FAIRS and FARES and a Giveaway!



Travel Town in Southern California Travel Town in Southern California

Right after Christmas we took a little trip to Travel Town in a well-known park in our area that houses locomotives from the earliest days of travel.  It was thrilling to see the steam and wood-burning engines attached to railcars that once barreled down the tracks with intent to reach the next city on the route in due and expected time.

We peeked into dining cars and strolled inside of rail cars that once accommodated many a traveler.  It really got me to thinking about the cost of things way back when.  What could the average American traveler afford?  How much have costs changed over the years?

In 1869 Railroad First Class Fare from coast to coast including meals cost $250 to $300 round trip.

Wow, that’s sounds like a small fortune to me for most folks.  Yet, coach fare (squeezing everyone into a crowded, smoky car) from Omaha to San Francisco was a more affordable $32.20.   First Class Airfare today, is probably equally as costly in relation, whereas coach fare being more affordable.  Yet, by 1886, less than twenty years later, First Class Rail fare between Kansas and California dropped to $12.00

A coal-burning locomotive A coal-burning locomotive

I suppose fluctuations have to do with supply and demand.  Just like today when a product is new and innovative, the cost skyrockets.  The very first video camera/recorder we owned cost close to $800.00 whereas today, more than twenty years later, we can buy a much more advanced camera for less than $100.00

Here’s a list of some other costs I found interesting:

In 1874 Doc Holiday charged $3.00 for a tooth extraction in his Dallas dental practice. (I’m going to the dentist this week…for him to just look inside my mouth is about $100.00)

In 1875 Wyatt Earp earned $60.00 a month as police officer in Kansas.

In 1880 Pat Garrett earned $10.00 a day as special deputy US Marshal.

In 1869 admission to a concert at a fair in Lincoln, Nebraska cost fifty cents.  (compared to the last Tim McGraw concert ticket I purchased at $125.00 … okay Tanya Hanson knows that’s not true…it was more like $150.00)

In 1880 the standard price of an infant delivery in Madison, Nebraska was $10.00 with an additional charge of $1.00 for a house visit outside of town.  (We all know how much it costs to have a baby these days)


About $8.00 worth of staples  today About $8.00 worth of staples today

In 1878:

Butter was 18 cents per pound

Sugar was less than 1 cent per pound

Cheese (who doesn’t love cheese?) was 7 cents per pound

Rice was 6 cents per pound

Eggs were 20 cents a dozen.


Seeing these prices and how costs have gone up, don’t you wonder what a loaf of bread will cost in the year 2099?  How much will it cost to have a baby or buy a car? What have you noticed lately that’s skyrocketed, ie: the cost of movie tickets these days?  To offset these costs, post a comment here and be entered to win a FREE book.  

You have your choice of my printed book, Secret Heir of Sunset Ranch or the Kindle/Nook version of The Cowboy Contract.  And be sure to look for my next Harlequin Desire, the conclusion to the Texas Cattleman’s Club titled,

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35 thoughts on “FAIRS and FARES and a Giveaway!”

  1. I loved going to the Country Fairs. And going to the movie when I was 14 and it only cost 50 cents. Popcorn and coke was only 10 cents each. Rides at a carnival was like 25 and 50 cents and now people with families can’t even afford to take the kids for they charge so much. and in a small town here in Texas we got a nichol when we went to town on Sat. I would get me a double dip ice cream cone for my money. and wow, just see what you pay for it now. Loved sitting at the tall counter in the drugstore.Would love to win one of your books Charlene. Thanks for the memories. Maxie mac262(at)me(dot)com

  2. The cost of the movie popcorn, soda and candy is three times the cost of the movie. My family doesn’t go to the movies because it’s just to much for all six of us to go. The cost of gas is insane and groceries I don’t even have to go there. I’m scared as my boys are entering teenage appetites and I have to start taking out loans just to feed them.
    It’s crazy how the cost of things have changed! Thanks for the post!
    jennydtipton at gmail dot com

  3. Hi Charlene,fun post and love the heroes on your covers! I’m always struggling with the cost of things in my historical books. If you say eggs cost twenty cents readers think wow, what a bargain. But the reality is that it wasn’t that cheap back in the 1800s when wages were low and families were large.

    My husband still talks about the days when gasoline was only 25 cents a gallon, and even then it was a struggle to fill the tank.

  4. Coffee & chocolate prices have gone up.

    My sister introduced me to M & M s on a car trip about 30 years ago. A large bag cost 99c! Now they have tiny, small , medium, large and party size. The 1 ounce tiny size is about 99c now! The party size $10.99.

    Nestle Toll House chocolate chips cost around 99c for a 12 oz bag. Lately they are around $2.99 here. I did get a bag for $2 around Christmas with a coupon from our local grocery store.


    college days 99c/gallon now $3.29/gallon

    Hamburger 99c/lb, now $3.99 on sale

    steak , fish prices all have gone high

    Recently, a highball drink in downtown Milwaukee averaged $7, exotic drinks around $14

    Food at ballparks Beer $7, hot dog $7

    Recent rip to the Milwaukee Public Museum 7 adults $89 with 4 discounts!

    My Maxwell House Decaf coffee runs around $10.60, on sale $7.68.

    I used to buy a can for $2.99!

  5. This topic is really interesting to me. I love comparing the prices of now and back then. I would have loved to have seen the trains. One of my dreams is to travel by train some place one day.

  6. OH my goodness, everything today is expensive. I remember a few short (ok, so maybe not so short) years ago paying 99cents a gallon to fill up my little red Probe! All I ever needed was a $20 bill in my pocket and I’d be fine. Oh and don’t get me started on food. UGH! Wow, I’d have had a million kids if it only cost $10!!! 🙂 What a fun post.

  7. Very interesting blog, Charlene! I’m constantly amazed at the prices of things back in the 1800’s. And like you, when I mention the cost of something in my historicals, I wonder if the reader really gets that money was so very hard to come by. I once said that my heroine would lose her land if she didn’t pay the bank $32 and some odd cents before a month was out. Readers think that would be so easy. But not when she only had less than a dollar to her name. People just don’t get how difficult times were in the days when their yearly income might be $100 and that was if they were very lucky.

    Big Congrats on your upcoming release!!! Wow! THE TEXAS RENEGADE RETURNS looks so good. Can’t wait until it comes out. Love, love that cover.

  8. Love the post….very interesting. Thinking about prices, I can’t think of a thing that hasn’t gone up. I have noticed that so many packaged things in the grocery store are higher but the quantity is smaller than was once purchased.

  9. I enjoyed this post comparing costs. It is disheartening to shop any more! I to remember the 25 cent gas, the 5 cent candy bar and 15 cent bread.
    I guess people struggled with the cost of things in every time period. Wonder how future generations will afford it.
    thank you

  10. Hi Charlene, we took tour little grandsons to Travel Town just last Sunday! They absolutely loved it. And the price was right–free! (We did do donation.)

    Yesterday we ate lunch at The Habit…when the first one opened in the 40’s, a burger was 24 cents. (Twenty five cents seems such a rounder number but…)

    And when I was little, my mom could let me walk (ALONE) to the grocery store a few blocks away for milk and bread. Cost fifty cents for both.
    We haven’t been to a concert in a while, have we? Always such fun, and worth it.

    Love you….

  11. Hi Maxie
    I remember going to county fairs too as a teen. It was affordable and an easy way to spend the day. My dad would buy us all ice cream at our local pharmacy, it would also be about a nickel and then a dime if you got two scoops. What a treat! Thanks for sharing your memories with us.

  12. Hi Jennifer
    I hear you! I often think how costly it would be if my kids were still living at home! As it is, they come over twice a week for dinner and I see a big spike in our grocery bill.

  13. Hi Margaret
    It’s true. I think about how I only paid .25 a gallon of gas when I first started driving. And I too, would only fill up the tank halfway, because well, I needed cash in pocket for things like movies and such! I got my info from Everyday Life in the 1800’s and Everyday Life in the Wild West.

  14. Hi Laurie
    You posted some really good comparisons. Of course, chocolate has gone sky high and many baking staples. Sometimes, when I make something from scratch and estimate costs, I wonder why I don’t just buy it ready made, would be half the cost. Coffee too, is outrageous. But it lasts a long time in our house, since we don’t drink it every day anymore.

  15. My parents like to talk about the prices of fast food when they were kids… what a difference to now… even I can see the increase in price from when I was a kid with things we buy. Just 2 or 3 years ago, we went to buy some pain reliever for my mom at Target… the tag said one price… we went to buy it and it came up double the price… I went to show the manager that it was a mistake… she actually told me that it was an old tag… that someone forgot to change it! Can you believe that??? They doubled the price of the product practically overnight… but she did give it to us for the tagged price… then took the tag away. Unbelievable!

  16. Enjoyed reading the comments. i can remember when I first started reading paperback books – they were 25 cents each and hard to come by. We shared them.
    i am not going to worry about the price-I just hope these items are available what with the droughts in farming regions, the flooding, the frosts, etc.
    I see where a lot of these will not be available or if they are, they will be very expensive. I also think we need to start growing our own fruits and vegetables.

  17. Hi Janine
    In New York, a special treat was when my mom would take us on the train to the shopping district. It was scary when the train went through a tunnel, and all was dark. But I remember how much fun it was, like an adventure. As an adult I took an Amtrak train, sleek and clean and cool, so different than the weathered old trains that I remembered.

  18. Hi Linda
    Yes, everything is relative! The prices seem low, but not in relation to the wages back then. As Margaret says, it makes it hard pricing things when we write. We want to be as accurate as possible.

  19. HI Tanya
    Oh, wasn’t it fun at Travel Town! Funny, we noticed the day we went, there were mostly little boys there. Boys and trains, go figure! But she loved exploring and taking the little train ride. Yep, it’s been a looooong while since I’ve been to a concert. Hubby and I debated about Vegas to see Tim and Faith, but we never did go. Love ya, too.

  20. Hi Joye
    Oh, yes. Books have increased in price. But if you notice, if you read by an ereader,the cost is less than paperback. It’s sad to see bookstores closing their doors. There’s less and less shelf space for paperbacks, and ebooks require no stocking, shipping or storing. Still, it makes me sad.

  21. Hi Colleen
    Oh, another good one. Medicine. Wow. Back in the west, doctors did well, but they weren’t by any means rich. Often, they treated their patients for little money, or bartered for services etc. I can only imagine the mark up on meds now. I was standing in line at my pharmacy behind a man who was told his prescription was NOT generic and it would cost him $259.00. The man couldn’t afford it, so he walked away without his meds. It’s nutty!

  22. Everything has gone up…But book prices have gone up so much, But it doesn’t matter how much they cost, if it is written by my fav author it’s going to be on my bookshelf.. And chocolate…well let’s just say that books and chocolate go together… and so they will both always be on my shopping list.

  23. Everything is gone up and I can’t believe when I come out of the grocery store how much it cost for what I have. A hundred dollars don’t go anywhere anymore. I also agree that books and chocolate goes together and I love both.

  24. Hi Charlene, In 1967/68, Taco Bell came to our town. It was brand new and EVERYTHING was 25cents! My 3 boys couldn’t believe it. We all loved tacos and they were all 25 cents each. It was great.
    I could go on and on, but all the above stories are right on.

  25. Hi Quilt lady – Yep,$100 flies at the grocery store. We are always amazed when we pick up “a few things” and the bill is sky high. Don’t you wonder what those cowboys would think of milk being over $4.00 a gallon now? I’m glad I’ve already raised my kids!

  26. Hi Mary J
    I remember Taco Bell coming to our town too. Once a week, when Mom didn’t want to cook, Dad would buy us all tacos and we loved them. Yep, 4 for a $1.00 back then..it was such a fun treat. Now, Mission Burrito has Taco Tuesdays and if you pick them up or eat in, they are $1.25..still a good deal. For less than $5.00 we eat dinner. Can’t do that in most places. 🙂

  27. Coffee prices are what gets to me. The can looks the same but when I read the weight the “three pound” can now has less than two pounds in it! Of course the price is the same or higher than three pounds used to be.

  28. The cost of groceries are going up way to fast. Coffee went up a few years ago because of bad weather in major producing areas. Production is back to normal and better, but the coffee prices haven’t come down much. I realize transportation prices are responsible for many increases, but some are way out of proportion. A 4 ounce can of green chills used to be about $.50 and is now $1.68. That is so out of proportion to the cost of fuel increase and you know the farmers aren’t getting that much more for their produce.
    As someone earlier said, the cost of medicine is out of sight. The prices are not reflecting the true cost of production. One pill has been on the market for years, effective with few side effects. When the patent rights expired and a major drug company took it over, the price per pill increased several hundred times. American drug companies routinely charge more for their products here in the US than they do in other countries. It makes no sense except for greed.

  29. By the way Charlene. You are right about the wages back then too. My folks had a hard time feeding 8 kids. Heard them talk about times when daddy had to work hard long hours for 50 cents a day. So when he started getting a dollar a day think how they felt. You ask about prices. WHAT hasn’t gone up. Just lately My car and home Ins. and Rent all went up. So has all of the rest of the bills, and seems groceries go up every time you go to the store. And my ck. stays the same all year. I got a raise of $14.00 for cost of living. So generous of our high spending government. I WISH this would pay for the cost of living, right?

  30. Fun to read everyone’s thoughts on the price of things, in the 1800’s, when we were all growing up, and now in 2014.
    I just remember a candy bar cost 5 cents growing up, and it was such a treat! Now I cringe when it’s 99 cents….but I still buy it. 🙂

  31. Fun to read the costs of things then. I remember gas for 45 cents a gallon going to college. Speaking of college about $500 including dorm per semester plus books. Bread for 39 cents candy bars 5 cents. I just can’t even think about how much things cost now. I live alone and it’s astronomical. The only good thing is flush toilets and shower stalls now instead of outhouses and jump in the creek or a foot tub to wash in.

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