Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Wednesday Western- Train Travel in the 1800’s


I’ve watched train travel depicted in various ways in movies/westerns and never really thought much about it until I wanted to write scenes on a train for a book. At that point, I realized I needed to know more.

The lowest price ticket, third class, put a passenger in an open car with a wood seat and one “washroom” to be shared by men and women. The "washroom" was situated at one end of the car and one usually had to walk through unsavory company to get to it. The washroom would have a reservoir to dip water to wash and an outhouse style  “commode”.  These people could usually only afford the low price ticket and brought their food with them if they were on a long journey.

The next level of traveler, second class, purchased a ticket for an enclosed passenger car with padded seats, a men’s and a ladies “wash room”, and they could either bring their own food or purchase meals at the meal stops. But the meal stops were only fifteen to twenty minutes long while the train took on water and the food was usually not very good.

Until 1857 when George Pullman, a carpenter, invented the Pullman Sleeping car, first class passengers had leather upholstered seats in enclosed cars with two washrooms- men’s on one end and women’s on the other and use of a buffet or dining car.  When the sleeping car began being used on the overnight trips, railroads used this new luxury coach in their ads to increase train travel. Before Pullman’s luxury cars were built, railroad cars with wooden bunks were used by passengers who brought their own bedding.
 
The plush Pullman coaches had padded velvet seats that folded down into comfortable beds and beds were pulled down from the ceiling as well. The first cars had curtains that closed for privacy. And special “Pullman Porters” were men trained to attend the passengers needs.  These cars were made of mahogany, black walnut, and oak with etchings on the glass doors on the ends and gas lit chandeliers. One end of the car had a man’s salon, wash room, and lavatory while the other end had these same amenities for the women. They also had hot running water.   
 
The first class passengers in the Pullman coaches either ate in the dining car, if the line they were riding had them, or the buffet car, where they could purchase sandwiches, drinks, and snack items, or they could also suffer the poor food and rushed meals at the meal stops.

The dining cars by the 1870’s offered a menu of over 80 dishes with a price of 75 cents per meal- the equivalent of an average traveler’s daily wage.  So though the second and third class passengers could eat in the dining car, few were able to afford the luxury.

This in only a fraction of the information I uncovered, but I thought you might find it as interesting as I did.




18 comments:

Becky said...

Great post, Paty! I enjoy following your blog, I always learn something new from you. I enjoyed reading this about the train travel in the 1800's. The third class seem like a very uncomfortable ride during that time period.

Petter Joe said...

A true picture of the history of train industry. Some old and nice picture collection. thank you. Petter Joe

Cheri said...

I did find it interesting, Paty! Gonna tuck this info away for possible future reference. Thanks and Happy Writing Trails To You!
Cheri Kay Clifton

Paty Jager said...

Becky, I agree, the third class section would have been pretty rough. I would have probably went by wagon or horse if I had one!

Petter Joe, Glad you enjoyed the post and photos. Thank you for stopping in!

Cheri, I'm glad you found the info interesting. Thanks for stopping in!

Caroline Clemmons said...

paty, I have collected a lot of research on railroad travel in the 1800's, especuially after the Civil War. Those third class passengers only had a curtain for privacy, not a firmly enclosed toilet. And the stove at one end meant the passengers at that end were too warm while those at the opposite end were too cold.Some of the bench seats didn't even have a back. If you were an immigrant heading West to settle on the land the railroad owners advertised, you had no choice but to tolerate the conditions.

Paty Jager said...

Caroline, Thank you for the added information. I noticed while doing my research it also depended on the railroad line as to how good or bad the accommodations were in for any class. Some railroad owners were more frugal than others. But unless I could have afforded the first class car, I would have much preferred being in a wagon on my own. In case you can't tell, I prefer my space. ;0)

Susan Macatee said...

Paty, this is such a timely post as I'm plotting out a story set in 1870 and the opening scene takes place on a train.

I didn't know they had classes on trains.

Lacey Falcone said...

Paty - Very interesting post about the classes on trains... I live in Europe - where train travel is more common - and they still have those classes on the trains (certainly for the longer distances). I prefer to travel 2nd class...at least I have an assigned seat that way. 3rd class is usually first come/first served. As for the older trains, I grew up in the gold country in California...we had one train that they used a lot to film for those old westerns. We always knew that if we ever saw a movie with a train with a red circle on the front with a "3", that was "our" train from Jamestown. :)

Paty Jager said...

Susan, Anything else you need research on? LOL It seems like I keep putting up posts that are timely for you. Glad I could help.

Lacey, I wondered if they had "classes" on European trains. I've watched travel shows and they never say. We(my husband and I) are hoping to get over to Holland in the next few yeas to see his family then take a train down to Spain to see my niece who lives there. I'll have to watch for the #3 train in the westerns I watch. Fun info! Thanks!

Diana Mcc. said...

Paty, Great info on train travel in the old days. When I lived in Calif. we visited the train museum in Sacramento. There were some very old engines, sleeper cars and dining cars. The dining cars were set up with the antique type of dishes, glasses etc. There were lace place mats and velvet curtains. It was a first class dining car. Very elaborate. Several train cars were owned by individuals and set up like a small apt. with living space, tiny kitchen and sleeping quarters. I believe the one car was Mr. Stanford's as in Stanford University and he was also involved in bringing the rail road to Calif. Great post!

Terri Reed said...

Paty, I love trains, especially old ones. My first book was set on a train that ran from Jamestown Cal to San Francisco set in the late 1800's. Where I grew up we have lots of old train memorabilia. If you've ever seen Back to the Future 3, all the train scenes were filmed where I grew up.

Sharla Rae said...

Loved the blog Patty. In my WIP I need to send my heroine on a train from TX to the Cloquet/Duluth area of MN. So I'm looking for trains she might have used. It's not as easy as it sounds! I appreciate your blog on the types of travel. Gives me more insight.

Stephanie said...

Paty, thank you for a great article on trains. I love the pictures. You'd have to be one tough puppy to travel any distance in third class.

Paty Jager said...

Diana, The train museum in Sacramento sounds like a great place for research. Thanks for stopping in!

Hi Terri! I can't remember if I've seen Back to the Future 3. Having places like that around are great places for story research and ideas.

Sharla, depending on the date it is hard because early on there were only main railroads and rich people started putting in short tracks to move goods and people they wanted move and to make money. Dig into the newspapers at the time and in the area you want to know about the railroads. You should be able to find schedules and fees advertised if there was a railroad available.

Stephanie, I agree! Thanks!

Gabrielle said...

Thanks so much for sharing the information! It really helped with my writing, and I also found it very interesting.

Paty Jager said...

Gabrielle, I'm glad the information was helpful for you.

John D'Arco said...

Fascinating! And so very helpful, Paty. You mentioned this being only "a fraction" of the info you uncovered. Can you recommend any books or sources you used for your research? I'm looking to take a very deep dive into this subject, particularly, the personnel of the train company. Was there an 1870s version of a modern day flight attendant? Anyway, a nudge in the right direction would be much appreciated.

Paty Jager said...

Hi John,
If you can find a copy of OUT WEST ON THE OVERLAND TRAIN which is a copulation of a reporter in 1877 traveling by train and the same trip in 1967 by Richard Reinhardt. This book might help you find the answers you're looking for. Also google the specific section of the railroad you are using in a story. Some of the "spurs" weren't as up-to-date as the larger railroads.