1. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Rail travel in USA in 1880s

    Discussion in 'Research' started by jannert, Jun 13, 2013.

    Does anyone know a good source, hopefully a personal diary or some such, describing rail travel in the USA in the 1880s? I've found a few sources from as early as 1850, but nothing much for the 1880's. I've got no END of stuff relating to track-building, locomotives, etc, but very little about what travel was actually like for the passenger.

    Specific questions:

    Could you buy tickets that covered a specific period, but did not tie you to specific dates? If you were making a long-distance journey and had to change rail companies, how was this handled? Did you buy one 'through' ticket, or did you need to buy a whole fistful of them?

    If you were in a sleeper car, how in HECK did you get up to the top bunk? Amazing how little there is about the mechanics of this, and yet it must have been very important. Did you have to clamber up and down the armrests of the seat below? If ladders or steps were used (and they never show them in pictures) were they removed during the night? If so, how did you get down? Such basic information, and SO hard to come by!

    How long did it take to cross the USA by train in 1885-86? Especially, using the Northern Pacific, through to New England. There would have been at least 3 changes needing to be made ...from St Paul to Chicago, from Chicago to Buffalo (or thereabouts) and then from Buffalo to Boston or whatever. I can NOT find a readable timetable for that period online. VERY frustrating! Lots of timetables for much later, 1920's etc, but of course the trains were different then, and so were the connections.

    I know these are specific questions of limited use to most other writers on this forum, but I'm stumped. About 14 new books on my shelves and hours and HOURS of scouring the internet, and I'm still stumped! Fed up writing to rail enthusiast groups, because they either don't reply, or don't know. They're most all interested in the locomotives and/or the financial dealings that built the railroads. Nothing much about what it was like to actually be a passenger. :confused: Either that, or I've yet to strike the Mother Lode.
     
  2. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Have you tried a Google search? I found these right away:

    http://archive.org/stream/railwaypassenger00port/railwaypassenger00port_djvu.txt

    http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/connections/railroad-maps/file.html

    http://www.americanancestors.org/train-trip-west-in-the-1880s/


    One of my favorite books from the era didn't involve any rail travel: "Tough Trip Through Paradise" but it was a fascinating account from a diary later turned into a book. Apparently some people think the memoirs were faked. I didn't think so when I read it.
     
  3. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Ya beauty! These look VERY helpful indeed, and I've bookmarked all three sites,and will spend a great deal of time hunting through for the details I'm after.

    What on earth did you use as your search phrase?

    I swear, I've tried everything (mind you, I've only been using Google) including the names of the specific railroad companies. Train travel USA 1880s, passenger rail 1880's (as well as specific years, searched separately) rail travel Montana to Boston, rail travel Montana to Chicago, etc etc etc. Pullman cars, 1880s. Etc. Rail depots (for specific locations) and most importantly 'rail timetables,' for specific routes, dates, whatever. I have been searching for YONKS, and have come up with some information, but there are always big gaps. And the gaps are always along the lines of 'what did passengers actually do and experience during these journeys?' Heck, if they'd been traveling by conestoga wagon, I've got umpteen journals about that.

    Anyway, what search criteria did you use, GingerCoffee? And were you using Google, or some other search engine.

    Omigod, thanks! I honestly thought this time-specific query would get no response from anyone, other than a politely-phrased suggestion to go get a life and write fantasy!

    By the way, yes, I'm familiar with the Andrew Garcia book, or at least of its existence. I belonged to the Montana Historical Society for several years, and they advertised it in quite a few of their journals. It's been referenced a lot. And you're right, about some people not quite believing all of it—which is why I swithered a lot about ordering it, and then decided not to.

    I own quite a few first-person accounts of Montana during that period, including Teddy Blue Abbot's 'We Pointed Them North', the entire two-volume set of memoirs by Granville Stuart, Johnny Grant, etc. As well as general Montana history books, and many articles AND some microfilmed newspapers as well. Trust me, answers to my questions have certainly been searched for!

    However, Montana changed SO much during the 1880s that I've tried to limit my research, especially about trains, to nearer the year of my story (1886.) It's like writing about what mobile phones are like today, using models that are 10 years old as reference. A lot has changed! Something that happened a decade before wouldn't necessarily apply.

    You've reminded me of Garcia's book though; I might just go away and order it anyway. Just for fun.

    Thanks SO much for the input. I'm sure a lot of it will be exactly what I'm looking for! Or even new stuff that might become idea fodder.
     
  4. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I've had that 'failure of the search string' happen to me before then someone finds a slew of links I couldn't, for the life of me, find. But believe it or not I searched for your thread title.

    But I didn't see a lot more than those three, the hits were mostly commercial for rides on old trains. I've been more and more disappointed with Google as time goes by because it's more and more directed to commercial hits when I want content. I've tried Bing a couple times and while it was just as commercial, I did get different hits depending on what I was looking for.


    You have to read Garcia's book when you get time. True or embellished it was fun reading.
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    googling for '1880s american railroad pullman cars' will give you detailed descriptions... then switch to 'images' and you'll see them..

    http://www.railswest.com/passengertrains.html this shows a man climbing into one and gives details...

    you need to learn to google creatively and specifically... putting " " around the search item makes it work w/o getting a lot of irrelevant stuff pop up...
     
  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Hey, thanks a LOT for both of those tips. I think I've tried 1880s american railroad pullman cars—and I do have lots of photos of them, both inside and out (from books as well as online sources) —but I didn't try them with the quote marks. If quote marks are what I've needed all along ...well, I'm really mad at myself!!! It's timetables I really need to get hold of, so maybe the quotes will help.

    I did dig up some interesting (albeit scattered) information about the tickets on that first site GingerCoffee suggested, at least enough information that I can wing it in my book, so that bore fruit—thanks. The other two sites, it turns out, are sites I've already visited. Good, but still not specific. GRRRR...

    Right, I'm away to try the quotation marks. Yee ha... Thanks to both of you!
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    don't feel bad... it took me quite a while to learn the " " trick, myself...
     
  8. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, it worked a treat, thanks again!

    Using the quote trick, I was able to find and cobble together a rough itinerary for my characters, via a few timetables I'd not seen before. Not QUITE the year I was hoping for, but near enough.

    Of course, the VERY FIRST PERSON to read my published novel (har de har de har) will be an expert on American rail travel in 1886, and will call me out on all my errors. But hey. That's the pit into which we fall, when we write stories with historical backgrounds.
     

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