By Eugene Vicknair, Western Pacific Railroad Museum
Reproduced with permission from the Train Sheet newsletter.
On September 9, 2017, the museum hosted an amazing group of guests who came to honor and rededicate the Pullman built Business Observation car Western Pacific 106, also known as the “Charles O. Sweetwood”.
Originally built as the “Pioneer” and used as part of Pullman’s executive lease fleet, the car first entered service on September 11, 1917. Purchased by the Western Pacific and renumbered 106 in 1942, the car would be used as the Eastern Division Superintendent’s car, based in Elko, Nevada.
In late 1950, with the beginning of the Korean War, the Western Pacific developed a daring idea to use a railroad car as a long distance blood bank, partnering with the American Red Cross to collect blood to care for wounded soldiers in the conflict. The 106 was chosen and renamed “Charles O. Sweetwood” in honor of the first Western Pacific employee killed in the war, a young man who was a former WP carman and front line Army medic. Charles was killed on September 8, 1950, having just celebrated his 21st birthday.
To honor this historic car and its amazing legacy, our volunteers and members were joined by a number of special guests:
- Julia Rigutto Pagan and family – Julia was one of the original Red Cross nurses who served on the Charles O. Sweetwood. We thank Julia and her family for joining us today and honor her service.
- Bill Sweetwood and family – Bill is Charles’ nephew and has been regularly in contact with the Society concerning the status of the car. From the very beginning of the Red Cross service, the Sweetwood family has been closely involved with the blood procurement project and the operations of this railcar. We are honored that they have continued that tradition.
- Diane Remick – Daughter of Marty Lummus, who purchased the Western Pacific 106 from the railroad in 1961 and saved it from being scrapped and lost to history.
- Stephen Walsh – Regional Director of Communications and Marketing for the American Red Cross Gold Country Chapter, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year
- Maureen Koski – National Disaster Response Team Member, American Red Cross of Northern Nevada
- Barb Kramer – Disaster Cycle Services Volunteer Partner, American Red Cross of Northern Nevada, which is also celebrating its 100th anniversary this year
- Shane Starr – District Representative from the office of Representative Doug LaMalfa – California District 1
- Pat Morton – Mayor of the city of Portola
- Robert Meacher – City Manager of the city of Portola
- Bill Cardoza – District Coordinator for California State Senator Ted Gaines
- City of Elko Nevada
The Master of Ceremonies was Todd Bruso, noted radio personality on ESPN Reno and member of the Nevada Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame, leading those assembled in a ceremony based upon the original dedication scripts used by the Western Pacific in January 1951. Local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3758 was joined by some other local veterans to serve as an honor guard for Charles, who was a member of the 1st Cavalry Division in the war. During the ceremony, FRRS Vice-President Greg Elems joined many of the guests in sharing the history and significance of the “Sweetwood”. Bill Sweetwood spoke about his uncle and celebrated Charles’ life. Bill and the Sweetwood family were presented with an American flag by the honor guard.
Julia Rigutto Pagan, one of the original four Red Cross nurses to serve on the car, performed the formal re-dedication of the car.
Many accolades were presented to the FRRS and received by President Steve Habeck, including recognition from the American Red Cross for those who worked on making the blood procurement program possible, a Certificate of Special United States Congressional Recognition, a California Senate Resolution, a Proclamation by the City of Elko, Nevada (Charles’ hometown), and a Special Proclamation by the City of Portola recognizing the car and declaring September 9th to be “Charles Owen Sweetwood Day” in the city.
Follow remarks by FRRS Secretary Eugene Vicknair (read by Todd Bruso as Eugene was prevented from attending due to illness), the members of VFW Post 3758 played taps and performed a 21-gun salute. The VFW presented the spent shells from the salute to the members of the Sweetwood family in attendance.
Todd Bruso closed the ceremony with a moment of silence to remember the sacrifice of Sgt. Sweetwood and all those who gave their lives in the Korean War and the words ‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’
Following the ceremony, the FRRS received a surprise and very moving donation from the Sweetwood family when we were presented with Charles’ Purple Heart and the blood donor pin which had been given to Charles’ mother Bonnie when she became the first person to donate blood on board the car.
Thank yous to Patty Clawson, who worked tirelessly alongside Eugene Vicknair to pull the ceremony and celebration together and stepped in when Eugene too sick to smooth out last minute items, to Charlie Spikes, Greg Elems, David Elems, Steve Habeck, KC Dunn, Ali Doty, Ethan Doty and all the other FRRS volunteers who made this event possible. Also thanks to Bill Sweetwood, Cynthia Pagan, Robert Meacher, Steve Walsh of the Red Cross and Shane Starr of Congressman Doug LaMalfa’s office for their support and assistance.
For more information, including a history of the car, plus photos and a video of the ceremony, please visit the web page at http://sweetwood.wplives.org.