Chapel Cars – Reprise

Hello everyone, Winnie Griggs here. I have a book due at the end of this month and the last few weeks heading toward a deadline are always pretty intense for me. So I hope you will forgive me for pulling out an old post and dusting it off to share once again. This one appeared during my first year as a filly, 2009. Wow, hard to believe I’ve been part of this fabulous fun group for 11 years now!! Time really does pass fast when you’re having fun 🙂


‘Saving’ The West

I came across an article when researching circuit preachers for a minor story thread in one of my books.  The article covered a 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 rode the rails from town to town, shifting over to sidings for as long as they were needed, then continuing on to the next stop.  They included modest living quarters for the missionary and, if he had one, his wife.  The rest of the space was utilized for the church itself.

Most western movies and tales glorify the gun-toting lawman or vigilante, portraying them as the tamers of the wild and woolly west.  In actuality, the peace-minded missionaries who rode the rails played a larger, more influential 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 mid-west – 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, where’s the most memorable place you’ve attended a church service?


And on the good news front, Love Inspired is re-releasing one of my previous titles this month in a 2-in-1 volume with former Filly Cheryl St.John.  Leave a comment to be entered in a drawing for a signed copy.



Mitch Hammond is a man of his word. And as far as Cora Beth Collins is concerned, that’s a problem. The stubborn sheriff has vowed never to love again, for fear of wounding someone else. The most he can offer Cora Beth is marriage in name only. And with no other way to adopt two runaway orphans and keep her patchwork family together, she accepts.

Mitch is doing the honorable thing. So why does it feel so wrong? Despite his intentions, Mitch is starting to want more from Cora Beth…and from himself. For in her trusting eyes he sees everything he hopes to be—as a lawman, a father and a husband.



Website | + posts

Winnie Griggs is the author of Historical (and occasionally Contemporary) romances that focus on Small Towns, Big Hearts, Amazing Grace. She is also a list maker, a lover of dragonflies and holds an advanced degree in the art of procrastination.
Three of Winnie’s books have been nominated for the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award, and one of those nominations resulted in a win.
Winnie loves to hear from readers. You can connect with her on facebook at or email her at

41 thoughts on “Chapel Cars – Reprise”

  1. Fascinating article, thanks for sharing! My family and I try to attend church even when traveling, so we’ve attended services in several places. But I loved working at a scout camp where we had church outside. Being out in nature while communing with God is always a powerful experience.

  2. Welcome Winnie. Never a problem with pulling out information that has already been used. Some have not seen it. So, thank you for dusting off this article. Cool, this is so interesting. I had no idea. What a cool way to spread the Word. I had to share this with friends and family. Thank you. Your book cover is wonderful. And the story sounds just great. Happy Monday.

  3. Winnie … I loved your post. Being a preacher’s kid, I was fascinated by the Chapel cars. Last year, in Datil, New Mexico, we were staying in a campground on Easter Sunday. At pre dawn, ranchers started arriving from miles away and began cooking eggs, bacon, potatoes, coffee for breakfast. We sang praises together and worshipped in the beautiful setting. I will never forget that cowboy experience on Easter Sunday. It was awesome.

  4. Being Catholic, having Mass in a church is definitely preferred, but I have attended a few outdoor Masses, and they truly are lovely, especially if the weather is good!

    Loved the blog, Winnie. Would you believe I never knew about chapel cars? Always something new to learn!

    Good luck on that deadline, and congrats on your re-release with Cheryl!

  5. This is so interesting! I’ve never heard of chapel cars before. I wonder if any have been preserved. It would be fun to see one in person. I don’t think I’ve ever attended church in an unusual setting.

    • Hi Christy. I know at least one of these is still around as part of the exhibits in the Northwest Railway Museum in Washington state. It would indeed be interesting to be able to see it in person

  6. That’s so cool.

    I remember when I was a kid, there was a “modern” variation of that. A gutted camper refurnished with pew-like seats was a mobile VBS for churches wanting to spread the Word into communities.

    Also, there were people serving similarly at campgrounds with non-denominational services.

    And, I know a family, through my mom, serving truck stops with a similar service to truckers nationwide.

    Even the local Harley dealership has a biker church in a similar form.

    What’s old is new again. Missionaries always exist in our midst.

  7. I loved this blog about Chapel Cars. I had no idea. I love stories about trains. That’s what drew me to mail order brides, thinking of those women, riding a train for miles and miles, by themselves, to a far away place.

    Glad to hear Love Inspired re-released your Second Chance Family with Cheryl St.John. Looking forward to both of the novels.

  8. I have heard of circuit riders,pastors who traveled by horseback or buggy, but never heard of chapel cars. Very interesting. Since I live in Washington State and love museums I ‘ll have to add the Northwest Railway Museum to my list of places to visit someday.

  9. I think the most memorable place I attended a church service was in a tiny country church high up on a hill that my boyfriend attended. I had never been to a church where there was a lot of people praying out loud together and doing a bit of walking up and down the isles and shouting. It a was different experience for the teenager I was at the time.

  10. This is very interesting , thank you for sharing it. Your book sounds like a very good read, and the cover is Beautiful, I Love it.

  11. When I was a Peace Corps volunteer, many years ago. An American missionary priest was traveling through a region I was visiting. He said mass in the bamboo hut a P. C. volunteer lived in. There were 3 or 4 of us plus the priest. He had a bottle of local wine and a freshly baked loaf of bread and mass was said by lantern light. It gave a feeling of what services must have been like for the early Christians – basic and small community groups.

  12. I can’t believe I have been following the Fillies for such a long time unless you have reprinted this post before.. I remember this very informative post.

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