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.