A Stranger in Paradise
By Jeff Livingston, Historian
The largest freight cars used by the Oahu Railway and Land Company were the purpose built "Can Cars". Although they only had a 10-ton capacity, they measured an impressive 44-feet in length and 10-feet in width which rivaled the passenger cars then in use. So what's so strange? Picture a standard gauge boxcar, about 50-feet long, 10-feet wide and around 14-feet high mounted on narrow gauge trucks on the OR&L. It really happened. Buried in the HRS Photograph Collection was a picture taken sometime between May and July 1942 by Glen Oakes of OR&L boxcar #327 at the Iwilei Yard. While studying the photograph, Gale Treiber noticed something strange in the background. A huge boxcar towered over the other OR&L equipment.
If you look closely, notice the lettering U.S.O. is seen through the open door of a regular narrow gauge boxcar. The difference in height is clearly evident! And, there's another steel monster right behind. From another angle the reporting marks were visible.
Gale forwarded the pictures to me among others and since my interest is in the military railroads as well as the OR&L the search was on. A quick internet check showed that U.S.O.X. was the reporting mark for "War Department, U.S. Army, Quartermaster Corps" until January 1943. A query to the U.S. Army Transportation Museum, Ft. Eustis, VA confirmed that these cars at Iwilei were indeed U.S. Army standard gauge 8-inch ammunition boxcars built to service railway artillery and yielded two additional pictures.
The interior view has a note stating "Built by St. Louis Car Company". Note the roll-up end doors and platforms. Mr. John Bennett of the Coast Artillery Study Group provided additional information regarding railway equipment ordered for Oahu at the outbreak of World War Two and a picture from the Coast Defense Journal 1942 of this type of car in use. This picture was not taken in Hawaii.
So how did these boxcars get to Hawaii? Apparently, there was either an acute shortage of ammunition boxcars for the 41st Coast Artillery 8-inch railway gun batteries or none at all following the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Army Engineers quickly ordered additional railway equipment for the Ordnance Department without first establishing their real needs. This equipment included seven kitchen cars, eight box/stores cars, five tank cars and two 60-ton locomotives. Which department requested these ammunition boxcars is not clear but they were the first to arrive. Early in 1942, two batteries of four guns each of the railway artillery were slated for permanent emplacement. All the additional railway equipment was really unnecessary and the order changed to 20 tank cars and the two locomotives. The standard gauge ammunition boxcars were deemed unsuitable for use on narrow gauge trucks. What happened to these cars is a mystery. Perhaps they were returned to the mainland, used for storage or even scrapped. Somewhere there is an answer and someday someone might find it. Thanks to Gale Treiber, John Bennett and Bob Paoa for their help.