CHAPTER 22

I Travel by Train

Now that America had entered the war, our timely Circle of Fire film strained our calendar capacity to the limit Also, war conditions put an unforeseen and almost unbelievable strain on travel, to get to lecture engagements.
Gasoline was rationed; long-distance driving was a complete impossibility.
Desiring to establish some sort of a foothold in the Northwest, I had unwisely accepted a single engagement in Seattle, Washington, at a fee of $150, and journeyed there by train.
Never have I traveled by plane to fill lecture engagements. In the 1940s and 50s planes were not sufficiently reliable. Many of my confreres in this field depended on them and, because of plane delays, sometimes failed to fill dates for which they had contracted. In more than a quarter of a century in this business I never missed nor was late for an engagement.
So off to Seattle I went—by train. America had just entered the war. Movements of troops and supplies for the Pacific war zone were being pushed on a twenty-four hour basis; they had priority over everything else.
Our passenger train was put on a siding to allow a troop carrier to pass. Another siding and an interminable wait, while a freight train of military supplies overtook and passed us. More troop trains. More waiting.
As we were approaching Dunsmuir in northern California, I began to realize this train would never get me to Seattle in time for my program. It was 9:00 P.M. I had a bus schedule and decided to
switch to a bus that was due to pass through Dunsmuir at this time.
I left the train. The bus had been delayed. In desperation, I hired a taxi. We drove through the night—all night—to Portland, Oregon, where I caught a train that got me to Seattle, with fifteen
minutes to spare before my program was to start. My fee was $150; my expenses came to $178. Long distance travel by taxi is expensive. But I kept my record intact.
There were a few similar train delays in the Midwest, but war conditions affected western trains the most. As the conflict progressed, and railroads adjusted to the new strains they had to bear, train travel—except in isolated instances—became more reliable. Between large cities, after the war ended, it often approached the ideal. Concluding an evening lecture in Chicago, as an example, I would go to bed in a Pullman car at the station. At midnight, my sleeper would be attached to a departing train and by daylight that same car would be switched to a siding in Cincinnati. Or Indianapolis. Or Detroit. Or St. Louis or Minneapolis.
Often, on lecture tours, more than half of my nights would be spent on trains. It was soothing, in the middle of the night, to hear the jingle of the warning bell at crossings as we rumbled through tiny Midwestern towns. Sometimes I would waken and look out at the quiet streets, the houses with an occasional bedroom light still burning, an automobile waiting at a crossing as we steamed past. I thought about the people—in their houses, and in those cars. Who were they? What were their lives like? They were so far from my home in California. But they were part of America. I loved to travel by train.
Twice a year—autumn and midwinter—I would go to the Santa Fe passenger agent in Pasadena and reserve train travel, together with Pullman berths, for an entire transcontinental trip, with a couple of dozen backtracks and transfers and detours to places all over the map. My ticket, all the various sections and segments pasted together in one serpentine streamer, was long, very long. On one tour, at the beginning of each of my programs, I'd take that ticket from my pocket, hold it high in the air, and let it unfold for its entire length. It was eight feet long! The audience would emit a collective gasp.
My longer trips by train twice each year provided opportunities for other types of activity that had metamorphic effects on my life. In the Pullman diners—but more particularly in the lounge cars—there were opportunities for contacts with other passengers. These were strangers; we would never see each other again. Many of them were lonely; nearly all of them, seemingly, had problems. Some of those men and women, finding that I had a sympathetic ear, would pour out their life stories to me as they could never have done to personal acquaintances. I was a good listener and that is what they often needed most—someone to whom they could give uninhibited expression to their deepest feelings and needs. I learned much concerning human nature; hopefully I was able to help some of those who confided in me as our train flashed through the American countryside.
At other times in those lounge cars—and always in my own Pullman berth—there was isolation and solitude. There was opportunity to write and to read, with ideal conditions for concentration. The clicking of the rails, the low musical moan of the train whistle at road crossings, created an almost mesmerized background conductive to inspired thought.
I knew almost every major secondhand bookstore in the large cities all over the land. Always, I had half a dozen volumes with me as I traveled. I shipped many books ahead, to pick up at later stops. Much of Helen's and my library of some 2500 books was accumulated in this way. I devoured books not only on the trains but often in lonely hotel rooms, while awaiting my evening lectures. That reading, which I could never have done except for those lonely hotel bedrooms and those long journeys by train, changed the content and makeup of my life. My horizons widened in the fields of philosophy, history, religion, and literature.

Audience sizes, in the war days, varied enormously. The average was a thousand for lecture series, a few hundred for clubs. At the large gymnasium of Michigan State College (later, Michigan State University) in East Lansing, where the illustrated lecture series was held, an audience of five thousand almost always greeted my appearance. My largest audience, ever, was sixty-two hundred, in Flint. Another Michigan engagement, at the Grosse Point Yacht Club, out of Detroit, favored me with my smallest attendance. It was on the Sunday, near the war's beginning, when prohibition on Sunday automobile travel first went into effect. Most of the members lived far from the clubhouse. Only those within walking distance showed up—a total of twelve. At my fee of $150, my services cost them more than twelve dollars each. They could afford it. As I discovered the following year, the club has wealthy members.
For my showing that next year, the clubhouse lounge was filled nearly to capacity. I was carrying a small phonograph and a record, for background music with the film I was showing. Ten minutes before show time, I discovered that the phonograph would not run.
"Wait just a minute," said the chairman who was going to introduce me. "I'll get a couple of mechanics who can fix it in a jiffy. "
He summoned two young men from the audience. They were, indeed, skilled mechanics and in three or four minutes had the phonograph working.    1
With the emergency taken care of, the chairman took time to introduce me. "Mr. Line," he said, "this is Henry Ford II, and his brother, Benson Ford."   
Their grandfather was a skilled mechanic. I had proof that they were, too.   
Mechanical problems in connection with projection facilities were among the most disturbing hazards of illustrated lecture presentations. Whether traveling by car or by train, I nearly always carried two large, heavy 1200 watt projectors, for use in clubs or small school auditoriums. It was necessary, however, unless Helen was with me, to depend on amateurs to do the projection, which often presented problems.   
The largest auditoriums had carbon arc projectors, with professional operators. In Washington D.C. 's Constitution Hall, for example, such a machine would enlarge each less than half-inch wide frame of my movie film into a glowing twenty-four-foot wide color picture on the screen.   
In the adolescent years of the film-lecture business nearly all of us who took color motion pictures always used our original film exclusively. Copies did not have the high color quality and sharpness. The National Geographic, which paid a five hundred dollar fee—tops for those days—would permit only original film to be shown, which entailed great risks to film footage that could never be replaced. Several lecturers, including ourselves, had severe damage done to original film, in some of the places where we showed.   
Gradually the quality of film copies improved, and we were able to safeguard our originals. But projection difficulties continued to present severe problems.   
One of our later productions was concerned largely with nature and wildlife, but had one sequence portraying the people of an isolated pioneer settlement. A professional projectionist in St. Louis, in loading the film, inadvertently got it twisted, so that every scene showed in reverse. At once I recognized the difficulty but, as long as no signs or printing were shown, or no people were involved, the audience could not distinguish the error.   
"But the scenes in that isolated town—they are coming up soon," I said to myself. To have ordered the show to be stopped, while the projectionist unloaded the film and put it back properly, even if I could have gotten word to him, would not only have caused great delay, but would have broken the continuity and the intense audience concentration which I had been able to achieve.
The episodes of the pioneer town began flowing onto the screen—men chopping wood, building a church, pounding with hammers, women sewing and ironing. With the film turned over as it ran through the projector, every person in that village appeared to be left-handed.
May I be forgiven for what I did. I simply said: "This is probably the only completely left-handed town in the land. "
And the show went on.
Columbia University in New York City, except for one occasion, provided excellent projection. On that occasion, as the Japanese scenes of my Circle of Fire were on the screen, the loud noise of an explosion came from the projection booth. At once the picture stopped. I launched into a vivid word portrayal, hoping the trouble might soon be corrected. It wasn't. I asked for questions from the audience, and fielded all kinds of queries about conditions in Japan. Still no picture. Hoping the show would soon go on, and not wanting to cover material that might presently appear on the screen, I began describing events that had occurred in Japan when my brother and I had spent a month in Tokyo fifteen years earlier, in 1925. The country had been much less developed then. Groping for sufficiently interesting material to make sure the audience stayed with me, I began to describe—too vividly perhaps—the early bathing customs. At that point, the chairman, Dr. Russell Potter, came on stage. "The projector has blown up. It cannot be repaired," was his announcement. He told the audience he would rebook me for a later appearance. That ended the evening.
One other experience had the potential for even more serious consequences. My pictures were being projected from the front of a balcony. Everything was going well. As the show ended and the lights came on I saw, to my horror, that the entire film had gone through the projector but then—instead of feeding onto the takeup reel—had dropped down onto the floor below. I practically yelled for the entire audience to freeze in their tracks. As they did so, I rushed back to protect the film. It was rewound successfully and, after cleaning, was as good as new. One person stepping on it could have ruined the entire footage.
He summoned two young men from the audience. They were, indeed, skilled mechanics and in three or four minutes had the phonograph working.  
With the emergency taken care of, the chairman took time to introduce me. "Mr. Line," he said, "this is Henry Ford II, and his brother, Benson Ford."   
Their grandfather was a skilled mechanic. I had proof that they were, too.   
Mechanical problems in connection with projection facilities were among the most disturbing hazards of illustrated lecture presentations. Whether traveling by car or by train, I nearly always carried two large, heavy 1200 watt projectors, for use in clubs or small school auditoriums. It was necessary, however, unless Helen was with me, to depend on amateurs to do the projection, which often presented problems.   
The largest auditoriums had carbon arc projectors, with professional operators. In Washington D.C. 's Constitution Hall, for example, such a machine would enlarge each less than half-inch wide frame of my movie film into a glowing twenty-four-foot wide color picture on the screen.   
In the adolescent years of the film-lecture business nearly all of us who took color motion pictures always used our original film exclusively. Copies did not have the high color quality and sharpness. The National Geographic, which paid a five hundred dollar fee—tops for those days—would permit only original film to be shown, which entailed great risks to film footage that could never be replaced. Several lecturers, including ourselves, had severe damage done to original film, in some of the places where we showed.   
Gradually the quality of film copies improved, and we were able to safeguard our originals. But projection difficulties continued to present severe problems.   
One of our later productions was concerned largely with nature and wildlife, but had one sequence portraying the people of an isolated pioneer settlement. A professional projectionist in St. Louis, in loading the film, inadvertently got it twisted, so that every scene showed in reverse. At once I recognized the difficulty but, as long as no signs or printing were shown, or no people were involved, the audience could not distinguish the error.   
"But the scenes in that isolated town—they are coming up soon," I said to myself. To have ordered the show to be stopped, while the projectionist unloaded the film and put it back properly, even if I could have gotten word to him, would not only have caused great delay, but would have broken the continuity and the intense audience concentration which I had been able to achieve.
The episodes of the pioneer town began flowing onto the screen—men chopping wood, building a church, pounding with hammers, women sewing and ironing. With the film turned over as it ran through the projector, every person in that village appeared to be left-handed.
May I be forgiven for what I did. I simply said: "This is probably the only completely left-handed town in the land. "
And the show went on.
Columbia University in New York City, except for one occasion, provided excellent projection. On that occasion, as the Japanese scenes of my Circle of Fire were on the screen, the loud noise of an explosion came from the projection booth. At once the picture stopped. I launched into a vivid word portrayal, hoping the trouble might soon be corrected. It wasn't. I asked for questions from the audience, and fielded all kinds of queries about conditions in Japan. Still no picture. Hoping the show would soon go on, and not wanting to cover material that might presently appear on the screen, I began describing events that had occurred in Japan when my brother and I had spent a month in Tokyo fifteen years earlier, in 1925. The country had been much less developed then. Groping for sufficiently interesting material to make sure the audience stayed with me, I began to describe—too vividly perhaps—the early bathing customs. At that point, the chairman, Dr. Russell Potter, came on stage. "The projector has blown up. It cannot be repaired," was his announcement. He told the audience he would rebook me for a later appearance. That ended the evening.
One other experience had the potential for even more serious consequences. My pictures were being projected from the front of a balcony. Everything was going well. As the show ended and the lights came on I saw, to my horror, that the entire film had gone through the projector but then—instead of feeding onto the takeup reel—had dropped down onto the floor below. I practically yelled for the entire audience to freeze in their tracks. As they did so, I rushed back to protect the film. It was rewound successfully and, after cleaning, was as good as new. One person stepping on it could have ruined the entire footage.

What's in a Name?

One of the great bonuses of the lecture business is the almost miraculous opportunities it provides for meeting friends from the past.
Following a showing in Cincinnati, Ohio, I was greeted by the superintendent of schools of that city, Mr. C. V. Courter, and Mrs. Courter. Our last previous meeting had been thirty years before, when he was superintendent of schools in the small town of Howell, Michigan, where I had graduated from high school, and where he had been my brother's and my debating coach.
Following a film showing at South Bend, Indiana, (and after an equally long passage of time) I met Mr. Francis Sanford, former principal of that same Howell school.
Agnes Cansfield was my favorite teacher in high school. Years later I was delighted when she attended one of my film showings in Detroit. A few months after that she came to one of my Orchestra Hall presentations in Chicago. In one place or another she attended probably a dozen of my programs throughout the years.
Distant relatives, usually cousins once or twice removed, and some of whom I had never heard of before, sometimes came backstage after a lecture, to introduce themselves. Such surprises were pleasant.
Following a program at the First Congregational Church Forum in Toledo, Ohio, a middle-aged couple greeted me.
"Don't you remember us?" the man asked, and I was honest enough to admit my inability to do so.
"We are Gene and Ivy Smith."
At that point I was proud of my memory, for the names clicked instantly, although I had not seen nor heard of Gene and Ivy—they were brother and sister—for half a century.    When I was four years old, in my birthplace town of New London, Ohio, they had been the little kids next door.
When my brother Winfield and I had made our hike to every state of the Union, following graduation from high school, we had worked during the winter months half a mile below ground, in the silver-lead mines of Burke, Idaho, "batching it" in a tiny one-room cabin. On Halloween night, several young boys, sons of some of the miners, had attempted to overturn our privy. We apprehended them, grabbed and herded them into our cabin, and had a fine Halloween evening, feasting on candy which our parents had sent us from Michigan. We formed a club and met weekly during the time we were in Burke.
Thirty years later I was filling an engagement at the University of Washington in Seattle. The affair had been well publicized in the city papers. Following the show, two young men came backstage to meet me.
"Did you once live in Burke, Idaho?" they asked me, and at
my surprised reply—in the affirmative—they explained excitedly:
"When we saw your picture in the paper we almost knew it was you. We were members of that club you and your brother formed that Halloween night. "
They had both graduated with degrees in engineering from the University of Washington and had responsible jobs with the Boeing Company. A couple of years later, after another of my Seattle showings, they greeted me backstage again, with their wives. In the two year interval, both had become married.
One year I had a series of lectures across Canada, starting in Toronto and ending in Vancouver, British Columbia, with engagements along the way at Winnipeg, Manitoba; Regina, Saskatchewan; and Calgary and Edmonton, in Alberta.
At the beginning of that trans-Canadian tour, one sleet-filled midwinter night following my appearance in Toronto, a blond-haired woman came backstage.
"Mr. Line," she greeted me, "It's so good to see your film and to see you, again."
My mind went searching, but came up with a blank.
"Of course you wouldn't remember," she continued. "That was another world. Before the war. Finland. I drove you to the Great Arctic Highway from Inari. "
Through the icy Toronto night the two of us went together to a nearby cafe for some hot chocolate. Memories flooded in on me. Lapland. Recalcitrant reindeer. A pulka episode that left my arm sore for a week. The welcome hospitality at the Inari Inn. (See Chapter 5.)
"Russia attacked Finland," she explained, "shortly after you were there. I escaped, and came here. But I miss Inari."
Her eyes seemed to have a faraway look. "This weather tonight reminds me of it. Perhaps someday I can go back. Finland is a land I love."

It was always a surprising thing to me that people who had seen some previous program of mine—perhaps in some distant part of the United States—would often greet me, not only to tell me they had remembered one of my former programs, but they had remembered the joke I told during my introduction. I would nearly always open an evening with some bit of humor about myself, often pertaining either to my short stature, or to my name.
Sometimes I would open a program with a true story about my last name.
"Line—it is such a simple surname." I would say, "L-I-N-E. But you would be amazed how often that simple name gets mixed up. Once it even confused my mother. In high school I played left halfback on the football team. My mother wasn't interested in football—had never attended a game. But I persuaded her to take in the final contest of the year. As it happened she took her seat up along with the rooters of the opposing team. When it was all over she came down to the field. "
"How did you like it?" I asked.
"It was wonderful," was her response. "And you were just about the whole team."
When I interjected modestly, she continued:
"Yes, you were. All afternoon I sat up there with those opposing rooters. And all afternoon they kept yelling: 'Hold that Line. Hold that Line.' "
I really hated to disillusion her.
On one occasion the chairperson at one of my lectures apparently used the "association" method for remembering names. "And now," he began, "I want to present to you our speaker, Mr. String."
The surname "Line" lends itself to a dozen humorous twists
but my first name provided the most telling bit of authentic humor.
A month or so before entering the University of Michigan, my brother and I went down to nearby Ann Arbor to register. Soon, through the mail, came a letter in a blue envelope, sweetly scented. Opening it, I found it was signed by a "Miss Edna Kadow. "
"Dear Frances," it began, (spelling my name with an `e') "if I may be bold enough to address you by your first name. This year the university has adopted a new policy, and has assigned a senior girl to assist every girl entering the university as a freshman. I have been assigned as your senior advisor and want to help you in any way that I can. Please do write and let me know if there is any information I can give you about classes, clothes you should bring, etc. Edna Kadow. "
Tongue in cheek, I at once wrote back:
"Dear Edna: I don't mind at all about your using my first name. In fact, I rather like it. Yes, there is so much I need to know, especially about the matter of proper clothing. Your freshman friend, Francis. "
In the ensuing correspondence, I learned more interesting details about girl's clothing than I had ever imagined before. Then came the final letter:
"Dear Frances: University classes commence next week. Please let me know when your train will arrive at the station and I'll plan to meet you. Your senior friend, Edna."
I let her know, and she met me as promised. There was a moment of shock when she discovered I was a boy and not a girl, but she recognized the humor of the deception, and we both had a good laugh. She was a senior, and I was a freshman. Among 10,000 students, we soon lost track of each other, and I scarcely ever saw her again.
Almost thirty-five years later, in introducing my program at Horace Bushnell Memorial Hall in Hartford, Connecticut, I began:
"Ladies and gentlemen, it is good to be back in Horace Bushnell Hall. Last year I told you a joke about my last name, so you would never be able to forget it. Tonight I want to tell you a true episode about my frserst name, so you will also remember that forever. " I proceeded to relate the mix-up regarding my name of "Francis."
After the program a woman came backstage, waited until all the others had gone, then addressed me rather timidly.
"Mr. Line," she began. "I'm Mrs. Crawford. I've never been to one of these film lectures before in my life. A neighbor couldn't use her ticket, and gave it to me. I didn't even know what the program was going to be. But I'll never be able to thank her enough. I am Edna Kadow Crawford. I was once your senior advisor."
The next time I appeared in Hartford I had her come onto the stage, and introduced her to the audience—midst wild applause.
That "Francis" joke was my leadoff one year, in all of my lecture showings on the Hawaiian Islands. One afternoon, as Helen and I were strolling along Kuhio Avenue in Waikiki, a bus came to the curb, stopped, the door opened, and the Hawaiian driver politely addressed me: "Hello, Francis, wouldn't you like a ride?"
A few days later, in a rented car, we had driven up to a great canyon view on the island of Kauai. A car filled with Japanese school girls parked beside us. As soon as they saw me, as though with one voice, they exclaimed: "Hello, Fran-cees. "
Apparently, nearly everybody on the Islands had heard the story of my multigendered name.