Trains in 1890s U.S.A. Dining cars? Sleeping cars?

Would people travelling by train from New York City to Wells, Nevada have had access to dining cars and sleeping cars, if only for part of the journey?

Might they have needed to break the journey and change trains at some places?

I think the answer to these questions would be “yes” and “no” respectively but it struck me that the SDMB must have some keen knowledgable trainy types.

I agreed to look this up for a friend who doesn’t have internet access at home, and I joked that I would look it up but would probably get wildly distracted along the way. Well, that’s exactly what happened. :frowning: OK, I learned that Mr. Pullman was busy making sleeping cars by the 1860s but I don’t know how widespread they had become. And I got all distracted by reading about the Pullman Strike and Eugene Debs, and also this business of gold and silver spikes, and “ooh, don’t pictures of old-time trains look fascinating?” … In short, distracted by anything shiny.

N.B. this is not anyone’s schoolwork or anything, but is for a story my friend wants to write. And I don’t know why these people are travelling to Nevada or whether they are rich or poor, which I imagine might have some bearing on the comforts available to them.

So, please do we have any historical trainspotters? I think this admits of a factual answer and belongs in General Question, but obviously it can be exported to a new home if necessary.

The sleeping cars were widespread (they made Pullman a millionaire), but they were not used by everyone, since they cost extra. But they were generally available on most long runs.

Same thing with dining cars. As Otto Bettman put it:

The trolley companies in St. Louis had special dining cars for parties available by the late 1890’s, so I’d guess the railroads would have them available a few years earlier.

As for the route itself, the City of San Francisco passenger train didn’t come along until later, but it was operated by the Chicago and Northwestern from Chicago to Omaha, then by the Union Pacific from Omaha to Ogden, Utah, then by the Southern Pacific west to Oakland. The general practice would have been to switch engines and crews at each of those points, but the passenger cars and through freight cars would have been kept together. That would be the 1930’s, though. I can’t say whether it would have been the same 40 years earlier.

To quote Wiki on diners, “Most railroads began offering meal service on trains even before the First Transcontinental Railroad*. By the mid-1880s, dedicated dining cars were a normal part of long-distance trains from Chicago for points westward, save those of the Santa Fe, which relied on America’s first interstate network of restaurants to feed passengers en route, the legendary ‘Harvey Houses.’”

Likewise, Wiki on sleeping cars says they were first introduced in 1839 by the Cumberland Valley Railroad but didn’t get really rolling (heh) until George Pullman got into the act in 1867.

There would have been no way to travel from New York to Wells without changing trains. NYC to Chicago in one jump is no problem – The New York Central or the Pennsylvania Railroad spring immediately to mind – but Wells was served then only by the Union Pacific, and that went only as far as Omaha. So, NYC to Chicago, then to Omaha by some midwestern road (Perhaps a Doper more up on those can say what the possibilities are) thence to Wells by UP.

Even in the golden age of railroading, say the teens through the pre-depression twenties, you would have to change trains. Starting during the depression, “a” train could be handed off from one railroad to the next west of Chicago, The City of San Francisco and California Zephyr being two famous examples, but the Mississippi was like some sort of iron curtain; to get past in either direction you had to change trains. The one small exception that I know of was that the Zephyr had available one sleeper that would continue from Chicago to NYC via the PRR or NYC on alternate days for a while but, that didn’t last long.

*That’s 1869 for non-railroad buffs.

Ah, thank you all. :slight_smile: I think I might 'phone her tomorrow (far too late at night here now) and tell her about these answers, and persuade her to go and read the thread, perhaps at the public library on Monday.

I’m very grateful to you all, and DesertDog sounds particularly knowledgeable, and now I find myself wishing to do a long and interesting train journey. See, distracted again. :slight_smile:

Chicago to Omaha would have been via Chicago & North Western Railway or (less likely) via the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy R.R.

DesertDog is right, though even when there were through sleeper cars, they’d spend the day in Chicago or New Orleans or perhaps St. Louis. There never were through transcontinental trains.

Also, in the 1890s the vast majority of sleeper accommodations were what were called sections: facing chairs that would convert to two bunks with curtains at night. They would be sold to strangers, and the practice was that the purchaser of the lower bunk (more expensive) got to face forward during the day.

I’d do more research on dining cars in the 1890s. IIRC, William Mackenzie’s “Dining Car to the Pacific” makes the claim that the Northern Pacific’s competitive edge for passengers in the early 20th century was its dining cars, which other railroad reluctantly adopted.

Me, I’m off on the Southwest Chief from Chicago to Albuquerque tomorrow (in sleeper, of course).

Another interesting book on dining cars is Dinner Is Served - Fine Dining Aboard the Southern Pacific by Jim A. Loveland. Great pictures, history and a few recipes.

Whoops; brain slipped a cog. Wells was served by the Southern Pacific in 1890, after it subsumed the Central Pacific in 1885. The Union Pacific stopped in Utah back then and for generations after, so another change of trains in Ogden would be needed.

Amazing what a little caffeine does for one’s memory.

Oh now I’m tempted to go looking for the books mentioned. Eek no! Not to go buying books particularly now that my computer has taken to crashing and might be planning to die.

Many thanks to you all for your knowledge and for troubling to reply, and wishing a good journey to Iskpolkom.


By the 1890s, most passengers on a cross-country trip would be eating at Harvey Houses.

Santa Fe, yes. The others, not so much particularly east of Chicago.