Dorm dwellers rejoice

  • Published
  • By Curt Shannon
  • Museum curator
Ahhhhh . . . the good ol' days! How many times have we heard that? Fortunately, time has a way of making the old times seem much better than they actually were.
But let's consider some of the things people reminisce about, like barracks life -- nope, they weren't "dormitories" in my day. 

Young men assigned to Great Falls Air Force Base in 1942 were housed in squadron compounds. The barracks were clustered around centrally located buildings that contained the latrines, showers and normally the squadron orderly room. The barracks buildings were one-ply lumber constructed and covered on the outside with tar paper held in place by lath strips. The barracks had no insulation, no latrine or shower -- no water either! 

Airmen had to walk to the facilities in the compound's center. Each barracks had three coal stoves for heat and 30 men sharing the one large room. (You'll note in the photo above that either they are standing close to the coal stove or are in bed.) There was no "dorm manager." If you had a rip in the tar paper near your bunk, you fixed it. If you didn't fix it, there was normally snow on your bunk when you got back. 

Usually one of the inhabitants was detailed to make sure the stoves didn't run out of coal while every one else was gone. If, when the others returned from training or work and it wasn't warm, there were 29 people ready to discuss your inability to accomplish simple tasks -- and they weren't real kind about it either. Airmen assigned here in the early 50s lived in these same buildings. 

The mid 50s saw construction of three-story cement block barracks (yup, still called barracks). 

These were leaps and bounds better than the one-ply wooden structures because they had central heating, a latrine on each floor, grey metal wall lockers to hang your belongings in and normally (something previously never heard of) a laundry area -- this was really progress in the "quality of life" arena! 

Oh, and there was room for two sets of double stacked bunks -- only four Airmen per room! Later that same decade, they even made some barracks with sinks in each room. No longer did Airmen have to walk down the hall to brush their teeth or get a drink of water.  

Let's compare what our predecessors had to live in to today's "1+1" dorms where you have a private room and share a bathroom with one other person. 

Now ask a question about the "good ol' days." 

Just how good were they?