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Bob in the THE US of A 1968/9

 

The United States of America for me, as for many others, has long held a certain attraction which is not easy to define, maybe the wide open spaces in the Roy Rogers movies I saw when I was about 10 had something to do with it or maybe the Boeing Stratocruisers and Lockheed Constellations of Pan Am and TWA droning over Oxshott in the 50’s and 60’s or more than likely the continuous playing of Doris Day’s records on Tich Jones’ record player while we created balsa wood model aeroplanes together.

 

# Once I had a secret love # or #’The Deadwood stage is a’coming on over the hill # or  # Whip crack away, whip crack away, whip crack away #

 

Yeah, that was it!

 

Anyway, actually going there was always a bit of a dream but following a 10 minute interview with Boeing at the Hilton Hotel on Park Lane, the dream eventually became a reality on Monday September 2nd 1968.  Sadly earlier that year my mother died suddenly leaving my father to cope on his own which you may think would have made me change my plans but it didn’t.  Also Marcia and our 15 month old daughter Julia were unable to come with me as Marcia had spent a year or so in Israel which flagged up a problem getting a US Visa.

 

But for me armed with a job offer from Boeing in Seattle, a full ‘Green Card Alien Resident Visa’ plus passport plus a one way ticket and a $5 bill all paid for by Boeing blasting down the runway at Heathrow in a Pan Am 707 was what it was all about.  Selfish?  Thoughtless?  Unconcerned?  With hind sight – definitely - sorry.

 

Othello Philip Dickert, a kindly old gentleman in the seat next to me to some extent put my mind at rest; he gave me his card (still got it) and told me to give him a call anytime if I got into any trouble.  Also on that flight were a number of Boeing employees shuttling back and forth to Seattle some of whom I knew from a previous contract at CDI so not completely alone.

 

A refuelling stop in Greenland and a few more hours over the lakes and the Rockies and Seattle came into view; it was still daylight and also Labour Day which meant that most had the day off.  Also included in the job offer were a couple of nights in a Downtown hotel which was OK except for the continuous wailing of police sirens in the streets below – ‘Sleepless in Seattle’!

 

The first few days/weeks for any Boeing employee is down in the Kent Training Facility studying ‘The Boeing Engineer – A Guide to Early Effectiveness’ which I still have and was part of the introduction to most aspects of living and working in the area.  The new intake of employees for that week included Chic from Luton who had arrived with his wife Lyn and their two children Rachel and Matthew also seeking a new life over the horizon, my encounter with Chic and family sparked off a relationship which continues to this day.  

 

Also, another stroke of luck, one of my work mates from British Aerospace back in Weybridge had mentioned his brother who was already there with his family working for Boeing and living in Renton just south of Seattle and had offered to put me up for ‘a period’ so a call to his brother brought his wife Pat along to pick me up and offer accommodation in their basement.  I didn’t know them but thanks to Roy and Pat for putting up with me for the first couple of weeks.

 

Don’t forget I had still only $5 in my pocket and hadn’t been paid yet.

 

During my stay with Roy and Pat I sought out some wheels which was essential, so, following a few visits to dodgy car dealers and test drives in everything from a brand new Mustang to an old Chevrolet Corvette, which I test drove for a few days! Incidentally the Corvette was the subject of a book called ‘Unsafe at Any Speed’ by Ralph Nader,  I returned it to the disappointed salesman – thanks but no thanks.

 

I finally found a 1962 Ford Galaxie for sale around the corner from Roy and Pat in Renton so after negotiating a $500 loan from the bank drove off in my own ‘gas guzzling souped up semolina pudding’.  Before I left, the previous owner invited me in to her house in order for me to say a few words to her family so they could hear a strange accent! ‘Hey Honey, listen to this’ – cheeky b******s.

 

Following a couple of weeks in the classroom I was informed that I was posted to the 747 programme in the design office 40 miles north of Seattle in Everett, or Snohomish County Airfield, or Paine Field as it was known to the USAF.  For those of you who may be interested in which particular piece of the 747 I was involved in it was the Leading Edge Variable Camber Flaps which are operated by what looks like a double scissor mechanism – an amazing linkage.  During the first flight one of the trailing edge flaps became unhooked – so not my fault!

 

Also in that first couple of weeks I got a call from another colleague, Mike, who also I had met back at CDI.  ‘Hi Bob we’re having a party at the weekend why don’t you pop in and join us’, Mike and his wife Naomi lived up in Lynnwood near Everett so a good test for the old Galaxie up Interstate 5 on Saturday night.

 

Mike and Naomi lived in a pleasant enough two storey apartment unit known as 17422 52nd Ave W. (It’s still there.)   Apartment No 8 was available to rent so without further ado I took on the lease and moved in the following week.  Apartment No 8 had a small kitchen/diner plus sitting room downstairs and two bedrooms upstairs also a small fenced yard out the back – just right for corralling an 18 month old toddler which was Marcia’s request.

 

First on my list was to get the phone hooked up so a call to Pacific Bell with all my details prompted a call from a young lady to check the connection.  ‘Hello  Mr Jones, welcome to Lynnwood, just to check that your line is working and I note that your previous address was 44 Anyards Road, Cobham’  ‘Yup’  ‘Well my name’s Midge and my husband Charlie and I used to live in Cobham, No 2 The Brambles, Little Heath Lane, do you know it?’  ‘You must be joking; believe it or not that’s my grandparents place’  ‘Yes, we used to rent the front room, Charlie’s sister Margaret her husband and 4 kids live round the corner from you’.   Talk about a small world well Charlie’s sister Margaret, Eddie and their children Bev, Robbie, Gina and Lisa were a saviour to Marcia and Julia when they joined me later at the end of November.   Marcia couldn’t drive, was home sick and didn’t like anything much about the place but for my sake put a brave face on things, thanks to Margaret and family.

 

Back to the now.

 

The second job on the list was to visit all the second hand shops and charity establishments to find a cheap high chair, cot and car seat for Julia when she arrived, this I achieved with some satisfaction,  St Vincent de Paul coming up with the goods.  Next was to check out the area for stores, parks, medical facilities and drive in movie establishments.  Living within a stone’s throw of Highway 99 there were plenty.  By now I had received my first pay cheque so things were looking up.  I spent a fair bit of time looking for ‘Villages’ and a decent pub naively expecting something ‘English’ but all I could find was garish localities and plastic bars.  Washington State had odd rules and regulations about alcohol in those days, firstly you could never find the Liquor Store hiding unannounced in some business park and secondly if you walked up to a bar, ordered a beer and walked to a seat you would be admonished for walking with a glass in your hand, very odd.

 

Settling down in a new drawing office was nothing new to me also a high proportion of the accents were English so not a great deal of difference, except the drive to work on the wrong side of the road.  In 1968 we were still sharpening pencils and rubbing out (but when you needed a new rubber ask for an eraser otherwise the lady with the key to the store cupboard might get the wrong idea) anyway,  CAD (Computer Aided Design) at Boeing was just being introduced so most outer profiles were on CAD with pencil design within.  The guys around me were friendly enough and keen to help.  Marv’ from Canada on the drawing board next to me flew up to work every morning from down in Renton in his Piper Cub.  He took me for a number of trips over the local areas which were magical.   Dave on the other side of me, a quietly spoken lad who lived on a houseboat and also a ski instructor at the weekends also Dave arranged a few fishing trips for Chic and I,  George (another George) the boss but this time somebody who knew how to manage without shouting and getting grumpy.  So on the face of it a pretty OK place to earn a crust.

 

The drive to work from Lynnwood which I shared with Mike was slightly more scenic than the drive to New Malden.  The Cascades Mountains to your right, the Olympics to your left and Mount Rainier towering over everything behind you.  The drive ‘home’ was even better.

 

At some point I was required to take a driving test as my UK licence was really only good for vacations (picking up the accent already!)  So one fine day, I’ll be honest; I failed at the first attempt but triumphed at the second attempt.  Phew!

 

From day one I was keen not to use up any paid leave, holidays or sick leave but preferred the cash option if/when I left.  I was committed to Boeing for a year in order to pay off the expenses incurred by Boeing shipping us out.  Back in Cobham Marcia waited patiently (and apprehensively) for her and Julia’s visa to be issued, the trip to the US Embassy to swear allegiance to the flag was a painful but necessary part of the procedure.  Thanks to Val for accompanying her.  Meanwhile back in Lynnwood I was blissfully unaware of all that had to be done, like find a home for Pringers (Dusty Springfield) the cat, comfort my recently bereaved father, see to letting the house, pack up the boxes with all that is necessary for emigration and oh! Yes look after a lively toddler.

 

I had to re-apply for Marcia and Julia’s US resident status as now I was actually in the States things were different for them regarding residency.  Luckily all was in place by mid-November.  Marcia’s story at this point can only be guessed at but eventually she and Julia boarded a Pan AM 707 bound for Seattle on Thursday 28th November 1968 which was Thanksgiving Day in the US which meant I would be on holiday for the 4 day holiday and wouldn’t lose any pay!

 

The reunion at SeaTac airport that Thursday afternoon was quite emotional but Julia wouldn’t remember it as she was still asleep in the back of the ‘semolina pudding’.  

 

Marcia’s reaction to her new home can again only be guessed at but there was no ‘wow factor’ mentioned.  The fact that she didn’t drive, found the ‘locals’ difficult to understand and nowhere to push a pram except along Highway 99 was not a good start, however Mike and Naomi virtually next door and Margaret and family a short walk away (across Highway 99) were somewhat reassuring to say the least.  My efforts at mitigating the situation at evenings and weekends was searching out parks, play areas, vista’s and local amenities whenever the weather allowed.  The weather for the Pacific North West is supposed to be balmy and mild but the 68/69 winter was an extreme and so was the 69 summer – bloody cold and bloody hot respectively.

 

Back at work Carl on a drawing board behind me was into hunting, shooting and fishing and offered me some camping gear which I bought and greatly increased the possibilities for the weekends.  We took the old ex-US Army tent to many a camp site and beach including a weekend high up on the slopes of Mount Rainier where the snow that year was 829 inches thick (69 feet) deep but not quite that much in May when we were there however the visitor centre was still buried in the snow.  Most fellow campers were cosy and safe in their Airstream trailers and Camper vans but us being the poor relation only had a sheet of canvas between us and the bears foraging at night looking for scraps which we were advised to hide in the boot (sorry trunk) of the old Galaxie.  Not much sleep! Sleepless in Seattle!  Again.

 

Another weekend trip was to take the ferry from Mukilteo across to the Olympics to a place called Hurricane Ridge, the old Galaxie just made it up the steep winding road to the car park where the view was breath-taking and the aroma from the myriad of spring wild flowers was intoxicating.

 

‘Hi, Bob’ ‘what….. who…….where…… was that? ‘Hi Bob’ I turned round and there was Chris over from England visiting his sister and brother in law.  Well he would be, wouldn’t he?  Chris and I worked together at many a drawing board back in England, Chris managed to shake off the drawing board, made his fortune and still sends me a Christmas Card.  Small world.

 

On the way down the steep, winding, twisty road the Old Galaxie’s brakes gave out as they became overheated but I never told anyone until now.  It’s a good job first gear didn’t get overheated as well!

 

Another weekend trip up to a beach in Larabee State Park on the way up to Vancouver with our great buddies (by now) Chic, Lyn, Matthew and Rachel, this time all of us in my old Galaxie ended up a disaster.  On the way back some idiot lady driver went straight through a stop sign and wiped out the front of the car.  She and her two kids ended up in the ditch unable to open the doors and we ended up on the wrong side of the road with bits of car all over the place.  We were extremely lucky, the only injury being inflicted by Marcia’s finger nails grabbing at Rachel – no seat belts in 1969.

 

I ended up locked in the back of a Patrol Officers car being questioned about all aspects of my drinking habits.  Fortunately he reluctantly released me to drive another day.  The poor old Galaxie was an insurance write off but I had her repaired and she kept going until I sold her when we left, maybe she is still going.  Damned if I can remember how we got back to Lynnwood, must have been in a taxi – shock maybe.

 

Another near disaster was that all of us ‘Alien Residents’ had to sign up for Military Draft Registration as at that time the Vietnam war was still escalating under President Johnson and he needed plenty of bodies in reserve.  At the ripe old age of 29 I was way over the hill – fortunately.

 

By now Julia was developing a healthy American accent along with a taste for cookies, cup-cakes, candy, potato chips, popsicles and J P Patches.  Bit of a shame but her grandmother soon wrung it out of her on her return.  Sometimes the only way to get Julia to sleep was to take her to a drive-in movie, a new experience for all of us but not one we found that desirable.

 

Another new experience was a drive in take away Chinese which was great except all portions were six times what you would get in England (or China probably) so beware when ordering a Chop Suey, you will have enough for a week.  A salad comes with a bucket of lettuce and half a cake so again beware.  A giant Pizza comes with another free giant.  Sunny side up and easy over doesn’t mean what you think it means.

 

Visits to Seattle Zoo, Downtown, Seattle Centre, the circus, the Puyallup Valley Daffodil Festival, a couple of trips to Vancouver to get some marmalade and a bottle of HP Sauce and visits to an increasing circle of friends filled in the evenings and weekends.  A visit to Hamilton’s Store which was our nearest on Highway 99 on the morning of Sunday 9th February 1969 (Marcia’s birthday) was the day the sun disappeared behind a giant Jumbo.  It was the day of the first flight of the Boeing 747 which sadly I missed but I was there for the second flight – drat!

 

Another fine weekend I was keen to convert my UK PPL (Private Pilot’s License) into a US License so a drive down to a Flying Club at Boeing Field, or King County Airfield, a short introduction to the instructor plus a Piper Cherokee 180, a call for take-off clearance and we were away.  Climbing out of anywhere in the Seattle area is mind boggling, mountains and lakes out of most windows but dominated by the looming snow-capped Mount Rainier.  A few handling checks, emergency procedure checks and stalls, that’s when you chop the engine and try to hold it in a flying position until the speed drops and the wings give up trying and you plummet earthwards – the test is to recover before you hit anything hard.  On this particular aircraft was ‘Automatic Landing Gear Deployment’ which I wasn’t used to.  It’s supposed to be a safety feature which drops the wheels automatically at about 80 knots – in case you have forgotten to select ‘Wheels Down’.  The problem is that when practising stalls the wheels are popping in and out like yo-yo’s which can be distracting and dangerous so they withdrew this particular safety feature when a number of poor sods ended up cartwheeling when trying to ditch in the water during a real emergency.  The last thing you want is the wheels to pop out when trying to make an emergency landing on water.   Back to the drawing board.  Following a few more checks and a couple of circuits demonstrating my skills at landing the beast I was signed off with a fully qualified US PPL.   I never used it.  But it was satisfying.  

 

The vibrant music and drugs scene going on at the time didn’t escape our notice but we settled for ‘The Bluest Skies You’ve Ever Seen Are in Seattle’ by Perry Como which accompanied us every time we switched the radio on.  Check it out HERE.  So now, every time we hear it we are transported back to 1969 cruising along Interstate 5 in the old Galaxie.  Easy!      

 

Inexorably 1969 and my year tied to Boeing ticked by and we began to think of returning to the old country much to Marcia’s relief.  As for me it was in many ways the best job I had, but to continue with an unhappy wife is not the best route to happiness so a change it was, of circumstances (not wife!)

 

One of the perks of being a Boeing employee was a free ride on a delivery flight so I checked aircraft delivery flights to BOAC and others but unfortunately nothing at that time apart from a 727 being delivered to Paris, probably with no seats, no airline stewardess and no dinner so Pacific Western from Vancouver it was.  

 

The day I turned up in our back yard towing the U-Haul trailer to pack away all our worldly possessions and get them down to the docks was probably the best day for Marcia.  I had given in my notice at work, sold the car, given notice at the apartment had our one way tickets out of Vancouver to London (it was cheaper)………………. but we couldn’t go home.

 

So, there I was with no job, no car, nowhere to live, tickets I couldn’t use and a pregnant wife.  Marcia had been to the doctors and was told that she shouldn’t fly.  It was all Emma’s fault!  Luckily a second opinion proved to be more positive so I rented the largest car I could find and we hi-tailed it up to Vancouver, jumped on another Boeing 707 and headed for Gatwick.   If we hadn’t had that second opinion Emma would have been born a US Citizen – I wonder if she has ever thought about that.

 

A few months after we left Seattle Boeing nearly went under, they laid off 70,000 people and a notice went up on the highway south of Seattle ‘THE LAST ONE TO LEAVE SEATTLE PLEASE TURN THE LIGHTS OUT’

 

Lucky?

Back to Bob's Blog Page 9

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This is a shot from about 1500ft from Marv’s Piper Cub over The Space Needle and Seattle Centre in 1968, if you look at the skyline now it’s a bit different.

 

A rare picture of me with Julia with the Olympics in the background.

 

On the way to the beach north of Everett.  A hole cut in a 2000 year old Red Cedar to allow traffic through.  

 

Marcia, Julia and me in our back yard at

17422 52nd Ave W Apt 8.

 

This one is the postman delivering mail at 17422 52nd Ave W Lynnwood.

 

Marcia, Julia, Ragedy Anne and Gina not forgetting the old ‘souped up semolina pudding’ outside the Donner residence.      

 

This one is a replica of Boeing’s first airplane known as a 'B and W' after the founders William Boeing and Geoge Westervelt. Julia trying to get in on the act.

 

A last visit to Mukilteo Beach.

Is that a slight smile of relief I detect?

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This is the structural test rig for the Boeing 747 airframe where they shake it to bits and load it up until the wing snaps off.

So don't worry.

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This is the washing line under test in the back yard of Apt 8.

The sand box was built by yours truly in case you were wondering.

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Waving to the noisy freight train on the log strewn Mukilteo beach

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This is a pair of wide awake fishermen (Chic and Dave) on an early morning fishing trip on Lake Washington.

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Margaret with her children Robbie, Gina and Lisa.

Julia issuing instructions to 'watch the birdie'.

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Marcia, Julia and Naomi high up on the slopes of

Mount Rainier National Park.

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Puget Sound, Hurricane Ridge and Mount Rainier in the background.  Fluff in the foreground.

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Preparing for a night under canvas listening for the bears in

Mount Rainier National Park.

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The Space Needle in Seattle Centre in amongst a few other high rise structures - check it out now.

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Confused from Cobham.

A knight in shining armour arrives with his U-Haul trailer.

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A last look out of the window at Apt 8 - it wasn't that bad - was it?

Don't answer that.

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At the Canadian border on the way up to Vancouver with Julia and Emma!

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Heading East from Vancouver to Gatwick aboard a Pacific Western Boeing 707.

Before the big fans arrived.

 

So there we are, all this happened getting on for 50 years ago and it seems like yesterday.

 

Enjoy it while you can, love and hugs,  Bob.