Chapel Cars

Photo WG2 smallHi!  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.

Chap car Int01

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 usualExterior 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?

After Christmas Specials

I’m not big into shopping after Christmas. I’d much rather stay home with my family, having days filled with pajamas, board games, puzzles, and cross-stitch. But . . . if the sale comes to me through an online ad, and I can take advantage of it while my hair is a mess and I’m still in PJs? Well, those are hard to resist.

Two of my books are on sale today, so I thought I would bring the special to you. No shower required. Ha!

Both A Tailor-Made Bride (my first published novel) and Stealing the Preacher (the story of a preacher and an outlaw’s daughter) are on sale today for only $1.99. This price is valid for all e-book types (Kindle, Nook, etc.) If you click on the covers below, the link will take you to the Amazon version.
















And what’s shopping without a little Christmas music playing in the background? I thought I’d include one of my favorite groups singing Angels We Have Heard on High in a small 19th century church, similar to the one I imagined Crockett Archer preaching in. Hope you enjoy.

May you and your family have a blessed Christmas season.

Small Country Church – Big Community Impact


During the 1800s, the majority of Americans still lived in rural, agriculturally-centered communities. Towns were small. Farms and ranches spread over hundreds of acres which oftentimes separated neighbors by miles. Isolation was a way of life for many families. Yet humans long for connection, for belonging. And the harsh circumstances of pioneer life often necessitate a dependence on others. Neighbor wives were often called upon to deliver babies or provide food when a woman became ill. Men relied on their nearest neighbors to help bring in crops or butcher hogs. All of this required community. And how was community built and nurtured? Through the small country churches.

They might seem like they were built out in the middle of nowhere, but these country churches were strategically located to enable the most families to be able to attend. Some families lived a day or more away from the nearest town, so giving up two days a week, one being a workday, to travel to church wasn”t feasible. Therefore, churches were planted in locations where rural families would only have to travel a couple hours at most each way.

People gathered at these churches not only to worship, but for community meetings and events, for burials, and for weddings. They fostered friendships and commitment to the local community.

In today”s society, the country church is losing its significance. Fewer communities are rural-based these days with most populations having moved into towns and cities. Ease of transportation has also impacted the survival of these landmarks. Yet some country churches are still hanging on.

My husband and I attend a small country church on the outskirts of Abilene, TX in the farming community of Hamby. A few years back we celebrated the congregation”s 100th year with a grand celebration. We continue to have potlucks or “dinner on the ground” every couple months, everyone knows everyone else, and everyone chips in whenever there is a need among the members. It”s like a little piece of history that I am happy to keep alive.

Click here to order from Amazon.

My latest book, Stealing the Preacher, centers around just such a country church. Joanna Robbin”s beloved church building has stood empty for two years without a minister, and she longs to bring it back to life. The community needs it. She needs it. But most of all, her unbelieving father needs it. Little does she know that, thanks to an offhand comment she made, her ex-outlaw daddy has decided to break out the old face-hiding bandannas and kidnap her a parson from the local rail line. Crockett Archer might have been stolen, but Joanna can”t shake the feeling that God intended him for her church. Can she convince Crockett that he ended up right where he belongs?

Questions for you:

* Have you ever attended a small country church?

* Do you have a country church in your community? Is it abandoned or still going strong?

And don”t miss out on the Kindle Fire giveaway with my Author Chat Party on Facebook! It”s going to be a lot of fun! Enter today for a chance to win…

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