My stepdad, "Wild Bill" William T. Stewart is a long retired Alaska Railroad Engineer. He came to Alaska in 1936 to escape the ranch life in Wyoming. He was soon hired to buy live stock for the new Cooperative development in the Matanuska Valley. He made two trips back to Montana, Wyoming and Eastern Washington buying primarily dairy cattle and shipping them by train to Seattle. Temporary stock pens were built on deck of the old steam ships then serving Alaska and some of the cattle were put below in the hold. Bill could hire some help among the steerage passengers but all to often the dirtiest jobs fell to the straw boss. Bill had a formula worked out: One bale of hay + a wash tub of water = one ton of manure. On deck they used a fire hose hooked to a pump to wash it over the side. Below deck was another story and no one doubted the formula.
In 1939 Bill hired on in engine service with the Alaska Railroad, running the old Panama Moguls, 200 and 600 class, hand bomers all. As World War II came along some 550 class wartime consolidations showed up. These were the Gypsy Rose Lee Locos (Stripped Down For Action) built to be disposable in the heat of the European war but diverted to power short Alaska. Along with them came the 714th Transportation Corps Railway Battalion of some 25 officers and 1090 enlisted men. There was such a labor shortage in Alaska during the war and with Alaska being on the "front line" the army men were sent up to ease the situation.
Being pulled from good paying railroad jobs and stuck with army pay for doing the same work did not set well with many of these fellows who were thousands of miles from their families for the duration of the war. Many of them had a wood lot on their shoulder when it came to relating to the "civilian" old time ARR crews they were working with. "Well let me tell you how we do it on the Great Northern." "You would never get away with that on my road, the NP." "On the Southern Pacific we had more snow than this." "I tell you, it never got this cold on the CB&Q."
Locals usually took the attitude in stride and
Wild Bill would usually chime in, "On the TM&P we knew how to keep
a schedule". "I got a lot of experience with big power
on the TM&P". Of course in a group none of the "outsiders"
would question where the TM&P line was for fear of appearing less than
totally informed. The Club Bar on 4th Avenue in Anchorage was a favorite
dinner and refreshment spot for railroaders and occasionally an army outsider
would loosen up, after a few toddies, and one on one with Wild Bill would
quietly inquire about the TM&P. "Tell me more about the
big power on the TM&P". Bill would with some bluster
and great pride announce, "Well we operated tandem O-4-0 0-4-0 hay
burners on the Two Mules and a Plow in Wyoming!"
© 2000 Pat Durand