A Boyhood Memory - The Dawning of the Space Age
by: Aaron George Bailey - in Sherwood, Arkansas USA
One day back in the mid fifties, quite by chance, I happened to see a strange looking train, made up
entirely of steam locomotives, as it passed my boyhood home.  The two leading locomotives were huffing
and puffing, straining to pull dead clones of themselves, all coupled together as far as the eye could see.  I
stood there and watched in disbelieve, how odd it seemed, a parade of dead locomotives, until the last
one passed me by.  Unknown to me a the time, it was their final journey, as they were being pulled to the
scrap yard and sold for so many cents per pound.  These were wonderful machines that time and diesel
technology had rendered obsolete. In their day, they helped to build America and they helped win World
War II as much as any tank or plane.  Such a pity, that so few working examples of them exist till this day.  
Little did I know at the time, I was witness to the end of an era, but soon, I would be witness to the birth of
a new era of spaceships, with strange machines called  Sputniks.   Note- Click on the train image to hear
steam locomotive #819 passing- the sound file is courtesy of my friend Barry Robinson.
Arkansas Democrat - a clipping from my scrapbook


I was a kid during a period of time called "The Cold War", a confusing term for me at the time, as it also was
for adults.  It was a time of uneasy peace, mixed with a feeling of, "There's a predator lurking in the
darkness, just beyond the camp fire, ready to pounce on you when your guard is down, better add another
log to the fire".  The collective question was, "Will the Russians use A-bombs, and spring a surprise attack
on the United States?"  Americans lived with a measured level of fear.  It seemed real and serious to me,
so I figured I should be scared too.  I rode a bus twelve miles to school.  In the back of my mind, I always
worried the bomb tossing would begin while I was away from home.*  In the early fifties the Chamber of
Commerce and local merchants decided to purchase a large area of land and donate it free of charge to
the US Government.  However, with the condition, that the free land would be developed into an Air Force
Base.  This clever plan was designed to stimulate the economy of central Arkansas, which it did.  
Rock Air Force Base (LRAFB) was opened on October 9, 1955 and quickly became part of the Strategic Air
Command (SAC).  Armed with sleek B-47s, LRAFB was charged with the mission of delivering an atomic
punch to any potential enemy, namely Soviet Russia at the time.  To me, the B-47, with sweptback wings
and polished aluminum, was, and still is, the most beautiful plane ever made.  To the delight of
neighborhood kids, the sight of
a B-47 flying over was powerful stuff, enough to stop a sandlot baseball
game.  Now with a SAC base for a neighbor, the Cold War rumor mill shifted into high gear and the word
was, "Did you hear, Little Rock is one of the top five cities targeted by the Russians?"  Looking back now,
this sounds silly when considering all the possible targets, like, other SAC bases and big industrial
centers.  Some Arkies dug holes and built bomb shelters.  My family, like most, couldn't afford an
underground bunker.  After all, what was the point of having one if you lived near to ground zero.  Living
near a SAC base only heightened my fear.  The Cold War was HOT, and then in the Fall of 1957 came the
Sputniks, right out of the darkness, and the Cold War got even HOTTER.
On October 4, 1982, the world service of Radio Moscow broadcast a program marking the 25th Anniversary
of the Sputnik-1 launch.  That evening I was tuned to Radio Moscow and picked up the program in the 40
meter shortwave band.  Click on the Sputnik-1 thumbnail to hear a segment of that broadcast.  Note- At the
end I spliced in a bit of music from the 1950s - part of the song "Earth Angel" by the Penguins.

* On the brink of Nuclear War, my Dad let me miss school during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis in
late October 1962.  Train after train of military equipment passed my home, moving toward a staging area,
most likely South Florida.  Clearly, the United States planned to invade Cuba and remove the Soviet
nuclear tipped missiles by force.  The local Pop Music station, KAAY (50,000 watt clear channel 1090kc),
changed its evening programming during this time and beamed Spanish language format toward Cuba.  
Cuba was just a pawn in this crisis and the real issue was between the old Cold War rivals, the United
States and the Soviet Union.   US President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev faced
off, eye to eye, while all along JFK maintained a strong stance.  Fortunately for the world, both leaders
showed wisdom and compromise and the crisis was defused.