This is Paul Meyer who some 35 years 10885341_10204649114523750_4545022432846281372_nbefore this picture was taken in 1975 was the passenger agent on a Great Northern steam locomotive headed from the Pacific Northwest toward St. Paul Minnesota. It was Christmas eve 1944, the crowded cars were full of exhausted, homesick sailors headed east from the Pacific theater of World War Two. In Europe, the terrible uncertainty of the snowy Battle of the Bulge dominated the news and for the young men on the train the next days of Christmas promised to be a plunge into a mountainous snowstorm of their own.
Paul imagined a different journey and began breaking both railroad and military rules big time. Just over the Idaho state boundary he convinced the engineer to completely stop the “Empire Builder” on the main line long enough for him to select and cut a club car size Christmas tree from the surrounding forest. Next he wired ahead to the Whitefish Montana station where ornaments, decorations and turkeys were waiting with the station master when they passed through. At Williston, North Dakota Meyer spent all of his own cash and much of the purser’s till on liquid refreshments and eggnog. By the time the train began rolling again, the dining car was hung with evergreen garlands and set with an on board, home cooked holiday meal and fully stocked bar. For a few hundred American sailors away from wartime and the sea, Christmas 1944 rushed across the snowy western landscape in a blur of passing hospitality and homeland at high speed.
Paul Meyer lived well into his 80’s in a solid brick bungalow in Tacoma’s North End telling stories about his years on the railroad and remembering his rolling wartime Christmas party.

1599

 

In 1876, the year of America’s centennial and less than three years after the Northern Pacific transcontinental railroad reached Tacoma in December 1873, Walt Whitman published a poem about a locomotive in winter. He had seen the destruction of the Civil War first hand and in the modern marvel of the locomotive moving west across a snow white landscape, Whitman imagined time moving powerfully forward in a better direction. Almost a century and a half later Whitman’s words and ideas seem both ancient and modern, like Tacoma itself. Maybe somebody on the 1944 Christmas train had heard it because the poem seems to go with Paul Meyer’s story so here it is

TO A LOCOMOTIVE IN WINTER         Walt Whitman, 1875

THEE for my recitative,

Thee in the driving storm even as now, the snow, the winter-day
declining,

Thee in thy panoply, thy measur’d dual throbbing and thy beat
convulsive,

Thy black cylindric body, golden brass and silvery steel,

Thy ponderous side-bars, parallel and connecting rods, gyrating,
shuttling at thy sides,

Thy metrical, now swelling pant and roar, now tapering in the
distance,

Thy great protruding head-light fix’d in front,

Thy long, pale, floating vapor-pennants, tinged with delicate
purple,

The dense and murky clouds out-belching from thy smoke-stack,

Thy knitted frame, thy springs and valves, the tremulous twinkle
of thy wheels,

Thy train of cars behind, obedient, merrily following,

Through gale or calm, now swift, now slack, yet steadily careering;

Type of the modern—emblem of motion and power—pulse of
the continent,

For once come serve the Muse and merge in verse, even as here
I see thee,

With storm and buffeting gusts of wind and falling snow,

By day thy warning ringing bell to sound its notes,

By night thy silent signal lamps to swing.

Fierce-throated beauty!

Roll through my chant with all thy lawless music, thy swinging
lamps at night,

Thy madly-whistled laughter, echoing, rumbling like an earth-
quake, rousing all,

Law of thyself complete, thine own track firmly holding,

(No sweetness debonair of tearful harp or glib piano thine,)

Thy trills of shrieks by rocks and hills return’d,

Launch’d o’er the prairies wide, across the lakes,

To the free skies unpent and glad and strong.

10868070_10204649206286044_3774671504695153642_n

 

 

Written by tacomahistory

This site is about the way history, in this case of a city and it's surrounds, is remembered or recorded in stories and small bits of memory. It's also about the way images and stories go together, how they inform and enrich each other and how we as thinking people fill in the content between a narrative and a visual document. So here is my city in time past, the way it looked and the people and events that create its character. For more than 20 years I have taught a 5 credit course on the History of Tacoma at the University of Washington Tacoma. With an average of 30 or 40 students a year, each doing a research paper as their primary focus for the course, I have benefited from many paths of inquiry and many researched and assembled stories. Here are some of them in the retelling along with the treasures of photographs and images in the collections of the Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma Public Library, University of Washington Digital Archives, Washington State Archives at the Office of the Secretary of State, Library of Congress, Washington State University, Alaska State Library, and many other archives, libraries and private collections.

1 comment

  1. Thank you for the feature on my grand father Paul Meyers,he was always my hero and the finest person one could ever know.
    Chris Meyers.😊

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s