Train Travel in the Olden Days

When I was a kid in Texas, we rode passenger trains from our home town on field trips to Austin to see the state capitol and on another occasion from our home town to see San Antonio and the Alamo. I believe it cost my parents maybe $15.00 round trip, but that was a special school rate IIRC.

On another trip from Dallas to San Francisco(?) we took a train specifically because it went through the Feather River valley. We had sleeping compartments and it was a great trip; I don’t know the cost as I was only thirteen and was told by my father that it was none of my business. What a guy.

As I recall, Mark Twain (Roughing It) travelled from Kansas City, to San Francisco by stagecoach-how much did it cost?

Here’s a flickr set of Chicago & Northwestern timetables from the good ol’ days (1957 to be exact).

As always, google is our friend.

This link says in 1945 NYC to Chicago was $36.93 (you could fly for $32.85!). This link says average wage was $2400/yr.

The above-linked calculator says that is the equivalent of $444 in 2009.

Like anything else, it depends. I travel from Chicago to Kansas City on a regular basis. I fly when needed, but I prefer to take Amtrak. To me, the 1.5 hours the plane spends in the air is irrelevant, and is the smallest amount of time in the calculation.

Amtrak gets me from downtown Chicago to downtown Kansas City.
Southwest airlines gets me from Midway airport to Kansas City International.

I have to include the much longer trip to Midway and the much longer trip from KCI (confusingly coded MCI).

Getting on the train is ridiculously easy. They announce boarding, check my ID, take my ticket, get on train, take seat.

The airplane…not so much. To board Southworst, I have to have my bags x-rayed, take off my shoes, etc and show up at least an hour ahead of time to get a decent seat.

While Amtrak pretend to enforce baggage limits, I’ve never had to check my huge backpack. I wear it onto the train and put it in the overhead bin. When I arrive, I take it down, strap it on and walk off the train.

The airplane? Waiting around for my backpack to show up, hoping against hope that they haven’t managed to rip some part of it.

And the seats? On Amtrak, the seats are comfortable and have tons of legroom. I can open my laptop, an impossibility on a Southworst flight.

All told, the downtown to downtown time for taking “The Greyhound Bus of the Air” is about five hours, and dramatically more expensive and uncomfortable than the seven hours spent on Amtrak’s “Southwest Chief”. All the other little things, like being allowed to bring my cooler with my own choice of food and beverages, an outlet at my seat (I managed to edit a 4 camera, 2 hour concert shoot on my return trip from Kansas City).

It’s a civilized way to travel.

A few years ago there was a show on HBO about the NFL in the 1950s (“Game of their Lives” I think was the title). Back then teams would almost always take a train. Someone (Pat Summerall?) mentioned going from the East Coast to Los Angeles was three days by train.

In 1948 there was no interstate highway system, so much of your car trip would be on two lane roads that went through every little city and town, which meant dealing with every traffic light, slowpoke, etc.

True for 400 of the 760 miles, but the Pennsylvania Turnpike opened in 1940 - 359 miles from Ohio border to Philly with no stop signs/lights.

Also, with gas at $0.15/gal - a Model A Ford (which got 25mpg) could get you there for $4.56 in gasoline.

oops, not all of the turnpike was open by 1948…

I haven’t got my copy of Roughing It handy, but this page gives the fares for stagecoach travel in 1863:

Richard Burton also traveled to Salt Lake via stagecoach, and describes it in his book City of the Saints. I don’t recall if he gives the fares.

CalMeacham, those stagecoach fares were astronomical! I don’t think crossing the Atlantic was nearly as expensive, and that would usually have been in considerably greater comfort, provided you weren’t prone to seasickness.

Travel times in the 1800’s (including maps.)

I remember that my mother was very uncomfortable about driving. It tended to be a male thing at the time. Yes, young women were more comfortable behind the wheel, but many women raised in the home as “homemakers” did not drive and chose not to even if a second car was available. Also, many times, at least here in the Mountain West roads still had a bit of a ways to go before being what they were to become in the '60s, '70s and '80s (granted they are returning to that again). So train travel was a pleasant alternative.

I remember traveling with my mother on the train in the early '50s on the Zepher. It was wonderful - comfortable, great view, a chance to meet people in a pleasant environment, very few stops (and when you did, it was interesting), pleasant staff, good food as you traveled and clean bathrooms.