Train Travel: A Passenger’s Perspective
“The train chugged toward the station. Smoke bellowed from the engine’s stack. Standing underneath the roof of the brick-and-mortar depot, Opal gulped as she watched it approach. …” (Excerpt from Janet Syas Nitsick’s novella, She Came by Train, included in Bride by Arrangement.)
Trains were vital to the Old West to not only transport goods but also for people traveling from East to West. They replaced wagon trains, a popular form of travel from the early 1840s to the late 1860s. Trains continued to be the dominant mode of travel until automobiles gained momentum in the 1930s and 1940s.
Passengers could purchase first, second or third-class tickets, according to their financial abilities. First-class tickets cost the most and came with the most luxuries. A second class ticket cost more than third class with this class bringing the least benefits.
If a person purchased a third-class ticket, he or she would sit on a wooden seat, be placed in an open car and had to furnish their own meal. The ticket entailed them to one washroom (our current day restroom), and it was used by men and women.
A second-class ticket enabled the traveler to sit in an enclosed car with padded seats and included two washrooms — one for men and the other for women. This passenger had three meal options: bring your own food, eat at the buffet car, or get off the train to eat during a meal stop.
Passengers riding first class sat in leather or padded-velvet seats in an enclosed car. As in the second class, men and women had their own washrooms. But different from the other classes, a first-class traveler was provided meals, could eat in the buffet car or visit a restaurant at a destination stop.
If travelers didn’t bring a meal, such as second and third-class, ticket holders, they could eat at a restaurant near the depot or eat at the dining (also buffet) car during the train stop. However, passengers had limited time to eat these unappetizing, dining-car meals, probably between 15 to 20 minutes, so often they never finished their meals and continued their trips hungry.
Around 1899, Fred Harvey solved this problem by starting a chain of restaurants at the train stations. His restaurants served appetizing meals, such as plantation beef stew on hot buttermilk biscuits and smoked haddock. Harvey hired only females for his waitstaff to allure male patrons and help women find mates.
Originally, passengers picked up their own luggage from the baggage car, but as travel by train became more popular, it became necessary to have a system to track luggage to prevent loss or theft. Metal tags, typically made of brass, were used. They included the railroad(s) involved, an identification number, and routing. One tag would go with the passenger, and a matching tag would be attached to the luggage.
When the Journey Ends
Once the train arrived at its destination, passengers needed to be careful when they got off their cars because of the short distance between the train and the platform. At the station, travelers walked, grabbed a cab or were met with individuals who took them to their ultimate destinations.
In She Came by Train, Opal has taken the long journey from Virginia to Lincoln, Nebraska, to be the governess to two young children of a lonely widower. “Opal pulled out her smelling salts and sniffed. She returned the salts to her belt before clutching her purse tight. Her new life faced her. …” (Excerpt from Janet Syas Nitsick’s novella in Bride by Arrangement.)
In The Purchased Bride, Ada fought the tears, which she believed could have filled up more than what the Mississippi River contained, as she stepped from the train to meet her betrothed, Pete Kelly. She did not know what her future would be like since her brother arranged the marriage. “With each mile that separated Ada from Virginia, she didn’t know if she felt better or worse. … her brother had seen fit to sell her to a stranger out in Nebraska — far removed from anyone …” (Excerpt from Ruth Ann Nordin’s novella in Bride by Arrangement.)
Ruth Ann Nordin and Janet Syas Nitsick are offering three paperback copies of their anthology, Bride by Arrangement, (which ranked in the top 100 in the Western romance category in the Kindle edition).