Travel West via Through Cars #TrainThursday

Travel across the Western United States in the 1920s involved Through Cars.

Through Cars from New Orleans

Passenger railroads dominated long-distance travel in the United States in the 1920s. On 5-June-1926, the Times-Picayune newspaper presented a number of ads enticing readers to pack up and get out of town, to cooler destinations north and west of New Orleans. School was out. It was hot. Mom needed to get away, and the fishing camp in Waveland just wasn’t far enough. So, she sent away for the brochures, to make a case to the family.

Where to go?

through cars

Colorado appealed to flat-landers from the swamp. Get up in the mountains, where there was less humidity and mosquitos. The Frisco Railroad, in partnership with Southern Railway, operated the Kansas City-Florida Special and The Sunnyland trains. Both trains operated from Jacksonville to Kansas City. New Orleans passengers rode to Memphis. They changed trains there for points West. Mom contacted Frisco’s General Agent, whose office stood in the United Fruit Building, for an “illustrated map-folder.”

“Follows the Rocky Mountains for 1500 miles.” In addition to the Frisco-Southern trains, The Fort Worth and Denver Railway (popularly known as the Denver Road) offered service to Colorado. Passengers in New Orleans traveled to Dallas, via either the Texas and Pacific or the Southern Pacific. From Dallas, they transferred to the Denver Road, into the Rockies.

The magic of through cars

through cars

Typical layout of a “heavyweight” Pullman car.

While changing trains doesn’t sound like an appealing proposition, passengers didn’t mind it if their entire car changed to a new train. Passengers boarded sleeping cars that traveled on one railroad, then changed to another. For example, New Orleanians boarded a sleeping car on Frisco’s Kansas City-Florida Special. When that train reached Memphis. the through car disconnected. Frisco hooked it to a train headed for Colorado. Passengers relaxed in their compartments as the changes happened.

This system worked because The Pullman Company owned all the sleeping cars. Rather than operate their own sleepers, the railroads leased cars from Pullman. That company maintained the cars, staffing them with the now-famous Pullman Porters. Since the railroads didn’t own the sleepers, transfers were easy.

Going West today

While the days of through cars are gone, it’s still possible to easily go West from New Orleans by rail. Here’s the Amtrak City of New Orleans, passing through Old Jefferson on 5-June-2023. The train, Amtrak #58, travels to Chicago. From there, connections to Denver, California, and the Pacific Northwest are all possible.