Guest Post – It Was Hard To Keep The Good Times Rollin’ by GPCox

 

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.

"The Good Times" - 1939

Kurtz’s Gas Station – Arnold Gibson, Charlie Kurtz and Carl Wayne

filling up in Trumbull

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.

Used car lot - 1940's

Used car lot – 1940’s

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 Bus 1940's

Greyhound Bus 1940’s

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.

Delta Airlines ad - 1940's

Delta Airlines ad – 1940’s

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.”

1940's Bike ad

1940’s Bike ad

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.

Thanks.  gpcox

I really enjoyed having gpcox, pacificparatrooper.wordpress.com , do these Guest Posts. The research is outstanding and I always learn little-known facts. 

Tomorrow I’ll begin posting a week of letters written in 1946. Both Lad and Dick are home in Trumbull with their wives, Ced remains in Alaska, Dan and Paulette await the arrival of their little-one-to- be in France before they will be allowed to travel home to Trumbull and Dave is anxiously awaiting his chance to return home from Manila.

Judy Guion

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46 thoughts on “Guest Post – It Was Hard To Keep The Good Times Rollin’ by GPCox

  1. shoreacres says:

    No one in my family — either side — had a car until after the war ended. I knew they were relatively poor, and assumed that was the reason. This fleshed out the realities so well — life was much more complex than even my generation knows. But that Sunday drive? It was the heart of our week, and now I understand more about why it was so important, especially to my dad.

    • jaggh53163 says:

      shoreacres – Isn’t it wonderful to learn more about the lives of our parents and grandparents? GP and I are happy to share the information we have with you. I know I have learned so much about my grandfather by reading his letters to his sons away from home. He really tried to keep it as normal as possible and remind his sons of the life they would come back to after the war.

  2. oldpoet56 says:

    Excellent article, I enjoyed the read so I am going to reblog this article for the two of you. I am a fan of Mr. Cox website also, in my opinion he is a great writer, I enjoy reading his material.

  3. Gypsy Bev says:

    We lived in the country and took Sunday drives almost every week. To save gasoline, Dad would coast down the hills and see how far he could go.

  4. The Emu says:

    Excellent informative post, these snippets of War time history really do illustrate the hometown struggles of the time.
    Enjoyed that reading, great re post from gp

    • jaggh53163 says:

      The Emu – I’m glad you are enjoying these posts. They portray a time that is fast disappearing from our history. GP and I will keep doing our part to keep it alive.

  5. Petrol was so strictly rationed in England during the war that unless you had an official reason for driving, you couldn’t get any petrol. (Rationed and needing coupons like food and clothes and everything else) Most people’s cars were up on blocks in the garage with the tyres taken off… I was tickled at the anecdote of someone having to sit on their suitcase for the whole journey… we all did in England. We were crowded into corridors as well as carriages, and a suitcase was indispensable seating !!!

    • jaggh53163 says:

      valeriedavies – Thank you for adding a viewpoint from across the pond. That just emphasizes the fact that rationing affected the world even after the war was over.

  6. Jennie says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this read. Often times the day-to-day stories are most interesting. Thank you for bringing transportation to light. I learned so much!

  7. What a fascinating peek into the past. Too bad about trains. They were glorious and then old.

    • jaggh53163 says:

      Jacqui Murray – I used the trains to get home from college. I even traveled from Chicago to Oakland, CA for Christmas after my parents moved out there from Trumbull. I loved the trip.

  8. Thank you as always, GPCox, for that informative contribution. I’m interested in your opinion. Do you believe the Great Depression ended as a result of Government spending in prosecuting the war, or the cessation of Government spending following the war, allowing the private economy room to grow?

    • GP Cox says:

      Thank you very much. Judy and i appreciate it.

    • jaggh53163 says:

      americanmilitaryfamilymuseum – Thank you for the re-Blog. Families all across the country sacrificed so much for the war effort and reading and sharing my grandfather’s letters is my way of honoring the sacrifices of those who came before us.

  9. weggieboy says:

    My father was chief of police of a small police department in our small town, swollen by the construction workers and military personnel of one of the airbases used to train paratroopers and glider pilots for the D-Day invasion. The police had one car, a Ford, and a motorcycle to do their patrols.

    When the Ford suffered an accident to a door, rendering it unusable, the local Ford dealer told my father no doors were available because of the war, that the one on the car, on top of it, couldn’t be repaired.

    My father wrote Henry Ford (THE Henry Ford!) telling him about the disabled police car, and Ford made sure the car got its door!

    http://www.e-nebraskahistory.org/index.php?title=Nebraska_Historical_Marker:_Alliance_Army_Air_Field

  10. GP Cox says:

    Kerbey has a great post that goes right along with this one.
    https://sanceau.com/2018/04/28/electro-motive-1949/

  11. Nemorino says:

    I guess we were lucky to have a 1936 Oldsmobile that kept on going during all these years, even if it did boil over sometimes.

    • jaggh53163 says:

      Nemorino – It probably kept going because someone in the family understood the mechanics of the car and could keep it running. That was a real blessing.

  12. Dan Antion says:

    I was doing ok until I read about shoes being rationed. I guess that’s why I was told not to “scuff my feet” as we walked. I didn’t realize until later in school, why the simple act of going for a Sunday afternoon ride was important. We took these simple pleasures for granted. We didn’t know how much our parents cherished them, or why – they never complained about hard hard it had been.

  13. beetleypete says:

    Another great historical snapshot, GP. My Mum told me that during the war in London, she mostly walked everywhere, as the buses were always so crowded, you couldn’t get on them. Few working class people owned cars anyway. My Dad bought our first family car after I was born, in 1952. It was an early 1930s Wolsely, an ex-police car. He had to learn a lot about mechanics, just to keep it on the road.
    The windscreen wiper (only one) had to be manually operated by turning a lever, and it had no ignition like modern cars, relying on a starting handle inserted into the front.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  14. GP Cox says:

    Reblogged this on Pacific Paratrooper and commented:
    I hope everyone enjoys this look back to how their own family got around during the WWII era.

  15. In our London street of the 1940s no-one had a car. We played happily and safely in the road. We chalked cricket stumps on the opposite fence – the tarmac was our pitch. Another informative slice of social history from GP

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