Pullman Porters didn’t earn a living wage from the company.
Linen postcard of one of the Pullman-built sleeping compartments aboard the KCS train Southern Belle, which originated in New Orleans.
The Pullman Porters
A Pullman Porter assists a passenger, Chicago, 1880s.
When George Pullman’s company began providing sleeping car service to passenger railroads in the US, he hired Black men, formerly enslaved, to staff the cars. Those men staffed sleeping cars, dining cars, and lounge/club cars. Pullman provided these services from the 1860s until the company ceased operations at the end of 1968. Pullman insisted that all his porters be dark-skinned black men. He knew that these men struggled to find employment as free men. So, He paid them incredibly low wages. The porters relied upon tips from passengers. Wikipedia lays out the economics of life as a Pullman Porter:
The company required porters to travel 11,000 miles, nearly 400 hours, per month to earn a basic wage. In 1934, porters on regular assignments worked an average of over 73 hours per week and earned 27.8 cents an hour while workers in manufacturing jobs averaged under 37 hours per week and earned an average of 54.8 cents per hour.
What’s interesting is that, in spite of the deck being stacked against them, the porters’ hard work formed the backbone of the Black middle class in cities with lots of passenger rail activity, particularly West Oakland, Chicago, and New Orleans.
Since railroad workers’ unions were segregated, Black porters received no representation. A. Phillip Randolph formed the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP). The union organized the porters. It enabled collective bargaining and negotiation.
The national passenger railroad company took over in 1971. Amtrak dropped use of the term “porter,” referring to their employees in that role as “sleeping car attendants. The BSCP merged into the Brotherhood of Railway and Airline Clerks in 1978.
After the original Canal Station streetcar/bus facility was demolished. The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority replaced it with a new bus terminal. The Authority named that facility for A. Phillip Randolph, founder of the BSCP.
Tipped Minimum Wage
The Pullman Porters normalized the concept of “working for tips.” While the concept originally enabled white passengers to control how much Black men got paid, the system continues to this day. Diners at restaurants control how much money servers and bartenders earn beyond the $2.13/hour mandated by the federal government.
A Kansas City Southern train heads west out of Union Station. It’s crossing S. Carrollton Avenue, just before the intersection of S. Carrollton and Tulane Avenues. A pair of Electro Motive Corporation E3 locomotives are in the lead. Below the underpass bridge, two NOPSI trackless trolleys operating on the Tulane line. The train is likely the “Southern Belle,” the flagship passenger train of the railroad.
Color photo of a KCS EMC E3, pulling the Flying Crow at New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal in 1967, by Roger Puta.
The Southern Belle operated from New Orleans to Kansas City, via Shreveport and Dallas. So, it was an important transportation link in Louisiana. The train used EMC E3 engines from its inauguration in 1940 until its last service in 1969.
KCS passenger service operated from the Louisiana and Arkansas Railroad depot at 705 S. Rampart until 1954. Like other railroads, KCS trains transferred to Union Passenger Terminal that year. The city converted the depot into a fire station for NOFD, then later demolished it. The site is now a surface parking lot.
The L&A Depot stood just below the turning basin of the New Canal. Trains departed north from the depot, then turned west. They merged onto the tracks coming from Union Station. Illinois Central and Southern Pacific trains operated from that terminal. The westbound tracks passed over S. Carrollton Avenue on an underpass built by a WPA streets improvement program. The city filled in the Canal in 1949.
NOPSI trackless trolleys
Since the Southern Belle (and the Flying Crow, which operated from New Orleans to Port Arthur, Texas, to Kansas City) both operated in the 1940s, the buses narrow the time range for this photo. While this section of S. Carrollton was part of the St. Charles/Tulane Belt lines during streetcar operations, that service ended in 1951. NOPSI cut back the St. Charles line to S. Carrollton and S. Claiborne Avenues. They discontinued streetcar service on Tulane at that time. NOPSI replaced streetcars on Tulane with trackless trolleys on January 8, 1951. The company substituted buses on the line on December 27, 1964. So, the photo can’t be earlier than 1951.
The other factor limiting this photo’s date range is the Carrollton Interchange. It’s not there yet! That’s because that part of the Pontchartrain Expressway wasn’t completed until 1956. The design phase of the project began in 1952. Since there’s not even construction above the train, the project wasn’t really underway yet.
Of course, the other identifiers in this photo are the automobiles. I’ll leave it to readers to tell us what they see.
Shushan Airport is now known as Lakefront Airport.
Art Deco administration building at Shushan Airport
2010 photo of the restored art deco facade of the Lakefront Airport administration building. Infrogmation photo.
Architectural drawing of the Administration building of Shushan Airport. The state built the airport on the eastern side of the Industrial Canal. Then-governor Huey P. Long authorized the construction of the airport in 1929. The airport opened in 1934. Airport visitors pull up to this splendid example of art deco style. The Army Air Corps hardened the administration building at the outset of World War II. While the original art deco design remained, the AAC covered it with a “bomb proof” exterior. The building underwent extensive renovations in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Its original facade was restored, as well as the art deco fixtures, floors, etc., in the interior.
Shushan to Lakefront
architectural rendering of Shushan Airport administration building.
The state originally named the airport after Huey Long ally Abraham Shushan. Long rewarded Shushan’s loyalty (and financial contributions) with a position on the Orleans Parish Levee Board. Shushan became president of that board. That’s why the airport took his name. Shushan got caught up in several political scandals in the 1930s. Abe became a liability to his patron. The Long faction cut him loose and re-named the airport in 1939. It became New Orleans Airport, with the three-letter designation, NEW. When Moisant Field in Kenner evolved into the city’s primary airport, New Orleans Airport became Lakefront Airport. It still retains NEW as its code, with now-named Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport as MSY.
This rendering is part of the Franck Studios collection at THNOC. The architectural firm that created it is uncredited.
As tensions increased in Europe in the late 1930s, the United States Army Air Corps created antisubmarine aircraft squadrons along the Gulf of Mexico. One of these bomber squadrons operated from Lakefront Airport. While the planes parked at the airport, there wasn’t enough space to house the squadron’s personnel and offices. The Army acquired land on the west side of the Industrial Canal. They built the support facilities for the squadron there. Pilots and maintenance crew worked back and forth across the canal. The western base later became part of Camp Leroy Johnson, an army supply depot.
This Southern Pacific passenger car operated on the Sunset Limited.
Southern Pacific passenger car
A Budd corporation built passenger car operating on the Southern Pacific’s “Sunset Limited” train. The Historic New Orleans Collection dates this photo as prior to 1941, but that’s not accurate. The SP replaced the “heavyweight” cars running on the Sunset Limited with “streamline” cars like this one in 1950. So, this photo is likely from 1950 or 1951.
This car model offered four-across seating. Modern airlines offer this layout in their first class/business class cabins. Amtrak continues the four-across layout in their Superliner cars. Toilets were at the back of the car.
Railroads offered coach cars as bare-bones service. Amtrak’s incarnation of the line takes 46 hours to get from New Orleans to Los Angeles. The upside of a long train ride in coach is you’re not locked into the chair, as you would be on a plane. Riders ate in the dining car, strolled down to the lounge car, or just walked up and down the train to stretch. SP offered sleeper car service for a premium.
What’s important to remember is not everyone rides a long-haul route the entire way. So, if you wanted to take the train from New Orleans to, say, Lake Charles or Houston, hop on a Southern Pacific passenger car like this. Eight hours to Houston isn’t so bad.
SP inaugurated the route in 1894. They transferred it (along with all other passenger operations) to the national passenger railroad corporation, Amtrak, in 1971. The train runs from New Orleans to Los Angeles and return. The Amtrak’s Sunset makes twenty stops in between.
Prior to 1950, SP ran steel-sided “heavyweight” cars. They upgraded the flagship train in 1950, using corrugated aluminium siding. These cars weighed less. Their “streamlined” design offered a smoother ride. Additionally, the newer cars used upgraded trucks, better shock absorbers, etc.
This car appears to be part of a ready-to-depart or just-arrived Sunset Limited consist. SP operated from Union Station on Rampart Street until Union Passenger Terminal in 1954. Trains coming into both stations used a car maintenance facility just to the side of the station tracks. Amtrak continues to use this facility, which back up to Earhart Boulevard. Pretty sure this isn’t the station itself, since there’s no roof over the tracks.
1925 photo of the the railroad depot at Biloxi. According to the Biloxi Historical Society, the Biloxi Daily Herald reported that the plans for the depot were in the hands of T.J. Rosell & Company as of January 5, 1901. On April 3, 1901, the paper reported that the depot was expected to open in two weeks.
This photograph, by John Tibule Mendes, is listed by THNOC as “Unidentified Location.” To me, anything “unidentified” is a challenge. I put the image out on social media, and local railroad historian and expert Tony Howe replied back within minutes (thanks, Tony). So, that was enough to do a proper search. According to UNO Press:
Between 1916 and the mid-1930s, John Tibule Mendes (1888–1965) was a consistent and curious observer of life in New Orleans. His photographs are archived in The Historic New Orleans Collection.
It’s no surprise that Mendes meandered over to the Gulf Coast.
The Louisville and Nashville Railroad (L&N) owned and operated Biloxi Depot. Mendes likely traveled to Biloxi on an L&N train. L&N arrived and departed New Orleans from their passenger terminal at Canal Street and the river. The Aquarium of the Americas now stands on that site.
The State of Kentucky chartered the L&N in 1850. The railroad acquired the Pontchartrain Railroad in New Orleans in 1871. That acquisition enabled the connection of L&N’s system to downtown New Orleans. The L&N operated local and express passenger trains along the Gulf Coast. Those trains also provided mail service.
After several attempts at restoring passenger service along the Gulf Coast, Amtrak extended the route of the Sunset Limited (Los Angeles to New Orleans) to Jacksonville, Florida, in 1993. The railroad discontinued that service in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Amtrak plans to restore service along the coast in stages. The first stage extends the Sunset Limited from New Orleans to Mobile. With that in place, they would continue eastward.
Street railways connected Algiers with Gretna and even Marrero.
I had the privilege of speaking to the Algiers Historical Society last month, on the subject of street railways on the Westbank. I’d spoken to the group on East Bank subjects in the past, so it was fun to dive into an Algiers topic.
Street Railways pod format
So, I didn’t record the original talk, I sat down this week with the Powerpoint presentation and did it as a Zoom. Zoom generates both video and audio recordings. I uploaded the video recording to YouTube. Video podcasts have been a thing for a while, so we’ll join that bandwagon.
I’ve also included a PDF of the slides, for those of you who listen to the audio format, along with images from the presentation.
Portion of the Robinson Atlas, New Orleans, 1883, showing Algiers Point
Louis Hennick map showing street rail in Algiers, 1895
Sketch of planned Algiers Coruthouse, 1896
1907 Photo of the first electric streetcar in Algiers
Louis Hennick map of Westbank street railways in 1916