August 06, 2021

Letters from America. A four-month trip to USA in 1958. (Work in Progress)


In 1958 my father, Mervin Eime, travelled with work colleagues on an 18-week business trip to the USA to investigate new products and tooling techniques for Pope Products, an Adelaide-based manufacturing firm producing, at the time, mainly irrigation equipment. At the age of 41, it was dad's first overseas trip - really thrown in the deep end. Married just five years, mum remembers waiting the lonely weeks for his regular correspondence. His style is dry and matter-of-fact as was the fashion of the time but deals with the more entertaining aspects in a wry and witty style. I will also include his photos and postcards as illustrations. As I am publishing in segments, be sure to come back for new instalments. - Roderick Eime Adelaide, August 2021.

Adelaide - Melbourne - Sydney 29 August 1958

I had quite a pleasant trip to Melbourne; the time really sped away on wings as I was occupied in discussion with Darby von Sanden who is really a pleasant and profuse conversationalist. In Melbourne, I visited a toolmaking firm at Port Melbourne and had quite a profitable discussion with them resulting in an arrangement for them to manufacture several tools at economical advantage to the firm.

I lunched at the cafe at the Melbourne Railway Station and then visited the American Consulate, on the St. Kilda Road, with D.V.S. The Americans were very pleasant and after taking oath our visas were duly confirmed.

We spent the rest of the afternoon at the Branch office and at 5 p.m. repaired to the local pub where D.von S. duly entertained us with jokes, bawdy and otherwise.

We boarded the plane for Sydney at 7.20 p.m. and on the trip had a very pleasant dinner of tomato soup, steak and vegetables (less steak for me) and a dessert which defies description but was very nice nevertheless.

We were met in Sydney by Bill Grant and duly deposited at our hotel in Kings Cross. We had a few drinks at Darby suggested that we go out into the Cross and watch the naughty women in action. It was a revelation to see women solicit men and then, on acceptance, board taxis which were waiting in large numbers at the kerb. One girl actually came up to us; she was quite attractive in a jaded fashion and was quite evidently "under the weather". Darby had a conversation with her while I looked on, still in amazement, but she quickly tired of our company on perceiving that there was no chance of profitable business and made off with a more amenable character. This all occurred at about 11.30 p.m. I went to bed after doing my laundry act.

Today (29.8.58) we visited the Branch office at Roseberry (sic) and paid our respects to John Ericson and the rest of the office boys.

We paid a visit to an engineering establishment at Botany Bay and, incidentally, saw the spot where Captain Cook stepped ashore many years ago.

We spent this evening with Bill Grant and his wife at this hotel (Hampton Court) having dinner, which for me, consisted of chicken soup, chicken dinner and a sweet of icecream. The wines consisted of champagne, a 1947 French Monopole, which was very dry and yet very pleasant. The bill for the four of us was about £10. 10. 0. We spent the evening in the lounge which is affectionately referred to as the Snake Pit.


This letter is being written aboard the Constellation "Southern Wave" at a height of about 17,000 feet.

To continue the correct sequence of events I must revert back to the "Snake Pit" at the hotel Hampton Court that I mentioned in my previous letter. The "Snake Pit" is actually the public lounge with very nice furnishings; in fact the Hampton Court to my mind is quite a good hotel with separate bathroom to each bedroom and the furnishings quite modern and immaculate. The food was quite palatable and in general the hotel was above reproach. To get back to the Snake Pit. After dinner with Bill Grant (Manager of Pope Electronics), his wife, and Darby we went into the lounge which has also a small dance floor and 3-piece band. There were quite a number of people sitting around tables partaking of alcoholic refreshments and a dance was in progress. We selected a table and sat down to watch the proceedings. The band consisted of piano, drums and a versatile musician who played violin, saxophone or piano accordion. They played mostly the older numbers but their playing was quite good and enjoyable. We retired at about 11.30 p.m. after an enjoyable evening. 

On Saturday morning (30.8.58) we duly packed our bags and were taken out to the Mascot Airport, arriving there at about 11 a.m. After having our passports approved we were treated to a small farewell gathering in a private lounge at the Qantas office. The people there were mainly from the Pope Branch office and Pope Electronics. It was all very nice and at 12.15 p.m. we boarded the 'plane.

The trip to Nandi was quite uneventful and we arrived there at about 9 p.m. Naudi is quite a small place, being isolated from the more populous area of the Viti Levu Island by high mountain ranges. As it was at night I didn't see any of the surroundings and my viewing was confined to the small airport and the Mocambo Hotel, to where we repaired after landing. The interior of the hotel is quite picturesque as you will observe from the postcard I sent. The interior is lined with bamboo and the appearance is very attractive. It wouldn't look bad over our fireplace, in fact.

Postcard depicting lounge area of Mocambo Hotel, Nadi

After having a buffet fish dinner which consisted of fish cocktails and the choice of potato salads, beetroot, chipped potatoes, chutneys, pickles etc. all supervised by an enormous chef, who looked as if he had just laid down his spears and waddies a few minutes before preparing this repast. A dessert of papaw and icecream topped off a perfect meal.

We boarded the aircraft at about 10.30 p.m. and set off for Canton Island. The normal route after leaving Nandi (sic) is direct to Honolulu but as a number of passengers boarded the plane at Nandi, it was necessary to detour to Canton Island to take on additional petrol for the trip to Honolulu. We flew all night and landed at Canton at 5 a.m.

I am writing this on the last stage of the flight to Honolulu. The sun is shining brilliantly at our height of 17,000 feet and the sea far below looks like a mirror. We expect to arrive in Honolulu at 3 p.m. where we will delay for 8 hours.

I must mention that the crew and staff on the Qantas line are something to be proud of and a credit to Australian enterprise.

Unfortunately, we had a late arrival at Honolulu due to the detour and only had about a 2-hour stay. We were taken to the luxurious Rey Hotel where we were allotted a room each for freshening up. My room overlooked the Waikiki beach which was only comparable with, say, our Henley for actual beach. But of course, the trimmings were fabulous. The room was beautiful - indoor plants and lovely furniture. The hotel had rock gardens and the bluest of blue swimming pools.

Well, the stay was all too short because, after showering and worrying about Darby's lost passport - which the clot subsequently found he had left on the plane - we had to once again "board the aircraft."


The flight from Honolulu was uneventful and we landed in San Francisco about 8.30 a.m. on Sunday. Everything is conducted on a huge scale in this country and even the San Francisco air terminal seemed tremendous in size. For a moment I suddenly felt strange and extremely lonely in this big country. However, you cannot afford to feel this way for long and I soon got into the spirit of entering into the hurly-burly of case carrying, pushing through the crowds, tipping porters and looking to the right instead of the left for oncoming car traffic.

Tipping is a matter of form here and you have to do some quick mental calculations to assess the correct amount to give. For example, if you have two cases a tip of half a dollar is the minimum. The waiters at hotels, restaurants and cafes expect a tip of 10% of your bill.

After arriving at the Sheraton Palace Hotel on the Sunday morning from the Airport we proceeded with a well-earned shower and change. The accommodation at this hotel is excellent and the meals very wholesome. A bathroom was provided and one thing that impressed me was the supply of kleenex tissues and special shoe cleaning cloths. The supply of tissues extends even to the cafes where they are available from dispensers on every table for wiping of the hands. The dining room in this hotel is magnificent with huge marble pillars and indoor plant around every table. After showering, Darby and myself walked down to a cable tram terminus and boarded a tram. 

Dad writes: Here's one of these fascinating cable cars I wrote of when in San Francisco. they are equipped with a bell that frightens the life out of you when the conductor sounds it. You can just imagine how we had to hang on for dear life when this car wizzed around a corner at the same speed as which it travels in normal straight direction.

These trams are 80-90 years old and really look cute. They take off with a jerk and the conductor rings an old fashioned bell when approaching an intersection. It reminds you of the Trolley Song. The streets around the city are very steep and you have to hang on to your seat for dear life when the tram is climbing some of these steep roadways. The trams travel at one speed and when going around corners you almost get thrown out of your seat. 

We arrived at a point called Fisherman's Wharf where thousands of people go on Sundays to buy seafoods and fish of many types. It is looked upon by many as an outing and folk gather there talk, buy all sorts of ornaments and feast on fish that you can actually select alive from large glass aquariums and have cooked on the spot. You can look across the bay from Fisherman's Wharf and see Alcatraz Island and a very forbidding island it looks. A swift current of water flows past the island and gives the reason why only two prisoners have ever escaped from this prison.

We walked along the wharf for about two miles and then turned into San Francisco. The route that we took was actually through the old Barbary Coast section and the little old shops in that section and the undulating roads were fascinating to say the least. We finally arrived back at the hotel very tired and hungry. We had dinner and went into the lounge where we got into conversation with a man by the name of Reid who was a lecturer in ancient history at the University of California. He took us around to a place called the Domino Club for supper. The interior walls of this club are entirely covered with paintings of nude or near-nude women which almost made me blush. However, the club is open to male and female and is accepted as just a colourful part of San Francisco's night life. It was there that I tasted French sour bread and I must admit that it was very tasty. We left the club at about 9,30 and after thanking our very kind host went back to the hotel to roost.

Monday 1st was a public holiday (Labour Day) and everybody was certainly in holiday mood as the city was comparatively deserted. We were picked up at 9.30 a., by a Mr. Peter Dragon who took us in his Buick car to a suburb or town, I don't know which, named Palo-Alto. The trip there was made along 4-lane roads which had no intersections as crossroads are either taken over or under each other. This is done through the means of what are in effect extremely long concrete bridges called Skyways or Freeways and the effect is out of this world with traffic whizzing along over or under each other on these fantastic ways.

Palo-Alto is a very lovely place with every house having lawns to the footpaths, no fences. We visited a firm called Shalco who made us very welcome and after business discussions were completed their Mr. Von Walffe took us to lunch. I had a huge lunch of Jumbo Prawns and salad, these Americans can certainly eat and I couldn't help noticing the huge steak served up to Pete Dragon. It covered his whole plate without a doubt - the plate being the size of a very large dinner plate.

These Americans are certainly meticulous about cleanliness in eating places and everything shines like a new pin. The stainless steel counters, stoves and appointments gleam like silver and flys are just not evident. A very strict code of hygiene is imposed by the various states on all eating places.

After leaving our friends of Shalco, Pete took us for a quick drive through Oakland and over the Bay Bridge which is of huge proportions He then drove us to the other side of town and over the Golden Gate Bridge completed in 1937. After stopping for a while to look at the monument of Strauss the Bridge Engineer, he drove us back into town where Darby had to collect his baggage and proceed to the airport to board a plane, destination Los Angeles. I didn't go because I had matters related to irrigation to investigate on the morrow. Pete left me at the hotel and after doing my chores of clothes washing I spent the evening making out my report on the visit to Shalco.

1 got up this morning (Tuesday, 2.9.58) breakfasted and checked out of the hotel. Pete Dragon picked me up with my baggage and we went out to his works at Oakland, After discussing irrigation we lunched at a nice cafe nearby and then proceeded to Berkley where the University of San Francisco is situated. This university coaches 29,000 students and consequently covers a huge area of land. We visited Pete's house out of Berkley and very nice it was. It was situated in hilly, wooded country, pine trees coming right up to his house. He showed me a little platform, that he had placed outside the kitchen window, on which his wife placed food for the squirrels which come down from the pine trees to est.

The interior of his home was decorated in wallpaper and the furniture was a trifle old fashioned but in keeping with the style of the house. He showed me the head of a deer that had been mounted from the animal be had felled a few weeks previously in Oregon. Be had a lovely miniature piano and it was then that I got the surprise of my life because he casually mentioned that his brother was Carmen Dragon. Just imagine! He gave me a photograph of Carmen who is really famous over here; the University has honoured him with an honorary degree which he didn't complete due to his early call to the field of music. Carmen apparently composes and arranges effortlessly. Pete used to play the clarinet in a University Band with Carmen.

We next visited a foundry at East Bay after passing through Richmond where Liberty ships were made at the rate of one per day by Kaiser during World War 2. After discussing casting methods with some very friendly engineers we returned to San Francisco where Pete left me. 

This Pete Dragon is a very fine man and in some ways reminds me of Mr. Freestun. His wife's name is Verleen. I have purchased a number of cards showing various places in and out of San Francisco but have not carried out any colour photography. I will endeavour to photograph places of interest on my return bere prior to returning to Australia. It is certainly a striking and lovely place. I am writing this at 8.15 p.m. in the airport while waiting for my plane to Chicago.

I've just had a meal at a place in the terminal called the Pancake Palace. I had a fluffy omelette which I reckon must have been produced from about six eggs. Phew! After this I was served with three pancakes, maple syrup and cream, I couldn't manage any more than two. The maple syrup has a pleasant flavour reminiscent slightly of golden syrup. Very nice though.


Dad writes: "Chicago has its lovely moments and here is one of them. the shores of Lake Michigan are very close to this view."

United Air Lines DC-7
The flight to Chicago was a trifle rough but otherwise 0.K. This was my first experience with American airlines, this one being entitled United Air Lines (U.A.L.) and the plane was a Douglas DC-7. The service was quite good but not up to the standard of our Australian airlines.

We arrived in Chicago at 7.30 a.m. to be greeted by very dull and drizzly weather. The drive into Chicago from the airport took us through some very dingy suburbs with many derelict homesteads which appeared to be made from a dark brown brick. Every motorist drives like mad and road rules do not appear to exist. The impression gained is one of first in first across. I meant to tell you that Pete Dragon thought nothing of speeding at 70-80 m.p.h. within very short distances of San Francisco.

The buildings in Chicago appear to bore up into the sky but I guess that they are babies compared to those I will see in New York. I haven't looked around the city as yet having to attend to yesterday's washing and having shaves and showers. The Palmer House Hotel appears to be very nice - got my own bathroom anyhow!


I think I finished my last letter to you by describing my entry into Chicago. This city certainly seems a huge place but I'm getting used to it.

After staying at the Palmer House Hotel, Darby and I moved out to an apartment at North Clarke (about 5 miles north of Chicago) called Commonwealth Apartments. The rooms are quite nice and there is a park nearby and we don't feel quite so shut in.

After making a few business calls in Chicago during the days from Wednesday 3rd to Saturday 6th we had the Sunday off and travel led by car to a delightful spot called Dundee, which is along the road to Milwaukee and

= to be continued =

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