Railroad Stories: Railroad Industry Was Booming During World War II

Railroad industry kept hotel in business during World War II.

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The railroad industry was a booming business during World War II. My husband and I managed a hotel where only railroad crews and workmen stayed overnight. Rationing was in full swing, help was scarce, and we had a 1-year-old son and a 6-week-old daughter. At that time, we were not allowed to work our employees more than eight hours a day. However, there was no restriction on the number of hours a manager could work.

Numerous times we were called and notified at the last minute that a passenger train carrying soldiers did not have dinner, and we were expected to feed them. Somehow we managed. I remember one time in particular when I was called and notified at 2 in the morning that there would be 200 soldiers arriving for breakfast at 8 o'clock. There were no stores open, and I didn't have the necessary food coupons anyway. I told the caller we would serve coffee and doughnuts, but not to take any orders for a real breakfast.

I woke my employees, and we began making coffee in 50-pound lard cans and a lot of cake doughnuts. When the train pulled in, the soldiers poured inside and wanted to know where their bacon, sausage and eggs were.

During that time, there was also water on some of the tracks. Train crews were tied up at the hotel until the tracks were repaired. We were unable to send our laundry out, as we were accustomed to, so I ended up washing the sheets in red clay water because they had to be changed daily. Some of the crew decided their sheets had not been changed, so they took clean sheets off the clothesline and put them over the ones already on their beds. Some of them had as many as three layers of sheets to one bed.

Many times I worked 16 hours a day, as well as taking care of my children. At that time, I was learning to drive the company car. Thinking back, I marvel that we managed for several months before giving it up and returning home. I didn't get a medal for my efforts, but I do have the satisfaction of knowing that I did the best I could.

Margaret L. Harris
Tipton, Mo.

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.