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- Minnesota and Dacotah - 3/37 -


I have a word to say about refreshments on railroad routes. It is, perhaps, well known that the price for a meal anywhere on a railroad in the United States is fifty cents. That is the uniform price. Would that the meals were as uniform! But alas! a man might as well get a quid of tobacco with his money, for he seldom gets a quid pro quo. Once in a couple of days' travel you may perhaps get a wholesome meal, but as a general thing what you get (when you get out of New England) isn't worth over a dime. You stop at a place, say for breakfast, after having rode all night. The conductor calls out, "Twenty minutes for breakfast." There is a great crowd and a great rush, of course. Well, the proprietor expects there will be a crowd, and ought to be prepared. But how is it? Perhaps you are lucky enough to get a seat at the table. Then your chance to get something to eat is as one to thirteen: for as there is nothing of any consequence on the table, your luck depends on your securing the services of a waiter who at the same time is being called on by about thirteen others as hungry as yourself. Then suppose you succeed! First comes a cup of black coffee, strong of water; then a piece of tough fried beef steak, some fried potatoes, a heavy biscuit-- a little sour (and in fact everything is sour but the pickles). You get up when you have finished eating-- it would be a mockery to say when you have satisfied your appetite-- and at the door stand two muscular men (significantly the proprietor is aware of the need of such) with bank bills drawn through their fingers, who are prepared to receive your 50c. It is not unusual to hear a great deal of indignation expressed by travellers on such occasions. No man has a right to grumble at the fare which hospitality sets before him. But when he buys a dinner at a liberal price, in a country where provisions are abundant, he has a right to expect something which will sustain life and health. Those individuals who have the privilege of furnishing meals to railroad travellers probably find security in the reflection that their patronage does not depend on the will of their patrons. But the evil can be remedied by the proprietors and superintendents of the roads, and the public will look for a reformation in dinners and suppers at their hands.

I might say that from Benwood, near Wheeling-- where I arrived at about four in the afternoon, having been nearly twenty-four hours coming 875 miles-- I passed on to Zanesville to spend the night; thinking it more convenient, as it surely was, to go to bed at eleven at night and start the next morning at eight, than to go to bed at Wheeling at nine, or when I chose, and start again at two in the morning. The ride that evening was pleasant. The cars were filled with lusty yeomen, all gabbling politics. There was an overwhelming majority for Fremont. Under such circumstances it was a virtue for a Buchanan man to show his colors. There was a solid old Virginian aboard; and his open and intelligent countenance-- peculiar, it seems to me, to Virginia-- denoted that he was a good-hearted man. I was glad to see him defend his side of politics with so much zeal against the Fremonters. He argued against half a dozen of them with great spirit and sense. In spite of the fervor of his opponents, however, they treated him with proper respect and kindness. It was between eleven and twelve when I arrived at Zanesville. I hastened to the Stacy House with my friend, J. E B. (a young gentleman on his way to Iowa, whose acquaintance I regard it as good luck to have made). The Stacy House could give us lodgings, but not a mouthful of refreshments. As the next best thing, we descended to a restaurant, which seemed to be in a very drowsy condition, where we soon got some oyster and broiled chicken, not however without paying for it an exorbitant price. I rather think, however, I shall go to the Stacy House again when next I visit Zanesville, for, on the whole, I have no fault to find with it. Starting at eight the next morning, we were four hours making the distance (59 miles) from Zanesville to Columbus. The road passes through a country of unsurpassed loveliness. Harvest fields, the most luxuriant, were everywhere in view. At nearly every stopping-place the boys besieged us with delicious apples and grapes, too tempting to be resisted. We had an hour to spend at Columbus, which, after booking our names at the Neil House for dinner-- and which is a capital house-- we partly spent in a walk about the city. It is the capital of the state, delightfully situated on the Scioto river, and has a population in the neighborhood of 20,000. The new Capitol there is being built on a scale of great magnificence. Though the heat beat down intensely, and the streets were dusty, we were "bent on seeing the town." We-- my friend B. and myself-- had walked nearly half a mile down one of the fashionable streets for dwellings, when we came to a line which was drawn across the sidewalk in front of a residence, which, from the appearance, might have belonged to one of the upper-ten. The line was in charge of two or three little girls, the eldest of whom was not over twelve. She was a bright-eyed little miss, and had in her face a good share of that metal which the vulgar think is indispensable to young lawyers. We came to a gradual pause at sight of this novel obstruction. "Buchanan, Fillmore, or Fremont?" said she, in a tone of dogmatical interrogatory. B. was a fervid Fremonter-- he probably thought she was-- so he exclaimed, "Vermont for ever!" I awaited the sequel in silence. "Then you may go round," said the little female politician. "You may go round," and round we went, not a little amused at such an exhibition of enthusiasm. I remember very well the excitement during the campaign of 1840; and I did my share with the New Hampshire boys in getting up decoy cider barrels to humbug the Whigs as they passed in their barouches to attend some great convention or hear Daniel Webster. But it seems to me there is much more political excitement during this campaign than there was in 1840. Flagstaffs and banners abound in the greatest profusion in every village. Every farm-house has some token of its polities spread to the breeze.

At twenty minutes past one-- less or more-- we left Columbus, and after travelling 158 miles, via Dayton, we came to Indianapolis, the great "Railroad City," as it is called, of the west. It was half past nine when we arrived there. I did not have time to go up to the Bates House, where I once had the pleasure of stopping, but concluded to get supper at a hotel near the depot, where there was abundant time to go through the ceremony of eating. It strikes me that Indianapolis would be an agreeable place to reside in. There are some cities a man feels at home in as soon as he gets into them; there are others which make him homesick; just as one will meet faces which in a moment make a good impression on him, or which leave a dubious or disagreeable impression. That city has 16,000 people. Its streets are wide, and its walks convenient. All things denote enterprise, liberality, and comfort. It is 210 miles from Indianapolis to this city, via Lafayette and Michigan City. We ought to have made the time in less than twelve hours, and, but for protracted detentions at Lafayette and Michigan City, we would have done so. We reached the latter place at daylight, and there waited about the depot in dull impatience for the Detroit and Chicago train. It is the principal lake harbor in Indiana.

It is about two years since I was last in Chicago; and as I have walked about its streets my casual observation confirms the universal account of its growth and prosperity. I have noticed some new and splendid iron and marble buildings in the course of completion. Chicago is a great place to find old acquaintances. For its busy population comprises citizens from every section of the United States, and from every quarter of the globe. The number of its inhabitants is now estimated at 100,000. Everybody that can move is active. It is a city of activity. Human thoughts are all turned towards wealth. All seem to he contending in the race for riches: some swift and daring on the open course; some covertly lying low for a by-path. You go along the streets by jerks: down three feet to the street here; then up four slippery steps to the sidewalk there. Here a perfect crowd and commotion-- almost a mob-- because the drawbridge is up. You would think there was a wonderful celebration coming off at twelve, and that everybody was hurrying through his work to be in season for it. Last year 20,000,000 bushels of grain were brought into Chicago. Five years ago there were not a hundred miles of railroad in the state of Illinois. Now there are more than two thousand. Illinois has all the elements of empire. Long may its great metropolis prosper!

LETTER II.

CHICAGO TO ST. PAUL.

Railroads to the Mississippi-- Securing passage on the steamboat-- The Lady Franklin-- Scenery of the Mississippi-- Hastings-- Growth of settlements

ST. PAUL, October, 1856.

HOW short a time it is since a railroad to the Mississippi was thought a wonder! And now within the state of Illinois four terminate on its banks. Of course I started on one of these roads from Chicago to get to Dunleith. I think it is called the Galena and Chicago Union Road. A good many people have supposed Galena to be situated on the Mississippi river, and indeed railroad map makers have had it so located as long as it suited their convenience-- (for they have a remarkable facility in annihilating distance and in making crooked ways straight)-- yet the town is some twelve miles from the great river on a narrow but navigable stream. The extent and importance of Rockford, Galena, and Dunleith cannot fail to make a strong impression on the traveller. They are towns of recent growth, and well illustrate that steam-engine sort of progress peculiar now-a-days in the west. Approaching Galena we leave the region of level prairie and enter a mineral country of naked bluffs or knolls, where are seen extensive operations in the lead mines. The trip from Chicago to Dunleith at the speed used on most other roads would be performed in six hours, but ten hours are usually occupied, for what reason I cannot imagine. However, the train is immense, having on board about six or seven hundred first class passengers, and two-thirds as many of the second class. Travelling in the cars out west is not exactly what it is between Philadelphia and New York, or New York and Boston, in this respect: that in the West more families are found, in the cars, and consequently more babies and carpet bags.

It may not be proper to judge of the health of a community by the appearance of people who are seen standing about a railroad station; yet I have often noticed, when travelling through Illinois, that this class had pale and sickly countenances, showing too clearly the traces of fever and ague.

But I wish to speak about leaving the cars at Dunleith and taking the steamboat for St. Paul. There is a tremendous rush for the boats in order to secure state-rooms. Agents of different boats approach the traveller, informing him all about their line of boats, and depreciating the opposition boats. For instance, an agent, or, if you please, a runner of a boat called Lucy-- not Long-- made the assertion on the levee with great zeal and perfect impunity that no other boat but the said Lucy would leave for St. Paul within twenty-four hours; when it must have been known to him that another boat on the mail line would start that same evening, as was actually the fact. But the activity of the runners was needless; for each boat had more passengers than it could well accommodate. I myself went aboard the " Lady Franklin," one of the mail boats, and was accommodated with a state-room. But what a scene is witnessed for the first two hours after the passengers begin to come aboard! The cabin is almost filled, and a dense crowd surrounds the clerk's office, just as the ticket office of a theatre is crowded on a benefit night. Of course not more than half can get state-rooms and the rest must sleep on the cabin floor. Over two hundred cabin passengers came up on the Lady Franklin. The beds which are made on the floor are tolerably comfortable, as each boat is supplied with an extra number of single mattresses. The Lady Franklin is an old boat, and this is said to be its last season.1


Minnesota and Dacotah - 3/37

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