Jerry Aagaard:Trans-Siberian Traveler Pen Pal

I contacted my new friend, Jerry, prior to posting my blog regarding how I located him. I wasn’t certain how he felt about having his name floating around the blogosphere.  Having not heard from him when it was time to post it, I omitted it.  I was wrong to do so. Last night I heard from Jerry, and he gave me permission to post his entire name. He also clarified the reason both his father and uncle were employed in the Soviet Union:

Good to hear from you again Karen. No it was not the lack of jobs. The co. my father worked for was National Lead. He was the research chemist for them. While working there he developed tio/2 that became Dutch Boy Paint, the leading paint in the US at the time. National Lead (kind hearted as they were, paid him one dollar for the patent rights since he was being paid to develop things for them!)

Russia was building a paint factory in Yaroslav and asked national lead for assistance in the research dept.They sent my father and Uncle Fred over to set it up, paid them both a healthy salary in dollars plus a good living expense in rubles for a 5 year contract. Oh before I forget, use my last name also, might as well get as much claim to fame as I can! I am out of words for now.—Jerry

 Jerry’s father and uncle came to the Soviet Union at a time when Stalin was trying to quickly industrialize the country.  From what I read in his letters, they were treated well.

Returning to his travel experience back to the United States as told to me in my email correspondence with Jerry:

re: Trans- Siberian 

The only thing I found amusing was the diesel engine and all the first class cars were made in the USA! The rest were box cars with cots or straw mats to just plain straw depending on what class you were in and there were 5 of them. The food was very good for the first four days. The last three I think were leftovers. You sure get tired of trains after 7 days. Boat to Japan was ok. Narrow-gauge rail was wild. They go like hell.  Boat to Seattle was fun. One of the stewards was good at origami and to this day I can still make a bird that when you hold the front legs and pull the tail, the wings flap!

— That’s all for now, Jerry

Another email a few days later answered my questions regarding the length of the trip and whether there were bathrooms on the train.  I had read that there were none-only buckets. Mr. Melamed and Jerry both recalled bathrooms on the cars- at least in first class. Based upon the cost of the ticket, I believe that my father was traveling first class.

Yes there were bathrooms on the first class cars at least. …And my mind is a little hazy. It could well have been a 14 day train ride. One other memory is we befriended a Polish Jew on the Trans-Siberian who was fleeing Poland fearful for his life he would make it thru Russia and Japan to the states. Well he did and we all had a big celebration when we got to Seattle.—Jerry

p.s. I’m really enjoying this. it is more fun that i have ever had on the computer. 

I am so happy that our emails to each other have been equally exciting and I was touched to see how much fun this has been for Jerry.

The remainder of our correspondences has been about his life and family after their return.  Jerry did not recall knowing my family.  However, I found an address in one of my father’s books which showed our two families did, in fact, know each other!

Fred Aagaard

200 Market Street

Perth Amboy, New Jersey

Jerry verified that his uncle did live in Perth Amboy New Jersey.

I just love what I have been able to uncover with the help of the Internet!


About kjw616

I am a genealogy detective. I have already written one book about my Irish family's journey from 19th century Ireland to the United States- a family history sprinkled with personal anecdotes. My second book was intended to be a similar story about my Russian ancestors. Instead, it turned into a tale of just my father's immediate family. It is the tale of what happens when 6 children from New Jersey are moved to the Soviet Union by their Russian-born parents during the Great Depression. It details who lives, who dies, and who is able to return to NJ during a time when leaving the USSR was not an easy endeavor, particularly during World War II and the Cold War. It is my hope that those interested in history during this time period will find this story fascinating as well as those fellow amateur family historians who will learn some of the tools such as, visits to the National Archives, and local libraries I used to uncover this story.
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3 Responses to Jerry Aagaard:Trans-Siberian Traveler Pen Pal

  1. Sheryl says:

    I enjoyed reading this. It’s great that Jerry can give you a first-hand description of the trip on the Trans Siberia railroad.

    • kjw616 says:

      Thanks, Sheryl. It has been fun corresponding with him and it is clear that he is happy to have someone interested in hearing about his recollections of those days. I just wish I had asked those questions of my own father.

  2. Pingback: Pearl Harbor-Did Dad Know? | Do Svidanya Dad

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