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Railroading is it's Core

sunny 75 °F

(Friday) As I mentioned in yesterday's blog, the trip from Pierre, SD to North Platte, NE was lengthy and unexciting with endless prairie. Heading south toward Nebraska I gradually left the prairie and entered hilly country. The land became less fertile and almost semi-arid. Wouldn't you know, that is where I drove through an Indian Reservation. The US government placed these people on the poorest land. As I continued southward I came upon the Sandhills of Nebraska, a sandy soil region unsuitable for farming. I read where the rains drain through the soil into a giant underground aquifer lake 300' beneath the ground. That water is used to irrigate the better land making it suitable for farming. The Sandhills region is used for cattle raising & grazing and I saw hundreds (thousands(?) along the way. The largest rancher on record here owned over 570 sections or 365,000 acres of ranch land at the beginning of the 20th century. Today of course, the ranches, 'tho not small, pale in comparison.

My reason for coming to North Platte was to satisfy my curiosity about a wonderful WWII story I heard about a couple of years ago. It sparked my interest because I am relatively sure our Dad traveled through here on troop trains while being shipped west as a soldier headed for war. Ironically, he was shipped back east to attend Army Air Corps schools, first for a bomber radio repairman, and then oxygen reduction manufacturing technician. He talked about the arduous trips east & west aboard the hot soldier-packed passenger cars.
The story began when a young woman packed a lunch for her soldier brother whom she believed was to pass through North Platte station. All the trains stopped for 10 minutes to allow the trainmen to refill the coal and water tenders, and to lubricate to their engines. In today's parlance, it was a "NASCAR" pit-stop.
Well, the story goes that her brother was not on that train so, disappointed she decided to give her food basket to one of the GI's on the platform. The look of appreciation on his face spurred an idea. Why not form a committee of women to do this for all the servicemen who stopped. Long story short--they did it in spades. It was their way of boosting the morale of the young men (many 18,19 yrs old) headed to war. The Union Pacific Railroad president loaned the women space in the large depot (it had a capacity to hold 600 people) to set up a Canteen to serve coffee, donuts, cake, sandwiches, cookies, etc. This they did. Less than a month after the Pearl Harbor attack (Dec. 7th), they gave small Christmas gifts & food to all the soldiers during the 10 minute stop on Dec. 25th. Soon, they were serving 3,000-5,000 soldiers a day as the troop trains came through traveling east or west. Initially, the North Platte ladies provided the food & services, but it soon became apparent that they needed help. Volunteers from 125 surrounding communities (from nearby SD,WY,CO) came to help, all with food and supplies, some driving 200 miles, when all were dealing with rationing of gas, sugar, butter, etc. at the time. The Canteen opened at 5:00 am daily and did not close until the last troop train departed, sometimes at mid-night.
Huge amounts of donated supplies were needed all without one dime coming from the government! For example, during the month of March 1945, sent or brought in were 40,161 homemade cookies, 30,679 hard-boiled eggs, 6,547 donuts, 6,939 cup, loaf, and birthday cakes, 2,845 #'s of sandwich meat-all pastries & breads were made from scratch. Twenty birthday cakes a day were given to soldiers who had a birthday.
For 4 1/2 years they served as many as 20 trains a day, every train without missing a one. This required a continual stream of volunteers and these women served 6 MILLION servicemen & women who passed through (for only 10 minutes!) the North Platte train station during that 54 month period. Nearly all the volunteers had sons or husbands serving in the Armed Services and they did it out of a sense of patriotism and a loving morale boost for our soldiers/sailors/marines.
The complete story can be viewed at: http://npccanteen.net/ Hope you enjoy the story as much as I did.

More on the Union Pacific's Rail Yards tomorrow.

Posted by dixter 18:10 Archived in USA Tagged the north canteen platte

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