Getting from Here to There

Isabella Alden lived during the golden age of train travel, and her books reflected the time. At the turn of the last century, an intricate systems of railroad tracks and heavy, powerful locomotives connected nearby towns and far-away locations.

Train travel ad from Harper’s Monthly magazine, 1909.


Railroads made it possible for people to easily travel to summer resorts, as Eurie, Marion, Ruth, and Flossy did in Four Girls at Chautauqua. Advertisements made distant American destinations sound exotic and adventurous.

Preparing to board, 1905 (from the Library of Congress).


But railroad travel also made it possible for people to quickly and economically travel short distances between towns.

In Christie’s Christmas, Christie Tucker set off on a simple, twenty-mile train ride to visit her relatives for the day in a neighboring town.

The rural station at Galion, Ohio.


Christie’s parents arranged the trip based on the arrival and departure times that were posted at the train station closest to their farm. Christie’s mother told her:

“You are to go up on the train that passes at seven in the morning, and come back on the six o’clock, and that will give you nine whole hours at your Uncle Daniel’s. I’m sure that will give you time to see a good many things.”

The arrival board at London’s North Western Railways station, 1905. The large numbers displayed on the right indicate the platform number of the arriving train.


The trip was a thrilling adventure for a girl who lived on a farm miles from the nearest neighbor or school.

And though train travel was fairly economical, Christie’s parents had to scrimp and save to afford the fare:

“Eight-five cents there, and eighty-five cents back; that’s a dollar and seventy cents! It seems a good deal to spend; but it is your birthday, and it is Christmas day, and you’ve worked hard, and father and Karl and I think you ought to go.”

To accomplish her day trip, Christie probably traveled in a standard Pullman car, with its narrow seats that faced both front and back.

Interior of a standard Pullman car, 1910 (from the Library of Congress).


By contrast, Miss Mary Brown (in The Browns at Mount Hermon) could afford to travel in luxury. When Mary left the mid-western village of Centerville, it took her two full days to travel by train to California. Her accommodations probably included a seat in a very nice club car during the day.

A posh car on the Chicago and Alton Railroad, 1910.


For the overnight portion of her journey, Mary could have secured a berth in a sleeping car.

No matter how long the journey, travel by train usually took preparation. Travelers had to consult departure timetables and plan for connections between railroad lines.


In those days, travelers had to visit their local train station to obtain printed routes and schedules. But if an in-person visit wasn’t possible, they wrote a letter to the railroad’s passenger agent to ask for help in planning their journey.

The station master wrote back with instructions, usually accompanied by printed schedules.

A printed timetable for the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad.


An 1881 timetable for Nantasket Beach Railroad (from WikiMedia Commons)


Once on board, train passengers were ruled by the train’s conductor. It was his job to ensure the train arrived on time at each stop, and that his passengers’ needs were taken care of.


For the most part, train travel was incredibly efficient. The Georgia Railroad claimed their trains were so timely, residents in the city of Atlanta could set their clocks by the sound of trains going by.

It was also a relatively safe mode of travel. An in an age when few women walked a city street without a chaperone, many women felt comfortable traveling alone by train.

Women traveling alone, 1905 (from the Library of Congress).


No matter how long the journey, train travel could be tedious; and it was up to the passengers to find ways to entertain themselves.

Passing time with a magazine and a deck of cards, 1905 (from the Library of Congress).


With the exception of Caroline Bryant, who slept through her train ride in Twenty Minutes Late, Isabella’s characters usually accomplished their journeys by making new friends of their fellow passengers.

A game of chess on board, 1905 (from the Library of Congress)


That’s what Christie Tucker did. When her twenty-mile train ride came to an unexpected halt because of trouble on the tracks ahead, she set out to make herself useful to her fellow passengers, and reaped unexpected rewards in the process.

Many more of Isabella’s books featured travel by train than those mentioned in this post. Do you have a favorite Pansy character who road the rails? Please use the comment section below to share your favorite.

All aboard! Passengers prepare to depart on the California Limited, part of the Santa Fe Railroad, in 1905 (from the Library of Congress).

If you’d like to learn more about train travel in Isabella’s time, visit Rails West.
Be sure to view their page on overnight accommodations, where they have some interesting illustrations of sleeping cars on trains.


6 thoughts on “Getting from Here to There

  1. I did quite a bit of train travel in the 1990s and early 2000s when I lived within a train trip to Chicago. Now that I live far from Chicago it is much to difficult to travel by train. Aside for trips that use the only train that passes through Atlanta, it takes a trip to Chicago to get anywhere. Very sad. I wish trains were as useful as they were in the days described above.

    1. Travel of every kind has changed a lot in recent years. In the early 2000s I made frequent business trips by train from Philadelphia to New York City; it was a totally new experience for me, since I came from L.A.–the land of freeways! Thanks for stopping by today, Kristin.

  2. Oh, how I loved this post! I am a HUGE fan of railroads and have often dreamed of riding the rails in luxury aboard the Orient Express in its heyday or visiting the past to ride in the plush Pullman coaches. My favorite Isabella character is undoubtedly Chrissie and her Christmas train ride, but the young lad in another book (alas, the title eludes me) who watched an older chap take care of the lady in his charge to learn the ways of a polite gentleman is one of my favorites. Was it maybe Tip Lewis? At any rate, it was a youngster who had never been on a train but “practiced” on a stranger lady, thinking that’s just how he would care for his mother, should he ever have the chance. He also shared an orange with a horrible fellow traveler, who scoffed and scorned him all along the way. He was heading to a job in a glove factory, eventually getting the job and getting his mother and sister a job, too. I loved the Chautauqua Girls’ travels, too, and some of the girls of the Ester Reid series (most notably, her namesake, traveling back to the east to go to school). I love the idea of taking a train trip and using it as an opportunity to serve those around you. Which dear old lady took a trip and offered her clean little tumbler to a prickly society type who refused it with great hauteur? That’s a favorite train scene, also. I’m so grateful you shared this…what a wonderful read and beautifully illustrated with vintage photos. Well done, Jenny! XO

    1. You stumped me, Karen! I can’t think of a Pansy story about a boy who shares an orange with a fellow traveler as he traveled to a job in a glove factory. But now that you’ve piqued my interest, I’m going to keep searching. If any other readers know the title of the Pansy book Karen mentioned, please leave a comment! —Jenny

      1. You’re one step ahead of me, Karen. I’m reading The Man of the House right now … just got to the part about the runaway horses. Looking forward to reading the scene you described. —Jenny

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.