Densho Digital Archive
Topaz Museum Collection
Title: Helen Harano Christ Interview
Narrator: Helen Harano Christ
Interviewer: Megan Asaka
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: June 18, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-chelen-01-0017

<Begin Segment 17>

MA: So let's go back a little bit and talk about, about North Platte, Nebraska. What was that town like? Can you describe that a little bit, maybe a little about the history?

HC: Okay. North Platte, Nebraska, at one time, was the end of the railroad. And so, of course, it had all the bad things that the end of the railroad had, gambling and prostitution and lots of drinking and lots of "cowboys," railroad, railroad workers. And it became the end of the line for a number of Japanese folks who were working on the railroad. And so there were maybe ten, twelve, maybe fifteen, I don't know exactly how many Japanese families there were in North Platte when we arrived there. By the time we were there, then they were farmers, and if you had seen the story of Ben Kuroki, which was on TV, yeah, his family lived in Hershey, Nebraska, which is thirteen miles from North Platte, and they very likely -- I don't know for sure -- got to North Platte by way of the railroad.

And so North Platte was, had a population of 12,000 when we arrived, and I remember my dad saying that very recently it had been cleaned up of, of the brothels, and that the, the most famous thing about North Platte was its canteen. Maybe you've seen on television that story about the North Platte canteen where one lady decided that she wanted to see that the soldiers who came through on the, on the train, Union Pacific railroad went through North Platte, and it was about halfway between Omaha and Denver. And so she brought sandwiches and made coffee, started out with sandwiches and coffee for the troop trains that came through. And pretty soon others joined her, so that there were, every day, there were thousands of troops who got off the train and had coffee and sandwiches or whatever, whatever the folks brought. I understand there were cakes and cakes and cakes that were brought, and people had "happy birthday" on a cake, and tried to find somebody who had a birthday to give the cake to. And so there, and so that North Platte became quite famous as the place where the troops were entertained and had, had food and a rest, and a time for enjoying their, a break from their, the train trek from wherever they were going to wherever they were going. Because surely in the middle of the country they were going either north or west or east to participate in the war. But they were going both ways, and both ways, the troops were met by folks from North Platte and vicinity. People from about a hundred miles around came to, to bring entertainment and food. My classmates in junior high when I got there told me that they used to go to the canteen as children and they would talk to the soldiers and they would sing at the piano while somebody played the piano and things like that, or served lemonade that, that children could do, and they thought that was so much fun.

MA: Yeah, that's great.

HC: And I missed out on all of that because we got there about the time that the North Platte canteen was winding down because the war was winding down.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.