they would come back with or without bicycles. They had been gone almost an hour and we were just about to leave when they returned all smiles and told us they had a friend who would rent us bicycles. The girls suggested that while we went to pick up the bikes, the café could fix us up with sandwiches and a couple of bottles of wine and then later we could enjoy a picnic. Things were definitely looking up, and Mac and I quickly agreed. To the plan.
The girls made the arrangements with the people at the café to provide the sandwiches and wine for the price of two packs of cigarettes. (That would be ten dollars at the exchange rate but it would cost us only about forty cents) the girls explained to our waitress that we would be back in about half an hour and pick everything up. It didn’t take us long to pick up the bikes and come riding back. Our picnic lunch was ready by the time we returned and away we went to look over the city of Bremen. We rode around for a couple of hours looking at row upon row of buildings that had been destroyed and saw several that were being rebuilt. Even though it was October the weather was warm and later in the afternoon we found a grassy place along the riverbank for our picnic. With the good food, wine and laughter it wasn’t long before our cuddling started to heat up. The girls decided we should pick up more wine and then go to their apartment. As it turned out it was located in the basement of a bombed out building.
Unfortunately neither Mac nor I paid any attention as to where their apartment was located. (Our minds being on other things) Later that night the girls told us how to get back to the ship and after we left their apartment it wasn’t long before we realized we were lost. It was dark out and with no streetlights to see by and no street signs, we wandered aimlessly down one dark debris littered street after another. Bremen was a big city and we walked for hours and hours, worrying all the time that our ship would sail at dawn with out us. It was hard enough trying to find our way in the dark but soon the fog came rolling in and we could hardly see across the street. Because of the curfew there was no one about at this hour to ask for directions. We had given up any hope of getting back to our ship before she sailed when a couple of M.Ps in a jeep drove up, and after we explained our predicament they took us to the ship. I bet the next day they laughed and told everybody about the two dumb sailors that couldn’t find their own ship. That fog we had cursed turned out to be our savior, because of it the ship hadn’t been able to sail. That night I tossed and turned before getting to sleep, thinking about how close we came to being left in Germany
When I awoke in the morning the fog had long since disappeared and our ship, being assisted by the tugs, was underway down the Weser River. At Bremerhaven the tugs cast off their lines and we left the harbor and headed out into the North Sea. With the weather staying warm and since we had no duties to perform, we stayed on deck the next day and looked over at The White Cliffs Of Dover and the coast of England. Once we left the English Channel the waves of the Atlantic made the ship roll as she made her way up one long wave and then kind of slid down the next. Because we were returning empty the ship sat high in the water and we rolled about like a cork.
After five days at sea we were all becoming restless with no work to do. You could play cards and there was also checkers to help pass the time but with nothing but the wide expanse of ocean to look at we were bored. We walked about the ship and even went below to check out how good a job the clean up crew had done back at Bremen. The holds were clean and in one of them attached high above to the top deck was a long rope (it had been used in unloading I suppose) The rope must have been at least thirty feet long and would swing back and forth as the ship rolled from side to side. Mac went over to it and made a loop at the ropes end, the kind kids make for a tree swing. Then grinning from ear to ear he put his foot in the loop and as the ship rolled he would swing out and back. It looked like great fun and with each roll of the ship he would swing higher and higher until before he realized it, he was swinging from one side of the hold clear to the other side and with a lot of speed. Now it began to dawn on both of us that some how he had to get off that rope. I reached out to try and grab him as he went swinging by and was knocked off my feet. For my next attempt I was a lot more cautious, and stood more to the side as I reached out and just attempted to slow him a bit. It took me several tries but finally I was able to get his swing stopped. Mac’s attempt at being Tarzan had been frightening for a few minutes but now with it over we just sat down on the deck and laughed.
The rest of our return trip was uneventful, the weather was good and that made everybody happy. Now that we didn’t have any regular duties to perform it gave us a chance to meet the other men in our crew. One fellow from Memphis that we came to like was Hugh, he as three years older than we were but so was everyone else on the ship. He and Mac and I spent a lot of time together on the voyage home. We made port, Norfolk News, on November 2nd. When we got ashore we were paid and then put under quarantine for five days. That was a long five days with us eager to get home.
Finally November 7th arrived and Mac, Hugh and I left the base and headed to the bus station. The next bus going to Chicago would leave at one ten and after checking schedules we found out that the three of us could take the same bus as far as Louisville, Kentucky and then Hugh would transfer busses and go home to Memphis and Mac and I would continue to Chicago and then on to Michigan City. We had three hours to kill and went across the street to check out the army, navy store. It seemed only proper that we should arrive home in a Merchant Marine uniform and since the merchant sailors didn’t wear any standard uniform we picked out a gray shirt and trousers, a black necktie and a pair of black shoes. The storeowner let us get dressed in his storeroom and we thought we looked pretty sharp. (We probably looked like bus drivers) Now that we felt properly attired in our uniforms, we returned to the bus station and had lunch. During lunch we agreed that after Mac and I graduated from high school in June, Hugh would come to Michigan City and the three of us would go see what Alaska held in the way of adventure.
Over the loudspeaker they announced that our bus was loading and we hurried to get aboard. Hugh got on first then Mac and I followed along behind. The first empty seats were near the rear, Mac and Hugh sat together and I sat across the aisle. I would make it hard for me to take part in conversation but we agreed to swap seats later if I wanted to. As the bus started to leave I turned toward the window and for the first time noticed the girl sitting next to me was quite pretty. She was about my age and definitely had curves in all the right places. Then it came to me quick as a flash, I would no longer be interested in changing seats with Mac or Hugh. I introduced my self and asked her name and where she was headed. She told me that her name was Karen and she was going all the way to Louisville, Kentucky. It appeared that I had lucked out; we would be riding together for the next several hours. Our first scheduled stop was Richmond and then Charleston, West Virginia and next Huntington and then Louisville, where she would get off and Mac and I would be saying goodbye to Hugh as he changed busses.
Karen and I chatted away as the greyhound cruised along the hiway and before long we had passed Richmond. There was a rest stop at Charleston, West Virginia and we got off, used the restrooms and had a chance to stretch our legs. It was dark and a light rain was falling as we boarded the bus and headed for Huntington. It’s relaxing riding along in a bus at night, listening to the rain and it seemed to develop a feeling of intimacy between Karen and I. For the first time she mentioned that she was on her way to get married and wasn’t all that sure she was doing the right thing. She had gone with the guy for almost a year and after she found out she was pregnant they decided to get married. Not an unusual situation but a difficult one to face and certainly not easy to cope with.
It was after midnight when we pulled in for a rest stop at Huntington. Karen and I decided to pick up a few cokes and some potato chips to munch on. She would be getting off in about three hours at Louisville. The rain continued as we got back on the bus and what few people were riding at this early hour were asleep.
As the bus pulled out of the station Karen asked me to reach up in the overhead bin and hand down her small case. She took out a pint fruit jar full of clear liquid and holding it up for me to see in the dim light, asked if I knew what it was. I shook my head no; she grinned and said it’s white lighting and I’ve decided to give myself a bachelorette party. Open a couple of those cokes and I’ll mix us a drink. I’d had white lighting, or mountain moonshine or whatever you wanted to call it before and I knew it packed a whale of a punch. We rode along in the dark sipping our drinks and as could be expected were soon bombed. With a little false courage, thanks to the white lighting, we started smooching and then as one thing led to another I suggested we move to the long rear seat at the back of the bus. It was dark; everyone I think was asleep, and before long we were half dressed and making love. Afterward we lay there all cuddled up until Karen decided it would be wise to get our clothes back on and return to our seats.
The rain had stopped and dawn’s first light was just beginning to appear when we arrived at the Louisville bus station. Karen’s boyfriend and her folks were waiting and gave her a warm welcome as she stepped off the bus. Mac and I shook hands with Hugh who was getting off to change busses for Memphis and we told him we’d be seeing him in June. He promised to be in Michigan City for our graduation and then we would all head for Alaska. As I looked out the window I saw Hugh go over to the Memphis bus and I watched as Karen and her family disappeared into the bus station.
The rest of our trip home took about six hours and we arrived back in Michigan City late that afternoon. It was November seventh; we had been gone about seven weeks. Our teachers couldn’t have nicer about helping us make up all the schoolwork we had missed and with a little extra help we were able to pass all our subjects.
About the first of the year, Mac moved to Spokane Washington, His father was a Colonel in the army and had been assigned there to the military base. Mac and I stayed in touch by mail with Hugh and our plan was that he would come to Michigan City and then we would go west and meet Mac right after I graduated. We planned to meet Mac on June tenth at the bus station in Livingston, Montana. A place we picked at random from looking at a road map. We had done all our planning by letter and believe it or not, Hugh and I stepped off the bus in Livingston, Montana on the morning of June tenth and Mac was sitting there on a bench waiting for us. We couldn’t have been happier as we went into the bus station for breakfast. While we ate we talked about what to do and agreed that since we were only fifty miles from Yellowstone Park, we’d go to Gardner, Montana located at the north gate of the Park, find a place to stay and then do some sightseeing at the park tomorrow.
It seemed like a good plan and after breakfast, we took the ten o’clock bus to Gardner. It was a scenic ride over the winding two-lane highway to Gardner and it took just over an hour. The Gardner business district was composed of about fifteen businesses located in a four-block area and there were perhaps a hundred houses located on the side streets. I don’t think they had a local police department, but I did see a building that housed the volunteer fire department. It was a picturesque small town. The bus dropped us off in front of a white, wooden two-story building with a sign in front that read, "Restaurant and Bar." There was an arrow painted on it that pointed up to the second story and read "Rooms for Rent." With luggage in hand we went up the stairs and got a room. The room was clean, it had two double beds, they guaranteed us there was plenty of hot water and had it’s own shower and john, for fifteen bucks a night, what more could you want. After getting cleaned up Mac and I, since we were only eighteen, decided that our best chance of being served a drink in the bar downstairs was to wear our Merchant Marine uniforms. Hugh would have no problem; he was twenty-one, six feet tall and weighed about one seventy. It was about noon when we went downstairs, picked out a table and ordered lunch and a beer. The waitress didn’t ask to see our I.D.s when we finished eating and were paying our tab, the waitress told us they had a trio playing in the bar evenings and to be sure and come downstairs and listen to the music. After promising to be back later, we went outside to look over the town. We wandered around for a while looked in the windows of the few stores there were and then went back to our room and sacked out.
Early that evening we went downstairs and while we were eating watched as the band came in and sat up. Before they started to play we called them over to our table, bought them a drink and got acquainted. By the time the evening was over we were on a first name basis. There weren’t many customers in the place and through out the evening the band sat with us whenever they were on break and we had a merry old time. It was about one in the morning when the band quit and we called it a night and stumbled up the stair to our room. I think it was about noon the next day when the three of us rolled out of bed, got cleaned up and went down to breakfast. I wasn’t hung over, at eighteen that wasn’t a problem, but I did feel a lot better after I had a cup of coffee and a glass of juice. That afternoon we strolled over to the entrance gate at Yellow Stone Park and checked the tour bus schedule. The guy at the gate was friendly and explained what the tour was about and how long it took. He told us it would best to go the next day and take the first tour in the morning. The next day would be fine, we were in no hurry and the weather was supposed to be warm and pleasant.
With time on our hands we went to the little book store around the corner from our hotel and picked up a couple of magazines to read. There was a small park a couple of blocks from the hotel and since it was nice out we went over and sat on one of the benches to look over our magazines. An hour or two went by and it was getting close to dinnertime when we headed back to our hotel. The meal was good and not expensive. We paid our check then went upstairs to take it easy until later in the evening when the band started. There was no need to wear our uniforms since we had been served the night before, so we put on slacks and sport shirts. It was dark out by the time we went downstairs and took a table near the band. Later several girls came in, waved to the guys in the band and took a table next to ours. When the band took a break they sat with us and asked the girls to pull their table over to next to ours. Everybody got introduced and we bought a round of drinks. When the band started one of the girls asked Mac to dance and away they went. Mac always had good luck with the ladies; he actually looked a lot like a young Clark Gable. It wasn’t long before we were all up dancing and that’s the way the evening went. We drank, we danced, and we bought drinks, for the band, for the girls, for ourselves and even for the bartender, a good time was had by all. Unfortunately neither Mac, Hugh nor I got lucky, but we had a great time. When the band quit playing for the evening, the girls went home and we were so loaded that it was a problem just getting upstairs to bed. (That may have had some bearing on why we didn’t get lucky)
I don’t remember what time it was when we got to bed but I know that it was past noon when we finally got up the next day. We were three miserable characters as we sat on the edge of the bed and discussed never drinking again. The more we talked it over the more we realized that last nights party had been on us, we had made a big deal out of buying the drinks. We had played the big shots. Now it was the morning after and each of us got out his wallet and counted what money was left. There wasn’t much, each of us had fifteen or twenty dollars.
We had arrived two days ago and money was not a problem, or so we thought, each of us had about a hundred bucks. Remember this is nineteen forty-seven when the average guy would make maybe forty bucks a week. We had paid our room rent for two days had eaten three meals a day for two days and had been big spenders both nights in the bar. No wonder they weren’t worried about checking I.D.s, we were spending like it was going out of style in a little town where if you had ten or fifteen customer a night you were lucky. It was obvious even to a couple of eighteen year olds, behaving like idiots that our plans had to be drastically changed. The first thing we needed to do was to get jobs and earn some money so we could continue on to Alaska. (The reality of our situation still hadn’t fully set in; with sixty dollars between us we still thought we could get to Alaska. Ahaaa youth)
Having come up with what we thought was a job solution; we went downstairs for breakfast, after which we planned to start our quest for jobs. It was nearly one thirty by the time we finished breakfast, (just 79 cents), but after last night we definitely planned to cut back on tipping. We asked the waitress if she knew of any jobs around town and she suggested we try at Yellow Stone Park. Full of confidence we walked a few blocks over to the Park Office expecting to get work. It turned out they needed someone to cut the grass around the buildings near the entrance, a kind of grounds keeper. It paid twenty-five a week and they provided you with a place to sleep in the workers barracks. We explained that we wanted to work together and since there was just one opening we would pass for now but one of us might be back. About now it was beginning to dawn on us that finding work wasn’t going to be easy in a little town like Gardner. We went back to the restaurant at our hotel to regroup and come up with another plan.
The restaurant was empty and we sat at a table near the front windows and ordered coffee. When the waitress brought it, we told her we had struck out on a job at the park. She was sympathetic and told us that occasionally they did some hiring at the gold mine in Jardine, a little mining town located about five miles from Gardner but there was no bus to Jardine so we’d have to walk. It would be dark in a couple of hours and so we decided to wait and go the next day.
It was cool when we awoke in the morning and even though it looked like rain our job hunting couldn’t be put off. We needed money for rent and food and so after breakfast and directions from the waitress, we headed to Jardine. As we left town the narrow road became gravel and it wound around one foothill after another. I guess we must have gotten two or three miles out of town when it started to rain, not hard, it was more of a drizzle but it was cold and we hurried along hoping to reach Jardine before we got soaked. After walking for over an hour I figured we should be getting close and finally on the road ahead I could see a few buildings. It appeared that the whole town of Jardine, or what there was left of it, was made up of about ten buildings scattered along the side the road. The buildings were weathered, several looked in need of repair and none were painted. It looked like a ghost town and then we saw a sign over a open doorway that said saloon. We hurried up the steps to get out of the cold and rain.
The bar room looked like it was right out of some old western movie. A long bar with about a dozen wooden bar stools lined along it and six tables with chairs. Over in the corner was a old pot bellied stove with a small pile of wood stacked nearby. The only person in the room was the bartender. He took one look at us coming thru the door wet and shivering from the cold, and in a loud voice exclaimed" What you boys need is a drink, I’ve got just the thing!" With that he slammed four shot glasses down on the bar and poured them full, took out a lemon slice and then salted the back of his hand. He downed a shot, sucked on the lemon peel and then licked the salt off the back of his hand. That was my first lesson in how to drink tequila, " That one was on the house," he said.
We ordered another round, paid him, and then told him why we had walked five miles in the rain. With a concerned look on his face he gave us the bad news, they weren’t hiring at the gold mine. After explaining why we couldn’t afford to buy more drinks we asked if we could just sit around the old pot belled stove in the corner and dry out before we walked back to Gardner. He said sure and then we sat and talked to him for more than an hour while we waited to get dry. We were about to leave when the bartender brought out some bar snacks, gave us a free beer and then sent us on our way. He seemed like a nice guy.
The walk back seemed to go on forever; we were feeling disappointed about not finding a job and didn’t have much to say to one another. Going out we had been optimistic but coming back reality set in and we knew we had to come up with a job somehow. At least on our return it didn’t rain and we got back to the hotel at a little after two in the afternoon. All we wanted to do was get into some dry clothes and hit the sack. Hunger got the best of us about six that evening and we went down to the restaurant for a bite to eat. We had neither the money nor the inclination to go into the bar after dinner but we did pickup a copy of the two page weekly paper and there was one add that looked promising. At a place called Paradise Valley, located about half way between Gardiner and Livingston, a dude ranch was advertising for a dishwasher. Hugh offered to hitch hike a ride over there in the morning and check it out, maybe they could use Mac and I as well. With that thought in mind we went to bed. After our walk to the gold mine and back nobody had any trouble sleeping that night but we were up for breakfast early the next morning.
We walked over to the highway with Hugh to keep him company until he could hitch a ride. We sat on a fence railing near the road and counted our money while we waited for someone to come along and give Hugh a lift. I had eight dollars and some change, Mac had a little over nine and Hugh was in pretty good shape with almost twenty dollars. While we waited we made plans for Hugh to call us at the restaurant at six that evening and let us know how he made out. We didn’t like having to split up but we hoped it would only be for a day or two. There was almost no traffic on the highway-leaving town and we waited more than two hours before someone finally stopped and gave Hugh a ride.
With Hugh gone, Mac and I walked back over to the office at Yellow Stone Park and made a strange request. We ask if we could both work the one job they had open. We would both work four hours a day instead of one working eight and we would both be able to sleep in the barracks and they could just list one of us on the payroll The man we talked to could see we were in a tough spot and even though it wasn’t by the rules he said we could give it a try for a week and see how it worked out. So we had a job, kind of half a job I guess but it did give us a place to sleep. We agreed to start the next day.
That evening at six we were at the restaurant and Hugh called right on time He said the fellow that had given him a ride told him that to get to Paradise Valley he had to get out at a side road where he wouldn’t have much of a chance for another ride. After hearing that, Hugh decided to continue on to Livingston, and that’s where he was calling. Hugh had checked around town and found that the railroad was hiring men to work on the extra gang and if we could get to Livingston by five o’clock the next day we had jobs. I told him we would meet him at the train station in Livingston by noon the next day. Livingston was only about fifty miles away and I thought we would catch a ride just as he had that morning and make it in plenty of time. After hanging up, I called over to the park office and thank them for offering to help us with the one job but explained that we had been offered work in Livingston.
The next morning Mac and I were standing along the highway to Livingston at seven o clock trying to hitch a ride. We were still standing there four and a half hours later at eleven thirty, wondering if we would ever get a ride, when some kind-hearted guy in a truck gave us a lift. It was one thirty before we finally got to the train station in Livingston. We were an hour and a half late and no sign of Hugh and we headed over to the railroad office and asked about the job on the extra gang. They hired us both and told us to be at the train station at seven o clock. We were given a hiring slip, to show the train master at the station that evening. Hugh had left us a message with the man at the railroad office. It said, " Met a trucker on his way to Seattle who has offered me a ride and so I’m going on to my aunts house. When you get there call me her number is 0000000. (Hugh it seemed was still planning to go to Alaska.)
Mac and I didn’t blame him one bit for grabbing a ride to the coast. It might work out for the best because it would be easier for Mac and I to hitch a ride. Most drivers are wary about picking up one person let alone two and nobody is likely to pick up three. If things went right we could work on the railroad long enough to get a pay check (a week or two) and then buy a ticket to the coast. It looked like things were falling into place. We had about four hours to kill and so we walked around town for a while had a hamburger and then went back and stretched out on the long wooden seats in the train station. About six o clock the baggage man came walking over and asked which train we were taking and when we told him the one for the extra gang at seven, he looked at us and shook his head. The extra gang it turned out were railroad workers that labored with pick and shovel to keep up the tracks way out in the middle of nowhere. They lived in railroad cars fitted with bunks and had a mess car where they ate their meals. They were usually twenty miles or more from town and only got to town one day a week.
It was hard dirty work and few men would take the job. As the baggage man walked away his last word were " You boys better be careful that extra gang is one tough bunch." For the first time Mac and I were worried and a few minutes later we were scared to death. Coming thru the side door of the station came several armed men in uniform wearing badges and escorting a group of about twenty men shackled together. They walked them down to the far end of the station and had them sit up against the wall. Trying to appear casual I went over to one of the guards and asked where they were taking all the prisoners. He told me they were being turned over to railroad guards who would be taking them to work on the extra gang. I nodded and hoping he wouldn’t see my knees wobbling walked back and told Mac what was going on. Believe me it was hard not to run from the train station as we picked up our suitcases and slowly walked out into the night. We walked about a block from the station and went in to a café and ordered coffee and then checked to see how much money we had left. Mac had about two dollars and I had three, so we had five dollars between us and we still had over four hundred miles to go before we got to Mac’s home in Spokane, Washington. Things didn’t look good, there was no way we could hitch hike at night and so we decided to wait until the extra gang train left and then go back and sleep in the railroad station.
It was a long cold night in the train station and when morning finally came we were stiff, sore and hungry. We walked back to the café and had the cheapest thing on the menu, toast and coffee. I got a road map out of my suitcase and we looked it over, the main road was highway 90 and it went from Livingston, Montana to Bozeman to Butte to Missoula and on to Spokane, Washington. Since it was the main highway, we didn’t think hitch hiking a ride would be hard. Picking up our suitcases we walked to the edge of town and stuck our thumbs out. It was cold at that early hour but luckily we only had to wait about thirty minutes before getting a ride to Bozeman about twenty miles away. We were off to a good start and decided to treat ourselves to a second cup of coffee at the nearby roadside restaurant. A trucker was sitting at the counter having breakfast and we asked him if he was going our way. It turned out that he was taking a load of cattle to Butte and said he would be glad of the company.
We reached Butte at noon and he dropped us off near the edge of town. We were making great time and decided to have lunch at the little coffee shop across the road. We were both hungry, other than toast and coffee and a little lunch the day before, we hadn’t had much in the way of a real meal. With less than five bucks between us we studied the menu from front to back. The lunch special was ninety-nine cents and we ordered one special and split it. We were now down to about four dollars and realized we couldn’t afford to continue our fancy eating out. Mac came up with the idea that we buy a loaf of bread and a jar of jelly and we would fix ourselves sandwiches. I agreed and we went into the small grocery store next to the coffee shop and got them along with a couple of candy bars. By one o clock we were standing alongside the highway with our suitcases and a paper bag holding a loaf of bread, a jar of jelly, a package of plastic knives, two candy bars and ready to continue our journey.
We had a long wait, it was mid afternoon before a farmer gave us a lift for about twenty miles and then he turned off onto a side road. We got out of the truck and after he drove off we looked around, there wasn’t a sign of life anywhere, a house, a barn, or any building in sight, and we were out in the middle of nowhere. This wasn’t what we wanted at all, people were always more inclined to pick you up at a major intersection or at a stoplight, but way out here they weren’t likely to even slow down. A couple of hours went by, there wasn’t much traffic; a car or truck once in a while. To make matters worse it was getting dark and according to the highway road sign the next large city was Missoula, Montana over ninety miles away. The next small town could be closer but nothing showed on our map. Besides being cold and hungry, we were now thirsty thanks to that bread and jelly we had eaten. Food you can do without for quite a while but the need for water is demanding. We looked out across the fields for an animal watering tank or a stream or anywhere we could get a drink, there was nothing in sight. We had been standing by the road for over three hours and the few cars that went by had never slowed. It would be dark in a few minutes and we knew there was no hope for a ride after dark. It looked hopeless and then coming back up that side road we saw the same farmer that had dropped us off. He stopped and picked us up and we road with him for about half an hour (the heater in his truck was a lifesaver) to a small town about twenty-five miles down the road called Deer Lodge.
He let us out in front of a restaurant with a sign, " Open all Night. " We hurried in and the first thing we asked for was a glass of water, nothing has ever tasted better. With that important matter taken care of we ordered coffee and a hot bowl of oatmeal. On our budget, five cents for coffee and twenty cents for oatmeal was all we could afford. We could have eaten a lot more, but we only had about two dollars left and we were still over two hundred and eighty miles from Mac’s home in Spokane. I don’t know if that farmer picking us up and bringing us to town that evening really saved our lives or not but we sure felt he had. When we finished eating we asked the cook if we could take it easy in one of the booths until morning (there weren’t any other customers) and he said O.K. We were exhausted and in the warm restaurant it wasn’t long before we were sound asleep.
It was dawn when the cook woke me up and said there was a man outside gassing up his truck who would give us a ride to Missoula, I thanked the cook, woke Mac up and with suitcases in hand, we hurried out to the truck. Four hours later we reached the outskirts of Missoula and when the trucker had to turn off the highway he let us out. There was no way we could hitch hike thru town (Missoula was a good size city and it was against the law) so we had to walk carrying our suitcases, until we reached the other side of town. There at the junction of two
Highways was a small park area and after using the rest room and getting a drink of water, we attempted to clean up a little, the water was cold but at least we managed to get some of the grime off. Our thinking was that the better we looked standing alongside the road the better was our chance of being picked up. Mac and I talked it over and decided that we would take turns standing by the highway; because people would be more inclined to pick up one person. The plan being that when a car stopped whoever was by the road would then ask the driver if he would take us both. If he said no, we would try the next car. That left one of us able to stretch out in the park and relax for a while.
The plan didn’t work! It was about one thirty that afternoon when we started hitch hiking and not one car stopped all day. By six thirty that evening, (five hours we had been standing by that park,) we were in the same fix we had been in the day before, cold, hungry and it was getting dark. We had to try something and I don’t remember which of us came up with the idea, but we decided to hop a freight train. The park where we had spent all day was located on a small hill and off in the distance we could see a train station and freight cars being shuttled about. We had little choice but to give it a try, so we walked over to the train station and asked at the ticket window about trains going to Spokane. (We didn’t have the enough money for a ticket) but we did find out that it was about a four-hour passenger train ride to Spokane.
There were no other people in the station but there was a vending machine with candy bars in it and we each spent a nickel and bought one. That was the best tasting candy bar that I’ve ever had in my life. Mac and I went over near than door and sat down and talked things over. We had two problems facing us, how could we tell which of the freight trains assembling out in the train yard was going to Spokane and how would we get aboard without being seen? It was dark out which would make it hard for anyone to see us, but how would we know which train was going our way. If we didn’t pick the right one we could end up hundreds of miles in the wrong direction. Just when we decided it was hopeless and that in the morning we would try hitch hiking again, a man wearing striped bib overalls and cap and carrying a lantern, (obviously a railroad yard man) came up and asked if we were trying to get to Spokane. I didn’t know what to say for fear he knew we were planning to break the law by riding a freight train. He somehow seemed to know our predicament; I think the man we had talked to earlier at the ticket window had clued him in
He smiled, leaned over and told us to wait for a few minutes and then come out into the rail yard and watch for him, he would swing his lantern back and forth next to the freight train going to Spokane. Then just look for a boxcar with an open door and climb aboard. He wished us good luck. After he left we talked about our unbelievable good fortune and went out into the dark night of the rail yard carrying our suitcases. At first we couldn’t see a thing but as our eyes became accustomed to the night, up ahead we saw his signal lantern swing back and forth by one of the trains. It didn’t take us long to find an open boxcar and we climbed inside. (To this day I’ll always wonder why he helped us because it was certainly against railroad policy.) It was about an hour before the freight began to move and then Mac and I breathed a sigh of relief. The train was moving very slow as it left the yard and we were surprised when a man came climbing through the open door of the boxcar. He looked us over and then spread newspapers on the floor and laid down on them. We thought at first he didn’t want his clothes to get dirty but he was already filthy and then we realized the papers were acting as padding and also a kind of insulation on the hard floor. We were adding to our education in the world of hard knocks. (Unfortunately we hadn’t brought papers)
It was cold in the boxcar and we took clothes from our suitcase and put them on over what we were wearing, it helped. Closing up our suitcases we crawled over to the end of the boxcar and using them for pillows, stretched out and tried to sleep. The train clattered and bumped along thru the night and we just couldn’t get to sleep. Every once in a while the train would pull into a siding and wait until another train would go roaring past and then we would pull out and go chugging on our way again. This was a sl-o-o-o-w freight. Off and on all through the night the train would stop, and once in a while another bum would climb aboard or sometimes one got off. It was about four thirty in the morning and the train was finally rolling along at a good clip. The moonlight was shinning thru the big door opening in the middle of the boxcar, and we could see three men sitting there cursing and waving their arms about. I don’t think they saw us; we were sitting way back against the rear wall of the boxcar. They were having a loud argument and we wanted no part of it. They were sitting there shouting at each other when suddenly two of the men jumped to their feet and began wildly fighting. The train was rattling along and swaying from side to side and then one of the men lost his footing and fell, as soon as he hit the floor the other guy jumped on him. They rolled about on the floor kicking and clawing and continuing to yell and curse. They rolled over against the wall of the boxcar then both managed to get to their feet and suddenly in the moonlight I could see the glint of a knife as one of them stabbed at the other who screamed as he hurdled himself at the man with the knife and then the two of them, wrapped in each other’s arms, went flying out the door of the moving train and into the night. The man, who had stayed out of the fight, walked over to the door and looked back down the tracks toward where the two men had disappeared, into the blackness of the night. He turned and looked toward us but didn’t say a word as he went over and lay down on his newspapers. This was the same guy who had gotten on when we had, no wonder he knew that we were there watching in the darkness.
The rest of the night Mac and I sat huddled and shivering in the darkness waiting for morning. It seemed like an eternity, but finally a welcoming sun came shining thru the open door of our boxcar, I checked my watch, it was getting close to six thirty and we could see that we were coming into Spokane. The bum that had been riding in the boxcar with us since Missoula, Montana told us to get off the train before we got into the rail yards, so we wouldn’t be arrested for riding freight. He was sitting in the door opening and as the train slowed down entering the yard he jumped out. The train wasn’t going very fast but it was still quite a drop to the ground. With suitcases in hand we sat down at the door with our feet hanging out and jumped. Neither of us stayed on our feet and we both went sprawling along side the track in the dirt and gravel. With nothing hurt but our pride, we gathered up our suitcases and walked across the field to the nearby highway. We were actually in town and didn’t have far to walk before we came to a little restaurant. (We had one dollar and fifty cents) We treated ourselves to coffee and a roll and Mac got directions from the guy back of the counter to the nearest city bus stop. We had made it!
Mac was going to call his mother before we got the city bus to his house but he decided we would surprise her. Surprise her we did, when she opened the door and saw two dirty hobos on the porch she was just about to close the door in our faces, when recognized Mac and threw her arms around him. After hugging her son, she gave me a hug too and then took us downstairs where they had a shower and brought us clean clothes. Later that day after we told her about our trip (very little detail of course) we tried to call Hugh in Seattle and were told by the operator that the number we had called was not in use. So either the number Hugh had left for us was incorrect or we had copied it down wrong. Either way we never heard from or saw Hugh again.
It was a good thing we had arrived when we did because in just three days Mac’s folks were going back to Michigan City. Mac’s dad, " The Colonel" was being reassigned and they planned to await his new orders back in Michigan City. Our trip back to Michigan City with them in their new Studebaker Commander was, I’m happy to say uneventful.
After arriving in Michigan City I was in for a surprise. I had been gone for about one month and my folks had moved. Since I had not phoned them and they had no way of contacting me, the question was where were they? After giving the matter some serious thought, I went over to Beverly Krueger house (the girl I had been dating all through my senior year in high school) and ask her if she knew where my folks were. Thank goodness they had told her where they were and why they had moved so unexpectedly. My grandfather (my mothers father who lived in Lucedale, Mississippi) had been diagnosed with a brain tumor and she had gone to help care for him. My folks put their furniture in storage (because they had no way of knowing how long she would be gone) Mom left and dad rented a one bedroom apartment located on pine street, which as it turned out was only three blocks from Bev’s house. I was sitting on Pop’s front step when he came home from work that afternoon and we were sure glad to see each other.
Mac and I had talked about joining the navy on our ride back with his parents and now with Mom in Mississippi taking care of her father and since Dad would have to move again to a larger place if I were to stay with him, joining the navy would probably work out for the best. Mac and I went to the Navy recruiting office the next day to enlist. We had to take a test, part of which consisted of simply reading the eye chart on the wall, I failed. I knew that my eyes were twenty forty in one eye and twenty two hundred in the other, not even close to passing. That not working out we went over to a friend of ours Dave Waybright, another of our sea scout buddies, and the three of us decided to try the Air Force the next morning at nine o clock. Dave and I were there on time but no Mac, but we decided to take the test while we waited for him. I looked at the eye chart on the wall and memorized the line I needed to pass while I had on my glasses and then with them off I pretended to read the line. I was able to pass. (The recruiters at that time had quotas to fill, and it was an all-volunteer air force, the recruiter wanted me to pass.) We completed our test and by noon we were on a bus to Fort Knox, Kentucky with out Mac, it was august 20th, 1947.
(We heard from him later that he had slept in and gotten there after we left.) It did seem a bit strange though that a few weeks after we joined the Air Force his father, "The Colonel" was able to get him an appointment to the "Merchant Marine Academy" I was happy for him and knew that I could never have passed the required eye exam. You win some and you lose some. Dave and I had thirteen weeks of boot camp at Lackland air base in San Antonio, Texas. After completing boot camp, four men from our squad of sixty, that had the higher I Q test scores were given the opportunity of choosing which training school we wanted. to attend. I selected the jet airplane mechanic school at Chanute Field. Not a lofty goal perhaps but this was the first class to receive training in the newest aircraft in the Air Force. The fact that Chanute field was about two hundred miles from Michigan City and I would be able to go home and see my girl "Bev’ on weekends may also have played a part in my decision.. School went well and after completing the course I was assigned to Pope Field (Fort Brag, North Carolina)
There were no jet aircraft at Pope Field and so when I arrived they assigned me to the "alert crew." My job was to meet the planes that landed, have them follow me in my jeep and show them to the correct place to park the plane. It was good duty; I didn’t have to pull any guard or K. P. duty. I worked twenty-four hours on and then I was off for two days. Our living quarters were right next to the flight line and we had to be in communications with the control tower at all times. I had been at Pope Field about three months and was checking the bulletin board one day when I saw a notice that anyone qualified for advanced training on jet fighters could put in for school at Chanute Field. I immediately applied for the advanced training and within two weeks I was approved and went back to Chanute Field Ill and back once again close to home.
The advance training school had only twelve men in the class, all of them master sergeants except me, just a lowly corporal. The other men were all in charge of a flight line back at their home base and were here to get an understanding of the new jet aircraft that would be assigned to them soon. Because I had already had several weeks of schooling on jet plains in my previous course, this was not all new to me and because of this I came out of school at the top of my class. The master sergeants were not too happy to have a corporal graduate tops in the class. I received a certificate, and this was forwarded to my commanding officer at Pope Field. When I reported back my C.O. called me in shook my hand and suggested I take the exam for officers candidate school. He was a Major, who himself had come up thru the ranks. I was proud to say the least and wanted to give it a try. Two years of college was required and the air force had a two-year equivalency test that I took. The test took four hours a day for three days and I passed all but one part and that I would be allowed to take again since I had almost passed it as well. The retesting for that small part of the exam was scheduled in sixty days.
I began to have second thoughts about going to O.C.S. (officer’s candidate school) it would mean enlisting for another three years if accepted, and I wasn’t planning on a military career. A week later a notice was posted on the bulletin board, it stated that the Air Force was looking for men with jet training to go to Germany and provide support for the first jet squadron being assigned to Europe. "The Berlin Air Lift" had gotten underway in July of 1948 and the cold war with Russia was heating up. I volunteered in November and was soon on my way, here was a chance to use all my jet training and see Germany again.