Saturday, October 15, 2011

Question about passenger train travel in 1880

From: "Vandi Williams"

... I am writing a piece of fiction set in 1880. Part of the story involves characters riding a passenger train from Denver to Kansas City. I am looking for information about what that would have been like (as a passenger) to provide atmosphere for the story. Most of the information I have been able to find online discuss the history of building railways without much in the way of what the passenger experience would have been like. Any information you can provide or can point me to would be greatly appreciated.

My specific questions include:

How long would the journey have taken? How many stops would it have made?

How many cars were on a typical train? What was the typcial composition (i.e., number of passenger / sleeping / dining / cargo / other cars and in what order would they have been strung together?).

What kind of food would have been available on the train (or did people get off at certain stops to eat instead)?

Were there bathrooms on the train? What were they like?

How big were the different kinds of cars and how were they laid out?

What kinds of security precautions were taken (were there security guards on trains)?

Assuming that passenger trains also had cargo cars, what were the typical types of cargo that were carried? ...

—Vandi Williams

Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper 02-09-1878, p. 389
Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper 02-09-1878, p. 389.


Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...





Official Guide

Kansas Pacific Railroad

10/15/2011 9:13 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Kyle Wyatt"

The questions above assume a level and type of standardization among railroads that did not exist.

For coach travel, see the attached from Leslie's Illustrated in 1878. Also pick up a copy of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Amateur Immigrant – he describes a train ride across country in 1879 – lots of color. Mostly by coach, but also Emigrant Train from Omaha to San Francisco.

Length of journey and number of stops depends on what type of train you were on. Check copies of an 1880 edition of Official Guides of Railways for examples of schedules.

"Typical" consists depends on the individual railroad, what train it was, time of year and many other variables. Emigrant cars often, but not always attached to freight trains. Otherwise probably several coaches with baggage and mail cars up front. And perhaps sleeping (Pullman) cars, either in front of or behind the coaches. Cars typically 45 to 70 feet depending on type.

Trains stopped at eating stations for food – served family style, and of varying qualities.

No "security guards." Conductor is in charge of the train, along with brakemen to assist him.


10/16/2011 3:25 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Vandi Williams"

Thank you for your help!


10/17/2011 10:06 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Brenda Harbin"
Subject: Train Route in 1891

Do you know the train route someone leaving Salisbury, NC to New York City would have taken in 1891? ...

—Brenda Harbin

2/28/2012 8:33 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

See, Official Guide of the Railways, 1910 or 1891.

2/28/2012 8:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The typical 19th century American diet included lots of meat and not too many vegetables, more meat and less vegetables than current U.S. dietary consumption.

6/03/2014 12:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the food offered was of the lowest quality. Most was rancid and overpriced, food was offered only during stops where vendors would take advantage of desparate people.

12/31/2016 10:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please cite a primary source that would support your critical description.

To the contrary, Charles Nordhoff says,

"Beyond Omaha, unless you have taken seats in a hotel car, you eat at stations placed at proper distances apart, where abundant provision is made, and the food is, for the most part, both well cooked and well served. These hotel stations are under the supervision and control of the managers of the roads, and at many of them, especially on the Central Pacific road — in California, that is to say — your meals are served with actual elegance. Sufficient time is allowed — from thirty to thirty-five minutes — to eat; the conductor tells you beforehand that a bell will be rang five minutes before the train starts, and we always found him obliging enough to look in and tell the ladies to take their time, as he would not leave them.

There is a pleasant spice of variety and adventure in getting out by the way-side at the eating stations. We saw strange faces, we had time to look about us, the occasional Indian delighted the children, we stretched our legs, and saw something of our fellow passengers in the other cars. Moreover, if you have a numerous party desirous to eat together, the porter will telegraph ahead for you to have a sufficient number of seats reserved, and thus you take your places without flurry or haste, and do not have your digestion spoiled by preliminary and vexatious thoughts about pushing for a good place. In short, these trains are managed for the pleasure and accommodation of the passengers. ... "

Similarly, the Adams Guide says,

"In regard to the commissaire, the train stops three times a day for meals, which are usually plain but good, and in some instances they are excellent. It is a novel and interesting experience to alight at sun-down on the platform of a little station in the wilderness with no projection between the sky and the land as far as one can see, and to be ushered into a clean and substantially furnished apartment, with tables handsomely set for supper, the attendants being ruddy-faced, neat, modest girls, and the silver-ware and crystal-ware and linen being irreproachable. The inevitable hurry takes away from the enjoyment, but the food is ample."

12/31/2016 4:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

See information about food for railroad passengers.

12/31/2016 4:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I need to know how many days it took to travel from San Fransisco to Colton, via the Arizona Express in the year 1880? ...


11/03/2017 10:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What did they eat on the train?

1/22/2019 12:10 PM  

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