The mystery of 1890s train travel…and a book release!

Concordia logo FINALby K. B. Owen, misterio press author

I love being a historical mystery writer. Though it means additional research time as well as longer gaps between book releases, I run across fascinating stuff. I enjoy weaving the plot of a mystery into the historical world. I hope you’ve been pleased with the results so far!

I’m here today to announce my newest release, Unseemly Haste (book 4 of the Concordia Wells Mysteries). It’s set in the summer of 1898, as my characters make their way from New York to San Francisco aboard a Pullman sleeper car train. LOTS of research. Want to see some of the cool things I ran across?

I’m so glad you said yes. *wink*

Planning the journey: the route from New York to San Francisco

The New York Tribune, May 21, 1898. ChroniclingAmerica.loc.gov

The New York Tribune, May 21, 1898. ChroniclingAmerica.loc.gov

Railway mergers, shared use agreements, and the standardization of track gauge, platform configurations, etc, made cross-country travel by rail easier than ever by the 1890s. The three-day trip covered 3,270 miles. For the route my characters took, four different railways were involved: the Pennsylvania RR, the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne, and Chicago RR, the Central Pacific RR, and the Union Pacific RR. According to Appletons’ General Guide to the United States and Canada: Western and Southern states (D. Appleton and Company, 1889), the cost of the Chicago Limited Express (sleeper compartment included in the price) from New York to Chicago was $28, then from Chicago to San Francisco, aboard the Overland Limited, $72.50.

All aboard! Dining and Recreation:

Though a short journey for its time, passengers still needed places to sleep, eat, and relax along the way. Pullman Palace cars supplied passengers needs with style. Luxury amenities included electric lighting, steam heat, chandeliers, and gourmet menus.

 

Lithograph advertisement, Strobridge&Co, 1894. Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Lithograph advertisement, Strobridge & Co, 1894. Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

 

1895 Baltimore and Ohio RR publicity photo. Wikimedia commons public domain).

Dining car, 1895 Baltimore and Ohio RR publicity photo. Wikimedia commons (public domain).

 

courtesy of University of Nevada, Las Vegas University Libraries.

Courtesy of University of Nevada, Las Vegas University Libraries.

 

Pullman parlor car, Smithsonian Institute Archives, http://sirismm.si.edu

Pullman parlor car, Smithsonian Institute Archives, http://sirismm.si.edu

Sleeping:

The ingenious Pullman design converted seats to private bunks at night.

 The interior of a Chicago and Alton Railroad Pullman car circa 1900. Photo by Detroit Publishing Co, c. 1900. Library of Congress.

The interior of a Chicago and Alton Railroad Pullman car circa 1900. Photo by Detroit Publishing Co, c. 1900. Library of Congress.

 

George Pullman's 1865 sketch for patent #49,992, via midcontinent.org.

George Pullman’s 1865 sketch for patent #49,992, via midcontinent.org.

 

For those who could afford it, entire private cars were available, as pictured below. (Less expensively, private compartments within a railway car were also available).

Henry M. Stanley and party standing on back of train at Monterey, California, March 19th, 1891, porters standing at side of car. Library of Congress.

Henry M. Stanley and party standing on back of train at Monterey, California, March 19th, 1891, porters standing at side of car. Library of Congress.

Porters:

Pullman porter helping passenger aboard, 1890s. Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Pullman porter helping passenger aboard, 1890s. Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Pullman porters at the time were exclusively African-American, and were referred to by passengers and industry officials alike as “George,” no matter their given name. Working conditions and pay were exploitatively poor. They finally unionized in 1925, under the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, led by A. Phillip Randolph. According to the A. Phillip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum:

The porters had tried to organize since the beginning of the century. The wages and working conditions were below average for decades. For example, the porters were required to work 400 hours per month or 11,000 miles—whichever occurred first to receive full pay. Porters depended on the passengers’ tips in order to earn a decent level of pay. Typically, the porters’ tips were more than their monthly salary earned from the Pullman Company.

It was certainly a thankless job, which I kept in mind when creating Jonas, the porter who features prominently in Unseemly Haste.

Which brings me to my announcement:

NEW RELEASE!

Unseemly Haste

Book 4 of the Concordia Wells Mysteries

cover by Melinda VanLone

cover by Melinda VanLone

 

Murder aboard the Overland Limited…

It is the summer of 1898. Professor Concordia Wells is eager to accompany her friend, Pinkerton detective Penelope Hamilton, on a cross-country train trip to San Francisco. Breathless vistas and exciting locales will be a welcome change from a fiancé impatient to set a wedding date and the threat of revenge from the remaining Inner Circle members back in Hartford.

But Concordia should know there is no such thing as a free ride. When the Pinkerton Agency switches assignments at the last minute, she and Miss Hamilton both have jobs to do. Fellow passengers prove to be both help and hindrance: a lady reporter in hiding, a con man, Chinese acrobats…and a corpse or two. Then there is the handsome gentleman with the dark hair, green eyes, and a secret agenda of his own. Good thing Concordia is an engaged lady. Or is it?

Available now at these retailers (buttons below are hyperlinked):

*coming soon to iBooks

Have you ever traveled via sleeper train? Do you wish you had the chance? I’d love to hear from you.

~Kathy

 

Posted by Kathy Owen (aka K.B. Owen). Kathy is a recovering former English professor with a PhD in 19th century British literature. She is a mom to three sons and writes the Concordia Wells series of historical mysteries. Her twitter handle is @kbowenwriter, or you can connect with her on her Facebook page.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

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12 thoughts on “The mystery of 1890s train travel…and a book release!

  1. Amy Kennedy

    I traveled from Minneapolis to Grand Forks with my Grandma, we didn’t have a sleeping car, but we did rest. I distinctly remember the dining car with white tablecloths and a red rose on each table. It felt like a grand adventure– I’d never traveled, it was so special.

    Reply
    1. K.B. Owen Post author

      Add Grandma to the mix and it’s even more exciting, right? That does sound pretty special. I remember being on a sleeper train once, when I was a teenager and traveled with my parents from Pennsylvania to Florida for vacation. (My mother refuses to fly in an airplane, ever). The pull-out bunks were really cool, and I remember the sink being so tiny!

      Thanks for stopping by, Amy!

      Reply
  2. Vinnie Hansen

    I loved this book! The train travel across country made it for me. A reader can tell you did your homework, and the details are deftly woven into an entertaining mystery. Love the pictures in this post – wish travel were still so luxurious.

    Reply
  3. Lynn Kelley

    Congratulations on your new novel, Kathy. Sounds like a winner and the cover is very cool. Great job on the research. It makes an interesting blog post. That parlor car looks mighty comfy!

    Reply
  4. Karen McFarland

    Congratulations Kathy on book #4! Love the thought of a mystery on a train. As for me, I have not slept on a train. But I have traveled by train along the the Pacific coastline from Los Angeles to San Diego and back. I also traveled from Rome, Italy to Salzburg, Austria, changing several trains en route. Then onward from Salzburg to Munich to Zurich to Lucerne. Oh, I also went by train from Florence, Italy to Nice, France. Took the high-speed Chunnel train from London to Paris shortly after it had opened. Goodness, I never realized until you asked how much train travel I’ve been fortunate to experience. Yet, no sleeper car. I have to say I would have missed so much beautiful scenery if I’d slept through it. Although the thought of a murder during my travels sheds a whole other light on things. Ha, ha, ha Kathy. Perhaps my travels were boring after all. 🙂

    Reply
    1. K.B. Owen

      Wow, Karen, you are quite the traveler! Let me know if you ever try the sleeper train! You know, you won’t be missing any views, since it’s dark out, anyway. *wink* Thanks for stopping by!

      Reply
  5. Kassandra Lamb

    Great post, Kathy! I really admire the amount of energy and time you put into research. I’ve traveled a good bit by train in Europe but never a sleeper car. I should put that on my bucket list!!

    Loved this book. It’s your best yet, and that’s saying something since they have all been great.

    Reply
    1. K.B. Owen

      Aww, thank you so much! This one required the most research, as it was an entirely new topic for me. With the other novels in the series set at the college, I had accumulated a lot more material to fall back upon.

      Reply

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