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America on the Move
Collection Exhibition Themes
Transportation in America before 1876 Community Dreams: Santa Cruz, California, 1876 Delivering the Goods: Watsonville, California, 1895 A Streetcar City: Washington, D.C., 1900 People on the Move Americans Adopt the Auto Crossing the Country: Somewhere in Wyoming, 1903 The Connected City: New York, New York, 1920s The People's Highway: Route 66, 1930s-1940s Roadside Communities: Ring's Rest, Muirkirk, Maryland, 1930s Family Camping: York Beach, Maine, 1930s On the School Bus: Martinsburg, Indiana, 1939 Suburban Strip: Sandy Boulevard, Portland, Oregon, 1949 City and Suburb: Chicago and Park Forest, Illinois, 1950s On the Interstate: I-10, 1956-1990 Transforming the Waterfront: San Francisco and Oakland, California, 1960-1970 Going Global: Los Angeles Introduction The Salisbury Depot What Happened to Plessy? A Way of Travel Railroad Conductor Pullman Porter Carrying Everything Into Town--and Out Locomotive Engineer & Fireman Railroaders behind the Scenes Promoting Good Roads Spencer, an Industrial Community What Happened to the Railroads?
9: Lives on the Railroad: Salisbury, North Carolina, 1927

A Way of Travel

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 order—an 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 cars—the coaches—were 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 cars—toward the back because travelers in these higher-priced cars wanted to be far away from the locomotive’s smoke. A parlor or observation car usually brought up the rear.

Locomotive

A typical steam locomotive had an engine and a tender for carrying fuel and water for the boiler. Two crew members worked in the engine’s 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
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.

Coach

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.

Coach
Dining car
Dining car

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.

Sleeping 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.

Sleeping car
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