A reflection

By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective

I am a very disorganized person and stand in awe of those who keep letters and pictures in albums and folders where they are easily retrievable. Literally thousands of my photographs are chucked into shoe boxes, most are unidentified. Occasionally I browse through them and discover gems. This was the case yesterday and the gem was the photo of a steam locomotive with passenger cars standing along the platform of Trenton Junction. To my surprise the picture was dated: May 1947.

I showed the picture to a friend who is a bit of a railway buff. After some research he discovered that  the engine number 6069 that used to shuttle between Toronto and Montreal now rests in a railway museum in Sudbury. I hope some day to visit my old friend.

The picture, however, also reminded me that the year 1947 was a banner year for me. That spring about the time that I took the photo I had noticed a picture in the Canadian Geographical Journal, as it was then called, showing a Trans Canada Airlines plane banking steeply over the towers of Manhattan.  I was smitten, I wanted very much to experience flying.

At first I decided to take that train to Toronto, then fly to Montreal and return by train to Trenton. But that picture of Manhattan kept bugging me.

And so it was that on the last day of August in the year 1947 I arrived at Malton airport with a ticket to New York. I had worked hard and saved assiduously during my school holidays to garner sufficient funds for a weeks excursion to the Big Apple.

I boarded a DC 3 and took off into the clouds. Next time I saw land it was Long Island just as the plane approached the runway of La Guardia airport. A limousine took me and the other passengers into the centre of town.

I soon discovered the reason why I had had no luck getting a hotel reservation, New York was preparing itself for the first American Legion Convention. A souvenir vendor on the street sold me a convention button festooned with the stars and stripes. Thus armed I walked into the lobby of the Warrington Arms, a small hotel on Madison Avenue and 33rd street. The man at the desk took me for a veteran's son and offered me a deal I could not refuse.

To orient myself I ascended the Empire State Building only a few blocks form the hotel and from that lofty perch got a great view of the city. I was well prepared, had studied maps and talked to everybody who had any knowledge of this city. From the open air observation deck everything fell into place.

Looking south toward the Hudson River I noticed the three red and black smoke stacks of a large ocean liner. I love ships, anything that moves for that matter. I rushed over to the river and discovered the Queen Mary. Passengers were arriving by limousines. There was lots of excitement as the giant Cunarder was preparing to leave.

I rushed over to the subway and took a train to Battery Park where I boarded the Statue of Liberty ferry and just as I landed at this New York landmark, I saw the Queen coming down the Hudson River, behind loomed the towers of Manhattan. I took lots of pictures with my cheap camera but none turned out as well as the pictures in my memory.

For four days I explored New York, saw Oklahoma performed by the original cast, visited museums and Radio City Music Halls where I a callow youth of 18 was thrilled by the high kicking Rockettes. On my final day I witnessed for 5 hour the veterans parade on Fifth Avenue.

What an adventure all this was! But there was more to come.  Rather than fly back to Toronto I booked with Canadian Colonial Airlines, now long gone, to fly to Montreal.

No sooner had we left New York when we encountered a violent thunderstorm. The plane bounced and yawed while lightning seemed to flash up at our craft. We were forced to land at Albany but soon took off again. The sound and light spectacle  repeated itself and we were made to land at Burlington, Vermont. This time we were on the ground three hours. My flight arrived five hours late at Dorval. My night train to Trenton had long departed.

On the flight I had made the acquaintance of a young man a bit older than I. Neither of us had a hotel reservation but the taxi driver took us to the Ford Hotel on Dorchester Street. The concierge was kind to us and because there was no room available and it was very late and we were young he told us to make ourselves comfortable on the couches in the lobby.

I wasn't quite asleep when I noticed the bell hop and the concierge talking and looking over at us. Seeing that I was still awake the bell hop came over to me and explained that there was an empty room upstairs and that we could have it for half price. We took it and had a restful remainder of the night.

Next morning I boarded the train probably pulled by that engine in my photo and arrived in Trenton in the middle of the afternoon. It was undoubtedly one of the most exciting trips I had ever taken. But this is not the end of my story.

New automobiles were still scarce in this post war time. Prospective buyers had to list their names with a dealer. Although we had never owned a car in the spring my father listed himself  at  Weese Motors, the Chevrolet dealer in Trenton. We were 84th in line and ownership seemed very remote, however, three days after arriving home from my New York jaunt, a gray Chev sedan pulled up in front of our house. Mr. Weese informed us that it was ours for the princely sum of $1,630  almost exactly what we had just received from the sale of 160 acres of Saskatchewan gumbo.

No one in our family could drive but neighbours who quickly gathered around our driveway offered to give us lessons. Sixty days later I passed my drivers exam and became the family chauffeur.

Need I explain why 1947 was truly a vintage year. The picture of that locomotive  at Trenton Junction in May of that year sets the memory disc spinning in my mind.

15 March 2009 — Return to cover.
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