Pullman Accommodations: 1934

This booklet describes the types of sleeping-car spaces available to passengers in the heavyweight era. Just six types are described: the low-cost upper; the slightly more comfortable lower; the section, in which someone bought both the upper and lower for the price of a lower plus half to three-quarters of the upper; the rare single bedroom, a private room with a sofa that converted to a bed with a sink and toilet and that cost as much as an upper and lower combined; the compartment, which had the same beds as a section in a private room with a small closet and a sink, and that cost as much as two lowers and an upper; and finally the drawing room, a private room with a private bath, an upper and lower, and a sofa that converted to a third bed, and that cost 3-1/2 times the price of a lower.

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The writer of this booklet was fond of repeating the dimensions of every accommodation. The horsehair mattresses were all 4-1/2-inches thick, and people who got a section were allowed to have two mattresses on top of one another for nine inches of comfort. Most mattresses were 6-feet, 2-inches long and 35 inches wide, except for the third bed in the drawing room which was only 25 inches wide. The beds also all came with two pillows stuffed with 2-1/2 pounds of “downy goose-feathers.” Continue reading

Pullman’s Diamond Jubilee

The second year of Chicago’s Century of Progress Exposition also happened to be the 75th anniversary of Pullman’s first sleeping car, so it issued this booklet praising its new aluminum passenger cars. The silver cover is supposed to remind people of aluminum, but since aluminum corrodes easily, all of Pullman’s aluminum cars were painted. The result is that the cover is more reminiscent of Budd’s stainless steel cars, which may have been an attempt to distract people from Budd’s truly innovative cars.

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Inside, the booklet praises Pullman’s innovations in the Union Pacific streamliner sleepers, such as metal privacy curtains and sinks in each of the sections. While useful, none of these were repeated in later Pullman sleepers. The booklet also devotes too much space to a phony conversation between “John” and “Mary” reminiscing about previous generations of Pullman sleepers. Continue reading

Travel the Educator

Despite the title, this booklet says almost nothing about the educational value of travel. Instead, it focuses on the huge improvements in comfort and speed provided by the railroads in general and Pullman in particular in the previous 70 years.

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“Americans are the world’s greatest travelers,” notes the booklet, something which remains true today. What the booklet doesn’t say is that, in the early twentieth century, that travel was very unevenly distributed: the top 20 to 30 percent of Americans did most of that travel, while as recently as 1910 probably half of Americans had never been more than 50 miles from where they were born. What changed that was not the railroad as much as Henry Ford’s mass produced automobile.

The Peripatetics of a Pullman Car

Previously, I somewhat snidely mentioned that there were no Pullman Facts booklets about how the company managed to become a monopoly. But in fact the answer is hidden in Pullman Facts No. 10, which shows that Pullman provided a large pool of cars that its customer railroads could draw upon to deal with seasonal variations and special events.

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This reduced the costs to the railroads. Since Pullman could send cars north in the summer that were serving the south in the winter, it could account for such variations with a minimum of surplus cars. Continue reading

The Pullman Bureau of Tests

“How do the Pullman builders manage always to get exactly the best material for every part and detail of the car’s construction?” asks this booklet. The answer is that the company tests everything from paint to steel. But the hidden message is that Pullman cars represent “perfection of material and construction.”

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This claim, of course, would be upset in a few years when Budd introduced stainless steel to the passenger car industry. While Pullman no doubt did its best to please its customers, the Budd trains would make Pullmans look old fashioned and obsolete.

The Hidden Mechanisms of a Pullman Car

Pullman Facts No. 8 describes how heating, lighting, and other services work in a Pullman car. It notes, for example, that each car contained about a mile of copper wire for lighting and electricity.

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The booklet also marvels at the fact that the trucks alone for a then-modern Pullman car weighed five tons more than the total weight of the first Pullman car. While this extraordinary weight contributed to smoother rides, it also meant railroads had to provide more power to pull such trains. The lightweight trains that would appear just four years after this booklet would begin a reversal of the trend toward heavier cars over time.

How a Pullman Car Is Lighted

From candles to kerosene lamps to Pintsch gas burners to various forms of incandescents, this booklet traces the progress of lighting passenger cars. The booklet notes that the incandescent system required batteries and generators stored under the car: when the car was in motion, the wheels turned a generator that not only lit the lights but recharged the batteries that were used to power the lights when the car was stationary.

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Edison was too famous for Pullman to take credit for inventing electric lamps. But it claimed to have done more than anyone else to bring electric lighting to passenger cars, boasting that without its efforts it might have been “many years” before passengers enjoyed electric lights on trains.

Scientific Ventilation in Pullmans

Before air conditioning, rail car temperatures was probably one of the greatest sources of complaints for passengers, particularly in the summer. Published just as the Baltimore & Ohio was perfecting a mechanical air-conditioning system (first used in one of its railcars in April, 1930), this booklet was full of assurances that Pullman cars were “scientifically ventilated,” which was pretty much a bunch of hooey.

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After the B&O had successfully air conditioned entire trains in 1931, Pullman would weakly offer that it, too, had introduced such air-conditioned cars “in test service” in 1930. But though this booklet was published no earlier than 1930, those tests are not mentioned. Perhaps the company didn’t want its patrons to get their hopes up about the new technology, or perhaps it just had no faith in any innovation that it did not develop itself.

Safety First, Last and All the Time

Bathtubs, step ladders, and automobiles were far more dangerous than Pullman cars, brags this booklet. While 26,000 people died in auto accidents in 1929, only 114 railroad passengers lost their lives in that year, only 8 of whom were in Pullmans. This citation of 1929 data gives us a clue that this series of booklets was published in about 1930.

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While most of the booklet focuses on what the Pullman company has done to emphasize safety, it closes with a sign familiar to railroad travelers of the era: “Passengers should not stand on platform and must not open vestibule doors.” On a train without dome cars, one of the great pleasures of riding was opening a vestibule dutch door and seeing the scenery and feeling the wind in your face. Since trains in 1929 averaged less than 30 miles per hour, this generally wasn’t dangerous, but train personnel did their best to discourage it just to be safe.

The World’s Greatest Housekeeper

Pullman Facts No. 3 described the stupendous extent of Pullman operations that used 9,700 Pullman cars to house 64,000 guests per night on average. To supply these people, Pullman maintained a stock of 4.2 million towels, 2.7 million sheets, and nearly half a million blankets and pillows at more than 100 supply depots across the country. These numbers are all presumably from 1929.

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Unfortunately, I don’t have a copy of Pullman Facts No. 4, but from the cover below it sounds like it covers an interesting topic: the construction of a Pullman car. Naturally, if I find one, I’ll post it here. Continue reading