Tuesday, May 19, 2009

First Person Account of Rail Operation at Ephrata Army Air Base

Part of an interview with Walt Thayer, who was residing in Wenatchee at the time of the interview.

From "Certain Lands Southeast of Ephrata"
by Patricia J Dunston

"From March to September 1945 I was a civilian (Civil Service) guard for the branch line of railroad that served Ephrata Air Base. I lived in bachelor civilian quarters up near the water tower and WAC quarters. Harry Lee of Ephrata was a civilian mechanic for post engineer.

"Before the air base obtained their own Plymouth gas-powered locomotive, the Great Northern Railway local freight engine did the switching. Sometimes they called a tug from the hangar or landing strip and pushed the car to where they needed to unload it. These tugs towed the B-24 Liberator bombers out to the flight line and also back to the hangar at the end of a flight and were small, gas powered vehicles. Not being familiar with railroad switches, sometimes they’d pull or push a boxcar through an open switch and either bend a switchpoint or derail the boxcar or both. Then they’d have a hard time rerailing the boxcar and I’d have to get Harry Lee or some other from the post engineer machine shop, to help me get the switch point into the shop where it could be heated and put back to normal. After a few warnings they where more careful when moving boxcars in the air base railroad yard…

"…During operation of the Ephrata Air Base, civilian employees could eat at the mess hall with the airman for 25 cents per meal. A lot of scrambled eggs were served and they sometimes had a greenish color (I presume they used powdered eggs). Some fellows would not eat their “green eggs” but a civilian employee, Louie Maguire ate them like candy. He was always hungry.

"The engineer on the air base locomotive was rather tight-fisted and so were two other railway men assigned to the local freight train between Wenatchee and Wilson Creek. When they found out they could eat at the air base for “two bits” they’d put their locomotives “on spot” in the air base railroad yard and walk the short distance to the mess hall, to beat a cold lunch or paying high prices at the beanery in Ephrata. Sometimes, before returning to their engine they’d arrange for another civilian or airman who had a canteen cart to get them a carton of cigarettes. Cigarettes were rationed and other trainmen envied them."

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