Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Train Travel in the 1800's

For my WIP I needed to find out about train travel in 1888. After searching books and e-mailing with an author writing a book about train travel in the 1800’s, I discovered information that intrigued me.

I’ve seen train travel depicted in various ways in movies/westerns and never really thought much about it, but when I wanted to write scenes on a train for my book, 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, situated at one end of the car, and unsavory company. 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 it was 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 ladies, “wash room”, and they could either bring their own food, purchase meals at the meal stops, or at the buffet car. 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, there had been railroad cars which had wooden bunks a passenger could bring their own bedding and use.

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 are riding had them, or the buffet car, where they could purchase sandwiches, drinks, and snack items, or they could also suffer the poor fare and rushed meal 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.

Of course this in only a fraction of the information I uncovered, but I thought you might find it interesting.


Becky said...

This was very interesting to read about. I never thought about what it was like to travel by train in the 1800's except for what I saw when watching a movie.

Paty Jager said...

I was the same way Becky. It always fascinates me to find out little tidbits of life in the era I write.

Lauri said...

Wonderful info Paty! I researched trains before writing Shotgun Bride. AND evidently, I shared all I was learning with my son, because for Mother's Day he bought my husbnad and I tickets for a train ride in Wisconsin that gets 'robbed' by and infamous outlaw gang along the way. When the rest of the family heard about it, they decided to join us. So now we are all going to ride the train and be robbed in the middle of July. I can't wait!

Tanya Hanson said...

We've ridden two antique restored trains and it's just fascinating going back in time a little bit.
Thanks for this great info, Paty.


Paty Jager said...

Lauri, That sounds like fun!

You're welcome, Tanya!

Helen Hardt said...

There's a restored narrow gauge railroad between Durango and Silverton in Colorado. Like Tanya, I've found it fun and interesting to go back in time.

Linda LaRoque said...

I loved this, Paty. I've done a little research for a story in the 1930s. The railroad museum in Temple, TX has a pullman car. One day I plan to visit and walk through.
Your pictures are great. Yikes, .75cents was a lot of money back in those days.
Great info.

Paty Jager said...

Helen, I still need to ride on an old train some day to get the true feel of one.

Linda, what fun! I'd love to walk through a Pullman car and a whole 1880's train!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, I was looking for info on train travel in the 1800's for a story.

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NelsonStJames said...

This thread is still earning dividends. I'm researching train travel in the 1800's for a film I'm working on and it occured to me that train travel as often shown in films isn't completely accurate to say the least.

Caroline said...

That you so much! I am righting a historical fiction story for school and couldn't find anything good on train travel in the late 1800's. This article really helped me, thank you!

Linda said...

Thanks for posting. I've been looking for rr information and you answered several of my questions.
Linda Baten Johnson