Trains, Boats, and…?

By my junior year in high school, I’d visited 48 States and 13 foreign countries – without ever getting on an airplane! Sound impossible? My stepfather, Frank, and my mom, Minnie, loved to travel. Every summer, and at Thanksgiving break, off we’d go’ mostly by Buick, sometimes by train, bus, or boat... but never by air. Frank refused to fly. RMS SaxoniaHere’s how we toured Europe. We took a train from my home town Kewanee, Illinois to Montreal, and sailed out the St. Lawrence Seaway on the RMS Saxonia, a small ocean liner, crossing the Atlantic to Liverpool. We then traveled by train to London, then by ferryboat we bounced across a choppy English channel to Amsterdam, where we joined a bus tour. We saw a large part of Europe, going as far south as Naples, Italy. After the tour, we ferried to Copenhagen where another bus tour took us to Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Then, across the North Sea to England, across the Atlantic on the RMS Carinthia, and by train back to Kewanee.

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Family Passport  Picture – 1956

The following year, Frank and Minnie decided to go to Acapulco. We drove to Houston where we left the Buick with some friends we’d met during our tour of Europe. We cruised on a Greyhound bus to Laredo, crossed the border, and transferred to a Mexican bus. From there to Acapulco it’s nearly 1,000 miles. The bus was not a Greyhound, but it was a dog. It was not air-conditioned, dust blew in the open windows, the roads were not the smoothest, and the passengers included several chickens. All this was enough to change Frank’s mind about flying. When it was time to board the Mexican Airlines flight back to Houston a flight attendant guided us onto the plane with a flashlight, entering though a drop-down door at the rear of the aircraft. She explained, “We can’t turn the lights on in the plane until the engine starts up, running the generator.”

The flight was similar in many ways to the bus ride. At least they didn’t fly with the windows down. It was hot and bumpy. There were no chickens on the plane, but there was one white-knuckled stepfather.  Afterwards, Frank seldom mentioned that flight, and for the rest of his life he never got on an airplane again.

(Originally posted 10/9/15)

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