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View Full Version : 1946 train trip from New York to oregon - help needed!



K.Stephens
03-21-2015, 08:58 AM
Hi,
Hoping someone can help me out.
I'm looking to find some info for my WIP.
My MC is travelling from New York to Oregon in 1946.
Any idea's on what lines they would travel, how long it would take, any stops along the way, and what it might have been like on these passenger trains?
Thank you SO much for any information.
Kiah

jclarkdawe
03-21-2015, 02:00 PM
How much are they willing to spend?

When in 1946? Big difference between January and December because of troops getting home from the War.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

King Neptune
03-21-2015, 06:07 PM
Try searching. There's a lot of railroad history online.

for example
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Chief

K.Stephens
03-22-2015, 09:31 AM
How much are they willing to spend?
Unlimited amount :)

When in 1946? Big difference between January and December because of troops getting home from the War.
End of March, 1946.
Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

Thank you.

K.Stephens
03-22-2015, 09:33 AM
Try searching. There's a lot of railroad history online.

for example
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Chief

Thank you for the link King Neptune.
I spent some time searching online and the best information I could find was that perhaps they would travel the Pennsylvania Rail Road to Chicago on the Trail Blazer which was about 30 hours, then travel the North Coast Limited to Seattle which was about 70 hours, then head south from there.
I appreciate your help,
Kiah

jclarkdawe
03-22-2015, 05:33 PM
If money is unlimited, I'd start out with New York Central's 20th Century Limited. Started in Grand Central Station and ended in LaSalle Station in Chicago. Run time in that period was about 16 hours, and the train was dieselized in 1945. It was one of the premier trains in the United States. Starting point on research for it would be http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/20th_Century_Limited

From Chicago, I agree with the North Coast Limited.

I'd contact the Baltimore & Ohio Museum (http://www.borail.org/). One of the best museums in the world for information on trains. I'm fairly sure they will have the schedules and fares for those years.

In March of 1946, the trains, even though both of these were on the top of the schedule, would have been delayed by troop trains returning soldiers to their homes. In addition, the coach cars would be very crowded with returning troops.

Although World War II was over, the railroads were still feeling the effects. In addition, the diner would have been short on some food items.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

King Neptune
03-22-2015, 06:52 PM
Thank you for the link King Neptune.
I spent some time searching online and the best information I could find was that perhaps they would travel the Pennsylvania Rail Road to Chicago on the Trail Blazer which was about 30 hours, then travel the North Coast Limited to Seattle which was about 70 hours, then head south from there.
I appreciate your help,
Kiah

There were several options, and someone might have gone to Canada for a train also. Depending on where one was starting from it might be faster overall, and it might have been less crowded.

Dave Williams
03-28-2015, 06:12 PM
They would have seen a lot of soldiers returning home from Europe traveling in their direction. "Demobilization" and return took a couple of years. Almost all of them would have been traveling in uniforms or pieces of uniforms; rationing was over, but there was still a clothing shortage while factories converted and the supply chains filled back up.

Again due to rationing, most things would have looked a bit shopworn and threadbare. Necessary maintenance would have been done, but there was neither money nor manpower for paint and polish.

Some large percentage of the returning soldiers didn't go back to where they came from; many hopped a train and went somewhere else. Most of them went to large cities, where they thought they might find a decent-paying job.

During the war, the US wasn't *quite* operating under a Soviet-style centrally planned economy, but it was pretty close. After the war a lot of businesses had grown too lazy filling government contracts to compete successfully in the free market and went under. Hundreds of thousands of returning soldiers were flooding the labor pool while the number of available jobs shrank sharply. In the first few years after the war the economic situation was ugly; the Depression-era bread lines didn't return, but it was very close for a while. A lot of the people traveling in 1946 would have been worried about the future and feeling lucky they could afford a train trip.

Among this, they would have seen the first postwar automobiles on the road; mostly continuations of prewar models, but brand new. And some elaborate new clothing styles for women.

During the war imports from South America had been rare; diners might have welcomed food items that had been rationed or unobtainable earlier.

The news would have talked a lot about the Nuremburg trials, the Soviets absorbing Eastern Europe, and friction in partitioned Berlin. The media wasn't much interested in the Pacific. There was a lot of talk about that new "United Nations" organization, but people who remembered the League of Nations weren't impressed.

If their trip takes place in the winter of 1946, that winter was early and freakishly cold. Much of America was snowed in. Not that big a deal in America, but tens of thousands of people died of it in Europe and the USSR.

Few roads outside of urban areas were paved. Dirt was the most common, gravel for "improved" roads. Cars and trucks generally moved around 35 mph, and most of what was on the road were prewar and in poor shape.

The Rural Electrification Program was still underway, but outside of towns, the countryside would have been mostly dark. Telegraphy was still an important means of communication. Most towns had phone service of some sort in 1946, but not all of them were hooked up beyond the local area. Even when they were, a three-minute long distance call might take a day's pay.

Gas lights were still common in rural areas; in larger cities they might be considered old-fashioned, but weren't all that unusual.

The trains rolled seven days a week, but west of the Mississippi most of the country came to a halt on Sunday. Even if a "blue law" wasn't on the local books, most businesses were closed anyway. Your character probably couldn't buy a cup of coffee, clean underwear, or a dime novel unless he bought it on the train or at a shop at the station. Likewise, after five or six o'clock most businesses closed up during the week.

If your story involves crime, most railroads had their own officially recognized police. (and still do!) Local police didn't always wear uniforms, and often used their personal vehicles.

Segregation was still in effect in 1946. Most places had separate bathrooms and drinking fountains for blacks and whites, some carried things even further. If you've ever wondered why most Interstate rest stops have two men's rooms and two ladies' rooms, or older theaters or public buildings have four bathrooms, that's why. It would have been more pronounced east of the Mississippi.

Television existed in 1946, but mostly in highly urban areas. Radio was common; wider spectrum than we have now, including short wave. It wouldn't have been unusual to pull in a station in a foreign country on a good night. Recorded music tended toward blaring horns since it was easier to record than strings. Newspapers were everywhere; even very small towns usually had a paper. Many towns had several, and often both morning and evening editions. And there would have been county, regional, and state newspapers, as well as newsletters, pamphlets, magazines, etc. A "newspaper stand" in 1946 usually offered a wide selection of printed matter.

Outhouses were still the rural norm in 1946. The train stations had indoor plumbing, and so did larger public buildings. The bathrooms were much larger than nowadays; most of them had an "attendant" whose main job was to prevent vandalism and make sure the rubes knew not to use a convenient spot on the floor instead of the fancy porcelain fixtures. Since the traffic was high when a train arrived, there were a *lot* of urinals, sinks, and stalls. The stalls were huge by modern standards, usually with a sink and folding shelves; you would use them to take a sponge bath and change clothes on a long trip.

The unrestored train station bathroom I got to see some years ago was all tile, mostly in yellowy or pukey colors. Teeny hexagonal tiles, not the modern hand-sized square ones. The lighting fixtures were huge, elaborate steel chandelier things, like inverted Borg beehives. It also had a small office, presumably for the attendant, and a shoeshine stand.

That station had a large circular "information booth" in the middle of the lobby. Maybe 20 feet around. It wasn't in use when I saw it, but I imagine it was probably a "gift shop" or "sundries stand", or maybe a sandwich stand, before it was an information booth. On the wall facing the tracks was the ticketing booth; maybe 25 feet long, able to service a dozen queues. It looked like a booking desk at a minor airport. Lots of old-fashioned electrical equipment on the back wall, presumably communications with other stations and some sort of tracking for train position. Some of it had been removed by the time I saw it.

More giant Borg chandeliers in the lobby. Other than those and the floor, everything was dark-stained wood - benches, walls, trim, doors. I thought it was pretty sad and gloomy, but back in 1946 it probably looked like a happenin' place.

Go over to Google Books and hit the Popular Mechanics and Popular Science magazine archives. There's a lot more about daily life there than you might expect for what were supposed to be technology magazines.

Dave Williams
03-28-2015, 07:39 PM
Ah, I forgot luggage. It would have been leather or cardboard. People on long trips tended to put most of their stuff in travel trunks, which rode in the baggage car. Otherwise, rigid suitcases that you stowed near your seat or in your room. "Soft" luggage was basically unknown, other than duffle bags.

Most men would have carried a separate shaving kit, with hard shaving soap that had to be wet to before use. "Safety" double-edge razors were taking over from the old straight razors.

Hats were still in, particularly with older women, who would have traveled with at least one specialized hat box.

Wheeled luggage was unknown. You dragged it around as best you could, or hired a porter to move it for you. Porters often used wheeled carts. We laughed at the Incas for only using wheels on toys, then broke our backs with luggage...

If you had a room, you might have had a specialized form of travel trunk. You stood it on end, opened it, and you had suits or dresses on one side, drawers on the other; it was a tiny portable version of a standalone wardrobe. They're collectible eBay items now. Some were cardboard, others were made by places like Vuitton or Abercrombie & Fitch and cost more than most people could afford.

K.Stephens
03-29-2015, 01:27 AM
Thank you so much for such a detailed reply Dave :)
You've answered so many of my questions, I can't thank you enough!

Dave Williams
03-29-2015, 03:51 AM
You're welcome!

Here's a link into the Popular Mechanics archive I mentioned:

http://books.google.com/books/about/Popular_Mechanics.html?id=MuEDAAAAMBAJ

Another thing: your travelers would likely have used mostly cash. There weren't any general-purpose credit cards in 1946, though there were specialized airline, fuel, and department store cards. Mostly not cards-as-we-know them; they were called "charge plates" and used a numbered metal strip stapled to a piece of cardboard to imprint carbon copies.

If your character is female, the charge plate would have been in the name of some male relative or finance manager; in most states, women couldn't get credit in their own name.

An experienced traveler would have had a Western Union account and card; they could "wire" cash to themselves from their bank as needed. They might also carry Postal Money Orders (redeemable almost anywhere) or bank drafts (which might take some time to process before you could get cash.)

Many places would accept postage stamps as cash for small amounts.

They might encounter unattended children on the train. Back then it wasn't all that unusual to drop a child off at the station with a ticket, suitcase, and some spending money, to make a several-day trip to Grandma's or wherever.

In any group of idle strangers, such as fellow travelers on a train, playing cards was a common way to pass the time. It wouldn't have been unusual for your passenger to have a deck of cards on their person or in their luggage and to engage in a game with strangers. Gambling would have been unlikely; it was illegal in most places and frowned upon in most others.

King Neptune
03-29-2015, 04:20 AM
Travelers' Checks were in wide use and were very widely accepted.


Traveler's cheques were first issued on 1 January 1772 by the London Credit Exchange Company (http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=London_Credit_Exchange_Company&action=edit&redlink=1) for use in ninety European cities,[1] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traveler%27s_cheque#cite_note-1) and in 1874, Thomas Cook (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Cook_%26_Son) was issuing 'circular notes (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circular_note)' that operated in the manner of traveler's cheques.[2] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traveler%27s_cheque#cite_note-2)
American Express (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Express) was the first company to develop a large-scale traveller's cheque system in 1891,[3] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traveler%27s_cheque#cite_note-3) and is still the largest issuer of traveler's cheques today by volume. American Express's introduction of traveler's cheques is traditionally attributed to employee Marcellus Flemming Berry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcellus_Flemming_Berry), after company president J.C. Fargo (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J.C._Fargo) had problems in smaller European cities obtaining funds with a letter of credit (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Letter_of_credit).
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traveler%27s_cheque#History

SergeantC
04-08-2015, 07:11 AM
The North Coast Limited would have been a good choice for your character for the western half of his trip, because it had a section that went to Portland on the Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway, a subsidiary of the company that owned the North Coast Limited.

Here's a link you might find interesting, to a copy of the North Coast Limited's timetable for 1959: http://www.streamlinerschedules.com/concourse/track5/northcoast195904.html

Another train from Chicago to Seattle and Portland that your character might ride was the Great Northern Railway's Empire Builder: http://www.streamlinerschedules.com/concourse/track7/empbuilder194706.html

Here's a link to the Northern Pacific Railway Historical Association: http://www.nprha.org/Pages/Home.aspx

Here's a link to the Great Northern Railway Historical Society: http://www.gnrhs.org/