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THE BLOOD TRAIN

Western Pacific’s Bloodmobile on Rails Saved Countless Lives During the Korean War, and It May Be Back

T

he Western Pacific Railroad was famous for its Feather River Route, which wound through the Sierras to connect Oakland with Salt Lake City. Located along that historic route at the Western Pacific Rail Museum, in the scenic Plumas County town of Portola, is a unique railroad car that helped save the lives of countless GIs in the Korean War. The Charles O. Sweetwood rail car rolled across the western U.S. and collected over 25,000 pints of blood for This article is a project of the SSVMS Historical Committee and Museum. Research on the Sweetwood car and the history of blood collection was done by Kent Perryman, Ph.D and Bob LaPerriere, MD. This article is based on “A Higher Calling,” a wonderful history of the Charles O. Sweetwood car by Eugene Vicknair of the Western Pacific Railroad Museum that can be found at wplives.org. Assistance for the story came from the California State Railroad Museum. A special exhibit on railroad hospitals and doctors is featured through the end of the year at the SSVMS Museum of Medical History.

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Sierra Sacramento Valley Medicine

wounded GIs through a novel collaboration between Western Pacific and the American Red Cross. Sweetwood, an Elko, Nevada native, had re-enlisted in 1950 for his second stint in the U.S. Army and was sent to the Korean Conflict as a field medic in the 7th Cavalry Regiment. On September 8, 1950, Sweetwood was killed in action while helping wounded comrades under fire. A former carman for Western Pacific, Sweetwood was the first member of the WP family—and the first Nevadan—to be killed in Korea. He was awarded multiple honors, including the Purple Heart. During the height of the Korean conflict, Western Pacific’s public relations director, Gilbert Kneiss, began promoting a collaboration with the Red Cross to collect blood on a rolling rail car, according to the museum’s Eugene Vicknair. The Red Cross had become instrumental in providing aid for soldiers in WWI and was called upon to collect millions of pints of blood for the armed forces before the outbreak of the Second World War, just a few years after blood was first banked for transfusions in 1936. The rapid infusion of blood, which had been discovered as the key to treating shock, had become an essential

Profile for Sierra Sacramento Valley Medical Society

2019-Jul/Aug - SSV Medicine  

Sierra Sacramento Valley Medicine is the official journal of the Sierra Sacramento Valley Medical Society (SSVMS) and promotes the history,...

2019-Jul/Aug - SSV Medicine  

Sierra Sacramento Valley Medicine is the official journal of the Sierra Sacramento Valley Medical Society (SSVMS) and promotes the history,...