Two of My Visits to the USA by John Boother

My first flight on a scheduled airline service did not happen until I was 27 and this was a return trip from London to Aberdeen on a BEA Viscount but shortly after that I joined Hewlett Packard (HP) as a sales account person in the UK and air travel started even before my first official day with the company – attendance at a European sales meeting in Geneva.

Travel to the USA was just a dream at that time but the first opportunity arrived in 1972 when HP organized a meeting in Delaware. Timing was difficult as it was just at the close of the Munich Olympics, so it was a very full TWA 707 that did the honours. Then we had to make an unscheduled stop at Bangor, Maine for more fuel due to a strong headwind. Bangor was then an airport seemingly in the middle of nowhere with forests visible in all directions. Our destination was Philadelphia where every single suitcase on the flight was searched as part of the immigration process.

I was met by an HP colleague who drove me to the HP factory where I was handed the keys to a Chevy Impala and told to follow him to my hotel. I had never driven an automatic and never driven a left-hand drive car so this was a steep learning curve.

Photo1: 1972 Chevrolet Impala

This trip included a visit to Niagara Falls – for airliner buffs this involved a flight from Philadelphia to Erie and then to Toronto on an Allegheny Convair 580. Then on to Montreal and back to London.

Photo 2: Convair 580

That trip really opened my eyes to North America. I loved it and I liked most of the people and I wanted to move there to work – but this never happened although at one point I got into house hunting from the air. My potential future boss had a half share in a private aircraft and he advised that this was the best way to assess the places to live – all very rural in that part of Delaware. 

After that I had many business trips to the USA with several Philadelphia – New York – Chicago – Houston – Los Angeles and San Francisco trips over a 3-week period.

Also, several holidays as well which meant that I currently have passed through on the ground all the States apart from North Dakota, Alaska and Hawaii.

One of the holiday highlights was travelling from New York to San Francisco by train on a convoluted route. I will only mention a few significant points about this trip.

This trip started with several days in New York city – I like the place but Anita does not want to go back! However, it did include our first walk through Central Park (not very impressed), our first visit to the top of the Empire State Building (very impressed particularly as we had fast track tickets and we left queuing to most of the others!) and a visit to the Ground Zero museum. This is a must-see place but be prepared for an emotional time – 3 hours was enough. One impressive part of this complex was the arrangement of the waterfalls marking the footprint of the twin towers. The wall surrounding this was engraved with the names of all the people that lost their lives. There was even a computer search facility to help find any given name/s. I had visited the observation level in the World Trade Centre twice on previous journeys to New York.

We walked a lot in New York and ventured on to the subway as well.

We then took the Amtrak train to Washington which was much more to Anita’s taste. More walking and so much to see – I remember it was very hot. I also remember going into a restaurant that was much more up-market than it appeared from the outside and we were in casual clothes. Almost all the other diners were in smart suits etc.

One museum we visited enabled us to look at the front pages of the Washington Times since it was first published. Interesting to look up any significant events to see how the story was presented as front-page news. Obvious candidates – the JFK assassination, Chappaquiddick etc.

Washington to Chicago was an overnight train journey – the food was fantastic, but the sleeping accommodation was a challenge requiring physical dexterity and then we had a poor night.

Photo 3: Typical Chicago scene – interesting city at the right time of the year

Insufficient time here particularly as this was Anita’s first visit.

Then on to Denver, also overnight, but now we had the larger sleeper cabin which was what we should have had on the Washington – Chicago trip. One significant factor was that the sleeping position was across the carriage so going round curves on the track no longer threatened to leave you on the floor unlike the previous experience.

Been to Denver too many times previously for this part to be memorable other than I met an old colleague from HP who I had not seen for several 10’s of years.

However, one of the reasons for going to Denver is to experience the train journey from the city to Grand Junction across the mountains. One of the most outstanding rail journeys I have experienced.

Close on its heels came the steam trip on the Durango-Silverton railway with Durango being a coach ride away from Grand Junction. This journey followed a river gorge for much of the way and facilities for viewing the scenery were excellent e.g. open-air car. Durango looks like an old western town with the railway terminus in the middle of one of the roads with no platforms. Recommended.

Photo 4: The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is a 3 ft narrow-gauge heritage railroad that operates on 45.2 miles of track between Durango and Silverton, in the U.S. state of Colorado.  This is prior to departure from Silverton.

A visit to the Grand Canyon using the Grand Canyon railway followed and, of course, the train was held up by bandits on the way back!!

Then an overnight train journey from Williams to Los Angeles followed with arrival in LA about 6.30am. We had a tour of the city including the Hollywood scene – all somewhat tacky we thought – and then an overnight on the Queen Mary. It is looking tired externally and the cabins are, of course, old-fashioned compared to modern hotel rooms but an enjoyable experience. From the deck you could watch pelicans diving into the water for fish in quite lovely sunny conditions.

Photo 5: On October 31, 1967, the Queen Mary departed on her final cruise, arriving in Long Beach, California, on December 9, 1967. Here it is in 2015.

Our last train journey was along the coast from LA to San Francisco. It was not the coast that made the big impression but the thousands of people living rough alongside the tracks for about 20 miles after leaving LA.

We are old-timers at San Francisco but this time we had pre-booked a visit to Alcatraz. This was interesting made even more so by the fact that there was an ex-inmate in the gift shop signing his book telling of his experiences. Apparently, he was making more money from the book than he ever did from his criminal activities.

Photo 6: Baker, a former Alcatraz inmate, shares his stories in “Alcatraz-1259,” a book he wrote about his experience at the prison.

This was a great trip with a huge variety of things to see and great travelling companions with a hearty sense of humour. Highly recommended if you like train travel.

However, I do wonder where the US is headed given recent events and to-day I would not be so keen to move there.

November 2020