Friday, May 16, 2014

Absent Without Leave

Note: The following was originally published in the September 1992 edition of Trains Magazine. It is used here by permission of the publisher, Kalmbach Publishing.

David R. Weinstock (1918 - 2010)
By David R. Weinstock as told to Charles B. Weinstock
In February 1943, I was inducted into the Army and was awaiting orders at the induction camp, Fort Sheridan, north of Chicago. About three days after I reported to Fort Sheridan, my company spent a Saturday morning sorting mail at the base post office. We had been led to believe that a two day pass would be awaiting us upon our return to the company area, giving us one last chance to see our families before being shipped out. Our pleasant weekend was not to be, for when we returned to the barracks around noon, we discovered that we were shipping out that day for Camp Crowder in Neosho, Mo., about 150 miles south of Kansas City.

We packed our barracks bags and staggering under the unwieldy load, marched the 3/4 mile to the Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee's Fort Sheridan station. By 4 p.m. we were on a train down the Shore Line to Chicago, where we transferred to Union Station. Our routing to Neosho was via the Milwaukee Road to Kansas City and the Kansas City Southern to Camp Crowder. (My son, who likes to ride "rare mileage," gets a vacant stare in his eyes every time I mention this.)

Our train, the Milwaukee Road's Southwest Limited, awaited us beyond one of the north gates at Union Station. We boarded special cars on the rear provided for Army inductees. The train left Chicago at 7:20 p.m., and it wasn't long before we were doing what it seems that all Army inductees did with their spare time-gambling. There were card games and dice games, and I was on the floor shooting dice as the train sped through the Illinois countryside.

The time was just shy of 10 p.m. when the train pulled into Savanna, Il. Everyone was hungry. Since the train was to pause in Savanna for a few minutes, one of my buddies and I made up a list, hit the ground, and hiked forward the length of the train to the station lunchroom. Here we could pick up burgers, Cokes, and other goodies.

Food in hand, we went outside, got on the train, and started walking back to our car. After going through several cars, we came to a vestibule, and the conductor, who asked, "Where are you guys going?" "To our car," we replied. "There aren't any more cars on this train," he told us, to our obvious dismay. "What do you mean? We're with the Army cars!"

We then learned that Savanna is where the Milwaukee Road crossed the Mississippi River and that just across the river is a junction where trains destined for Omaha turned north, and trains destined for Kansas City turned south. The evening train from Chicago to Omaha was combined with the evening train from Chicago to Kansas City as far as Savanna, where the train was split. The rear of the train, including our Army cars, was added to No. 25, a Milwaukee to Kansas City train. The front of the train, which we had erroneously boarded, ran as No. 107 and was about to leave for Omaha. You can imagine how we felt about this-two young, newly inducted soldiers screwing up royally before even getting to basic training!

No. 107 started out of Savanna, and when the rear car was opposite the station the conductor signaled the engineer to stop. The conductor told us that the train we should have been on was just crossing the Mississippi. The three of us got off the train and went inside the station, where the conductor talked to the stationmaster. He got on the phone to the tower at Sabula, the junction across the river. After a few minutes, the conductor said, "Well, we got'em just in time." We got back on 107, which soon made its way across the river.

When it got to the other side it started slowing down and eventually stopped next to another train. The conductor told us. "That's your train. Now go ahead and keep your mouths shut." They had stopped the other train for us where the lines split. As we jumped on No. 25, a big load was lifted off our shoulders. We had had visions of being court martialed for being AWOL and spending time at Fort Leavenworth (conveniently near Kansas City).

When we got back to the car. we found our friends still shooting dice. One of them looked up and said, "Where have you guys been?" "Oh, just getting hamburgers."

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