Plans, Ports and Politics: 50 Years Helping Build British Columbia and the World

Plans, Ports and Politics: 50 Years Helping Build British Columbia and the World

by Frank Leighton


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781490779140
Publisher: Trafford Publishing
Publication date: 12/21/2016
Pages: 250
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.53(d)

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Plans, Ports and Politics

50 Years Helping Build British Columbia and the World

By Frank Leighton

Trafford Publishing

Copyright © 2017 Frank Leighton
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4907-7914-0



A Mixed Reception

The three or four tugs, which had greeted the SS Washington on its arrival in New York from Southampton, finally stopped their self-important circling and began the serious task of nudging the aging liner into a waiting berth.

It was clear that the arrival of one of the United States Line's oldest passenger ships engendered little excitement on the New York waterfront in the summer of 1949. The days when cheering crowds had welcomed every transatlantic liner, decks crowded with uniformed veterans returning from the war in Europe, were long since past.

Our small group, mostly young, single immigrants from Britain, stood largely in silence, hushed by the new reality we all faced.

On the pier, a handful of stevedores stood dejectedly, waiting to receive the ship's mooring lines and awaiting the signal to secure the portable gangways to the ship's deck. Beyond them a group of immigration officers waited disinterestedly near the open doors of a quayside cargo shed. Nearby, two burly policemen looked totally bored as if they did not really expect their services to be needed. Instinctively, my eye was drawn to the guns at the policemens' waists. This weapon was supplemented by an oversized night-stick which hung from the opposite hip. After the unarmed Bobbies of the British police, this display of weapons seemed vaguely alarming, but I quickly reminded myself that I was going to have to get used to a lot of changes in the days ahead.

There was no sign of the excited crowd I had expected to see waiting on the dockside to greet arriving loved ones, although I knew there would be no-one there to welcome me to the U.S.A. My destination lay on the other side of the continent, where the waters of the Pacific Ocean penetrated the sheltered inlet of Puget Sound.

Earlier, our small group had thrilled to the sight of the famous Statue of Liberty through the morning mist. Then came the excitement of cruising below the famous New York skyline. The windows of the office towers glinted in the slanting early morning sunshine as if the city itself was awakening.

In contrast, our arrival at the dingy, shaded dockside had sent a hush over our previously noisy group. We were literally "all in the same boat," determined to build a new life for ourselves on a new continent. The mutual support arising from a common purpose had created an instant bond between us during the five or six days spent together on the Atlantic Ocean. Now the shared optimism seemed to melt away as we realized that within hours we would be separating, each bound for his or her own destination in an unfamiliar new world.

As we awaited instructions to go ashore, our small group continued to watch from the promenade deck rail. First, cargo nets swung mounds of luggage onto the quayside where it was quickly loaded onto wagons, and towed away in strings into the adjacent cargo shed. Then came a moment of excitement as the first gangway was manoeuvred into position and passengers began to disembark far forward from our position near the stern of the ship. Undoubtedly the departing passengers were first or second class travellers; we steerage class passengers were obviously going to have to wait for a while. As the morning wore on, I found myself looking at my watch more and more anxiously, wondering if perhaps I had been too optimistic in booking an afternoon flight from New York to Seattle. It was probably mid-morning by the time our waiting group was allowed to go ashore. By this time, it seemed as if every other passenger on board the Washington had disembarked and disappeared into the open doors of the cargo shed.

It soon became clear that we would-be immigrants had been held to the last so that the battery of immigration officers inside the shed could give us their undivided attention. The welcome which awaited us seemed decidedly cool!

I think we all got the distinct impression that the primary purpose of our interrogation was to make it clear that new immigrants were at the bottom of the pecking-order in the land we were about to enter. It was as if we were outcasts from Europe, constantly being reminded how lucky we were to be allowed to set foot on U.S. soil.

Inside the cargo shed, after a few shouted questions, we were ordered to sit on a row of uncomfortable wooden chairs. This order was immediately reinforced by an instruction not to dare move from our assigned seats under threat of being immediately sent to Ellis Island. There, it was darkly hinted, we might stay and rot for a very long time!

The threat was lost on me, however. It was only after seeing the puzzled look on my face that one of the other immigrants whispered in my ear that Ellis Island was the prison the U.S. Immigration Service used to hold people whose documents were unsatisfactory or those who fell afoul of the immigration authorities.

Once firmly seated under the watchful eyes of the two burly policemen I had noticed earlier, our passports with their precious visas were gathered up and delivered to a group of officers seated at a long table. I knew that the visa in my passport showed that I was being admitted as a full "quota immigrant" for permanent residence, so I didn't expect any problems, but I must admit the coolness of the reception we had received so far was making me slightly nervous. I found myself wondering if I really did want to go ahead with the emigration decision I had rather hastily made six months before, after the painful collapse of a passionate University love-affair.

After all, with a newly-minted degree in civil engineering from Britain's Imperial College of Science, I already had the offer of permanent employment with a prestigious firm of consulting engineers on Great Victoria Street, in central London. Did I really want to launch myself into a crowded job market in a strange country where I was already being made to feel decidedly unwelcome? I reminded myself again that the first objective of my journey was to visit the home in Washington State of the war-bride sister whom I had not seen for more than four years. After that, there would be plenty of time to test the job prospects of this new continent.

Despite my misgivings, it was not long before I was being called forward to face a stern looking immigration officer. Happily, the officer seemed satisfied with the immigrant visa in my passport. His main concerns seemed to be with my immediate plans and with the amount of money I had available to support myself until I found my first job. Then with a backward wave to the remnants of our small group, I was on my way through the doors at the far side of the shed and into a new world.

Outside, a handful of people still waited, anxious faces watching the exit from the cargo shed. Instinctively I looked for a recognizable face, then realized with a start that I was on my own, facing an unfamiliar world and - totally unexpectedly - a language which I was having difficulty understanding.

Beyond the small group of waiting citizens, I could see two or three taxicabs, their drivers disinterestedly reading magazines. As I approached the open window of the first cab in the line, the driver barely raised his eyes from the page in front of him. "Are you free to take me to the La Guardia airport?" I asked.

The answer was an unintelligible grunt, but at least the magazine was put down. Slowly the driver got out, walked to the back of the cab, opened the trunk and motioned for me to throw my single suitcase and back-pack into the void. The driver had still not said a word but I climbed in the back and hoped we were truly heading for the airport.

For the next forty-five minutes I sat open-mouthed as the driver forced his way through what seemed like impenetrable traffic jams alternately blasting his horn or shouting snarling comments at the driver of any vehicle which pushed in front of him. Occasionally, he would turn in my direction and throw up his hands in disgust after being out-manoeuvered, but there was no attempt to engage in any conversation.

As we pulled up in front of the airport and the flag on the meter was dropped, I carefully counted out the indicated amount and added a small tip. This obviously didn't satisfy the driver; without saying a word he shook his head, pointed to the tariff sheet displayed in the taxi and tapped his finger on a line which said "Trunks each $0.50 extra", whereupon he pointed to my single suitcase and modest backpack, and demanded another dollar!

I knew I was being ripped-off, but at that moment all I wanted to do was find my flight and get on my way to the west coast. I meekly handed over an additional dollar, picked up my bags and entered the terminal.

Before long, I was able to settle comfortably into an economy class seat on a Northwest Orient Airlines flight to Seattle, Washington. No longer did I feel myself a nervous new immigrant; for a few precious hours I was able to blend-in with my American fellow travelers.

As I relaxed for the first time that day, my mind replayed the scenes at the dockside and en-route to the airport. In retrospect, I decided that the problem with my introduction to New York was mainly the harsh Brooklyn accent and the aggressive off-hand manner adopted by the few citizens with whom I had come in contact. Both characteristics grated on a new arrival from Britain. I left the city on that first occasion convinced that New Yorkers did not talk to each other, but rather that they communicated by snarling at one another. That first impression, formed so may years ago, has meant that for more than sixty years since, I have done my best to avoid New York whenever possible.

As the plane made the usual circuits over O'Hare airport on arrival at Chicago, I craned my neck to catch a glimpse of the city skyline and the famed Lakeshore Boulevard. Then it was quickly on to Spokane, Washington, where we were scheduled to make another stop.

At Spokane, the stop was a longer one to accommodate the refueling of the plane. It must have been about 9:00 p.m. on a warm late June evening when we filed off the aircraft onto the tarmac and were directed to the adjacent terminal building. As I slowly walked towards the terminal, my eyes feasted on the setting. The airfield was encircled by a fringe of dark green coniferous trees. Beyond the tree line, a distant range of hills was illuminated by a setting sun, which gave the basic purple silhouette of its peaks a dusting of pink. I breathed deeply, reveling in the fresh, slightly pungent, scent of the still air. The day had obviously been a hot one and fragrance from the needles of the surrounding trees had been distilled into the evening air.

It was a magical moment. Instantly, despite the unsettling experiences of the morning, I felt sure that I was not making a mistake. This was all that I had imagined the West to be, and I could hardly wait to explore its vast spaces and distant mountains.

An hour or two later, the elation which I had experienced on the airfield at Spokane was repeated as the plane came in to land at Seattle's SeaTac airport. As it did so, in the fading light of a summer evening, I could see below me the dark waters of Puget Sound, studded with islands, and around its margins a jewel-like necklace of lights from the shore-side communities. This, I told myself, was what I had come to see, and one day, if things worked out as well as I hoped, I might decide to make it my home.

Fishing For That First Job

The home of my war-bride sister and her husband stood on nearly three aces of cleared land in the small rural community of Harper, on the west shore of Puget Sound in Washington State. The principal reason for Harper's existence was a wood-piled structure which formed the western terminus of the Washington State Ferry route across the Sound.

A similar dock at Fauntleroy, in southwest Seattle, was the starting point of the ferry service which regularly shuttled across Puget Sound after making a quick stop at Vashon Island en route.

A simple one-room general store, fronted by a solitary gas pump, stood in splendid isolation at the shoreward end of Harper pier. Other than this, the only signs of a community were the windows of half a dozen houses, barely discernable through the trees which grew along the crest of a low bluff behind the terminal. At the foot of the bluff, a narrow ribbon of asphalt led southward along the water's edge and then turned inland.

The journey from the ferry dock to my sister and brother-in-law's house entailed a short drive along this road, past a tidal inlet known locally as "the Slough." Much to my surprise, the ground on both sides of the waterway was stained a surprising brick-red colour. This, I later learned, was because the site had previously been home to one of the regions first brickyards. As such, it had contributed its product to the construction of some of Seattle's earliest buildings.

A sharp turn to the right brought a visitor to the home of my sister & brother-in-law. The house stood well back from the rural road. It was of typical west coast construction, wood framed and clad with cedar shingles. At the front, an attractive verandah extended across the full width of the house. The whole building, cloaked in spotless white paint, stood in sharp contrast to the dark green of the adjacent conifers.

The setting was so utterly different from the urban streetscape of the typical English county town in which my sister had grown up that I marveled at the apparent ease with which my war-bride sister had settled into the role of wife and mother in the isolation of this new life, far from the support of family and close friends. It was soon obvious that a loving marriage and the constant demands of three small children left little time for loneliness or for the making of unprofitable comparisons.

The summer of 1949 passed all too quickly as I enjoyed the company of sister and brother-in-law and got to know hitherto unknown nieces and nephew. After a few weeks of this lazy lifestyle with weekend visits to the beauty spots of Washington State, feelings of guilt over my extended stay drove me to begin a serious job search.

After a few ferry trips across Puget Sound and days spent pounding the pavements of downtown Seattle, I realized the search for an engineering job was not going to be easy.

In 1949, before the outbreak of the Korean War, the U.S. economy was less than vibrant. It had wound down from the frenetic levels of World War II and, as I made my calls on potential employers of a very inexperienced young engineer, I quickly realized there was a host of similarly qualified U.S. candidates out there beating the same bushes as was I. Most were newly graduated military veterans, like myself. Understandably, as a newcomer to the country, I was at a distinct disadvantage. To make matters worse, the two areas of engineering in which I had at least a little experience - coastal engineering and hydro-electric engineering - were dominated by branches of the U.S. government. Work in the former area was almost entirely in the hands of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and most of the major projects of the latter kind were directed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Primarily, these two agencies were looking for people with U.S. citizenship.

It was at about this time, when my morale was at a rather low ebb, that an unusual offer of employment came to me out of the blue. A nearby neighbour of my sister & brother-in-law was a commercial fisherman with his own fishing boat. Doug Brinton had become bored with trolling for salmon in the familiar waters of Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. He decided that he would like to fish the waters of the open Pacific in search of the elusive but more exciting tuna fish, and to do this he needed to be accompanied by someone familiar with ocean navigation.

Somehow, Doug had heard that his neighbour's summer guest had served afloat during World War II on the Royal Air Force's Air-Sea Rescue launches and wondered if this individual could be persuaded to join him. Since Doug was away fishing, it was left to his wife to explore this possibility with me.

The upshot was an offer of a job as sole companion, deckhand and navigator on the M.F.V. Falcon. I was offered twenty percent of the net profits from the trip or alternatively, ten percent of the gross revenue from the sale of fish. With visions of the Falcon racking up more in fuel and grocery bills than the proceeds of our fishing efforts, I happily settled for the lower percentage. I was excited that the trip would give me a chance to see the U.S. west coast and guarantee my board during the two or three months that I would be away.

Sometime that September, I joined Doug Brinton and the Falcon in the fisherman's harbour at Port Angeles, Washington. At first sight I was taken aback by the collection of salmon trollers occupying the basin. It was my first good look at typical west coast fishing vessels; all of them seemed to have wheelhouse and high superstructure far forward. Having never seen anything like this before, I could not imagine how they would perform in a Pacific Ocean gale, and the thought of being far out in the ocean in such a rig made me slightly uneasy.


Excerpted from Plans, Ports and Politics by Frank Leighton. Copyright © 2017 Frank Leighton. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Epilogue, 224,

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