Monday, July 20, 2009

Motion Sickness or Stage Travel

As a writer of historic romance I like to make sure I know all I can about modes of transportation during the era I write about. I've yet to use a stage coach in a published book but one of my characters had a brief trek in one in a story that is making agent rounds.

So here is a bit of info I gleaned from researching stage coaches.

The first Concord coach was built in 1827 and cost $1200- 1500. It weighed 2000 pounds and had leather strap braces rather than springs to give a swinging motion rather than a jolting ride. Leather boots in the front and back held baggage, mail, and valuables. Extra luggage was also stored on top.

A single coach could hold nine passengers inside and up to a dozen on top. The coach had leather roll down curtains and three leather upholstered seats with little leg room. The front row who faced backwards had to dovetail their knees/legs with the passengers in the middle row facing them. They had fifteen inches per passenger to a seat when it carried the nine passenger capacity. The passengers in the middle had no back support other than a wide leather strap for support or a leather strap that dangled from the ceiling, which they could grab when the road was treacherous. The average speed was five to eight miles an hour.

In some areas there were different rates for the same trip. If you paid the highest price you were 1st class which meant you rode all the way, 2nd class you paid less and had to walk in the bad places, 3rd class you paid the least but you walked in the bad places and had to push at the hills. Most overland stages required passengers to walk in the rough spots and men to help push up some hills.

Some prices from 1880:
Boise City to Winnemucca $35.00
Boise City to The Dalles $54.00
Silver City to Winnemucca $20.00
Silver City to Boise City $ 8.00

The rides were either sweltering or freezing. The weather wasn’t any easier to keep out of the coach than the dust and mud. Women who were seasoned travelers knew to wear long duck cloth dusters to keep their clothing clean. Few hotels sat along the routes and travelers sometimes had a choice of sleeping in corrals or in the street. The way stations along the routes were often crude structures made of either lumber or adobe. The Stops were famous for bad food. The usual menu consisted of jerky or salt pork, stale bread, bad coffee, and always beans.

Besides the close quarters, dusty trails, and rustic stage stops there was also the threat of Indian attacks and robberies from outlaws.

Raphael Pumpelly, who rode on the Butterfield Overland Mail stage west to Tucson, noted:
"The coach was fitted with three seats, and these were occupied by nine passengers. As the occupants of the front and middle seats faced each other, it was necessary for these six people to interlock their knees; and there being room inside for only ten of the twelve legs, each side of the coach was graced by a foot, now dangling near the wheel, now trying in vain to find a place of support. An unusually heavy mail in the boot, by weighing down the rear, kept those of us who were on the front seat constantly bent forward. The fatigue of uninterrupted traveling by day and night in a crowded coach, and in the most uncomfortable positions, was beginning to tell seriously upon all the passengers, and was producing in me a condition bordering on insanity…"

William Reed described the experience of motion sickness in a coach.
"The heat could be unbearable; the bodies of the passengers covered with sand, which permeated every inch of clothing. The rough roads gave to the coaches a motion not only from side to side, but a roll from front to back. Seasickness in the hot desert air, some said was far worse than the same ailment out on the cool Pacific waters. A seat in the front, in back, and a bench in the middle called for precise seating… Dust, sweat, insects, and a variety of irritating conditions made for an interesting, if not particularly pleasant trip across the arid desert."

The stages were the main source of mail delivery. When Wells Fargo started moving valuables via stage they sent guards along with the stages and made them more vulnerable to outlaws.

Overland stages traveled continuously though the day and night. Trying to sleep in one of these, confined with eight other people, I think I'd go mad. I don't do well on little sleep. LOL

If passengers, who had tickets to a town farther along the route, chose to stay in a town or at a home station to seek relief from their journey, they could become stranded for a week or more before resuming their travels. A ticket did not guarantee passengers the right to travel on the next stage, when the seat was occupied by another.

There were two types of stations: home and swing. The home station allowed passengers time for a hasty meal. The swing station was a ten minute stop to change the team of horses.

They was a code of etiquette for traveling on the stage in the 1870's.

• When a driver asked a passenger to get out and walk, one was advised to do so, and not grumble about it.

• If the team of horses ran away, it was better to sit in the coach because most passengers who jumped were seriously injured.

• Smoking and spitting on the leeward side of the coach was discouraged.

• Drinking spirits was allowed, but passengers were expected to share.

• Swearing was not allowed, and neither was sleeping on your neighbor's shoulder.

• Travelers shouldn't point out spots where murders had occurred, especially when "delicate" passengers were aboard.

• Greasing one's hair was discouraged because dust would stick to it.

I'm pleased to have received a review for Miner in Petticoats that stated: Author Paty Jager has faithfully reproduced the setting and attitudes that permeated this period of western expansion. That's why I research.



Tanya Hanson said...

Congratulations on your great reviews, Paty. And this is a great post. I am carsick just reading it LOL.


Paty Jager said...

Tanya, thanks, and I agree. I don't think I'd ever have made it in a stage coach. I remember trips in the station wagon as a kid and the buckets we kept in the back for "emergencies".

Paty Jager said...

Of course it probably didn't help both parents smoked.

BethGray said...

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Beth Gray

Lauri said...

Great post, Paty. I'm not a good traveler, and these conditions don't sound overly welcoming. But I bet it beat walking the entire way.

Congrats on your review!

Paty Jager said...

Beth, glad you liked the info.

Lauri, thanks for the congrats and stopping by.

Stacey Joy Netzel said...

I hate research, but you made this actually sound pretty neat with all the tidbits of information. The research, not the actual stagecoach riding. :) Funny how you don't see much of this in the movies. Thanks for a great post!

Paty Jager said...

Stacey Joy, I'm glad you liked the info. I love research could do it all day and not write! LOL