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Railway-Cars in America

The Illustrated London News, vol. 38, no. 1082, pp. 306-307.

April 6, 1861


The external appearance of most of the American railway-carriages, called in the States cars, is exceedingly plain, and on entering them for the first time one is surprised to find them fitted up so comfortably, even handsomely, in the interior. There is only one class of car in the United States for all classes, except emigrants; and emigrant-cars are just like the third-class carriages in Great Britain, only that they are arranged in the same style inside as the other American railway-carriages. Instead of the small compartments for six first class or eight or ten second-class passengers, as in Britain, the whole car inside is an open space, as a saloon carriage. In the centre there is a passage for the conductor, ticket-collector, and itinerant salesmen. The seats are arranged on both sides of the pathway, and fitted up handsomely with velvet, there being room for two passengers in each seat. By an ingenious contrivance the backs of the seats are made to turn right over the seat, so that parties of four can sit together. The fittings of the cars are good, and in many of them there are mirrors at both ends. The floors are always carpeted or matted, and the windows have generally Venetian blinds and shutters for the night, or for severely cold weather. Each car will hold from fifty to sixty passengers. It is open at the ends, where there are small platforms. A passage is thus formed from one end to the other of the entire train. Along the ceiling there is a rope, which is attached throughout the whole train, so that the conductor or any passenger can, by pulling this rope, ring a bell which is placed at the side of the engine-driver, and thus cause the train to be stopped if necessary. There is at one end of each carriage a large stone filter, with a tin mug attached for general use in summer time; and in winter stoves are introduced.

Many of the railway-cars in Canada and in the States are made to do double duty, being turned by night into bedrooms. The transformation scene is thus described in a most interesting article on railway travelling in America contained in the number of All the Year Round for the 12th of January last:—

"More bell, more steam, smothering us all with white—a wrench, a drag, a jolt back half angry, as if the engine were sulky and restive, and we are off. The signal-posts stride by us, the timber-yards fly by, and we are in the open country, with its zigzag snake fences, and Indian corn patches and piles of orange pumpkins. Now ladies come in from other carriages, for the restless or seeking traveller can walk all through an American train. We are seated in twos and twos, some at nuts, some at books, some flirting, some musing, some chatting, some discussing 'the irrepressible squabble,' many chewings, or cutting plugs of tobacco from long wedges, produced from their waistcoat-pockets. The candy-boys have been round three times, the negro boys with the water-can twice, the lad with the book-basket once. One hour from Albany, we are at Hoffman's; twenty minutes more, at Amsterdam; fifty minutes more, and we have reached Spraker's—pure Dutch names all, as though Hudson christened them. Now, as we are between Little Falls and Herkeimer, the officer of the sleeping-cars enters and calls out, 'Now then, misters, if you please, get up from your seats, and allow me to make up the beds!' Two by two we rise, and with neat trimness and quick hand the nimble Yankee turns over every other seat, so as to reverse the back, and make two seats, one facing the other. Nimbly he shuts the
view image

Interior of an American Railway-Car. [p. 306]

Page 307

windows and pulls up the shutters, leaving for ventilation the slip of perforated zinc open at the top of each. Smartly he strips up the cushions, and unfastens from beneath each seat a light cane-bottomed frame there secreted. In a moment, opening certain ratchet-holes in the wall of the carriage, he has slided these in at a suitable height above, and covered each with cushions and sleeping-rug. I go outside on the balcony, to be out of the way, and when I come back the whole place is transformed—no longer an aisle of double seats, like a section of a proprietary chapel put on wheels, but the cabin of a small steamer, snug for sleeping, with curtained berths and closed portholes.

"O dextrous genius of Zenas Wallace and Erza Jones, conductors of the New York Central Railway! The lights of the candle-lamps are dimmed or withdrawn; a hushed stillness pervades the chamber of sleep; no sound breaks it but the clump of falling boots, and the button-slapping sound of coats flung upon benches. Further on, within a second inclosure, I hear voices of women and children. A fat German haberdasher from Cincinnati is unrobing himself for sleep. He takes off his 'undress' as if he were performing a religious ceremony, and, indeed, sleep is a rehearsal of death, and seems rather a solemn thing, however we look at it.

"The bottom berths are singularly comfortable. There is room to wander and explore, to roll and turn, and the curtains hush all sound, and keep off all inquisitive rays from Zenas' and Ezra's portable lamps. There is, indeed, twice the room I had in the Atlantic steamer that brought me over, for in that berth I could not sit up at night without bumping my head against No. 46's bed-planks, and could not turn without pulling all the scant clothes off me. As for a heavy sea, why then there was no keeping in bed at all without being lashed in.

"Now I mount my berth; for sleep is sympathetic, and, when every one else goes to sleep, I must too. There are two berths to choose from; both wicker trays, ledged in, cushioned, and rugged; one about half a foot higher than the other. I choose the top one, as being nearer the zinc ventilator.

"Several have turned in, and are now snorting approval of themselves and of sleep as an institution generally. Others, like young crows, balancing on the spring boughs, swing their Yankee legs, lean and yellow, from the wicker trays, and peel off their stockings, or struggle to get rid of their boots. A Mississippi man, in a faded green dress-coat and gilt buttons, undoes the blue ribbon that fancifully and romantically fastens his coat in front.

"My tray was narrow and high. It was like lying on one's back on the narrow plank thrown across a torrent. If I turned my back to the carriage wall the motion bumped me off my bed altogether; if I turned my face to the wall I felt a horrible sensation of being likely to roll down backwards, to be three minutes afterwards picked up in detached portions. I lay on my back, and so settled the question."

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