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Albert Maywood Courtright II

Reminiscences of Maywood Courtright

Trip to the West Coast - Summer of 1924

One of the principal advantages I saw in accepting the teaching job when it was offered to me was the chance it gave to travel in the summer. I had never been west of Chicago in my life, or east of Cleveland, Ohio. As soon as classes were over in June I bought a round-trip ticket to the west coast, going out by the Milwaukee route, down the coast to Los Angeles and then home to Peoria on the Santa Fe in the south. My ticket allowed a stop-over as long as I wished any place I wanted to be. Josephine was the only person I knew in the west - she had gone back to Berkeley after completing her work for her masters and was living with her parents while her fiancé finished his term of enlistment in the Army. Being engaged didn't stop Josephine from dating other men and she was the type that men enjoyed putting their arms around, slim and very feminine and she had no objection to their doing it. She told me she had to be loved. Anyway, Berkeley, across the bay from San Francisco, made a good place to spend several weeks before continuing the rest of my journey. There was a lot to see in the area and I would have Josephine to show me around. She had lived there all her life. Her father owned a brick and tile factory and had his offices in San Francisco.

I left Muskegon on the Pere Marquette RR and changed to the Milwaukee Line in Chicago for the three day trip to Seattle thru the northern states along the Canadian border. It was a very long train - thirty or forty coaches, all, except the first three, sleeping cars or Pullmans, two dining cars and an observation or club car at the rear with a rear platform. The Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul trains all had bright yellow coaches. The dining cars separated the day coaches, designed for local traffic, tho many people, in order to save the expense of a bed, made the whole journey trying to sleep in their seats, from the more luxurious Pullmans at the rear, the longest part of the train. Each sleeping car had its own name in large letters on the side and its own negro porter to make up the berths at night and change them back to seats the next morning and perform any services the passengers in his car needed, such as shining shoes, which he did after everyone was in bed. One end of the car had a men's toilet and smoking room, the other end the women's rooms. There were three wash bowls in our section so that three men could shave at the same time. Nearly every man used a safety razor by that time and a man was considered sloppy if he didn't shave every day. Beards and mustaches were out of style and had been since I had become an adult.

A young woman and her three year old daughter had the lower berth under mine so we shared the same seats during the day. She was on her way to Seattle where her husband had been working for some months. Naturally I spent a lot of time entertaining the little girl, mostly by drawing pictures for her but, like everyone else on the train, I spent little time at my seat after the train was well on its way. We would walk the length of the train for exercise, forward to the dining car - sometimes thru it into the day coaches - then back to the rear to the observation car which was fitted up like a living room with upholstered chairs and magazine racks. Collapsible vestibules between the cars made it unnecessary to go out into the open when going from one car to another as had been the case with the Cincinnati Northern. By the middle of the second day I had a speaking acquaintance with half the people on the train.

The Milwaukee was one of the few railroads that had been electrified its whole length so there was none of the dirt and cinders connected with the old steam locomotives. Safety laws and union rules made it unnecessary to change crews about every 100 miles which took from twenty minutes to a half-hour. When any stop that long was made everybody jumped off the train, the coach passengers making for the restaurant for sandwiches and coffee - they seldom ate in the dining car - the rest of us taking the opportunity to stretch our legs by walking from one end of the station platform to the other or maybe exploring a little of the town, keeping close watch on the time.

The most exciting part of the trip for me was, of course, the Rocky Mountains where it was necessary to use as many as four locomotives to pull the train up over the grades. Often we could see our four engines and the front part of the train across a deep valley going in the opposite direction. The hot, dry valley of yellow grass which stretched between the Rockies and the Cascades was the worst part of the whole trip. The temperatures must have been close to 100° F and air conditioning hadn't been invented yet.

In Seattle I got off the train and found a hotel fairly near the station. I don't remember how long I stayed in Seattle, three or four days anyway, exploring downtown on foot then taking streetcars to various parts of the city where I would get off and explore some more on foot. I looked over the university and walked down to the harbor where the ocean-going freighters were, another novelty for me, as were the various seafood for sale. I believe I also visited the zoo.

From Seattle I went to Portland, Oregon, where I again stopped for several days to explore the city and its environs. I have a vivid remembrance of the many rose gardens in Portland and also of going out to a park in the Columbia River where both snowcapped peaks of Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Hood were clearly visible, seemingly hanging in the blue haze. The weather was perfect, neither too hot nor too cold, and the air felt clean.

My next stop was Berkeley where I wanted to find a rooming house. As Berkeley was a university town I didn't expect I would have much trouble in that respect. Mt. Shasta was visible for a long while from the Southern Pacific train I was on, at first looking like a small mud hill with chalk on top, coming into view and then disappearing as we wound around the maintains of northern California, becoming larger at each reappearance, until finally we passed close to it and then left it behind us. I wasn't prepared for the brown and yellow hills of the California dry season and was considerably disappointed. Most of the train passengers stayed on, instead of getting off in Berkeley as I did, and were ferried from Oakland across the bay to the station in San Francisco. I check my handbag - all I brought along - at the station (or someplace - I can't remember if there was a station in Berkeley) then bought a newspaper to check the want ads for rooms to rent, then bought a map of the city so I could find my way around. I found a nice room with two old ladies right off the bat. It was in a nice section of town and that was where I remained until it was time to leave the coast for home.

I hesitated about looking up Josephine right away as I had caught some kind of bug while going thru the Rockies and had a bad, ugly looking cold sore on the end of my nose. The end of my nose was swollen and red and I wasn't very pretty. I hadn't written to Josephine that I was going west; I wanted to surprise her. I decided against waiting, however, and went to call on her that same evening.

She lived in a two or three story apartment on, or very near, Shattuck, the street where the electric trains ran that met the Oakland ferries. Her father took the ferry every morning to his office in the city. Josephine was bowled over when she saw me in the lobby. We sat on the stairway for fifteen or twenty minutes before she took me upstairs to meet her parents. Later in the evening she got out the family car, a model T Ford, and we drove to the top of the hills east of town where we sat looking down on the lights of the bay area cities and talking over old times in Ann Arbor and her plans for the future.

Mr. Hoyt didn't look like Josephine at all; he was rather roly-poly and not very tall. He liked to smoke cigars and enjoyed reading aloud Barrie's short article on smoking, "My Lady Nicotine." Ne never got to read it to me because every time Josephine saw him take down the book that contained it she would take me for a drive in the Ford. Since I was a graduate electrical engineer, Mr. Hoyt thought my advice would be valuable in selecting a radio which were beginning to come on the market in quantity in 1925. I had built my own radio and had taken a course in the characteristics of the vacuum tube but I was certainly no expert on the different trademarks. Nevertheless I went along to the store on Market Street in San Francisco and selected one for him. It was probably as good as any of the others. I couldn't even look at the wiring as it was all sealed up inside. After selecting the radio he took me to lunch at his club in the St. Francis Hotel and before we left got a guest card for me and signed it so I could drop in at the place any time I wished. I never took advantage of it.

A short time after I arrived in Berkeley I received a letter from Kenneth Eiler informing me that George Rudd, who had been assistant foreman on the main test floor at General Electric, had taken a job as a motor salesman and moved to the bay area. Kenneth sent me his address and I went to look him up. He told me he liked living in the bay area and then asked me if I might consider moving out to the west coast if I could get a job. I hadn't considered the possibility and I asked him what he had in mind. "Well," he said, "I was talking to the head engineer at Pacific Gas and Electric a few days ago and he mentioned the fact that they were looking for engineers, especially young fellows recently out of college. If you want me to, I'll go with you and introduce you to him. General Electric is always glad to place its former employees with other companies." He took me to San Francisco for an interview and I was offered a job tho he didn't know exactly what it would be. I might even be put in charge of the electrical apprentice program. I hadn't really given teaching a good try and the prospect of another trip during next summer's vacation were the deciding factors. But from that point on, my life might have been entirely different.

Josephine and I were together a lot that summer. She took me to places in the Ford that I wouldn't have been able to see otherwise and sometimes we used public transportation, like the time we went to the top of Mt. Tamalpias and visited the big trees nearby. One day, Mr. Hoyt had to send one of his employees in a car down the peninsula to the Santa Clara Valley and Josephine and I went along. She fixed a picnic lunch for all of us which we ate in an orchard along the road. The whole Santa Clara Valley was covered with orchards then. There were very few towns. We bought a box of apricots and ate them in the car on the way home. The day was chilly and Josephine and I sat in the back seat covered with a blanket and held hands to keep warm.

I never inquired about the man Josephine was engaged to marry but she told me his name was Fish. Her mother told me she didn't like him and she wished I were the one she was engaged to, not in Josephine's hearing, of course. I decided to leave Berkeley a week or so before I had planned as I was afraid I was becoming emotionally involved and I didn't want to be. Josephine gave me the address of her brother who was in school in Palo Alto and wrote him I would stop with him overnight. He had lost both legs, I don't know how, above the knee, and got around on two artificial legs with the aid of a cane. He had his own car. He was obsessed with sex and talk of nothing but girls and his conquests. I visited Stanford on foot while he was in class and left early the next morning on the Southern Pacific for Los Angeles.

I have very little recollection of what I did in Los Angeles except that I called on a preacher and his wife who was a friend of the minister of the Church of Christ in Peoria. When mother told him I was to be in Los Angeles he gave her his friend's address and mother sent it to me in Berkeley. When I called, they were preparing to go to a symphony concert at the Hollywood Bowl and they insisted that I go along tho I felt I was imposing on them. It was cold but not as cold as the night I went with the Hoyts to a Shakespearean play at the outdoor theater near the university in Berkeley. Mr. Hoyt loaned me one of his overcoats but I shivered the whole evening.

One evening I was checking up on the amount of money I had left and found I was likely to run short before I got back to Peoria. I wasn't worried as I had brought my bankbook along. I was pretty ignorant in money matters and thought all I had to do was go into a bank and show them what I had on deposit and they would give me the money. The next day, however, when I went into a big bank and talked to the manager about it he told me I was very much mistaken. He suggested I wire my dad for money which, of course, I did. I had my train ticket back to Peoria but I might have had to do without eating for a few days and I didn't like the prospect.

I took the Santa Fe from Lost Angeles to Kansas City and my ticket was arranged for a stop-over of several hours at the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon is not on the main line of the Santa Fe; it is 64 miles north of Williams, Arizona, where all of the Pullman cars going to the canyon were detached from the rest of the train and taken to the rim where there was a big hotel and restaurant owned by the railroad. I spent most of the time I was there walking to different view points on the rim and sketching. Sketching took a lot of time and I regretted afterwards that I hadn't spent more time exploring. I was, like everyone who sees it, immensely impressed by its size, colors and formation. As you approach it thru the desert there is nothing to suggest that it is there until suddenly you come to the rim. My general impression of the southwest as I rode thru it, however, was that there was an awful lot of wasteland. It was depressing for one who had grown up where the grass was green and there were tall, shady tree, lakes and creeks and rivers with water in them. In the west, the rivers where dry stream beds, there was no grass except here and there in brown tufts. All the vegetation had thorns and the trees small leaves that gave hardly any shade.

I know I went thru Kansas City, St. Louis and Chicago before I arrived in Peoria but I have absolutely no recollection now of how long I stayed or what I did in any of them. I stayed in Peoria about two weeks and then went back to Muskegon Heights for the start of the 1924-25 school year.

Table of Contents
The Teacher's Picnic
The 1924-25 School Year

Last modified on 20 March 2017 @ 22:25