QUARANTINED IN WELLS, NEVADA
In June 1943, the Union Pacific Railway Yard in Wells, Nevada, was the host for a 40th Bomb Group troop train for 36 hours. The unscheduled delay was caused by a train wreck east of Wells.
Our train was shunted onto a siding bordered on one side by a sandy field, and on the other by a row of identical, one story, frame houses. Each house had a sign bearing a woman's first name on its roof. The house nearest my car read Mamie's.
A few hours after the train stopped, Group Commander Colonel Henry Mooney issued an order for each squadron to report to the field for calisthenics. After we worked up a sweat in the hot desert sun, our Adjutant, Captain Harper Miller, mercifully called a halt to our exertions, and told us to board the train.
As we straggled to our cars, Colonel Mooney met us with several of his staff officers. They all looked very concerned while speaking quietly to our Adjutant. Then Colonel Mooney and his staff took off down the line of cars, and our Adjutant called us to gather around him for an announcement. His remarks were short and blunt. He said, "Men, board the train. Everyone will remain on the train. Guards are being posted on each car. No one will be allowed to leave his assigned car. You are quarantined until this train pulls out of Wells. Dismiss."
The Adjutant's unusual emphasis and his use of the word quarantined, aroused considerable curiosity. None of us understood why he used that word, or why he did not explain what was going on. We boarded the train and sweltered as we began to kill time doing what all soldiers do on a troop train -- shave, sleep, play cards, eat condensed rations, and shoot the bull.
At sundown, the signs on the nearby houses glowed with red neon lights. Mamie's was the sign I could see best from the car in which I was confined. We could see a few men on Mamie's front porch, and we could hear the juke box music that filtered through her open front door. One man stepped off the porch and walked toward our train. When he was within earshot, someone asked him, "What's going on over there in Mamie's house?" The man laughed, then replied, "Boy, don't you know that Mamie's is a cat house? In fact, all those houses that have signs are cat houses."
Then we understood why we were being quarantined, and why guards were posted in each car. The next time the Conductor came through our car we asked him about the houses. The gentleman explained that prostitution, liquor, and gambling were legal in Nevada. Our train pulled out of the siding the next morning, so none of our Squadron personnel visited the bordellos of Wells, Nevada.
We were tired from inactivity and filthy with coal soot when the train stopped at our destination -- Pratt, Kansas. Pratt was a marvelous little town in the Kansas wheat belt, and had a lot in common with Wells, Nevada. They were small towns, quite isolated, and each had only one primary industry. Pratt serviced the wheat industry, and Wells serviced railway passengers.
Therefor, the two towns were far apart in life style, and that is why many veterans of the 40th Bomb Group are still fond of Pratt, Kansas. Despite the town's small population, many 40th Bomb Group men returned to Pratt after World War II, and married young women they met there in 1943.
* From Ira V. Matthews' Eighty-one War Stories. *