Following is the story of our move to the desert in June and
July, 1942, and stateside events that followed. I arrived at
Camp Polk, Louisiana, in early April, 1942, as Transportation
Officer. I was requested by the Division to coordinate moving
equipment, particularly from Camp Polk to the Mojave Desert in
The first order of business was to determine exactly how much
equipment was within the division. We had to identify the number
of trucks; 2 1/2 ton trucks, jeeps, tanks, and every size. We
needed to know the exact specifications of each vehicle, i.e.,
how many trucks had winches so we could determine exact length.
This was critical information. A 2 1/2 ton truck without a winch
was 21 1/2 feet, but with a winch it was 22 1/2 feet. Tanks (Shermans
and Grants) were all different weights. We kept very exact orders
regarding the equipment needed to make this move. When we determined
the exact equipment to be moved, 1,600 flat cars were ordered.
Hopefully most of the train cars would be approximately 40-50
The railroads had a lot of problems moving troops around the
country. At that time the Government was about to take over all
the railroads in the United States because of the mess. The 3rd
Armored deployment to Mojave would be the first major move of
We ordered 800 "Pullman" cars. A Pullman could carry
39 soldiers. Two soldiers could be put on a lower bunk and one
on the top bunk. There were some instances when these cars did
not have an upper bunk (perhaps it had been broken or removed).
Many cars were compartmentalized, such as the "Park"
cars. A Park car was a very fancy car with about seven state
rooms. These cars were saved for the higher ranking officers
or other important people. However, if we wanted to "get
rid" of an officer who was bothering us we would send him
on one of the first trains. I remember very well getting rid
of the colonel from the 23rd Engineers. He was very demanding
and wanted certain equipment for certain places. So we got rid
of him in a hurry.
We also had to order blocks to put under the tank tracks and
the truck wheels. We ordered approximately 16,000 blocks which
had to be made up and brought in. They were made from swamp wood,
perhaps Cypress, which was very heavy. Each block weighed about
30 pounds because it was still green. They were approximately
8" wide x 12" high x 24" long. The block ends
were cut at different angles; 90 degrees on one end for wheeled
vehicles and 60 degrees on the other end for track vehicles.
Tanks, however, used one end of each block. In other words, the
60 degree angle block was used for the front track and the 90-degree-angle
block was used for the rear track.
We also ordered thousands and thousands of feet of a heavy
gauge wire, perhaps 18 gauge, which is about 1/8" thick.
After the ordering was under way, I conducted classes for the
noncoms of all the outfits, showing them how to wire down the
vehicles. We did not tie the wire by going through the loop of
one wire and back, because that was just single strength. We
needed to use double wire that didn't have any "give."
Then the wire was cut and turned. The wire ends would be turned
around each other with the use of a screwdriver or some other
tool. This tie-down could not be loose, it had to be as tight
as you could get it. If it came loose at all, the vehicle would
move, stretch the wire, and cause more problems. I gave these
classes for a couple of weeks during the later part of April
and then the noncoms taught the men.
There were 200 baggage cars that were used as kitchen cars.
Two kitchen cars were put on each train. Sometimes we put three
kitchen cars on a train because some companies did not have as
much equipment as others. These baggage cars were fitted with
our mess equipment, field ranges, and everything else needed
to take care of the number of men on that train. Very few trains
had four kitchen cars. Some trains were sent out with more Pullman
cars than others and had very little equipment. There were 200
box cars used for impedimenta, radios, orderly room supplies,
guests, etc. Altogether there were nearly 3,000 train cars that
went out in a total of 64 trains.
This was the biggest movement of any Army group during World
War II. We had a full compliment. They practically had a TBA
of authorized equipment and everything else. We had to use every
bit of that equipment.
Getting 1,600 usable flat cars was a job -- and unheard of.
We depended upon the two biggest railroads for the major part
of the hauling, the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific. Other, smaller
lines took us out of Polk to meet the Santa Fe or the Southern
Pacific. Train cars were on every spur from Alexandria, Louisiana,
down to Lake Charles, Louisiana - any place they could be stored.
All of these flat cars had to be inspected prior to being
put into a train. Many of the deck boards were bad, sometimes
springs were in bad shape and there were a few other little things
wrong. Some of the cars did not have a great big beam or two
beams down the side. They were supported by a large cable or
two large cables that were stretched between the front and the
rear of the cars. These cables were pulled so tightly that they
more or less held the car together.
We also had to be sure that all the brake rods could be dropped.
The brakes were a wheel that stood up and was turned in case
the car became detached and had to be stopped. The iron wheel
was turned by hand and automatically applied the brakes. At least
one of those had to be in working order, but both of them had
to be dropped. Otherwise they would stick up like an iron pole
making it impossible to go car to car with your vehicle.
We also had to order timbers for crossovers. These crossovers
were made with two 12" x 4" pieces of lumber and had
to be placed between the two cars. Underneath each crossover,
a piece of 2" x 6" or bigger was placed so that when
the vehicles rolled over the crossover they would not kick back.
The two pieces were capped underneath and would hit against the
end of each car and keep them in place. Each car was required
to have at least one pair. In other words, two boards 12"
wide and 4" thick were built with one or both ends cut away.
This allowed the vehicles to roll up on top of the crossovers
more smoothly. A track didn't have any trouble, but the smaller
vehicles could not climb up the 4" bump. Imagine the amount
of lumber needed for this!
Naturally we also needed nails. The blocks that had been cut
with the 60-degree and 90-degree angles had to be held in place.
So we used either 24 or 28-penny nails that were driven in on
the opposite end of the block that was not being used. As I remember,
we were required to put four nails into the block and then drive
the nail into the deck of the car itself, and then two nails
on each side, toe-nailed in. Imagine 16,000 blocks, enough wood
for at least 1,600 flat cars, meaning that each flat car had
four pieces of 4" x 12" x 6', for the crossover.
Those in turn, after loading the cars, had to be put across
the deck of the box car and nailed down so they would be in place
when we arrived at our destination. At the end of summer, we
left the blocks in stockpiles. They had dried out and looked
and felt like balsa wood; you could lift them with one hand.
They were not fit to be used again. I never knew what happened
to this wood, perhaps someone used it for firewood.
There were a total of 64 trains, each made up of Pullman cars,
box cars, and baggage cars. The Pullman cars were placed at the
rear of the train. The flat cars and box cars were forward. The
baggage cars, or the kitchen cars, were somewhere between the
Pullman cars and the flat cars so the men did not have to go
too far forward or walk on the decks of the flat cars where the
vehicles were, even though there were guards on the vehicles.
The guards were supposed to inspect the vehicles at every opportunity
to insure everything was tied down correctly. There were no problems
that I remember on any train coming west. We did not lose any
equipment and I don't remember anything coming loose.
Colonel Robinson, Division Quartermaster, and a fellow named
Captain McCarthy, who later was one of my platoon leaders, were
sent ahead. They went ahead with a squad of men to the desert
town of Rice, California, to unload tents and other equipment
that came in there first. The 54th Field Artillery, their Service
Company and a company from the 23rd Engineers were sent ahead
to lay out the streets and put up the tents, etc. This was done
because we did not have much time when we came into town, especially
when moving eight trains a day, for four days.
We took a break for a few days after that to make certain
that the equipment was brought back, or there were enough spurs
in the area to accommodate all this. We had to give the railroads
a chance to bring in more equipment so we could complete the
Remember, the whole division was moving. The only ones left
behind at Camp Polk were the cadre for the 7th Armored Division
and those that had jaundice and were in the hospital. There were
some who drove out in their personal cars. So we moved approximately
14,000 men. On each train there were one or two companies comprised
of 300 or 400 men. However, the 36th was probably three or four
companies, but they did have not as many vehicles with them.
Great care was taken when making up the trains because there
were limits to the amount of equipment the trains could carry.
The engines did not have that much power and there were many
mountains to cross. Those trains with the heavy loads went further
south, bypassing as many mountains as they could. Lighter trains
went further north on another route. Every detail had to be carefully
Engine power was a bit of a problem in some cases. There were
no diesel electric engines like today. We had the old "Molly"
engine, which was a great big engine. It wasn't fast, but it
could pull a lot of weight. Sometimes two engines were used because
there were a few hills down into New Mexico and into California.
Engine power was a major consideration. Quite often they would
pull the train out of Camp Polk with switch engines to get the
train out of the yard on time, and then pick up the power engines
along the way.
Another consideration was matching trains with the right number
of companies and their equipment. We had to know exactly what
equipment each company had so the proper cars could be used.
Some equipment was only 36 feet long; it would not be possible
to put two 2 1/2 ton trucks on those cars. Most of those smaller
flat cars did not have a weight factor high enough to carry a
couple of tanks which were 18 1/2 feet long. The heavy tanks
would have caved in on the smaller flat cars. Vehicles could
not hang over the end of the cars. If one of them was hanging
a little bit over, the other end had to be free to pull up the
brakes in an emergency.
So every day I knew exactly which equipment was going on which
train. I would tell the railroad that I needed so many 36's,
so many 40's, so many 42's, and so many 50's (the length of each
flat car). I think there was one type of flat car that was 52'
6" long, but they were placed randomly. I would sit and
watch each train as it came in, noting it's measurements, which
were written on the side. I would write all this down and tell
the train master what cars he had and the order in which to place
them. If the cars were out of order all the equipment would not
fit. We were required to use whatever train cars were available.
The trains also had to be loaded according to classification.
One of the things we were taught, for instance, was that a sedan
carried a first class rate with a 10,000 pound minimum. A tank
rate was 80,000 pounds with a 5th class rate. So if you mixed
a tank with a sedan the highest rate at the highest minimum was
used. The rate was $6 per hundred for a 80,000-pound rig, weight
factor, whereas the passenger car (of which there were quite
a few) only weighed 3 or 4 thousand pounds. All of these things
had to be taken into consideration. If I told the yard master
to leave a flat car with only one tank on it, even though there
may have been a sedan or something smaller, he had to follow
my instructions because of the classification.
There were times when I could not control the loading of some
of the flat cars. Like the time I ran into trouble with Colonel
Tandy. He wanted his sedan placed on the first car so he could
be the first one to disembark. He also had some sort of a tank
he wanted next to the sedan. I told him I couldn't do that. So
I 'got rid' of him. He was trying to give me orders. Fortunately,
my immediate boss was Colonel Roysden, and he backed me right
to the end. Anything I wanted or needed, Colonel Roysden was
right there. When some colonel gave me a lot of trouble I would
give Colonel Roysden a call and he would handle the problem.
He could 'chew' better than any man I knew. I think General Watson
was backing him also. At that time Colonel Roysden was G4, and
so I had no problems. I came to know him quite well.
It was Colonel Roysden who talked me into staying with the
Third Armored. I was supposed to return to the Transportation
Division. Colonel Roysden asked, "What's a young man like
you doing in the Transportation Corps?" I said, "I
don't know." He said, "Well, we need you." That's
why I stayed with the Third and I am sure happy I did.
Everything went off without a hitch. When I finally did get to
the desert I was sent to Rice to help out the office station
master. He didn't know whether he was coming or going. There
were men being sent out, being transferred to other outfits,
home on leave, or going to school somewhere. As a result of all
this activity, he could not handle all the tickets to be given
There were also other supplies arriving. I remember getting
a couple of cars filled with small Coleman stoves. It was an
individual stove, like a gas can, you pumped it up and burned
gas in it. I don't know why we needed them; nobody wanted them.
We never did unload them. I don't know whatever happened to that
shipment. When I left they were still there.
There were other things that came in also. Every time a load
of sardines came in the men wanted to bury them. I think the
desert will grow sardines some day, so many were left out there.
My home was down at Rice. I had no duty outside of that. I
was General Watson's aide for awhile. His aide had jaundice and
had to go the hospital at Desert Center and the General chose
me to replace him. I went to Los Angeles with the General quite
a number of times and to his home in Pasadena. Then I would have
his car and driver for the one or two days we would be there.
I had a good life for awhile.
When we left the desert to go back to Camp Pickett in Virginia,
the only thing we had to do was to get several Pullman cars and
a few boxcars for the equipment we were taking with us. A few
of the higher ranking officers that went back had sedans, but
outside of that, I do not think any equipment whatsoever went
As I said, we were issued a lot of tools in the desert. I
think they were issued by weight rather than by individual tools.
Those that were taken back with us were turned in at Pickett.
I remember they had a difficult time getting rid of them because
no one in Pickett wanted them. Most of the desert respirators
issued to us were thrown away. I suspect there may have been
a few people paying for those because they were short in every
unit. But they were not of any use at Pickett whatsoever.
When I got the movement to Camp Pickett organized and everyone
had left, I took leave and went to my home in San Jose and left
my car there. I then took a train back to Pickett where I again
joined the Third Armored.
As transportation officer my first duty was to have boxes built
for the radio and other impedimenta that would go to Africa.
The 23rd Engineers were building these boxes. Approximately 15
or 16 carloads of lumber were brought into Camp Pickett. We had
taken over a lumber mill. Suddenly everything stopped. The lumber
was not even unloaded; it was left sitting in the cars. Orders
came that we were not going to Africa because our equipment had
been lost at sea. Our orders to move to Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania,
came around Christmas time.
Even before that some of the high ranking officers made a
trip up to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, to see how things were going.
I had to get them passage on a train out of Blackstone, Virginia.
The train was booked and I had to pull a little rank and get
some priority out of Washington to get everyone on that train.
They all wanted berths, etc.; no one wanted coaches. I believe
it was a few days trip from Camp Pickett to Camp Kilmer, New
Jersey. They took a look at Camp Kilmer and came back. That was
about the time we were told we were not going to Africa.
Then I got a call from Washington to make sure that the advance
detail built ramps for the equipment to use during unloading.
These ramps consisted of several railroad ties built to a certain
height. I remember a smaller tank unit that had come into the
desert training center and had no ramps available. What did Patton
tell them to do? If you are in battle, turn and go over the side
of the car. Well they did. Uncle Sam had to buy a whole lot of
railroad cars because doing that caused a car to be "pinned."
A flat car is set with two trucks, one in front and one in back.
A truck has a "pin" coming up through the middle of
it. That pin, which is about 4 inches in diameter and turns,
is all that holds the truck onto the car. So the truck drivers
went off the side, bent a lot of these pins and broke the sides
of some of the cars. This all had to be repaired. I understand
it was quite a bill.
I was notified by Washington to make sure that we had ramps
for unloading. That meant at least eight ramps because I didn't
know if the trains would all arrive the same day. They couldn't
build a ramp on the main track, so we had to have a least eight
spurs. There were not enough spurs there so the railroad had
to send in several crews to build spurs so the train could get
off the main track.
We went through Rice on the way to Phoenix this year (1996)
and there isn't much at Rice anymore. There wasn't much to start
with, but the railroad station isn't there. There are still there
a lot of spurs out there. It was unbelievable. I didn't see those
two cars loaded with the Coleman heaters though. I guess someone
finally took them.
You must remember that it was Patton who went out into the
desert, studied the desert, and thought it was a great place
to bring nearly a million men, which is how many they claim they
trained there. The desert camp opened up on May 13, 1942, which
was less than six months after Pearl Harbor. We were the first
ones from the division out there. There were a few tank battalions
and infantry outfits that came in ahead of us, but they were
at desert center, which was located near Highway 40. We were
the first ones at Iron Mountain. Consequently, when the camp
opened on May 13, we already had people there. Part of the 54th,
the 23rd Engineers, etc., plus McCarthy and his group were also
there until the war started.
When I rode out on the last train, Colonel Roysden was with me
and several others that I cannot recall. It was one of the best
cars we had, so I made sure I saved it for the last train on
which I was going to ride. I was supposed to go to the desert
with Colonel Roysden and get everything unloaded and leave. While
we were on the train he talked about what a young man like me
was doing on the transportation detail. This is when I decided
to join the Third Armored. Shortly after arriving in Rice, I
called Washington, gave them a report and asked for a transfer.
They could not turn me down, so I notified Colonel Roysden that
I had the transfer and a short time later I was a first lieutenant.
I guess he appreciated everything I had done.
When I came to the Third Armored Division I had been a second
lieutenant for two months. Since that time, thinking about it,
I probably sent loads of equipment to every place in the world
you can imagine, probably 10,000 tanks. Places such as Singapore,
Switzerland, Spain, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Israel.
I believe I was assigned the duty of loading equipment because
I had been in transportation prior to the war. After going to
college, I worked for a few years in that field.
While we were out in the desert just prior to the invasion
of one of the Islands in the Pacific, (which was one of the major
offenses down there), the Pacific command needed some light tanks,
M-11's, with a 105 pack howitzer mounted on it rather than a
37 or something else. We had about 40 of them and were ordered
to get them repaired, install types of radios in them, and send
them down to San Diego. Third Armored Insignias had to be painted
over and everything had to be in top shape. I ordered train cars
for that and the trucks were loaded at Rice along with a passenger
car that carried a crew that had not finished the repairs. They
worked en route to San Diego and Guadalcanal, the truck's destination.
When they pulled into San Diego, they were taken right out to
the pier and loaded directly from the flat cars to the ships
being made up for the invasion of Tokyo Bay.
In Division Headquarters as transportation officer, I was
responsible for the gas ration tickets to be given to various
people living off post with cars. I had to insure they received
the gas ration cards they needed. I did that until Colonel Roysden
called and said I was to be assigned to a company. He gave me
a couple of choices - the 32nd, a service company, or a supply
battalion. I thought the best thing to do was go with a truck
company. I commanded Supply Battalion Company A until near the
end of the war when I received another promotion.
The experience of moving out to the Mojave Desert was one
of the greatest experiences ever. It took a lot of work and a
lot of thought, but we had some great commanding officers in
the G sections of the Third Armored: Colonel Bulger, Colonel
Barr, Colonel Roysden, and General Watson.