July 2008 Issue By Andy Brydon The Army decreed that on 6 April the 758th Railroad Shop would be established. The cadre was assembled prior to that date. Then people were assembled to fill out the roster. We would take our basic training at Camp Harahan on the outskirts of New Orleans. For six weeks we went through the drills and lectures necessary to form us into "soldiers." Basic training finished on 19 June. We would then be shipped to Bucyrus, Ohio arriving on 21 June for our advanced training to be competent in our skills to operate a railroad shop. We trained in the New York Central Round House located in Crestline. Ohio. The remainder trained in the Pennsylvania shops in Bucyrus, Ohio. That means taking apart and being able to reassemble the locomotive or rail car and all the skills necessary to run a railroad shop. Training now complete we would ship out on 28 November headed to who knows where? Troop movements were to be to secret. However, when we arrived in Albuquerque, NM, there was a layover and the battalion's colors were opened and we march through part of the Major's home town. So much for secrecy! We arrived at Camp Anza on 2 December 1943 where we awaited orders to where we would be sent. Check all the equipment and reissue if necessary. On 9 December, we entrained and were transported to Wilmington, CA where we would meet the S.S. Mariposa, flagship of the Matson Line. On the morning of the tenth we shipped to who knows where? On January 11, 1944, we would sight our destination at Bombay, India. We boarded the train 14 January, heading east and on the 20th we arrived at Saidpur, West Bengal, now Bangladesh. Our battalion was divided and some went to our advanced camp at Dibrugarh, Assam to take over the shops there. Those that remained, their job was to revamp 46 standard railcars into refrigerator units that would allow the transportation of fresh meat to the forward in Assam.
The 705th Grand Division, comprised of four operating battalions and one shop battalion, took over the formal control of the Bengal and Assam railroad 1 March 1944. Our battalion was comprised of "Headquarters Co." "Co. A." "Co. B" and "Co. C."
Company "B" primarily rebuilt boilers for the locomotives. New tubing is required for the boilers and the fire box often times needed to be rebuilt. Some of that work required rivets be installed and some one needed to be on the inside to buck up the rivets. A deafening job at best!
"B" Company also operated the foundry which supplied necessary parts for the operation of a railroad. Cast iron brake shoes for moving stock, piston rings for locomotive cylinders and anything that was required. In one case a locomotive damaged the main cylinder and it was estimated that it might take six months to obtain a replacement. A form was made of wood and the foundry poured the mold and then it was turned over to the machine shop to machine it to the proper dimensions to be installed on the locomotive. Co. "B" also oversaw the blacksmith shop. Company "C" was responsible for the repair and maintenance of the rolling stock. This could mean cutting and repairing parts of the rail car, installing new brake shoes and checking that axles were good.
One major job that was accomplished in the car shop was the conversion of a passenger car and turned it into the Trainmobile. This was meant to bring a ray of sunshine to those or find those that didn't have access to such things as hot coffee, doughnuts and a place in which you could be served by the Red Cross gals. It was designed so that a GI could write home.
It had its grand entrance on 4 Sept. 1944. General Yount of the 705th Grand Division came to officiate as it was being delivered to the Red Cross. The GI orchestra provided special music for the event. The two diesel locomotives were delivered to our shops because we had capability with our 25-ton cranes to lift the locomotives onto waiting Quartermaster trucks. General Yount, of the 705th Grand Division, came to officiate as they were being loaded and placed them on Quartermaster trucks that would deliver them into Burma.
This event took place in Sept. 1944 and was an annual affair when an annual Pooja was held to bless the machinery so that it would provide good service and would be safe and that the operators would not be injured. In the Major's words this belief is responsible for the total disregard by the Indians as they use terribly defective tools and had no regard for their own personal safety and have little or no regard for the safety rules we had established. The priest was from a special caste and all of his forbears had been priests. The priest is preparing his altar which will include where he will burn incense, start a fire, and some water, which is from the sacred river, the Ganges. There is an arch formed by banana leaves. There are different fruits as part of the cere. mony which included bananas, grapefruit and Jackfruit. He will chant and the people around him will sing out to the top of their lungs, clap their hands and beat cymbals. This ceremony was carried out in each of the major shops in this complex.
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