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Excerpts from the Letters Home
Benton Hickok

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March 23, 1934
Staunton, Virginia

… Sat. I was back on Logan's party again. I rodded for him on a 6 mi. run of levels thru a blinding sleet storm in the vicinity of Crozet, Va. Which would I rather do? Would you rather dig 4 post holes a day, or "push" a rod and hike for 10 miles?

Sat. night I saw one of the best shows in months. Climb the highest mountain to see it. Ten times better than "Ben Hur." It was Samuel Goldwyn's "Roman Scandals" with Eddie Cantor. Don't miss it. After the show I loafed at the Sweet Shop and drank a bottle of Cream Ale 12%. Not bad.

Sunday I greased my boots in the morning. That afternoon Starkey and I went all thru the S. M. A. buildings and campus. After that I got with Sam Logan and Smitty in the new "O" party Dodge and we chased the Mary Baldwin girls all over town. That night we held a big "bull" session down in "Muff" Harrison's hotel room. He is the Army Aviator gun toter

Monday and Tuesday we set B.M.'s 50 mi. from here in the vicinity of Monterey and Franklin, W. Va. All in a h___ of rain and wind storm. I don't feel natural working under a clear sky - now.

Today we crossed three mountains and drove 50 mi. to set monuments in and around Warm Springs, Va. A very exclusive "watering" resort. The sulphurous water emerges at a temp. of 96 degrees F. the year around.

Today we also received our "sailing Orders." Lyons, Holliday, Littlepage, Dillon Cochran, and myself are to move to New York City. Dillon is the Boston, Mass. fellow. Cochran is from Rockport, Me. and has a wife in Me. also one in W. Va. We are to tour north through Richmond and Washington where we pick up 1500 B.M.'s. We are to set marks for a line of levels (First Order) running from Ft. Hamilton in Brooklyn, across East River to South St. in lower Manhattan, thence by the Battery to the Hudson River, thence through the Holland Tunnel under the river to Jersey City, thence over the new Hoboken-Lincoln Highway 5 mi. viaduct to Newark, N.J. The next line runs from lower Manhattan up to Yonkers, New York.

The entire assignment of some 38 lines will take us in the following states: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana. We run lines thru Ithaca, N.Y., Columbus, Ohio, Cincinnati, Ft. Wayne, and dozens of other cities I can't remember. The assignment will terminate at Cheyboygan, Michigan in July. Within a stone's throw of the World's Fair.

Two new parties are being formed. "Muff" Harrison will be one new observer and "Popeye" Dunn will be the other. Starkey is going on Logan's party as rodman at $100 per [month].

We should have this line completed in to Marlington, W. Va., in a day or two, and be ready to shove off for the World's largest city. - Imagine running levels thru the Holland Tunnel and across Broadway, and me setting a bench mark in the Empire State Building….

March 31, 1934
New York City area

… This time last week I was in the wilds of Virginia near Warm Springs. Now I am returning from work in the afternoons in a new 157 -in. wheel base Dodge, across the four lane Manhattan Bridge, up Broadway around Columbus Circle, past the Rockefeller Center, Radio City, and Empire State Bldg. Some contrast, eh?

Tuesday we drove thru Brooklyn over to Ft. Hamilton where we recovered some old tidal marks. Thence along the beautiful Bay Shore Dr. to the Bush Terminal along the waterfront where I planted a mark in the huge Maxwell House Coffee refinery. We had lunch at a tough waterfront grill. That afternoon we looked up some old marks near the Old Atlantic Docks. That night I dined at the fashionable Steuben Tavern then caught the subway down to Times Square where I wandered around until midnight rubbernecking.

Yesterday it was raining in torrents. Yet we plunged our way down the 6-lane West End Ave. to Canal St. Then across the 6-lane Manhattan Suspension Bridge to Brooklyn where I planted a mark in a district school and discussed the future life with the precinct cop.

About 10:30 in the morning of April 4, 1934 A.D., I was permitted to gratify my life long ambition. I had the honor of planting one of our marks in the old Brooklyn suspension bridge - none other. And was that stone pier tough - ugh. That mark will be there when my grand children are aged. We lunched at a tough sailors' bar just outside of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. That afternoon we returned to Manhattan and recovered some old tidal marks in and around Battery Park. And were we "grits in the public eye." Our lengthy U. S. truck creates quite a sensation. Lots of curious stares are directed our way even in the Big City. We returned home by way of Park Ave.

Last night Dillon and I indulged in a foul burlesque show on 42nd St. I never saw so much "raw meat" before, in all my existence.

This morning I planted a bench mark in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Afterward Al and I drove back over the East River thru the ghetto and Chinatown down to South St. by the docks where we established a mark by the Pawtucket Line pier for the river crossing of the line. I planted the first one in Manhattan.

This afternoon I enjoyed an interview with about six officials in order to gain permission to plant a mark in the United Fruit Co. pier on West St. I talked with the Superintendent of the United Fruit Co. in N.Y., also with the N.Y. City Dock Commissioner in his office overlooking the Statue of Liberty. I am right up with the big shots now.

Tonight Dillon and I caught another 6 course dinner at Steubens on Broadway. With the dinner I had the choice of light beer or cider, I chose a gin ricky cocktail.

Monday I hit N.Y. with only 65cents in my pocket. I only managed to get my check cashed by showing my college registration identification card. Please save the tan or yellow one in my dresser drawer.

Tonight I ate the most elaborate dinner of my life. I am living high. Wish you could be with us when we run the redlights in this Manhattan traffic….

April 8, 1934
New York City area

… Thursday it was clear. Francis Dillon and I had our breakfast at the Famous Cafeteria on Broadway, then we fought our way through six lanes of traffic over to Brooklyn, dodging in and out amongst the pillars of the "L" and uprights of the 8th Avenue express highway, weaving in and out of traffic, passing on the right and left and running red lights. These go devils drive any way here…

In Brooklyn we located one mark in the pier of the Williamsburg Suspension Bridge in a river crossing. I had the honor of placing the first mark in Manhattan in the sea wall bordering South St. on the East River at the Pawtucket Line pier. We ate our lunch at the foot of Wall Street….

… Friday it was raining. That morning I placed a mark in the inclined ramp of the 8th Avenue express (elevated) Highway. Later on after interviewing most of the higher officials, Al and I gained permission to place a mark in the Central power generating plant of the Interborough Rapid Transit (subway) Co. We got to tour all of the immense electrical generating plant on 8th Ave.

That afternoon Al (Alfred Littlepage) had all the dirty work to do. We had to interview the big shots of the New York Port Authority Police to gain permission to place two marks in this (Manhattan) end of the Holland Tunnel.

You would have been amused if you could have seen me squatting down with the two painted faces on the back of my raincoat grinning at the world, in front of one of the toll booths, in the center of the immense Canal St. entrance plaza to the tunnel - drilling the concrete for a mark. The hundreds of "tunnel entering" autos were swirling all about me. While placing the other mark at the exit we had three Port Authority Police routing the traffic around us.

That night we dined at Cliffords Cafeteria on Broadway. Dillon caught the 10 o'clock bus home to Boston for the week-end.

Saturday morning Al and I chased all over town, from the Aquarium to the City Parks Commissioner's office in Central Park trying to gain permission to plant a BM monument in Battery Park. The commissioner in the Central Park Office referred us to another authority at Madison Square Garden. We will look him up Monday.

Yesterday afternoon I made a detailed inspection tour of the New York Museum of Natural History, seeing the new Lindbergh plane exhibit. It took 14 cases to hold the equipment of the plane on the Orient trip. From there I sauntered through Central Park across to Fifth Avenue where I watched a 2 hour and 30 minute long parade of all the Army, Navy, Marine, American Legion, R.O.T.C., Spanish-American War vets, and motorized cavalry units of New York, Brooklyn, Long Island and the Jersey boroughs. Yesterday was Army day, you know. You should have seen the drum corps. After that I perused around all over the first floor of the Metropolitan Art Museum. I found the exhibits intensely interesting. Such as finely woven linens of the Chamois, over 3,000 years old. They kicked me out at 6 p.m. I then caught a double-decker rubbernecking bus down Fifth Avenue to Washington Square in the heart of Greenwich Village. I spent the next 45 minutes wandering around in the "Village." Then I caught the "L" back home , dressed, dined, caught the "sub" to the Pennsylvania Station and grabbed the 6:24 electric to Forest Hill, L.I. In the apartment, I found Joe, Hilda, Julia (her younger sister) and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, apartment neighbors. Joe and Hilda were most cordial to me… Mrs. Smith is from Ft. Hamilton while her husband is from Morganton, N.C., and a graduate of N.C. State College, class of '26. He knows a lot of my professor pals there. We went to their apartment and had beer, and listened to the Byrd Antarctica program. I returned to New York on the 12:31. Hilda invited me over for supper next Wednesday.

This morning I slept late, took a bath and had a late breakfast on Broadway. Just after noon, Al, Betty (Al's wife), and I indulged in a promenade through Central Park. Betty had just purchased a new Hudson Seal Fur Jacket and wanted to try it out. Being the first real warm Sunday of the season the park was a fascinating spectacle, what with all the equestrians cantering along the paths, the lakes dotted with rowboats, the driveways filled with sport roadsters trailing along, and the walkways crowded with sports leading dogs or pushing baby carriages.

Afterwards I borrowed Betty's camera, caught the L downtown and proceeded to gratify my long cherished desire to see this country of ours from the Empire State Building. So I paid a buck and caught the elevator up to the observatory on the 86th floor. The day was so clear and the view so magnificent I stayed up in the clouds from 3 till 5:30. From the 102 floor or mooring mast I could stand and point out some six or eight locations of B.M.'s I had established, both in Brooklyn and Manhattan. I feel quite at home now here, like I had lived here all my life. I am crazy about these New York people. I have made quite a few contacts while here, meeting New Yorkers all the way from shanty house R.R. watchmen, up to authoritative municipal officials and I have found them all most cordial, hospitable, affable, and deliberative. Their courtesy is not even equaled by Southerners.

When I finally did come down, the shadow of the place I was standing reached away across East River over into Queensboro. That surely is one tall shaft of masonry.

Monday p.m. - Holliday got in from Newark today and we planted a monument in Battery Park this p.m.

April 20, 1934
Margaretville, N.Y.

… We didn't get away from New York until about noon Monday. As we were leaving Poughkeepsie we met Lyons and Holliday coming in from work in the new Ford truck. We crossed the historic Hudson by ferry from Rhinebeck to Kingston. The river valley was so thickly shrouded with fog that we could barely see the other shore. A large white ocean steamer was anchored in mid-stream. It was then that I thought of your trip up the Hudson to West Point.

The 40 mi. drive from Kingston to Margaretville was the most beautiful I have yet made. The air is so pure, the streams so swift and turbulent, and the mountains so steep and imposing with their beautiful estates crowning the summits.

We reached here about dusk. As Reher's and Dillon's landlady was full up, we landed here with Mr. and Mrs. Jack Cairns, a few doors down the street. They were from Michigan originally. I feel very much at home here because the dining table is covered with a dainty bluebird table cloth just like ours, and the picture "Peasant Life" hangs on the wall, the one Preach copied in charcoal you know.

While we were setting marks in Kingston for the Hudson River crossing, Haden bought five glasses of beer and a pint of apple jack that was made by Jimmy Walker's brother. It was almost two years old.

While arguing with the postmaster in Kingston trying to persuade him to let me place a mark in the facade of his fine new building, he requested some identification from me. I showed him my college registration card. He at last gave in. Out in front, when I had gotten about half thru placing the disc, the ole boy comes running out to me to tell me that one of his very best friends in town, who is the veterinarian for a large meat-packing house, is a graduate of N. C. State, and would be tickled to see me. He wrote his address down for me.

Since arriving here we have set marks all the way from Kingston thru Big Indian, Ashaken, and Arkville. The country is very beautiful, very much like our own Wythe Co. mountains. All thru this Catskill Nat. Park we find the wealthy New Yorkers opening up their summer homes, lodges, and estates. "Legs" Diamond's swanky cabaret restaurant, the Cat's Meow, is located several miles down the valley at Fleischmann's. Wednesday night we all took in Will Rogers in "David Harum" at the local theater. Granny and Preach would have enjoyed it immensely. I surely did.

A couple of night's ago I was talking to Reher, He said while he was in N. Carolina, just after I left him, the truck started falling apart. Three of the wheels fell off at different times while he was speeding. He didn't turn over any of the times but it scared him plenty.

Last night Haden bought another pint of rye whiskey, having drank all the apple jack.

… In the summer, all this mountain section up thru here is filled with summer residents and vacationists from N. Y. C. and vicinity. As a result one finds traces of Broadway strung all up these mountain hollows such as neon signs, cabaret restaurants, theaters, bathing lakes and beaches, gun clubs, golf courses, tennis courts, handball courts, and sporting stores.

Only last Friday I had the honor of establishing a bench mark in the entrance to the Grand Hotel, a huge hostelry that takes a crew of 150 servants even to open. It is perched high up on a mountain side overlooking the valley.

… Last Fri. a.m. we lit out for Poughkeepsie to get a load of B. M. monuments. The day was clear and drive a beautiful one. We passed along the Hudson just opposite Hyde Park. Our (Al's) Dodge truck rides like an ambulance with its long 157 in. wheel base, its hydraulic four wheel brakes, its four spuds forward, and all its latest innovations.

Was just up the street to see Tarzan and Dillon. Tarzan was polishing up his new Ford V-8 truck.. The cab is so luxuriously appointed that he is going to buy a Philco Auto Radio to install in it….

Publication of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA Central Library.

Last Updated: June 8, 2006 9:24 AM

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