My Time Inside a Real Pullman Car

At the end of January, I had the chance to travel to historic Jefferson, Texas for a writer’s retreat. It was a history-lover’s delight! We stayed in an 1867 home, shopped in a 19th century mercantile, and stopped in at the oldest continuously run hotel in Texas. It was at the Excelsior Hotel, that we secured a tour of the authentic 1888 Pullman car stationed across the street.

Pullman cars offered sleeping berths for train travel in the 19th century. Usually only the wealthy could afford this luxury. But if you found yourself in the super-wealthy category, you might be able to afford a custom-built private sleeping car for personal use. Such was the case with railroad tycoon, Jay Gould.

Believe it or not, this tiny town of 2,000 was once the 4th largest city in Texas. Back at the height of the riverboat era, Jefferson was a bustling port with a thriving cotton culture and a population around 8,000. Jay Gould came to town and tried to convince them to let him run his railroad through Jefferson. Unfortunately, the town wanted nothing to do with his Yankee money and turned him down. Mr. Gould predicted the destruction of the town on his way out and decided to build his railroad through the tiny town of Dallas instead. Rather ironic that the town that once sent Jay Gould away made the effort to secure his Pullman car as part of their history years later. Hindsight, as they say, is 20-20.

The Pullman car was a wonder to behold. The lighting was both electric and gas. Electricity would be generated while the train was in motion, and gas would be piped in when the train was stationary.

You will notice jay birds featured in much of the decor. Jay Gould used the jay bird as his symbol. It was even part of his signature visible on the register in the Excelsior Hotel. You will see it etched into the glass globes around the lights and most decadently on the side of his bathtub.

The electric bulbs are lit, but notice the small pipe in the center. That is where the gas would burn. Also note the jay birds etched in the glass at the bottom.

Jay Gould’s private bathtub.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are other pictures I took. You might see some authors you recognize along the way.

Elizabeth Ludwig in the front compartment used for social gatherings or for conducting business.

A true water closet. The basin would pull down once the door was open.

Anne Mateer and Crystal Barnes in the hall admiring the lavatory.

One of the smaller staterooms that had seating below and a pull-down berth above.

One of the large staterooms with a full bed. This was used by Mrs. Gould.

The second small stateroom set up for tea with a removable table that hooked into the wall.

Elizabeth Ludwig and Regina Jennings peeking through the window from the hall – wanting to get in on the tea action.

These three photos show the kitchen. They start with the cold side where you will see an icebox and the sleeping berth for the cook. There is also a counter with a pass-through window area that leads to the hot side where the stove is situated.

Finally, the rear compartment. The overall set up had two staterooms on either side with the hall switching from the left to the right side halfway down the car near the kitchen area to balance out the weight of the car. Notice the stained glass transoms above the windows. These could be opened to create a breeze during warm days.

 

Even today this would be a luxurious way to travel.

What museums have you visited that made you want to travel back in time?

Karen Witemeyer
For those who love to smile as they read, bestselling author Karen Witemeyer offers warmhearted historical romance with a flair for humor, feisty heroines, and swoon-worthy Texas heroes. Karen is a firm believer in the power of happy endings. . . and ice cream. She is an avid cross-stitcher, and makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children. Learn more about Karen and her books at: www.karenwitemeyer.com.

29 Comments

  1. Not a museum but an old steam engine’s with cars I got to ride on makes me wonder how people could of found those seats comfortable at all and how the slept on them when spending many days to get to where they were going.

    1. We have certainly grown soft with all our modern conveniences and comforts haven’t we, Kim? Not that I’m complaining. I rather like our modern comforts.

  2. This is wonderful. I think my parents visited this once I’ll have to ask mom. I love going to museums.
    When I moved up to KS in 1994 I visited the museum where I lived. The infamous Dalton Gang hideout is in this town and you can explore the tunnel passage they used to escape from the house to get away. I’m the museum I say back in the 1800’s the little house I was renting at the time. Moving to tornado alley it somewhat gave me a peace of mind knowing that the house I lived in had withstood tornades and dangerous storms and was still standing.
    I’m working on my 25th year here in KS and I now live in Hugoton, KS the natural gas Capital of the world. It’s musem is stellar and an absolute wonderful musem. Thanks for sharing your adventure and I’m going to call my mom today and see if she did in fact visit this when they went to Jefferson.

    1. Sometimes those small local museums are the best. They really help you put yourself in the shoes of the people who stood there 100-150 years before you. And the staff who curates those places always have the best stories to tell. Our guide for the Pullman car tour was a history buff who had done extensive research into the local area, and when she found out we were authors, she hung out with us for an extra 30 minutes telling us about her research, which was absolutely fascinating. I loved it!

  3. This sounds like a really cool place to visit. I have never visited Jefferson, Texas, but if I ever get there, I would love this tour. I have always loved trains and want to travel someplace on one some day.

    1. I’ve lived in Texas for almost 30 years now, Janine, and this was my first trip to Jefferson. One of my authors friends recommended it as a retreat spot, and I’m so glad she did. Visiting was like stepping back in time. I have a strong feeling that we will be going back.

  4. Oh wow, what a truly luxurious way to travel in style. Home away from home. I agree even today, it seems rather luxurious. So different than what the regular traveler went through. Thank you for sharing you experience with us. Fascinating.

    1. Hi, Lori. I equate these private railcars with the private jets of today. The wealthy might be able to travel in first class on a commercial airline, but only the super-wealthy can afford the rich luxury of a private jet. Extravagant!

  5. Karen, thank you for sharing these amazing photos! I’d love to visit a museum like that someday.

    1. It was definitely worth seeing, Caryl. Regina Jennings was the one who tracked it down for us and recommended we take the tour. I’m so glad she did!

  6. I love every museum, everywhere! In graduate school, I had the pleasure of being a tour guide for a local Victorian house museum. In high school, I worked at an automotive museum set in the original art deco showroom. We even had our wedding reception there and when my husband went to toss my garter, there were no single guys around to catch it–they were too busy off looking at the cars. I love the Pullman Car pictures. I had no idea they were that big!

    1. I love Victorian homes. How fun to get to work as a tour in one, Carrie! And your wedding reception sounds so unique and fun.

  7. Karen, I love Jefferson and have been there quite a few times. I once stayed in the old Excelsior Hotel. I, too, toured the Jay Gould railroad car and found my imagination soaring. It would’ve been fun riding in it back in the day. The Panhandle Plains Museum near me always gives me the feeling of stepping back in time. They have part of an old west town set up with the various establishments. Wooden boardwalk and everything.

    1. Very cool, Linda! We have a small historic village in Buffalo Gap that I like to walk through. They have several buildings an occasionally will have living history presentations.

  8. I’ve always wanted to visit Jefferson. It’s so close to where I live, but I’ve never found the time to go. My grandfather used paint the murals in Pullman cars on the Union Pacific RR. He was Welsh and an artist. I do remember Pullman cars from when I was a girl, and my father was a RR engineer. Train history is fascinating.

    1. Wow, Hebby! That’s fantastic. Have you ever had the chance to see the murals your grandfather painted? How wonderful to have such history in your family.

  9. Great post, Karen. I would LOVE to see this Pullman car. It’s right up my alley. My husband is a life-long railroader, so we’ve seen some lovely Pullman cars in our day, but mostly modern ones. The history surrounding Jay Gould’s is wonderful. How fun that he used jay birds as his ‘logo’!

    1. I thought the birds were a fun touch, too, Pam. If you ever make it to either Texas or Louisiana, stop by Jefferson. It’s well worth the trip.

  10. I grew up around trains. My dad worked for a railroad, volunteered at The Depot in Duluth, Minnesota, and collected model trains as well as railroad memorabilia. In our youth, my sisters and I would volunteer on a local excursion train. We also took a train ride from Kansas City to St. Louis while on a vacation visiting family. I have many, many memories of playing on the rail cars at The Depot and was looking forward to my children having the same adventures. Unfortunately my dad passed away unexpectedly when my eldest was 5-1/2 months old. There is a plaque at The Depot as well as a caboose restored in his memory. I would love to see rail travel make a big comeback. I am hoping to take the same rail trip my parents made in a few years, from Chicago to LA, up to Seattle and across, back to Chicago.

    1. I love that you are sharing those memories with your children, Susan. How wonderful to be able to read the plaque and see the caboose standing in his memory. That cross-country train trip sounds like quite an adventure. I hope you get to complete it soon. I think our hurried lifestyle will make it hard for rail travel to come roaring back. In its heyday, it was the fastest way to travel. Now we have airplanes and cars that go as fast as trains. I can certainly see the benefit of a rail trip, though. The chance to slow down and see the country in a unique way.

      1. I don’t really see rail travel coming back big either, but I love the journey as much as the destination oftentimes so it is a great option for that way of life. ? Of course it seems like most people I know are about the destination. Sigh.

        Also I am a history lover so museums are almost always a hit with me. My dream vacation is Washington DC and going to all those museums there. Whenever we travel I look for museums. My husband and I eloped to Las Vegas and the chapel we married in is now part of the Clark County Historical Society so we have checked that out too.

  11. Your pictures are beautiful. My husband teaches history I would love to take him to see this. Thank you for sharing.

    1. You’re so welcome, Vicki. I love discovering little historical finds like this.

  12. I’ve been in several railroad museums, but the museums with historical homes are the ones which make me want to travel back in time.

    1. Yes! Especially when they’ve kept all the furnishing consistent with the original time period. Love those!

  13. I have been to several trolley museums and they make you want to travel back in time.

    1. Hi, Debra. Trolleys just make my heart happy. Probably because I instantly think of Judy Garland singing on one. Ha!

  14. I love museums and old houses, trains, many things from yesteryear! I would love to visit Jefferson (it’s only an hour away)especially because of Jay Gould. My husband’s great uncle was James Fisk,his partner for many years. (Now THERE is some history!) Love it!

    1. Paula – How fabulous to have an actual family connection to this part of history! You definitely have to get over to Jefferson one of these days. Drag your hubby along. 🙂

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