I loved researching the 1869 transcontinental railroad to use in my Spur Award winning novel, Double Crossing. I had no problem finding historical photos of the Pullman interiors, maps of the route, timetables, the differences between the Union Pacific and Central Pacific cars, converting the seats to sleeping berths, eating at the way stations (dining cars hadn't been invented yet) and types of meals offered at various points - even prices of certain food - plus what some passengers endured crossing bridges and the like.
When it came to my characters' more--uh, personal needs, I didn't find much. Ahem.
Here's a diagram of how the sleeping berths worked on the Pullman Palace Cars:
The diagrams of the Pullman cars showed a "washroom" for the Ladies (with a separate one for the Men) but it was rough and tough finding specifics. Here's a diagram of the actual train compartments, the washrooms, even the later version of a smoking car:
(Most like from the 1870s)
And here's a diagram of ... well, actually I couldn't find a diagram of the train's toilet. But I figured from what little research I could find that trains back in 1869 used "hopper" models. I'm thinking they probably had the "outhouse" style of seat, probably made of wood, but also a "drop chute" where whatever was deposited inside dropped to the tracks.
One woman in her late 80s or early 90s wrote me an email after she finished reading Double Crossing. She thanked me for reminding her about those wonderful memories of lifting the commode lid and the feel of cold air on a bare bottom! I had a laugh from that, plus reassurance that my research was accurate.
No wonder my grandmother told her kids to NEVER play on or near the railroad tracks. (My grandfather was a signal yardman for the Grand Trunk Western before he quit to work in an auto factory -- and lost his job during the Depression. Yep, bad decision there.) I've read stories on the internet where trains crossing bridges over rivers may have "showered" fishermen below, and how people in the earlier 1900s remember seeing signs like this on the door to the "water closet" or lavatory:
I also discovered that many trains around the world still utilize the "hopper" style toilets. Some trains have just a hole in the floor! We are lucky that Amtrak has the blue chemicals now to reduce odor in the retention tank. So when they're "out of service" -- just be thankful that American train tracks are a bit cleaner now.
|HC Large Print edition, Dec. 2012 release|
Excerpt from DOUBLE CROSSING, my western historical mystery! Lily is on the train after a serious crisis:
I opened the washroom door, closed it behind me and stood there, alone. My head pounded. The blood staining the carpet and sheets should have been mine. I lifted the commode’s lid. The railroad ties flashed past below the open hole. Dizzy, I closed my eyes and heaved up bitter bile. I fought for control when nothing was left in my stomach and leaned against the train’s shaking wall.
Despite my desperate prayers, heavy guilt plagued me...