21 years later

November 16th, 1958

This is Post #44 in the new Series “Going to Afghanistan”.


Addressed to:
Mrs. Fred W. Clayton
405 N. Roop St.
Carson City, Nevada

Senders name and address:
Fred W. Clayton
c/o USOM / Afghanistan
Kabul, Afghanistan

Sunday 16 Nov. ’58

My Darlings,

Here I am in Kandahar.  I came down on Friday.  Since Tues. 11th was a holiday they sent the mail Monday.  So I missed the pouch.  I also missed the pouch yesterday since I was down here.  I hope to have this mailed in New York by a friend.

I like your Christmas idea.  Maybe you should show the boys New Years on Market Street too! – 21 years later!

I have another “Small World” story to write to you.

Must close now.

All my love,
Your Fred.

Notes:  The letter did get carried by a friend.  The postmark is “Long Island City NY – Nov 20 ’58” – four days after the letter was written in Afghanistan.  The friend must not have tarried long in Europe, in fact not have tarried at all.

I think Fred is down to a letter with just 87 words.  Thank goodness for yesterdays post (report); but in real time not yet written.  But now you do know what Fred was doing in Kandahar, in Lashkar Gah, at the airport and half way to Spin Baldak.  I CAN write like my father, write about writing and not write about what is new – “Just a note this time to tell you that I will  tell you something new next time”.  It’s not evasion, it’s in the genes.  Maybe I should apologize, but like Fred, I won’t.

The reference to “21 years later” refers to his first New Years with Lloydine.  They stopped in San Francisco on the way back from meeting Fred’s parents in Atascadero, California where they lived.  It was a long drive down (from Sacramento) and a long drive back (especially in those cars and on the roads that they had then), maybe better than Afghanistan had now, but not that much better – it was Market Street in San Francisco that had the punch; had night-life during the Great Depression, walking arm in arm on the streets for New Years was free.  One can remember “free”.

If Fred were inclined to looking forward and not back he would be speculating about the world 21 years from now (which in real time was 1979, so it is still not “forward”, but is really still “back”).  What would Market Street look like then?  Whatever it was, it doesn’t look that way now.  I was there almost then (in 1978, not “9”; 20 years exactly, just married, Market Street re-visited with MY new wife.  So there is a point of history; it keeps revolving like an open door; you wander out, you wander in.  Make a note about the date, your date – time passes very quickly now.

We tarry when everything is about to change; the words become “small talk”, just words enough to get one by, to hang and carry on, to not let go, to keep company with the company you keep – one more word, one more thought; anything not to say goodbye, to let go, to promise to write again soon, “Love Fred”.  But each letter and posting must have an end; not like the “Linger Longer Lodge” (in Oregon), filled with words and hours just whiled away, Trout Fishing in America (Brautigan) or was it near the Klamath River?

OK, let me say it – “Love Fred”; but not “Goodbye”.

you free?

Kandahar, Afghanistan – Kandahar International Airport construction – 1958.

Photograph taken by Fred W. Clayton – This photographic image is copyrighted by Donald Clayton, all rights reserved – first published 2010 on QalaBist.com.

Kandahar, Afghanistan – Camel passing near Airport construction – 1958.

Photograph taken by Fred W. Clayton – This photographic image is copyrighted by Donald Clayton, all rights reserved – first published 2010 on QalaBist.com.

Near Kandahar, Afghanistan – Domed village in the desert – 1958.

Photograph taken by Fred W. Clayton – This photographic image is copyrighted by Donald Clayton, all rights reserved – first published 2010 on QalaBist.com.

Pagman River in Kabul, Afghanistan – The fort (cannon platform) is up the hill to the right, Afghan children tending sheep – 1958.

Photograph taken by Fred W. Clayton – This photographic image is copyrighted by Donald Clayton, all rights reserved – first published 2010 on QalaBist.com.

[Post originally written:  2010.05.02  Sunday / 21 years later]

My camera is a Nikon

November 8th, 1958

This is Post #40 in the series “Going to Afghanistan”


Addressed to:
Mrs. Fred W. Clayton
405 N. Roop St.
Carson City,
Nevada U.S.A.

Senders name and address:
Fred. W. Clayton
Kabul, Afghanistan

Kabul, Afgh.
8 Nov. ’58

My Darling,

I’m so sorry your work did not produce a Republican victory in Nevada.  Please offer my consolation to Chas. Russell and tell him I’ll do anything I can if he wants to get into I.C.A.  He is the right kind of fellow we need, Diplomatic and considerate.

Also offer my consolation to Sen. Malone and thank him.

I’ll write both of them later.

My camera is a Nikon from Japan with an f 1.4 lens.

I’ll try to write more later.  The situation is down to doing battle with people (Americans) who are entrenched and should have gone home before I came.

All my love,
Your Fred.

Notes:  Wars always begin with battles.  At first the battles are “the peaceful kind”.  In this case Fred’s battle is not so peaceful, it takes energy and time; it’s a war of words that takes the words right off the page (of this letter) – the words that Fred would have written had their been no “third Afghan War” – the war between American and American re: the battlefield of Afghanistan, circa 1958.

It’s all about politics and pictures, and the battles.  The picture slowly shows, if not shapes, up.  The lines are drawn; people move before the troops, and after.  It seems the endless game.  First there is Afghanistan; then there’s “aid”; then the aid leads to war (or a hotter, wider war) and then some many long years hence the war is finally over – there’s a return to “aid”, and that aid of course will cause a return to yet another war.  It is the circle game.

I’m sure that Tamerlane (Timor the Great) promised to rebuild Afghanistan after he destroyed it.  Genghis Khan of course cared for the people of Afghanistan very much, set in resettlement teams or something after his troops moved further west.  These words, these activities are lost to history.  That is why we must repeat them now, repeat history (over and over) until at last we learn.

The Afghans themselves have heard it all before.  For a nation of “illiterate shopkeepers and farmers” the nation has an uncanny sense of history, all one has to do is look around at all the ruins – each new and successive war has left its mark on Afghanistan in the form of some new ruin, a lasting scare on the landscape, a lasting reminder about the endless futility of war and conquest.

So that is why the pictures, the camera, the Nikon this time.  Take pictures of the Afghans at work, at peace, at play.  Take pictures of the ruins; the ruined walls, the cannon now only used at noon.  Compare the pictures one by one, then consider the history, and then you decide if we really need this war.

At that point it gets back to the aid now doesn’t it?  And that is where our story did begin.  And that is where we will leave it, then and now; but to make my point we’ll write some more tomorrow.


Going to Kandahar

October 27th, 1958

This is Post #31 in the new Series “Going to Afghanistan”.

If anything is enclosed this letter will be sent by ordinary mail
Red, green, and black aviation letter outline – 5 Af stamp of DC-3 over Kabul (blue)

DC-3 over Kabul, Afghanistan - Afghanistan stamp circa 1958, printed in Great Britain

Addressed to:
Mrs. Fred W. Clayton
405 N. Roop St.
Carson City,
Nevada U.S.A.

Senders name and address:
F. W. Clayton
Kabul, Afghanistan

Monday 27 Oct. ‘58


Just a note to let you know I’m busy and very active.

Today I’m going to Kandahar.  I plan to be back Thursday.

I worked Friday and Sunday so I haven’t had a whole day off since a week ago last Friday.

Must close now and park my bag.

I love all of you all so much.

All my love,
Your Fred.

Notes:  This letter sets a new record, 56 words.  It is almost like Fred invented text messaging without anticipating the need for constant abbreviations.  He could of just texted “KIA” for Kandahar because that is where the blue plane would land, dirt strip, dusty runway in the desert.  That’s why he was going there – to see KIA and see what is or was or will be going on.  More tomorrow.

[Post originally written:  2010.04.07 / Going to Kandahar]

Entero vioform

October 24th, 1958

This is Post #29 in the new Series “Going to Afghanistan”.


Addressed to:
Mrs. Fred W. Clayton
405 N. Roop St.
Carson City, Nevada

Senders name and address:
Fred W. Clayton
c/o USOM / Afghanistan
Kabul, Afghanistan

Stationery from:
Hotel Claridge – 820 Connecticut Avenue N.W. – Washington 6, D.C.
Harold B. Morris, Manager – MEtropilitan 8-3935

Kabul, Afghanistan
24 Oct. 1958 (Friday)

My Beloved,

I love you and miss you so very much.  Wish you were here to enjoy the day to day activities, the trips, the parties, the scenery and the work.

I have just reread your four letters (4) the last of which you wrote 13 Oct. ’58 at 6:50 A.M.  I hope to get more mail tomorrow.

I picked up some diarrhea in Amritsar and took entero vioform but have found the “Mucilose” prepared from psyllism to be the most effective thing for “sticking one together again”.  In as much as the “sea baggage” may not be here for another month I’m rationing myself on these items.  More of each of these items should be brought by you.

I’ll try to write the rest of this letter so you can use it for any distribution you may care to make.  Some of it may be duplication.

Page #3 of this letter continues on Stationery from:
Glenbrook – Lake Tahoe – Nevada
(This is stationery from the Glenbrook Golf Course which WAS Glenbrook, Nevada in 1958)

Kabul, Afghanistan

It is fitting that I should write about Kabul and Afghanistan on paper from Glenbrook Nevada for Nevada and Afghanistan are similar in terrain and climate.  In fact Kabul and Glenbrook are almost at the same elevation above sea level.

As I sit here writing in my room at the I.C.A. Staff House on this Friday night in late October I could well imagine the clock to be turned back thirty years to a ranch house in Nevada.  My room is very comfortable for winter living as it is on the second floor over the kitchen and is on the southwest corner of the building.  The south and west walls each have four casement windows five (5) ft. high by three feet wide.  With 12 ft. of window on each of two sides the room is well lighted and well ventilated.  The windows are presently draped with white sheeting.  The walls are plastered and painted green.  The ceiling, about 9 ft. above the floor is also plastered and painted white.  The floor is concrete partially covered with a red and black Afghan rug.

The door is on the east wall near the northeast corner.  Along the east wall is a chest of drawers made of teak with a new mirror above it.  South of the chest of drawers is a sheet iron stove (locally called a bukhari) with a low fire burning for protection against the chill of the clear night air.

Along the north wall toward the door is a wardrobe 7 ft. high by 4’ 6” with double doors.  West of the wardrobe is the bed with a night stand on each side.  The bed is a single one with a Hollywood foot.

On the night stand in the northwest corner is the tape recorder.  In the southwest corner is my air freight packing box.

I’m sitting at a modern design white oak desk facing the stove.  A bare electric bulb with a small glass shade above it hangs from the center of the room.  A new table lamp of German manufacture sits on the right corner of the desk.  At night this table lamp sits on the other night stand by the bed.

The major noise outside is the barking of dogs with the occasional crunch of shoes on a gravel walk.  A door slams and a voice calls out in the sharp staccato of Pharsee.  Only then is the Nevada ranch spell broken.

The Staff House is large having some seven rooms and two bathrooms on each floor.  It is built of adobe bricks having walls about 20” thick.  The second floor and ceiling is supported on poplar poles laid edge to edge to make the floor, concrete is poured over the poles.  The ceiling plaster is applied to the underside of the same poles and has a minimum thickness of ½ inch.

The roof of the house is sheet metal and is pitched with hips at the four corners.

There are four of these houses in a row on the western side of the compound.  Two of the houses are used for Staff House quarters, one for the dispensary and the fourth to house the motor pool offices, the property offices, and the visual aid dept.

The entire compound is about 1/8 mile square and is completely enclosed by a mud wall two feet thick and about nine feet high.

The compound is entered by a single gateway in front of the most southerly house; the one I am in.  This gate way is guarded day and night by one or more turbaned Afghans.  After midnight the gate is barred and braced from within.

The office is about ½ mile away in a similar compound in similar houses.  My office is on the ground floor and has a large bay window to the south.

The compounds contain trees and some lawn.  Most have ditches running through them for irrigation.

Kabul is a cosmopolitan city in the same sense that San Francisco and Istanbul are.  Here the races and the tribes of Europe and Asia have met and mixed for centuries.  They were transported here, not by ships of the sea as in the other two cities, but by the ships of the desert. The camels; also by horses and donkeys and by foot.  Today the streets of Kabul contain mixed traffic of cars, trucks, camels, horses, donkeys, cows, sheep, and chickens.

Night before last on my way to a diplomatic reception at the Embassy Residence my car was stopped by a band of sheep being driven across the street under the light of the new German street lamps.

Every morning I am awakened by the braying of the donkeys followed by muffled noises of fire building in the kitchen and the bath rooms.  The wood fired water heaters serve the dual purpose of providing a nice warm bathroom morning ablutions.

Kabul is well policed and unlike most cities outside the U.S.A. the lower floors are not protected by heavy iron bars and iron doors.  Siemans store has show windows of glass which are not covered and are kept lighted at night.  This is unusual in Europe, let alone Asia.

The greatest hazard one encounters walking the streets at night are the huge fierce dogs owned by the nomads who may be spending the night on any open ground in the city.  Some of these dogs look almost like hyenas being markedly larger at the shoulders than at the hips.  They respond only to their masters and evidently don’t understand English.

Monday 20 Oct. ’58 I accompanied the Continental Allied study team (Bennett, Burris etc.) to Gulbahar to see the huge textile mill being built there.  Gulbahar is about 50 miles north of Kabul.  The valley between here and there looks much like the Owens Valley in California except that it has much more water and is much more productive.  Grapes are raised in abundance.  Some are marketed fresh and others are dried for raisins.

Most all fruits, vegetables and grains are grown in this valley as was some cotton.  Sheep and cattle are also raised.  Maximum farm size is about seven acres so living is somewhat meager.

At Jabal us Siraj is a small textile plant (53 looms) and a hydro-electric power plant.  This power plant was the first one in Afghanistan and was built before World War I by an American engineer named Jewitt.  If I am not mistaken this man was the husband of Mrs. Jewitt who was Clyde Huston’s secretary and the father of Don Jewitt who used to work for Elmo Di Ricco in the State Engineer’s Office (Please check this when convenient).

Ralph Krause is leaving next Wednesday.  He is taking a tape recording of Afghan music which we made here at the Staff House on our recorder.  He will duplicate it in Palo Alto and will give you a copy and the original.  He will make a second copy which he will take to Sid and Cleo in Washington for us.

Ralph and family will be up to Carson this winter to ski.  His girls are in their early teens and love the snow.  His next door neighbor Tom Morrin – my old school mate at Bowles Hall – has a cabin at Bijou, Lake Tahoe.

I must close now and get to bed.  It is mid-night and the frost is on the pumpkin.

All success to your politicking.  Hope you have a good Nevada Day.  Wish I was there.

All my love,
Your Fred

Going from last to first:  Fred was proud to be a Nevadan, he was a second generation native born Nevadan.  His grandfather first passed through what is now Elko in 1852, went to California and returned about 1859 to settle in the state permanently.  Nevada Day was important to Fred.

Both Morrin and Jewitt (the name may be misspelled) represent Fred’s ongoing preoccupation with “Small world stories”.  The world to him was one big continuous Facebook long before facebook was ever invented.  He did not need the computer or the web, he had an irontrap memory and correlated names and name information constantly.  Of course Tom Morrin lived right next door to Ralph Krause, of course Ralph knew Homer Angelo – Fred’s world was almost always like that, everyone was connected and connected to each other and connected to Fred.  But he had another advantage – Fred and Lloydine really did know a lot of people.

Bowles Hall is in Berkeley, California.  It is on the UC campus and like the Staff House is a residence hall.  Fred’s second love after Small World stories is “interesting places to live”, which includes hotels (The Claridge), Bowles Hall, the ICA Staff House, and a very long list of unique places to temporarily “hang your hat”.

The Owens Valley look alike is where the Bagram Air Base build by the Russians is; now occupied by the American (Nato coalition) Command.   The airfield did not exist in 1958.  Owens Valley was once very fruitful before the water was stolen by the City of Los Angeles (a story partly told in the movie Chinatown).  Some of Fred’s near relatives were well situated in the Owens Valley before LA made its move and were “wiped out” along with many others by the water wars that LA unscrupulously won.

The dogs Fred describes are the “Coochie dogs”, probably the meanest and most powerful attack dogs on earth.  They are very fast and agile and have virtually no neck (a dogs most vulnerable spot).  German Shepherds and Pit Bulls would not stand a chance against a Coochie dog; and Coochie dogs are skilled in teamwork and competition so there is always a race between the “always two” to see who can be the first to take an intruder completely down.

Much of Europe, even Paris, had a tradition of shuttered night windows on shops and businesses.  Virginia City (Nevada) had iron shutters one almost all buildings (you can still see some of them this day).  The practice was widespread in Gold Country and dominated the older buildings in San Francisco.  Istanbul and Cairo and Jerusalem were shuttered cities; Kabul was not.

Much has been made more recently of the “tribalism” of Afghanistan and the “melting pot” of America.  In fact Afghanistan is far more of a melting pot than America is.  The complex genetic mixing of eastern and western peoples inherent to virtually every Afghan is the result of thousands of years of trade, invasions, and conquests beginning long before Alexander the Great’s Greek armies and Roman Empire trade routes that reached to China.  The British armies and those of the Russian Tsars made their mark in mingling with the seeds of Genghis Khan, the Persians, people from the tribes of India.  The racial diversity of what looked almost like the whole world could be found on the streets of Kabul, melded into a soft patina of color that might only be best described as “Afghan”.

I have posted before on the tremendous loss of “quality of life” when one lives there lives without the daily presence of a diversity of animals; animals on the street, not just “dogs or cats” at home.  Animals bring out the best in humanity unless the humans are warped to cruelty.  The Afghans were generally not cruel.  There were no trained snakes like in India, no bears on chains.  There were no bull fights or bear baiting contests like in the Spanish world.  Afghans did not flog their horses like the British; not a “Black Beauty” culture.  Camels were loaded and led, not raced like in Nevada (now) or in Saudi Arabia (then and now).  There was no breeding or stadiums for “Horse racing, “dog racing”, “harness racing”, the mounting of Ostriches – you get my point.  Most Afghan animals helped with the work; but were part of the team that kept the whole society going.  Some animals were of course eaten (Afghans don’t eat pig), but the killing was always done in a religious manner, forms and customs to reduce the waste and pain.  There was of course the problem of the “caracal”, so let’s not assume everything was perfect.

New Mexico even today has many houses built of adobe.  Fort Churchill in Nevada was built of adobe.  Much of Spain and North Africa and India is of adobe.  The Jerusalem of the Arabs and the Jews was mostly adobe; the list goes on and on.  There are different sizes of brick, different mixes, different procedures – some bricks are dried, some fired.  There are important differences in floor and roof design, in the use of corbels, in the way poles are placed, in the way walls all fit together.

The Afghans had adobe architecture pretty much down to a science; arguably they even had earthquake resistant adobe design; not made by engineers, but pieced together by the collective experience of a thousand years of earthquakes so seasonal you know when to expect them.  Adobe compound walls surrounded almost everything, certainly every house and home.  The wall around the Staff House was a full one half mile of adobe construction, as Fred said, “nine feet tall and two feet thick” – tall enough to keep the Coochie dogs out at night.

Kenneth (Ken Clayton) worked as a golf caddy and lived at Glenbrook in the caddy shack during the summer of 1957.  The Glenbrook Golf Course was (and I believe still is) one of the most exhilarating courses to play in the world.  Many expert golfers in California preferred Glenbrook to Carmel (Pebble Beach).  The stationery Fred used for this letter was collected by Ken and a few sheets taken to Afghanistan by Fred.

In India they call intestinal distress “Delhi Belly”, some call it “The Trots”.  In Mexico it is “Montezuma’s Revenge”.  There are a hundred different colloquialisms for this essentially same disease.  What Fred really had was “Kabul Tummy (the KT‘s)”; but then if he got it in Amritsar, maybe Delhi Belly would be “closer” to the truth; check the mileage or test the water.  The point is that one can not necessarily drink the water without boiling it at high boil for a full twenty minutes – those were the rules then; we have bottled water now.

So Fred finally wrote a real letter, the kind that Lloydine had asked for, the kind of letter Fred could write when he had time, the motivation, and was not sick.  It’s the kind of letter everyone wants to receive or read from overseas; descriptions, color, narrations about how good life can be when life is really different; not the same stores, gas stations, streets and lawns – the joy of having new and different neighbors.  And Fred wrote the letter to be shared and read, his own words, so now I share this letter with you.  It makes you want to go there (to Afghanistan) doesn’t it?  It made me want to go.  The irony of course is that what Fred loved so much about Afghanistan as stated in this letter is what he was there to forever change.

It’s like a sand mandala of the Hopi or of Tibet; first you create the beauty, then you see it, then ones hand moves and takes it all away.

So now we can not go there.  Not really see it like it was.  We can only “go back” in our minds; see pictures, read letters, imagine the way it was.  And maybe we can imagine too the way it could be; if things were different; if the Afghans and if Afghanistan had been just left alone.

The Post Office is nearby where one might buy some stamps – Kabul street scene in October of 1958.

ICA Staff House – one of four buildings – and the ICA Staff House lawn – Kabul – October 1958.

This was the day the Afghan musicians would play.  It was a course in Afghan music, probably never recorded before, but maybe.  Just in case Fred had the Norelco ready.  The tape recorder can be seen on the table to the right.  Ralph Krause will take the tape to Washington D.C. and Stanford.

The USOM Staff House lawn was a lovely place, the acordian is not native to Afghanistan, the other instruments are.

Everyone wore a karakul hat then; it was more western than the turban, helped foreign trade, went well with western suits and western shoes.  The camel drivers were not invited to this event – they could not afford the clothes.

An Afghan meat market – Jabal us Siraj, Afghanistan – October 1958.

Photograph taken by Fred W. Clayton – This photographic image is copyrighted by Donald Clayton, all rights reserved – first published 2010 on QalaBist.com.

Afghanistan did not have “meat markets”.  It had meat vendors.  The vendor killed his own animals, chopped them up, sold one pieces the size and shape they wanted.  Each purchase was weighed with a scale – everything was fair.  If you don’t trust this man shop someplace else.  No pork was ever sold, just cow and sheep and some said the occasional goat.  What you cannot see in this picture are the ever present wasps (attracted to the raw meat).  This man will never get stung, but most others hurry along with their transactions.  These pants and shoes and turban are Afghan wear, not western.  The coat; well it is a coat that could go anyway – on or off like a simple beard.

Project Identity 720 ——————————————————————————————————————————————————————       [1] 35:069 – Asia – Afghanistan – Parwan Province –
Jabul us Siraj – 

This photograph was taken on (or about) October 20, 1958 by an American engineer in Afghanistan.  The identity of the person pictured is unknown.  If you have any information regarding this person or his family please E-Mail this website.

2010.04.02 – 22:31.

Watched the cannon fired at noon

October 18th, 1958

This is Post #26 in the new Series “Going to Afghanistan”.

If anything is enclosed this letter will be sent by ordinary mail
Red, green, and black aviation letter outline – Postes Afghanistan 5 Af. Stamp – DC-3 over Kabul (blue)

Addressed to:
Mrs. Fred W. Clayton
405 N. Roop St.
Carson City, Nevada

Senders name and address:
Fred W. Clayton
c/o USOM / Afghanistan
Kabul, Afghanistan

To open cut here

18 Oct. ’58 Sat.

Dear Ones,

Your letter came Thursday (your 3rd letter according to your note) and I thoroughly enjoyed it.    The second one is enroute I guess.  Congratulations on your lawn project.

Congratulations to you Ken on your Merit Exam qualification.

Burris and Bennet arrived Thurs.  They tried to contact you in Wash. D.C. before leaving not remembering you were in Carson City.  They send their best regards.

Wed. night Snyders gave a reception for me.  More Afghans attended than ever before.  It was fun.  Wish you were here.

Walked almost up to the Wall yesterday.  Sat on the hill with Ralph Krause and watched the cannon fired at noon.  More later.

I love you so very much and miss you! – Every day am busy.

All my love,
Your Fred.

Notes:  The “Wall” refers to the Kabul Wall, the wall that went from “the fort” on the western side of Koh-I-Sher Darwaza to the much larger fort of Bara-Hi-Sar (Bara Hi Sar) on the eastern side of the mountain.  The wall itself dates to the 5th Century (500 AD).  The Bara Hi-Sar became quite famous during the Afghan Wars and is discussed in the book “The High Pavilions”.  The Kabul Wall remains were largely intact in 1958 and a portion of the wall, less frequently visited, went up the Koh-I-Azamai, the mountain opposite the Koh-I-Sher.  The Kabul River flows through the defile between these two mountains.  In the old days (whenever the old days were) there was a gate (the Western Gate of Kabul) at this point restricting and controlling access to the city.  In 1958 the lower sections of the Kabul wall and the entire gate were gone.  A Russian gas station, one of three gas stations serving all of Kabul, was built upon the site of the old gate.  The second gas station was at the base of the Bala Hissar (fort).

The old part of Kabul, the original city, was located along and mostly south of the Kabul River, east of the Western Gate, in the valley north of the Koh-I-Sher; the city extended east to the Bara Hi-sar from where the wall once ran north and eventually encircled the earlier city.  The Koh-I-Azamai was (is) the mountain that separates Kart-I-Chor (pronounced Cart-I-Char) and Shar-I-Nau (pronounced Sher-I-Now).  “Nau” means new, and Shar-I-Nau literally means “new city”.  The area comprising Kart-I-Chor lay outside of and to the further west of the Western Gate.

The USOM Staff House (International Cooperation Administration (ICA) – USOM /Afghanistan) where Fred is staying was located in a compound east of Duralaman Boulevard (which for its entire length was still dirt) about one mile (road distance) from the Western Gate.  The United States Embassy in Kabul was located in Shar-I-Nau about one mile due north of the Russian Embassy.  The Russian Embassy (CCCP) was strategically located just east of the Western Gate in the oldest part of Kabul.  Basically one could not go east or west in Kabul, by car or walking, without passing the Soviet Embassy.  All gas, even the gas used by the Americans, was from the Soviet Union and had to be purchased at one of the three “Russian” built stations.

The ruins of the wall started above the leveled remains of the western fort.  This flattened area overlooking many of the important parts of Kabul was where the noon-day gun was located; the advantage of this location being the fact that the gun could be heard throughout most all of Kabul, old and new, east and west as the blast from the two or three hundred year old cannon reverberated against the mountain walls and sailed through the crisp blue skies directly.  It was a sight and a sound not easy to forget; but all those new to Kabul always heard the sound first, many never ventured up the mountain to see the site.  Fred did, and he took pictures too.

2010.03.26 – 22:34.

I bought a caracal hat

October 14th, 1958

This is Post #25 in the new Series “Going to Afghanistan”.

If anything is enclosed this letter will be sent by ordinary mail
Red, green, and black aviation letter outline – Postes Afghanistan 5 Af. Stamp – DC-3 over Kabul (blue)

Addressed to:
Mrs. Fred W. Clayton
405 N. Roop St.
Carson City, Nevada

Senders name and address:
Fred W. Clayton
c/o USOM / Afghanistan
Kabul, Afghanistan

To open cut here

Tuesday 14 Oct. ’58

My Beloved,

I’m sending my pay check under separate cover.

Sunday I visited the bazaar with Ralph Krause.  I bought a caracal hat.  My first Afghan purchase.

I have my small scissors here so no problem.  Such things can be purchased here so we shouldn’t worry.  If you need some buy them.

The days here are beautiful like yours are.  Wish we were together.

Must close for this time.
All my love.
Your Fred.

Notes:  The scissor problem is solved.  There are more things in the bazaars of Afghanistan than might be imagined; things come in by truck and by camel; some things are made here (there), like money (in this case Fred‘s salary that was supposed to go to Carson City, but didn‘t, but now it is (going).

This brings us to the “caracal” hat.  I spelled it so in an earlier post (now corrected); it is a phonetic spelling, but the word spelled this way refers to a cat, not the fat-tailed species of sheep special to Afghanistan.

The real word is “karakul” (karakul hat), the young it is said having black fleece, the adults brown or grey.  That is what Webster’s says – it’s wrong.  Anyone who has ever owned an Afghan vest knows most of them are white, brown is rare; I’ve seldom seen a grey one.  The young karakul do come in black (black hats from unborn sheep), but brown is more common (I owned a brown one), grey is fairly common too, sometimes almost a silver.

One does not see these Afghan hats too often anymore; Karsai wears one, like the King did, most American men and boys bought them.  It made them look more Afghan, feel more Afghan, think more Afghan.  It was either a hat or a turban and Americans were not very good with turbans.  The cloth was too long.  The winding round and round was boring.  The skull cap never came in the right color; too green, too white, too much gold or too many sequins.  There was not that much dust in Kabul, the Karakul hat would work.  It worked for Fred.  I think even Ralph Krause bought one.

Two weeks in Kabul, one purchase – not bad.

Loading a camel – Kabul bazaar – October 1958.

Poplar tree poles used for diverse constructions are in the background.  Shell Oil gas cans are to the right.

Gaudees (horse drawn taxis) waiting while people walk – Kabul street – October 1958.

The Gaudee was a luxury, it sat up to four with the driver, sometimes six would be carried, but that was very rare.  The top went up only for rain, most gaudee drivers never used the cloth top – it was Kabul in the sun and the horse always seemed to outrun the dust.  Kabul was mostly pedestrian, Karakul hats and turbans.

Camels carrying straw – Kabul, Afghanistan October 1958.

The straw of course was used for bricks, for fodder, for chickens or ducks or making mats or a hundred other things – but mostly for bricks.  The camels appreciate this lighter load, you can tell by their smiles and their demeanor.  Life is simpler on the streets of Kabul when one finally learns to read the camels.

Londonee House at the base of the northern lion – Kabul by the Kabul river with the old Kabul wall in the background – October 1958.

Pedestrians, a gaudee, the occasional bicycle and plenty of space on the paved street – this was the way it was as one looked west from the old city part of Kabul.

2010.03.23 – 22:35.

I walked up to the old fort overlooking the Kabul River

October 8th, 1958

This is Post #21 in the new Series “Going to Afghanistan”.

This letter is written on lined 8 x 10½ (European A7) sized stationary.  There are 27 blue-green lines per page on each sheet.  The letter is five sheets long.  The original envelope is gone, probably recycled or cut up or otherwise scavenged for its many Afghan stamps; the King, Bamian, Qala Bist, Ariana aircraft in the air – the pages, each, are numbered; soon we will be at number One.

Addressed to:
Mrs. Fred W. Clayton
405 N. Roop St.
Carson City, Nevada

Senders name and address:
Fred W. Clayton
c/o USOM / Afghanistan
Kabul, Afghanistan

Kabul, Afghanistan
Wed. 8 Oct. 1958

My Darlings,

It is 8:20 P.M. and I’m sitting in the lounge of the Staff House writing on my knee while listening to “Oklahoma” on our tape recorder.

Mr. Richardson the manager of the staff house just walked out.  He teaches economics at Kabul University and is from Harvard Graduate School of Economics.

Sitting beside me is Ralph Krause of Stanford Research Institute who is a good friend of Homer Angelo.  Please send Ralph’s regards to Homer.

Two other fellows are playing chess.  One was in Peru and Bolivia before coming here and the other is from England.  Small cozy world.

The “coup d’etat” in Pakistan was a surprise but in light of the Burma situation was not surprising to see.  Our transport through Pakistan will not be affected as per present reports.

I’ve been here in Kabul a week today.  It seems more like a month when measured in terms of being away from you and the number of things that have happened.

I have sent three rolls of film home to you.  One from Hong Kong, one from here last Tues. and one in Saturday’s mail.  I don’t feel I’ve done too well with the pictures so please give me a critique.  I took pictures in Hong Kong to show changes and progress.  In Tokyo the weather was terrible.  The pictures from the plane represent an effort to capture a waterfall in Laos, the mighty Mekong and some hills in Burma.

The pictures taken last Friday on my trip down the Kabul River gorge were taken under some extreme dust conditions so more than one may be ruined.

Today started off with an important meeting with Ambassador Mills.  This lasted until noon when I returned to the Staff House for lunch.

This afternoon I conferred with Mr. Coverly, Deputy Director on Helmand Valley matters.  Mr. Coverly is Stanford ‘24 and lives in Sausalito, Calif.  He is finishing his tour here and is being replaced by Mr. Thomas.

I looked at a house this afternoon.  It is the best one they have and is classed as “representational”.  Mr. Joaninni with whom we talked in Washington assures me that I won’t find a better one so I’m bidding on this one.  It has the things we want:  Upstairs bedrooms, fireplace, electric pump, electric hot water heater, proximity to the office, a pleasant yard that is not too big and adequate rooms in which to entertain.

Now I’m tired and sleepy so will go to bed and finish this later.

Friday (Muslim Sabbath)
10 Oct. 1958

I’m still unpacking my air freight.

Last night I had dinner with Mr. & Mrs. Evans.  He is Program Officer for the Mission and she works for mail and files.

This morning Ralph Krause and I walked up to the old fort overlooking the Kabul River where it passes thru the hills that divide Kabul.  I should have said “climbed” instead of walked as the mountain is steep.

The valley around Kabul is similar to the valley around Phoenix and Ralph thinks has the same potential if it is promoted.  The mountains here are closer and higher.

This afternoon Ralph and I are having tea with the Coverley’s.

This country is extremely picturesque.  Scenes out of the Bible turn up around every corner.  The other morning as I walked out the front door to go to work a group of donkeys loaded with stones for a small bridge came in the compound gate.  Later on as I walked to work more donkeys went by loaded with four fifteen foot poles each.  Then came a tribal family on the move with donkeys and cows carrying firewood, food, utensils, clothing, blankets, rugs, straw, hay, and chickens.

The chickens sit on the packs on the donkeys and ride along just as if they were sitting on a nest.  I’ve even seen chickens and turkeys on the camel packs.

Of course this tribal family was also driving their fat-tailed sheep.

Last Saturday the Afghans played Bushkuzi for Voroshiloff (Voroshilov) of Russia who was visiting here on a “state” visit.

I must quit now and go to tea.  I’ll finish this tonight.  I’ve had only one letter from you and one from Mother.  I hope I get mail tomorrow.

Enjoyed tea at Coverley’s and decided to wait about bidding on a house.  There are some new ones being built that should be considerably better.

Some of the folks here asked me to take the tape recorder to the lounge again tonight.  I did and it was thoroughly enjoyed.  I couldn’t have thought anything better.  PLEASE BRING MORE TAPES – MORE MUSIC.

Back to “Bushkuzi”
Literally translated this word means “pull the goat”.  The carcass of a freshly killed goat is placed in a circle at one end of the field.  At the other end of the field is a pole.  The object of the game is to snatch the goat out of the circle, carry it down the field around the pole and place it back in the circle.  Two or more teams of horsemen compete, racing their horses to the circle, picking the goat off the ground without dismounting and then passing it from teammate to teammate as they ride down the field, around the pole and back.  The opposition tries to capture the goat and return it to the circle.  The winner of a round is the team that returns the goat to the circle regardless of who carries it around the pole.

In the stadium here in Kabul only two teams of about fourteen horsemen each were used on a field about 200 yards long.  In the country this is played with three or four teams of 100 horsemen each on a field half a mile long.

The whole result is something akin to a game of ice hockey and horseback with no holds barred!

Saturday about 30,000 people or more came out to see the game.  Ken, I think you and I should organize a team!??  This takes real horsemanship and tough men.  The horses rear and plunge knocking riders off and leaving hoof prints on men and horses.  The goat carcass gets pulled and tugged at until it sometimes it comes a part where upon another carcass is provided.  This is where you take the lost puck home to roast.

The whole affair is extremely exciting especially when the horsemen chase right into the crowd.  Then the doctor patches up the wounded but the game goes right on.

I must close now and get to bed.  Remind me to tell you about flying back to Amritsar because we were not permitted to land before Voroshiloff arrived.

I love you so very much.  Sweet dreams.
Your Fred & Father.

Notes:  Finally Fred writes a real letter, but he has been busy – Bridge and Bushkuzi, Chess and Ambassador Mills and Ralph Krouse from SRI carousing about the potential of Kabul and a “Hi” to Homer for you.  You will hear more about Thomas in the days and months to come; Phoenix with Russians and Fred observes that it’s like scenes out of the Bible.  One might wonder which Bible it is that he has been reading.

But there are two stories here; one is about Afghanistan and the other is more about the players; not the Afghans and their beheaded goat game played with horses, but the other game, the Great Game delayed and now played on a field as large as the state of Afghanistan itself, or larger – you will see.

The “fort” to which Fred walked is at the Koh-I-Sher Darwaza; the west end of the mountain is the historic gate to the city, a fort was there (once).  The surviving city wall wending and winding up the mountain dated to the 5th century A.D.; the fort may have been older, nothing left now but a platform for the Noon Day gun, a giant cannon fired daily at noon and at sunset during Ramadan and maybe other times of special note; daily cannon fusillade echoing against the canyon, reverberating against the city walls, pouring out across the valley; not so much the Phoenix that I know, but that does not make Ralph Krouse wrong.

The Bible is a book of many things.  Fred does not mean the flood; not the garden (no Eden, no snake); not the Babylon exile or Jonah and the Whale (land-locked country); not sons sacrificed instead of goats; not crucifixions lining the roads like locusts.  He means more the manger scene; flocks by night, camels and sheep and donkeys standing by and stars so bright at night that there is no “up” to heaven and a land so free of modern contraptions that one could almost believe that two thousand years of history did not exist, had vanished from the minds of men; that the earth could start again here and this time be free; free of so much wasted time and human sorrow.  He was my father, and a good son knows what his father might be thinking.

The fat-tailed sheep are native to Afghanistan, karakul, the skins of Paris fashion then; tight curled fleece of lamb, unborn lamb cut out of the mothers womb and made into Afghan caps like the King wore, fine Afghan vests , fine Paris stoles, mufflers, hats.  This was Paris fashion before Chacheral and during and after Coco and what one might have worn to Tiffany’s in New York for breakfast.  The caracal industry was Afghanistan’s major export; killed the mother, not just the lamb; a wasteful product, but valuable, export dollars (Afghanis), money to make the nation grow, trade with the west – that is what it IS all about, trade and commerce and lambs to the slaughter before they’re even born.

The fat tails of the sheep carry another useful product, Rogon.  It is an oil, not like butter but more like Crisco or engine grease or something thick that one might eat if they don’t have margarine made from corn, but corn is oil now like they put into cars so maybe rogon is not that different after all.  The tails of the sheep were speared (not spared), the rogon came dripping out, was collected saved and used for cooking not in all the Afghan foods, but many.  Lucky lamb that lived to serve the Rogon from its tail, better fate than fashion.

There are now pick-up trucks in Afghanistan, Toyota trucks and Datsuns, and Nissans and they’re all about Japan mostly; the oil to drive them is from Arabia mostly, some from Iran, some from what was the Soviet Union I guess; not much from California or Texas; like Indonesia the fields are too far away.  But in 1958 the “trucking” transportation was still local, donkeys mostly and more donkeys.  Donkeys carried everything; people, tools, bricks and mud and like Fred said, stones.  Donkeys carried poles and beds and furniture and one could live on donkeys and burn in stoves and ovens what they dropped (donkey doo, dried it makes a pretty good fire it’s carbon but it’s organic and it’s green (when wet), brown when dried.

The camels were the long haul haulers; they organized in caravans like a convoy; life not just lights.  Camels are not as fast as trucks but they don’t have to pay the taxes, no registrations, no drivers license, no drugs and DWI issues and no plowing into small unparked cars, no killing on the road like the trucks do.  Camels don’t require infrastructure, no asphalt, no cement, no toxic paints to paint the stripes that define the lanes that always seem “over” when it comes to trucks, no mirrors, no one ever is gaining on you when ones driving a camel; you’re always out ahead; always in the clear and no truck stops and truck stop sallies; just stars and a really open road from Rome to China, paved with silk all the way maybe.

Sweet dreams.

The Marco Polo Bridge and ICA Staff House compound - Kabul, Afghanistan

Kart-i-chor (Kart-i-char) – Kabul, Afghanistan in 1958 showing the Marco Polo Bridge and the valley beyond.

This remarkable photograph by Fred W. Clayton shows the Marco Polo Bridge (in Kabul, not China) and the ICA Staff House compound beyond that (white two-story buildings to the upper right) and Darulaman Avenue just beyond the Staff House buildings.  Legend says that this was the bridge that Marco Polo crossed to enter Kabul on his way to China.

Looking toward Kabul from the noon cannon - 1958

Looking north toward Shar-i-Nau (New City) from the gun platform of Kabul’s “noon day gun”.

Cannon of this capacity were only museum exhibits in the rest of the world in 1958.  In Afghanistan this cannon was still in condition to fire the noon day shot (only powder, however, as it was said).  The cannon was also used to herald the beginning (or ending) of each day of Ramadan.  The Kabul Wall (dating to the 5th Century) can still be seen wending its way up the hill in the upper right corner of the picture.

Fred W. Clayton and Afghans who joined him at the cannon.

Looking north toward Shar-i-Nau and the ancient Kabul Wall Fred Clayton appears in his blue shirt with four Afghans who were “just there”.

This photograph of Fred was taken by Ralph Krause who was with Fred that day on this “long walk up” to the Kabul cannon.

The most honored job in Kabul, the man who fired the noon day gun.

The Lion’s Gate is to the left of the left hand of the cannoneer.  You may think it’s right, but this man called the shots.

This photograph by Fred Clayton of the man that was charged with firing and taking care of the cannon is very rare.  He generally refused all pictures and there were few who walked up then to take pictures.  In 1959 I walked up to the cannon three times and I (Donald Clayton) never even saw the man except at a great distance.  He was easily the most revered man in Kabul, more important probably than the Mayor, maybe than the King.  The King of Afghanistan was more accessible – he had office hours and an office always open to all Afghans down in the city where it was flat (without the long hard climb).  200,000 – 300,000 people (virtually everyone in Kabul) set their daily schedules or their clocks by this man’s flawless decisions.

[Post originally written:  2010.03.20 / I walked up to the old fort overlooking the Kabul River]

The Kabul River Gorge

October 4th, 1958

This is Post #15 in the new Series “Going to Afghanistan”.

Fred Clayton kept a diary of sorts as well as the record contained in letters.  The pages were 4 x 6½ inches in size, preprinted with the year and date and for 1958 the names of Catholic Saints associated with certain days, not that he was Catholic – but the diaries sold in 1958 in America had this built-in flavor of religion.

October 2nd was the 275th day of the year (the diary tells us), there are “90 days to come”.  These are reassuring words for someone just arrived in Afghanistan, or not, as 90 days (three months) is not a great deal of time to accomplish that task which one has been given.  Maybe the diary is only for “this year” and does not mean what the words seem to say.  Nevertheless, Fred notes his “1st Staff meeting of USOM Afghanistan”, he abbreviates the word Afghanistan.  That night he has dinner “@ Fox & Price – Reunion of International Club of Amritsar”.

The 3rd of October is dedicated to St. Theresa.  “Went down Kabul River gorge to Bridge site with Bill Shaw of E.B. Steel Co.”  He returned to a Staff House Italian dinner – Neapolitan Nights as it was billed.

Saturday October 4th – St. Francis of Assisi – Fred took administrative leave to see a game of Buzkaski, “the dragging of the goat”.  He notes that the “King and Voroshiloff (were) there”.

Each person in life chooses what he or she may see as important, noteworthy, worth remembering or writing about.  For Fred it was mostly about the people, eating was almost as important as engineering, lastly came events.  The makes and models of cars made little difference as did the clothes that people wore.  His pictures told that story better than all the incantations of the followers of tailors.  But Fred expected people to be properly dressed and expected his dress to be equally proper.  The “Staff” wore coats and ties at dinner at the Staff House then, the evening meal was observed more in the British tradition, a formality that might end each day.

I have posted about Bush-ka-shi, the national sport of Afghanistan.  It is not at all like football, not like football at Notre Dame and certainly not a sport that the patron saint of San Francisco would have wildly endorsed, but that alone does not make Bush-ka-shi bad.  What you see here is world’s colliding; the Afghan King and the Soviet President enjoying sports while the Americans can only watch and meet in meetings and take International Harvester Carry-alls down the Kabul Gorge to visit bridge sites on the road to the Khyber Pass and to Peshawar in Pakistan.  But first one must go as far as Jalalabad where the river widens and the gorge has ended and there is a plateau reaching toward the Pakistan border.  Fred did not go that far this trip.

There are three holy days in each week; depending upon ones religion.  Friday is the Sabbath of Islam, Saturday the Sabbath of the Jews and the Adventists, Sunday is holy to the Catholics and some other Christian faiths.  In Afghanistan one had Friday and Sunday off.  Saturday was a work day, or a school day if one were young.  Every week had a “three day weekend” with a little work wedged in-between; the system worked well once one became used to it.

It was upon the holiday of Fred’s first Friday in Afghanistan that he went down the Kabul Gorge to see a bridge being built across the water.  The Kabul Gorge is like an untamed Khyber Pass for those that have or have not seen it.  It is like the “Million Dollar Highway” in Colorado only with lanes half as wide and the same absence of guardrails or block walls or rock obstacles to help keep one on their footing.  The gorge is an ancient route through which countless armies and countless missionaries have ebbed and flowed and walked and carried and carted their way to “march on India” or “march from India” to the unknown world beyond from where all things  first flowed, or so goes the myth of Ariana, land of the Aryans, the people of the global heartland as Humboldt called the space, some call it “waste”, the vastness of central Asia.

The Hindus came, according to the legends, through the Kabul Gorge to settle India and to bring civilization to those more southern shores.  The British first invaded Afghanistan and then retreated through this same canyon of the river.  Every mile meant another 50 lost, it is a formidable place to pass.

In peace the flow of maybe millions would mark the canyons passing as each spring the wandering people of what seemed like all of central Asia would follow the river uphill and west from the valley of the Indus to regain the mountain pastures of their ancient home.  But that was before customs points and border crossings and checkpoints and military fortifications with barbed wire and machine gun nests and pill boxes and all the things that made the modern Khyber Pass impassable into Pakistan; but in Afghanistan the way still was free.

Almost everything American came into Afghanistan through the Khyber Pass and the Kabul Gorge.  It came by way of Peshawar.  It came in first by sea through Karachi, then made its way north by rail or by truck, then things were sorted out in Peshawar and the trucks bound for Afghanistan were loaded.  From Peshawar they were Afghan trucks, those from Pakistan would not usually venture up the Kabul Gorge.

The Russians were building all the roads into Afghanistan from the north, from mother Russia, from places like Bukhara, Samarkand, and Tashkent.  The Americans were building (or rebuilding) the roads into Afghanistan from Pakistan, from (old) India, the old colonial highways that the British were not invited to build as the memories of earlier invasions were still too fresh.

The Gorge Highway was not paved then; it was gravel or it was rock, but it was getting better with every day and every new bridge and every new turn-out and every new passing lane and every new rock retaining wall built by the hands of a thousand Afghans breaking rock with hammers and laying up the rocks and building walls a hundred or more feet high though they were measured in meters; Afghanistan was officially metric then, like America was; but Afghanistan really meant it in 1958 while America was still playing at measuring the world in “English” lengths.

With Mr. Shaw of EB Steel in tow one might think the bridge that Fred went to see was made of steel, not wood.  I think that that is the point.  It wasn’t.  It wasn’t made of steel.  It was made of wood.  It would be Fred’s first picture from Afghanistan, two men sawing wood the old fashioned way, long saw – working together.  This was their country after all; “who needed EB Steel?” he might have thought, but at the time he did not say.

Note:  Fred’s grandfather, Warren Shelton Clayton, was among other things a carpenter.  He helped build the first bridge in the State of Nevada, made of wood, crossing the Carson River near the site of Fort Churchill.  Pony Bob Haslam crossed this bridge just before bringing the news of Lincoln’s election to the telegraph at Fort Churchill.  By 1958 the bridge had been replaced by a newer one made of steel.

Kabul, Afgh.
Sat. 4, Oct.  ‘58

My Beloved,

Just a note to say it is Saturday and I love you so very much!

Yesterday was a day off and I went 40 miles down the Kabul River along the Kabul-Torkum road to see the bridge construction.

I’ll describe all this later.  I planned to do it last night but had to go to bed to keep warm.  No fires in the Staff House yet and the last three nights have been freezing.  Today the stoves go up so we should be more comfortable and I can sit up and write.

Stamps are very hard to get here.  I hope you got the cable O.K.

All my love
Your Fred.

Bill Shaw of E.B. Steel in the Kabul Gorge - 1958

Fred Clayton’s first photograph taken in Afghanistan.  It shows Bill Shaw of E.B. Steel standing by the “retaining wall construction” in the Kabul Gorge (an ICA – USOM/A, project).  An E.B. Steel Jeep is in the background.  Bill is standing there (in the picture) for a sense of scale, important to an engineer for communicating well with pictures.

First Bridge going east in the Kabul River Gorge - 1958

All of the rock retaining walls and bridges were constructed with the native rock within the gorge, by Afghans, each stone laid by hand.  The water is probably at its lowest in October; the snow melt of the last year is almost over and the new water of the next winter has not yet begun to fall.

New Kabul Gorge road alignment

The retaining walls and handful of new bridges enabled a much improved road alignment that reduced the danger from rock slides and kept the roadway consistantly much higher above the river during the spring torrents that traditionally often closed the earlier road.  Resolved too were issues of “grade” which made the road much more efficient for both buses and trucks – the camels didn’t really care.

Second Bridge down the Kabul River Gorge - 1958

Second Bridge down the Kabul River Gorge under construction in 1958.

The poles are from the Lombardy poplar trees that originally came to Afghanistan from the Roman Empire in the time of the early empire.  The trees were fairly plentiful in Afghanistan (after at least 2,000 years) in 1958 and were used in the building of just about everything.  An Afghan is standing on the bridge (for scale) in perfect posture.  The Afghan near the river below is apparently washing his feet in preparation for prayer.  Religion on the job was taken for granted as a right in Afghanistan.

Men sawing - Kabul Gorge - October 1958

Men sawing – perhaps Fred Clayton’s favorite photograph from all his time in Afghanistan.

Fred W. Clayton had only been in Afghanistan for three (3) days.  He was quickly learning who the Afghans were and how they worked.  They could build bridges “in the middle of nowhere” with just the raw timber, a simple saw, a pair of hands, rock and a hammer and chisel.  The secret of course was working together.  Previously unpublished Fred Clayton photograph – October 3, 1958.“Tea House through Tunnel” - 1958 - Kabul Gorge, Afghanistan

About half way down (or up) the Kabul Gorge was a small rock Tea House safely nestled against the towering cliffs and located between two tunnels.

Qala Bist (as a website) is about Tea and Coffee – Wine and Water and all the transformations that those drinks can bring.  Pictured is not the Tea house of the August Moon; but perhaps it is even better, more far away, maybe even more exotic.  They haven’t made a movie about this place with a sympathetic portrayal of its people; but there is time left.  We’ll see.

Note:  Both the Afghan paper currency (“Afghanis”) and the postage stamps for Afghanistan were printed by the British.  The stamps were not only scarce in Kabul, they were rare in America.  An unknown number of letters were stolen while in the custody of the USPS by employees wishing to get the stamps.  The problem was virtually eliminated by writing “please forward” on the letter-envelope underneath the stamp.  A number of letters arrived “forwarded”, but without the Afghan postage (stamps).  The “Staff House” was the USOM Staff House operated by the United States Mission to Afghanistan.  USOM staff members who were not married or did not qualify for family housing generally were quartered at the Staff House located to the east of Duralamon Avenue.

[First posted:  2010.03.09 / TuesdayThe Kabul River Gorge]

Arrived Safely

October 2nd, 1958

This is Post #14 in the new Series “Going to Afghanistan”.

Western Union Telegram from Kabul

Western Union telegram – Kabul via Mackay:

Kabul via Mackay Oct 2 1630

Mrs. Fred W. Clayton
405 North Roop St Carson City Nev

:Arrived safely in Kabul Wednesday =
Fred ==

(received) 1958 Oct 3 AM 8 29

It was uncertain how long it would take an air letter to make its way from Kabul, Afghanistan to Carson City, Nevada in 1958.  There may have never before been an air letter from Kabul to Carson City.  Foreign travel, especially by air and especially to the less visited nations was not assumed to be essentially safe as it is now.  Airplane crashes were much more numerous per passenger mile.  The Hollywood production of “Around the World in 80 Days” reinforced the notion that travel disaster may be as close as a mickey in ones drink while they drank in Hong Kong or Singapore, if not Calcutta or even Delhi; although “New” Delhi was supposedly much safer.

It must be remembered that you as a reader know much more about Fred and Fred’s whereabouts during these last several days, perhaps the last week, than did his own wife and family.  International telephone calls then were expensive (say $50 per minute by today’s standards) and so were not generally used.  There was no such thing as a sense of entitlement regarding telephone conversations.  The alternative to the telephone for almost instant communication was the telegram, although as you see by the above example the telegram traversing half the world was hardly instant.

How instant can easily be ascertained by finding out the time zone in Kabul and comparing it to the time zone in Carson City and subtracting (or adding) the hours between; make sure to note what day it is in Kabul when you think you know the date in Carson City – the International Dateline thing.  P.S. note that Afghanistan has no “standard time” (or did not in 1958).  These things make comparisons difficult.  I did a post once on the theory of “Mecca time” without going into the political implications and religious issues that make the discussion of time so important and may make the questions about, “how instant are telegrams” seem a little less important.

Telegrams come in two forms, “wire” and “wireless”.  The end result was a piece of paper 5½ x 8 inches in size with the Company Name and Logo at the top and a box below where strips of teletype paper were glued to the cheap Kraft paper that constituted the form.  Telegraph messages were always in ALL CAPS and the message had dozens of numbers and letters preceding each message that had to do with routing and transaction identifications  and payment codes, not unlike the credit card slip of today, but much more cryptic.  One paid by the word, each word was expensive, talk was not cheap and so the goal was clarity in brevity.

In the best of all worlds a telegram would be received at the telegraph office and after it was cut out by hand with scissors and pasted to the form a Western Union operator would then telephone the recipient and read them the message; this assumes that the recipient had a telephone and that Western Union could find the number.  In either event the hard-copy message would then be dispatched by delivery truck (or bicycle) to the actual address where the recipient lived or worked as stated in the telegram itself.  The message was always enclosed in an envelope with a cellophane window that showed the name and address.

People alive then (adults) were used to sending and receiving telegraphic messages most commonly regarding deaths, second was births, third was probably marriages, and forth was the “arrived safely” telegram.  One never knew what the message was until the envelope was torn open; which is why so few envelopes survive in relation to the surviving telegrams themselves.

There were other telegraph companies besides Western Union and there had been still others before them.  Communication systems have always been the natural domain of the engineer.  Roads and railroads and even airplanes were first made feasible and profitable by carrying the mails.  In America it began with the “Boston Post road”.  By 1860 the United States was connected together in its parts only by the horse delivered letter, the Pony Express; but in October of 1860 Carson City was connected to the outside world by telegraph; it was Fred Bee’s telegraph line; it traversed the Sierras with a line running to Sacramento, California.  Actually the line went a little further east than Carson City, it ended in Fort Churchill just a few miles more down the Carson River below the Dead Camel hills.

I don’t know when Lincoln was elected, but I do know when word of the election reached Carson City.  It was November 14th in 1860; and word came by telegraph from Fort Churchill where “Pony Bob” Haslam had just got off his horse to report the news that no one in California yet knew; “Lincoln elected president”.  Of course the “Fred Bee” line changed that in a hurry; no horse drawn delays between Nevada and California then, but it would take another year for the wires west to reach Fort Churchill and connect with the wires east already in place and thus connect the nation with the miracle of the telegraph.  It was a lesson not lost on Mackay.

“Mackay was a miner,” goes the old saw from University of Nevada days.  Fred graduated in Engineering from the University of Nevada, in Reno, in 1939.  A lot of his classes were held in the Mackay Mining Building located at the north end of the Quad; out front was the Gutzon Borglum statute of “Mackay” holding a pick in case you might forget the “miner” part of Mackay’s life; the riches he found on the Comstock Lode, the silver and the gold.  He gave the University its mining school, and gave the school money for many other things too, now mostly forgotten.

Forgotten too was the bigger part of Mackay’s life.  The part that had nothing to do with mining, except that his endeavors called for a lot of copper; copper for wire and zinc for casings and lead to make things waterproof and engineering things that could extend the telegraph under the seas and around the world and make even Kabul, Afghanistan as connected as Carson City was to San Francisco and later to New York even.  That’s where Mackay went after he made his millions, to New York.

The story gets all entangled with the likes of Gould, the exploits of the great failed ship the Great Eastern, the efforts of robber barons to control all communication and Mackay’s efforts to make the world free; but perhaps I exaggerate or pontificate a bit but there is a reason why the man that made Mount Rushmore possible also made this one statute in honor of a miner, a Nevadan, a person alive when only the horse carried communications efficiently.

Perhaps the greatest contribution that Mackay made was to bring the miracle of Marconi’s wireless to a world dominated by the notion of transoceanic and transcontinental wires and cables.  While Gould and Western Union were still stuck in the mentality of land-lines, cables, and sea-cables Mackay went wireless.  The telegraph company that bears his name was the first to set up a system of wireless transmitters and receivers around the world to transmit telegrams where wires had not, nor easily could not be laid.

When Fred walked into the Mackay office in Kabul at 4:30 PM that Thursday afternoon he certainly must have felt at home.  Another Nevadan had been there before him, at least in spirit – Mackay himself never went to Kabul.  At what point Mackay’s wireless message from Kabul met Jay Gould’s land-lined Western Union is anybody’s guess.  But the “cable” did get stopped in Reno, duly noted on the telegram itself, “attempt to deliver from Reno unsuccessful”; but the message left Kabul just fine.

Note:  The “pony” part of the news regarding Lincoln benefited from extra horses and riders and fast riding given the gravity of the “breaking news”.  At the time, even with the hiatus of horses between the wired portions of the country, the news of Lincoln’s election set “an astounding new speed record for long-distance communication.”

The Gutzon Borglum story is interesting, among other activities he designed the flame that flickered in the torch of the Statute of Liberty.  It was John Mackay’s son, Clarence Mackay that commissioned the Borglum statute.  The statute was originally supposed to be situated on the Capitol grounds in Carson City.  The “Mackay School of Mines” building was originally the “Stanford White School of Mines”.  Gutzon, “thought of himself as a Western artist and dreamed of cattle, horses and open spaces.”  See: “Six Wars At a Time” – The Center for Western Studies; Sioux Falls, South Dakota

[First posted:  2010.03.08 / MondayArrived Safely]

I am in Kabul!

October 1st, 1958

This is Post #13 in the new Series “Going to Afghanistan”.

Air tissue writing paper:

Kabul, Afghanistan
Wed. 1 Oct. ‘58

My Darlings,

Here I am in Kabul!  I was met at the airport by Mr. Snyder, Mr. Swanson, Mr. McGuire and Mr. Sharma.

I’m temporarily housed in the V.I.P. quarters of the Staff House.  The evening meal was good so I think everything will be all right.

Everyone is friendly.  Mr. Swanson’s coming to the airport was an excellent beginning!  I’m quite tired as the days of waiting in Amritsar were strenuous.

Friday is the Muslim Sunday as you know so I hope I’ll then have time to write my Amritsar story to you.

Kabul is just as I anticipated.  All ready I feel at home in the high dry climate with the vivid stars and the crisp night.  In fact the night is so cool with no fire I’ll have to go to bed to get warm.

Wish you were here!  However, we’ll have fun anticipating your coming.

Good night.  All my love,
Fred and Father.

ICA - USOM / A - Form welcome letter circa 1958

All the dates are of course wrong, but the letter and the 150 Afs. are a nice touch.  The letter is individually typed, but is still just a form letter.

In the upper left hand corner is the (even then) almost ubiquitous logo for the American presence in Afghanistan – the U.S. Shield with the clasped hands of unity and friendship.  It took many a long time to realize that it was substantially borrowed from the AFL-CIO logo.

Photo permit for Afghanistan - 1958

Afghanistan required a permit if one were to take pictures in the country.  Fred’s was already processed before he got there – through the “Afghan Tourist Organization”.

You can tell by the number how many people were taking photographs of the country then.

2010.03.04 – 22:47.

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