America First—100 Stories from Our History by Lawton B. Evans

An Early Journey by Railroad

THOSE of us who travel on the railroad trains of to-day, over smooth rails and in comfortable seats, taking our meals in the dining-cars, going to sleep in berths by night, and waking up for breakfast at our destination several hundred miles away, present a strange contrast to those who had the discomfort of early travel.

One of the first railroads of any size and importance, ran between Charleston and Hamburg, S. C., opened in January, 1831. It was a curious-looking affair. The locomotive was small, and, fed with fat pine, sent out clouds of smoke and red hot cinders.

The coaches for the passengers were like huge barrels, mounted on trucks. The conductor walked on a little platform outside, and collected fares through small windows. The rails were flat, and the wheels ran in deep grooves. Not being securely fastened to the ties, the rails would sometimes curve like snake heads, and run up through the bottom of the coach, much to the peril and alarm of the passengers.

When the road was opened, the stockholders made of the event a day of great rejoicing, though it was cold and cloudy and the journey anything but comfortable. Great crowds of people along the way met the train, and begged for a ride. At the end of the trip the smoke had so blackened the faces of the passengers that they looked like negroes.

A sad accident befell the locomotive on one of its journeys. The negro fireman, tired of listening to the escaping steam, and thinking to save power, fastened down the steam valve, and then sat on it to make sure that it was closed. The steam mounted to exploding point, and the negro was blown into a nearby cotton patch.

Another early railroad trip was across the Mohawk Valley. On this occasion, the engineer wore a dress-coat, out of compliment to some very distinguished guests who were aboard. The carriages were the bodies of old stage-coaches placed upon trucks. After collecting the fares, the conductor mounted a seat on the tender of the locomotive, and blew some notes on a tin horn, to signify that all was ready.

Amid the cheers of the crowd the locomotive started. The coaches were joined together by chains, and, as the slack was taken up, the passengers were jolted backward or forward, some of them being thrown from their seats. No one dared stand up, but held on to the seats for dear life.

The fuel consisted of dry pitch, and, when the train was well under way, a cloud of hot cinders, smoke, and sparks came from the funnel of the engine and poured into the coaches. After much coughing and rubbing of eyes, the passengers raised their umbrellas to shelter themselves.

This, however, was no protection, for the umbrellas soon caught fire and had to be thrown overboard. The passengers, in a state of frantic fear, spent their time beating each other with handkerchiefs, hats, and canes, in order to put out the fire that momentarily threatened to catch the clothes and endanger the lives of every one.

But that was nearly a hundred years ago. To-day, if the railroad tracks of the United States were put in a straight line, they would reach nine times around the globe. One can travel across the continent, from ocean to ocean, with as much comfort as he can have by staying in a hotel or at home.

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