I’m Allan Chapman, and thanks for being with me this week. I should finish writing the latest Mr. Wugidgem this week and, with some more hard work, will podcast Episode 2 of Mr. Wugidgem And The Faces Of Freedom. Today I will podcast Episode 3 from my father’s book, Talking To The World From Pan Am’s Clippers. Please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know if you would like to hear more episodes from my father’s book. Click on the link under the photo to listen to the podcast; you can follow the text as well, which is printed below.
A YOUNG MAN NAMED FRANCIS GOES TO RADIO SCHOOL
FRANCIS ALLAN CHAPMAN
What’s the sky like, Dad? Why is it blue? There are “way back when” memories of a little guy named Francis who flew his Grandpa Brewer’s home made kite in a field of new mown hay in York Beach, Maine.
Later I recall when I graduated from climbing tall oaks for fun. Five or six of my high school gang dared each other to climb the Salmon Falls, N.H. water tower at midnight. We were sitting on the circular walkway 100 feet in the air, when a night watchman with a flashlight yelled for us to get down now! I think he swore at us. We quietly shivered atop the tower hoping he’d finally go away. Which, of course, he did. My adventures were getting a little bolder.
From the time I was 12 until I left for the sea at 20, our family included Mom-Florence, Dad-Fred, brother Paul and me. We lived at my mother’s parents, Vida and Luther Brewer. Grandma was sick for years; Mom took care of her. My Grandpa, called Gramp, was my role model. His skills and interests were similar to mine. First he was a religious man. He tutored me in carpentry, electricity, and fix-it tasks around the house. These intrigued me. And he was available. Whereas Dad, a teacher and school principal, had lots of after school activities, as well as nightly meetings. So I didn’t see lots of him. Besides Dad enjoyed arts, botany, various crafts and music which didn’t interest me much then. Dad and Mom both helped me with my homework, especially Mom, as she had been an English teacher before she was married.
In my early school years, I thought I really was a dumb kid. The fact that I badly needed glasses was not discovered until I was a freshman in High School! It was incredible, what glasses did for my schoolwork. Truly, all of a sudden I could see perfectly, no more fuzzy letters and scenery. I started doing a lot of catch up in all subjects, especially reading skills. I got some A’s and B’s instead of the usual C’s and D’s. By the time I got to Massachusetts Radio school I knew I was quite intelligent.
In my mind’s eye I can look back to when I was almost 15, and lying on our sunny lawn at our summer cottage at York Beach, staring into the blue. Day dreaming I guess. It was then I heard a quiet roar that became thunderous overhead. I’d seen pictures of what quickly disappeared just beyond the nearby woods. I knew it was a plane and thought it might have crashed. But I hadn’t heard any noise or didn’t see smoke. I raced through the woods and saw this odd “thing” sitting in neighbor Ernst’s field. It turned out to be a barnstormer and his single engine biplane, tied together with lots of wires. I’m sure I stared wide-eyed and open mouthed at the man standing beside the plane. He seemed like a god. But I found he was real, since he offered me a chance to climb into the cockpit for a minute while he waited for people to gather.
I never did get that free ride he hinted at. I helped him by holding his wing tip while he turned into the wind for takeoffs. I watched him take a few passengers up for a five-minute flight. Guess he didn’t make much money that day. I began to dream of soaring through the air somewhere, somehow, sometime. I’m sure I dreamed in Technicolor that night.
In the summer of 1931, I started to work at the A and P Grocery store in York Village. And I also caddied at the York Village Country Club two summers. My savings went toward buying a bicycle.
Money was short when I graduated from Dover, N.H. High School in 1933. As an example, Dad was a grammar school principal in South Berwick, Maine and had to work during the school vacation to keep things afloat financially. We weren’t poor but just making it I guess. Every summer he worked as headwaiter at the Passaconway Inn at York Cliffs.
Luckily, President Roosevelt’s National Recovery Act (NRA) had just been passed. Funding for entry-level jobs in most businesses around the country could be arranged through the NRA. In the fall of 1933 my next-door neighbor, Dr. George Nutter found he could offer me a job at his Drug Store using this plan. So I took the soda jerk’s job at $10 for a 48-hour week and was able to save enough for Massachusetts Radio School tuition in Boston. Dr. Nutter drove me the three miles from home, so I could open at 7 AM. In the evening, I locked up at 6 PM and walked home the three miles every night. That started my life long practice of walking just about every day. I can tell you it seemed a long and lonely walk through the snowdrifts, those winter nights. With no street lights either. I worked a year at the store and got a bad case of chocolate milkshakeitis along with ice cream frappes. Couldn’t get enough of them.
That fall of 1934 I registered at Mass Radio for the radio classes that prepared me to take the FCC telegraph and telephone licenses. My class was small, maybe 25 students. The courses were easy, mainly radio theory, with very little hands on experience. Studied fairly extensive FCC rules and regulations. These rules covered all commercial and amateur radio broadcasts. Also we learned the International Morse Code, called CW, as well as basis operating procedures.
When I earned my radiotelegraph license I’d be able to work aboard a ship or in a ship to shore coastal radio station where they communicated in Morse code. With the radiotelephone license I could work in any AM radio broadcast station as their chief engineer, keeping the station tuned and on the air, according to the FCC regulations.
I graduated in May, 1935 and successfully passed the two commercial radio licensing exams given by the FCC as well as a third test for my general radio amateur license.
RCA has a monopoly on shipboard radio equipment and knew what ships required Radio Officers, called “Sparks.” When I graduated the ONLY ship that needed a radio operator was a 100-foot long fishing trawler docked in Boston harbor. I went to look at it. I climbed aboard. The first thing that hit me was the strong fish smell. Next, the radio shack was cramped and on a steep slant. My sleeping cabin was not much bigger than a casket. On top of all those negatives I began to feel very funny. I climbed up on deck only to realize I was about to be seasick. And the ship was still tied to the dock! You know what my reaction was. I went home discouraged.
When I got home I found the First National Grocery store in South Berwick, Maine needed help. Since I had grocery clerk experience and knew the people well in town, I was made the manager at $50 a week. I figured I keep busy while waiting for an opening in radio and delay my world travels.
Late one November night in 1936 as I was locking the store, my Mom phoned me. She said I had a telegram, my first. She read it to me. It said to report to Captain Lloyd Smith aboard the SS Ensley City at Baltimore. They needed a Radio Officer aboard before they could sail. I accepted the job immediately. At the time I did not know I was a strikebreaker or “scab.” All I knew was my adventurous life was hopefully about to begin. There’s a long story here about reporting to the ship in Baltimore, and all my many merchant marine experiences on the world’s oceans, from November, 1936 to May, 1939. But that’s another story.
Thanks for being with me this week. Please join me again next week, and then let’s see what happens. Again, please email me at email@example.com to let me know if you want more episodes from my father’s book. Thanks!