May 2005 Issue
1382nd ENGINEERING PETROLEUM DISTRIBUTION CO.
By Paul Barnum
With the Allied forces moving slowly into the Pacific, China seemed like the ultimate place to launch an offensive for a land invasion of Japan. With adequate supplies reaching China, along with building the Chinese Army into an effective fighting force, China then could be a land base both for bombing the Japanese mainland and later for launching an amphibious attack on their homeland. This "hooking blow" along with the Allied drive northwest through the Pacific Islands would surely destroy the enemy. To accomplish these goals, another supply route was needed to supplement the air lift.
A decision was reached to build the Ledo Road which would connect northeastern India to the existing Burma Road, north of Lashio. This would provide the way for a massive movement of supplies by land along the Ledo-Burma Road to Kunming, China. Moving supplies by truck required an efficient fuel distribution system along the entire route. In a like manner, our planes couldn't operate without aviation fuel. To accomplish both of these objectives, a military pipeline had been constructed to transport fuel from our tanker vessels in Calcutta up into northeastern Assam to supply our air bases there. This pipeline was proposed to extend onward from Ledo following right behind the road construction crew to Myitkyina ("Mitch" to GI Joes) in northcentral Burma. Then it would be constructed farther to meet the existing Burma Road and follow this route to Kunming. Refueling stations with storage tanks, rest areas, and repair facilities would be installed at regular intervals along the way.
At the time of our pipeline company's arrival in Assam, General Stilwell (Vinegar Joe), leading Chinese divisions which had been trained by Americans in India, had driven the Japanese out of Northern Burma. The Ledo Road was built following directly behind his advancing divisions and the pipeline followed close behind the road construction. American-built pipelines were in place pumping fuel from a large American tank farm in Tinsukia, Assam, directly into Myitikyina where another tank farm had been constructed to store the 100 octane airplane fuel requirements of this strategic air base. Twenty thousand barrels of fuel were being pumped into "Mitch" daily.
For reasons unknown, I was chosen to be a part of an advance party of 20 from our company that would immediately fly over the "Hump" to Yun-annyi, China, about 450 air miles away. Our plane was a two-engine C-47, equipped with seating in the form of aluminum benches running longitudinally along both sides of the plane. Seat belts and oxygen masks were provided each passenger. The only heat in the cabin was that supplied by our bodies but that was quickly lost due to the below-zero temperatures, summer fatigue clothing providing little insulation. Net result -we were chilled to the bone. We landed at a very small air strip near the walled city of Yunannyi, the Burma Road only a few miles away. Our location was a high mountain plateau with very cold evenings.
Living accommodations were really quite comfortable. Each Army pyramidal tent housed four and we had our own folding cots and metal foot lockers. With some shopping in the ancient walled city we were able to find some locally made, two-inch thick mattresses. They served to insulate the bottom of the cot and made the top blankets more effective on cold nights. Each tent had a gasoline-fired heater furnishing welcome warmth until it was turned off at night. We alternated being the first one out of the "sack" in the morning with the job of starting the heater. It should be mentioned that at this time in Yunannyi, all gasoline for planes, trucks, heaters, or any other use had to make the "Hump" flight in 55-gallon drums.
I have less than pleasant memories of rats in our tents at night and being awakened by one jumping on top of my blankets. At this point, we could see the wisdom of being the recipient of the painful Bubonic plague shots before leaving the States, rodents being the known carrier of this disease.
The sole purpose of our advance party was to assemble the trucks belonging to our company. Portions of the Burma Road were still held by the Japanese, preventing trucks from being driven over on the land route. The only alternative was to disassemble each vehicle in Ledo and load the parts into C-46s for the "Hump" flight. Interiors of our transport planes were too small to allow driving the fully assembled truck on board. One member of our party was a trained mechanic who had a complete set of mechanic's tools. The rest of us worked under his guidance to complete the assembly of the first truck and made it operational. After the first was completed, our master mechanic devised an "A" frame to be used with the steel cable winch on the front of the truck. This gave us the luxury of a power hoist and speeded up the assembly process on subsequent vehicles.
As soon as several trucks were operational, two experienced truck drivers and I were told that we would each be driving a truckload of 20-foot portable pipeline sections about 150 to 200 miles west on the historic Burma Road to a location near Paoshan. This first trip driving a 2-1/2 ton 6 by 6 truck was most memorable to me. Keep in mind that I had never driven one prior to this time. Our small convoy of three loaded trucks started out early one morning from the Yunannyi air strip and then headed west on the Burma Road. The two experienced truck drivers were leading and all progressed fairly well until we entered the long mountainous section of this narrow road. My ability to downshift these manual transmission vehicles to lower gears when climbing was practically non-existent. Inexperience caused me to downshift too late on steep grades (some as much as 17%) with a dramatic reduction in vehicle speed which was then impossible to regain. The experienced drivers were soon out of sight and I didn't encounter them again that day until after nightfall.
In the steepest part of the mountains, the road proceeded upward in a series of climbing "switchbacks." Occasionally, the turn would be so sharp that my truck could not make it without coming to a complete stop, backing up, and starting forward again. Of course, all forward climbing momentum was lost. Guard rails on road edges were nonexistent, even around sharp curves. It was often necessary to back up to negotiate a curve. Then, there would only be a few feet of road between the back of the truck and a drop-off of many hundreds of feet. Yes, there were more than a few "gut wrenchers" along the way.
A particularly chilling experience occurred at the Mekong River crossing (one of the major rivers in Asia also originating in the Himalayas). At this point, the river flowed through a valley with the road carved out of the mountainside hundreds of feet above the river. Over the river was a suspension bridge anchored in abutments on either side. The bridge surface was suspended by cables and moved up and down in a waving motion as a heavily loaded truck passed over. There were no safety guardrails on either side. I came upon the near side abutments and found cable support towers so close together that I couldn't make the necessary right turn from the road to get on the bridge without backing up and making a direct head-on approach.
I still hadn't seen the two lead trucks and surmised they must have passed over this unstable contraption. I drove slowly forward, keeping my eyes on the road surface undulating up and down ahead while trying not to look down at the several-hundred-foot drop to the river below. Continuing onward until nightfall, I was relieved to encounter the first two trucks parked on the side of the road. Both drivers were inside a very small Chinese restaurant enjoying a great Chinese dinner along with some most welcome rice wine and concluding with a real almond cookie. This road trip involved "C" rations and water from the canteen, making the Chinese food seem like it was heaven sent.
The next morning, we drove a very short distance, unloaded our pipeline sections and started the return trip to Yunannyi. To understand this return trip fully, it must be kept in mind that this was really an unimproved road surface. No road graders or maintenance crews were to be seen in this desolate part of the country. On the first half of this roundtrip, with the heavy load of pipe in my truck, irregularities in this primitive road surface were at least partially absorbed by the truck springs and shock absorbers. Unloaded, the truck bounced stiffly over each small ridge or rock. By mid-day, my tailbone was so sore that I drove standing up when the flat straight sections of road made this possible. My Army cot in our tent back in Yunannyi provided most welcome relief for a sore back.
After all of our vehicles reached Yunannyi from Ledo and were assembled, the rest of our Company, including our officers, was flown over the "Hump." This took place in December of 1944 and we then moved all vehicles and equipment to a more permanent campsite just east of the ancient city of Paoshan (now called Baoshan by the Communist regime.) In Paoshan, I was assigned to a detail which involved clearing pipeline right-of-way. A survey team had already placed stakes identifying the route. Two young college graduate Chinese interpreters, both fluent in English, joined us in Paoshan. They had arranged for local Chinese women (probably farmers) to do the actual brush clearing and minor leveling of the earth, when needed, using hand tools which we provided to them.
An American Petroleum Distribution Company is blessed with a great deal of equipment. All officers had their own Jeeps. We had one truck specially equipped as a portable machine shop. Several oil field trucks, with flat beds and "A" frame hoists, were available for lifting heavy equipment such as engines and horizontal pumps. We had an air compressor truck for filling large sections of pipe with compressed air to test for leaks prior to filling with combustible fuel. Trucks equipped with generators for producing the electricity necessary to arc weld pipe were also available, along with a number of conventional 2-1/2 ton trucks for transporting people and supplies. As previously noted, until our pipeline became operational, all gasoline necessary for vehicles, tent heaters, etc. had to be flown over the "Hump" from Chabua or Myitkyina.
Our Chinese interpreters were extremely intelligent young civilians who were both friendly and helpful. We learned that they liked to play contract bridge and usually managed to defeat a partner and me in evening games. I still remember one saying during a game, "I think I will bid the greater slam in diamonds." They had no difficulty whatsoever in making the 7 diamond contract.
One evening they arranged a special dinner for their bridge opponents in Lungling. People in this locale had extremely short food supplies as the Japanese had confiscated any food they could find to feed their own soldiers. In spite of the food problems, our dinner was an excellent repast which took place in a very small Chinese restaurant. Our own meals served by company cooks in the mess tent left a lot to be desired. Our friends did Join us once for dinner at my invitation and politely acted as if they thoroughly enjoyed American "chow." Probably prompted by some guilt feelings about being so severely outclassed in the meal department. I did supply them with a carton of American cigarettes from my rations as a "thank you" for their efforts. At that time, a carton of cigarettes was worth $10 (American) on the black market and was considered a valuable item to possess.
Daily pipeline right-of-way clearing trips to and from headquarters camp in Paoshan soon became too lengthy. Two lieutenants, one cook and several enlisted men (including myself) all moved temporarily to a camp outside of Lungling, China, on the Burma Road. Our tents were situated on the banks of a small stream about 50 yards from the Road. Chinese truck traffic on the Road was extremely rare so we were not troubled with noise or road dust. Several things that occurred while working from this campsite were sufficiently memorable to be retained in the memory of this, then, 20-year-old American.
Waking up early the first morning after our arrival, we noticed that Chinese women from the city of Lungling used this section of the stream bank to wash clothing by flailing each article against a smooth rock. Our presence didn't change this custom in any way. We were all amazed when one very pregnant woman missed her daily clothes washing ritual for one day to deliver her new child. The next day she was back, working just as hard as ever.
A primitive Chinese road scraper had been abandoned very near our tents. One cold night I heard crying coming from the vicinity of the scraper and left my tent to investigate. Under the road equipment, huddled closely together, were a mother and small child shivering from the cold and asking for something to eat. Feeling sad that I couldn't be of more help, I brought the matter to the attention of our cook who did produce some leftovers from our evening meal which were given to them.
A small contingent of the Chinese Army (a company of perhaps 200) was camped nearby. With our interpreters in tow, we stopped by their camp late one afternoon and talked with some of the soldiers. These people did not have the appearance of trained military soldiers. I suspect their numbers were made up from conscripted farmers and civilian workers who had absolultely nothing to say about being in this predicament. They were clothed in ragged uniforms consisting of the traditional padded blue jackets and pants. Dinner was in the process of being served and consisted of one compacted cold ball of cooked rice (small grapefruit size) and a bowl of greens cooked in a watery broth. I strongly felt that may have been the total food ration for one man for one day, judging from the physical appearance of the men.
When this group of men traveled, it was entirely by foot. We saw no evidence of any vehicles. Footwear consisted of worn sandals, if any. If a soldier became weak or ill and couldn't keep up with the group, he was left on the side of the road where he dropped. We viewed the remains of one particular unfortunate soldier every day on our way to and from the work site. It was impossible not to notice the progress being made on his corpse by the ever-present scavenger crews.
One Chinese soldier found my only pair of wool gloves somewhere along the way and had taken them for his own use. Our interpreters reported this to their Army leaders and the gloves were quickly returned. I only wish we could have provided proper cold weather clothing to the entire Chinese company. One very wizened old man serving as a soldier in their group told our interpreters that he would like to travel with us and serve as my personal valet. I thanked him and trusted our interpreters to explain why this wasn't possible.
On one occasion we were working near Lungling and had a chance to explore some of the surrounding hills. We were surprised to find abandoned trenches used by the Chinese Army to defend against a counter-attacking force of 6000 Japanese troops. These trenches contained some residue such as spent shell casings and an occasional "potato masher" hand grenade still unexploded. This battle had taken place some months before and no evidence of human remains could be seen. Lungling was included in the most eastern penetration made by the Japanese forces advancing from Burma with the objective of controlling this remaining vital supply line to China.
The only contact we encountered with the Japanese occurred while our advance party was in Yunannyi. About mid-day, one lone Japanese Zero fighter plane dove in quickly over our airstrip and dropped several small anti-personnel bombs which were directed at our small control tower building. Fortunately, these bombs were way off target and did no damage to personnel or buildings. They did provide excitement, though, and our only time to "hit the ground" in the adjacent rice paddy.
Christmas of 1944 must have been fairly uneventful as nothing in particular stands out in my memory. I was still stationed at headquarters in Pao-shan on New Years Eve which brings back definite recall of the small celebrations that four of us enjoyed in our tent. We had saved up some of our allotment of 3.2 beers and had acquired several bottles of rice wine. In preparation for midnight, we carefully consumed our stash of happy fluid, freely mixing both types of alcohol. This is a combination I definitely do not recommend. At exactly 12 o'clock midnight, the four of us "poured" out of our tent and joined others in firing our 30 caliber carbines in the air. This was one of the few opportunities we had to actually fire our rifles.
Looking back, a somewhat humorous incident happened when we were first setting up our camp near Paoshan. Every camp, of course, must have a latrine. Ours consisted of a slit trench dug an appropriate distance from the camp site. A four-hole rectangular wooden box was con structed and placed over the trench to provide the luxury of sitting down. Quite a deluxe accommodation! At the time the location was selected, no one noticed that it was about 20 feet away from a well worn trail (extending back to the hills) used by people on their way to the city markets.
The next morning I was comfortably "settled in" over one of the holes, contemplating the scenery. Happening to glance a short distance back along the trail, I noticed a Chinese hill family walking along on their way to the Paoshan market. They politely gazed straight ahead and seemed not to even acknowledge my presence. Later our "throne" was enclosed with a privacy tarpaulin.
This part of China was completely isolated from any of the modernizing influences of eastern cities. Chinese women still had bound feet to make their feet small and supposedly beautiful. From my point of view the custom only served to make walking difficult. A typical procession on the way to market would find the man walking ahead, carrying nothing and possibly smoking a Chinese water pipe designed for opium. Directly behind him would be the woman, hobbling along on her "studs" for feet. She would be heavily loaded with market items in baskets supported from a shoulder yoke, with a basket suspended on each side for balance.
Two things remain in memory very clearly. A mountain stream had been diverted into a network of narrow ditches located in a row down a gently sloping hillside in the front of each home, an effective water distribution system but one very susceptible to contamination. Chinese living in this more remote section of China were very clean in their daily living habits and offered a refreshing change from people living in India. To my surprise, a baby's severed arm lay carelessly beside the ditch of running water in front of our home. Apparently this was not unsettling to the local residents but in my sheltered life this was shocking and so has remained a vivid memory.
A much lighter incident occurred during my tour when I happened upon a Chinese school consisting of one-story classrooms open to the outdoors. I peered through one open door and saw perhaps 20 Chinese third and fourth graders studying mathematics. Strangely there was no teacher. An impulse urged me to enter, go to the blackboard and write a simple subtraction problem, deliberately with the wrong answer. The class corrected me in unison and quite emphatically.
I then walked back into the school courtyard and was met by a most gracious gentleman who must have been the school principal. Even though we couldn't converse in English, he made it known that I was invited to have tea with them outdoors in the courtyard. I had acquired a very small pamphlet containing some English to Chinese translations which he graciously assisted me in pronouncing. I thanked him politely and continued on my tour. Later, I suddenly realized why there had been no teacher present. She had obviously seen me approaching, became frightened, and ran from her classroom directly to the principal to report my presence. Undoubtedly, I had been carrying my carbine slung over my shoulder, as that was our protection (needed or not) when we were away from camp. The rifle would have increased her fear.
In summary, I finally did manage to portray the image of a harmless American soldier (with extremely limited mathematical skills) to a room full of Chinese children. That was almost 60 years ago. Some are possibly still alive and just reaching their seventies. I wonder if any might recall that day. It would have been a most unusual childhood experience in this part of Southwestern China, probably 500 miles from the border of Tibet.
Right about this time, some of our Company was working near Shingbwi-yang in north central Burma, laying additional 6-inch pipeline alongside those lines already in operation along the newly constructed Ledo Road. They apparently needed help as some of us were soon on our way to the Paoshan airstrip, loaded down with all of our belongings. Once again, we boarded a C-47 transport plane and were off for another flight over the "Hump." On this flight I was suffering from a severe head cold. The rapid descent into Myitkyina, Burma, coupled with an unpressurized cabin, left me with a very painful earache which persisted for several days.
The Irrawaddy River flows by Myitkyina in a warm jungle climate so I looked forward to a refreshing swim. This is a giant river, comparable to the Mississippi, with its origin high up in the Himalaya mountain range and is one of the four largest rivers in Asia. While writing this, research indicated that the river had a low depth of 25 feet. During the monsoon season, depth could increase to 66 feet. Maximum velocity of the river was 12 feet per second and maximum width was 1800 feet. Had this data been known to me, I might have had second thoughts about jumping in. As it was, this powerful current quickly picked me up and carried me rapidly downstream. Fortunately, good physical condition and swimming ability allowed me to combat the current and gradually work back to shore quite a ways downstream, thoroughly exhausted. This was a lot different than swimming (many years ago) across Lansing's Grand River from Francis Park trying to obtain a Boy Scout merit badge.
During the brief stay in Myitkyina, local Army cooks decided that a fresh fish meal would be a pleasant change from the regular boring canned food options. Fishing procedures being used there were effective and instantaneous. They involved dropping a one-fourth pound block of TNT in the river and waiting a few seconds for the explosion. A boat was on hand to reach the scene and harvest the results of the concussion. A large river fish, weighing over 100 pounds, was brought in, cooked and served for the next meal. It had no flavor and a flesh texture similar to pure lard. I suspect that it would have been fine if one were starving but we were a long way from that stage.
Our next move was north, up the newly constructed Ledo Road, to a Jungle location in Shingbwiyang. We were transported in the back of 2-1/2 ton trucks driven by experienced Mrican American truck drivers from an Army Engineering Company. They drove us up mountainous grades equally as difficult as any I had experienced on the Burma Road. Shifting these truck transmissions had given me real problems. Riding with these drivers was a humbling experience. As they traveled up these steep grades, they would rhythmically downshift at the proper time so as to minimize loss of forward momentum. The resulting sounds were exactly the same as if the transmissions were fully automatic. I recently learned that the Army Engineering Road Construction outfits were one of the very few places where blacks were utilized in WW II.
At the "Shing" jungle camp, it was not uncommon to see large groups of monkeys migrating through the dense jungle, crossing the new road carved out by Americans. "Shing" was memorable as it was our most elaborate camp. As an example, we had gasoline heaters submerged in 55-gal-lon drums filled with water. They were mounted on an overhead platform connected to improvised shower heads. This provided a truly wonderful, gravity fed warm shower. Utilizing our large air compressor truck at this location, we were able to submerge our cans of 3.2 beer in a drum partially filled with gasoline. Inserting the air pressure hose in the gasoline caused rapid evaporation producing COLD BEER! Another luxury!
"Shing" contained a small airstrip previously used by our Air Force during General Stilwell's drive to retake Myitkyina. It was experiencing very little activity when we first arrived. I do remember two American fighter planes landing there one day and then taking off after a very short stay. It was memorable as this was the closest I had been to any American fighters and it offered an interesting break in our routine.
While in the jungle, I was assigned to work with an experienced arc welder joining sections of an additional 6-inch line being constructed to meet increased fuel demands at the expanding airbase at Myitkyina. While most of this line was coupled with basty iron clamps and neoprene gaskets, the section we were working on was destined to pass over a swampy area where it would sink out of sight. Sections had to be welded to insure that there would be no later leaks because replacement of neoprene gaskets would have been impossible. After the long welded section was completed, our air compressor truck would pressurize the entire section. We could then check for leaks at all joints with soapy solution and rework any defective welds. A cable would then be attached to the long, leadproof section. This cable extended across the swampy section and was attached to a bulldozer located on the far side on dry ground. The entire section would then be pulled across the swampy area until it reached dry land where it could be attached to the regular coupled sections. This is an example of construction difficulties encountered along the way, often unexpectedly. The Salween and Mekong gorge suspension crossings were also challenges but at least the suspension bridges had been rebuilt and provided a working platform.
My function in working with the welder was to raise the pipe sections from the ground and align the two sections perfectly so that the butt joints arc weld. A special clamp used to ensure alignment would be in place until the joint was spot welded and then was removed in order to complete the weld. After the weld was finished, I would then remove the welding slag with a chipping hammer. Talk about "grunt" workl An Engineering background was of little value here. A portion of our welding consisted of connecting pipe to newly constructed storage tanks. Having just completed trigonometry in ASTP, needed formulas were committed to memory and I was able to compute necessary pipe cutting angles for the welder. I think he was impressed. Some days the jungle heat and humidity were intense enough to bring the welder close to heat exhaustion as he also had to cope with the heat generated from the weld. I might say that I had no desire to exchange jobs.
We lived in this jungle during the first part of the monsoon season. Annual rainfall in this area of Northern Burma was over 275 inches per year. That converts to about 23 feet. Our tents were old and this steady rainfall quickly found each of the many holes, resulting in a multitude of steady drips. I diligently tried to move my cot into a position where no leaks fell. No luck! I was forced to sleep in a soaked bed. At least the night temperatures remained warm. Several days of this steady, drenching rain caused a nearby dry river bed to fill with water which was soon rushing downstream in a regular torrent.
This period of inactivity and boredom had us searching for things to do. Someone stopped by and announced that an inflatable rubber raft had been located and suggested we try rafting in the newly formed river. Sounded like fun to me, so I joined the group. We had just launched and traveled a few hundred yards when a wooden bridge appeared that we hadn't anticipated. We had no paddles and were at the mercy of the strong current heading directly for the bridge. Water level had risen until there was only about 30 inches of clearance to the bottom of the bridge. We all dove for the bottom of the raft and stretched out, face down, as flat as possible. We just cleared the bridge, the underside of which contained a host of exposed sharp nails, without suffering any bleeding backs. Just past the bridge, the river made a sharp bend where the current took us close to the river bank. The rushing current brought us to a sturdy, overhanging tree branch that was quickly grabbed to stop forward motion and enable us to pull the raft to the bank.
That ended our boredom, at least temporarily.
A much more dangerous experience (the full impact not realized until later) occurred as a result of a coupling joint leak in one of our four-inch pipelines which was pumping red-colored 80-octane gasoline. The pumps had been shut down upstream but the leak had been present a long time before detection. A large pool of red gasoline had formed and it was 18 inches deep in places. Two of us took off shoes, socks and fatigue pants and waded out in our "skivees" to replace the neoprene gasket. The repair was made satisfactorily with only burning sensations on any portion of the skin that had been in prolonged contact with gasoline. This burning remained for several hours afterward. As I now reflect back on the possibility of a spark occurring during the repair and the now-known effects of lead in gasoline, fortune had certainly smiled on me as evidenced by a good state of health at this age (79). Research while writing this memoir uncovered doumented cases of primitive tribes of Northern Burma puncturing holes in the pipeline to obtain fuel, only to result in self immolation.
My next move, fulfilling my classification as a pumping station operator, was to a working jumping station in Assam, India. Facilitites there were deluxe compared to previous ones in China and Burma. A large bamboo basha (native Indian dwelling constructed of bamboo and natural materials) with a thatched roof and concrete floors was there for our use. It was divided into a large sleeping area with a small adjoining mess hall. I didn't know any of the soldiers living there and was likely brought in to fill a vacancy.
Work details were easy and consisted of monitoring the pump operation on 4-hour shifts, twice daily. This station was an exact duplicate of the training station we had constructed in Louisiana. It consisted of four large Buda industrial gasoline engines, driving four large horizontas reciprocating pumps. A 5000-gallon portable metal tank had been assembled to store gasoline needed for the four engines. The carburetor of each engine received filtered fuel directly from the large storage tank. (No danger of running out of fuel.) When the large tank needed refilling, telephone communication with the upstream station would let us determine when a "slug" of red 80-octane passed them. The 100 octane airplane fuels were green so we could differentiate by color sampling. When the color samples turned red, it was only necessary to open the proper valves to divert some fuel for the purpose of refilling the storage tank.
When each pumping station operator changed shifts, the incoming operator always seemed to feel that he should fine-tune the suction and discharge pressures. As a result, pressures along the line would vary for a short period and then settle down and remain quite steady. From that point on in the four-hour shift, an occasional glance at the gauges was all that was required and a lot of reading (fiction) filled out the remainder of the four-hour shift.
Once again, I'm sure it helped to have a last name that started at the beginning of the alphabet. Short 3- or 4-day rest leaves were available at an English summer retreat north of Lucknow, India, in the Himalaya foothills. Here wealthy Britishers could escape the intense heat and humidity found in much of India. I was one of the first of our company to take advantage of this refreshing break. Of particular note was the several hour trip up a typically narrow mountain road north of Lucknow. The Indian bus was old and rickety and would have been retired 20 years before in the USA. The roadbed was rough and dusty and the driver was a maniac driving unsafely and passing when there was not sufficient clear vision ahead. To our surprise, we arrived safely at our destination. The view of the Himalayas was magnificient, with Mount Everest towering over the entire range of snow-covered giants, all exceeding 20,000 feet in elevation. A special culinary treat offered by the British staff was genuine hamburgers. How they accomplished that is still a mystery as cattle are sacred animals in India. Maybe the meat was other than beef! No matter, it was still most welcome.
Returning to the pumping station, I was surprised to learn that the GI's ahead of me had somehow procured a Jeep. Not only that, the vehicle had been fitted with four flanged railroad car wheels spaced dimensionally to accommodate the narrow gauge railroad. A self-propelled railroad car was the result. There were no roads near our pumping station but the pipeline closely followed the long existing railroad. A black Army engineering battalion was stationed in an Indian city about 30 miles from our remote pumping station. When evening movies were being shown in their mess hall, it was possible for all of our station group to attend, except the unlucky person on the shift monitoring our pumps.
A requirement for the trip was the notification of our intentions by phone to local Indian railroad authorities to obtain clearance to use the tracks. Six or seven of us would then lift the Jeep onto the tracks, pile into the vehicle and head to the movies. These were warm nights and the rush of air from the open Jeep was a welcome relief from the heat. Once as we were exiting the mess hall after viewing a movie, we were told that the United States had dropped some kind of a huge bomb on Japan. This was in August of 1945 and we gathered that this was a one-of-a-kind explosive device. We weren't told any other details and the news wasn't especially meaningful at that time. However, we learned in early September that Japan had surrendered unconditionally. THE WAR HAD ENDED! WE COULD RETURN HOME!