Soldiers on train would probably agree that the longest train ride ever was when our Air Force unit arrived overseas in 1943. We were loaded on a train in Bombay, India, and transported across the subcontinent to a base near the Burma-India border. We were on three different trains for a total of seven days and nights.
We left Bombay on a standard gauge railway. After a couple of days, we had to unload and reload onto a wide gauge railroad. Finally, after a day or two, we had to detrain and reload on a narrow gauge system. On the narrow gauge, the locomotives and cars are quite small, similar to the type used in mines to carry coal or are.
The passenger cars on all the trains were equipped with slatted seats that resembled park benches. On the wide gauge, one could stretch out across the bench to rest. On the narrow gauge, this was impossible. The toilet facilities on all trains consisted of a small closet with an eight-inch hole cut in the floor. After reaching our destination, it required nearly two weeks for the men to become rested and regain their physical stamina.
During that time, the train was the only means of transport for the Indian citizens. It was interesting to watch one of their trains from a distance as it moved slowly through the countryside. People filled the cars, and others clung to the outside, wherever they could find a handhold. The roofs of the cars were completely covered with squatting humanity.
There were so many people, the cars were barely visible. Since most of the riders were farmers, when one reached his destination, he climbed down, dropped off and continued by foot. By the time the train reached the next town, only the people seated inside were still on board.
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.