Saturday, June 20, 2009

Naming Pullman cars

From: "Bill Weatherford"

I'm doing research on a play and wanted to know how and why Pullman cars were named and by whom.

Many thanks for your service,

—Bill Weatherford


Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


How the Pullman Cars Are Named.
From The Pittsburg (Penn.) Post., September 7, 1895
, Page 15, 247 words, which was reprinted in the New York Times.

The Story of the Pullman Car by Joseph Husband, 1917.

6/21/2009 10:29 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Bill Weatherford"

Many thanks for your response to my research question. One can always tell a labor of love. With your interest in railroad history are you familiar with Thornton Wilder's Pullman Car Hiawatha. It's a 1 act that has all the seeds of his "Our Town." Also, a wonderful poem by Robert Service entitled The Pullman Porter.

—Bill Weatherford, Morro Bay, Ca.

6/21/2009 12:11 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Kevin Bunker"

There seems to be no definitive, easy answer to your question.

The earliest Pullman Palace cars of the late 1860s and 1870s used evocative names to suggest their opulence or a figurative connection with famous hotel and resort establishments. This same practice was also being followed to some extent by early Pullman competitors, the Mann, Wagner and Woodruff sleeping and parlor car companies.

However, once the Pullman Palace Car Company evolved into the sprawling service and equipment empire known as The Pullman Company, which it was at its peak during the 1920s, many car names were often entirely made up out of thin air and others were part of a group of names based on natural landmarks, geographical locations, and other subjects.

The key was the first word (if a compound name like Fort Sumter) or first one or two letters in any car's name (like McHenry or Elsmere) or the second word of two names. Pullman had such a large and diverse fleet of sleeping cars, parlor or lounge cars and even rentable private luxury cars that it used names as codes for identifying any Pullman-owned car's room layout or "Plan," its general physical appointments and age. There were "Lake-series, Glen-series and Fort-series sleepers, River-series cars [Hudson River, Raritan River, Sacramento River and so on, though not necessarily those names].

Some car names were reused when an older car or group of like cars was retired or destroyed with the name passing to the newer car or class of cars in a given "Lot" or group of identical cars. All Pullmans had an internal Plan and Lot number that covered the group's design and manufacturing dates or the dates that group was altered, improved or completely rebuilt. The cars' names were tied to the plan and lot numbers.

You would do well to lay your hands on Ralph Barger's exhaustive illustrated and well-researched books on Pullman, A Century of Pullman Cars, volumes I and II (Greenberg Publishing; out-of-print) which – assuming you can find a copy of either – offers a more concise explanation, more than you could likely ever need for your purposes.

Good luck and best wishes in your research and writing.

—Kevin Bunker, Portland, OR

6/21/2009 1:17 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Kevin Bunker"

Happy to advise some. Indeed, Pullman and the stories behind "the greatest hotel on wheels" is usually always a fascinating one. I have been trying to get some documentary filmmakers into the idea of a Pullman history. Ken Burns is over-booked on projects, so that one is a non-starter.

I have not read either Frost's Pullman porter verse nor was I aware of the Hiawatha/Wilder reference. So much cultural lore on this topic....tons.

You might also enjoy reading Miles of Smiles, Years of Struggle and Those Pullman Blues, both major recent works by very skilled historians on the lore and legacy of Pullman porters seeking and establishing key labor rights, early unionization, fair pay etc., in the face of major internal discrimination and helping kick-off the African American civil rights movement and successful legislation wins of the early 1960s.

—Kevin Bunker

6/25/2009 3:22 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Bill Weatherford"

Thanks for the follow up. A doc on the whole Pullman history: company town, early African American activism, labor, government and corporate issues and 2 wars. I'll bet there are also a lot of feminist evidence into the emancipated woman emerging from the turn of the century on. Here's the poem. ...


Poems by Robert William Service:

Pullman Porter

The porter in the Pullman car
Was charming, as they sometimes are.
He scanned my baggage tags: "Are you
The man who wrote of Lady Lou?"
When I said "yes" he made a fuss -
Oh, he was most assiduous;
And I was pleased to think that he
Enjoyed my brand of poetry.

He was forever at my call,
So when we got to Montreal
And he had brushed me off, I said:
"I'm glad my poems you have read.
I feel quite flattered, I confess,
And if you give me your address
I'll send you (autographed, of course)
One of my little books of verse."

He smiled - his teeth were white as milk;
He spoke - his voice was soft as silk.
I recognized, depite his skin,
The perfect gentleman within.
Then courteously he made reply:
"I thank you kindly, Sir, but I
With many other cherished tome
Have all your books of verse at home.

"When I was quite a little boy
I used to savour them with joy;
And now my daughter, aged three,
Can tell the tale of Sam McGee;
While Tom, my son, that's only two
Has heard the yarn of Dan McGrew. . . .
Don't think your stuff I'm not applaudin' -
My taste is Eliot and Auden."

So we gravely bade adieu
I felt quite snubbed - and so would you,
And yet I shook him by the hand,
Impressed that he could understand
The works of those two tops I mention,
So far beyond my comprehension -
A humble bard of boys and barmen,
Disdained, alas! by Pullman carmen.

6/26/2009 8:04 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Kevin Bunker"

I enjoyed the Frost verse, Bill, and thanks for that. I wonder how most modern readers might misinterpret "brushed me off" which has taken on a different idiomatic meaning since then. ...

I've been at work on a chapter for my exhaustive history of Union Lumber Company (Fort Bragg, CA and San Francisco) and its subsidiary or affiliated companies, including the California Western RR. CWR ran a daily (nightly) Pullman train with one 12 open-sections/1 compartment sleeper between 1920 and 1929 that gave the much isolated North Coast residents direct 1-car no change access to Sausalito/San Francisco via the Northwestern Pacific Railroad. It was a classic operation, much loved but done in by the Great Depression. Because the Fort Bragg Pullman came off the NWP at Willits where CWR and NWP interchanged, the Fort Bragg car was put in full charge of the "senior" Pullman Porter; the Pullman conductor and his other porters went on north from Willits with other sleepers to Eureka. There were no black Americans in Fort Bragg, so I expect the porter wasn't too comfortable there laying over all day between runs. In fact, I've just learned a KKK chapter formed there in 1924, did the usual demonstrations, and I wonder if they focused any of their anti-Negro platform on the poor porter. I'm trying to sleuth that out now for my manuscript chapter on how non-whites fit into the Mendocino County/North Coastal cultural scene.


6/27/2009 2:35 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Bill Weatherford"

... I read that porters were often simply called "George" on a train to get their attention. Coming from "George Pullman" and that Pullman's daughter Dorothy was payed $10,000 a year to name cars for the company. Heard any of that before?


7/01/2009 8:47 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Kevin Bunker"

The "George" part is a truism ... perhaps not universal, but ...

I had not heard about the daughter Dorothy angle before. If I were you I'd sleuth that one a lot more. I didn't even know G.M.P. even had a daughter. ...


7/01/2009 7:30 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Kevin Bunker"

Interesting indeed. I'd like to earn $10K even now naming things.

—Kevin Bunker

7/03/2009 1:43 PM  
Blogger Gregg McPherson said...

Wonderful website. I am interested in the history of technology in general and came across the story of George Pullman through his town and the strike. I wrote a post about it on my own blog here:
Subsequently, I have become deeply fascinated by the man and other sleeping car innovators. I have been doing quite a bit of digging into the history and I totally agree that a documentary film would be terrific. As an amateur documentarian, I have thought about doing one myself (although I have no illusions about being Ken Burns).

9/21/2009 9:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

do people enjoy working as a pullman car porter

10/16/2009 9:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

See, A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum, and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

10/16/2009 10:58 AM  

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