Draftees Off To WWII

By Keith Gibson

The great WWII was under way and the first group of draftees was getting ready to depart.  It was in March of 1942 and their sendoff was a little more subdued than what their counterparts received at the start of WWI.  Folks all across the country were a lot more apprehensive in 1942, than in 1917.  Pearl Harbor had left quite an impact on them, along with the situation in Europe.  There was more of a feeling that this war would be more costly and last a lot longer.  That feeling was vindicated by the length and cost of human life and property over the next 4-5 years.   Another big difference in embarkation, was that the men were to leave by bus and not on the Nevada Northern passenger train.

The passenger service had been stopped the previous summer.  It was originally scheduled to end July 16, 1941, but that was extended to July 31.  Nevada Northern had started a bus service,  at that time to take passengers to Wells to catch the Southern Pacific trains.  I can remember the bus es stopping in McGill in front of the sheriff’s office.  My mother took my brother Paul and I on that bus one time.  We boarded the train in Wells and the conductor brought us boys a post card that had a colored picture of a train crossing the salt flats.  There was a tiny cloth bag of salt attached.  I kept that card for many years, but alas, it is just a memory now.

The last passenger to buy a ticket on the train was N.W. Fay.  It was for the short trip from the Ely station by the duck pond ‘all the way’ to the large depot in East Ely.  The crew was composed of -Engineer-William Young; Fireman-L. Labate; Brakeman-Phil Bennet; Conductor-W.N Padden; and Mail Clerk-Val Walker.  (Ely Record, April 4, July 18, August 1, 1941).

The locomotive was of course the beautiful and gracious old #40.  It was built by the Baldwin Corp. in 1905.  It was used to haul freight and passengers to and from Cobre.  The driver wheels on #40 are a lot larger in diameter than those on #81 and #93, thus making it a long distance hauler.

As a young heathen growing up in the “townsite” area of McGill I remember when old #40 would come chugging up the hill with a long line of boxcars, oil tankers and many coal cars.  It usually backed up the hill from the McGill junction.  We would run alongside of the engine and get Mr. Labate to blow the loud steam whistle, much like the kids of today and long haul trucks.  If we got too close to the engine, Mr. Labate would shoot some steam out of somewhere to warn us off.  He always had a huge smile on his face as though he really loved his job as engineer.

At night if there was no caboose then a brakeman would sit on the end coal car with a red flare.  He would light it just before the highway crossing.  We could see it coming and knew that when he passed over the crossing at the bottom of F row, he would toss the flare off into the dirt.  We would all scramble for the flare and push it into the ground to put it out so we could use it later for some nefarious project.

Those old steam engines were wonderful machine with  lots of character.