Five Questions for Olivier Jaubert
Trains and Traction restoration of WWI American Rail Car
By Chris Isleib
Director of Public Affairs, United States World War One Centennial Commission
An amazing group of people in France have been working on an amazing project to remember the American troops who helped France 100 years ago. Calling themselves Trains and Traction, they are railway enthusiasts who have spent countless hours restoring an original American Army World War I-era railway boxcar, for eventual display & exhibit. The rail car was left behind in France, and was a ruin when discovered by the group a few years ago. Olivier Jaubert is the Director of Heritage for the Trains and Traction Foundation, and he told us about his team, and what they have done.
Olivier, Tell us about your railcar project. This is an amazing and unique way of remembering the people who served in the war. Who had the idea?
The idea came from inside, as these 37000 wagons, sent completely kick-down from US, were locally assembled in La Rochelle by US soldiers from the 35th Engineers in what is now today ALSTOM, the biggest local factory with over 2.000 workers, building TGVs and tramcars.
Olivier JaubertRestored American railcar from World War I.The 35th Engineers guys worked from the end of 1917 to the 31st of March 1919, assembling 17.000 units. Then an American company, the Middletown Car Co., assembled the 20,000 remaining ones.
How did the restoration project get started?
These US wagons have a specific look: any boy who had an electric train to play with had one in his rake.
So when we had the opportunity to buy one for one € plus transport, we bought it. It was six or seven years ago, and this railcar was already derelict, but also already listed as a French Historical Monument since 1990. This listing means that National and local authorities can pay up to 60% of refurbishment costs, which gives ideas to the ones who can find the remaining 40%.
As they were 8 different types of these wagons, from boxcars (two types), flat, tank, to high and low gondolas, etc…, all built with same sub-components, and as they had all been locally assembled, we started collecting one of each of the only six remaining types and filled the files to get money. It seems simple. It is not.
Now two railcars are almost finished, the third “started”, and files filled to get money for the remaining ones: we plan to be ready to show the full rake of six units for your 2018’s Independence Day. The steam locomotive, we have: let’s just find reenacting groups, Ford American Legion ambulances, Liberty trucks, Nash-Quad and Macks of the time, and that’s it!
Remind us of the symbolism of these particular 8/40 rail cars. What role did they serve during the war? What information will people see on the education panels?
8/40 means 8 horses/40 soldiers, the French standard small boxcar’s capacity.
In fact your cars were bigger, and as you may have seen, you US, didn’t painted on these cars ‘sides how many horses and men there were able to transport: 12/60?
Today in France, as it seems also to have been organized in USA in the thirties by your late president Roosevelt, local authorities have training schools to put back in work long time unemployed persons. To train their people, these “schools” need to build things, but are not allowed to compete against private companies. They can only work for cities and non-profit associations. We succeeded to benefit of their work: so is public money not only used to help people, but also to save “Historic Monuments”. We volunteers only take care of the railway sides of the job, like refurbishing brakes, axles, wheels, couplings and car’s markings.
Read more: Five Questions for Olivier Jaubert
Biblio File, For Teachers
Americans in World War One: History & Stories
By Anne Rouyer, Supervising Librarian, Mulberry Street Library
via the New York Public Library web site
Harlem Hellfighters during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Painting by H. Charles McBarron JrWe started celebrating Veteran’s Day on November 11, 1919 as a way to commemorate the first anniversary of Armistice Day, the day that hostilities in World War I ended. In 1926, Congress made Veteran’s Day a national holiday and it has since become a day that we remember all veterans that have served in the United States Armed Forces.
World War I is called "The Great War" but in America it could also be called "The Forgotten War". Compared to four years in WWII, we just weren't in it for very long but it's repercussions are still being felt today.
It began in 1914 but the U.S. stayed out of it until April 1917 when President Wilson convinced Congress we should enter the war and fight. By March 1918, the U.S. had 85,000 troops in France and by September 1918 there were 1.2 million. The total troop mobilization for the U.S. was approx. 4.4 million. All told, America was in the war for about a year and a half and lost 116,516 soldiers and just over 204,000 were wounded.
During the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the last major campaign of the war, over a million Americans participated and over 26,000 were killed. The Battle of the Argonne is still considered the deadliest battle in American military history. However, that's just a drop in the bucket when you consider that the total casualties for the entire war was a little over 37.4 million people (Allies, Central Powers and civilians). On the opening day of the Battle of the Somme alone, Britain lost nearly 20,000 men. Just reading these statistics can leave you dumbfounded by the sheer loss off life and the complete loss of innocence.
Read more: Americans in World War One: History & Stories