"God Bless, and Save America"
A Brief History of Crestline, Ohio's WW II Canteen
By Scott D. Trostel
READ MORE about this canteen in the book: ANGELS AT THE STATION
For additional information on the WW II canteens read the books listed at the bottom of the CANTEENS tab; THE COLUMBUS AVENUE MIRACLE: THE WEST STREET AMBASSADORS: LIMA'S OPERATION KINDNESS
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CRESTLINE'S CANTEEN The charitable actions of one lady, Margaret Clingerman at Bellefontaine, Ohio, did more to influence an entire state to begin a concerted gesture of giving than any other person during WWII. With her own plans and guided by the voice of a compassionate heart and her Christian convictions she a a group of women opened a canteen at Bellefontaine in May, 1942.. Within weeks of the start of her canteen at Bellefontaine, Ohio others came, observed and successfully adopted the idea. The first to come forward was the Hospital Auxiliary about 70 miles north at Galion, Ohio, in Crawford County. They were also on the New York Central Railroad. The hospital auxiliary there started gathering on the station platform with market baskets full of food in July 1942.
Both the Army and the railroads objected to its location, and on September 10, 1942, it was closed, but that did not preclude others in more strategic near-by locations from continuing with this profound gesture of compassion.
Marie Moran, in adjacent Crestline, Ohio, just four miles further north was determined to open a community canteen there and to feed the soldiers on both railroads passing through that small but important railroad community.
Crestline was a vital junction of the New York Central Railroad and the strategic Pennsylvania Railroad, whose mainline between Chicago and Philadelphia passed through the heart of the Village. It was just a small town, but it was a giant in terms of railroad facilities on the PRR. Every train changed locomotives and crews. There were massive yards and equally large locomotive service facilities. Like many of the canteens, this one popped up in a small railroad town.
On August 18, 1942, Marie called a community meeting, asking members of all churches, lodges and other social groups to meet in the Mayor's office. It was proposed at that time to conduct a local canteen center on lines similar to Margaret Clingerman's efforts at Bellefontaine. They would provide sandwiches, doughnuts,, pies, cakes, cookies, coffee, fruit, cigarettes for servicemen passing through on regular scheduled passenger trains.
It was estimated that 200 soldiers, sailors, marines and air corps men were traveling through Crestline daily on trains of the NYC and PRR between 9:00 A.M. and 9:00 P.M. The plan was to have the canteen open those twelve hours, with four women working the first six-hour shift and four women working the second six-hour shift. Each church or lodge would appoint its own members to a shift and that organization would then be responsible for one day a week.
A westbound troop train has just pulled in at Crestline, Ohio, on the Pennsylvania Railroad in the Spring of 1943. Troops have flocked off the train while locomotives are changed and make a dash for the free canteen service. This canteen served over 1,200,000 troops from 1942 to 1946, all with donated food and manned by a full staff of volunteers. Founder Marie Moran holds the door open and welcomes the troops. -- An original oil painting by Scott D. Trostel 16 x 20 oil "Noon at Crestline." This painting is for sale at $4,000.
It would all be volunteer and rely on donations of food and money for its continuation. It was to be a village project, with a weekly expense of $60. The dollar club was formed with the village split into five districts for weekly solicitation of funds to sustain the canteen.
The canteen offered a variety of sandwiches, desserts, fresh fruits, coffee, and milk. In this day, with meat, sugar, butter, and coffee rationed, the community shined as never before, sacrificing those items for their use at the canteen. Bologna salad was a staple sandwich, so was egg salad, peanut butter and jelly. Chicken salad and if available, beef and pork sandwiches along with home made vegetable soup.
Unique to this canteen was the offering of transportation to and from the railroad station to various local town and military bases for any military personnel. Active military were not allowed to ask for rides but they could accept rides when offered, so the local auto club established the "We Invite You to Ride" registry.
The ladies work schedule was generally arranged for the various groups as follows:
Monday: Trinity Lutheran Ladies Aid
Tuesday: St. Joseph Catholic Church
Wednesday: Calvary Reformed Church
Thursday: English Lutheran Church
Friday: Methodist Church
Saturday: Presbyterian Church
Sunday: Ladies Auxiliaries of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Engineers; Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen. The ladies, and men, generally broke themselves into four-hour shifts and typically from six to twelve worked per shift, all as volunteers.
The Crestline Service Center opened on Monday, August 24, 1942, from temporary quarters inside a room of the Pennsylvania Railroad Y.M.C.A. facilities at the Union Station. It was an immediate success! The first train that day was PRR Eastbound No. 120. Every train on the PRR stopped for 10 minutes minimum to change locomotives and crews at the Union Station. The New York Central did not change crews at Crestline, but made a station stop only. Some 200 soldiers were fed the first day and 250 on the second day.
The ladies decided they would carry their market baskets out to the trains and save the troops any efforts to get off. They had to cross two of three main line tracks of the PRR to get to the eastbound trains, a problem with significant risk. An article in the Crestline newspaper stated the problem. "A number of younger Crestline girls were doing the serving last Sunday and it was reported that several of the girls had their attention attracted elsewhere when an engine, detached from a train, was backing down the westbound track and would have struck the girls had it not been for the prompt intervention of Assistant Trainmaster C. E. Iman." The following Tuesday another similar event occurred. Topping that off, a group of enterprising boys had set up an ice cream stand on the platform and were selling their treats without railroad approval. The next day officials of the railroad abruptly closed the canteen.
The railroad pointed out that a site at the busy Union Station was too chaotic and dangerous for everyone to allow the canteen activity to continue. The railroad had to change engines and crews, do a full mechanical inspection of the train, resupply the cars with water and ice and handle other passengers. The addition of the canteen was not closely coordinated with the PRR.
Local railroad officials pointed out that the USO clubs were already approved by the Government and that troops moving through on troop trains were fed regularly on the train. The railroad was promptly called on the fact that when men move through on their own time, with their own money, many could not afford expensive dining car food and many simply starved until they could get home.
Crestline, Ohio, canteen on the Pennsylvania Railroad in the Spring of 1943. Troops have flocked off the train while locomotives are changed and line up for the free canteen service. This canteen served over 1,200,000 troops from 1942 to 1946, all with donated food and manned by a full staff of volunteers.
Undaunted, Marie Moran and others pursued every approach to resolve the safety issues and get the canteen reopened. On September 10, eight days later they reopened, but this time it was focused solely on those trains of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Soldiers on the New York Central would have to suffer until they either arrived at Marion, Springfield or Bellefontaine, or the USO Lounge at Cleveland. From a small white hut donated by Gledhill and Kime Lumber, temporarily it was situated on the private property of John Berger two blocks east of the Union Station and out of the way of passengers and railroad mechanical crews. Soldiers were permitted to get off the train and enter the hut where they received food laid out on trays on a counter. There was no station platform at this site, it was located on private property very near the site where the locomotives were changed. The ladies were not initially permitted onto railroad property and to enforce it the Military Police, who were operating out of Crestline, patrolled the railroad. They were more sympathetic toward the traveling soldiers and directed them to the canteen as well as helping to keep the flow going through the tiny white hut.
In short order the 200 soldiers daily turned into about 1,000 soldiers a day. Success was finally assured. Behind the scenes, the women of Crestline, most of them wives of railroad, made very sure their position was clear and that the railroad was perhaps overly zealous. Passenger train crews promptly went about telling the soldiers of the canteen. Within a month even 1,000 a day was a conservative number. At times it was impossible to feed all the troops. A bit of help was received in November 1942, when the women at Lima, 72 miles west opened their canteen. Trains could be passed back and forth to help relieve the pressure at Crestline. Within four months of its start over 116,000 troops had passed by the canteen window.
The women soon found they were being overwhelmed in a building that had gotten too small for the crowds. By January 1943, they were making pleas for a larger building and for the railroad to allow then use of a site closer to the station and the passenger platform. This time the children of Crestline stepped up and began their own fund drive, collecting pennies to build the new canteen. This was the only canteen structure paid for by children. In April 1943, a larger and more substantial canteen building was built at the south end of S. Crestline Street. It was built on property of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Even though the canteen was allowed back in railroad property, the women were not permitted to go out and meet the trains, the soldiers had to come inside to get their food.
As many as 1,100 soldiers could get off a train for food. The women had about 30 minutes to make up sandwiches, drinks and desserts. It was all served in no more than 10 minutes while locomotives and crews were changed on the train and a 500 mile inspection was completed for all the cars..
That first Christmas, Crestline merchant, Michael Bibich not only volunteered to help at the canteen, he offered to pay for all food distributed that day and to provide the staff. It worked!
The War Department took note in a letter of praise date January 4, 1944 and signed by George C. Marshall.
Crestline, Ohio, canteen volunteers pose for a photo between trains in 1944. -- Courtesy of the Crestline Advocate.
Crestline, Ohio, canteen on the Pennsylvania Railroad. A west bound troop train on the right awaits the return of troops as they file through the canteen. The nearest car on the train is a diner with the cook standing in the doorway. Behind it is a heavyweight Pullman sleeper. -- Courtesy of the Crestline Advocate.
Donations rolled in and so did the troops. As the war effort continued troop trains and hospital trains called at the canteen. In the case of the hospital trains, baskets of food were taken to the train, other wise the soldiers got off and filed through the canteen, picking up anything they desired. Most took two or three sandwiches, two drinks, and a dessert such as cookies, cake, pie or doughnuts, it all was free. The canteen in a typical 12 hour span would serve an average of 25 trains.
As troops passed through on the way to the war, they were lighthearted, perhaps scarred. The veterans returning were more reserved, less talkative and less lighthearted. They were courteous and appreciative. Troop trains, formerly prohibited from stopping, became frequent visitors and in a single day as many as 3,000 soldiers could be found moving through the canteen.
A third canteen opened along the PRR main line on November 16, 1943, at Alliance, 106 miles east of Crestline. It too was busy and also handed off trains it was unable to adequately feed. Between the USO and community based canteens the PRR main line between Pittsburgh and Chicago was covered by a network of six facilities, three community-based in Ohio and three USO Lounges. Those included Chicago, at Chicago Union Station, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Lima, Ohio, Crestline, Ohio, Alliance, Ohio and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. With tight schedules five of the six (excluding Chicago) worked together to feed troop trains as many times the trains pulled out before the entire train could be served.
Passenger Train Timetable December 6, 1942
Trains NOT Initially Served in italics
Number, Direction, Arrival Time
15 WB 1:25 AM
2 EB 2:55 AM Pennsylvania Limited
63 EB 3:20 AM The Golden Triangle
354 WB 3:20 AM Valley Special
5 WB 3:58 AM Pennsylvania Limited
54 EB 4:15 AM The Gotham Limited
71 WB 4:30 AM The Admiral
62 EB 5:02 AM The Golden Triangle
49 WB 5:10 AM The General
59 WB 5:24 AM Liberty Limited
44 EB 5:49 AM
77 WB 6:01 AM The Trail Blazer
29 WB 6:16 AM Broadway Limited
23 WB 8:00 AM Manhattan Limited
28 EB 10:28 PM Broadway Limited
78 EB 11:47 PM The Pennsylvanian
120 EB 9:25 AM Sunday only
118 EB 10:10 AM Daily except Sunday
79 WB 12:45 PM The Golden Arrow
43 WB 2:16 PM
52 EB 4:19 PM The New Yorker
22 EB 5:23 PM Manhattan Limited
113 WB 7:18 PM
76 EB 7:30 PM The Trail Blazer
70 EB 8:28 PM The Admiral
50 EB 8:57 PM Liberty Limited
-- EB 9:15 PM
48 EB 9:34 PM The General
Approximately 28,000 trains served between August 1942 and February 1946.
Approximately 500,000 pounds of food served.
Mothers brought their children down at train time to show them how the soldiers were given a lift on their journey by the ladies of the canteen.
Soldiers wrote hundreds of letters of appreciation to the canteen volunteers. One is reproduced below.
"Just before Christmas , while on our way east to our discharge center, our trainload of Seabees and sailors had a very short stop at Crestline. We were all indeed grateful for the wonderful treatment given us at the station. The food on the troop train was terrible, as bad as overseas but lets not delve into that. Needless to say, the hot coffee and food given us was warmly received and to use an old expression it 'hit the spot.'
"What we like particularly was the spirit with which it was all done. Just some real Americans doing their bit to help somebody. I hope this doesn't sound like a corny line because it isn't meant to be. The idea of the whole thing sort of brought a lump to our throats and an inner warmth and helped to preserve our faith in mankind.
"There were no big signs or banners, or even any fanfare, just some people going quietly about their own, doing what they could to make somebody else happy.
"It meant a great deal to us and it was decided I should write for the whole group of fellows and try to express our appreciation. So we take our hats off to you, you were grand and we say thanks for a job well done."
"Your Returning Vets."
On Thursday, February 14, 1946, a two paragraph notice appeared in the Crestline paper announcing the closing of the canteen. After having served more than 1,250,000 soldiers, the last day of operation was February 22, 1946. The building was sold at a public sale in April, 1946, fetching $610. That money was given to the Crestline schools to repay the school children for their efforts to raise the original funds to build the canteen building.
A summary of the canteen activity was reported in late 1946 as follows:
Days in operation . . . . . . . 1,299
Cash donation . . . . . . . . . . .$31,253.94 does not count the thousands of pounds of donated food
Highest single day of service . . . . . . . Estimated at 5,000 served in 24 hours
Estimated pounds of food given out . . . 600,000 pounds
Estimated trains met . . . . . 32,500
Supported by citizens in six surrounding counties plus others from coast to coast.
The Pennsylvania Railroad provided post cards to all canteens along its tracks for use by troops in writing all-important messages home. This one features four scenes. Upper left is Crestline, upper right is Lima, lower left is Fort Wayne, Indiana and lower right is Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Crestline, Ohio's Historical Marker commemorating their WW II efforts to feed the troops passing through on the Pennsylvania Railroad. It was dedicated August 16, 2008.
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