After the delights of Cape Spear and Signal Hill, my next stop is the town of St John's. And it took me a while to stop there as well. I came in on the old road, missed my turning, found myself on the Trans-Canada Highway, and ended up having to travel 3 kilometres out of town before I could turn round and come back. And the return slip-road took some finding too.
Yes, let's start off as we mean to go on. GRRRRRRRRRRR!
Then again I've complained so often about the lack of signalling and lack of destination boards on North American highways that you would have thought that I would be used to it by now.
But at least it gave me a little moment to reflect. In the absence of anything else to do last night while I was eating my tea, or "supper" as they call the evening meal in North America, no matter the time that you actually eat it, I was watching a gridiron game on television.
One of the players was carried off injured and he came to sit down on one of the benches at the side of the pitch. As he quietly lowered his head into his hands, the TV commentator announced
"ohh look - he's having a private moment of prayer".
HAH - a "private moment of prayer" indeed. Now, how private was that with the commentator drawing the attention of a couple of hundred million people to it?
First stop, actually underneath the feet of a flyover of the Trans-Canada Highway (hence the issues that I had when I missed my turning just here) is this building.
You may recall me mentioning on the drive down to here that I had seen the odd trace or two of things that looked very much like a railway line, and I was right. This is the former railway station and railway company head offices in St John's. I must admit I quite likes the idea of the carriages being built into the side wall like that.
And this is the former railway company warehouse and goods-handling facility, just behind the station building at the other side of the flyover, a glimpse of which you can see in the photograph. It backs right on to the port and the docks here, and was thus extremely convenient for the trans-shipment of freight.
The Newfoundland Railway was a 3-foot 6-inch gauge network and its main line ran from St John's to Channel Port aux Basques for the ferry to Cape Breton Island. There was also a considerable system of branch lines all over the island and its combined length, something like 900 miles "906 miles, to be precise" ...ed, made it the longest 3-foot 6-inch gauge network in the world.
The first commercial trains ran on the line in 1898 and the network was abandoned in 1988, although the passenger service had finished some 20 years earlier.
The station building is now a museum, with the Provincial records being housed above. I had no time to sit and browse through the archives, much as I would have liked to have done, but the museum was a good bet.
One of the most exciting exhibits in here had nothing to do with the railway at all but more with the railway's nemesis - the motor vehicle. This one on display here is a REO Speedwagon of, I think, 1927. But someone will put me right if I am wrong. E- if you know.
Apparently the truck has only had three owners since new, and one of those is the museum. And for most of its life it was a working vehicle too.
I'm not sure how much restoration the vehicle has had done on it, but I don't think that it was much. And it is certainly in a very good condition considering its age and working life.
There was a considerable number of other artefacts inside the museum, including a model of the station at Placentia Bay, built by the artist and craftsperson ... err ... excuse me, I'm just going outside to throw up.
And so outside the station is a train, made up of a typical diesel locomotive of the company. The Newfoundland Railway was absorbed into the Canadian National system in 1949 when Newfoundland became a province of Canada. These were the company's colours.
You might think that steam would have been the prime motive power of the line and in the early days this was indeed so, especially as the Sydney coalfield was only just across the estuary from here. But like everywhere else, steam operation had its day and the railway network was dieseilised
This was a cute little machine also parked outside the museum. I've no idea what it might be but hazarding a guess I would say that it might well have been something to do with the operation of the railway, like a platelayer's repair outfit or something.
You know, it really would be nice and helpful if these museums, like the aircraft museum that we encountered the other day up at Gander took the trouble to label all of their exhibits.
I've told you what there was in the museum, so let me tell you what there wasn't. One of the very first attempts to fly the Atlantic before the successful crossing by Alcock and Brown (but during the period within which Read was making his attempt) was that of Harry Hawker on 18th May 1919. After takeoff, he jettisoned his landing gear which was subsequently recovered and, so Peter Allen tells us,
"is now in the St John's museum".
One of the things that I've been doing on my way around is trying to see what efforts are being made in Newfoundland to commemmorate the conquest of the Atlantic by air and so I'm hot-foot on the trail of artefacts such as this. But wherever they are, they aren't in the museum here.
Next stop therefore had to be "The Rooms" - the big new museum that was built to consolidate all of the smaller local museums. But they knew nothing about it either and they weren't particularly disposed to help me by making further enquiries of their colleagues either, which was something that I found rather depressing after the exceptionally-warm hospitality I had received everywhere else in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Mind you, I should have gathered this from what I saw in the car park. There was a rather ... errr ... portly bespectacled young gentleman, dressed in black combat fatiques and a baseball cap, with "SECURITY" written all over his clothes in letters almost as large as he was, wandering around taking photographs of the cars that were parked with wheels on the white lines and suchlike.
I'm sure you know the type. I bet you had one in your town too - most towns that I ever lived in did. It's amazing what came out of the woodwork when the hysteria, panic and paranoia on the early 21st Century gave some people the chance to put on a uniform and have some little power over others, probably for the first time ever in their lives.
But anyway, back to the museum. It was far too much effort for the reception staff to raise themselves off the desk upon which they were leaning, and the telephone was far too heavy for them to pick up, but they did manage to offer me a leaflet inviting me to their exhibition relating to "the senseless destruction" caused by a car bomb in Iraq. What a load of nonsense - firstly it quite clearly made sense to the resistance fighters who did it, and secondly, what about "the senseless destruction" caused by the American and British bombing of Iraq in the first place that started it all off? Why no exhibition of that?
No, it's just another one of those stupid, thoughtless throwaway lines that have a habit of rebounding upon the speakers and making them look ridiculous. Like Baroness Ashton, the leader of the European Union's Foreign Policy who called Suicide Bombing a cowardly act . I suppose that she would have no qualms about doing it then, or maybe she thinks that it is so much braver to sit in a concrete bunker 2,000 miles away from where the action is and press a button that drops a bomb or fires a rocket that kills a dozen or so civilians.
I find the use of Government funds for one-sided propaganda to be quite sickening myself. Maybe if Westerm Governments started to show exhibitions of the damage that their own forces were doing to countries such as Iraq, then people living in the west would begin to understand why it is that people in other countries are fighting back.
A team of experts visited Germany just after World War II to inspect the bomb damage. Their report states that at first they were "awestruck". Later in the report, it became "amazed" and by the time that the final pages were reached, the team was "appalled". There are many recorded cases of bomber pilots of World War II going to visit the cities that they had been bombed and subesquently committing suicide, being unable to live with the thought of the number of innocent civilians that they killed. Perhaps a few more exhibits of war damage and civilian casualties caused by the Western armies would make a few more westerners stop and think, and maybe put an end to this madness in the Middle East and Central Asia.
When people like Saddam Hussein were in power, the citizens knew what they had to do in order to preserve their lives. If you kept your mouth shut, moved only in certain circles, and scrupulously obeyed whatever law that there was, then you were reasonably safe from harm. Since he has been deposed, death and slaughter is now totally indiscriminate and no-one is safe. It's all very well trumpeting loudly about "freedom", but what good is freedom going to do you if you have been blown to smithereens in a car bomb or blasted into atoms by a NATO rocket attack? And who in the west is free anyway? You only have an illusion of freedom, and then only "if you keep your mouth shut, move only in certain circles, and scrupulously obey whatever law that there is".
What I reckon is that if any Western power wants to fight a war, the citizens should be obliged to vote on it - a referendum. And anyone who votes in favour of the war should be given a gun and a tin hat, stuck on an aeroplane, and sent off to fight it. I have trouble trying to control my laughter when I on the backs of cars these signs that say things like "I support our troops". How brave is that? If you support the troops you should be out there with them, not skulking like a coward 5000 miles away from the fighting.
But then of course British people have no real right to criticise these Suicide Bombers anyway. The Brits spent 4 years arming groups of insurgents and parachuting all kinds of arms as well as illegal foreign fighters into foreign countries to fuel an uprising against a military occupying power. And if you want to talk about slaughtering a civilian population, the British were good at that too, and they did it not by the dozen or by the hundred even, but by the hundred thousand, 593,000 in fact, give-or-take the odd handful.
And Winston Churchill himself was totally in favour of Suicide Attack - don't forget that. He wrote in his book Their Finest Hour
that had the Germans invaded Britain in 1940 he would have used the slogan
"You can always take one with you"
But be that all as it may, there is no likelihood of any possibility of finding Harry Hawker's undercarriage anywhere in St John's and so my next port-of-call will have to be back at the air museum at Gander, where I might have to resort to a little breaking-and-entering if they persist in closing all of these provincial museums in my face . If you were with me at L'Anse-aux-Meadows the other day, you will remember that I do quite a good line in that.
Sometime during the course of my writings I mentioned that I was on the Aviation trail. Most people haven't heard of Trepassey and its contribution to the aerial conquest of the Atlantic, but I hope that I've rectified that . Most people have heard of Alcock and Brown and their first successful non-stop flight across the Atlantic.
But what most people haven't heard of is the fact that the Atlantic could have been crossed non-stop by any one of five teams, all of whom were competing in 1919 for Daily Mail's prize of £10,000 for being the first to cross the Atlantic. It should be explained here quite clearly that Read and his crew were definitely first across, but firstly Read declined to enter the contest on the grounds that he felt that being backed by the might of the US Government gave him an unfair advantage, and secondly that there was a time limit of 72 hours from Continent to Continent and Read took 11 days
There were in fact 11 entries, but only 5 made it to the starting line. These were, in no particular order,
i..... Hawker and Mackenzie Grieve in the Sopwith Atlantic
ii.... Raynham and Morgan in the Martinsyde
iii... Alcock and Brown in the Vickers Vimy
iv... Brackley and his crew in the Handley Page V1500
v.... Wood and Wylie in the Short S538
Wood and Wylie were the first into the air, making the attempt from east to west - against the prevailing winds (although you would never have thought so up there at the Cabot Tower) . However they crashed in the Irish Sea and although they were rescued, the plane was a write-off.
Hawker and Mackenzie Grieve took to the air on 18th May and came down in the Atlantic with an overheating engine. They too were rescued
Raynham and Morgan, spurred on by the sight of Hawker flying overhead, took off half an hour behind him but were not ready and they came to grief at the end of their runway. Raynham tried again 2 months later and again crashed on take-off
Alcock and Brown left on 14th June and as we know, they made it across and won the prize.
The Vimy took off on 4th July but with the Atlantic having been flown, the crew set out for New York instead but ran into trouble at Parrsboro, Nova Scotia where an emergency landing caused the plane to be badly damaged.
Apart from Wood and Wylie, all of the other flights took off from the immediate vicinity of St John's and I had been expecting, in view of the historical significance of them, some kind of "Aviators' Trail" and leaflet setting everything out, and maybe a little map.
But there was nothing - nothing at all. It really is astonishing. And I spent a fruitless couple of hours prowling around looking for evidence.
Raynham and Morgan took off from the area known as Quidi Vidi and that was really the only optimistic place to carry out an intensive search. There were plenty of people wandering around in the area and I made extensive enquiries, but do you know - not one person of those whom I asked had any idea of the significance of the area in which they were living.
I had with me a few photos that had been taken of Raynham and Morgan's attemps at takeoff and of their crash and of the assembly of the Vickers Vimy, that was carried out here although they took off from "Lester's Field", which I was unable to locate, and I drove around for a while trying to match them up.
Eventually I managed to match something up - that hill in the background over there looked just like the hill in the background of one of the photographs that I had, which was taken of the crowds gathered around Raynham and Morgan's aeroplane prior to takeoff. I was on to something here.
The only flattish piece of land all around was not particularly flat either and I had to drive to a suitable vantage point to photograph it. It is the area around Quidi Vidi Lake, which was known as a landing point for early seaplanes.
I can't find any other suitable area in the neighbourhood that was flat enough and long enough for a take-off of a fully-laden aeroplane, but who in their right minds would take off from here? It is surrounded by hills on three sides and the fourth side is where is today's golf course, just here. No wonder they kept on crashing.
And so I had a ferret around in the undergrowth like you do "like SOME of you do" ...ed and I managed eventually to unearth this rather neglected plaque. It mentions Raynham and Morgan's attempt, the assembly of the Vickers Vimy and the loss of Read's airship, but that, dear reader, is your lot.
And just look at the "it's" on the 8th line of the inscription - and on a Government-sponsored memorial too. I would die of shame, I would. It really is unbelievable
And as I said, that's all that I was able to find. If you go to Kill Devil Hills in North Carolina you will find you will find a visitor centre, a museum, a tourist attraction, all that kind of thing . And nost importantly, you'll find people concerned with not just preserving their heritage but with promoting it too. Here there is absolutely nothing, and yet the area plays just as important a role in the history of flight.
It's not just a tourist opportunity, or even a money-making opportunity (although this region can do with all the money it can get following the collapse of the fishing industry) but an educational opportunity too. No-one around here that I talked to knew anything about the importance of the area, in just the same way that no-one that I have ever talked to has known that the first to cross the Atlantic by air was not Charles Lindbergh, and not Alcock and Brown either.
And when you read in a town's own publicity that
"Amelia Earhart piloted the plane ..."
when, according to her own biography, she did no such thing, there is a great deal about which people need to be educated - and that's before I start on the apostrophe in the possessive form "belonging to something".
I really must stop ranting about things like this, you know. But then again, I like to have my money's worth. And so do you, I reckon. The cost of a year's supply of webhosting is a mere bagatelle compared to the power that it gives you to be able to rant on your favourite subject at a world-wide audience.
St John's marked the apex of my journey. Turning round here marked the end of my journey as such and the next stop, albeit three weeks away, was Toronto Airport. Mind you, there was a great deal still to do and I was in something of a hurry. The enforced 5-day wait for a ferry didn't help matters although it did enable me to have a tour of Newfoundland, something that wasn't at all on the itinerary when I set out.
And so the next page of this adventure will be picking the highway back up right across the province at Deer Lake seeing as for the next 600 kilometres or so I shall be simply retracing my steps along the Trans-Canada Highway and interesting as my adventures always are, you don't want to read them again so soon. But if you joined my tour here at St John's and missed all of the excitement, you can catch up with the earlier pages by going to the index
On a final note before I leave St John's, you may recall my moaning and complaining about my expenses, which are running out of control, and how I was determined to cut down as much as possible - with evening meals being the prime example of where savings might be made.
Here at St John's there is a decent-sizes Walmart and as you might expect, this came up trumps.
Here we have an electric slow-cooker - just the job for a handful of pasta, some tomato sauce and a tin of mixed beans. All that kind of stuff I can manage, and make a useful, nourishing and healthy evening meal. And do you know what? It cost me all of $10:99. I've been paying more than that for a take-away meal on some occasions.
And not just that either. Right across the road in the shopping mall was a Dollar Store, with the utensils that I need and a handy selection of tins of beans and vegetables as well as bags of pasta. Now I'm ready for anything.
Leaving St John's wasn't without its moment of humour either. I drove over a causeway between two stretches of water, and there was a sign halfway across - "BEWARE - MOOSE CROSSING". What I want to know is whether or not Moose are amphibious, am I expected to encounter a moose in snorkel, flippers and aqualung, or will there be a moose somewhere carrying a canoe?
But if it's humour that you want, why is shopping in North America so boring? Well, when you've seen one bunch of shops you've seen a mall.
I'll get my coat.