From the 1830s through the 1950s, people traveled in trains pulled by steam locomotives. Cars in these trains were almost always arranged in a particular orderan order that reflected social hierarchy. Coal-burning steam engines spewed smoke and cinders into the air, so the most privileged passengers sat as far away from the locomotive as possible. The first passenger carsthe coacheswere separated from the locomotive by the mail and baggage cars. In the South in the first half of the 20th century, the first coaches were Jim Crow cars, designated for black riders only. Passenger coaches for whites then followed. Long-distance trains had a dining car, located between the coaches and any sleeping cars. Overnight trains included sleeping carstoward the back because travelers in these higher-priced cars wanted to be far away from the locomotives smoke. A parlor or observation car usually brought up the rear.
A typical steam locomotive had an engine and a tender for carrying fuel and water for the boiler. Two crew members worked in the engines cab: the engineer ran the locomotive, and the fireman managed the boiler and helped watch for signals. Both jobs were highly skilled.
Mail / Baggage Car
This car served two functions, baggage and mail carrying. Only U.S. Postal Department employees handled mail aboard trains. The car includes a Railway Post Office, where mail clerks sorted letters and small packages for delivery to towns along the route. R.P.O cars carried daily mail to most small towns in America.
This was the most common kind of passenger car. American-style coach design placed seats on each side of a center aisle, with no compartments. Coaches for commuter trains were plain, with up to 80 seats. Long-distance coaches were more comfortable. On trains in the South, a separate coach carried African Americans, or a single car was divided into "White" and "Colored" sections.
A chef and cooks prepared meals onboard in a fully equipped kitchen. A steward seated passengers and took meal orders. Waiters brought food to the tables. Since space was limited, each meal was often divided into two or more seatings. Prices were high, so many travelers brought their own food and did not eat in the dining car.
First-class passengers traveled here, in cars operated by the Pullman Company. Seats for day travel converted into beds. Most costly were private compartments. A Pullman porter in each sleeping car brought meals, turned down beds, and attended to the passengers' needs. Pullman maids also provided personal services for patrons. On long trains, a parlor car or observation/lounge car might be the last car.