Up, Up Over The Alps 


Richard Franklin Bishop


© Copyright 2015 by Richard Franklin  Bishop      

Photo of the "Flying Boxcar."

I was stationed at Neubiberg AFB, Munich, Germany, during 1953 while assigned to the U.S. Air Force’s 433rd Troop Carrier Wing (shortly afterwards it was redesignated as the 317th Troop Carrier Wing). We were equipped with Fairchild C-119 twin-engined Aircraft (Flying Boxcars).

While enjoying life in Bavaria, I was pleasantly surprised by the visit of my oldest childhood friend; Conrad “Connie” S. Burket (if you have already read my book, you might have guessed who it was). He had been drafted into the U.S. Army and was stationed someplace up North in Germany near the town of Giessen.

Six years earlier, I had asked Conrad (Connie) Strauss Burket (of the Mattawan H.S. School class of 1948) if he would be interested in making a trip during the Summer of 1947 “Out West” in the U.S.A.. On that trip, I found out that Connie was a great companion as a traveler, always cheerful and never a complainer (see my book: Out Of Kalamazoo County - - cited at the end of this Story).

At the time of this narrative (1953), I had just bought half-interest in a 1941 Chevrolet 4-Door Sedan (with the very latest “gee-whiz accessory of pre-WW II vintage; a vacumn-assisted gearshift on the steering-wheel column). It was in pretty good shape so, I offered to drive to Italy for a short 7-day leave if he could arrange to get a furlough from his Army Unit (if Hannibal could cross the Alps, why couldn’t we ?). He readily agreed, since it looked like the long-distance operation of the car would be uncomplicated while swapping-off driving because of the long, smooth Freeways. This was late September and, as a boon, the Autumn colors in the Alps promised to be noteworthy.

The European route E 45 travels South throughout the full length of Sweden, through Denmark, Germany and Austria and down the full length of Italy. With a length of about 4,920 kilometers (3,057 miles), it is the longest North-South European Highway route predominately sprinkled with very smooth, wide, divided, multi-lane, limited-access Freeways (they are called Autobahns in Germany).

When his leave started, we shed our Uniforms, changed into comfortable civilian clothes, and took off from Munich, carefree, on vacation, driving up through Garmisch-Partenkirchen (of 1936 Winter Olympics Games fame) always climbing (and keeping a sharp eye on the water temperature gauge), ascending on up past Innsbruck, Austria, while anticipating adventure pure in the rarified air; unadulterated by sea-level cares:

Up, up the long delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,
Where never lark, or even eagle, flew . . . .
HIGH FLIGHT by John Gillespie Magee, RCAF ( † Dec 11, 1941)

And finally, topping-out through the Brenner Pass (at 1,370 Meters or 4,495 Ft.). Our youthful imaginations were somewhat jolted when we found out that this turned out to be one of the lowest-levels of all the passes through the Alps. We, in our child-like innocence, had thought that we might get nosebleeds from the altitude; but, of course, this could never happen at the paltry level of nearly a mile, straight up !

Then descending; hours and hours of coasting down into Italy past Bolzano, Bologna, and on down to the denser air in Rimini and Riccione, right on the Adriatic Sea.

When night came, enroute, we usually stayed in Youth Hostels. They were moderately comfortable but we were usually required to sleep on folding canvas Army cots in a Gym-like environment with scores of other young people. It was nearly futile in this bedlam trying to get a space in the bathroom to get shaved and then on out of there to go for breakfast somewhere.
At other meal times; in local restaurants, we always ordered Spaghetti and not once did we experience a bad meal -- although we once got a tough Pizza where the topping was made solely with aromatic (smelly) Goat cheese; after that experience, we always ordered Spaghetti !

We paused at Riccione on the Adriatic West coast. There’s nothing more bleak and lonely than a seaside resort area, closed and already shuttered for the coming Winter “off-season” period. The whole countryside was a ghost town. The sky mirrored that mood and was heavily overcast; the weather was windy and the waves, dark and gray, pounded the beach and deafened us with it’s thunders; the beach itself was like a moon-landscape. A chill had already come to the nights. The total desolation made it kind of scary and so we lasted only one night there in a totally empty Beach Hotel.

The “absentee owners” hadn’t left for brighter lights quite yet and we were very fortunate that they were still there. Both sides were happy because they were really appreciative of the unexpected business. Outside, all night long, we heard the whistling of the wind, the monotonous thud of the surf, and the grinding of the pebbles on the beach. We soon had enough of this emptyness and turned North; really glad to be heading back to well-populated climes.

Half-way back, the water-pump quit on us. We stopped at a large Italian gas-station and asked “hat-in-hand” about the slim possibility of repairs to a 1941 American Chevrolet automobile (so far from the U.S.A.). The Italian Chief Mechanic was very helpful and friendly and called his Wholesale Automotive Parts Supplier and, unbelievably, found out that they had a new water-pump in stock for a G.M.C. Truck. We didn’t know if it would be an exact fit or not, but we asked him to have it sent over, anyway. If it fit, we knew we were in a tight spot and really ready to “brace ourselves” when the subject came up of what he would charge us for doing the job. Naturally, we did not want to be “taken advantage of” while in this emergency situation.

Pretty soon, a little three-wheeler vehicle came screaming-in with the replacement part and stopped with all wheels locked in a cloud of dust. The Chief Mechanic, with genius, sawed two inches off the shaft with a Hacksaw and it fit perfectly. With a file, he made a flat place on the shaft-end for the pulley-tightening screw; installed the pully and fan belt and that was all that was required to finish the job. It only cost us about $40.00 (in Lira, of course). Naturally, with sighs of relief, we thanked him profoundly for handling everything so reasonably and quickly, and tipped him well.

It was routine the rest of the way back to Munich. This time we went in the same direction as General Hannibal Barca of Carthage when he began his campaign to harass Rome in 218 B.C..
Connie rejoined his Army Unit and I never saw him again during his tour of duty in Europe. Instead of enduring passage on a 1,200 Man troop ship, I returned to the U.S.A. on a comfortable Military Air Transport Service (MATS) flight; now an “old hand” at European travel, courtesy of Uncle Sam.

-- That’s 30 --

If you are interested in other “Connie and Dick” stories, click on:

# 30 Deer Hunting Tales:   # 30 http://www.storyhouse.org/richardb30.html

And, if you would like to read more about the “OUT WEST in the U.S.A.” trip of mine, then I offer to you CHAPTER 17 of my book which is available at the Internet LINK: www.amazon.com/books. When at Amazon (and, after typing in the title: Out Of Kalamazoo County), click on the tiny text in blue “Paperback” and scroll on down, for full details. You can flip from the front to the back cover (with it’s testimonials) and even read samples of the text.  Maybe you’ll even purchase it!

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