|Then & Now Books & Boxcars
The North Platte Canteen became the subject of a book by bestselling author and award-winning journalist Bob Greene: Once Upon a Town: the Miracle of the North Platte Canteen. Greene interviewed people who volunteered at the Canteen and some of the veterans who were among the six million soldiers who stopped in North Platte on their way to duty stations across the country.
Greene tells the stories of Nebraskans who sacrificed their own food rations and gasoline supplies so they could feed the soldiers. Day after day, volunteers prepared fried chicken, sandwiches, cookies and cakes. They loaded their cars with farm-fresh eggs, cheese and milk and drove miles on muddy roads to work in the North Platte Canteen.
One woman Greene interviewed said working at the Canteen made you "feel like you had done something worthwhile, for the glory of God and the glory of your nation. You would pray that those boys you had just seen would come back home. They were not much older than we were." Greene says some volunteers had sons in the military, and one woman was working in the Canteen when she received word that her son had been killed in action.
With tears in their eyes, the soldiers told Greene they may have only stopped in North Platte for 10 minutes, but they never forgot it. The smiles, food, and friendliness overwhelmed the homesick soldiers. One veteran told Greene, "The biggest thing was how those people made you feel really appreciated." One veteran recalls that men on the battlefields who had been through North Platte would often talk about it. "They would talk about it like it was a dream. Out of nowhere: 'How'd you like to have some of that food from the North Platte Canteen right about now.'"
In 1973, the Union Pacific tore down the depot soon after the passenger trains were replaced by freight trains.
Although the troop trains are gone, North Platte today is home to the largest railroad classification yard in the world. Workers in the repair facility fix an average of 50 locomotives every day, and 18-20 cars per hour, with shifts running 24 hours per day. The shop replaces 10,000 pairs of wheels every year. Every 24 hours, Bailey Yard handles 10,000 railroad cars, each day sorting 3,000 cars into eastbound and westbound yards. The yard covers 2,80 acres and has 315 miles of track. The command center at Bailey Yard is linked to the Harriman Dispatching Center at Union Pacific headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska. Union Pacific Railroad serves 23 states. The main line in Nebraska is the busiest corridor in the country, with 135 trains operating on this line every 24 hours. Union Pacific ships grain, coal, food products, wood, metals, chemicals, minerals, and cars.