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From the Clyde to California
Chapter VII.—Car Life—The Duke of Sutherland's Opinion of American Railroads— Chicago


THE distance from San Francisco to Omaha is 1920 miles time occupied, four-and-a-half days. The ordinary fare is £20, with £2 16s extra if you take the palace car and sleeping accommodation. Anyone who undertakes this journey will find the latter sum very profitably spent. The ordinary cars are the property of the Railway Company, but the palace cars belong to Mr Pullman, who gets permission from the Company to place them on the line with two attendants on each car, and the £2 16s is the remuneration he gets for giving the Railway Company the use of the cars and attendants.

Each car is about seventy feet in length, and has accommodation for twenty-five passengers. There is a platform at each end of the car, with a stair on the side of each platform. On entering from one end you pass between the gentlemen's smoking-room and lavatory. In the lavatory you find all toilet requisites, including towels, soap, brushes and combs; also a drinking fount with an abundant supply of iced water. Attached to the lavatory is a W.C., &c. Passing into the car, there are ten seats on each side and a passage UI) the centre; toward the end is a private state-room for the accommodation of a family or private party. Beyond this state-room, and at the extreme end, there is the ladies' lavatory. Each car is provided with a stove, which is indispensable in the winter season.

The ordinary car tickets and the palace car tickets are purchased at separate offices. If two are travelling together and starting from the extreme end, it is well to purchase them the day previous, so as to secure a section —that is, that you get the seats looking face to face during the day, which can be transformed into an upper and lower berth during the night. Having secured this, the attendant will fit up or remove, just as you may desire, a neat little table between the seats, at which you can either read, write, play cards, or dine. This section is exclusively your own to the end of the journey, and is sufficiently large to accommodate other two seated at the table, should you meet with agreeable companions, and desire to have a chat or a game with them by the way. If you wish, you can break the journey at any station by applying to the guard, who will supply you with a layover ticket for any length of time you may desire. You can always get a train at the same time and place any day, but you forfeit your claim to your section of the car, and have to take any berth that may be vacant at the time you resume your journey.

The attendant, who is generally a darkey, is ever ready to assist and take charge of any little thing you may have, and prepare your bed whenever you desire it. This he does very neatly and expeditiously by removing the table and placing two bearers between the seats, pulling the seats on to the bearers, then the backs slide down into the place of the seats, and form the bottom of the lower berth. He then pulls down a part of the ceiling which is hinged and forms the bottom of the top berth, on top of which is stored the cross divisions, bed, bed clothes, and curtains. These are put into their places and the curtains hung up—all is ready for you to retire; as for myself, I never before enjoyed more refreshing sleep.

It is not necessary to take a supply of food with you, as there are stations where the trains stop for breakfast, dinner, and supper, about half-an-hour being allowed for each meal, which consists of from six to eight courses. The first course at breakfast is generally fruit or oatmeal porridge. It is very seldom you require to ask for anything, the courses being set before you more rapidly than you are able to discuss them—sometimes three or four on the table before you at one time, and an abundant supply in every one, the cost varying from half to one dollar each meal. Anyone not inclined for three full meals a day can get supplied at the lunch counter, where there are all kinds of fruit, bread, butter, eggs, tea, coffee, milk, and spirits. You just help yourself to what you want, and pay for what you use. These dining rooms are said to be the property of the railway company. The experience here given is in the month of July. In the course of our journey we had several changes of temperature, from excessive heat to moderate cold, so it is well to be provided with clothing suited to both summer and winter—but by all means have as little baggage as possible, and should you have any, get it checked to your destination, and it will likely be there before you, thus saving much trouble and anxiety.

From San Francisco to Omaha is by far the most pleasant part of the journey, and it is rendered all the more so on account of the average rate of speed not exceeding eighteen miles an hour, giving to the traveller a tine opportunity of viewing the varied and ever-changing scenery through which he is passing, in some parts very minutely. There are parts where the line is very circuitous in its course, but there are also hundreds of Miles in succession where the train moves almost as straight as an arrow.

Owing to the slow motion and straight course of the train, you do not experience the jerking and jolting that so frequently accompany railway travelling. Another point on which the traveller's mind may be at perfect ease—there is little or no risk from collisions, even though the line for the greater part of the way is a single one. There are stations where the line is double, and at these stations the trains going in opposite directions meet and pass each other. The one is never allowed to proceed until the other has arrived.

During the summer months a passenger train leaves Omaha and one leaves San Francisco every day, so that there are always eight direct passenger trains between the two places, four travelling in each direction, with just a day between each. If you break the journey at any station, you can rely on resuming it any day at the same place and hour as you left it.

On arriving at Omaha, which is the terminus of the Pacific Railroad, we have to change and take the Rock Island Railroad to Chicago. On this line we have all the comforts that we enjoyed on the Pacific. We are passing through a district that is all under cultivation and fairly inhabited, and instead of having to dine at stations by the way, there is attached to the train a dining-car, where you get first-class attendance, and meals at 75 cents each. Any one who did not feel himself at home during the whole journey, must have had himself to blame. He had perfect liberty to walk from one end of the train to the other; to stand on the platform and gaze on the surrounding scenery; or be seated in his own section, and have greater attention paid him than he could possibly enjoy in his own private residence. The railway company keeps a servant on the train, who, to supply the wants of the passengers, is kept all day long travelling from one end of the train to the other. In short, he is a moving market. One time he comes along with a large basket of fruit, another a great variety of confections next, cigars, then pastry, and occasionally with an armful of literature, which he distributes freely amongst the passengers, taking it up on his return if they are not inclined to purchase. He can supply you with almost anything, from the latest quarterly to the daily broadsheet, with its varied contents and latest stirring events. It created no small surprise amongst the passengers when he supplied them with the San Francisco newspapers which contained their names, and stated that they were on their way as visitors to the city, while at that time they were 800 miles distant from it!

The train from Chicago eastwards, had all the conveniences that we enjoyed on the Pacific Railroad, but our pleasure was very much marred owing to the increased rate of speed at which it travels on this section of the line. The speed is nearly double, and reminds one of a trip to London on the Flying Scotchrnan. Everything around, apart from the train itself, is almost a blank. Still, there is much less risk from accident at the stations there than there is on the home railways. There are no station platforms, and the passengers enter and leave the cars with greater ease and freedom than we do. Should one accidentally fall, there is no risk of being crushed between the platform and the foot-board; besides, the lowest step of the stair to the car platform is so far above the ground that it will pass over the most corpulent person without inflicting injury.

American railroads generally cross streets and public roads on the level. It is quite exceptional to find railroads crossing streets on bridges, and no uncommon thing for a train passing through a city to run along the centre of the street the same as our tramway cars do. Every railroad engine has a large bell suspended over the boiler, and when nearing a crossing or station, or running along a Street, it is the duty of the stoker to keep pulling away at the bell until the engine is either stopped or has passed the station. In addition to the bell, each engine is also fitted with the shrieking, brain-splitting steam whistle that is so much used on British railways. But the Americans prefer to use the bell, which they say is much more effective in warning people against danger, without startling and confusing them, and is preferable on account of its soft musical sound being less liable to annoy sick persons, or to startle young, spirited horses. For some time at first the ringing of these bells impressed us with the idea that we were at home on a Sabbath morning and in the neighbourhood of a Scottish village church, where the bell was reminding the villagers of their sacred duties.

Last summer the Duke of Sutherland and a party (said to be railway directors) travelled over a considerable portion of the American continent, with a view to ascertain what of the American railway system could be profitably introduced into this country. It must have surprised many to find on their return a paragraph going the round of the press that after having travelled over 20,000 miles they had not seen anything that could be introduced with advantage on our railways. That may be perfectly correct from a shareholder's point of view, but if, instead of interested shareholders and directors, a party of tradesmen or merchants, whose occupation requires frequent railway travelling, had set out with a view to gain information and report their experience to the public, they certainly would have returned with a very different report from that of the Duke and his party. At the same time, it must be admitted that on saloon and Pullman carriages there is not much room for improvement. Those in use here are nearly equal to those in the States. Had his Grace and party been under the necessity of travelling in this country as second or third class passengers, their report would probably have been very different from what it was.

Apart altogether from the safety and convenience experienced on American cars, their system of dealing with tickets is very different from ours. In this country, tickets are generally sold at the stations and are only available for the day of issue, or you forfeit your right to use them, and should you neglect or not have time to procure your ticket before entering the train—suppose you enter at Langbank and leave at Port-Glasgow—you have to pay the full fare the same as if you had travelled from Glasgow. It is seldom that tickets are purchased at American stations. There are agents in all the cities who make it their business to sell tickets for the railway companies, and they can supply you with tickets for the various competing lines to the same place. You need not ask these agents which line is the most preferable to travel by. They make it a rule not to give any information as regards the advantages of one railway over another. Their only aim is to sell the tickets and get the commission. When you purchase a ticket it is good till used, and should you change your mind and go by a different route, you can dispose of your ticket. There are plenty of agents who buy and sell such tickets (at a reduced rate, of course). After leaving one station, and before arriving at the next, the guard passes from one end of the train to the other, looking every person in the face as he goes along. It was astonishing how, amongst such a number, he never failed to pick out new corners, who, on producing their tickets, get them punched, and any who were not furnished with a ticket, the guard supplied them with one, along with a small slip. The passenger had to pay ten cents more to the guard than if he had purchased his ticket from an agent; but, if within ten days he produced his slip at any of the company's offices, he would get the ten cents refunded. The slip and the ten cents are merely a check on the guard for having received the fare.

Having heard so much of Chicago and its many attractions, we resolved to break the journey there and spend a short time in its vicinity. After taking up our abode at the hotel, we called on an extensive merchant, to whom we had a letter of introduction, and to him we were much indebted for making a good use of the short time at our disposal, he sparing neither time nor trouble in showing us over and around the city during the day, leaving us the mornings and evenings to survey the parts in the district near to our hotel. The city is situated near to the southern extremity of Lake Michigan, and is bounded on the east side by the shores of the lake. The Chicago river runs from the lake westward for nearly a mile into the city, where it very abruptly divides into two branches at nearly right angles to the main river, one branch extending north and the other south, dividing the city into three sections. After these branches have extended several miles in each direction, they curve to the west and embrace the central portion of the city. The three sections of the city are connected by thirty- three bridges and two tunnels under the river. Most of the bridges are set on pivots in the centre of the river, and when swung round and standing in the direction of the river, a vessel can pass on each side of the bridge. The time occupied in opening and shutting the bridge does not exceed five minutes, and even that short period at certain times of the day in the business part of the city interferes so much with the ordinary traffic, that it takes nearly half an hour before order is again restored.

The tunnels under the river are situated in the busy part of the city, and are generally used at times of interruption on the bridges. The tunnel begins to descend about a quarter of a mile from each side of the river, and when near the side of the river extends in breadth and is then divided by two central abutments extending across the river and forming the supports of three semi-circular archways, one for foot passengers and the other two for horses and carriages going in opposite directions. All the telephone and telegraph wires from each side of the river are brought to these tunnels and carried under the river so as not to interfere with the masts of the shipping. -We passed through the tunnel in one of the carriageways, and found the causeway, which is of wood, in a most deplorable condition, it being the only thing that we could find fault with in the whole place, and perhaps is .the only remnant of the old city that escaped destruction by the great fire. The river and its branches are of immense value to the city, giving over thirty miles of navigable water frontage, capable of being converted into wharves or slips, fully two-thirds of which have already been utilised, thereby enabling vessels to load or discharge their cargoes throughout the centre of the city, while comparatively little accommodation is provided along the lake frontage. According to our view, Chicago, in respect of its business, pleasure resorts and gambling, also for its wide and airy streets, and fine, massive ornamental buildings, far surpasses any of the other cities we had visited. This is perhaps due in a great measure to the destructive fires that ravished the city, the effects of which there is not a vestige to be seen.

The Post Office, which is on a grand scale, is just being completed. It stands on a block of ground one- eighth of a mile square, and is built several storeys high all round fronting the streets, while the court in the centre is covered with a glass roof, and is open all through, presenting a forest of iron columns. The office during night is illuminated by the electric light. The hail in the east front is set apart for merchants' boxes, of which there are thousands, all like pigeon holes, open next to the office, and a small glass door with lock and key next the hall. Each box has a number on it, so that the merchant who knows his number looks into the box and sees if there is anything for him without opening the door. This is an arrangement that is in all post offices. We observed in small villages farmers come into the office, go to their box, unlock it, and take out their letters without troubling anyone in the office.

The County and Corporation Buildings occupy an entire block of the same extent as the Post Office. One half of this building is completed, and is now used for holding the various courts, the other half being nearly ready for the roof.

Very few of the streets are causewayed with stone, most of them being formed of round timber, from six to nine inches diameter, cut into nine inch lengths and set on end, the interspaces being filled in to the flush with gravel and asphalte, while the footpaths are formed of stone. The stones are seven and a-half feet broad by fifteen feet long, the length of the stone being the full breadth of the footpath, and from seven to ten inches thick, the thickness being sufficient to form the crib for the gutter course. The causewaying of the street and gutter courses was in some instances very unsatisfactory; but we were informed that the City Commissioners had just lately settled a contract for the renewal of thirty miles of streets, all to be completed within eighteen months.


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