From the outset it was apparent that the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) would have to build its own logistical network in France; up to 25,000 tons of material would be arriving every day, and by war’s end over eight million tons had been shipped to the AEF. Port facilities had to be built or improved at Brest, St. Nazaire, Nantes, Bordeaux, Rouen, Rochefort, La Pallice, Bayonne, Le Havre and Marseilles. It was also clear that the French rail system wouldn’t be able to move the AEF and its logistical tail around the country. Among other things, they were very short of locomotives. The necessary solution was to bring American railroad equipment to France.
The Baldwin Locomotive Works was contracted to supply 1,500 locomotives, and after testing and acceptance these had to then be disassembled and crated for shipment, a process which took several days. Even with economies of scale, as all of the units were identical 2-8-0 engines, inevitably called ‘The General Pershing’ Class, there were serious delays in reassembling them in France. At first the average time to get a disassembled locomotive in operation after arrival was thirty-three days, but this increased due to the large number being received and the inevitable mixing-up of crates.
This problem landed in the lap of Samuel Morse Felton Jr. (1853-1930), who had been appointed the Director-General of Military Railways. He was the son of a pioneer railroad builder, an 1873 graduate of the predecessor of MIT and had spent his life in American railroading, finishing as the head of the Chicago Great Western Railroad.
Wreck of the S.S. Feltore 1930
It became apparent that the best solution would be to ship the locomotives fully assembled. Felton had the tonnage market searched for single deck ships with large open holds and at least four hatches of sufficient size to admit locomotives that were 35 feet 8 inches long and 9 feet wide. They found four ore-carriers of the same class, two of which were recently completed and two under construction by the Bethlehem Shipyard. These ships were:
the S.S. Feltore, which later ran aground in Chile in 1930,
the S.S. Santore, which was sunk by a mine laid by U701 on June 17th, 1942,
the S.S. Cubore, which was torpedoed and sunk by UB107 on August 15th, 1918, outward bound in the Bay of Biscay, and
the S.S. Firmore, post-war history unknown.