It was hard to keep the good times rollin’
Today’s Guest Post from gpcox continues the theme of transportation started last month with information about cars and trucks. This post expands transportation to include the variety of ways to travel in the 1940’s. Settle back and enjoy a unique look at this period of our history.
Columnist Marquis Childs said after Pearl Harbor: “Nothing will ever be the same.” Thirty-five years later he added: “It never has and never will be.”
Since it appears that many of our readers enjoyed the previous guest post concerning the auto industry during the World War II era, I decided to remain on that same train of thought this month. (Yes, the pun was intended.) I managed to discover quite a lot of information.
We need to remember that in 1941 as much as 40% of U.S. families lived below the poverty level, approximately 8 million worked for less than minimum wage and another 8
million were unemployed. The median income was about $2,000 per year. The government, in virtually fighting two separate wars, entered into civilian lives by raising taxes, rationing, controlling prices and allotting jobs.
Once the war began, truck convoys became commonplace and train depots burst into arenas of activity. The movement was not entirely servicemen as women began to migrate into towns and communities near the military bases and jobs when they entered the workforce. Judy Guion’s Aunt Jean did just that by going to Florida to be near her husband Dick. Minorities headed for higher paying positions in defense plants and shipyards.
The greatest annoyance to civilians was the fact that new automobiles were no longer being produced. The public’s status symbol and route to financial and social activities had been curtailed and this caused boot-leg markets to spring up selling tires and taking their chances with the law. The La Salle Motor Company in Indiana was the first firm to be cited by the government. The Office of Price Administration would regulate everything from soup and shoes to nuts and bolts and was responsible for all domestic rationing. J. Edgar Hoover issued warnings about car thefts; alerting owners to be wary of where they parked their cars, especially during evening hours. In Southwest Harbor, Maine, reports of gasoline siphoning were a constant problem.
The use of taxicabs grew throughout the world in the early part of the 20th century. In the 1940’s, the taximeter was developed and the new two-way radio was a great improvement over the old callboxes. DeSotos, Packards and the GM “General” were the common vehicles utilized for this purpose.
Streetcars were heavily used in the 1930’s, but companies began to fail as gasoline buses (”trackless trolleys”) took their place. The most prominent name was the
Greyhound. In 1936, they introduced their “Super Coach” for family travel and it was so well received that within four years, they opened a chain of restaurants called “Post House.” When war began, they became a major carrier of the troops heading to the east and west coasts. Since nearly 40% of their workforce was eventually drafted, women were offered training as bus drivers. Local buses where often late and overcrowded, having standing room only. A person was often unable to keep a reliable daily schedule due to the situation.
Air travel was certainly difficult with a war in progress and the airlines did not have the systems they have now. Case in point: the Hoover Airport (where the Pentagon building is now), had a major highway running smack through it. When a plane took off or landed, the red traffic light was switched on to halt car and truck movement.
Trains were the dominate mode of transportation since the transcontinental was completed in 1869 and up until just before the war era,when cars and trucks became predominate. The massive movement around the country pressed heavily on the antiquated
railroad network. Most of the system had been built in the decades following the Civil War. Accounts of disastrous train wrecks appeared due to the necessity to overwork them, such as the one at Frankfort Junction in Philadelphia. Upon rounding a curve, a bearing gave way and the seventh car shot vertically into the air. The velocity of the car caused it to drag seven other cars with it off the tracks. Eighty bodies were found in one car alone. The Office of Defense Transportation urged people to only travel on “slack days” and take one-day vacations. The Director stated, “Needless passenger movement is getting to the point where it is embarrassing the war effort.” One rail line that came out of Saint Louis, called the “Jeffersonian,” had only reserved seating, but people continued to line up in the aisles. One woman, traveling from Kalamazoo to a defense job remembered sitting on her suitcase the entire trip. In Tallahassee, Florida, a man recalled signs everywhere reading: “Is this trip necessary?”
The Southern Pacific depot in San Luis Obispo was an old, neglected building occupied with more mice than people – until the war. The station became the busiest place in town with a sign over the doorway: “Due to wartime priorities, all train travel must be booked five days in advance.”
In congested areas, such as N.Y.C., vendors began to spring up to rent out bicycles. In fact, the summer of 1942, when the gas pumps went dry, drivers followed a gas truck to its delivery point, (as many as 350 would line up) so the bicycle business erupted. In California, the state that received the least restrictions, bikes were in such high demand that a certificate of necessity was required for a purchase. When walking became more important, leather for shoes became scarce and shoe rationing went into effect in February of 1943. In the U.S., three pairs per year was the quota and in England it was only one. By 1944, the U.S. civilian ration was dropped to two pair.
The old saying, “Let the good times roll” proved difficult and often the stories seem to be from another world rather than another decade.
Sources: American Library; KC Library; Greyhound.com; “Americans Remember the Home Front”; by Roy Hoopes; “1940s”, by Louise Gerdes; “Let the Good Times Roll”, by Paul Casdorph; encyclopedia.com; enotes.com; JalopyJournal.com
Do you have stories you remember or were told? How would you deal with this lifestyle? Tell us what you think about this.
I really enjoy having gpcox do a Guest Post every month. The research is outstanding and I always learn little-known facts.Leave a comment and I’ll continue to invite gpcox, author of pacificparatrooper.wordpress.com, to Guest Post every month. What topics would you like to read about during the 1940’s? Let us know and your idea may be featured in an upcoming post!
In response to Gallivanta, poverty is an arbitrary dollar figure established by the government and does not determine the quality of life. I was a thirteen year old eighth grader when the school superintendent called an assembly and announced that the Japanese had attacked Pear Harbor. He did this because many families (including mine) did not have radios and may not have learned the news for several days. World War II was a prominent part of my early teen years and I know that we hadn’t much money but our lives weren’t measured in terms of dollars. We were often hungry but only because we had played hard or worked hard not because there wasn’t enough to eat. I remember a saying of the time that said we had hundreds of things to eat but most of them were beans. We had beans and we had potatoes but we also had a cow so we had milk and butter and we had a garden so we had vegetables but, most of all, we were wealthy in many of the things that many affluent families don’t have today. We had family togetherness. We had neighbors who showed unconditional friendship. We had freedom to roam the countryside and to go fishing or hunting. We had opportunities to earn money and respect and to better ourselves. We had teachers who devoted their full time to teaching us and guiding us.
I remember well the rationing and the Office of Price Stabilization during the war and many of the tricks that were used to circumvent their rules.
authorjim – Thank you for your well-written comment. I think you have expressed the attitude that was so prevalent among your generation and that is exactly what made them “The Greatest Generation”. To help put this in perspective, you were born only about 3 years after Dave, the youngest child in the family.
your story is sad and touching the current generation should learn to appreciate their elders and their heroic deeds
generaliregi – That’s true but I also think it’s important for all generations to understand each other. Sharing stories of our lives with those older – and younger – than we are, is a start.
Very interesting. I wish I could ask my parents what it was like for them during that time. They never talked about it.
Linda Arthur Tejera – It may not be possible to ask your parents, but there might be other relatives who know something about their younger days. Give it a try.
You also may want to record the childhood memories of any older relatives so that future generations will have the information. Why not record your childhood memories for your children and future – or present – grandchildren?
Terrific and informative read.
Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment. I’d like to invite you to return again.
Wonderful post…so many interesting facts about war time living.
I always learn quite a bit when gpcox does a Guest Post for me.
I particularly liked the Kalamazoo touch! Nice post! I wonder if there is a way to tell when the streetcars stopped being used in a particular city (Kalamazoo, in this case).
currentdescendent – That’s an interesting question. The Kalamazoo Historical Society (or it’s equivalent) might be able to tell you. Good luck.
Really enjoyed the stories about getting around during the war. One topic I’d like to hear stories about are trains that carried our WWII troops back and forth between the east coast and the west coast. I know for example my parents, my dad was a captain in the army, traveled between St. Louis, Mo. and Long Beach, Ca. several times during the war. My parent’s home was in St. Louis, but I was born in Long Beach, Ca. in 1943, so I easily could’ve have been a non-paying passenger on one their train trips. What accommodations were available on these troop trains? I’ve heard stories of soldiers having a few drinks over their limit and then falling out of an upper or lower bunk in a sleeper car. Can you imagine the stories the fly on the wall could tell, if he could talk….
NO ULTERIOR MOTIVE – Thank you for your suggestion. Since transportation has been the theme recently, and all GI’s used trains to get to their new posts and take furloughs back home, that just might be the topic of gpc0x’s next post. You can be sure the research will be complete.
I’m looking forward to the article! I’ll be watching for it. I’m sure it’ll be a great one. I appreciate your sincere interest.
And I appreciate your visits and comments!
So informative about the war years and its effects on people at home. No wonder people were kissing all over the place on V-E and V-J days.
Great post from a baby-boomer who never went through all this but pays homage to all who did and writes about it.
I totally agree with you Pierre. Why do you think I keep inviting gpc0x back, month after month? The background information provides a wide-view backdrop for the specific stories of my family and their experiences. A perfect match, don’t you think?
Reblogged this on pacificparatrooper and commented:
Hope you will all read the article I prepared for Greatest Generation Lessons this month and leave a comment for us. Would you like to see more guest posts? What topic would you care to see?
gpcox – Thanks for helping expand our audiences and re-blogging. Please see comments above.
Fascinating to learn about the restrictions and difficulties during war time. I had no idea that the level of poverty was so high in 1941.
Gallivanta – gpcox does an incredible amount of research for each article, as you can see by the sources listed, so you know you’ll get topnotch information. Any specific topic you’d like to know more about?
I am so ignorant about this period of your history that I simply have to rely on you two to come up with the topics.
We’ll continue to do our best. I’m glad you’re enjoying them.