These days, people can buy a ticket to ride a train and have a private room with a bed and bathroom in it to make their trip more comfortable. Since I have taken a train trip from Seattle, Washington to Chicago, Illinois, I can tell you that paying the extra money for that private cabin is really a good idea. We traveled in in a seat among the other passengers, and while the seat was pretty comfortable, it was not comfortable to sleep in. My parents traveled on the Amtrack too, and they did get a private cabin, so their experience was probably much better than mine, although I loved the trip…just not the sleeping part of it. Of course, even with the comfort my parents had on their trip, it was nothing compared to the Gilded Age, when the very rich had their own car on the train.
The Gilded Age was a time when the very rich went to great lengths to let all of the “less fortunate ones” know that they had wealth. The Gilded Age took place mostly from 1887 to 1900, with some earlier exceptions. One of the main objectives of life during the Gilded Age, if one could afford it, was to see and be seen in the most luxurious ways possible, and the railway was no different. Commercial air travel didn’t exist then, and cars were very slow. So, when the nation came into the age of the rails, the wealthy made sure that extreme luxury there was no exception. By the 1870s, private railroad cars…some extravagantly decorated…were the most fashionable way to travel. I suppose it would have been like the very rich on ships, but they could stay a little closer to home, and still travel. The people would never travel in humble wooden coach seats, which I can understand, but most people had no other choice. Money bought comfort.
With great fanfare, the very rich boarded their own entire rail cars, where the walls were lined in velvet, the upholstery plush, and the decor much like that of a fancy parlor at home. The private cars had bedrooms, running water, and a private water closet. Now expense was spared to make sure that the wealthy car owner was never out of the lap of luxury. It seems like a cruel way to act, but I suppose it is simply the way it is.
Rain…it waters the earth, and as we all know, without it, we could not survive. Nevertheless, as vital as water is to life on this planet, too much of it can be deadly. People can drink too much water, we can over-water our plants, and too much rain can bring flooding. Such was the case on July 13, 1951. Above-average rainfall began in June and continued through July 13th, dumping well over 25 inches on some areas in eastern Kansas. From July 9th to 13th, nearly 6 inches of rain fell. The Kansas, Neosho, and Verdigris rivers began taking on more water than their normal carrying capacity a couple of days into the storm, but as the rain persisted, flooding began all over the region.
The major towns of Manhattan, Topeka and Lawrence took the biggest hit. As is the case in any area where absorption is hampered by cement and asphalt, the rain could not soak in, and the ground was are already saturated anyway. The rain had nowhere to go, and the area was in trouble. Prior to the July 13 river crest, previous highs were dwarfed by four to nine feet. Two million acres of farmland were lost to the flood, which would trigger a crisis of its own, by a shortage of food. The flooding also caused fires and explosions in refinery oil tanks on the banks of the Kansas River. Passenger trains traveling through the area were stuck for nearly four days. In all, $760 million in damages were caused by the flood, and 500,000 people were left homeless, while 24 people died in the disaster. It was the greatest destruction from flooding in the Midwestern United States up to that time.
A often happen, tragedy brings change. Following the great 1951 flood, a series of reservoirs and levees were constructed all over the area. In 1993, these were credited with minimizing the damage from another record flood. Water is an element that is necessary for life, but lest we forget, water in an overabundance can kill and destroy. People need to pay attention to evacuation warnings, and get out of an area where a flood is eminent. You may lose some things, but if you leave the area, you will most likely to walk away unscathed, and as we know, things can be predicted, and those who head out of unsafe areas will most likely live to tell the tale.
My dad always loved trains. As a young boy, whose dad worked for the Great Northern Railway Company, dad had a pass to ride the train where ever he needed to go. I’m sure that his love for trains was fueled by the fact that he got to ride the train daily, a privilege that most people don’t have.
Dad has told us of his days of riding the train, and it always sounded to us like he was hopping the train, not riding with a pass. He never said “hopping a train” or anything, but we always thought that was what he meant. Maybe we thought that because it always sounded like such an amazing adventure. Or maybe he and his brother did “hop the train” on occasion, just to add to the excitement…something I’m sure his mother would have tanned their hides for.
Years later, when traveling to the Black Hills, my parents rode the 1880 Train in Keystone, South Dakota. It had been many years since Dad had been able to ride a train much, so it was very exciting for him, and it brought back those old memories of his days of riding the trains back in Wisconsin. They really enjoyed those train rides through the Black Hills.
When the Amtrak Trains came on the scene, I think my dad’s interest really peaked. He began thinking about taking a trip on the Amtrak. It would be a dream trip for Dad and Mom. They planned to ride the Amtrak Train up the California coast. The trip was to take several days, and they would sleep on the train. That would be a new experience for both of them, as all their other train rides were just day trips or less.
My dad was so excited about this trip. He was like a little kid in a candy store. I think that is how a lot of people feel when riding a train…like being a kid again. The wonder of something so new to them. And while riding a train wasn’t new to my dad, traveling that way was. He had always traveled by car. Mostly because he believed that you couldn’t see the country from a plane. But, this was different. They were able to view the countryside and it went by, and he didn’t have to drive. He felt like he was taking the trip of a lifetime. They were finally taking the ultimate train ride.
They had such a great time riding the Amtrak. It would be a trip that would live in their memories for the rest of their lives. They had taken many vacations, and all of them were filled with great memories, but there are always a few of your trips that live in your memory as the big trip, the best trip…the ultimate trip.