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Railroads America - Trains And Tracks

( Originally Published 1927 )



THERE was little luxury to travel on the pioneer railroads. Trains were often delayed and passengers went hungry. The cars were flimsily built and shook and jolted and creaked over the rude roadbeds. Stoves provided the heat, which was apt to be too much for those travellers near them and too little for those at a distance. The Harlem Railroad was complimented in 1845 for introducing cars "so high that one can stand erect when he cannot find a seat." By 1859 several roads were employing so-called sleeping cars; in most instances these were ordinary coaches with three tiers of bunks, for which the company supplied mattresses and pillows.

George M. Pullman, of Chicago, rode from Buffalo to Westport in one of these sleeping cars in 1859, and the discomforts of the journey led him to consider the possibility of constructing a coach in which passengers could really sleep. The idea interested him so much that a few years later he arranged with the Chicago and Alton Railroad to build a new type of sleeping car.

This car—named the "Pioneer"—was so constructed that it was a foot wider and two and a half feet higher than any coach then built. A railroad friend of Pullman pointed out that the "Pioneer" could not be used on the tracks, because it was so large that it would not clear the station platforms and bridges.

"I know it," agreed the builder. "I suppose you'll have to cut down the platforms and rebuild the bridges."

Since Pullman would not alter his coach the railroad built a line of track to fit it. The inventor then invited a party of editors and railroad officials to take a trial ride in the "Pioneer." The guests were greatly surprised when they boarded the new coach. Not only was it very large, but it rested on eight-wheeled trucks instead of the customary four-wheeled trucks, had a high deck with ventilating transoms, and was beautifully panelled and deco-rated. The best passenger cars cost four thousand dollars to build; the "Pioneer" had cost eighteen thousand dollars. The guests examined and admired. Then one of them said : "I thought this was a sleeping car. Where are the passengers supposed to sleep ?"

Pullman evaded the question by inviting his guests to have something to eat. Porters fitted little tables between the seats, set out linen, china, and silver, and served a delicious meal. When the guests had enjoyed this to the full their host asked them to go into a day coach for a few minutes. Soon he called them back. To their amazement the "Pioneer" was trans-formed. The seats had vanished, and in their stead were luxurious beds, furnished with sheets and blankets, and partly screened by handsome curtains.

The guests tried the beds and found them all that could be desired in the way of comfort. Then they rose and watched the porters change the sleeping car back into a day coach. The demonstration was a complete success. The guests spread the news of the wonderful coach and everyone wanted to ride in it. Yet there were many who, having admired the "Pioneer," declared that the use of such coaches was a commercial impossibility; the beds, the carpets, the upholstery would be spoiled by the rough-and-tumble passengers.

To these objections Pullman answered: "I have always held that people are very greatly influenced by physical surroundings. Take the roughest man, a man whose lines have always brought him into the coarsest and poorest surroundings, and bring him into a room elegantly carpeted and furnished, and the effect on his bearing is pronounced and immediate. I am not at all afraid people will go to bed with their boots on. I am convinced that if I devote all my energies to providing handsome cars the financial re-turns will take care of themselves."

So, in spite of all criticism, Pullman went on building and improving his coaches. The second one cost twenty-four thousand dollars. The Michigan Central Railroad altered its stations and bridges and ordered some of the new sleeping coaches. When they were ready for service the question of the proper charge for a berth arose. The charge on the Woodruff sleeping cars that had been used by the Michigan Central was a dollar and a half for the trip between Detroit and Chicago, but that price would be too low to obtain a proper return on a twenty-four-thousand-dollar coach.

Pullman said that he intended to charge two dollars for a berth.

"My dear sir," exclaimed the president of the Michigan Central, "that is not to be thought of. If you undertake to charge two dollars a berth when other roads only charge a dollar and a half between Detroit and Chicago, you will simply drive all the night travel to our competitors. It is no concern of mine that you have chosen to spend so much money for useless luxuries for people who will not appreciate them and do not want them."

"People are willing to pay for the best, if they get the worth of their money," Pullman replied. "Run your cheap cars as usual at a dollar and a half a berth and put my cars on the same train at two dollars a berth, and let the public choose between them.''

The suggestion was adopted. Passengers refused to purchase the cheap berths so long as any in the Pullman coaches could be had, and those who could not get berths in the Pullmans complained so vociferously at the discomfort of the old style that within six weeks the cheap cars were discarded and only Pullmans used. Traffic was won from other railroads and as a result competing lines were forced to buy Pullman coaches for their through trains.

When the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific opened their through line between Omaha and San Francisco Pullman cars made part of the transcontinental trains and demonstrated their superiority in comfort and convenience over all other types of coaches.

The Pullman Palace Car Company was originated in 1867 and built sleeping cars for use on the railroads of Canada as well as on those of the United States. A new type of car, the "hotel" sleeping ear, was introduced on the Canadian Great Western road; this was a Pullman sleeper with a kitchen at one end, and meals were served at tables between the seats. The first regular dining car, christened the "Delmonico," was employed on the Chicago and Alton Railroad in 1868.

Sir James Allport, the general manager of the Midland Railway of England, on a visit to America was so much impressed with the luxury of the new coaches that he invited Pullman to go to England to explain his innovations, and as a result Pullman dining- and sleeping-cars were adopted on various British roads.

Pullman continued to work on improving train service; one of his ideas was to provide a safe means of passage from one platform to another while a train was in motion. Canvas diaphragms had been used between cars as early as 1857, but had not served the purpose. Pullman devised a better method, and the modern vestibule was patented in 1887. By this means an entire train is made into one whole, and passengers may go as safely from one coach to another as from room to room of a house.

Almost all of the American railroads are of the standard gauge, 4 feet 81/2 inches. The first rails were long wooden stringers, on top of which was fastened a thin, narrow piece or strap of iron. These were called strap-rails. The stringers rested on granite blocks, which were set in the soil of the roadbed.

An early improvement was the substitution of wooden cross ties for the blocks of granite, which had jolted engines and cars to pieces. Then Robert L. Stevens designed the metal T-rail, a much better and heavier rail than the wooden stringers with the narrow straps, and most of the American roads replaced the strap-rails with the more satisfactory T-rails. The rails, both in America and Europe, were made of iron.

In 1859 an Englishman, Henry Bessemer, discovered a method of making steel in large quantities and at low cost. Steel rails could carry much heavier loads than iron rails and lasted much longer ; they were therefore adopted on railroads. The first steel rails were used in the United States about 1865 and were found to last fifteen times as long as the iron rails.

What a marvellous story is that of the railroad in North America ! In 1830 there were 23 miles of rail-road tracks in the United States. By 1850 there were 9,021 miles, most of which was in the territory between the Atlantic Ocean and the Alleghanies, though railroads had reached to Chicago and Detroit. By 1870 the mileage was 52,922; the rails had leaped across the continent to San Francisco. A decade later and the Southern Pacific and Santa Fé have built a second route to the Pacific through the southwest and the Northern Pacific is crossing the Dakotas from St. Paul. The greatest era of railroad building in the United States was between 1880 and 1890, which saw 70,000 miles of new tracks laid. Since that time there has been less building, because most of the necessary lines had by then been constructed; repairs to tracks and rolling-stock took the place of new projects.

The United States has approximately 270,000 miles of railroad. In comparison Europe has approximately 217,000; Asia 69,000; and Africa 29,000.

Separate railroads have been combined in great railroad systems and nine of these control about two-thirds of the total mileage of the country. These systems are, with their mileage in round numbers : The New York, New Haven and Hartford, 7,000; The New York Central, 23,000; The Pennsylvania, 14,000 ; The Southern, 29,000; The Northern Pacific and The Great Northern, 28,000; The Union Pacific, 10,000; The Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul, 10,000; The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fé, 11,000; The Southern Pacific, 10,000.

Over these great systems run celebrated express trains, the ultimate of luxury in railroad travel. In the east, among many others, are the "Merchants' Limited," the "Bay State" and the "Knickerbocker" between Boston and New York; the "Twentieth Century" of the New York Central from New York to Chicago; the "Broadway" of the Pennsylvania from New York to Chicago and the "Congressional" of the same road from New York to Washington. In the west are the "Sunset Limited" of the Southern Pacific, linking New Orleans, El Paso and San Francisco ; the "Katy Limited" of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad between St. Louis, Houston and Galveston; the Union Pacific's "Gold Coast Limited"; the "Panama," the "Overland," the "North Coast," the " Shasta," of other western roads.

Canada has its great through trains, such as the "Continental" and the "National" from Montreal and Toronto respectively to Vancouver. Other expresses join important cities of the two countries, and the network of steel rails has brought the St. Lawrence River and the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans within a few days' journey of each other, an achievement that would have been laughed at as a fairy tale a century ago.



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