From California to Colorado – A Long Railway Journey
When I began working on No Regrets, set in Colorado in 1882, I knew the story I was about to tell. I’d written a short synopsis for the publisher, and I looked forward to bringing the story to life.
The synopsis included this line:
To avoid any further problems, Hattie leaves Sunset.
Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? It was. Sending Hattie away – to California – was an easy task. I showed her packing up and leaving…and then moved on to hero’s point of view. Later I returned to Hattie, who was already living in far-away San Francisco.
Of course, Willie wouldn’t be much of a hero if he weren’t willing to go after the woman he loves and bring her home again…and that’s when I realized how little I knew about railroad travel in the late 19th century.
How long would it take for Willie and Hattie to travel from San Francisco to my fictional town of Sunset located a few hours from Denver? What route would they take? What would the accommodations be like?
Getting them home was not an easy task. It required travel on three different railway lines, overnight stays in two depots, and then a journey by wagon from Denver to Sunset.
I was fortunate to find a route map from 1871 and a timetable for 1882, so I was able to chart the couple’s progress from the time they boarded in San Francisco until they finally reached Denver.
I didn’t list every little town they passed through, but tried to give readers a feel for the trip in this short passage:
From San Francisco, they rode the Central Pacific line eastward, passing through Sacramento, then crossing into Nevada. The locomotive rolled onward. Truckee, Winnemucca, Carlin. Together he and Hattie noted the towns as their railcar rolled past. On to Promontory— where the golden spike had brought the east and west together slightly more than a decade before— and finally, nearly twenty-four hours after their trip had begun, they arrived in Ogden, Utah. Willie and Hattie rested there, spending a quiet night at the Union Station, a two-story wood-frame building beside the Weber River which marked the junction of the Central Pacific with the Union Pacific Railway.
That was only the first leg of the journey. The following morning, they boarded a Union Pacific train, traveling now in the comfort of a “Palace Car”. This was a luxury service offered by the railroad for a premium price. Palace cars featured plush carpeting, individual gas lamps for passengers, and fold-down sleeping berths – had Willie and Hattie stayed on the line.
Instead, they disembarked at Cheyenne, Wyoming, and spent the night at the depot’s hotel. After breakfast the next morning, they boarded yet another train, this one belonging to the Denver Pacific Railroad. At last, they were nearly home.
Railroad travel was difficult, dangerous, and above all, dirty.
The train rolled over the tracks, belching out smoke and thick clouds of steam. Greasy black soot soon covered Hattie’s cloak— and her face and hands as well. Willie fared no better. Loving him more than ever, she reached up and wiped a smudge from his face.
When Hattie and Willie finally reached Denver – where they spent another night before continuing on – I’m sure I was as relieved as they must have been.
Today, we travel swiftly and easily from place to place, watching movies, listening to music, and enjoying snacks, beverages, and meals. It’s easy to forget how very inconvenient travel was in the early days of the nation.
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I love this information, Christina! Trains run in my family as my mom and grandad worked for the T&P railroad. Have you had a train trip?