Himself – Getting Prepared to Hitch Hike

Hey, do you remember hitch hiking and how it was the normal means of transportation for many of us prior to and even during WWII and long afterwards. As I remember, it wasn’t so much that you were hitch hiking in the normal manner of standing alongside of the road and sticking your thump out, it was more like if you were on the road you were invariably picked up or at least the driver of the vehicle slowed down and motioned to you for a pick up.

Many areas of Cape Breton did not have bus service and still don’t. Taxis were non-existent and who could afford one really? So, we hitched everywhere, to church, to the movies, to town, to the picnic, to the swimming hole and so on and so on. If you were heading back to Halifax for example, you hitch hiked or someone gave you a name of someone going back and you contacted them. This included girls and women as well – no one worried about rapists or attackers in those good old days. I firmly believe it was because most of the drivers were men and those men had recently returned from WWII and could be trusted and were honourable and would look after you. I wish it were the case today but it isn’t. In fact it isn’t safe for anyone to hitchhike today.

I had some rules that I successfully followed when hitch hiking. They were; I always hiked alone, I never carried a sign indicating where I was heading, I always was walking as a potential drive approached, I never sat on my duffle bag, I never sat on the side of the road with my thumb up, and I never got in with someone who was driving that I thought was drinking. I always tried to look smart in uniform and well turned out. I was always polite in the car and never smoked or cursed and only spoke if spoken to and gave up only limited information. I always tried to be friendly and appreciative of the kindness of anyone who picked me up. I was once picked up by a woman who was alone in her car driving east of Toronto on highway 401 and it was at night. I thought that was strange. Not likely to happen today.

Canadian Sailors look like this today – Pretty Smart Looking

When I was stationed at Naval Headquarters in Ottawa as a watch keeper, on my days off I would hitchhike to Toronto where Carmen was looking after her ill father. It was a piece of cake. You just went outside in uniform, and in no time someone picked you up. I was normally picked up by a salesman who invariably had been in the service during the war and was glad to have the company. Most of those guys drove me right to the door thinking that I was coming home off a ship. I never told them the difference. The rides with salesmen were so fast that I preferred to drive with them rather than with a transport truck driver who by the way always stopped for you. I would hide if I saw a transport truck coming. I had some interesting rides in those days. Once with an RCMP senior officer who was heading north of Tweed to coordinate with the OPP a drug and moonshine bust. The backseat of his unmarked vehicle had several shot guns and rifles and revolvers – he was ready for a firefight for sure. Once with a LCol who was a test pilot for the Arrow Jet and once out of Toronto with a Naval Reserve pilot who took me to Downsview Airport, where I underwent a short course on how to jump out of an aircraft and was suited up with parachute and he in company of a couple of other pilots in similar Harvard aircraft flew me to Uplands. I can still see these guys flying next to us in the bright sunshine all on auto pilot reading their newspapers.

My Ride to Ottawa

I used to hitchhike a lot especially after I joined the Navy. I will now relate to you a most exciting experience related to hitchhiking.  I was drafted aboard a ship in Halifax when my Carmen’s father got sick in Toronto and she went there to look after him. After a few months I saved enough money to take the $22.00 coach class train ticket to Toronto. After my leave was up I decided to hitchhike from Toronto back to Halifax. That was some experience and now I will tell you how it went. It was a piece of cake on the first leg from Toronto to Quebec City. I was on the side of the road on the South Shore opposite Quebec City where this chap dropped me off some time before mid night. Along came this guy who had been in the Navy during the war and picked me up drove about 50 miles and said I have a cottage north of here where my family is so this is where I turn off. This was just after midnight. It was as dark out as Denzel Washington’s armpit.  I walked and I walked but every car merely slowed down and looked but did not stop. It went on like this until daylight and then beyond and was approaching noon. I was sure the early to work crowd had someone that would pick me up but such was not my luck. Finally, at about noon on the second day this convertible approached heading east manned by two Canadian Army types who stopped and invited me aboard. I have loved Pongos ever since. They were driving this convertible to Fredericton from Camp Border as transport for Princess Margaret’s upcoming visit to New Brunswick. It was heaven to get off the road and we were in no time in Fredericton. From there to just west of Amherst it was clear sailing. I was on the side of the road in this small town when these two old guys came to a screeching halt in a new convertible and yelled to me to, “get in sailor and we will give you a ride.” I said, “You are heading in the wrong direction, I am going east.” They did a U Turn and then invited me in. I indicated to them that I was concerned about their drinking and didn’t trust their driving. They said, “You get in and drive and we will get in the back seat.” They did and I took over. They had a case of beer on the floor in front and were half in the bag. It turned out they were two old farmers who had just completed bringing in the hay for the season and were out celebrating and it was my good fortune they came along when they did. They had religious music on the radio station and kept asking me to open a beer and pass it back to them. This I did and eventually they both fell into a deep drunken sleep.

Hitchhiking Sailor Taking a Break

No one told me when to stop so I kept going and they never woke up. I drove late into the night directly to my apartment in Halifax. To stay away from busy streets and lights I drove to Dartmouth, crossed the Angus L Bridge and on to the South End of Halifax. I parked in a spot where I could see the car from my window, crept out of the car and tippy toed to my apartment without disturbing my two old drunken farmer friends. It was by then about five or six in the morning. I went in and to bed. I woke up around ten or eleven and looked out to see if they had gone, they had. To this day I wonder what they told their wives about where they were and how they ended up in the South End of Halifax. That indeed was my most memorable hike. Do I feel guilty? Yes of course today I do but not at the time. Not after the experience on the side of the road in La Belle Province the night before.

How to Hitch a Ride


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Bill Burton on December 31, 2010 at 15:40

    Well Caper, I can certainly relate to that post on hitchhiking. I think I started hitching when I was about twelve or so, although I probably got picked up by friendly folks long before that. I can remember the trips from Stadacona to Cape Breton and back during my very brief time (74-75) in the Canadian Navy (Armed Forces). It was quite easy to time your striking-out for when people were heading home for the weekend from their jobs on the docks etc. I can also relate to the salesmen, and the drinkers who were happy to let me drive. In fact on one trip the guy picked me up outside Quebec City specifically because he thought I looked like I might have a driver’s license. On that trip I got dropped on a “short cut” and spent six hours in the back country of New Brunswick before a trucker stopped and drove me the remaining twenty miles back to the TransCanada Hwy outside of Moncton. I remember I left Ontario with five dollars. I had ten to start but my buddy tried to talk me out of the plan and I spent five bucks in the Ambassador Hotel drinking drafts with him. I struck out carrying a small suitcase with a bun of bread, a pound of sliced bologna and a bottle of water. The salesman bought me breakfast in Riviere De Loup. I slept for about an hour or so in the ditch outside of Moncton until a Mountie kicked me in the ribs at about four in the morning. I spent the coldest twelve hours of my life to that point, behind a guard rail near Auld’s Cove during a driving rainstorm, while trying to stay dry with my head poked through a green garbage bag. Since I got picked up five minutes after my thumb went out at Hwy 6 and 401, and taken to within one-half-mile of the Metro in Montreal, I made the trip from Guelph to Auld’s Cove in twenty six hours but it took almost another day to get from the Causeway to Little Bras’Dor. All in all, I think I will remember that experience and the several others like it for the rest of my life. Thanks for jogging my memories. Bill Burton


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