COBWEB CORNERS: Riding the Midland on a snowy day
By Mel McFarland
Let's take the train from Colorado City on a snowy day, say in 1900. A big steam engine is not only smoking, but steam is coming from everywhere that is hot. Each car has a stove in the corner for heat, but the other end of the car might be freezing. Some cars have piped steam from the locomotive, but others have only that one stove. The cars heated by steam, have piping running under the seats, and the further away from the locomotive you are, the colder it is. In these cars there are additional stoves, but they don't help that much when it is really cold.
Once the train starts moving, the breeze through poorly sealed windows adds to the cold, but if there is enough frost, those get sealed naturally. Ice on the inside of the windows blocks any looking out. The first-class passengers in the Pullman car get nice warm blankets for their laps. The seasoned passenger has dressed warmly, and may have brought something like a buffalo robe! Think about the engineer and fireman up there in the cab, the coldest warm spot on the train.
But the train movement also helps circulate the warm air so the insides of the cars get quite comfortable. This is complicated when the train slows down, and stops for the next station. Even if there are no additional passengers, the conductor has to open the doors to check. The early cars, with open platforms on the ends are the worst. Newer cars have a double set of doors and a vestibule.
To add to the misery, some trains have no food available. Travelers have to bring their own. (In that era, a few railroads bought dining cars. Getting to and from the diner was almost not worth the trip. The open-platform cars were gone by the time most railroads started using dining cars, but still getting from one car to the next was almost like being outside. A task not advised going up Ute Pass!)
Once you get to your destination, if you are lucky, someone will be waiting for you. You might have to walk a block or more to a hotel. Imagine walking on snow several feet deep! Things like this rarely show up in old western movies.
Ah well, if you travel by Amtrak, sometimes it is still like that!