Memory Sixteen

Doug Eyre and I worked at drawing boards in the process department of L’Air Liquide in Montreal for most of 1954 and into 1955. Doug mainly worked on process design and I was mainly involved in heat exchanger and distillation column design.

Things were going well at our apartment. I had bought a used car, a Canadian Ford Meteor and Doug had bought a cabinet sized TV which we enjoyed sharing. We watched the Montreal Canadiens playing hockey in their hay-day, with Rocket Richard, Jean Belleview, Boom-boom Geofreon, Doug Harvey and Jaques Plandt. The matches were on the French channel so we watched but listened to the English commentary by radio.

noseSometime in early 1955, Doug went to Decatur, Illinois to start up an oxygen plant for National Distillers and I went to Montreal Hospital to have some nasal polyps removed and have my septum straightened.

My turn came later that year and I was sent to Crystal City, Missouri just a few miles south of St. Louis, to start up a new process for high pressure oxygen using liquid pumps. This was part of an ammonia and ammonium nitrate plant using partial oxidation of natural gas. We also had supplied a nitrogen scrubbing plant to provide the nitrogen plus three hydrogens for the ammonia process.

I stopped off in Illinois to see Doug’s plant because neither of us had ever seen a tonnage plant of industrial size, even though we had been designing them. Doug later had an explosion at his plant but I was pleased to miss that.

My plant consisted of two giant cold boxes which contained all of the cold equipment. We had good operators from pipeline compression plants so they were easy to teach. It was however, a little nerve wracking for me, a smart ass foreigner, to lecture to these old gas hands. Despite some pump problems all of which occurred in the middle of the wintry night at eight degrees, we got both cold boxes going. I was in Crystal City for five months but after the first month, Doris and 1 ½ year old Nigel joined me and we moved into a rented house. (About a year later, there was a compressor explosion at the plant that killed the foreman and one operator). 

I was on shift work most of the time we were in Missouri but we did a bit of local touring and enjoyed the tavern-restaurant atmosphere. One evening, I got into a discussion about British and American governments and I was told that I didn’t know the difference between shit and apple-butter and I had to admit I had never heard of apple-butter. The bar tender went to the kitchen and got a jar of apple-butter, thereby proving his point, and then announced in a loud voice to the entire gathering what this dumb limey didn’t know. We flew back to Montreal just after Christmas.

450px-RMS_Queen_Mary_Long_Beach_January_2011_viewWe moved to a small rented house still in west Montreal and Doug left us and found himself an apartment. Doris’ brother, Arthur came for a short visit and soon after, their widowed mother came on the Queen Mary to live with us permanently. We drove to New York, had a tour of the big liner and drove her to her new home.

I have failed to mention that a school girl friend of Doris’, a fellow member of the dorisWomen’s Junior Air Corps in London, June Campbell, had married a Canadian soldier during the war and had moved to Montreal. We stayed at their house for a few days when we were still looking for an apartment.

Arthur never went back to England and started working as a painter and decorator. He got involved with June who got divorced and they married in 1957. They later had a son, Barton and moved to the States and retired years later in Connecticut. June died, and Arthur now lives in his son’s house in Pennsylvania. One summer we vacationed for a couple of weeks in the Campbell’s little vacation home in Rivierre Beaudette, on a small lake just west of Montreal. During these events, Doris was pregnant and gave birth to our second son, Nicholas Clive in Montreal Hospital on 15th of July, 1956.

In 1957, I went on another plant start-up at Whiting, Indiana where we rented a house for a few months. We had supplied two cryogenic plants to Standard Oil of Indiana in their large chemical complex. We were there with both boys and Doris’ mother over Christmas in the snowy winter. After a few weeks back in Montreal, we returned for the start-up of the second unit and this time we rented a house in Munster, Indiana, also close to the Whiting plant and Chicago. We got to spend quite a bit of time in Chicago and also at the Indiana Dunes State Park when the weather got better.

We tried our skills at skiing in the Laurention Mountains north of Montreal but we quickly decided that we would stick to golf and tennis, I joined a golf club forty miles from where we lived because it was the only one I could afford. The club became a curling club in winter but that was not even a spectator sport for me.

During this time, the Manager of American Air Liquide, Frank Kerry was trying to arrange to get me transferred to the New York office as Technical Sales Manager. Restrictions on entering the States and working at that time were very strict and I could only get a green card under the “special skills” quota. Frank Kerry had to advertise the job he was offering me for three months and I could only be considered if no American citizen qualified.

120906082039_GreenCardx-wide-communityUltimately, after supplying all sorts of background information on me and my family, we got approval for us all to have the cherished “Landed Immigrant” green card. The whole procedure took almost a year. Eventually, Doris, her mother with Nigel and Nick flew to New York from Montreal, and I flew from Chicago to join them in a new house I had bought for us in Rowayton, Connecticut.

I had been making trips to New York in preparation for the move and I had found a house under construction that I was able to afford with a mortgage, a home improvement loan and a loan from American Air Liquide. It took all three and even then we only had one bedroom upstairs for us.  What became the boy’s room and a bath room had to be added after we moved in. Downstairs had a baseboard radiator heating system and I had to add and connect the upstairs heaters. We moved in in January 1958 and it took me, with help from Arthur, almost a year to make it all truly livable.Eyre. USA.Ken painting house in Rowayton

I found that I had to take the New Haven train to New York’s Grand Central station and this took about an hour. My office in the Chrysler Building was across the road from the station. In good weather I walked to the Rowayton station but on bad days Doris drove me. The little station was crowded twice a day by us commuters and chauffeur wives. Occasionally, a wife would drop off her husband on snowy mornings and would then get stuck in the snow. There were many stories of stranded ladies dressed only in a nightdress and coat having to be helped. We soon got used to our commuting life and we all really liked our time in Connecticut but that’s another story for another day.

3 thoughts on “Memory Sixteen

  1. I love that I can imagine a lot of your experiences because I have been to many of the places. I stopped at Indiana Dunes State Park on a road trip once and camped nearby – we had a great time running up and down the huge dunes. And of course taking the New Haven train into Grand Central which I have done many times. I love that we were able to better connect with June and Arthur and their family when I moved to New Haven.


  2. Pingback: Guest Memory Three: Nicholas Glover | Texas Limey

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