Initially, American railroads used spare heavyweight Pullman tourist sleeper cars to haul military personnel, but the traffic demands necessitated even more rolling stock. The United States’ Defense Plant Corporation ordered 2,400 standard troop sleepers between 1943 and 1946 from the Pullman Company. Owned by the government but operated and maintained by Pullman, these cars were designed and built as rapidly and economically as possible. Troop trains moved a million men each month. Most moved through the nation from military bases to points of departure under relative secrecy, and at times the troops themselves did not know their destination.
Many military personnel who rode on troop sleepers contend the name was misleading: sleep, they claimed, was nearly impossible. A combination of freight and passenger car design, the trucks on troop sleepers produced a rough ride. Troop sleepers contained 30 bunks, each with two wooden coat hangers and a rifle rack. The upper bunk was fixed into position, but the middle and lower bunks could form a seat for daytime travel. Each car was equipped with four sinks, two separately enclosed toilets, two chemical fire extinguishers, and a first aid package. A water cooler was located at one end with a water supply of 150 gallons. Despite the rough ride and bare amenities, each troop sleeper was outfitted with a Pullman porter to change the linens every night and assist troops during their journey.
Declared surplus after the war, troop sleepers were sold to used-equipment dealers who recognized the potential of their use for other purposes. With various modifications, the veteran troop sleepers became express/baggage, caboose, refrigerator, work train, storage, and power cars. The troop sleeper on display at the B&O Railroad Museum was restored following its donation in 1988. It serves as a reminder of the service rendered by the millions who traveled so many miles from coast to coast on their way to war in places around the globe.
Questions for Reading 1
1.Why was it necessary to build so many new troop sleepers after the war had begun?
2.Why did many WWII soldiers consider the name troop “sleeper” to be misleading?
3.Would you consider this a luxurious way to travel? Explain.
4.Is it possible to examine an authentic troop sleeper from WWII today? Explain.