Travel of any kind in the 1800s and before was very difficult—especially if you had young children along. I can’t even imagine trying to corral a child and get where I needed to go. It would’ve taken a lot of doing.
Going by train was by far preferable to stagecoach or horseback, but it definitely had its drawbacks.
Like smoke coming in the windows and ruining your clothes during the summer months.
Freezing in the winter.
Narrow, crowded aisles.
The normal speed for steam engine locomotives was about 25-30 mph in 1864. Before that, the best they could get was 15 mph. Trains had to stop every 30 miles to take on water to make the steam so it took forever and a day to get somewhere.
(This photo of a Pullman passenger train doesn’t depict those in the Old West which were bare of luxury.)
The traveler got covered from head to foot with thick soot, smoke and dust that flew in through the open windows. Wearing dusters over their clothing helped some, but they were hot. I guess it depended on how desperate you were a little bit clean. Sometimes women wrapped their hair with a kind of close-fitting cap.
In wintertime, the train company would remove two or three seats from one side and make room for a small stove. Passengers near it roasted while those at the end of the car froze. Toilets were sometimes no more than a curtained off chamber pot. Imagine how embarrassing that would be!
At night, a solitary lamp burned at one end of the car to provide light. Trying to sleep was almost impossible.
The only good thing was the train stations. Passengers could get off, use the facilities and eat a meal. I’m sure they took full advantage of those depots and every precious minute.
Wrecks were a common occurrence. Trains were known to collide, run off the tracks or derail by some large obstacle. Since wood was the #1 type of material used to construct trains until much later in the 1800s, fire was a constant threat. A lot of passengers died from the train catching fire. The coal the engineer burned in order to create steam for the engine was a major concern in a wreck.
This method of travel was by far the fastest but not necessarily the safest and even today there are horrible train wrecks that kill passengers.
The next time you grumble at having to stand in a long check-in and security line at the airport, have your flights canceled, or ride in your air-conditioned car with its soft upholstery and get stuck in traffic don’t complain. We have it so much better than our ancestors it’s not even funny. Just take a minute to appreciate what you have and remember that nothing is ever going to be perfect no matter how advanced our society becomes.
Do you think you’d like to go back in time and take a journey by stagecoach, train, or wagon? If so, which method would you prefer? Or do you mind the endless screenings and lines and cancellations? How about getting stuck in traffic, do you gripe or just accept and make the most of it?