Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Traveling Tuesday: Train Travel

Traveling Tuesday: Train Travel 
Until the completion of the first transcontinental railroad here in the U.S., travelers used wagons and stagecoach to travel long distances. The roads were only rough dirt paths that sometimes ended abruptly or included dangerous water crossings. In addition, pioneers had to worry about keeping themselves and their livestock (especially the oxen that pulled the wagon) alive. 
Time was another important factor in wagon journeys. It was imperative that settlers reach their destinations before winter. Depending on terrain, weather, and the travelers’ health, covered wagons could traverse eight to twenty miles per day, taking up to six months to get where they were going. 

Needless to say, people flocked to the railroad which stretched nearly 2,000 miles between Iowa, Nebraska, and California. Travel time was reduced to a mere four days, but the experience differed widely between first and third class. 
At the price of $134.50 (today’s equivalent: $2,700), first-class featured beautifully appointed cars with plush velvet seats that converted into sleeping berths. Steam heat, gilt-framed mirrors, fresh linens, and
porters added to the ambiance. For an extra four dollars per day, travelers could get first-class dining onboard with meals of antelope, trout, berries, and champagne. As one passenger said, “the ride was not only tolerable but comfortable, and not only comfortable, but a perpetual delight. At the end of our journey, we found ourselves not only wholly free from fatigue, but completely rehabilitated in body and spirits.” 
For those or unable to pay the exorbitant cost of first-class, third class was available for only $40—less than half the price. However, at this rate, there were no luxuries. The cars were fitted with rows of narrow wooden benches. These coach cars were also shunted aside to make way for express trains, which meant a longer journey for those passengers, perhaps ten or more days. However, few complained. After all, ten days sitting on a hard bench was more tolerable than walking for six months alongside a wagon. Second-class was little better with upholstered seats rather than benches. 
Unfortunately, racism also road the rail. In 1879, Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson came to the United States and took the train from New York to California to see the woman he would eventually marry. He noted that there was an entire car for Chinese passengers. African-Americans weren’t treated much better. 
Train travel could also be dangerous. Many miles of track encroached on Native American lands. When possible the tribes would destroy the rails and do whatever they could to disrupt operations. In addition, the weather could impact the trip, such as the weeks-long snowstorm that struck Wyoming in 1872. 
Then there were train robberies. 

The first occurred on October 6, 1866, when the Reno brothers boarded a passenger train near Seymour, Indiana. Wearing masks and toting guns, they emptied a safe and tossed another out the window before making their escape. The Pinkerton Detective Agency caught the criminals, but this incident set off a long and deadly era of train robberies in the U.S. 
Railroad travel continued well into the 20th century, reaching their peak length of trackage in 1916 with over a quarter-million miles of tracks. 

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1 comment:

  1. Linda, this is great. My first book dealt with the Oregon Trail, and I still have no idea how they did it. Determination, I guess.