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Determining the Facts

Reading 1: Riding in Style

The passenger service offered in the 1830s was far from luxurious, but, as the traveler quoted here makes clear, luxury is a relative term. Notice the different standards for comfort and speed that are revealed by the man’s words as he describes his experience during a combination road and rail trip in 1839 and 1840.

We left Providence for New Haven, Connecticut, on December 19, 1839, going first to Boston and then by the railroad cars to Worcester. The snow lay in many places from two to three feet deep on the ground, but as the road had cleared since its fall by snow ploughs and extra engines, employed for that purpose, our progress was scarcely at all impeded. The weather was extremely cold but the cars were fitted with so much comfort, having a stove in the center of each with a large fire, carpets and rugs for the feet and cushions for the seats, that we felt no inconvenience from the air. Our journey from Boston to Worcester was 44 miles, the fare two dollars and the time occupied was about three hours. We stopped at ten different stations to put down and take up passengers and at each of these were comfortable and well furnished waiting-rooms for ladies and gentleman separately, with ample refreshments for those who needed them. All the appointments of the railroad appeared to be excellent.
We left Worcester on the morning of December 20 at 10 o’clock by the railroad train for Springfield and the delightfully commodious and well warmed cars and the neatly arranged station houses at which we stopped made our journey even more agreeable today than yesterday. The distance is about fifty miles, the fare two and a quarter dollars and the time taken about three hours. We left Springfield at two o’clock in the afternoon in a wretched vehicle called the Hartford stage. We were five hours in going a distance of 27 miles and after the luxurious traveling in the swift and well warmed railroad cars it was more disagreeable by contrast.
A railroad having opened only a week ago from Hartford to New Haven, we left Hartford at two in the afternoon of December 21 for that place. If we had not been informed that the train had been running a week between these two cities we should have thought it was the first day of its being opened from the large crowds of people assembled to see it set out. The greatest number of these were from the country, though some were from the town, and they formed a line standing on the edge of the overhanging embankments on each side of the road and then in separate groups, the whole extending for a mile at least from the starting point. The cars were neither so elegant nor had they the comfort of fires in stoves. Their speed was not so great, as we were nearly three hours in going 38 miles, the fare being two dollars.
On Tuesday, February 4, 1840, we left Philadelphia for Harrisburg. We left at seven in the morning by the railroad cars, and, crossing the Schuylkill River by the bridge, were drawn up the inclined plane over which the railroad ascends by a stationary-engine, but not at a very rapid rate. The cars were dirty and incommodious, so that our journey did not afford us much pleasure. After passing several stations and villages we reached Lancaster at two p.m., the distance being 70 miles, the time occupied 7 hours and the fare two dollars and a half each. The railroad from Philadelphia to Lancaster is a work of the State, is well executed and deemed perfectly safe.
From Lancaster to Harrisburg it is the property of a private company and has been so badly constructed that accidents are continually happening on it by the cars getting off the track, by upsetting and by other modes by which passengers are often injured and sometimes killed. The class of persons journeying on this road were inferior in appearance and manners to any we had before met in similar conveyances. The men especially were dirty, vulgar, clamorous, and even rude to a degree that we had not before witnesses in our journey. We reached Harrisburg about six o’clock, having been four hours coming a distance of less than forty miles, and the fare was two dollars.
From Harrisburg we returned to Lancaster and passed a week there very agreeably. We left Lancaster on our return to Philadelphia on February 19, 1840. The frosts having broken up and all the heavy snow on the ground melted, the road was in the most miry condition possible and in some places the rails were nearly covered with mud. So much extra caution was necessary in this state of things that we could not proceed at a greater rate than about eight miles an hour and even then we were thrown off the track several times and on each occasion getting the engine and cars on again was a work of considerable delay and difficulty. Added to this the interruptions were perpetual from our overtaking on the same line of rails freight-trains going slower than we were and for which it was necessary to retard our speed until we came to a turn-out. It was quite dark when he reached Philadelphia and we thought it the most disagreeable journey by railroad we had ever performed, though we were told that we ought to congratulate ourselves on not having been upset when off the track or detained for eight or ten hours before we could get in again, which had been the case of the cars on the two preceding trains, in one of which several passengers were wounded in an upset and in the other they were detained all night upon the road and arrived only at sunrise on the following morning.
Questions for Reading 1:
  1. What is it that leads our traveler to speak so positively about his 44-mile journey from Boston to Worcester, Massachusetts?

  2. If you were taking this same trip today, do you think you would be as pleased about the trip? Explain.

  3. Why is our traveler less than satisfied with his portion of the trip on the Hartford stage?

  4. Why do you think so many “country” people were lined up to see the train leaving Hartford for New Haven, Connecticut?

  5. What complaints does the traveler have about the trip from Lancaster to Harrisburg?

  6. What difficulties are encountered on the last leg of the journey?

  7. Why do you think the traveler had to switch back and forth between different modes of travel and transportation companies during his trip?
The passage is from The Eastern and Western States of America, by J. S. Buckingham.

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