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Interesting places that I’ve been: St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

The first time I went to St. John’s, it was an experience not to be forgotten. I think of St. John’s as an adult Disneyland. From 2003 until about 2014 I was there at least twice a year, many years it was more. When flying the C-130 to Europe, or on to the Middle East, stops are made for fuel and crew rest. The plane can’t take gas in the air, so stops are planned. From our Mid-West base to St. John’s is about a six hour flight. Then from St John’s we usually stop in Scotland, it’s about seven hours, or on a bit further to Mildenhall in England. But before crossing the Atlantic an east coast stop has to happen. St John’s is the farthest point east in North America, making it a logical choice.

We would take off around 0500, I’d have to be to the base three and half hours prior to take off. So with the two and half hour time difference, yes two and half hours a head of us, we land around 1430 local time in St. John’s. There is no air force base, we buy our fuel from one of the small companies located at the airport. We would park next small private jets or even little Cessna’s, it’s quite the contrast. We would buy about 12,000 gallons of jet fuel at about $4.00 per gallon. Needless to say they wanted our business and did what they had to to get it. After putting the plane to bed we would board an old Bluebird school bus for the ride to the airport. In the front of the bus were two large coolers, full of Canadian beer of course. And several boxes of Tim Horton donuts, he was a hockey player, I think. It was about a twenty minute ride from the airport to the hotel in downtown St John’s. Did I mention that if we were going on to the Middle East that there is no alcohol available once we get there? So there is a lot of drinking going to and from the Middle East. Between not much sleep the night before and the jet lag it didn’t take much to get a buzz on. I could usually get two or three down before we got to the hotel.

We stayed at the Delta most of the time. It was just off the harbor, close to both Water and George street. Water Street is of course on the harbor and George Street has more bars per square foot than anywhere in North America.  After I get checked in and have received my bar ticket for several free drinks at the hotel bar, I work my way up to my room and the shower. If the weather is decent we will venture out to George Street. If the weather is not so good we stay at the hotel bar. After a few drinks the weather turns better, imagine that. I’ve been there all seasons and winter sucks. It’s dark, it’s cold and it is windy. Probably the windiest place in North America. Maybe one of the windiest places on the planet.

In the summer it’s still light late, usually until 10 o’clock or so. This makes the drinking very easy. Most every block has a bar, an adult club and a church. George Street has no churches. That’s where we will spend our time. The downtown area is very hilly. To get from our hotel to George Street we walk down in elevation about a hundred feet. The walk down is easy, the walk back up is not so easy.

Every bar has a different band playing, and they are all really good. The dialogue is a mix between Canadian, Irish and Scottish. As is the music. Not only is it hard to understand but the music is very unique. The sound is really cool. I love listening to the music. I also love the seafood. But I really love the beer and whiskey.There are two nursing schools in St. John’s and most of the men are either working on an oil platform or a fishing boat. The ratio is about eight women for every guy. Not bad odds. Then you add the flight suit factor. My aircraft commander and I were kicked out of a bar once for making out with a nursing students, yes we were making out with the same the same woman. Don’t ask! The morning usually came way to quick. I never wanted to be the crew to fly out of St. John’s. I’d much rather stay out and play.

It’s not only the furthest eastern city in North America but one of the coldest and windiest. I know I already mentioned the wind, but it is windy. The scariest take-off I’ve ever experienced was flying out of St John’s. We were very heavy and the wind was just on the edge of our limits chart. My job as the flight engineer was to calculate the winds. I checked it three times, each time getting the same results. I shared my findings with the aircraft commander and he said we’ll go. There is talk in the flying community about using every inch of the runway, all the way to the last brick. Well this take-off was one of those, we used every bit of the runway, all the way to the last brick. The end of the runway is about a hundred feet above the cold Atlantic Ocean, not a great way to go.

I was introduced to Tim Horton donuts there, kind of like Dunkin Donuts only much better. There are great candy shops on Water Street, I usually have to pick up some thing for the next leg of the journey.

Most of the stories I have from St John’s can’t be told. First no one would believe them. Second I’d not only be incriminating myself but several others who took part in the shenanigans. I will probably never get back to St John’s but I have many memories. Many of the places I’ve been on the C-130 are tourist destinations, not St John’s.


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