Traveling Tuesday: Train Travel
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
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.
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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