"Night on the Soixante" -The AEF Light Railway in WW I France

by Mike Boss
Alkyd on Panel
20" X 30"

From a Private Collection, Cincinnati, Ohio

It might be said this is an allegorical painting of the 21st Engineers, Light Railway. United States Army. The utter devastation in the war area was incredible, not to mention the absurd loss of soldiers. The light gauge railroads, two feet wide, or in French, soixante, the 60 cm tracks were near the front lines. The two feet wide rails made construction quick and relatively easy.

With an overabundance of dismal weather, trucks and equine wagons were essentially useless. The trains hauled freight, food, ammunition, fuel and soldiers...alive and dead!

The American Expeditionary Force's 21st was operated during 1917 and 1918 in the Pont-a-Mousson, St. Mihiel and Argonne areas of France.

Most times the Pennsylvania built Baldwin steam engines were operated at night without headlamps. In daylight, they would have been fodder for the German aircraft and artillery. It was nothing for one of the trains to collide with another train or a truck on the rails. Derailments and overturns were not uncommon as well as taking the wrong fork at a Y junction!

A total of 195 Baldwin 2-6-2Ts engines were constructed for the AEF. Rolling stock was built by the Magor Car Company, American Car and Foundry and Ralston Steel Car Company.

Light railways were used by France, Great Britain and Germany as well.