Transportation equipment reactivated or repurposed for the World War II Homefront

Builder's photo of Dan Patch Electric Lines gas-electric boxcab locomotive with road number 100 - the first commercially successful internal combustion engine powered locomotive built in the United States, completed on July 2, 1913 by General Electric.

The reactivations by government agencies and firms that purchased inactive equipment in the buildup to or the early years of World War II or the change of use of the equipment that occurred when the owner ceased operating as a firm or ceased using the equipment during World War II are part of America’s general and engineering history. Some firms reactivated transportation equipment for their own use that they had awaiting suitable scrap prices or a return to traffic volume high enough to make overhaul and return to service within budget.  The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway showed in a 1944 film the reactivation, for the war effort,  of a mainline locomotive that had been in storage for years. The staff time of private firms and agencies to accomplish the physical work of the reactivations and modifications for continued use was substantial for each unit. The engineering effort for update and or modification of the equipment is a unique aspect of World War II history. Most of the equipment that was reactivated or repurposed was already at least 10 years old when reactivated and by 1955 much transportation equipment built prior to 1938 except small coastal and river vessels, tugboats, PCC Streetcars, and small steam locomotives used in industrial sites went to scrapyards when owner ceased using it.

The steamboats Delta Queen and Delta King, had they not been obtained for the Navy in the pre-Pearl Harbor build up in World War II, may have been highly modified into diesel powered towboats, cut down to barges or some other uses that would have seen them cut up for scrap decades ago possibly even in early 1940s after a few more years of being out of service. They had been built for private sector use as passenger and freight vessels in 1927 on the Sacramento River and San Francisco Bay area. The National Historic Landmark forms for both vessels detail their going out of service in 1940 and return to service for the war effort later in 1940 as troop transports on San Francisco Bay. After the war the United States Maritime Commission took possession and offered the vessels for sale.

There are 7 propulsion equipped rail vehicles that received service life extensions because of World War II. Three were removed from being idle awaiting scrapping but had not been scrapped because of the low scrap prices of the Great Depression. They got reactivated in 1940-1944 when the hunt was on for any transportation equipment that could be restored to use for the war effort and if it was beyond repair only then was it scrapped. In two instances three mass transit units received overhauls and re-purposing because of World War II after their original users ceased operations. These three units would have gone to the scrapyard had the nation not been at war.

The 16 foot long Blue  Ridge #4  from the Soapstone quarry region of Nelson County, VA  was a  built in  1909 steam locomotive that was taken out of service in the  1931 at one of the Soapstone quarries in Nelson County. The Virginia Blue Ridge purchased it in 1942 and returned it to use. The railroad used it for track maintenance equipment and ballast car handling until the railroad sold the locomotive to a factory for use as a switcher locomotive. The locomotive is now owned by a collector of vintage equipment.

What is now the 1907 built Wilmington and Western #58 had been removed from use by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad in 1935 and held awaiting better scrap prices. It was purchased by Georgia Car and Locomotive Company in 1940-1943 for resale to Federal Government for reactivation and use in World War II.  The U.S Army paid for the locomotive to receive an extensive overhaul and modernization. The Virginia Blue Ridge Railroad in Nelson and Amherst counties purchased it from the Federal Government postwar and operated it until 1952. The railroad sold it to a paper mill in Lynchburg, VA   that used it until 1964. The locomotive has been in preservationist ownership since its sale by the mill.

The Key System began in 1893 was composed of a number of commonly owned corporations which operated ferry boats, connecting electric trains, and streetcars in the East Bay region of the  San Francisco, California metropolitan area. It converted to a mostly bus lines operation after World War II. The Key System name finally disappeared in 1960 when the Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District took over Key System bus lines. In 1942 the Federal Maritime Commission had the firm construct the Shipyard Railway to take workers into the shipyards of Richmond, California that had been built for the war effort. Two former New York City Elevated Subway cars are part of the less than 10 remaining in the USA pieces of transportation equipment reactivated in the World War II era.

The tides of migration that sent millions of people to new destinations and new opportunities and helped communities all across the nation recover from the Depression also produced tensions and sometimes conflict. Industrial workers moving to new jobs in old cities found themselves and their families living crowded together in dilapidated housing. The influx strained public transportation.  The Federal Government appropriated funds to help communities disrupted by wartime migrations provide service.