Nov 04

World War I troop train

Red Cross canteen workers during WWI are meet one of the many troop trains which passed through San Luis Obispo. They brought snacks and a friendly smile to soldiers who were traveling on cramped cars for sometimes days at a time.  This photo is from the Old Mission collection.

In 1916 railroad traffic for troops and supplies was coordinated over all rail lines by the Military Railway Service or MRS.

A little over ninety years ago the United States was on the way to becoming a world power. The nation had been involved in previous conflicts externally against Mexico and Spain. Between those wars it had fought internally in a Civil War. Since colonial times, westward expansion brought settlers in conflict with Native American tribes.

By the late 1910′s those battles had been fought, the nation’s commercial interests had been tied together by rail and the Panama Canal. Until this time America had largely avoided becoming entangled in European wars but now was involved.

Rail traffic would play a key role in troop movements during World War I. At the time roads were little more than pathetic trails, and the oil industry was still emerging. Good luck finding a gas station in much of the rural west. The roads were so poor during the 1919 Transcontinental Convoy a youthful lieutenant colonel, Dwight D. Eisenhower took note. It took 62 days to move a convoy of 297 men and over 50 vehicles from Washinton D.C. to San Francisco. Barely 6 miles per hour. I think the Donner party made better time than that. Until the end that is. The interstate highway system would be a major legacy of the Eisenhower presidency in the 1950′s.

Four of my top ten list of monster trends impacting the Central Coast were in place and two more would be established within a decade. By 1918 the Missions, railroad, oil and Cal Poly were all a reality or developing. Hearst Castle would start construction in 1919. Camp San Luis Obispo would be opened July 4, 1928. Temporary army camps had been established in Edna (1901) and Pismo & Atascadero (1904)

Here is my complete top list if you missed it. Nominate your entries in the comments.

  1. Missions founded – The central coast is on the European map, literally
  2. Trains – The iron horse flattens the earth, brings the first tourists
  3. Oil boom – Unocal, Chevron, et al and their predecessors bring international industry here
  4. Cal Poly established – No longer an uneducated cow county
  5. Hearst Castle – One of the world’s most opulent homes becomes major tourist attraction
  6. Army camps and World War II – Thousands of trainees introduced to Central Coast, many settle or retire here after the war.
  7. Freeways built – Guadalupe got the railroad, Santa Maria got the freeway. Which town’s bigger?
  8. Prisons – California Mens Colony, Atascadero State Hospital and California Youth Authority pump millions in recession proof payroll and construction into the local economy
  9. Power Plants – Morro Bay and Diablo Canyon boosted the tax base for local education and government in addition to construction and payroll. Any time you pour a few billion dollars into a county things change.
  10. Internet – You’re using it now aren’t you? I rest my case

In honor of Veteran’s Day, which grew out of the First World War’s Armistice Day there will be a series of daily posts this week on World War I.

Related posts:

  1. Extinct bird, Lark luxury train service
  2. 1894 First Southern Pacific train service to San Luis Obispo
  3. World War 1 bond drives
  4. 1915 World Series, Red Sox-Phillies
  5. 1901 McKinley Train