Nebraska Railroad Sites

October 22, 2019
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Big Boy No.4014 visiting Omaha, Nebraska. It is steamed up not a static display.

This past August I took a roadtrip to Omaha, Nebraska for the American Philatelic Society’s annual StampShow. While on this trip I took in some interesting railroad history and sites. Omaha is the headquarters of the Union Pacific Railroad.

During the show their recently restored steam engine 4014 “Big Boy” made a stop over. This engine is the largest of its kind. In service from 1941 until the late 1950s it and others in the fleet hauled freight and passengers across the United States. Union Pacific is very proud of its history. They were one of the railroads that met at Promontory, Utah on May 10, 1869 completing the first transcontinental railroad in the Americas.

“Big Boy” is touring all over the Western United States to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the transcontinental railroad.

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View of Bailey Yard from the tower. Camera could not capture entire yard

On the way westward from Omaha on my way home I stopped at North Platte situated along the main line of the Union Pacific. There I went to the visitor center which is the Golden Spike Tower. From here you can view and tour the Union Pacific’s Bailey Yard.

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Golden Spike Tower which now the visitor center.

This is the world’s largest railroad classification yard per the Guinness Book of Records, 1995 and still is today. Here they sort, service and repair locomotives and rail cars headed to destinations throughout North American. It is named after a former Union Pacific president, Edd H. Bailey. This yard and its workings are featured on “Freight Trains” an episode of the History Channel’s Modern Marvels. YouTube has these videos available just search “Modern Marvels”.

Bailey Yard is located halfway between Denver and Omaha. It covers 2,850 acres (4.45 sq.mi.)and is over 8 miles in length. The yard has 200 separate tracks totalling 315 miles. Union Pacific employs more than 2,600 people in North Platte. About 140 trains and over 14,000 railroad cars pass through the yard daily. Almost all operations are computer controlled right down to the braking of the cars as they are sent down the east or the west hump to be made up into various trains. Gravity takes over as the cars are pushed down the humps but computer-controlled braking on the track controls their speed and switches them to the appropriate track.

The yard includes locomotive fueling and servicing centers called eastbound run and westbound run. Some 8,500 locomotives are serviced here monthly, and the repair shop handles 750 locomotives monthly.

This facility truly is a modern marvel.

Further reading:

Big Boy Locomotives – Wikipedia

Union Pacific Bailey Yard – Wikipedia

Note: All photos by the author.


Transcontinental Railroad: 150th Anniversary

October 14, 2019

DSC_0004Late April and early May saw a roadtrip to San Francisco to attend Westpex 2019 a national level stamp show held yearly. I use these trips to site-see along the way. I’m always looking for historical sites to take in.

Instead of taking a cross-country shortcut I elected to go south almost to Salt Lake City and go to the Golden Spike National Historic site.

The site is located thirty-two miles west of Brigham City, Utah just north of Salt Lake City. The interpretative center stands next to the original rail line and the actual location of the last spike. There are two exact replica locomotives at the site. They are both operational and depending on the time of year do run outs on the line. When not fired up they are in a shed where they can be viewed. Knowledgeable staff are available both in the main center and the locomotive shed.

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Jupiter in the locomotive shed. To the left is No. 119

The two locomotives are the Central Pacific’s Jupiter and the Union Pacific’s No. 119. Central Pacific laid track from Sacramento, California through the Sierras to arrive at Promontory. Their locomotive the Jupiter is wood burning as is the replica. Union Pacific had track to Council Bluffs, Iowa but no bridge across the Missouri River so they started laying track from Omaha, Nebraska across the river from Council Bluffs and began building a rail bridge at the same time. Until the bride was completed they barged construction supplies across the river. Their locomotive, No. 119 burned coal as does the replica today.

If you’re interested in railroads and their history I highly recommend a visit. It’s a short drive off the Interstates either I-15 or I-84 depending on which direction you are driving from. Details can be found on the National Park website,

Golden Spike Historic Site

According to the website it is open year round 9 am to 5 pm except for major holidays. Locomotive demonstrations are only during the summer months. Unfortunately I was there in late April but did get to see them up close in their shed. Staff were very knowledgeable and helpful. The gift shop had lots of excellent books and souvenirs.

Note: All photos by the author.


We serve that men may fly: RCAF Women’s Division

October 29, 2018
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Recruiting poster for Women’s Division

This is my tribute to the women who served in the Second World War and paved the way for women in today’s modern armed forces.

When Canada went to war in 1939 women pressured the government for the right to enlist. The government was reluctant to allow this, but eventually personnel shortages forced a change.

An order-in-council of July 2, 1942 authorized the recruitment of women and the formation of the Canadian Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (CWAAF). This was a component of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). Women were still not permitted to serve in combat roles so it’s purpose was to relieve male members of the RCAF from administrative, clerical and other comparable duties to heavier duty.

Effective February 3, 1943 another order-in-council changed the name of the CWAAF to the RCAF Women’s Division (WD). Their recruitment motto became “We Serve that men may fly”.

The WDs as they became known carried out many jobs during the war including, clerical, telephone operators, drivers, parachute riggers, and many others.

A total of 17,038 women served in the RCAF Women’s Division. Twenty-eight died during the war from various causes.

The RCAF was the first branch of the Canadian armed services to actively recruit women. Recruits had to be between 21 and 41 years old (later reduced to minimum of 18), pass a medical, be at least five feet tall, have a normal weight, be of good character and not be married with children.

Those employed at RCAF Headquarters in Ottawa lived in a barrack block housing up to 800 airmen. These quarters were not well heated or insulated. In winter many slept with uniforms on to keep warm.

WD members were paid only 2/3 of their male counterparts, but by 1943 this was increased to 80 percent of the males wages.

Why did they enlist? This was an age when women were expected to stay at home and wait for their men to come home from the war. They joined for adventure, a steady job, to get away from home, or patriotism.

Helen Sendell from Toronto enlisted on September 14, 1943 when she turned 18. She enlisted to show her older sister and her family she was independent and could live on her own. The family were against it. It was her form of rebellion. My mother always was strong willed.

She was assigned to headquarters in Ottawa where she put her shorthand and stenography skills to good use. She was classified as a key-punch operator in Records Department, RCAF Headquarters.

On New Year’s Eve 1943 she was at a bar in Hull, Quebec across the river from Ottawa with her date. While there another couple joined them. The young flight-lieutenant was smitten with Helen, but he was with someone else. After that evening he pursued her until she finally relented and they began dating. Helen and Mike were married September 30, 1944. Marriage between two fellow service personnel was not allowed and especially between enlisted personnel and officers. Helen was forced to resign from the RCAF. She was almost immediately hired back as a civilian employee and assigned the same job at the same desk. Her discharge from RCAF service became official December 31, 1944 “by reason of married requirements”.

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Newlyweds December 1, 1944 just before Dad left for England

After two weeks honeymooning her new husband Mike was sent to RCAF HQ in London, England in December 1944 where he remained until coming back to Canada in 1946.

I am proud of my father and mother’s service to Canada during the Second World War. In addition two of my father’s brothers served one of them paying the ultimate price.

Each November 11th I do not glorify war, but I remember the sacrifices those who served their country to preserve our way of life.


Squadron 420 “Snowy Owl” (RCAF) of Bomber Command: A Postal history connection

March 14, 2018

As a collector of postal history I search for interesting mailings during World War II. I’m especially interested in both world wars because I have relatives including my father who served.

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Airmail to a Canadian serviceman in England

Recently I obtained an interesting mailing, or cover, as we collectors call them (see scan above). The mail was to a Canadian serving overseas with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) as part of the Allied Bomber Command. What I like to do is research the individual service members to see what history lies behind the mail. The cover was postmarked September 6, 1943 from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.

The serviceman and address on the cover read,
P/O Len B. Greenhalgh (the P/O stands for Pilot Officer)
CAN – J-25735Royal Canadian Air Force
Overseas
(the Overseas is stroked out by pen and redirected to “RAF Long Marston”)

The sender and address on the reverse is,
Mr & Mrs Greenhalgh (likely his parents)
Ste 410 Pringle Apts 3
Saskatoon, Sask
Canada

Postage on the envelope consists of four 7c War Issue airmail stamps plus two 1c War Issue King George VI regular issue stamps. Total postage is 30 cents. The airmail rate from Canada to England at this time was 30 cents per 1/2 ounce so it was properly paid. Mailings from this period are frequently damaged as this one is, but still interesting.

Bomber Command sustained heavy casualties during the war so my first thought was did Pilot Officer Greenhalgh survive. There are several sources for finding those who were killed in the service of Canada and the Commonwealth (I’ve listed them at the bottom). A search showed he wasn’t killed.

Next I did a genealogical search using Ancestry and found several hits on Leonard Greenhalgh, an entry in a high school yearbook, a couple of entries in the Voters List database and finally a newspaper article from the Lethbridge Herald of March 13, 1944 titled “RCAF Makes Up Half of Force Raiding Le Mans”.

From these searches and sources I learned,
– Leonard Greenhalgh went to high school at City Park Collegiate Institute in Saskatoon. The yearbook of 1943 contained an Roll of Honor listing him as a member of the Air Force. It also gave his age of 23 years.
– the newspaper article from March 13, 1944 reported on the bombing of rail yards in France. It quoted Leonard Greenhalgh from the Snowy Owl Squadron saying the raid had gone well and they suffered no losses on this occasion.
– the Voters Lists showed him in Saskatoon in 1949 listed as a custom officer, and in Burnaby in 1962 listed as a business manager.

Using this information and good old Google, I located information on Squadron 420 nicknamed the “Snowy Owl” squadron as being part of No. 5 Group of Bomber Command. I knew he was part of the squadron in 1943. I also found out the squadron was flying Handley Page Halifax III bombers at the time. I even found a website containing logbook entries showing the raid on Le Mans taking place on March 7, 1944. These raids on rail yards were precursors to the Normandy Invasion of June 6, 1944. The intent being to hinder the Germans sending up reinforcements via rail during or after D-Day.

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Halifax bomber in flight. Photo: RCAF

Squadron 420 (Snowy Owl) was based at Tholthorpe, England about 12 miles northwest of York. They were there from December 12, 1943 until June 1945 when their mission in England ended. Later they returned to Canada and prepared to be part of a Canadian contribution to the war against Japan, but Japan surrendered before they were deployed. Much more can be read about the squadron but I focused on the time Leonard Greenhalgh would have been part of it.

Now I have another connection to the history of the Second World War, another appreciation of the sacrifice those young Canadian men made.

Further Reading
Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Books of Remembrance

Canada at War

Bomber Command Museum, Nanton, Alberta

Squadron 420 Snowy Owl Blog

RCAF Squadron 420, Snowy Owl

RCAF History – World War II


Nurse Edith Cavell: No hate in her heart

March 6, 2018
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Mount Edith Cavell with hiking trail in foreground. Photo Steve B. Davis

Jasper National Park in my home Province of Alberta, Canada has Mount Edith Cavell. My daughters and I hiked up to its base a couple of summers ago. They asked the obvious question, who was Edith Cavell and why is this peak named after her.

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1930 Canadian postage stamp showing Mt Edith Cavell.

Edith Cavell was a British nurse during World War I. She ran a medical clinic in German occupied Belgium. She started a clinic there before the war and trained Belgian nurses. Once the war started she returned but eventually most of Belgium was occupied by the Germans.

As as nurse she saved countless lives of soldiers from both sides. She also helped some 200 Allied soldiers and many civilians escape from occupied Belgium. Edith helped them reach the unoccupied  Netherlands or even back to England.

The Germans became suspicious of her activity and eventually arrested her charging her with treason against Germany even though she was a British citizen. She had broken German law by assisting enemy soldiers.

Found guilty by a German court martial she was sentenced to death. Despite pleas for mercy she was executed by a German firing squad on October 12, 1915. Her execution received international condemnation and extensive press coverage. Edith was only 49 years of age at her death.

She was a symbol of German barbarism for the remainder of the war. Edith was a revered figure. Stamps and coins were issued to honour her. Many places bear her name around the world including Mount Edith Cavell in Jasper National Park.

One of her most famous quotes was, “Patriotism is not enough, I must have no hate in my heart”

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Nurse Edith Cavell. Photo Public Domain

Further Reading
Wikipedia – Edith Cavell


War Horses in World War I

February 22, 2018

World War I saw the use of trucks, tanks, machine guns and airplanes, but it also relied on the horse. An estimated 8 million horses were used by all combatants during the conflict from 1914-1918. This is considered the first and only time horses were widely used in a global conflict.

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Pack horses taking ammunition to front at Vimy Ridge April 1917. Photo Library & Archives Canada, PA-001229

Horses and mules proved more reliable than mechanized transport and it took far less to look after them. They served as pack animals hauling food, water, ammunition and medical supplies to troops at the front. Horses proved invaluable moving artillery pieces around in the mud and slime of the battlefield.

The Canadian Army Service Corps (CASC) Veterinary Services tended to sick and wounded horses. They had a Mobile Services group to look after horses in the field. There was even an evacuation station at the rear where sick or wounded animals could be taken for care. The British and the Germans also had units assigned to tend to horses.

At Vimy Ridge for example some 500,000 horses pulled artillery pieces into position, brought supplies, ammunition and shells from the rear to forward positions in preparation for the attack. To keep the horses going about 600,000 gallons of water per day was required.

Conditions faced by horses in World War I were harsh, Many died from starvation, disease and exhaustion while many died from artillery fire.

The British Army used over 1 million horses and mules during the war. More than 400,000 of them were killed. In one day at the Battle of Verdun more that 7,000 horses perished.

Horses became more difficult to replace as the war went on. In order to meet the need horses were purchased from Australia, Argentina, Canada and the United States. In Britain horses were conscripted from farms but that supply was soon exhausted.

At the end of the war many horses were put down as too ill or too old. Many were sold to slaughterhouses or to locals in the war zones. Quarantine restrictions also prevented many from being returned to their countries of origin.

Cavalry units did exist and were used at various times. It became clear horses were vulnerable to trenches, machine guns and barbed wire. Soldiers on horseback were dismounted and fought as infantry.

The British mounted a cavalry charge early in the war near Mons in 1914. It was a disaster. Later in 1918 they charged at the German lines once again it was unsuccessful. Out of 150 horses only 4 survived the charge the rest cut down by German machine gun fire.

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Charge of Flowerdew’s Squadron. Photo of painting by Alfred Munnings. Photo Canadian War Museum.

Canada’s most noted cavalry unit was the Lord Strathcona’s Horse. Most of their war was spent as infantry, but they did mount a charge in the Last One Hundred Days of the war with minor success. At the Battle of Moreuil Wood mounted cavalry of 100 horses and men charged the German lines defended by roughly 300 enemy. The Germans surrendered but three-quarters of the cavalry were killed or wounded. The success of the attack was due to the complete surprise of the Germans seeing the mad charge of the horse soldiers bearing down on them at breakneck speed. This became known as the “Charge of Flowerdew’s Squadron” after the commander who was killed in the attack. He was later awarded the Victoria Cross for this action.

“War Horse” a 1982 book by British author Michael Mopurgo and later made first into a stage play and then a movie by Steven Spielberg depicts the life of a war horse quite graphically. It also shows the love and affection many of the soldiers had for these valiant beasts.


Fighting the Spanish Lady of 1918: Remedies, Cures and Preventatives, Part 2

January 16, 2018

Here is Part 2 of blogpost on the Pandemic of 1918.

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Living in the 21st century we take the scientific and medical wonders of our age for granted. Let us return to the year 1918 when the deadliest influenza pandemic in history, the Spanish Flu, rampages around the globe killing in massive numbers.

The “Spanish lady”, as it is morbidly nicknamed, focuses its attack on young adults age 21 to 34 years of age and children. The elderly escape for the most part, seemingly because of some immunity from previous flu viruses.

The Influenza of 1918 is a killer virus that attacks the respiratory system and saps the immune system. Most deaths result from complications such as pneumonia. An affected person exhibits symptoms in the morning, is sick by noon, and dies before nightfall.

The healthcare system of 1918 is drastically different than the one we live in today. Hospitals are small and located in larger centers. Few doctors and nurses are available especially in those smaller communities. Antibiotics to fight infection from flu complications such as pneumonia do not exist. Flu vaccines do not exist. The initial first step in the creation of a vaccine, the isolation of human influenza viruses, does not occur until 1933. Even if the vaccines existed in 1918, the public health system did not have a distribution system to deliver vaccine to the populace.

Quarantine is the normal preventative measure implemented by health authorities. In this case it fails. The mailman continues to deliver the mail, the milkman keeps delivering milk door-to-door effectively circumventing the isolation of the victims and unknowingly spreading the disease from house to house.

People desperately seek remedies or cures. Many of these concoctions are cooked at home on the stove, then dispensed to the family members. Some of the more exotic ones include,

  • Drinking alcohol
  • Smoking opium
  • Tobacco smoking
  • Ingesting tiny amounts of strychnine (a deadly poison)
  • Sipping kerosene
  • Drinking cinnamon with tea or coffee
  • Eating red-pepper sandwiches
  • Drinking something called Bulgarian blood tea
  • A mixture of cinnamon, tobacco, alcohol, goose grease, and turpentine
  • According to one belief, the steel particles in a shotgun placed under a victim’s bed would draw out the fever.

Preventative measures to stop the spread of the disease also involved a myriad of strange steps.

  • The wearing of surgical masks. There was much controversy as to the effectiveness of these. These were just loosely fitting cloth unlike today’s tight fitting sanitary versions
  • Tin drinking cups in public places replaced by disposable paper ones.
  • Smoked herrings worn around the neck.
  • Bags of garlic were hung around children’s necks to keep the disease away.
  • Sulphur sprinkled in shoes.
  • Vinegar packs tied to stomachs
  • Cucumber slices tied to ankles.
  • Carrying a potato in each pocket.
  • Breathing through the nose.
  • Chewing food well
  • Avoiding the wearing of tight-fitting clothes, shoes and gloves.
  • Bodies of victims are buried covered in raw, sliced onions from head to toe.
  • Voodoo charms along with chants of, “Sour, sour, vinegar V, keep the sickness off of me.”

The scientific community of 1918 struggled to provide an answer, so society sought its own solutions, however weird. Statistics are not available concerning the success or lack of success for these cures and preventative measures. In point of fact they did nothing to alleviate the pain and suffering.

Make sure you and yours take advantage of the modern miracle of a vaccine. There is no excuse. It will help protect you and others. Our ancestors living in 1918 died for lack of a vaccine.

 


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