Nothing is more fascinating than the temporary towns that sprang up as the intercontinental railroad worked its way across the United States. For the most part, they were dirty and contained the dregs of society. But the fascination lies in how much people could tolerate in the way of creature comforts for some pretty good money. The buildings were comprised of nothing but canvas or sod and provided temporary homes for the workers and as the tracks progressed, so did the town. The businesses just pulled up stakes and moved, following the iron ribbon cutting across the prairie.
These places had just about everything—dentistry, hardware supplies, saloons, mercantiles, cafes. And of course, dance halls and prostitutes.
Most of the workers were single and veterans of the Civil War. They needed a job and the railroad needed men. All nationalities worked together.
The town of Benton, Wyoming was one such temporary town. It only existed for three months but it had a population of over 3,000. It had twenty-five saloons. I can’t even imagine this many people.
But many of the merchants were visionaries and saw great opportunity, therefore built sturdy structures. They stayed put when the temporary establishments moved on. They had faith that as long as the tracks remained, the people would come. It was also an exciting time for land developers, but such an atmosphere also planted seeds for the unscrupulous who cheated people out of their hard-earned money. They’d sell them land they didn’t own or they’d sell the same land to several different people which resulted in a nightmare.
Everyone wanted to cash in on the wealth that the railroad created.
A few of the cities that got temporary starts were: Billings, Laramie, Cheyenne, Reno, Tacoma, Fresno, and North Platte, Nebraska. There were hundreds more.
The historical western series Hell on Wheels was set in temporary towns as the Union Pacific laid down tracks in the race to Promontory Point where they drove the golden spike.
Fortunes were made and lost in creating the transcontinental railroad.
The human toll was staggering. Fifteen thousand men worked to build it. 1,500 died. White men earned $35 a month and that included room and board. The rest made $25 plus room and board. Using today’s inflation rate, that $35 amounts to $657.32. Not much at all for the amount of backbreaking, dangerous work those guys did. The conditions were deplorable.
In which sector do you think the new boom will come from? Oil? Land? Technology? Maybe colonizing Mars or other planets?
Margaret Brownley and I have Christmas in a Cowboy’s Arms releasing on October 3rd. Six stories that will warm your heart and put you in the Christmas spirit. I’ll offer several in giveaways next month so be watching!
Hi, Winnie Griggs here. I was doing some research the other day on how long it would take a letter to reach Texas from the east coast. As usual, I stumbled on an interesting little tidbit of history that I wasn’t looking for that took me down a fun little rabbit trail.
Did you know that from 1862 until 1977 there existed Railway Post Offices (RPOs). These were not just rail cars that carried the mail, but were actual rolling post offices. Between stops, the mailbags, which had heretofore sat untouched during travel, sometimes for days at a time, were now opened and the contents sorted and processed as the train sped toward its destination.
Originally, the railroad cars that housed these rolling post offices, were converted baggage cars that were furnished with wooden furniture. Soon, however, a Railway Mail Service employee named Charles Harrison designed a set of fixtures that were a vast improvement over those. It consisted of cast-iron hinged pieces that could be folded and unfolded as needed and set in a number of different configurations to hold racks, mail pouches and a sorting table based on needs for specific routes and volumes of mail. These fixtures could also be completely folded away to leave a wide open space, thus converting it to a general baggage car if needed.
Letters that were cancelled aboard one of these RPOs received a postmark that indicated the route’s endpoints, the train number and the designation R.P.O. A railway mail route could range in length anywhere from a few miles to over 1,100 miles.
Railway mail clerks had to undergo strict training. Each clerk was expected to know the post offices and rail junctions, as well as local delivery details for the larger cities served along their route. They had to undergo periodic testing to keep them sharp. This testing included gauging speed and accuracy in sorting mail on a moving train, and a score above 96% was expected.
At the height of their use, Railway Post Offices were installed on over 9,000 train routes covering more than 200,000 miles. Some dedicated mail trains were known to carry over 300 tons of mail daily.
The railway post office network began to decline at the end of WWII. The last railway post office traveled between New York and Washington D.C. and was discontinued on June 30, 1977.
I hope you enjoyed this little bit of post office and railroad history. And speaking of mail, do you have any mail-related stories to share – letters from exotic locations, favorite postcards, a pen pal story? Please do share.
And because I’m so very excited about my upcoming June release, A Tailor-Made Husband, I’m going to give away one of my advance copies to one of the commentators on today’s post.
A TAILOR-MADE HUSBAND
From Bachelor Sheriff to Family Man
Tired of pining for handsome sheriff Ward Gleason, seamstress Hazel Andrews plans to head East for a fresh start—until Ward finds an abandoned child. Hazel can’t turn down his request that she watch the little girl while he investigates a spate of crimes. But spending time with Ward is sending local gossips—and Hazel’s heart—into turmoil.
Nothing in Ward’s world is the same since he took charge of orphaned Meg…and that includes his growing feelings for Hazel. A fake engagement will allow them to care for the child together until Hazel moves away and finds someone more worthy. But with little Meg convinced she’s already found her forever family, can Ward and Hazel dare to make her dreams come true, along with their own?
We’re so delighted to have E.E. (Elisabeth) Burke come to visit. This lady knows more about steam engine trains and Kansas history than anyone I know. She’s written a whole series around trains and is in the middle of a bride train series about mail order brides. She’s a fantastic, award-winning writer of historical western romances. Please make her welcome.
What’s more fun than a bonfire and s’mores? Having a sizzling story to read while you’re enjoying the fall foliage. How about eight sizzling tales from the Old West?
I’m delighted to be part of a multi-bestselling author publishing project, HEARTS ABLAZE, a collection of eight Western historical romances set during the autumn months and blazing with passion and adventure. This set is available on Oct. 18 for just 99 cents, but you can preorder it now. Here’s the link: http://amzn.to/2ek7pL6!!
When the eight of us first came together to work on this project, we quickly realized we had something very special–a collection that represented the varied and vibrant tapestry of the Old American West. From the wild Pacific forests to the lonesome prairies, on wagon trains and at frontier outposts, you’ll fall in love with lumberjacks and soldiers, trailblazers and trick riders, courageous warriors and rugged cowboys.
For my part, I’m re-releasing an updated version of my debut novella, KATE’S OUTLAW, which is set against a historic railroad race. The race took place primarily in 1870, when two railroads were laying track through Kansas as fast as they could to be first to reach the border of Indian Territory (modern day Oklahoma). Congress had promised the winning line free land and the exclusive right to pass through Cherokee lands into cattle-rich Texas. The owners were ambitious men willing to do just about anything to secure the prize. Spies, saboteurs and even outlaws disrupted the competition and turned the contest into a battle.
Most of the activity took place in southeastern Kansas in an area dubbed the Cherokee Neutral Lands because it was supposed to serve as a buffer between white settlers and the Indian Territory. As early as 1850, whites began to settle there, and by 1865, shortly after the Civil War, thousands of immigrants were pouring in.
The Tsa-la-gi (Cherokee) people had suffered setback after setback. Thirty years earlier, their homelands in the Southeast had been taken from them and they’d been forcibly marched west and relocated. They’d been dragged, divided, into the Civil War, and subsequently lost more land as a result. By the time the Katy showed up on their doorstep, they were sick and tired of the white men’s lies and broken promises.
The 1866 treaty gave one railroad the right to pass through their territory, but said nothing about giving land away, so when Congress promised free grants to the railroad, the Cherokee Nation objected—strenuously. A bitter lawsuit ensued. How the poor Indian nation paid for this legal battle isn’t mentioned, but I came up with a few theories, which led to my idea for Kate’s Outlaw.
In the meantime, the Katy Railroad struggled to keep building so it didn’t go bankrupt after exhausting most of its resources to win the race. The line eventually crossed the Red River into Texas and became, for a time, a thriving railroad.
Today, the Katy no longer exists and portions of its rail bed have been turned into scenic hiking and biking paths. The Cherokee Nation has survived and thrived, ironically adapting to modern times much better than the railroad it challenged so many years ago.
I hope you’ll pick up a copy of Hearts Ablaze and check out my updated version of Kate’s Outlaw, along with seven other tales from bestselling authors.
In Whispered Love, bestselling author Kathleen Ball takes you to the wild Pacific Northwest, a land bristling with handsome, well-muscled lumberjacks. Foreman Samuel Pearse has only one rule; no women allowed. Until he finds one asleep in his bathtub—Pat Clarke, the company cook. With her secret revealed and her virtue at stake, Pat turns to the only man who can help her…the one man who sets fire to her heart.
The Officer and the Bostoner, from USA Today bestselling author Rose Gordon, follows the adventures of a well-to-do lady traveling cross-country to meet her intended. Instead, she finds herself stranded at a military fort and forced into an unwanted marriage. Can a hot-blooded officer spark love in his wife’s cold heart?
Fools Rush from USA Today bestselling author Ciara Knight. A young woman, desperate for independence from all men, embarks on a crazy cross-country wagon train adventure disguised as a man. Instead of finding her independence, a bounty hunter captures her under the guise of horse thieving, a crime punishable by hanging. Will a man she’s lied to for months save her, or will he surrender her to a monster with a badge?
Ridin’ For A Fall by Kirsten Lynn immerses you in a fiery tale of forever love. When circumstances force best friends and Wild West Show performers, Lena Boden and Kyle Allaway to marry and return to Wyoming, they must stand together against internal doubts and external forces seeking their destruction—or risk a fall that will knock them out of the saddle for good.
In A Warrior’s Heart, bestselling author Amanda McIntyre brings to life the passionate story of a bold Cherokee warrior and the brave white woman he rescues from certain death. Thrown together by circumstances not of their own making, they overcome betrayal and tragedy to find a love strong enough to bring nations together.
The Rancher, by bestselling author Hildie McQueen, transports readers to 1870s Montana Territory and into a sensual encounter between an injured rancher and a woman running for her life. Sometimes love enters at the worst moment…
In The Drifter, bestselling author Elizabeth Rose takes readers on an epic journey across the plains, as drifter Chase Masters shows up wounded at Nessa Pemberton’s stagecoach relay station mistaken as the bandit who killed her husband. Can a single mother learn to love again and put her trust in a man who is nothing but a drifter?
Join the party!
On Thursday, Oct. 20, from 6-10 p.m. Eastern, we’re rounding up lovers of Western historical romance for a big party on Facebook to celebrate the release of Hearts Ablaze.
Joining as hosts: E.E. Burke, Hildie McQueen, Amanda McIntyre, Kathleen Ball, Rose Gordon, Ciara Knight and Elizabeth Rose. We’ll be turning up the heat (on each other), and providing readers with excerpts, fun facts, Flash giveaways, and a drawing for a $100 Amazon gift card!
What are some of your favorite characters in Old West stories? Cowboys? American Indians? Soldiers? Outlaws? Tell us why.
Today we’ll be giving away a FREE boxed set to a lucky commenter.
About E.E. Burke:
Weave together passionate romance and rich historical detail, add a dash of suspense, and you have books by bestselling author E.E. Burke. E.E., also known as Elisabeth, has earned accolades in regional and national contests, including the RWA’s prestigious Golden Heart®. Over the years, she’s been a disc jockey, a journalist and an advertising executive, before finally getting around to living the dream–writing stories readers can get lost in.
Recently I came across a list of occupations that some experts say will be obsolete in the next ten years. Occupations on the line include postal workers, farmers, ranchers (yikes, we’re talking cowboys here!), cooks and cashiers.
Self-service checkouts are slowly taking over the stores and restaurants in my area. You can even check out your own books at my local library, and meter readers have gone the way of the dinosaurs. All this got me to thinking about occupations from the past that no longer exist. Here are a few that caught my eye:
Bone man public domain
Rag and Boneman
Following the great buffalo slaughter of the 1800s, bleached bones covered the prairies. It didn’t take long for homesteaders to figure out what the real money crop was. Bones were used for cosmetics, glue, lubricants and sugar cane filters. During the height of the bone trade, eastern processing plants purchased an estimated billion-dollars’ worth of bones.
Icemen made daily rounds in wagons, carts or trucks delivering ice for ice boxes.
Knocker-Upper (it’s not what you think)
How did workers get to work on time before alarm clocks? A knocker-upper banged on doors or windows to wake people at the appointed time. Some used peashooters aimed at second story windows. It makes you wonder who woke the knocker-uppers?
Gandy dancers 1917 source: wikipedia public domain
This jobs sounds more fun than it was. Railroad workers or gandy dancers, as they were called, laid thousands of miles of railroad tracks across the U.S.
Bloodletting was a popular method by which to treat disease or infection. Doctors used millions of leeches during the 19th century and let’s face it; someone had to collect those suckers.
Shyster lawyer (some people might argue that this profession still exists)
Wikipedia public domain
These workers lit gas streetlights with the aid of a long pole. In some communities, the lamplighter also served as night watchman.
Lectors were hired by factories to educate workers and eradicate boredom. They did this by reading newspapers and even novels aloud. Should a lector read anything too radical or controversial, he could expect to be tossed out on his ear. Hmm. Sounds like some college campuses today.
Do any of you remember milkmen? What about gas station attendants who used to pump gas, clean windows and check the tires? It wasn’t that long ago that people came to the door selling encyclopedias and vacuum cleaners. Most of us could probably do without the salesmen, but wouldn’t it be nice to have someone fill our tanks on occasion? I would also miss not having my mail delivered, and can’t imagine a world without cowboys. What about you? What profession or occupation do you or will you miss?
Kari Trumbo is one of those people who sneaks up on you — in a good way. She’s not loud or rowdy (like some of us who won’t be named…ahem). Dig beneath the surface, though, and you’ll find a warm heart, a passion for family and fiction, and a sincere desire to live the precept “love thy neighbor.” She’s come to visit with a “story behind the story” of her new western historical romance.
In my latest novel, To Love and Comfort, Margot must face a train disaster. Now, I had only read minimally about train accidents in history with my children (we homeschool). When the story started veering in that direction I had to stop and do some research.
Most of the big train accidents happened earlier than the setting of my story. That is not to say they didn’t happen in 1901, just that the majority of these incidents happened earlier in history. They happened by and large because of brake systems that could wear out and bridges that were built quickly and not maintained well. Trains weren’t new, but what had to be done to maintain a 50-year-old bridge was.
I also had to research what large river my character was likely to cross and what the terrain might be where it crossed. This proved to be incredibly difficult, as the U.S. has a lot of rivers and the terrain varies a lot even within small distances. In the end, I ended up going with the terrain the way my character described it and made the disaster over the Ohio river, as that was the river it was most likely they would have been traveling over.
In the end, I found the train disaster fascinating and terrible to research. Putting my character through that situation was daunting. I am so thankful for history and survivor testimonies to help us know that our writing about feelings and what situations would be like are as accurate as they can be.
To Love and Comfort
Margot Fleur is devastated by a secret kept by the man she’s known as her father, tearing her heart to pieces. Struggling with feelings of isolation, she desperately wants to be part of something more; to be whole.
Tyler Wilson longs to sweep Margot off of her feet. Seeing past her imperfections, he loves her for the sparkling spirit and bright dreams she once held so dear and only wants to see her smile again. Strong and determined, he sets out to win her heart but will a stubborn unwillingness to hear the call of the Lord forever keep them apart? And if he doesn’t learn, will Margot be lost forever?
“Where did the 72 depart from?” But he knew the answer before he asked. His face pinched with pain before the answer was even given.
“Philadelphia, sir. The wreck is about thirty miles straight west of here. Follow the tracks out of town, but be careful. They’ll be trains coming along soon to bring those passengers back. You might want to wait here if you knew someone on the train. Might miss them.”
Tyler backed out the door, his mind a mess of what he’d just heard. She had to be alive. He’d know if she were dead, wouldn’t he? That dreadful feeling meant she needed him, not that she was gone…right? He turned as Jax approached him.
“What did you learn?” He grabbed Tyler’s shoulder and shook him.
“I need a horse, a fast one.”
Jax grabbed his other shoulder. “Just where do you think you’re going?”
Tyler looked up at him and shrugged his hands off. “I have to go get her and the stage will slow me down.”
“You’re sure you know where you’re going?”
“I’ve never been more certain of anything in my life.”
Kari Trumbo is a writer of Christian Historical Romance and a stay-at-home mom to four vibrant children. When she isn’t writing, editing, or blogging, she homeschools her children and pretends to keep up with them. She is the author of the Western Vows series and co-author of the Best-Selling Cutter’s Creek series. Kari loves reading, listening to contemporary Christian music, singing with the worship team, and curling up near the wood stove when winter hits. She makes her home in central Minnesota with her husband of nineteen years, two daughters, two sons, and three cats.
Nothing changed America as much as the iron horse. People were finally able to travel across country in relative comfort and not have to worry about the weather, Indians, or some of the other mishaps that plagued early travelers. A train passenger’s greatest fear was food poisoning. That’s how bad meals were along the rails.
It took one enterprising Englishman to change the way travelers ate. His name was Fred Harvey and his Harvey House restaurants eventually stretched along the Santa Fe railroad tracks from Chicago all the way to Los Angeles and San Francisco—one every hundred miles.
Hear That Whistle Blow
Fred Harvey invented the “fast-food” concept long before Ray Kroc. Passengers were allowed only thirty minutes to get off the train, eat and board again, so time was of the essence. He devised a system in which train conductors would telegraph passenger food orders to the restaurant in advance. This allowed the restaurant staff to prepare the food before the train pulled into the station.
From Dishwasher to Household Name
Harvey learned the business the hard way. After traveling to America at the age of seventeen, he landed a job as a dishwasher at a famed New York restaurant, working his way through the ranks from dishwasher to line-cook. He eventually landed in St. Louis where he took over the Merchants Dining Room Saloon. His success lasted only a short time. The winds of war could not be ignored and after his partner joined the secessionist army, taking all the money the two men had saved, Harvey’s restaurant was doomed.
After a series of jobs and personal losses, he eventually took over an eating house at the Santa Fe depot in Topeka. He arranged for fresh fruit and meat to be railed in from Chicago and other states. His food was so good that railroad officials worried that no one would want to travel past Topeka.
First Female Workforce
As the number of his depot restaurants increased, so did his troubles. Black men were hired as waiters, but this often created conflict with cowboys. After one unpleasant midnight brawl at the Raton Harvey eating house, Harvey’s friend Tom Gables suggested a radical idea; why not replace black male waiters with women? Harvey decided to give Tom’s idea a try.
Harvey ran ads in newspapers for “young women of good character, attractive and intelligent, 18 to 30, to work in the Harvey Eating Houses.” He offered a salary of $17.50 a month, a tidy sum for a young woman. Soon he had all the help he needed.
This Harvey House is in Barstow, CA. It’s now a museum. I used it as a model for my story.
The women lived in dormitories above the restaurants under the watchful eye of a house mother. Their uniforms consisted of a black dress, black shoes and stockings, and a crisp white apron. The women had to adhere to strict rules and were not allowed to marry for six months.
His new female staff was a great success and helped ease racial tensions. Even the roughest of cowboys and railroad workers were willing to don the required (and dreaded) dinner jacket just for the pleasure of being served a good steak by a pretty girl.
He Kept the West in Food—and Wives
That quote from Will Rogers says it all; Among his other talents, Fred Harvey not only “civilized the west” he was indirectly responsible for more than 5000 marriages. That’s enough to make you want to forgive him for inventing fast-food. Almost….
What’s the best or worse meal you had while traveling?
Someone is killing off the Harvey Girls. Undercover Pinkerton detective Katie Madison hopes to find the killer before the killer finds her—or before she burns down the restaurant trying.
Hi! Winnie Griggs here. The past several weeks have been over the top busy for me – I’ve got TWO book deadlines in March and I’m the coordinator for a writer’s conference that falls the weekend of March 6th. So, with apologies to all of you wonderful readers, I’m going to reprise and older post for you today. And to make up for my shameless lack of originality, I’m going to give one of today’s visitors who leaves a comment here their choice of any book on my backlist.
In trying to come up with a topic for today’s post I pulled up my lagniappe file. That’s the folder where I stash all the interesting stories and factoids I come across during research – the unexpected little tidbits that have nothing whatsoever to do with my actual story need, but that spark my imagination and get my ‘what if’ meter vibrating big time.
The piece that jumped out at me this time was an article I came across when researching circuit preachers for a minor story thread in one of my books. The article talked about a very unique tool utilized by missionaries who were attempting to do their own brand of ‘taming the west’ – namely Chapel Cars.
These were railroad cars that were modified to serve as traveling churches. They road the rails from town to town, diverting to sidings for as long as they were needed, then moving on to the next stop. These cars were outfitted with very modest living quarters for the missionary and perhaps his wife. The rest of the space was utilized for church services.
Most western movies and tales glorify the gun-toting lawman or vigilante, portraying them as the tamers of the wild and wooly west. In actuality, the peace-minded missionaries who road the rails played a larger part in bringing peace to the lawless west than any of their more aggressive counterparts. They traveled in their mobile churches to remote areas of the country, bringing spiritual direction and a civilizing influence to people who were starved for something to offset the violence and loneliness of their existence.
These Chapel Cars traveled throughout the west and midwest – including North Dakota, Nevada, Minnesota, California, Louisiana, Texas, Oregon and Colorado. They stopped at mining towns and logging camps, tent cities and newly established towns, bringing their gospel message and the reminder of civilization to people who had seen neither for a long time – if ever.
And, given the unfettered existence of those in the camps and towns, their appearance was surprisingly well received more often than not – especially by the ladies of the area. The arrival of these Chapel Cars signaled not only the chance to attend Sunday services, but brought with them someone to perform weddings, funerals, baptisms and also a welcome excuse for social gatherings. In addition, many a rough and tough cowboy who would have balked at attending a traditional church seemed to feel differently about these side rail services. In fact, the very novelty of the Chapel Car brought folks from miles around just to have a look.
Of course, they didn’t always receive a warm welcome. There are recorded instances of the Chapel Cars being pelted with eggs and refuse, defaced with graffiti and even set on fire. But these were rare instances and the cars and their custodians survived to continue their mission.
These repurposed rail cars were furnished with pews, a lectern, an altar table and in some cases an organ. Depending on the construction, they could seat over 70 people inside. The Chapel Car was a multipurpose unit, serving as a home, church, Sunday School, social hall, library and meeting place. They carried bibles and tracts which were distributed all along the lines. The missionary and his wife, in addition to their usual ministerial duties, were expected to function as singer, musician, janitor and cook. They helped organize permanent churches, including raising the necessary funds and helping to construct the buildings.
There are records to support the existence of eleven Chapel Cars in all, though there is some evidence there may have been as many as seventeen. Of the eleven known cars, three were utilized by Catholics, seven by Baptists and one by the Episcopalians.
Chapel cars remained in use throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. With the advent of World War I, however, the railroad tracks had to be kept clear for troop movement. In addition, new regulations prohibited the railroad companies from giving ‘free rides’ to the Chapel Cars, something that had been common practice up until that time. And as paved roads and the automobile became more prevalent it became easier for folks to travel longer distances on their own to attend church. Thus, the Chapel Cars that had brought their spiritual message and civilizing influence to the rough and tumble west faded into history.
So, what is the most memorable place where you’ve attended a church service and what made it memorable for you?
When I start researching a new project, or even when I’m in the middle of one and just need some quick directions, there is nothing quite so practical as a good, historic map. They are hard to find, but when I stumble across a site that has maps in a format that I can enlarge and use, I get a little giddy. One of my favorites is on the Library of Congress’s site called American Memory. The maps that I have found the most pertinent to my personal research are the Railroad Maps. Most of my books are set in the 1880s, the decade that saw the most growth in the Texas railroad system. It was critical for me to know which towns the railroad had reached by which years. This site, combined with the Handbook of Texas Online, answered those questions.
For example, here is a map of the railroads in Texas in 1883:
Now, the beauty of using these maps online, is that I can enlarge them to the point that I can read all the little town names alone each of those tracks.
I used the map below to plot my setting for Stealing the Preacher. The Archer brothers lived on a ranch outside Palestine, and I needed my hero to travel to a town to interview for a preaching position. I opted for Brenham since it was a fast-growing town in the 1880’s. But Crockett never makes it there because he is abducted from his train just outside of Caldwell. The outlaws take him overland past the small town of Deanville and back to their ranch where he eventually meets the heroine, Joanna. I’ve circled the key cities in red.
Beyond railroad maps, historic city maps are priceless. Sometimes I use fictitious towns which gives me the freedom to put things wherever I want, but many times I set my stories in real places. In order to describe these places accurately and to give the reader a true feeling of steeping back in time, I need accurate maps.
This is a piece of the Sanborn Map for Ft. Worth back in 1885. These maps were collected for fire insurance purposes, and they are a wonderful resource. Not only do they show street names, but when you enlarge them, you can also see the name of local businesses that were in existence during that time frame. I gained access to the Texas maps through my local university library. I used this piece of the Fort Worth map when plotting the opening of Head in the Clouds.
Adelaide Proctor traveled to Ft. Worth, chasing the traveling book salesman she thought was going to marry her. I needed to give her a place to stay while she was there, and this section of the map shows a section of town right next to the railroad depot. The blue arrow points to Clark House which was a fashionable hotel in the area. Adelaide ended up staying here, but she brought her beloved horse, Sheba, with her on the journey and needed a place to stable her. Thanks to this map, I found a handy livery stable just up the street and was able to have my hotel drummer point her in that direction. (Green arrow) Unfortunately for poor Adelaide, this lovely hotel did not prove to be the welcoming retreat she had hoped, for it was here that she discovered the scoundrel she had quit her job to follow was already married.
Click cover to pre-order.
Never fear for our intrepid heroine, however. I was able to use another portion of this map to lead her to a lawyer’s office on the corner of Houston and W. 13th Streets so that she might inquire about a governess position on a sheep ranch over in Menard County where a much more suitable hero waited.
My next release, Full Steam Ahead, is partially set in Galveston. And once again, I hit the goldmine in finding a map that fit my time frame. I found a 1859 Galveston map, only 8 years removed from the time period of my story. Combined with other resources, I was able to piece together where my heroine’s family house would be and the route she would take to escape to the docks in order to board a steamboat heading to Liberty, Texas. Here is the link to the Galveston map. You can enlarge as needed. Imagine Renard House (my heroine’s family residence) in Lot 61. I was able to verify the existence of other historical houses from the 1830s in the same neighborhood, so I felt safe placing her home there.
Are you a map person?
When you travel, do you use GPS or do you prefer the good old fashioned paper maps?
Do you get excited by looking at old maps that give a picture of what things used to be like, or is that pleasure saved for geeky researchers like me?
In my latest release, BRIDE OF THE HIGH COUNTRY, I had to get my main characters from NY to Heartbreak Creek, CO. Since the Transcontinental had been finished the previous year (1869), I picked the train. Oops.
Even though train travel had been available in the east for three decades, cross-country hauls were rare. Amenities, rarer. No bathrooms, for instance. But that was OK since the trains had to stop every twenty miles to fill the tenders with water. If the passengers were lucky, there might be an outhouse beside the tracks. Or if they had a dime, they could purchase a box lunch from an enterprising local, or enjoy a hot meal of beans, bacon and stale biscuit. Then back on the train and the hard bench for another lurching, bouncing twenty miles. YIPEE.
But, of course, my characters were rich, so they traveled in style in a Pullman Palace Car, which was as plush as a gamblers’ steamboat, complete with velvet couches, carpet and wooden inlay around the windows. There was even a washroom in every four-berth car, which emptied directly onto the tracks (and you thought it was hunters who decimated the buffalo—HA!) Also included on the luxury runs were a parlor car and dining car, which served mostly-edible meals when your plate wasn’t sliding into your lap as the train clickety-clacked along.
Ah, the beautiful scenery and fresh air—if only you could see through the soot-streaked windows or breathe through the billowing smoke wafting back from the locomotive. Still, it was faster than a three-month trip by wagon. Plus, you got to shoot at stuff as you careened along at ten, twenty, or—OMG—even thirty miles an hour. What a treat!
FACT: Each Pullman Car was owned and operated by the Pullman Company, and was serviced by a white-jacketed Negro man universally named “George” in deference to his employer, George Pullman.
The West would have been a vastly different place without the influence of the railroads. For one thing, they offered incentives for people to settle along the right-of-ways, thereby creating permanent customers for the goods they were hauling. They also carved routes through impossible country, built thousands of trestles, bridges, and culverts, or—since anything steeper than a 3% grade was prohibitive in fuel, construction, maintenance, and equipment costs—they laid tracks miles out of the way to avoid them, thus opening up even more country.
FACT: In constructing the Transcontinental, Irish immigrants laid tracks west from Nebraska, while Chinese workers came east out of Sacramento—and they arrived at the EXACT SAME SPOT at Promontory Summit! Amazing!
FACT: The standard width between rails was determined by the Romans when they built stone roads in England. 4’ 8.5” was the width between the wheels of a two-horse chariot. Over time, those wheels wore such deep grooves into the stone that later wagon-makers had to space their wheels to fit them. Then somebody figured wheels roll easier metal-on-metal, so they laid down metal-capped wooden rails, put flanged, metal-treaded wheels on their horse-drawn wagons, and soon coal was rolling out of Newcastle at record rates. And all because of the width of two horses’ asses pulling an old Roman chariot. Who knew?
So there you have it. More than you ever wanted to know about the joys and hazards of riding the rails west. Have you ever taken a cross-country train trip or slept in a Pullman? Would you do it again?
Leave a comment, and your name will be entered for a signed copy of BRIDE OF THE HIGH COUNTRY. Thanks for coming by, and my thanks to you, too, fillies, for letting me chat with your readers.
A friend mentioned that I would probably like a new series called Hell On Wheels. I checked it out (On Demand) and the husband and I watched the first episode and LOVED it.
It all starts with a Union Soldier in a confessional, seeking absolution for things he did during the war. In particular, what happened to a woman. When the confessional is over, both man and priest emerge, but it’s not a priest at all. It’s Cullen Bohannon – the woman’s husband. And he’s out to get every man that brutalized and then murdered his wife.
It takes a cold dude to kill a man in a church and then walk out with his greatcoat flapping.
His search takes him to Hell on Wheels – the travelling camp of the men building the Union Pacific railroad. As you can imagine, it’s rough. A good portion of the workforce is freed slaves, and as we all know the term free was a formality more than anything else. He’s hired as a supervisor to the crews, and strikes up an unlikely friendship with Elam Ferguson (played by Common).
The whole thing is ruled by Thomas Durant, who’s a bit greasy and not above manipulating senators and stocks to see that the railroad gets built. Durant’s chief surveyor, Bell, is killed in an Indian attack but his wife, Lily, survives – and it’s Bohannon who brings her back to camp. And all the while Bohannon is trying to find the last of the men responsible for the death of his wife.
It’s a great story, a fantastic setting, wonderful, complex characters (The Swede as Durant’s “muscle” is deliciously creepy). Of course the cast isn’t hard to look at either. My husband is rather partial to Lily Bell. I, of course, adore Bohannon (played by Anson Mount). In fact, there may be a reclusive rancher in a story soon that bears a striking resemblance.
And I’ll admit it – best of all was the night Bohannon and Elam had to fight each OTHER. I looked at my husband and said, “I hope they fight with their shirts off.” Yes, I’m just that shallow.
A bit of history, a bit of romance, a lot of action. Can anyone say “All aboard!”