COAL: First Transport • Coming to ‘Amerika’

Introductory note by Daniel Stern: My old friend Hemi Andersen has been closely and interestingly involved with automobiles since forever. I ate up his stories in the old Slant-6 Club magazine decades ago, and now it is my great privilege to introduce him to the CC readership. Hemi, the floor is yours! –D.S.

My parents married in 1938 in Finland, and shortly thereafter my father brought my mother to Denmark where he got her an apartment in the apartment building his mother lived in. Dad was a merchant seaman sailing for an American ship line—Moore-McCormack, out of New York City. I often wonder what was in their minds at that time as he left her there while he went back to sea.

World War II came along in September 1939, and Denmark was occupied by the Germans for the five-year duration of the war. As I got older toward the end of the war, I met Poul Larsen who lived in an apartment a few doors down in our building. Poul was a little older than I and a lot more outgoing. One day he suggested we play a trick on a German soldier walking guard duty at the far end of our apartment building. We each got an old paper bag from Mrs Hansen’s fruit and vegetable store; walked to the far corner of the building; blew up our bags and snuck up behind the soldier, then popped the bags, turned around, and ran. We were very lucky we were not shot dead! I’m sure the soldier was surprised; we were foolish.

Here are the first wheels that caught my eye as WWII ended in 1945:

This very same streetcar was the one I called ‘mine’ because I lived at Lyngbyvej 130 2th. Each motorcar was numbered and it was Line 15 that passed our apartment building. My friend Poul Larsen who lived at 126 had motorcar 126 that he called ‘his’. Poul and I would ride our push-scooters on the frontage road in front of the apartment most of the day and keep track of ‘our’ streetcars as they passed by. Life was good those three years after the war.

Needless to say, I never saw my dad until 1946. When the war was over and my fathers ship was finally able to come back to Denmark, he and my mother went to the American consulate to arrange for visas so she and I could emigrate to the USA.

It was August 1, 1949 when the day finally came for us to head for the ship. When we arrived at the point of departure from the soil of Denmark, we were surprised that the ship was anchored in Øresund, the waterway between Denmark and Sweden. Mother and I were ferried out to the Mormacmoon—the freighter at the top of this post—waiting just for us. We climbed up the gangway onto the freighter. It was carrying a full load of iron ore and destined for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; there were accommodations for 12 passengers.

Soon after boarding, we were on our way. It was to be a 10-day voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, and it was not long before the ship began it’s gentle rolling with the waves. It was also not long before I was seasick! On the second or third day, we encountered heavy seas in the North Atlantic to the point that there were concerns of the ship sinking if the loose iron ore would shift to one side as the ship rolled. By this time I had gotten used to the sea and the excitement of being in a storm at sea kept me distracted. We passed through the storm and the sea became calm. Now it was just to let the days pass as we headed west. As we passed Nova Scotia we passed through a rainstorm. I was up on deck and for the first time I felt warm rain. It felt so good; rain in Denmark had always felt like icewater. It was around the 8th of August; hot summer in America.

The ship arrived in Philadelphia the morning of the 10th of August, one of the hottest days of the year. Mother and I were all ready to disembark. At around noontime, a large man approached us. His name was Hjalmar Aastrand, and he was a big shot with Moore-McCormack Lines, there to meet the ship and also to meet us. When he was finished with his official business, he introduced himself and said we were to go with him, that we were to live with his family until my father returned from his voyage to South America. I don’t remember having any large luggage with us as we traveled to the train station there in Philadelphia.

When we arrived at Grand Central Station in New York City it was late at night. We walked to the adjacent parking garage, slipped into his nearly-new 1948 Oldsmobile, and headed off to his home in New Jersey. He drove us up the West Side Highway which passes all the piers where the luxurious ocean liners dock.

It was too dark to see the ships, but it was just right for a view I will never forget: the George Washington Bridge in lights. What an impressive sight! We missed passing the Statue of Liberty by arriving in Philly, so that lit-up bridge became my ‘welcome monument’.

We continued to and over the George Washington Bridge to New Jersey and onto Route 4, which we exited in River Edge. We proceeded to 130 Voorhis Avenue…

…where we met Hjamar’s wife Valborg, and their 10-year-old daughter Betty May.

It was time to get acclimated to a new country and to begin school come September. My birthday would come in October and I looked forward to my first set of wheels in America!