Passenger Train Travel era 1940s
Riding a passenger train in the 1940s, especially with the crowded conditions during World War ll, was a big adventure for a small town boy. The trains were the same as they had been for years and were crowded beyond belief. Most of the time during the war, there was standing room only. Soldiers, sailors, all branches of the service were traveling to various destinations. People were sleeping in the aisles, standing in the vestibules, anywhere they could crowd into a passenger coach. If you wanted to go from one coach to another coach, it was better to wait until the train made a stop and then get off and go up the station platform and reboard the train at the coach you wanted to be in. Passenger trains were still crowded on certain days up to the early 1960s. People were not supposed to stand in the vestibules when the train was moving, however they did because of the crowded conditions. Often the top door would be open and cinders and smoke from the coal burning steam engines would come into the vestibule. It was easy to get a cinder in your eye.The only engines seen in the south at that time were steam engines, some still used coal but were being phased out by oil burners.
Thinking about those days bring back memories of train rides, such as waking up in the middle of the night, looking out the coach window, seeing lights whizzing by when passing small towns south of McGehee and guessing what town it was. Could it be Portland, Parkdale, Wilmot, etc.? You would guess what town it was and try to stay awake so you would get off at your station stop. Here is a familar station to MP rail travelers, a picture of MP Union Station in Pine Bluff. The passenger train conductors were efficient and courteous, but sometimes forgot to alert you if you were asleep that your station stop was just ahead. Riding a train during the night and seeing the morning sun come up or the white face of snow on the ground when arriving in St Louis or Little Rock from further south was an exciting experience for one who was not used to the changing scenery. It was easy to slumber away because for some the clickety clack of the rails had a sleep inducing cadence. Rail joints making the noise were close together then but now days are as much as miles apart. Ticket fares for short distances of 15 to 25 miles were about 25 cents.
Experienced rail travelers could always tell where they were if it was during the day and they could see the railroad telephone lines with poles evenly spaced. In Arkansas and Louisiana it was common to have thirty poles to the mile. Each mile, a pole was marked with a number such as 375 which meant that the marked location was 375 miles from St Louis. Mile pole 375 plus 10 poles was marked with a circled band to indicate that pole was 10 poles from the mile pole, 20 poles from the MP had two circled bands around the pole. The next pole would be MP 376. Train orders which had speed restrictions identified the places to slow down by the MP numbers.
The trains were equipped with a diner that seated approximately 40 people but were crowded and you could never get in to eat without a long long wait and then not make it. However, a train porter would pass through the cars selling sandwiches, especially ham and cheese sandwiches, along with small bottles of milk. Most of the time he would run out just before he reached you. It would be some time before he returned with a new supply. It was a big treat for a country boy to get a ham sandwich on the train. They also sold candy such as Hershey bars, Baby Ruths and one that was my favorite, called a "Denver Sandwich" made of chocolate and wafers (have not seen one of those in years).
During WWll, troop trains with military personel only, were a daily event on many parts of the railroads. When they stopped to meet other trains in some of the small southern towns, students from the local high schools or the town people would go over to the train and talk with the soldiers or sailors, often exchanging mailing addresses. Many romances were started between high school girls and members of the military.