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Running on Time
In a Timeless Land
by BOYD SINCLAIR
China, American military railway officers and enlisted men assisting the Army traveler; they put jeeps into service for locomotive power; and in Northeast India tackled the big job of taking over and running most of the Bengal and Assam Railway.
swarmed AMERICANS over India,up- and down railways Burma and
The B & A runs up through Bengal from Calcutta into Upper Assam where Assam borders on Burma. Across it runs the Brahmaputra River, which roughly parallels it most of the way. The railroad consists of a broadNINDIA the road was guage road north from generally thought of Calcutta 200 miles to as running from Upper Sirajganj Ghat and Assam westward and Santahar and another southward because its 40 miles to Parbatipur. main traffic was in that CREW JIE:~IBERS of "The General Meter-guage lines run Pick" take time out for saud wlches direction - the hauling while waiting for northbound train east from Santahar and of tea to market. The at Sahmaw, Burma. Parbatipur to Northern war threw this railroad Assam; from East Beninto reverse with the gal eastward from a Brahmaputra River movement of the goods of war to China ferry connection with the Santahar and Burma from Calcutta's port. The branch and northward from Chitta gong to !lleter-guag.e liI?-eeast of Pa~batipur was a junction with the main line at Lumm the mam smgle track, fitted chiefly ding; barge lines on the Brahmaputra; with rolling stock of the four-wheel type combinations of rail and barge using varand powered by an assortment of loco-
ious trans-shipment points along the river. The line runs to the north-east tip of India, in the area of Chabua, Tinsukia, Dibrugarh and Ledo, towns destined for fame in World War II, but before the war simply sleepy little bazaars among the tea plantations in the jungle. These meter-guage lines were the ones which the Army took overtrackage from Parbatipur to Ledo, Dibrugarh and Siakhoa; Santahar to Kaunia; Golakgans to Dhumri; and Bonapara to Tistamukh, a total of 752 miles. The Arm~also operated tbe B&A -shops at Saidpur. "-
GI's AND INDIANS turning No. 68 by hand on the turntable.
Ball bearings made the Job easier.
XO. 859 PASSIXG through a jUllgle stretch are refrlgemtors, carrJ'lng" frozen Ileef.
Ilea •.' l'allllu,
to Lell0. 'Vhlte
heard of a tiger in the neighborhood they motives made in Germany, England, Belbooby-trapped it by tying a hand grenade gium, France and Czechoslovakia, The to the carcass of a goat. Indian method of operation was friendly But King Cobra and Shan the Tiger and informalthough often protracted. were not always so easily defeated, as There were schedules, of course, but they Staff Sgt. Edgar Laytha of Roundup found were observed in the manner of a timeout in a ride up the entire length of the less land. Although a train might arrive rails. He told of a GI stationmaster who at a station hours late, if the schedule could not hold a called for a 15tiger. Instead a minute stop, the train was held full stop was obup. It happened s e r v e d, even at midnight. Bethough loading cause of the tiand unloading ~ gel', the train might take only could not go n-"' two minutes. Opto a siding to let erations froze another train while crises were pass. The conreferred to highEXGI],\E SO. 419 of the Bell~al &; Assam railroad troller from bater authority. ill Upper Assam. talion headquarAmerican perters telephoned to the jungle station, sonnel going up the road in the early asked what the delay was. Sgt. G. A. days, before the Army took over, used to Blake, from, New Hampshire, lamented gain priority and sudden departure by from the other end about a tiger that was treating stationmasters to cartons of cigeating a cow right on the rails. The midarettes. The classic story of Indian railnight repast of Shan lasted 32 minutes, as road operation quotes a message sent by the sergeant decided a pistol was not a stationmaster to his superior. enough fire power with which to offer "Tiger on platform. What shall I do?" battle, Traffic had to be suspended and was his query. Later, when U.S. soldiers
GI REPAlHS shrallllel.ritidiell holler on a locomotlye alollg the Burma line. THAXS}'KltltlSG refrl/(eratell railroad car to GI truck. meat from
RAILROAD YARDS of the i~8th By. Bn. at llibrugarh, India. Indian railroaders w.ere emploJ'ed along with Gl's to help maintain roiling stock.
the war had to wait better than half an hour until the tiger had filled his belly. step up the of the railroad, but in May 1943 supplies over the road totaled only 15,000 long tons, and in June not enough was moved to fill the cargo planes flying The Hump to China. The Army wanted at least a 50 per cent increase in tonnage. The Viceroy's Council in November 1943 approved U.S. operation of the road's meter-gauge track. In the same month Col. Paul Yount of the Army-operated Iraq railroad headed a survey for U.S. operation. On December 23 Maj. Gen. W.E.R. Covell of SOS gave orders establishing the Military Railway Service. Headquarters were ordered at Gauhati, Assam. Units assigned
EFFORTS were made to efficiency and capacity
to operate the 752 miles .of railroad were Headquarters, Military Railway Service; 705th Headquarters, Railway Grand Division; the 721st, 725th, 726th, 745th and 748th Railway Operating Battalions, and the 758th Railway Shop Battalion. This grand division, consisting of about 4,600 men, arrived January 21, 1944, at the Gauhati headquarters, midway between Parbatipur and Tinsukia, from which U.S. operations were to be directed. The tin-roofed buildings of a weaving school furnished quarters and offices. One cupola-topped, mansard-roofed building looked like a transplanted Wisconsin dairy barn. Tents were erectfd, bash as built.. On February 26 orders .•.. ere given b' w Covell that the Military Railway Service would assume operations one minu~e after
REXGAL & ASSA~r BR shuJJs near l'arbat!pur, uperated by the i~8th BJ'. Shup Bn. llurlng the war. lIfost of the American railroad equipment shipped to CRI were Dut In operating conllltion II t these sho!,s.
midnight on March 1. By that time agreement had been made for the Americans to operate 804 miles of main and branch lines. This additional trackage consisted of the D&S Railway, and included B&A track from Katihar eastward, including a branch line to Dubri, Mariani to Neamati, and Furkating to Jorhat. Just after midnight on March 1, a U. S. soldier took over the controls of an engine. It was the Army's railroad. Brig. Gen. Thomas B. Wilson, aggressive, heavy-set former chairman of the board of TWA, supervised the setting up of the Military Railway Service. Wilson put Col. J. A. Appleton, former Pennsylvania Railway executive, in charge of the new service. Officers had come from various American rail systems - Southern Pacific, Florida East Coast, Santa Fe, New York Central, New Haven. GI's were railroad men in civilian life, together with Army-trained men of no previous experience. Tonnage of military supplies jumped"with American operation. Only the sweat-sopped effort of American officers and men account for the record. CBI got a commendation from General George C. Marshall for its railroading. When the U. S. railroaders took over, they found the Indians unfamiliar with railroad operation in the western world and equip-
JIEN OF THE 124th Cavalry Regt. loadIng on the traIn at Pandu, In,I1a, enroute from Ramgarh to Dinjan where the)" boarded 10th All' Force C.47 lllanes for )l).ltkylna.
"JEEP TItAIN" from JI)"ltk)"ina arrives at the ::Uogaung river and Is being 1lI110allell b)' members of the .iSth EngIneer Petroleum J)lstrlbution Co. The men are shown whee1lng one of theIr trailers down a mud,I)" hili to the river bank where It will be ferried to :Uogaung.
UN A JUNGLE section of the Bengal & Assam 'rallrOlul, an elephant Is used to shunt three ll0X cars onto a siding. The beast Is owned by a tea plantation and tloes the "switching" for its owners' cars. e1lmlnating the necessity ror the railroad to operate a locomotive at the siding.
locomotives, 401 being meter-gauge, 154 ment in _a bad state of repair. Rollof them U. S. lend-lease engines. By ing stock was coupled at times with March 1945 there were 442 meter-gauge wire! Indians secured vehicles on flat locomotives, or which 262 were War Decars at times with twine of a strength partment types. Ancient equipment had that would make American binder twine appear strong as a log chain! Communito be discarded and locomotives borrowed earlier had to be returned to other Indian cations, dispatching and phone circuits roads. were poor. Most of the line was single-tracked with short sidings. HE SIGNAL Corps There were bottlenecks, strung a heavy douthe Amingaon-Pandu bled wire across B'?nferry near Gauhati begal and Assam, which ing an example. Cars enabled the railroaders headed one way could to expedite the dispatch not be spotted until and control of trains. A those coming across the railroader faced with a ferry had gone on their pro blem in Gauha ti, way. There were not needing facts from Tinenough ferries and tugs sukia or Ledo, or wishto move them. Indian ing to talk as far as labor was replaced by Calcutta, simply picked soldiers, then reemup a phone and was O:FFICERS of the 721st R)-. Bn. with ployed immediately to connected as readily as an Indian "drh'er" (engineer), look oyer the old B&A locomotive renamed serve alongside the men if calling the corner "G)'psy Rose Lee" at the Saldpur and learn American opstore back home. This shops. erating techniques from was something new on them. The Army orthe line. dered 10,000 War Department cars, double The lack of sidings placed a limit on capacity of the Indian four-wheel the speed of two-way traffic. Short sid"wagons," which eventually tripled rollings limited the length of trains. In the ing stock capacity. The B&A had 713 first year of operation, 30 sidings east of
CHINESE IN],'AXTRY~[Jo;:Nbeing transported on a "llassellger" train from KUIlllling to Chllll)'I. :lIost Chinese troops were transported In this lIIanner, Occull)'lng almost eyery square Inch of llYllllable space Oil II train.
AT PANDU, India, lack of a railroad bridge makes necessary the ferrying of railroad cars to the opposite bank where the cars are unloaded from narrow to standard gauge equipment.
WAR DEPARTMENT engine leaving the railroad freight cars for an advanced U.S. base.
THESE INDIANS are filling the tender of an engine by carrying small ba~kets of coal on their heads up a ramp. Only a disgusted crew member of the 748th Ry. Op. Bn. can tell you the length of time required for these "gold bricks" to load the tender. Photo taken at Tinsukia.
THIS JlI~IATUnE engine pulls a train of smail cars into the Himalaya mountains on the fiye-hour journe)" to the Army rest ('a mp at Darjeellng, India.
A l' JIA "'J, U, mile 606, wrecked railroad cars line the right of way. 'Vreckage was ('a,,, ••d b)' U.S. Air Corps bombs ••.
the Brahmaputra River crossing - the controls on the other side when to start Amnigaon-Pandu ferry-were lengthened, hammering. Indian wood workers would and 37 more were in process, so that sit in typical cross-legged fashion on instead of taking an average of 50 cars, benches, holding down the wood with they could handle more than 100. West their toes while cutting precision patterns of the river the work was completedfor castings. When the Americans got 26 lengthened to 4,000 feet each to acthe railroad, B&A could only repair and commodate 158 cars on the four-wheel car overhaul seven locomotives-their record. basis, Siding improvement work allowed In the Americans' record month, 34 locoreduction of block secticns from 10 to motives were put through. American railroaders brought refrigerator cars to four miles, speeding train movement. Meanwhile, 165 miles of double tracking India. They were unknown on India's had been installed. Two ferry terminals rails before then. were added to the one original. Seven barges were increased to 12, one tug to Roundup correspondent Edgar Laytha three. Tugs were kept on the move aptly described the big marshalling yards instead of being allowed at Paro1ltipur. "The yar~s ""are smoky and grey," he to stand by a ferry barge wrote. "They smell of oil during loa<iing or unloadand sweat, yet, believe it ing. When the Army aror not, many of the GI enrived, not more than 200 gineers prefer to work in cars were moved each way a day across the wide khaki. Through the smoke river. In January 1945 the and haze the locomotives chug, shining and glitteraverage was approximately 800 a day each ing. The boys can wear way. Before the GI's took khaki in them safely over, the average net tons enough, they are so clean hauled per" train was 250. and polished. These boys C. E. BOOKER, a member of In January 1945 it was at Parbatipur don't know the i48th Rn., Doses beside famlliar station sign, annonncing more than 500 tons. Train the meaning of stop, look th •• station name In four lanlengths were increased and listen. When their guages. from 40 cars to an average camp at Parbat burned to of 80 and in some cases the bottom and their bemore than 100. Speeds were increased longings went up in the flames, the men from 25 miles per hour to an average of went out into the yards in shorts and 45. The number of passenger trains was sandals. Result: not a single delay." more than doubled and the trains were A YTHA. who traveled up the rails from running on time. Calcutta to Ledo, said that despite In March 1945 the railway shops were American magic the trains still rode pretty manned by 450 GI's and approximately slowly at times. Low priority trains had 1,200 Indians. The scene looked like any to wait on sidings until the fast trains U. S. machine shop with interweavin~s rolled by. Laytha rode the engine of a of India throughout. Two Indians In low-priority train from the Brahmaputra dhotis might ease red hot bent rail to a jungle yard-and the 100-mile stretch couplings into the jaws of a drop hammer took 16 hours. The 65-car long train was while their boss, a Sikh in bright blue in charge of two GI's, assisted by two turban, would hand-signal the GI at the Indian firemen. The engineer, Cpl. G. P.
Moffett, 21, from North Carolina, took orders from Pvt. Orville C. Vick, 23, of Connecticut, thE' conductor. Vick was responsible for the safety of all the cars; had to see that all the markprs were up, give the signal for departures, write delay reports, and seal the train. The locomotive on this typical trip chugged through a world lush and green. Unexplainably thin cattle grazed on rich pastures. Water buffaloes swam in sleepy, stagnant ponds, looking gaunt and starved. The GI stationmasters at the lOIfely places, where the train had to wait ror the fast ones, served hot coffee and spoke of their solitary lives. Some traded beer to the natives for one egg-laying hen per bottle. They told Laytha stories of tigers and
JIEJIBEUS of the 748th cleaulug-out an engine that has just com!,leted Its run at Tillsukla.
JIULES OJ,' THE 124th Cal'alry Regt. helnlf loaded on car for transport to the front lines In Burma.
were in the middle of their second trip. The first took 30 days and 30,000 doughnuts. The train rolled into the GI terminal of Tinsukia, less than 50 miles from Ledo. Here Laytha found the most fascinating beast of the journey's collection: the free lance elephant that lives independently and usually undisturbed in the jungle, subject only to occasional calls for duty. The railroaders used them as living switch engines, for they were capable of pushing five to eight cars onto a siding. Most people do not believe it until they have seen the performance. Laytha described how an Indian boy who worked for the railroaders called his elephant by giving the Moslem version of the Tarzan yell and shouting the elephant's name, "Bilbo!" Laytha waited a few minutes, then the foliage parted, and in ;ill his towering. immensity, Bilbo, one of the strongest 01" the living switch engines, walked into the yard. A sergeant told him to clear the yard of a dozen empty cars, supported his words with motions. Bilbo did it, then stretched his trunk and walked back into the thicket. and the end of Laytha's but with Ledo the activities of the GI railroaders did not end. They worked in Burma and China. One of their units operated the railway between Myitkyina and Mogaung. That Myitkyina-to-Mogaung railroad was a long rough one, even though the stretch was' only 31 miles. The GI's, Chinese, LEDO CAME travels, rail
wild, jungle-roaming, basha-piercing, tive-chasing elephants.
On a sunny siding Laytha ran into The Pilgrim, Chaplain Ervin H. Hartman's rolling church, office and home. The Pil. grim was switched on and off trains at places where it was most desired. At intermediate stations services were held in the car for as few as three men. A white cross on blue background was painted on both sides of the former salon car and it was equipped with an altar, an Army field organ and a kitchen where CpI. Thomas G. House, the chaplain's assistant, cooked his and the chaplain's meals. House, who studied for the ministry while he was a yard switchman in Missouri, had an Army job that suited him.
LITTLE later Laytha met Virginia and Maxine, the two-car Red Cross trainmobile and lived in by Virginia Keadle, Williamsburg, West Virginia, and Maxine Robertson, Portland, Oregon, Red Cross girls. The girls
:UEDIUM 'l'AXK being loaded on flatcar. hound for Burma. The tank was un. loaded from the shl!, at the Calcutta docks.
To The Editor Exciting Memories • Your publication helps me keep exciting memories alive, and also gives me an opportunity as an amateur historian to follow the reactions of CBI veterans to the historically important happenings in Asia. PAUL HOCHMAN, Washington, D.C.
Not Enough China • Am of the same opinion of several subscribers that you have too much about India-Burma and not enough of China. Served with the 11th Bomb. Sq. under Capt. (Major) Mick and "Chuck" Willis. Later transferred to the 27th T.C. Sq., Yangkai, Luichow, Kweilin, Chickyang and all points north. JOE M. DAUGHERTY. Big Lake, Tex.
No Rosters • I have every issue and don't ever want to miss any, no matter how much it costs. I notice in the Sept. issue that you didn't list the 21st QM Group. Couldn't you get this roster from Washington? Dr. DAVID LAKIND. Newark, N.J. .
We've tried this, learned that so many people want rosters that they can honor. none.-ED.
New Reader • I was just handed the _CBI Carioonist Sept. issue by Dr. Ben Sen-. Jack Nolan did some turia. I enjoyed it very fine cartoon work on the much and was extremely S. S. Brazil and later for glad to know that such an the original Roundup. If effort is being made to re- you could print some of his call all acquaintances and work, I'm sure many would allow us to reminisce. My appreciate it. sincere congratulations. JOS. N. MACKRELL, Col. KENNETH COFIELD, Pittsburgh, Pa. Chicago, Ill. Where is he?-ED. war correspondents, anybody who wanted to ride, negotiated those 31 miles in true Casey Jones fashion via the jeep-powered Lightning Express. The narrow-gauge line, captured bit by bit from the Japs, ran from Mogaung almost to the Myitkyina airfield. On the front end of the train was a jeep with GI-built wheels which would hold the rails. On the rear end, facing backward, was another jeep. In between were three flat cars. On the flat cars might be men, mice, or military supplies. On the up trip to Myitkyina, the front-end jeep did the digging. On the down trip to Mogaung, the front-end locomotive became the caboose. A GI gave a Roundup reporter a good reason. "There ain't no place to turn the train around," he said. The first run of this train, sometimes called the Baling Wire Cannonball was madf' by Capt. James H. Kaminer of Lexington, South Carolina, Engineer officer, accompanied by two American GI's, a British brigadier and a major. Pvt. Wilbur E. Childers, who was the jeep driver in the late summer of 1944, had this to say about his Army odd job: "Sort of a thrill. Used to drive a cab. These jeeps do everything but fly." Cpl. J ohr R. Thomason, who had the title of trainmaster served with a former neighbor and civilian buddy, Cpl. Angele LeGreca, neither of whom expected to wind up on a GI railroad in Burma. Later, when bomb craters were filled in. bridges repaired and the track and roadbed put in better condition, heavier equipment and diesel locomotives were put on the line. NOVEMBER, 1950
Paging Parker • Please help me locate a former S/Sgt. who worked in the carpenter shop at Kunmin~ about May of 1945. Hls name is Harold Parker. KEN W. JOHNSON, Box 512, Ft. Walton, Fla.
Jeeps may seem to be an odd enough powerhouse on rails, but the oddest locomotive the Army used in China, Burma or India was an engine that was an engine only by courtesy. It belonged to the Quartermaster warehouse of the Base General Depot in Calc tta. It was madl'! in Germany, belonged ~to a jute mill 'n "Calcutta, and was loaned to the depot's Quartermaster group, which used the fir3t floor of the mill for storage space. There was no firebox on the four-wheeled job. The steam was pumped into the boiler from the powerhouse of the jute mill. The engine ran on this steam until the gauge showed the pressure was getting so low it might not get back for a refill. If the steam did run out before the engine could make it back to the boiler, the inevitable and long-suffering Indian coolies would would have to push it back to the source of supply. The little engine boasted an Indian switchman named Pepsodent by the GI's because of his happy grin. Pepsodent would think nothing of riding the engine, then jumping off and running ahead to throw the switch before it was reached by the locomotive. The engine had a top speed of 10 miles an hour. Nobody was ever run over because Pep sodent was bellcord happy. The engine was known as Old 971. It also was known by other names when it happened to run out of steam quite a distance from home base, especially by the Indian coolies who had to push it back to the boiler for a refill.-THE END.
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