Keep ‘Em Rolling by Hy Chesler

April 12, 2018
Chesler, Hyman

Hyman Chesler, Lincoln-Washington, July 1938. The 15th International Brigade Photographic Unit Photograph Collection; ALBA Photo 11; ALBA Photo number 11-0054. Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries.

Keep ‘Em Rolling By Hy Chesler

Originally published in The Volunteer for Liberty, Vol. II, No. 5, February 12, 1938.

The work of the Transport units of the Republican Army is apt to be taken for granted, especially by volunteers who come from highly mechanized countries. It is hardly necessary, however, to point out the vital importance of an efficiently run transport service to campaigning troops. We ll know how much transport means, especially during an attack. Few, however, are fully aware of the problem confronting this branch of the service. We speak bitterly of the embargo that prevents us from buying arms; rarely do we take into consideration that due to this policy we are being denied ways and we have. It means that certain means of carrying what supplies essential parts are rarely, if ever, to be found.


War-time conditions in Spain place a severe strain on all vehicles in use, and increase the need for an adequate supply of spare parts. Apart from the difficulty of finding the parts there, is also the problem of distributing them to places: where they are needed.

The following is a typical case. An officer sent his car to the Brigade Auto-Park one morning during an offensive. It needed lights —nothing more; but the job was urgent. In a New York garage it would have involved 30 minutes work. When the officer arrived for his car that afternoon, it took a bit of explanation to show why the work had not been done. Imagine— impossible to get, a little thing like a bulb! There have been instances when a three-ton truck has been held up for one small bolt that costs no more than a nickel at home.

Due to rough roads, the trucks are severely punished every day. Broken springs are not rare, and since it is practically impossible to obtain new ones, we have a blacksmith whose sole function is to manufacture, and repair springs. Our tires rarely wear down to the last ply. The poor roads, especially the crudely improvised tracks at the front, cut our tires to pieces, and many have to be discarded at a premature age. Consequently the tire problem is one of great importance, and the supply must at frequent intervals be augmented — if we are fortunate enough to find the tires.


It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention, and we of the XV Brigade are proud of our achievements in overcoming obstacles. Due either to thoughtless playing on the part of youngsters or to direct sabotage, many vehicles lose their tank caps. To leave the tank open means to lose precious gasoline and let in the dust that flies up from the dry roads. We have had to manufacture many gas caps from old cans of bully beef — and good caps they are. Many of us looked twice the first time we saw a truck or car with its gas tank on the fender or roof of the cab. It is a common sight now. The reason is that new fuel pumps are not available, and the only way of solving the problem is to use the force of gravity instead.

Every chofer knows how valuable all empty packet of Luckies can be — sometimes even more valuable than when full. We make light fuses from the tin’ foil.

A piece of shrapnel from an aerial bomb that landed on one of our garages disabled a new ambulance, passing thru the engine block. Seemingly the damage was irreparable. Our chief mechanic considered an ambulance too important to be so lightly discarded, so he went to work on it. The net result is that the ambulance is as good today as it was when it left New York. The solution was found by welding a piece from an old trench spade.

I think, however, that the height of resourcefulness was shown by the chofer who used an appliance made of rubber in place of a missing accelerator spring.

British and Americans, accustomed to a mechanized environment, were recognized from the first as being useful assets to the transport services. Mechanics were put to work in the various shops, and others who had been accustomed to driving for many years back home were sent out as chofers. They came under the organization of the Auto-Park at the International base.


From this base the various units are sent to the fronts, or to the sub-bases, of which there are several. Many of the field hospital and ambulance units were formed here before they left for line service. The famous Regiment de Tren was organized from the same center. This is an unusual type of unit. It is part and parcel of the 5th Army Corps and its services are manifold. Unlike the other units it has no fixed assignment. It is composed of squadrons whose services are temporarily lent to various units needing additional trucks for a limited amount of time. The squadrons or smaller sections operate on air Fronts, especially during an attack, when the need for transport is greater.

The base supplies the various Brigades with mechanics and chofers. Attention is paid, to language groupings for the sake of better efficiency; but though the majority of English – speaking transport men are attached to the XV Brigade Auto-Park, others are scattered over all the mobile units in Spain.

Every driver soon found that owing to road and other conditions he had to be prepared to carry out minor repairs himself at a moment’s notice. Outstanding of his greatest grief was his carburetor. The poor grade of gas and the dusty atmosphere frequently fouled his fuel lines.

This heartache was soon recognized, and it was the Americans who first organized classes of instruction to drivers in first aid to their cars. Results were immediately apparent in the marked decrease of vehicles brought in for serious repair.

The chofer had also to learn what different measures of caution to take in times of artillery or aerial bombardment: how to behave in the front lines: the principles of camouflage. He had to become accustomed to driving on dark nights with little or no lights.

With the exception of Brunete, the transport men have not had to face the same dangers as the fighting units. They live in a greater degree of comfort, travel much. On the other hand they have no rest periods. We found that we never worked so hard as when the Brigade was at rest. The chofer is on call 24 hours of the day, and is subjected to a severe physical strain. At one time we reported 18 out of 70 men in hospital, only two of whom had been wounded.

During the attack on Belchite the Auto-Park was right there in -the middle of it, looking for what there was to be found. We rolled out with several high powered beauties. They needed quite a bit of work, but not even a well-directed shell from our Anti-Tank Battery that found its mark in the cab of a 5-ton truck was enough to discourage us. Today our fascist booty is the pride of the fleet.

The problems that meet us are manifold, but in spite of all the Auto-Park is making its contribution to an early and decisive victory. Keep ’em rolling — that is our motto.



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