The Tour of the West
as observed by

Joe Latham

A group of five foreign students at the University of Pittsburgh toured the USA from 11 June to 5 July 1952

They were:

Francesco Porre, Henri Robert, Joe Latham, Robert Barjon, Alexis de Poutiloff

This ballad was written by Joe after returning to England whilst awaiting
call-up for National Service in the British Army.


To realise what there can be,
To see all that there is to see,
This we made the proposition
Of our twenty-five day mission.

So have patience with me, my friend,
Before my tale has reached its end
We shall have travelled fast and far,
(Driving a Dodge, a rented car.)

The reason why we made this tour
Was that we all had felt the lure
Of deserts, and of endless plains,
Of lands of sun, and of no rains,
Of distances that are immense.
Perhaps out here one gains the sense
Of wilderness and barren ways
Where Time may be a few short days
Of Eternity. So I say,
Just hear my tale, then go your way.

The Tour

We headed towards the sunset
On a sunny summer's day.
We headed towards the mountains,
We were really on our way.

The Party gathered together
Consisted in number of five.
The car raced off to the Mid-West
As if it had been alive.

The hills of Pennsylvania,
The pastures of Ohio,
We did but see, we could not stop
For westwards we must go.

We had supplies to sustain us,
And plenty of gas in the tank.
And so we sped off westwards
To the Mississippi's bank.

Most roads were wide and well surfaced,
With signals placed at each bend.
Some were straight as an arrow
For mile after mile without end.

Through Illinois to Iowa,
The miles kept flying by.
And all the while we looked around
At scenes that struck the eye.

Now we were right in the corn belt.
A land full of riches and fame
As the world's greatest producer
Of corn. None could dispute this claim.

These vast corn fields of Iowa,
Stretched mile upon mile without end.
And machines brought in the harvest
Which man no more needs to tend.

As we approached the Rockies,
We looked for the distant glow,
Of white near to the horizon,
Of the mountains, white capped with snow.

Next we came to the Bad Lands,
A desert of canyons and dust.
But still we pressed ever onwards
As further westwards we thrust.

The Black Hills of South Dakota,
Were next to arrive on the scene.
The mountains were gaunt and jagged,
The valleys were brilliant green.

And here, amidst all the splendours,
Was Democracy's famous shrine,
Where Heads of Four of the Famous
Are assembled neatly in line.

Neatly on top of a mountain,
And visible for many miles,
To bring faith to the minds of the simple,
To the cynical man, to bring smiles.

Next came some Indian Country
Which seemed to be barren and dry.
No trees or grass were there on it,
And the sun beat down from the sky.

We met one old Indian warrior,
Who claimed to be just ninety four
He had once fought against Custer
In that famous Indian war.

But now his pride was quite broken
And he cared no more for slaughter.
Instead we all took his picture,
For which we paid him a quarter.

The miles had passed by rapidly,
And at last we were within range
Of snow-capped peaks in the distance.
And here came a very great change.

For the great Mid-West was passed
And we had now reached at last
The famous Rocky Mountains, where
In the cool, calm, soothing air,
Here was a place to stand and stare.

Here in the mountains, cool and clear,
One felt, perhaps, that God was near.
For man was very far away,
And all the wild Beast s ruled the day.

Here there would be no bank to loan,
Here Coca-Cola was unknown.
Here there was beauty, quiet, rest,
With sunsets glowing in the West.

Beside one road we met a bear,
A playful thing with dark brown hair,
Who gazed at us with gentle eyes
And did not seem to show surprise
When everybody stopped to stare
At his fuzzy dark brown hair.

It happened to him every day,
So he proceeded on his way.
As we were in our usual haste
We just could not afford to waste
A single day. We left the Park,
And drove to Utah through the dark.

At last we reached the great Salt Lake,
And there decided we should make
A tour of Salt Lake City,
For it would have been a pity
To have missed that famous scene
Where Latter Day Saints have been.

Here it was that Joseph Smith,
Though sick and ill, came forth with
His famous phrase, "This is the place "
Now from that dreary desert space"
Has burst forth new and feeling life,
And man can meet man without strife.

As one journeyed and looked around
At the inhospitable ground,
One saw the salt, as white as snow,
On which no living thing could grow.

The sun beat down from azure skies
To dazzle the intrepid eyes
Of strangers who should dare to pass
Over that white, forbidding mass.
The ground was flat, the roads were straight,
And all was of a recent date.

Reno, Nevada, was the name
Of the next town to which we came,
After crossing vast strips of land,
Consisting of rock, bush and sand.

But Reno was not quite so dry.
(One soon could guess the reason why.)
Some huge signs stood against the sky,
Giving the "mug" useful advice
On gambling halls at every price.

Surrounded by a blaze of light,
And open through the day and night,
They were, indeed, a pretty sight.
The drinks were dear, the cards were clean,
The floor shows were not too obscene,
And all the minor forms of vice
Could be arranged - at the right price.

We did not feel any remorse
On leaving the city of Divorce,
As for the Coast we set our course.

We travelled through some barren range,
When suddenly there came a change.
We had come to a land of green
Where oranges were to be seen
Hanging brightly from green trees,
And moving slightly in the breeze.

We really did enjoy that ride
Through Californian countryside.
Even the heat was less intense
And an invigorating sense
Of freshness pervaded the air,
To make the landscape seem more fair.

And then at last we saw the sea
And felt triumphant in that we
Had reached the Pacific. We felt
The spray upon our cheeks, and smelt
The ozone in the salty air.
This was our time to stand and stare.

Then on a few more miles or so,
And we came to San Francisco.
We saw something of China Town.
We saw the ships and went down
To the docks to take a short trip
Round Alcatraz in a small ship.

The prison is on an island rock,
Which forms a most effective lock
To hold the worst criminals known
Like tax-evader, Al Capone.

The City, built on seven hills,
Shows up well the architects' skills
And has an elegance and grace
Which make it an unusual place.

The hills stand out against the sky,
The skyscrapers reach up so high,
And cable cars go rattling by.
Distantly, like a sign of Fate
The outline of the Golden Gate
Spans the distance across the sea,
To lead us into mystery.

Our next stop was Yosemite,
The home of the Sequoia Tree
These giant trees stand up aloof
Reaching to the forest's roof.

Can one believe what one can see?
A normal road goes through a tree!
Of immense age, they stand so tall.
That they make man seem very small.

Here in this Park the mountains rose.
To jagged walls on which. the snows ,
Of winter glistened in the sun.
Soon they would melt and downward run
To the green valley below
Until there was no more snow.

Similar to Niagara's size
Waterfalls delight the eyes.
And forests thrill to sounds of birds
Which cannot be described by words.

Soon we were once more on our way,
Hoping that in another day
We should be in Los Angeles.
But we burnt out our batteries
Ruining the generator
So we arrived one day later.

Los Angeles was spread around
And covered a great deal of ground.
Hollywood was also there
(The home of Grable and Astaire).

The streets were straight, the houses fine,
The trees were all arranged in line.
It could be described, if one were witty,
As fourteen suburbs seeking a city.

We saw the famous Forest Lawn.
Advertisements show how to mourn.
With funerals so reverent
That if you are benevolent
And can ninety three dollars save
You will have a happy grave.

You may not be here tomorrow,
But everything at time at sorrow
Will help the bereaved, left alone.
All they need do is lift the phone,
(Which answers through twenty four hours)
And order appropriate flowers.

Once more en route, so we might reach
The pleasure resort of Long Beach,
Where, every year, in the Parade,
The world's Beauties are displayed.

Miss France received a special cheer,
And was photographed from quite near.
The Show was finally forsaken
When many pictures had been taken.
For time pressed, and we had to go
To destination Mexico.

Very soon we crossed the border.
All our papers were in order
Save Francesco's. He stayed behind,
But this he did not seem to mind.

Tijuana was the first place
We saw. It lacked the Latin Grace
Which we had perhaps expected.
On the whole it seemed dejected
And very poor. What a contrast
To other towns that we had passed.

The buildings seemed so very small,
The people were not very tall,
But swarthy skinned and Spanish speaking,
And sometimes of garlic reeking.

But they were very much alive
And to their utmost they did strive
To sell us things - some not so nice -
But all were at a moderate price.
Soon, however, dusk descended
And our Mexican tour ended.

By now time was getting short, .
As a boat had to he caught
In New York in fourteen days.
Once more we sped on the highways.

Always heading to the East.
But we did have time, at least,
For the Grand Canyon. Here we stayed
A day, and in sun kit arrayed,
Made a wearisome descent
To the river. The way we went
Gave us a magnificent view
(Many pictures were taken too).

In that blinding, intense sunlight
There was a memorable sight
Of the sheer drop and snaky thread
Of the path that we must tread.

We saw the Canyon, golden - rust,
Whilst mules were kicking up the dust.
On that narrow winding track
Which we must climb on the way back.

The river was reached at twelve o'clock,
The sun was beating down on the rock.
Our feet kicked up the swirling dust,
And we all felt as though we must
Drink water. We dared not do so
For its effect we did well know.

We saw a lad on a rock face
Who could not walk a single pace
As too much water he had drunk.
On seeing this our spirits sunk.

We had a ninety minute rest.
The sun set lower in the West.
Then, slowly, we reached the top
Feeling almost fit to drop.

We saw the Mesa Verda Park
And then drove on through the dark,
When we ran into a rabbit.
As it had become a habit
Never to tolerate any  waste,
The rabbit was eaten; fine it did taste.

We crossed the Rockies at very great speed
(To save time was a most pressing need).
We were on the road some mornings at six.
This became one of our favourite tricks.

We ate up the miles as Eastwards we sped,
The tyres became quite devoid of thread.
Three days of driving, as in a mania,
Took us back to Pennsylvania.

Now at last our tour was ended.
All our money was expended.
We had had a lot of fun
Had breathed fresh air, and seen the sun
In very many distant places.
It was enough, so while there space is
I will close this little story
Of our four short weeks of glory.