I recently listened to The Dain Curse by Dashiell Hammett, a then-contemporary story written in the late 1920s. At a couple of points the first person narrator mentions taking “the stage” from a small-town train station to the local hotel. Would that have been an actual Wells-Fargo style stagecoach with horses, or some kind of small bus? At the time, were stagecoaches still being used in remote places, presumably ones that didn’t have the infrastructure to support a lot of motor traffic? The story happens in California, but keep in mind that 90 or 100 years ago the state was far, far less populated than it is today. The town mentioned in the story is on the coast, which even today is relatively underpopulated in northern California.
Many California (nontransit) bus operations still have “stage” as part of their name, and it’s likely that Hammett was just reflecting local usage. It seems to just be regional argot, as almost none of those operations predate the development of motor buses and paved highways.
Seems highly doubtful that a horse-drawn stagecoach was being used in the 1920s:
From here; last paragraph:
This 1922 newspaper article describes the “Merced-Yosemite Stage Line,” which transported guests into Yosemite National Park. It notes that the company started out with actual stagecoaches, but when motorized vehicles were allowed into Yosemite Valley starting in 1915, they switched over to Pierce Arrow touring cars, though the company retained the “Stage Line” name.
There was a fair bit of linguistic confusion in what to call motorised vehicles, which probably was still being played out in the inter-war period. There was some fondness for the older names and applying them to motorised vehicles. ‘Coach’ was as much of a fossil of the horse-drawn era as ‘stage’ was.
My personal favourite is ‘charabanc’, [pronounced sharabang] which was a 19th century horse-drawn wagon, arranged bus style with rows of seats, which then gets used for motorised buses and coaches until mid-century.
In outback Australia the last commercial stagecoach route only closed in 1924.
On the Mt Washington (NH) Auto Road they still call the vans they use to drive people to the top “Stages”.
And many of those bus lines (Greyhound, Peter Pan, etc.) call the vehicle a “motorcoach”.
There’s a reference to a charabanc near the end of this 1970 Monty Python skit (spoofing David Frost’s towering ego and indifference to other people’s problems): http://montypython.50webs.com/scripts/Series_2/42.htm
This article includes a couple of pictures of an automobile “stage coach” stopping in Pie Town, New Mexico circa 1940:
It also pops up, unbidden and probably confusing to the average fan, in the Stranglers song Peaches.
Was it ever common for Wells Fargo style coaches to be used to get people from a railway station to a hotel in a rural area? All the books (mostly fiction) I’ve read seem to suggest the Wells Fargo stagecoaches were for long distance travel. Hotels would usually send a boy with a freight style wagon for luggage and supplies and customers could either walk or catch a ride.
I have been to Pie Town!
A ‘proper’ stagecoach was a hefty construction, usually meaning something with 4 horses or more. They had to be really solid constructions to survive crap roads. Carrying freight and post was probably as remunerative as passengers but just getting all your horses harnessed up was a production in itself.
Shorter trips for just passengers or light luggage could be done with a sulky or other 2 - 4 wheel lightly built wagon. Any pictures of late 19th - early 20th century street scenes will show you the diversity of horse-drawn vehicles. Many of these will have been for hire like taxis or light trucks, because most people didn’t have the money, space, time or inclination to keep their own horses, and many of the rest were work vehicles.
You’re right. Properly speaking, a stage coach was a transit system not a type of vehicle. The idea was that you established a series of stations along a route with each having a supply of horses. Then you had a wagon that traveled along that route with the horses pulling the wagon at a high rate of speed. The horse could not sustain this speed for the entire route but they could do it long enough to travel to the next station. And at the station you would swap out the tired team of horse for a fresh team (the wagons were designed for a quick exchange of horses) and keep traveling. The tired team of horses would be rested and fed and prepared for a future exchange. By this system of breaking the route up into stages, you could travel the entire route much faster than you could have with a single team of horses.
This system would obviously not be needed for a trip in town from a train station to a hotel. But I suppose the trip might have been made with a stagecoach, which was the type of wagon used for this system. I would imagine by the 1920’s there must have been a lot of surplus coaches available that were no longer needed for actual stage travel.
Was it exceptionally expensive to travel a long route by stagecoach? I know it’s dangerous to believe Hollywood, but stagecoaches in westerns mostly only have four, maybe six passengers, that’s few compared to the four horses and two coachmen needed. Now a stagecoach also carried mail, and to believe Hollywood again, always a case full of gold/money, but wasn’t it a very ineffective means of travel and therefore only for the wealthy?
The stagecoach roadbed around Hug Point on the Oregon coast was blasted out in 1920 (before the roadbed the way around was by calculating low tide and hoping for the best, pretty much) and was in use up to when Highway 101 was finished to the California border in 1936.
Here’s my doggos navigating that same roadbed circa 2016. Those stagecoach people were NUTS!
Apparently it was an expensive way to travel. This article says it cost two to three times as much as traveling by train.
If you want more detail, this website gives the fares for various trips by stagecoach. (It also gives a list of fares by train.)
The first article notes that the cost of a stagecoach ticket from Missouri to California was two hundred dollars (and didn’t include meals). I checked the second website for its section on wages. A general laborer in Missouri in 1885 earned somewhere between one to two dollars a day. So a stagecoach ticket to California would have represented over three months’ wages for that laborer.
And, depending on road conditions, was almost always more uncomfortable, too.
According to this website* the interior could seat as many as nine passengers, with three each on the front and back seats, plus three more on the backless middle bench. (Travel was hell in those days.) One or two more passengers might ride on top, or seated next to the driver.
I’m pretty sure long distance stage routes went out of business almost immediately once the transcontinental railways came in.
*You need to scroll down quite a way to find the relevant passage.
I don’t know about train stations specifically, other than what I said in the OP, but in 1870s-80s Los Angeles the two leading hotels of the town ran stage coaches down to San Pedro for the ship passengers, often racing one another to get the business.
Amazingly for L.A. one of the two hotels is still standing, though it hasn’t operated as a hotel since the early 1950s.