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!