Susan Coolidge and "H.H.,"
Descriptions of Railroad Travel

Excerpts from the Original Text at the Yosemite Online Library.

In 1872, Helen Hunt Jackson and her friend, Sarah Chauncy Woolsey, traveled together by rail from the East Coast to San Francisco. Each published an account of the trip.   Jackson is best known for a later novel, Ramona (1884), which is a sympathetic story about a woman of Native American ancestry and the injustices she and her family suffered.  Jackson, using the pen name "H.H.," publisher hers in her Bits of Travel at Home (1878).   Woolsey, who used the pen name Sarah Coolidge, is best known as the author of a series of books for girls that begins with What Katy Did (1872). -smv

(NB. Paragraph numbers below apply to these excerpts, not the original source.)

Bits of Travel at Home
Excerpts from the Original Text at the Yosemite Online Library.

{1}"Three nights and four days in the cars!" These words haunted us and hindered our rest. What should we eat and drink, and wherewithal should we be clothed? No Scripture was strong enough to calm our anxious thoughts; no friend's experience of comfort and ease on the journey sounded credible enough to disarm our fears. "Dust is dust," said we, "and railroad is railroad. All restaurant cooking in America is intolerable. We shall be wretched; nevertheless, we go." . . .

{2}There is a handsome black boy at the Sherman House, Chicago, who remembers, perhaps, how many parcels of "life preservers" of one kind and another were lifted into our drawing-room on the Pullman cars. But nobody else will ever know.

{3}Our drawing-room? Yes, our drawing-room; and this is the plan of it: A smalls square room, occupying the whole width of the car, excepting a narrow passage-way on one side; four windows, two opening on this passage-way and two opening out of doors; two doors, one opening into the car and one opening into a tiny closet, which held a washstand basin. This closet had another door, opening into another drawing-room beyond. No one but the occupants of the two drawing-rooms could have access to the bath-closet. On one side of our drawing-room a long sofa; on the other two large arm-chairs, which could be wheeled so as to face the sofa. Two shining spittoons and plenty of looking-glass, hooks high up on the sides, and silver-plated rods for curtains overhead, completed the list of furniture. Room on the floor for bags and bundles and baskets; room, too, for a third chair, and a third chair we had for a part of the way, - - an easy-chair, with a sloping back, which belonged to another of these luxurious Pullman cars. A perplexing sense of domesticity crept over us as we settled into corners, hung up our cologne bottles, and missed the cat! Then we shut both our doors, and smiled triumphantly into each other's faces, as the train glided out of the station. No one can realize until he has journeyed in the delightful quiet and privacy of these small drawing-rooms on the Pullman cars how much of the wear and tear of railroad travel is the result of the contact with people. Be as silent, as unsocial, as surly as you please, you cannot avoid being more or less impressed by the magnetism of every human being in the car. Their faces attract or repel; you like, you dislike, you wonder, you pity, you resent, you loathe. In the course of twenty-four hours you have expended a great amount of nerve force, to no purpose; have borne hours of vicarious suffering, by which nobody is benefited. Adding to this hardly calculable amount of mental wear and tear the physical injury of breathing bad air, we sum up a total of which it is unpleasant to think. Of the two evils the last is the worst. The heart may, at least, try to turn away from unhappy people and wicked people, to whom it can do no good. But how is the body to steel itself against unwashed people and diseased people with whom it is crowded, elbow to elbow, and knee to knee, for hours? Our first day in our drawing-room stole by like a thief. The noon surprised us, and the twilight took us unawares. . . .

{4}"Make your beds now, ladies?" said the chamberman, whose brown face showed brighter brown for his gray uniform and brass buttons.

{5}"Yes," we replied. "That is just what we most desire to see."

{6}Presto! The seats of the arm-chairs pull out, and meet in the middle. The backs of the arm-chairs pull down, and lie flat on level with the seats. The sofa pulls out and opens into double width. The roof of our drawing-room opens and lets down, and makes two more bedsteads, which we, luckily, do not want; but from under their eaves come mattresses, pillows, sheets, pillow-cases, and curtains. The beds are made; the roof shut up again; the curtains hung across the glass part of the doors; the curtains drawn across the passage-way windows; the doors shut and locked; and we undress as entirely and safely as if we were in the best bedroom of a house not made with wheels. Because we are so comfortable we lie awake a little, but not long; and that is the whole story of nights on the cars when the cars are built by Pullman and the sleeping is done in drawing-rooms. . . .

{8}Toward night of this [next] day, we saw our first Indian woman. We were told it was a woman. It was, apparently, made of old India-rubber, much soaked, seamed, and torn. It was thatched at top with a heavy roof of black hair, which hung down from a ridge-like line in the middle. It had sails of dingy-brown canvas, furled loosely around it, confined and caught here and there irregularly, fluttering and falling open wherever a rag of a different color could be shown underneath. It moved about on brown, bony, stalking members, for which no experience furnishes name; it mopped, and mowed, and gibbered, and reached out through the air with more brown, bony, clutching members; from which one shrank as from the claws of a bear. "Muckee! muckee!" it cried, opening wide a mouth toothless, but red. It was the most abject, loathly living thing I ever saw. I shut my eyes, and turned away. Presently, I looked again. It had passed on; and I saw on its back, gleaming out from under a ragged calash-like arch of basket-work, a smooth, shining, soft baby face, brown as a brown nut, silken as silk, sweet, happy, innocent, confiding, as if it were babe of a royal line, borne in royal state. All below its head was helpless mummy,- -body, legs, arms; feet bandaged tight, swathed in a solid roll, strapped to a flat board, and swung by a leathern band, going around the mother's breast. Its great, soft, black eyes looked fearlessly at everybody. It was as genuine and blessed a baby as any woman ever bore. Idle and thoughtless passengers jeered the squaw, saying: "Sell us the pappoose." "Give you greenbacks for the pappoose." Then, and not till then, I saw a human look in the India-rubber face. The eyes could flash, and the mouth could show scorn, as well as animal greed. The expression was almost malignant, but it bettered the face; for it made it the face of a woman, of a mother. . . .

Susan Coolidge
"A Few Hints on the California Journey"
Excerpts transcribed from the original printed text: Scribner's Monthly, May, 1873 (pp. 25- 31).

What It Cost

{9}The price of a ticket to San Francisco and back over the Union Pacific and Central Pacific roads is a little less than three hundred dollars. To this must be added the expenses of seven or eight days' meals - - averaging three dollars a day, also the additional expense of a compartment in the Pullman car. Without this latter the journey would be unendurably fatiguing; with it, it is surprisingly comfortable. . . .

{10}"A sleeping berth from New York to San Francisco can be procured for eleven dollars, which certainly sounds remarkably cheap. But this does not mean a section, or even half a section; it refers to the minimum of space, that is, half of one of the berths, upper or under, three other persons occupying the remainder of the section. Now few persons can be really comfortable with less than a whole section - - certainly no lady traveling alone could be, - - and a whole section costs forty-four dollars. It will be seen therefore that a compartment in the P. P. C. [Pullman Palace Car] is a considerable item in the expenses of the trip. . . .

What to Carry

{11}Two things are to be considered in packing a trunk for San Francisco - - weight and climate. Every article of baggage is weighed on the Pacific Railroad. One hundred pounds are allowed to each passenger; for every pound additional he is charged at the rate of fifteen dollars a hundred-weight. . . . My advice to women therefore would be: provide yourself with a warm, substantial traveling dress, and take one other suit, silk or cashmere, something that will answer for the hotel dinner-table and for going about the city. This is all you will need, unless you carry letters of introduction and propose to see something of San Francisco society, in which case a handsome dinner or evening dress might be necessary. There will be warm days here and there, especially on the railroad coming home; and for these, half a dozen linen or cambric waists should be provided to be put on at any moment when the heat becomes oppressive. You will also want a thick outside wrap, plenty of thick boots and gloves, a hat with a brim to it, a relay of grenadine veils, and, by all means, an old water-proof cloak, to be used in stages or on horseback as a protection against dust. . . .

{12}There are six days and five nights to be spent on the railroad between Chicago and San Francisco, so a large bag or small valise will be needed for use on the cars. . . . In this bag should be put, beside night-dress, change of linen, etc., plenty of clean collars, cuffs, pocket-handkerchiefs and stockings, a bottle of cologne, a phial of powdered borax to soften the hard water of the alkali district, a warm flannel sack for the chilly nights, - - which even in midsummer must, in those high altitudes, be provided against, soap, brushes, combs, a whisk-broom, a pocket pincushion, a brandy flask, and small quantities of two or three of the simplest medicines. Old and easy boots should be chosen for the journey. I should advise everybody to be provided with two linen dusters. Dust is the great foe to comfort on the Pacific Railroad. No brushing, no shaking removes it. It sifts, it penetrates, it pervades everywhere. After two or three days you grow to hate yourself. Some ladies whom we met wore barege caps, which drew tightly with an elastic cord over all their hair and kept it free from dust. This was an admirable device, and I recommend it.

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