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Pullman and the railroad
July 14, 2014, 05:00 AM By Darold Fredricks

Author’s collection
Millbrae’s Train Museum’s Pullman Car was used as a motel before arriving in Millbrae.

Railroad trains were crude monsters in the beginning. It would need a lot of refinement before they became practical and useful. Bellowing smoke trailed the engine and covered the air wherever they were traveling.

The first train in the Eastern United States was used to haul granite on a three-mile track. Later trains were trailed by a makeshift passenger car made up of a platform with wooden seats that were very uncomfortable. Later, these passenger cars were enclosed but the wooden seats were retained, a potbelly coal/wood stove was placed in the middle of the car for heat and that’s about all that was offered. If you were going to make an extensive trip, you brought your own bedding, food and maybe a “pot” for relieving ones’ body. Probably the back car was used to throw the contents of the pot out the back as the train moved. After the transcontinental railway was completed from the East to California, the railroad advertised land and opportunity in the West to the immigrants streaming into the United States. Their ordeal had to be awful. Hot summers and cold winters greeted them as well as hard-riding cars that had no springs to soften the bumps.

George Mortimer Pullman (March 3, 1831-Oct. 19, 1897), born in New York, moved to Chicago after learning the trade of moving houses with his father. He moved houses in Chicago for a while and, around 1864, he designed a sleeping car based on the packet boats that he had traveled on on the Erie Canal. These Pullman Sleeper cars he called a “palace car.” They cost five times the price of the regular car but he got a boost in sales and recognition (advertising) when he carried President Abraham Lincoln’s body from Washington, D.C. to Springfield, Illinois after he was assassinated. Hundreds of thousands of people lined the route across the land in homage. This publicity helped orders pour into the Pullman firm. The cars were marketed as “luxury for the middle class.” A year later, he built the Delmonico, the world’s first sleeping car with continental cuisine. When he sought out people to do this service, and he chose African-Americans. They were to act as porters, waiters, valets and entertainers. This job became almost an institution for the people who accepted the jobs offered. Pullman became the biggest single employer of African-Americans in post-Civil War America.

By 1875, Pullman had 700 cars in operation. In 1887, Pullman developed the “vestibule trains” that allowed passengers to walk the entire length of the train.

In 1880, Pullman envisioned an entire town of workers living together with their own shopping areas, churches, parks, hotels and library. He bought 4,000 acres of land south of Chicago and began construction on this town named Pullman. It was to be self-sustaining so he charged money to live there. He was almost dictatorial in running this operation and, after a time, the residents resented his handling of the town so he had to sell it. This occurred after manufacturing of cars fell off in 1894 and he dictated that the workers had to work longer for less pay if he was to stay in business. He didn’t lower the price the workers paid in his town and, after a strike by the workers, he had to divest himself of the city. It was annexed to the city of Chicago.

George Pullman died at the age of 66 in1897 but the company kept operating.

The Millbrae Historical Society opened a train station museum on October 2004 with Vern Bruce as curator. Besides having a wonderful train museum, Bruce was able to locate a Pullman Passenger car from Sioux Falls, South Dakota where it was being used as a motel for tourists. The car was so unaltered, Bruce was able to put the car on the train tracks and bring it back to Millbrae. It’s a Pullman Sleeping Car named the Civic Center. It was used by the train, the city of San Francisco, and traveled from Chicago to California before being sold. The interior of the car needs renovation and plans are underway to do this. If you are interested in volunteering to help in this project, contact Bruce at (605) 333-1136. The museum also has a 1929 Ford AA heavy duty truck on display. It was restored by David Hannigan. The Railroad Museum is situated in the old Millbrae train station (California and Murchison drives) near the BART station, along the railroad tracks. You can’t miss it. It is open from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays. Don’t miss it.

Rediscovering the Peninsula by Darold Fredricks appears in the Monday edition of the Daily Journal.



Tags: pullman, train, after, chicago, railroad, bruce,

Other stories from today:

Burlingame preps for main library construction: Upgrades aimed to fit 21st-century needs; project to start Aug. 11
San Mateo County police reports
Third mountain lion sighting in San Mateo Highlands since July 1

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