Damsels on Railroad Tracks

No western romance trope is more cheesy or more famous than the old Damsel on the Railroad Tracks trope. Which is why when I recently wrote a scene that ended with my heroine stuck on a railroad bridge with a train heading for her, I just had to giggle. I promise the scene is ripe with tension and believability. There is no mustachioed villain cackling in the background. And she’s not actually tied to the tracks. She doesn’t even scream for help. Though our hero is still called upon to rush in to make a daring rescue.

So how did this trope get started and how has it endured so long in tongue-and-cheek fashion?

Most people credit the damsel on the tracks to the melodramas of silent movies. However, the first time it appeared with significant impact was on stage in an 1867 play called Under the Gaslight by Augustin Daly. By 1868, the trope reportedly could be found in five different London plays all running at the same time, and remained a theatre staple for decades. But here’s the kicker. In the original story, it is a man who has been tied to the railroad tracks and a woman who rescues him!

This trope became so popular in the theatre, that even though there are no original silent movies that use this plot in a serious fashion, several used it for comedic effect. The most notable of these spoofs was a Keystone Komedy called Barney Oldfield’s Race for a Life from 1913. Note the top hat and impressive mustache on the villain. Those become staples of the trope.

Some of you will probably remember watching the classic cartoon The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, either when it aired in the 1960’s or in reruns in the 1970’s like I did. This was a silly spoof that used over-the-top villains to hilarious effect. One of the main characters on the show was the dim-witted yet heroic Mountie named Dudley Do-Right. His nemesis Snidely Whiplash wore a top hat, sported a curvy mustache, and had a tendency to tie damsels to railroad tracks. Hence the trope was preserved for a new generation.

In 1969, Ray Stevens released a song called Along Came Jones which reached #27 on the billboard charts. My husband and I are big oldies fans, so we love this silly song and have even shared it with our kids – successfully perpetuating the trope into the future.

  • Do you remember any of these songs or shows?
  • Besides the top hat and mustache, what are other villain elements that have become cliche over time?

Speaking of damsels and railroads, my Harvey House Brides novella collection, Serving Up Love, is on sale this month for only $1.99.
Grab a copy while you can!

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Christianbook

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.

 

SECOND CHANCE FAMILY

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.

 

 

My Time Inside a Real Pullman Car

At the end of January, I had the chance to travel to historic Jefferson, Texas for a writer’s retreat. It was a history-lover’s delight! We stayed in an 1867 home, shopped in a 19th century mercantile, and stopped in at the oldest continuously run hotel in Texas. It was at the Excelsior Hotel, that we secured a tour of the authentic 1888 Pullman car stationed across the street.

Pullman cars offered sleeping berths for train travel in the 19th century. Usually only the wealthy could afford this luxury. But if you found yourself in the super-wealthy category, you might be able to afford a custom-built private sleeping car for personal use. Such was the case with railroad tycoon, Jay Gould.

Believe it or not, this tiny town of 2,000 was once the 4th largest city in Texas. Back at the height of the riverboat era, Jefferson was a bustling port with a thriving cotton culture and a population around 8,000. Jay Gould came to town and tried to convince them to let him run his railroad through Jefferson. Unfortunately, the town wanted nothing to do with his Yankee money and turned him down. Mr. Gould predicted the destruction of the town on his way out and decided to build his railroad through the tiny town of Dallas instead. Rather ironic that the town that once sent Jay Gould away made the effort to secure his Pullman car as part of their history years later. Hindsight, as they say, is 20-20.

The Pullman car was a wonder to behold. The lighting was both electric and gas. Electricity would be generated while the train was in motion, and gas would be piped in when the train was stationary.

You will notice jay birds featured in much of the decor. Jay Gould used the jay bird as his symbol. It was even part of his signature visible on the register in the Excelsior Hotel. You will see it etched into the glass globes around the lights and most decadently on the side of his bathtub.

The electric bulbs are lit, but notice the small pipe in the center. That is where the gas would burn. Also note the jay birds etched in the glass at the bottom.
Jay Gould’s private bathtub.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are other pictures I took. You might see some authors you recognize along the way.

Elizabeth Ludwig in the front compartment used for social gatherings or for conducting business.
A true water closet. The basin would pull down once the door was open.
Anne Mateer and Crystal Barnes in the hall admiring the lavatory.
One of the smaller staterooms that had seating below and a pull-down berth above.
One of the large staterooms with a full bed. This was used by Mrs. Gould.
The second small stateroom set up for tea with a removable table that hooked into the wall.
Elizabeth Ludwig and Regina Jennings peeking through the window from the hall – wanting to get in on the tea action.
These three photos show the kitchen. They start with the cold side where you will see an icebox and the sleeping berth for the cook. There is also a counter with a pass-through window area that leads to the hot side where the stove is situated.
Finally, the rear compartment. The overall set up had two staterooms on either side with the hall switching from the left to the right side halfway down the car near the kitchen area to balance out the weight of the car. Notice the stained glass transoms above the windows. These could be opened to create a breeze during warm days.

 

Even today this would be a luxurious way to travel.

What museums have you visited that made you want to travel back in time?

Hell on Wheels Towns

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! 

 

 

Railway Post Offices and a Giveaway

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?

 

Guest Kari Trumbo Talks Train Wrecks

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.

****

To Love and ComfortIn 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?

Excerpt

“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 TrumboKari 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.

Places to follow Kari:

Website           Facebook        Twitter            Pinterest          Amazon          BookBub

 

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Outlaw Lawmen

Kathleen Rice Adams header

Life on the open range could be a discomforting experience, what with outlaws popping out from behind the sagebrush without the slightest provocation, nesters “accidentally” mistaking a cattleman’s range for the quarter section they’d purchased, steers stampeding wherever they pleased, and wild animals running amok in settlers’ vegetable gardens—not to mention all those Indians to keep track of.

wanted posters on deskThings weren’t much easier for townies. For one thing, outlaws didn’t confine themselves to the countryside. Drunks stumbled out of saloons with reckless abandon, ladies of questionable virtue roamed the streets at will, and barbers pulled teeth or performed surgery like they knew what they were doing. Even church socials sometimes got out of hand.

At least folks in town could count on the law to keep things somewhat under control, right?

Not always.

Finding a reliable lawman was anything but easy. El Paso, Texas, discovered that when it hired Dallas Stoudenmire as city marshal. Stoudenmire, a deadly gunman with a mean temper and a fondness for strong drink, insisted on starting fights and shooting people—some of them even criminals. As a young man, famed lawman Wyatt Earp stole horses. Between gigs as a county sheriff, town marshal, and city policeman, Earp ran faro tables, owned brothels, got arrested for a number of crimes, broke out of jail, led a vigilante group, and otherwise made a nuisance of himself. Pat Garrett may have been a straight arrow legally speaking, but he was unpleasant to be around. Even his fellow officers objected to his disposition: a refreshing mixture of arrogance and surliness.

Some men found a badge to be an excellent disguise for nefarious activities. Take these guys, for example:

Henry Plummer

outlaw lawman Henry Plummer
Henry Plummer

In 1856, at the age of 24, Plummer became the marshal of Nevada City, Calif., the third-largest settlement in the state. In 1859, the marshal killed the husband of a woman with whom he was having an affair. Sentenced to ten years in San Quentin, he received parole in six months and immediately joined a gang of stagecoach robbers.

In January 1862, Plummer formed his own gang and began hijacking wagons transporting gold out of mining camps. When that enterprise petered out in January 1863, Plummer relocated to the newest gold rush in Bannack, Montana. There, he formed the Innocents, a network of road agents that numbered more than 100 men within a few short months.

In May 1863, Plummer lost a sheriff election and subsequently threatened his rival until the man high-tailed it, fearing for his life. Plummer took over the sheriff’s job and right away appointed two of his Innocents cronies as deputies. Oddly, crime dramatically increased. In about nine months, more than 100 murders occurred and robberies, assaults, and assorted other crimes reached unprecedented levels. All the while, Plummer—under the guise of cracking down on lawlessness—hanged witnesses.

On January 10, 1864, having had enough law enforcement for a while, fifty to seventy-five vigilantes rounded up Plummer and his two deputies and hanged them in the basement of a local store.

Burt Alvord and Billy Stiles

outlaw lawman Burt Alvord
Burt Alvord, Yuma Territorial Prison, 1904

In the 1890s, Alvord and Stiles served as deputy sheriffs in Willcox, Arizona. Unsatisfied with their salaries, the two began robbing Southern Pacific Railroad trains to supplement their income. Emboldened by pulling a number of successful jobs, they undertook their most daring escapade on September 9, 1899, in what came to be known as the Cochise Train Robbery. Instead of clinging to tradition and stopping the train on a lonely stretch of track in the middle of nowhere, Alvord and Stiles had five members of their gang blow up the safe while the train was stopped in the town of Cochise. Alvord and Stiles, maintaining their law-enforcement decorum, were part of the posse that unsuccessfully attempted to apprehend the robbers in the Chiricahua Mountains.

About five months later, on February 15, 1900, the gang struck again, in broad daylight in the tiny town of Fairbank, Arizona. While the train was stopped at the station, the Alvord-Stiles gang approached the express car, guns drawn, only to find the messenger responsible for the safe unwilling to abide such rude behavior. During the gunfight that erupted, two of the five gang members were wounded and one ran away. The messenger, also wounded, hid the safe’s key before losing consciousness. Unable to find the key and without a single stick of dynamite between them, the rest of the gang vamoosed.

Fairbank_Railroad_Depot_Arizona_Circa_1900
Fairbank, Ariz., railroad depot circa 1900

Once again, Alvord and Stiles rode with a posse to track down the outlaws, one of whom was injured so badly he had to be left behind about six miles outside town. Despite Alvord’s and Stiles’s attempts to misdirect the pursuers, they stumbled across the wounded man. Before he died, the outlaw fingered Alvord as the ringleader. Stiles confessed and turned state’s evidence, allowing him to remain comfortably outside the bars while Alvord cooled his heels inside. A short while later, Stiles broke Alvord out of the hoosegow and the two of them lit a shuck for Mexico.

The Arizona Rangers invaded Mexico and, in 1904, engaged the two now-expatriates in a gun battle. They captured Alvord, but Stiles got away. After a brief stint in the Rangers under an assumed name, Stiles was killed a few years later while working as a lawman in Nevada, also under an assumed name. Alvord did two years in Yuma Territorial Prison and took it on the lam for Panama upon his release.

H.D. Grunnels

steam-train-1898
Steam train, 1898

In 1898, Fort Worth, Texas, Assistant Police Chief Grunnels talked a gang of Oklahoma bank robbers out of robbing a local diamond merchant and into robbing a train in Saginaw, Texas, instead. Grunnels masterminded the operation, planning to apprehend the bandits after they made off with the money, then collect the reward and keep the loot.

The Apple Dumpling Gang might have performed the train heist with more aplomb. While crawling across the top of the coal tender to reach the engine, the gang’s leader slipped and accidentally discharged his pistol. His minions mistook the misfire as their signal to hop on the train and commence whatever mischief their roles required. Chaos ensued.

Meanwhile, Grunnels and a cadre of Fort Worth police officers not in on the plan raced to the rescue of a train that had yet to be robbed. The discombobulated robbers scrammed. The Fort Worth Police Department became suspicious when it discovered Grunnels reached the scene of the crime before the crime had been reported. Grunnels was fired and indicted, but he disappeared before trial.

 

The heroes in the two novellas that compose Robbing Banks, Stealing Hearts could give lessons in how to fail at outlawry to all of the compromised lawdogs above. So, here’s my question for this month: If you were going to commit a crime in the Old West, what crime do you think you could pull off? Bank or train robbery? Horse or cattle rustling? Murder for hire? Spitting on the sidewalk? Something else? I’ll give an e-book of Robbing Banks, Stealing Hearts to one of y’all who’s brave enough to expose your criminal dreams. 😉

Robbing Banks Stealing HeartsEveryone should have career at which they excel. At failing to commit crimes, nobody is better than Laredo and Tombstone Hawkins. Maybe they can bumble their way into love.

The Worst Outlaw in the West
Laredo Hawkins has one ambition: to redeem his family’s honor by pulling the first successful bank robbery in the Hawkins clan’s long, disappointing history. Spinster Prudence Barrett is desperate to save her family’s bank from her brother’s reckless investments. A chance encounter between the dime-novel bandit and the old maid may set the pair on a path to infamy…if either can find a map.

Family Tradition
Haunted by his kin’s tradition of spectacular failure, bank robber Tombstone Hawkins is honor-bound to prove his family tree produced at least one bad apple. When carnival fortuneteller Pansy Gilchrist tries to help, she accidentally summons a pair of dishonest-to-goodness ghosts. Getting into the spirit of a crime is one thing…but how do you get the spirits out?

Taming the West One Meal at a Time

MargaretBrownley-header

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 efrednterprising 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.

300px-Harveyhouse3
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?

                   

 

Calico SpySomeone 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.

 

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Love in the Time of Miscegenation

The Dumont Brand

Kathleen Rice Adams header

She’s the sweetest rose of color this darky ever knew,
Her eyes are bright as diamonds, they sparkle like the dew;
You may talk about your dearest May, and sing of Rosa Lee,
But the Yellow Rose of Texas beats the belles of Tennessee.

Those are the original words to the chorus of “The Yellow Rose Texas,” a folksong dating to early colonial Texas. The first known transcribed version—handwritten on a piece of plain paper—appeared around the time of the Texian victory at San Jacinto in April 1836.

Marie Laveau 1774-1881 Marie Laveau by Franck Schneider
“New Orleans’ Voodoo Queen” Marie Laveau (1774-1881) was a free Creole of mixed race.

In its original form, the song tells the story of a black man (“darky”) who has been separated from his sweetheart and longs to reunite with her. The lyrics indicate the sweetheart was a free mulatto woman—a person of mixed black and white heritage. In those days, “person of color” was considered a polite way to refer to black people who were not slaves. “Yellow” was a common term for people of mixed race.

During the Civil War, “The Yellow Rose of Texas” became a popular marching tune for troops all over the Confederacy; consequently, the lyrics changed. White Confederates were not eager to refer to themselves as darkies, so “darky” became “soldier.” In addition, “rose of color” became “little flower.”

Aside from the obvious racist reasons for the modifications, legal doctrine played into the picture as well. Until the U.S. Supreme Court declared the practice unconstitutional in 1967, all eleven formerly Confederate states plus Delaware, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and West Virginia outlawed marriage and sexual relations between whites and blacks. In four of the former Confederate states—Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia—marriage or sexual relations between whites and any non-white was labeled a felony. Such laws were called anti-miscegenation laws, or simply miscegenation laws. In order to draw what attorneys term a “bright line” between legal and illegal behavior, many states codified the “single-drop rule,” which held that a person with a single drop of Negro blood was black, regardless the color of his or her skin.

Texas’s miscegenation law, enacted in 1837, prescribed among the most severe penalties nationwide: A white person convicted of marrying, attempting to marry, or having sex with a person of another ethnicity was subject to a prison sentence of two to five years. Well into the twentieth century, it was not uncommon for the non-white half of the illicit relationship to be severely beaten or killed by irate local citizens.

The first American miscegenation laws arose in the colonies in the 1600s. The laws breathed their last gasp in 2001, when Alabama finally removed the anti-miscegenation clause from its state constitution after a referendum barely passed with only sixty percent of the popular vote.

Texas’s miscegenation law plays a role in “The Big Uneasy,” one half of the duet of stories in my new release, The Dumont Brand. The father of the heroine’s intended “lives in sin” with a free Creole of color. Under a tradition known as plaçage, wealthy white men openly kept well-bred women of color as mistresses in the heroine’s hometown, New Orleans. Texans frowned on the practice nonetheless. The situation causes no end of heartache for the heroine.

The Dumont Brand releases Friday, along with 20 other books, as part of Prairie Rose PublicationsChristmas in July event. About half of the books are holiday tales (like The Last Three Miles), and the other half are stories set in other seasons (like The Dumont Brand). Each of them will warm readers’ hearts all year long. Prairie Rose will host an extra-special Facebook fandango to celebrate the mountain of releases July 28-29. You can RSVP here. Did I mention the Prairie Roses will be giving away free books, jewelry, and other fun prizes?

The Dumont Brand 2 Web

 

On the eve of the Civil War, family secrets threaten everything a ranching dynasty has built…until Amon Collier finds salvation in the wrong woman’s love. In the aftermath of battle, a woman destroyed by betrayal brings peace to his brother Ben’s wounded soul.

The Big Uneasy: To escape the unthinkable with a man about whom she knows too much, New Orleans belle Josephine LaPierre agrees to marry a Texan about whom she knows nothing. Falling in love with his brother was not part of her plan.

Making Peace: After four long years in hell, Confederate cavalry officer Bennett Collier just wants to go home—assuming home still exists. Widowed Jayhawker Maggie Fannin will hold onto her home at any cost…even if she must face down the imposing Rebel soldier who accuses her of squatting.

 

The-Last-3-Miles-Kathleen-2-Web_FinalThe Last Three Miles also will debut Friday as part of PRP’s Christmas in July:

When an accident leaves Hamilton Hollister convinced he’ll never be more than half a man, he abandons construction of a railway spur his lumber mill needs to survive. Believing no woman shackled by social convention can be complete, railroad heiress Katherine Brashear refuses to let the nearly finished track die.

The magic of Christmas in a small Texas town may help them bridge the distance…if they follow their hearts down The Last Three Miles.

You can read excerpts from both books and peruse a complete list of the titles that are part of PRP’s Christmas in July event here.

 

To do a little celebrating of my own, I’ll give an e-copy of The Dumont Brand to one of today’s commenters and an e-copy of The Last Three Miles to another.

Please note: Both are available only as ebooks.

 

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.

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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.

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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?