Here's an excerpt from a reminiscence of one such transcontinental adventure, undertaken by a young soldier named Donald M. Brown in 1945 and later retold in an essay titled "Journeys on World War II Troop Trains." Brown's train crossed Montana from east to west, following the route of the Northern Pacific ... and for the purposes of this story you should note that back in those days, when you flushed a toilet on a passenger train, the waste was dumped directly onto the ground below.
The total trip was five days and five nights on the train. It seemed to us that the troop train was a low priority on the railroad. We would pull on a siding to let a train of tanks, trucks, or tank cars pass by. There was a lot of war materiel heading west at that time.
Even in late May, the weather was hot on the western plains. The old cars were cooled by ice when we could get some at service stops.
During the journey, we were given little chance to exercise. With 1,200 men stuck on a train for days, we stunk and were out of sorts. We were told we could get off the train in Billings, Mont., but the station management had had enough of troop trains that day and forced us to remain on board. So before we left, word was passed through the train to flush the toilets in each car before we left town. This was our gift to Billings.
Later in the evening, we pulled into Livingston, where we sat for at least an hour. It was dark, and we saw people along side the train with with baskets of cookies, doughnuts, sandwiches, and jugs of coffee. Compared to the cool reception in Billings, this was a welcome surprise. Livingston was not a large town, but they sure treated us well.