It began on a beautiful sunny afternoon
in early September 1950.
"God was in His Heaven and all was
right with the world."
The quiet steady beat of my trusty
Triumph Thunderbird was reassuring as I banked this way and that
around the curves of the hilly Perthshire
road. The heather was in full bloom and covered the
hills with shades of greens, browns and purples. Cotton wool
clouds drifted in the clear blue sky. Light and dark shadows
were moving across the hills. My fishing rod was slung across my
back as was my bag that held some fine fat trout. It was one of
those absolutely beautiful idyllic days in early September. I
was minding my own business and doing my own thing.
I rounded a curve and came upon an
elderly couple whose car obviously had a flat tire. It appeared
that they were having trouble with the jack. I stopped and did
my boy scout deed.
Little did I realize
that in addition to the car I was setting wheels in motion that would change my entire
After getting the tire changed and
the jack stowed away we sat by the side of the road to admire
the view and exchange a little about each other. They were
Americans who were in their 70's and lived in a small town near
Seattle in the Pacific Northwest State of
Washington. This was their first trip out of the USA.
They were on a mission to find their roots and the home places
of their Scottish ancestors. I told them who I was, where I was
born and a little about the beautiful little village of Earlsferry
where I lived. After about a half hour we went
At Christmas time a letter with my
name and only
Earlsferry, Scotland for an address
found its way into our letter box.
It was a Christmas card from my American friends with words of
thanks for helping them and the best wishes of the season. The
envelope had their address so I sent them a similar card back.
For two more Christmases the same thing happened. No
correspondence, just the wishes of the Christmas season. Then in
April of 1953 a letter arrived from them. "We would like to
sponsor you to come to the United States to make your life here. We have
a guest cottage that you're welcome to use for as long as you
want. We will assist you in all ways possible as you settle in
the USA." Wow! as my life at this time was in somewhat
of a turmoil I gave this unexpected offer serious consideration.
At that time, my place of employment was The English Electric
Company in Stafford England but leaving Scotland was the last thing
I ever wanted to do. Earlsferry and
Scotland was it for me. I had absolutely no desire to go or be
anywhere else. I finally answered, thank you very much, but,
no. They didn't reply. Christmas again came and another card
arrived and I returned one back.
In April 1954 a second letter
arrived with, again, "Our offer is still open. If you don't come
to stay we'd like you to come to visit." I thought about
it again then responded, "Thank you very much but, again,
The products that we designed and
manufactured at The English Electric plant in
precision electrical instrumentation and huge turbo alternators such as are installed at very large
hydro-electric dams for the generation of electricity.
It was a day in June. Rather than
leave the plant in the middle of the day I always carried a
brown bag lunch. On this particular day the plant was stiflingly
hot. Rather than eat inside I decided to discard my bag and go
out for lunch to quite a pleasant little restaurant that was just down the street.
As I walked out of the plant I had
to step aside to allow a huge truck to exit the gate. On the
truck was one of our completely assembled alternators which was
roped down and covered with a heavy tarpaulin. A large placard
attached to the side declared,
Another Product of English
Electric. Destination, Seattle,
Washington, USA. I looked at that sign, and I looked at
that sign and I looked at that sign. It seemed like an omen.
Right next door to the restaurant I was going to was a travel
agent. I forgot about lunch.
The travel agent informed me as to
a big problem in visiting the
USA at that time, namely money. Britain was still
paying down its World War II
Lend/Lease debt to the
United States and severe currency restrictions were in place as
to the frivolous spending of Britain's
balance of payments and it's stockpile of dollars. At that time in order to visit the USA the
cost of the round trip had to be paid for in Pounds before
leaving and a total of 10 Pounds to convert into Dollars was all the money that was
being allocated for non essential visiting expenses.
Essentially, at that time, as a visitor, all of ones expenses within the
United States had to be paid for by American friends. The travel
agent suggested an alternative. Unlike other European countries
the annual British quota of immigrants who
wished to live in the USA was never filled. If one went
with Immigration status then the British Government, at that
time, would allow the immigrant to take the dollar equivalent of 200 pounds per year for each of 4 years out of the country.
It would take Britain 60 years, until
December the 24th 2006, to make the last and final payment to the
USA for its 5 years, 1940 to 1945, World
War II incurred war debt.
Next thing was a visit to meet
with the United States Consul in
Liverpool. After hearing my story and the
problem of money, the Consul looked me straight in the eye and said,
"I would like you to come to the USA and to make the USA your home. You can always keep your
Scottish status and have dual nationality." With the
Consul in agreement I elected to have 200 pounds converted into
Dollars. (times 4.8) I stated that I could easily earn the
dollars within the USA to replace those that I'd spend. Besides
mechanical know-how I had other tremendous assets; health, skills, a
gold mine between my ears, empathy and a good Earlsferry Scottish tongue in
my head. Added to all of that and in my favor I had the well earned
good reputations of the thousands of Scottish men and women of
integrity who had gone before me. I was well equipped. I would
pull my weight. I would be an asset to the USA.
Me in 1954 when I was 28.
My brother, Noel, took,
developed and printed this photo of me that I used to get my British
The backdrop is the harled outside wall of our Earlsferry home.
At short notice the travel agent
booked a one way passage for me to the
USA and I wrote my friends that I was
coming but only to stay with them for a short time. The ship I was booked on was the 20,000 ton
Greek liner, The T.S.S. Neptunia, which
would be sailing from Southampton on the 17th of
August for New York, with stops at Le Havre in France and Cobh
My friends at English Electric
threw a surprise going away party for me and the next day I returned
to Earlsferry. I spent three days
visiting my favorite places
in and around the village then set out on my Triumph on a two
week trip going up and around the north of
Scotland then down the west coast.
Seven of these idyllic days I spent living with salmon fishers
in their thatched cottage on the shores of Cuil Bay, in
Loch Linnhe, Appin, in the County of Argyll.
Somehow I had a premonition that it was going to be quite some time
before I'd get back. The salmon fishermen had
heard and seen me crunching along the shingle of the shoreline and came out of their
cottage to greet me. After I explained to them what I was doing and
the journey that I was about to undertake they invited me to
stay for a time with them. Each day I helped to row the cobble as we tended
and emptied the salmon nets. After packaging the salmon we rowed
the cobble with the salmon across the bay then loaded the packaged
fish into the guards van of the 4
o'clock to Edinburgh train. By daylight next morning these
salmon would be on the work counters of London's hotel chefs.
It was hard to leave the wonderful men
who had befriended me but when I did they lengthwise wrapped a
just caught salmon
in sheilisters (long
wild iris leaves) that grew by their door and laced the leaves over with net mending twine
to form a mummy like protective enclosure. Lastly they attached a sprig of
purple heather and gave the packaged fish to me as a farewell gift. The eyes
of these fine west highland men were as teary as mine as we said our
goodbyes and I moved on.
I left on the last leg of my journey
to return home. Like Earlsferry this idyllic place in future
years would draw me back.
My English Electric
I'm the only one without a
jacket and tie,
back row, center.
Tranquil Earlsferry at
1954. Salmon Fisher's Cottage. Cuil Bay, Loch Linnhe, Appin, Argyll.
Finally the day came for me to
leave home. All of my possessions that I left with to venture
out into the great big world fitted into one hand bag. A change
of clothes, an extra pair of shoes, a sprig of wild purple
heather that grew by the salmon fisher's cottage, (which I
still have) a few tiny pink cowrie shells from my Earlsferry
beach and a book that I was
in the middle of reading, by Maurice
Walsh, "The key above the door." A simple love story
with a setting in the heather clad Scottish highlands. What was I doing? It seemed
like an invisible force was propelling me. The last thing
I did before I left my Earlsferry home was to take some small but prized possessions that I
could not take with me to the grassy knoll atop the Croupie Rock at
the cliffs where I dug a hole and buried them. In case I didn't get
back to my favorite lookout perch something of me would
stay there forever.
My mother gave
me one last hug.
With misty eyes and in a soft
spoken whisper she said, "The Lord will take care of you." As I
moved away she tucked something into my shirt pocket. I was to find
that it was a limpet shell from our beach and a small New
Testament. Pasted inside the front cover of the little book was a picture
that my brother Noel had taken of her holding a rose from her garden and a
place mark card which had a
picture of Jesus holding a lamb as he tended his flock of sheep
and with the words from the Book of Genesis,
"In the beginning God made the Heavens and the Earth."
so I set out from Earlsferry on my what was then quite a journey.
The cabin that I was to share with
others was down in the bottom of the ship, right by the
propeller shaft. After stowing my bag there was but 10 minutes
until casting-off time. I made my way up on deck and joined all the
others who were lining the side rails. Then it hit me. What
madness had come over me to place me where I was? What was I
doing? My eyes misted over and I could no longer see the pier. I
made a wild dash for the gangplank to get off the ship before it was
too late. When I got there the ships crew had just thrown ashore
the last of the mooring lines and the ship was edging away from
the dockside. The gap was more than I could jump. The die was
The ship's schedule was to go to
Le Havre in France to
pick up more passengers then go on to Cobh
in Ireland to do the same thing. The only thing I remember of
going to France and to Ireland is of standing by the railing
near the stern of the ship with quivering lips and tears in my eyes as I watched the wake of
the ship fade into the distance behind.
After Cobh the ship set
out in earnest for the Atlantic Crossing.
America and a big unknown.
In no time I made the acquaintance
of three young lady school teachers who were in the next cabin.
Their thread of togetherness was the years they had studied together
at Hiram College in the State of Ohio. They had spent their entire summer in
Europe and were now heading back to the
US to go their own separate ways. They had first landed in
Southampton, England where they bought three speed Raleigh bicycles.
With these they
traveled around the south of England then on to France, the
Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Italy.
Occasionally they put their bikes on to trains with them. They
seemed to be charmed by my Earlsferry
accent and insisted that I keep talking and telling them about Scotland.
They invited me to spend the nights of the crossing with them.
This happy adventurous threesome suggested
that since the weather was clear and calm that we each take a blanket and spend our nights in
deck-chairs on the topmost deck instead of in our stuffy cabins
by the noisy, out of balance, propeller shaft. Each night we eventually fell asleep
as we watched Polaris conduct his symphony of the stars as the earth
rotated to cause the great constellations to do their apparent grand dance across the
heavens. By day my
favorite place to go was right up
on the forward bow of the ship, which really was an off-limits place, where I
would stand on the railing and "fly".
(As Leonardo also did in Titanic) What a
sensation it was to step up and balance on the bow railing of the ship as
I hung on
to the rigging with my knees, my arms straight out
like wings and the throbbing ship forging ahead with the stem below me cutting the waves and all
that was out in front was the
And of course, being of a mechanical
bent, I had to find my way
down to the engine room to check on the inner workings of the
coal fired boiler steam engine. (It was a vertical triple expansion.)
On the crossing I met several
influential business people and in no time I had a handful
of business cards and offers of a
number of interesting, demanding and responsible jobs. I was
also invited to their homes. One family from
New York insisted that I spend at least a week with them
before I headed west. They went to great lengths in taking me to see the
wonders of the city including the top of the Empire State
Building, a show by The Rockettes in the Radio City Music Hall and dinner as the guest of Joe Louis, the
boxer, at his restaurant to name a few.
Eventually on the evening of
August 26th the Neptunia
made its way up the Hudson River to anchor for
the night at Hoboken,
New Jersey, right opposite the
Liberty. The word
quickly spread throughout the ship; There
she is, The
Statue of Liberty, the symbol of free people.
Evening turned to dusk and the
lights came on. No one went to bed that night. The ship took a
definite list as everyone on board huddled together, awed and mesmerized,
by the inspiring and magnificent sight of the Lady with the light in the
On the ship were a number of European
immigrants who for years must have been thinking about going to
America to begin a new
life. Many were so overcome with The Statue and the final realization
that they had arrived that emotional sobbing was heard all night.
On the morning of
the 27th of August 1954 I
stepped ashore. The first thing I saw was a man with a broom
sweeping the sidewalk. As he swept he was smoking a huge fat
Then, it was true what I'd heard.
The streets of
New York must indeed be paved with
And so I
set out to hitch-hike my way to the
Pacific Coast another good
3,000 or more miles away. I saw a bill-board
that said, "Go west young man, go west."
No looking back now. You
never know where life will lead you. Adventures lay ahead.
did they ever.
"There is a tide in the affairs of