Looking back: A World’s Fair adventure

July 3, 2012

By Bill Erxleben

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The Seattle World’s Fair sparked one of the best adventures of my life. In the summer of 1962, I, along with two college friends, Frank and Bob, decided our goal for the summer would be to work our way across country from Indiana to see the World’s Fair.

Since Frank and I had never been west of the Mississippi River, it would also be a chance to see the great Northwest. Bob had a car, and we would share expenses.

Our first employment was in Colorado working on a pipeline crew. Then, we decided to shortcut our road to riches by panning for gold in Estes National Park — highly illegal, I was later told. We found none.

Contributed
Newcastle City Councilman Bill Erxleben (left) and friends Frank Walker (center) and Bob Heasty (right) journeyed from Indiana to Seattle to see the World’s Fair. This was taken at the Pacific Science Center in 1962.

We then headed to Wyoming, applying unsuccessfully for jobs as oil rig roughnecks and in Montana as smoke jumpers. Our money was running low and on the way to Idaho to try to get on a forest-fire crew Bob received a speeding ticket for $80.

We couldn’t pay the fine.

A judge in Salmon, Idaho, put Bob in jail until we could pay. Frank and I camped on an island in the Salmon River and worked day jobs bucking hay bales and picking cherries until we had the money to get Frank out.

We decided things were not going particularly well and it was time to make a dash to Seattle and the fair. We arrived in Seattle with $25 between us and camped out in Volunteer Park and the Sears Roebuck parking lot. Seeing Seattle for the first time was amazing for an 18-year-old from the Midwest: a perfect summer climate with low humidity, mountains, lakes, no poisonous snakes and few biting insects.

(The largest body of water anywhere near Frank’s and my hometown, Batesville, Ind., population 3,200, was the local water reservoir.)

Our occasional meals were generously furnished by the Millionair Club. Our first opportunity for work was picking beans in the Puyallup Valley where, together with a group of transients, we were bused from Pioneer Square.

Unfortunately, as one transient told us, it had rained heavily and was a bad year for beans. We soon quit and consoled ourselves by taking a free tour of the Rainier Brewing Co., where a sympathetic bartender supplied us free with all the beer we could drink.

Our luck soon improved when we were hired by Home Frozen Foods, a Queen Anne home delivery meat plan, to solicit sales leads door-to-door. We suspected a scam because the plan included the purchase of a very expensive freezer which they told us not to mention.

Then the best thing happened. Three jobs for attendants at the Pacific Science Center became available for the last three weeks of the fair. We were given blue blazers, gray pants, shirt and tie, and told to report immediately for work. Upon hearing of our infrequent meals, our supervisor also supplied us with $20 worth of complimentary tickets for the Food Circus.

Bob soon ran into one of his fraternity brothers, who was working as a barker for Little Miss Egypt, the fair’s reincarnation of the burlesque queen who danced at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. He offered the floor of his living room to us as a place to sleep. Our summer was now a success.

Postscript: We all returned to college in the Midwest. Eight years later, after law school and military service, I returned to Washington and had a very interesting career in law, government, business, teaching and politics. The World’s Fair brought me to Seattle and was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

 

Bill Erxleben teaches business law and ethics part time at the University of Washington’s business school — Bothell campus, and serves on the Newcastle City Council.

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