1939 movies; Depression; post WWII; St.. Louis station

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  • Member since
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1939 movies; Depression; post WWII; St.. Louis station
Posted by WILLIAM O CRAIG on Saturday, June 27, 2020 4:25 PM

    Several months ago someone on here wondered what it was like to have first seen all of the classic movies produced by Hollywood in 1939.  I was around then (7 years old) and my folks took me to see many of them.  I was disappointed by Gone With the Wind because it didn't have any battle scenes.  I remember there was an intermission before the Reconstruction scenes started.  My older sister was working and could afford the dollar or so admission to see an advance showing before the regular first run.  I prevailed on my folks to see The Wizard of Oz a second time, because I wanted to see where the good witch's green globe came from.  As a kid, of course, I didn't appreciate the dramas.  I didn't like Bette Davis then and still don't.  First run movie tickets cost 30 cents, and children's half that. I think we went to the movies about once a week.  My father was a Frisco railroad office supervisor in Springfield, Mo.,  a city of about 60,000 then.  It was at the junction of the  railroad's two lines from St. Louis to the southwest and Kansas City to  the southeast, and was  the city's largest employer with major shops located there.  He was making about $200 a month in the 1930's on which he supported five adults, my two sisters and me.  We had a comfortable middle-class lifestyle, with a car and a few luxuries.  His salary was cut $100 overnight in 1931 when the Depression hit.  My mother said he would come home every night and tell her of someone else who had been laid off.  He worked six and a half days a week until after World War II (only Sunday afternoon off) and took maybe three days of vacation a year.  Apparently the employees who didn't show up all those days were the ones who were first laid off.  When in 1945 the railroad announced that the offices would be closed on the weekends, some of the higher-ups were quite angry.  My dad's boss was a nice man, but my stepmother, who was his secretary, said she would never forget how mad he got when the announcement came down.  The railroad was his whole life--he started working in a roundhouse at the age of 15.

     I was a rail fan from an early age.  My father used to bring home new timetables and sometimes an Official Guide for me to look at, or other literature. I subscribed to Trains in  the early '40s.  I was excited about the streamliners some of the railroads introduced in  the late '30s, and was disappointed when the Frisco's new streamliner, The Firefly, was powered by a remodeled steam engine instead of a diesel.

    I seldom have read on these sites much about the St. Louis Union Station. It was truly a rail fan's dream.  I have read that as many as 21 major roads used it, although a bulletin I have lists schedules of  "only" 19.  My first introduction to it was in 1936, when my folks took me to Springfield, Ill., to visit an aunt.  We took the Alton's Ann Rutledge, and I remember looking at paintings adorning the coach. I read many years later that it was hand-me-down equipment from the railroad's premier train, The Abraham Lincoln.  Shortly out of St. Louis, I could see a huge Depression-era squatter's camp on  the  Illinois side of the Mississippi River.  By 1939, when we returned to St. Louis for my dad's Masonic lodge annual meeting, I was old enough to appreciate the railroad scene.  As we moved into the station yards I was so excited to see the equipment from all the different railroads that I embarassed my folks.  There were a number of competing roads using the station, built in 1896, including the four vying for  the Chicago traffic.  We arrived on  the Frisco's Bluebonnet, a joint operation with the Katy from Texas, and backed in under the huge train shed. When we walked down the station concourse, I could see the Pennsylvania's bright-red Spirit of St. Louis, and nearby the New York Central's Knickerbocker.  At that time the railroads had their own distinctive signs over the gates, with "clocks" showing  the departure times. Next to the  track where we came in I saw the sign for the Missouri Pacific's Scenic Limited for Colorado and the West,  already in place for later that day.  The next morning while Dad was at his meeting I persuaded my mother to take  the streetcar back to the station to see more trains.  We watched the Baltimore & Ohio's National Limited leave behind the first road diesel I had ever seen (the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis was using diesel switchers).

     Someone on here suggested that  the Americans' national mood after the end of World War II was somber and dispirited, reflected by  the "Film Noir" movies of that time.  My experience was just the opposite.  There was  tremendous optimism evidenced by the construction boom that had been delayed for years by the Depression and  the war.  Thousands of returning veterans were going to college under the GI bill, marrying and starting families.  The upbeat mood prevailed until the Cold War began. The optimism was reflected in the railroad industry's investment in dieselization and new equipment.  One day in the late '40s I went with my dad to see the Frisco's new streamlined equpment being moved into Springfield for the road's premier trains, The Meteor and The Texas Special. Another day we went down to the passenger station to see one of  the Frisco's new diesel engines, pulling a train of standard equipment.  My father hated to see the diesels replacing steam, although later he realized their efficiency.   Not too many years later, of course, all the Frisco's passenger service was gone, and the railroad itself was absorbed into the Burlington Northern.

  • Member since
    January 2019
  • From: Henrico, VA
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Posted by Flintlock76 on Monday, June 29, 2020 4:55 PM

Mr. Craig, I laughed when I read your view of "Gone With The Wind" as a seven-year-old, it reminded me of a man I knew back in the 80's who told me of going to see "Wee Willie Winkie," the Shirley Temple classic, with a group of friends and expecting to see a real "battle royal" like they had in "Gunga Din."  Hey, it was a British Army in India film, right?  Boy were they mad when Shirley stopped the impending war!  Forty-plus years later and he still hadn't forgiven her!

I kind of share your opinion of "GWTW."  After the Civil War it's just a soap opera. Big deal.  As far as I'm concerned the two best movies of 1939 are "The Wizard Of Oz" and "Dodge City." But there's so many other great ones it's no wonder 1939 is considered the greatest year in American film history. "The Watershed Year."


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