The Life and Times of Bruce Bramson


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July 5th, 2009 Mail to: MYOB@brucebramson.com (if you’re so inclined).


As anyone who has read this blog knows, I wanted to be a locomotive engineer when I was a youngster, but it never happened. So, I spend time around steam whenever I get the chance. This past weekend on the Niles Canyon Railway was terrific fun because there were two locomotives to be admired:

Double-Heading With Two 2-6-2T Locomotives

Double-Heading With Two 2-6-2T Locomotives

Except for getting my face rather sun-burned, it was a fine day and will keep me  satisfied for a while.


This photo was taken in the lab, of which I had just become the Director. It was 1966, just before the end of my brief affair with Cornell. I was 30 years old.

Bruce at 30

Bruce at 30

Within two years, having survived a year of therapy to get over Cornell and nearly a year of harangue from the IRS, I was ready to move on.

It turned out that all applications for employment with PA&E were sent to the Contract Management Office in Vietnam, where the decision was taken to hire me; paperwork was then returned to Lost Angeles for further processing. All this took several months, and I had forgotten I’d even applied. So, when the phone call came, “Do you still want to go to Vietnam”? I thought it over briefly and said “Yes”.

PA&E stood then (and I believe still does) for Pacific Architects and Engineers. They were neither Pacific, nor Architects, nor Engineers, but never mind: they had a contract to provide bodies (which they called personnel, of course) to go to VN “in support of the military”, which is to say, “do things the military did not want to bother with”.

A few days after agreeing to be a candidate for the job over there, I resigned my job, and began to “lighten up”. I ran an ad in the paper, “ECCENTRIC LEAVING THE COUNTRY: EVERYTHING GOES”, which drew more folks than I thought possible to pick over the few oddments I had accumulated up to this time. I sold enough stuff to put together the final payment to the IRS.

One of the items I sold

I really loved this beauty: it was in perfect condition. Also, hopelessly inefficient!

I also sold my beloved Packard 12, similar to this one

Except mine was a limousine: this is a standard sedan.

The Company sent me to a local physician for a physical exam. This consisted of the doctor looking at me as I stood before him fully clothed: “You look healthy,” was all he said, then, “I’ll be right back.” When he returned, he carried a small metal tray with a white cloth on it: on the tray were six hypodermic needles, a sugar-cube of polio vaccine and a small-pox scratcher, and in the next few minutes all eight items had been administered. Three shots in each arm, a small-pox inoculation on one, and a cube-full of polio vaccine on my tongue. It was about 3 in the afternoon.

Yellow Book 1

The record of shots for VN

Yellow Book 2

Record of shots for VN

Holy Jeezus! By evening I could scarcely move either arm. I remember going to Zim’s for a hamburger, and could barely lift it to my mouth. By the time I got home from that, I was running a fever. I called  a friend I knew and told him to being over a “gallon of red”, which he did, and together we got smashed.

A few days later, arms still barely functional, I tossed a few clothes and what little else I still possessed into my Dad’s former car, a nice ‘53 Chrysler, and headed South. I would stay a couple of days with my brother and then be off to Vietnam. It was late January, 1968.

However, thing took a slightly different turn. There were delays. More papers to be filled out. Eventually, my brother dropped me off at LAX early one morning where we were to have an “orientation session”, before departing for for Vietnam. There were about 15 of us at the meeting, where we got “filled in” on almost nothing of any real importance. About ten we walked out to a Pan Am plane and headed out across the Pacific Ocean.

Now, whenever I fly, I watch the waiting crowd and try to guess who my seat-mate will be.  It wouldn’t have mattered if there HAD been a handsome dude there: he would not have wound up seated next to me in any case. Instead, I picked out my seat-mate alright, and, typically, he was old and ugly—and the nicest fellow! He saved my life, in a sense, because he was going back to VN for his third tour with PA&E and his girlfriend there. He went by the name “CA”, had a slow texas drawl and a dry sense of humor. Most importantly, as it turned out, knowing the ropes as he did after three tours gave him an edge on the rest of us who were neophytes.

I saw my first tropical sunrise ever from the airport at Guam, our first stop (for re-fueling). One minute it was dark, and the next it was full sunshine! We had an hour or so on Guam, which was essentially an hour too many. It’s a god-forsaken place, and the passenger terminal was run down and messy. Not soon enough, we were airborne again; next stop Ton-son Nhut airport, Saigon.

Now, I knew there was a war going on and I knew it was going on in Vietnam: but exactly where Vietnam was, I would have been hard-pressed to say. “Somewhere in Indo-China,” if you had asked…


I learned a whole lot in a short time over the next few weeks: some of what I experienced and what I learned will be in the next page of this blog.

Until next time!



Written by Bruce

December 13th, 2009 at 11:08 am

Posted in Trains