My Trip to Europe

A man and his wife

A man and his wife in Czechoslovakia hauling rye bundles, their wagon being drawn by cows.

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120 W. 12th Street, Schuyler, Nebraska

In July 1960, I started out for an ordinary vacation and visited Europe for nearly five weeks. I left home by Union Pacific train to Omaha then by Milwaukee to Chicago, where I loafed most of the day then in the evening I proceeded to O'Hara International Airport where I boarded a Boeing 707 Jet Airliner for Frankfurt, Germany.

Our plane took off at 9:50 p.m. and landed in Germany 9 hours later. The flight was advertised as nonstop, but due to the runways in Chicago at that time being too short for such a large plane, it was necessary to take off with a partial load of fuel, so a fuel stop was made at Gander, Newfoundland, for about three-quarters of an hour, then the flight resumed.

Harvest was in progress in Europe when I got there and so was wet weather, as we left the plane in a light rain. After several hours, I took a train from Frankfurt to Mannheim to visit a correspondent who works as a Service Engineer at the Lanz works. I visited with my friend and toured the factory most of the next day. I saw the newest in tractors and combines and also some old machines which they keep for display. In steam, they have one portable engine and one large traction with a rear-mounted affair such as we know as a rototiller. One huge thresher is on the lot, then a variety of their tractors and other items such as binders, potato diggers and tillage tools.

The next stop was Nurnburg, which was also the last day of freedom for the next 17 days. Nurnberg is now a beautiful city and especially at night on the main streets with their lighted shop windows and various neon signs. From Nurnburg, I proceeded to Prague, Czechoslovakia, which is behind the Iron Curtain and when I saw that Iron Curtain, I wished I had never been so bold as to undertake that part of the trip and the next 17 days were punctuated with worry as to whether I'd get out of that formidable stockade without a lot of trouble.

The first display consisted of three rows of barbed wire fences, the rows spaced about 3 feet apart. The wires are mounted on porcelain insulators. The outer rows of posts are about 5 feet tall and the center row about 6 feet. Guard towers are located at regular intervals and they are manned by soldiers. About mile further is a band consisting of 6 or 8 rows of concrete pyramids closely spaced and about knee-high and these are strung tip to tip with barbed wire, then I understand there are land mines. The aforementioned is enough to convince anyone of the viciousness of Communism.

When the train stopped in Cheb, the port of entry, I heard the command, 'No one gets off'. Being in the gangway at the end of the car, I stepped to the door for a look and there stood a soldier, complete with a shooting-iron, so I looked out of the other side of the car and there, too, was posted a guard and no one got off until the 'Kontrol' (which is their word for customs) got through with their shake-down. On this train was a lady and her daughter who seemingly were bringing in clothing from Germany for resale. I was later accused by a passenger as having aided her getting by the Kontrol; then another time some Communist was going to have my camera, Other than that I got along quite well.

Getting back into Germany 17 days later was really a relief of nervous tension. While in Czechoslovakia, I saw grain being cut by hand, also by a reaper, a grain binder and also by crude looking combines built in Budapest, Hungary. I made several trips from Prague to Kladno and on the last trip one lane of the divided highway was closed off and covered with a straw-colored substance. I asked another passenger what was being done and his reply, 'They are drying grain.' Sure enough, another quarter of a mile further, they were dumping sacks and spreading the grain in a uniform layer on the cobblestones. The next day it rained lightly and a crew was sent to cover the grain with canvasses and another crew to scoop it up, sack and haul it to shelter.

At another place where a field was cut by a binder, there were 5 or 6 Grandmothers picking up heads that were lost by the binder. At another place I saw a steel thresher about 2 years old threshing rye from stacks and about half the crew were women. The grain was sacked and weighed as each sack had to contain a certain weight. A baler set at the rear of the thresher baled the straw and pushed it up a slide to the top of the stack. I saw a few steam outfits in fields, but at a distance. They used portable engines with tall smoke stacks.

Being without a car, I couldn't explore the country as I'd liked to have done. I believe there are more cars in Schuyler than in Prague and none in the villages over there, so my travels had to be by train, bus and on foot. Most of the trains are coal-burning steamers. Before I forget, I saw women working on the track replacing ties. At another place a crew of women were digging a ditch about 3 feet deep and doing it with shovels, and another gang of gals were lining this ditch with stones to prevent erosion.

I visited in seven homes over there. One had a gas-burning water heater for the bathroom, another had a coal-fired heater. None of the kitchens had hot water on tap. None had refrigerators. Two had outdoor toilets, one of these belonged to a Communist party member who went to work at 7:30 a.m. and always returned after dark. One home had a telephone and TV. Unless a man is a Communist, his children cannot go to college. Wages are poor and living costs high. I saw very little meat in the homes. Beef is (in our weights and values) $2.00 per pound, pork is $2.25, sugar $.60 per pound, butter is $3.00 per pound, 2 oz. of tea $1.50, 25-30 Octane gasoline is $2.00 per gallon, so I don't wonder at the small number of automobiles.

The rate of exchange is 7 crowns to 1 U.S. dollar, however, to make the robbery less apparent to the American, he is given 14 crowns for each dollar. I had ham and eggs several mornings and the checks were totaled 20 1/10 crowns for each breakfast. Other meals were also in a high bracket. Bus fare for 18 miles was 9 crowns.

All property and businesses have been confiscated by the Communist regime. No one is happy because of that situation, even the aforementioned Communist doesn't wear his 'red star' except perhaps at the office. The factories of Skoda and those at Kladno are running day and night and the only thing I saw new were big trucks, tanks and cannon. I saw some farm machinery at the Czech State Fair and my guide and interpreter stated that there was no need of displaying those machines as the 'state' was the only buyer. This statement was, of course, in confidence.

Going back into West Germany was like going from poverty to riches, even though most of the autos were small, the streets were full of them. I headed to Cologne; at Remagen the bridge that crossed the Rhine was taken by surprise in the war and later destroyed, was apparently cut up for junk and removed. All that remains are the towers on the east and west banks.

I spent a night in Cologne and proceeded to Ostend, Belgium. North of Liege and up to Ostend, I saw the old threshermen's dream,- thousands and thousands of acres of grain in in the shock; also many stacks.

After spending a night in Ostend, I boarded a boat for Dover, England. From Dover, by train to Hereford and by bus to Ross on Wye where I visited Derek Hackett who has an interesting collection of tractors, most of them being English makes. The Hackett's took me by auto to Bishop Brothers near Ludlow to see a collection of steamers, portables, tractions, rollers and show engines. Seemingly the English never had 'tandem compounds' as they referred to their engines as 'compounds'. What we call 'cross-compound'. They also have singles in the center crank type.

Harvest had begun in England, but as on the continent, it was drowned out by rain. Derek wrote in October that he'd finally completed harvest.

Leaving England, I went to Prance, where I had the greatest lingual difficulties of the whole trip. I did enjoy a day at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, where I met a number of Americans. In Paris, I saw those sidewalk 'comfort stations' for men. At Metz, I was directed to the Bristol Hotel, the management speaking English. When I asked the ladyclerk about a room, she asked, 'Do you want ze room viz ze douche?' at the same time holding one hand over her head with fingers spread wide, meaning by that gesture, 'a shower'. I had to postpone my amusement to a later time.

From Metz, I proceeded to Frankfurt, Germany, where I spent most of a day at the International Trade Fair. Prior to then, I never saw so many men's and women's clothes, rugs, furniture, tableware, dishes, pens, pencils, pins, school supplies, wines, liquors, cheeses, well you name it, it must be there somewhere. That night at 11:30 we were USA-bound via Super Constellation. This gas drinker required a stop at Shannon, Ireland, of 1 hours for fuel, also much Irish whiskey came aboard due to its low price.

The next stop was Montreal, for more gas. About the last half of the trip was rough due to bad weather. That plane rode like a bucking broncho and it was a relief when it finally reached New York. The flight from New York to Chicago was smooth as valvet and Chicago never looked so good, although the sidewalks seemed to want to repeat the motions of that Constellation. A good night's sleep after 22 hours in the air made a wonderful difference.

Then the next evening back to Schuyler via Milwaukee and Union Pacific.