Lawson writes . . . sharing thoughts and memories

September 25, 2010

Wabash Railroad

Filed under: Uncategorized — lawsonjolly @ 5:00 am

The Wabash Cannon Ball was an American folk song in the 1920s and 1930s.  It was about a fictional train.  Many artists recorded it, and even in the late 1940s and early 1950s it was recorded with some changes.

It was about a fictional train, but there was a Wabash Railroad.  In 1949, the Wabash Railroad named its express run between Detroit and St. Louis the Wabash Cannon Ball.  It was named for the song, and not the other way around.

The Wabash Railroad had a rich history beginning in 1877.  It was a significant railway during World War II because  it provided transportation for the movement of our troops.  Troop trains were common during the war.  As a boy, growing up beside the railroad, and more specifically at a spur track, I can recall well the troop trains.  They would often wait for hours for an approaching train to pass.  During that delay, the soldiers would holler to us as we played.  They obviously were being reminded of their families back home.

Recently, we came to know much about the Wabash Railroad and its provisions for troop trains.  Judy was going through some of the items from her parents.  She discovered a brochure on the Wabash Railroad.  The brochure had been specifically designed for the military that were being transported.

The brochure provided a complimentary map of the United States “for those defending it.”  On that map, her father had marked the route of the troop train on which he traveled from Providence, Rhode Island to Los Angeles, California.  It would be interesting to know how many days it took for the trip.

The message of the brochure was directed to the service personnel on the train.  Let me quote some of the interesting statements.

“We are doing our best to make you comfortable.  Every effort is being made to insure the most pleasant trip possible under today’s conditions.  As a rule, men and women in the Armed Forces get the best of accommodations and service.  We hope that is true in your case.”

It was the desire of the railroad to show appreciation to our troops.  The brochure continued.  “However, if you are on a troop train made up of chair cars, even though the trip is one for which sleeping cars ordinarily would be provided, it is not because  Government and the railroads do not want to give you Pullman cars.  It is simply due to the fact that there just were no sleeping cars available when your train was made up.  We always will give you the best service that wartime conditions permit.”

The courtesy of the railroad was obvious.  They regretted that the troops could not have Pullman cars and had to sleep in their seats.  For the many days required for the cross-country trip, one can only imagine how tiring the trip was.

The brochure did indicate the quality of the railroad and their desire for the military to use it after the war.  “Please do not judge our rail service by your wartime experience.  Yesterday, there were many extras which are no longer permitted.  For example, practically all trains carried lounge and club facilities.  These cars are now converted into diners or coaches.  There were waiters and other train attendants.”

The wording followed.  “Today, the big idea is to handle, in the best possible manner, all the passenger travel that must be carried.  Wartime conditions have made it necessary for us to discontinue many of yesterday’s luxuries.”

Confident of war’s end, the brochure stated that hope.  “Tomorrow, after Victory, a trip by train will again be a refreshing experience.  The quality of service will be restored.  Ultra-modern conditioned equipment will serve you.  Service will be speeded up.  Station facilities handling passengers will be improved after the war.  Look to the railroads for low-cost, speed travel to get the most in luxury and dependability.”

This was but one railroad that assisted in the war effort.  Every part of American life was affected.  Let us never forget our military, nor the rail system that gave such support.

Perhaps we need to revive that old folk song, The Wabash Cannon Ball, to recall those days!


Hear Johnny Cash sing The Wabash Cannon Ball”385″>ong


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