Saturday, March 24, 2018

Wagons, Trains, and Sternwheelers by Paty Jager

Travel to the west started with the horse and canoes as the trappers and explorers moved across the continent looking for more riches and more land. As the military and families moved toward the Pacific Ocean wagons, buggies, and stage coaches moved the people and freight. The larger river systems had sternwheelers.  And eventually railroads stretched from one coastline to the other, making travel even easier.

Part of researching for a book is learning what conveyances were used where and when.My first published book, Marshal in Petticoats,  I'd set the date and wrote the book with a train scene, only to find out there were no trains in the area at that time. Wanting to keep the integrity of the time, I tried writing the scene with a stage coach . A stage coach didn't work nearly as well. I changed the time of the story and had to go through and re-read newspapers for the new time to make sure I had other aspects correct in the story. but I ended up with a book I was happy with. If you would like to read this book it is free at all ebook outlets

1880's train in the Black Hills
The lowest price ticket, third class, put a passenger in an open car with a wood seat and one “washroom” to be shared by men and women, situated at one end of the car, and unsavory company. The washroom would have a reservoir to dip water to wash and an outhouse style  “commode”.  These people could usually only afford the low price ticket and brought their food, if a long journey, with them.

The next level of traveler, second class, purchased a ticket for an enclosed passenger car with padded seats, a men’s and ladies, “wash room”, and they could either bring their own food, or purchase meals at the meal stops. But the meal stops were only fifteen to twenty minutes long while the train took on water and the food was usually not very good.

While researching the trains I came across sternwheelers on the Columbia River and set my book, Gambling on an Angel there. The fourth book in the Halsey brother series, Doctor in Petticoats, has the hero and heroine traveling by train and required even more research to find out about what kind of cars were on the trains in Oregon at that time and how they were set up. In Doctor in Petticoats and Savannah: Silver Dollar Saloon the characters ride in style. 

Until 1857 when George Pullman, a carpenter, invented the Pullman Sleeping car, first class passengers had leather upholstered seats in enclosed cars with two washrooms- men’s on one end and women’s on the other and use of a buffet or dining car.  When the sleeping car began being used on the overnight trips, railroads used this new luxury coach in their ads to increase train travel. Before Pullman’s luxury cars were built, there had been railroad cars which had wooden bunks and a passenger could bring their own bedding and use.

The plush Pullman coaches had padded velvet seats that folded down into comfortable beds and beds were pulled down from the ceiling as well. The first cars had curtains that closed for privacy. And special “Pullman Porters” were men trained to attend the passengers needs.  These cars were made of mahogany, black walnut, and oak with etchings on the glass doors on the ends and gas lit chandeliers. One end of the car had a man’s salon, wash room, and lavatory while the other end had these same amenities for the women. They also had hot running water.   
Whitehorse Steam Locomotive
The first class passengers in the Pullman coaches either ate in the dining car, if the line they were riding had them, or the buffet car, where they could purchase sandwiches, drinks, and snack items, or they could also suffer the poor fare and get a rushed meal at the meal stops.

The dining cars by the 1870’s offered a menu of over 80 dishes with a price of 75 cents per meal- the equivalent of an average traveler’s daily wage. Even though the second and third class passengers could eat in the dining car, few were able to afford the luxury.

Of course this in only a fraction of the information I uncovered, but I thought you might find it interesting.

Some of the books I use for researching trains are: Early Oregon Days by Edwin D. Culp, Out West on the Overland Train by Richard Reinhardt, Rand McNally's Pioneer Atlas of the American West as well as several sites on the web.

Paty Jager is an award-winning author of 32 novels, 6 novellas, and numerous anthologies of murder mystery and western romance. All her work has Western or Native American elements in them along with hints of humor and engaging characters. This is what readers have to say about the Silver Dollar Saloon series: Paty Jager brings her characters to life, right off the pages of her book. You will laugh, cry, be sad and get angry right along with the characters.


  1. That's an interesting post, Paty. I've done a lot of research on trains also, but focused on Texas. I love riding the train, but I doubt I'd have enjoyed it as much before Pullman cars became standard.

    1. Hi Caroline, After sitting on the hard seats of the 1880's Steam locomotive in Deadwood last summer, I agree, that having a soft seat for a long trip, as across the states, it would have been a much better ride in a Pullman car! Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Great post, Paty. I certainly understand when you say that's only a fraction of the research you uncovered ... seems true no matter what we authors are looking up, especially the web has anything and everything we need to know and lots we don't. Trouble is, knowing when to stop reading the research and get back to writing the story! LOL

    1. LOL Cheri, So true! The research can take me down rabbit holes and I've accomplished no writing for the day! Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Thank you, another interesting and useful post.


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