Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Train Story For Western Wednesday...!

There is no doubt that the railroad did a lot to help settle the land in the western United States.

Before the time of planes and cars, the railroad became the very life-line for many people. With rail lines connecting the eastern and western states, our country finally started to become the place that visionaries like Thomas Jefferson dreamed it could be.

Jun 4, 1876:
Express train crosses the nation in 83 hours

A mere 83 hours after leaving New York City, the Transcontinental Express train arrives in San Francisco.

That any human being could travel across the entire nation in less than four days was inconceivable to previous generations of Americans. During the early 19th century, when Thomas Jefferson first dreamed of an American nation stretching from "sea to shining sea," it took the president 10 days to travel the 225 miles from Monticello to Philadelphia via carriage. Even with frequent changing of horses, the 100-mile journey from New York to Philadelphia demanded two days hard travel in a light stagecoach. At such speeds, the coasts of the continent-wide American nation were months apart. How could such a vast country ever hope to remain united?

As early as 1802, Jefferson had some glimmer of an answer. "The introduction of so powerful an agent as steam," he predicted, "[to a carriage on wheels] will make a great change in the situation of man." Though Jefferson never saw a train in his lifetime, he had glimpsed the future with the idea. Within half a century, America would have more railroads than any other nation in the world. By 1869, the first transcontinental line linking the coasts was completed. Suddenly, a journey that had previously taken months using horses could be made in less than a week.

Five days after the transcontinental railroad was completed, daily passenger service over the rails began. The speed and comfort offered by rail travel was so astonishing that many Americans could scarcely believe it, and popular magazines wrote glowing accounts of the amazing journey. For the wealthy, a trip on the transcontinental railroad was a luxurious experience. First-class passengers rode in beautifully appointed cars with plush velvet seats that converted into snug sleeping berths. The finer amenities included steam heat, fresh linen daily, and gracious porters who catered to their every whim. For an extra $4 a day, the wealthy traveler could opt to take the weekly Pacific Hotel Express, which offered first-class dining on board. As one happy passenger wrote, "The rarest and richest of all my journeying through life is this three-thousand miles by rail."

The trip was a good deal less speedy and comfortable for passengers unwilling or unable to pay the premium fares. Whereas most of the first-class passengers traveled the transcontinental line for business or pleasure, the third-class occupants were often emigrants hoping to make a new start in the West. A third-class ticket could be purchased for only $40--less than half the price of the first-class fare. At this low rate, the traveler received no luxuries. Their cars, fitted with rows of narrow wooden benches, were congested, noisy, and uncomfortable. The railroad often attached the coach cars to freight cars that were constantly shunted aside to make way for the express trains. Consequently, the third-class traveler's journey west might take 10 or more days. Even under these trying conditions, few travelers complained. Even 10 days spent sitting on a hard bench seat was preferable to six months walking alongside a Conestoga wagon on the Oregon Trail.

Railroad promotions, however, naturally focused on the speedy express trains. The arrival of the Transcontinental Express train in San Francisco on this day in 1876 was widely celebrated in the newspapers and magazines of the day. With this new express service, a businessman could leave New York City on Monday morning, spend 83 hours in relaxing comfort, and arrive refreshed and ready for work in San Francisco by Thursday evening. The powerful agent of steam had effectively shrunk a vast nation to a manageable size.

Just imagine what a trip like that would cost in this day and age! All things considered, this was an exciting chapter in America's history!

Coffee in the kitchen again. Early morning showers are expected.


linda m said...

And to think I complained about it taking three days to drive from Phoenix, AZ to Milwaukee, WI. At least I got to sleep in a real hotel bed at night. Coffee inside is fine - still very cold here.

JO said...

I love the story as I love trains. And hope to ride one again soon. They have one that takes the old route here in Benson. Thanks for this story.

Supposed to be nice here today but chilly so the kitchen sounds great.

Mamahen said...

Very interesting and look how far we've come!

Dizzy-Dick said...

Both my Grandfathers were railroad men. My paternal grandfather was a conductor and my maternal grandfather was an engineer, both during the steam era.

HermitJim said...

Hey Linda...
Times have really changed for the better as far as traveling log distances go.

Thanks for dropping by today!

Hey Jo...
I priced a train ticket the other day and it was almost as expensive as flying. WTF?

Thanks, sweetie, for coming over today!

Hey Mamahen...
We certainly have come a long way, no pun intended!

I appreciate the visit this morning!

Hey Dizzy...
I think you told me before that your grandfather was a train guy!

Thanks for stopping by!

Chickenmom said...

Oh, the glorious steam engine!! America still has a love affair with them! I know I do!

HermitJim said...

Hey Phyllis...
It does seem that America has a long time love affair with the steam engine.

Thanks for stopping by today!