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Three Thousand Train Cars A Day Get
Rearranged At UP Yard

Locomotive repair shop
In the locomotive repair shop, about the same as three football fields, a huge crew does everything from change lightbulbs to overhaul diesel engines. The shop can handle as many as 750 engines each month.

f you are adding to a collection of railroad memorabilia, there is a gift shop in North Platte, Nebraska, that will help you out. The gift shop, an accompanying museum and a viewing tower are in the Golden Spike Tower at the Union Pacific Railroad’s Bailey Yard.

You can learn the history of Union Pacific and also the fascinating story of the North Platte Canteen, which provided a special contribution to the war effort during World War II.

The Union Pacific was the first transcontinental railroad.

Today, the Union Pacific tracks go not only from east to west but also north to south, and it is in North Platte that all the tracks converge. The Bailey Yard, named after a former president of the railroad, is charged with providing crews, repairing engines and shuttling railroad cars as they come and go.

Union Pacific's massive Bailey Yard.
Train cars and locomotives are separated and reorganized throughout the 8 miles of Union Pacific’s massive Bailey Yard

The massive Bailey Yard covers 2,850 acres, a total length of eight miles.

There an average of 139 trains per day are made up to head for destinations in the East, West and Gulf coasts, as well as the Canadian and Mexican borders.

About 3,000 railroad cars a day are sorted, using two mounds of dirt to “hump” each car to the track it needs to get to its destination. The hump nickname comes from a 34 foot mound for eastbound trains and a 20 foot mound for westbound trains.

Trains with up to 125 cars arrive in the yard and are sorted to new trains by using the engines to run them to the top of the hump. Gravity and a lot of electronic shuffling roll the cars gently on to any of 114 different tracks.

You can watch all this happening from the eight-story tower built as a tourist stop for those interested in watching a huge railroad yard in action.

A bit of trivia that we found interesting about railroads in general is the fact that each railroad in the United States owns its own tracks. They sometimes “rent” them to other railroad lines, but they’re not like highways, where all the railroads share the same tracks. Each railroad also owns its own engines, but most of the cars are owned by the shippers.

Now, back to the historical note from World War II. Union Pacific supported servicemen’s canteens and USOs at stops like the North Platte depot, but a fortunate accident made the story line in North Platte extraordinary.

Troop trains passed through North Platte every day, and early in December of 1941, the rumor in town was that one of the trains held Nebraska boys. One young woman thought it would be fun to meet the train, which would normally stop for water and fuel, and have a treat for the soldiers. She rounded up volunteers and got a surprise when the train they met had no boys from Nebraska. Undaunted, the girls passed out their treats and were greeted with great enthusiasm.

For the next 51 consecutive months, volunteers taking turns from a wide area of western Nebraska met every train (and there were sometimes several trains a day) with free sandwiches, fried chicken, coffee, cookies or cakes, cigarettes, music and friendly smiles.

Sometimes, among the snacks were homemade popcorn balls, some of which included slips of paper with names and addresses of young women looking for pen pals. There were even a few “popcorn ball marriages” when the young men came back to North Platte.

In December 1943, the North Platte Canteen was awarded the War Department’s Merit­orious Wartime Service Award. The Canteen also merited a book telling its story , Once Upon A Town, by Bob Greene. Memora­bilia of the North Platte canteen is part of the museum at the Golden Spike Tower museum at Bailey Yard.

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