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The Bed on Wheels

Given the large extension of the territory of United States, the largest part of the travels by train lasted for more than one day, which makes logical that this country were the pioneer on sleeping car service. However, this innovation did not take place until George Pullman invested enough money, initially to condition the already existing wagons, and later in 1862 to build, in tribute to Abraham Lincoln, the "Pioneer" which in 1865 transported the mortal remains of the President to his last dwelling.

Like all the cars built during the following fifty years, this was a solid wagon designed to accommodate on its bunk beds as many persons as possible, and which following the American tradition had a central corridor. During daytime twelve sections of four seats faced each other, and during night those same seats could be converted into twelve lower bunk beds, while from the ceiling another twelve bunk beds could be deployed. Thick curtains provided a relative isolation, but it was always a sort of adventure to reach, by holding the balance, the end of the car where it was located the ladies' bathroom on one side and the smoking room on the other side, fitted with an austere leather-lined chair, copper spittoons and mirrors for those passengers that wished to shave up... with the risk of suffering some cuts.

In fact, the bunk beds were rather spacious, albeit the acrobatics that one had to do in the shaky ladder to climb to the upper bunk beds and the stunts required to dress and undress oneself were far from pleasant for the passengers. Because of this, from 1930 many Pullman cars were refitted and divided in compartments, either individual or with two bunk beds each.

The employee of a Pullman car, a smiling black man wearing an immaculate white uniform, welcomed the passengers and eased the access to the car with the help of a small yellow footstool. He placed the luggage, brought glasses of water to the children lying two by two on the upper bunk beds and during night, while the passengers slept, he gave luster to their shoes and helped the elder women who, with the intention of reaching the toilet, had to walk along the long corridor plunged into the gloom.

Vintage railway - Sleeping car
An expert employee required no more than three minutes to prepare a whole section, because it was not frequent that all the passengers of a wagon decided to go to bed at the same time. On waking up, it was very pleasant to wash oneself with warm water and arrive fresh and tidy to Nice, Monte Carlo or San Remo.

In Europe, the employee of a sleeping car had assigned some supplementary tasks to him, which had to comply with the eighteen passengers of his car. To begin with, he had to classify their tickets and verify that their seats were in order; then distribute among them the customs forms and collect their passports to avoid them the nuissance on each control, as there were not less than eleven between Paris and Milan, including police stations, customs offices or ticket sealing. By last, making sure at which time each passenger wished to be woken up, he had to start the boiler that would provide the warm water necessary for the morning wash. In his office he had anything that the travelers could ask for, from mineral water or champagne for the night to a delicious breakfast for the awakening.

American colonel William Mann, who fought in Gettysburg along with the brigade of General Custer, had been ruined when the American companies rejected his bedroom cars, preferring the Pullman cars, which were less expensive. Thus, he departed towards England in search of customers willing to pay the price of enjoying the comfort that an individual bedroom on wheels offered. The cozy style of these bedroom cars for sixteen passengers got the attention of Georges Nagelmackers, and both men joined their forces and managed to convince the Prince of Wales to use one of their cars on a travel that he would make to Berlin. The news had a great diffusion in the press, repercussion which gave fruits, and soon his bedroom cars of varnished teak wood traveled the international railway networks, from Saint Petersburg to Lisbon and from Calais to Istanbul.

The most sumptuous sleeping cars were, maybe, the four hundreds decorated according to the models designed by French decorator René Prou, to whom is due as well the dining room of the famous hotel Waldorf Astoria of New York. These cars in blue-night color, with inscriptions of golden letters in different languages and the emblem of the Wagons-Lits Company in relief on their sides, generally had four compartments of two bunk beds, and eight of one, all of them fully coated in two tones of mahogany decorated with marquetry in the form of fruits and flowers.

The luggage carrier, of burnished metal and solidly fixed to the upper part, matched with the other accessories made of the same metal: a folding lamp on the headboard of the bed, shackles (lined with leather to deaden the noise) to tie bottles and glasses, an alarm ring with instructions in four languages and, even, a hook to hang the pocket watch. One of the panels served as communication door with the adjacent compartment and, in a corner, a curved panel dissimulated a sink with a small cupboard on top, which contained a glass bottle filled with potable water, while on the bottom another cupboard contained a porcelain potty. The models of the LX series built in 1929 for the famous Blue Train ("Le Train Bleu") were fitted with full-body mirrors, where the ladies could take a last look before leaving the train.

Contemplating the Landscape

To stay the whole day sitting on the same armchair, leaving it only for going to the restaurant car, could be rather boring and limit the pleasure of a travel on train across United States. To palliate that boredom the companies had to offer to passengers a comfortable and joyful place where they could spend the time chatting or having a drink. Thus, luxury trains provided saloon cars comfortably equipped with large armchairs, divans, low tables and, sometimes, a small library of popular classic books. From the outdoor platform, located in one of the ends, travelers could see the landscape in march. Some boys dangerously peered from the copper handrail in the moment that the train performed the famous "horseshoe turn" in Altoona, Pennsylvania, to see it completely showing up in front of them, crowned by a dense plume of smoke.

These panoramic platforms were used as well as stands where to pronounce speeches during the electoral tours, specially on the presidential campaigns. Franklin Roosevelt, being still governor of the State of New York, rented from the Pullman Company the "Fernando de Magallanes", which he continued using, after his election to the White House, as presidential vehicle. This one, formed by four rooms, a dining room with kitchen and a lounge with panoramic platform, was then baptized with the name "US Railway Car number 1". At the outbreak of the Second World War, this car was coated with an armor of 1.5 centimeters in thickness and fitted with anti-ballistic glass panels of seven centimeters in thickness. Reinforced with such safety measures, the weight of the car exceeded 142 tonnes. This heavy vehicle was the nightmare of the railway operators, but this was not obstacle for its later utilization during the mandates of Truman and Eisenhower, after which it was replaced by an aircraft of the US Air Force.

Vintage railway - Saloon car

All of the railway companies tried to attract new customers by introducing in their trains all kinds of innovations. So the Seaboard, bound for Florida, made available to its passengers a gymnasium with mechanical horses, boxing bags and even a pool, while the Milwaukee Road offered a dance-hall car entertained by an orchestra of three musicians. For its part, the Wagons-Lits Company did not stay behind in this field and started the transformation of several of its restautant cars into dance-hall cars fitted with a piano and a bar, which soon would regularly use in the Blue Coast and Simplon lines. On the other hand, the Night Ferry and the Golden Arrow had the Trianon Bar, which served to its international clientele a wide range of cosmopolitan drinks.

The kings of the British textile industry, whose vacation homes were located more than 60 kilometers away from their bureaus in Manchester, devised the typically insular club cars, whose access was strictly reserved for their members. These were carefully selected and each of them had his own leather-lined armchair, their untouchable number of The Times or The Guardian newspaper and the service of a perfect barman, who did the utmost to offer to his honorable customer any kind of drink that he could wish during the travel.

The British club car did not take long in being adopted in America and the financial agents from Wall Street, as well as the businessmen from Madison Avenue, enjoyed this pleasant service between their bureaus in Manhattan and their residences in Long Island or Westchester County, in the same pleasant conditions, albeit the admission in this club had much less strict rules. Some trains such as the Merchant Limited or the Yankee Clipper operated club cars that were opened to the general public (which seems paradoxical) with different decorations according to the occasion, inspired either in a colonial style or the cabins of a sail ship.

In the 1930s, with the advent of aerodynamical bodyworks and climatization, new models of panoramic cars made apparition, such as the "super cupola" car of the Milwaukee Road, which delighted the passengers. It had two floors, the lower one occupied by a saloon and a bar, and the upper one, with space for 68 persons, was covered by a large glasswork that allowed to contemplate the landscape. For their part, the trains of the Caledonian Railway Company, which operated the communication service on the western part of the Scottish Highlands, had a last car fitted with three huge crystal panels curved from the floor to the roof, through which the fascinated passengers could admire the quiet waters of Lake Lomond and the magical beauty of the surrounding landscape.

Totally different were the panoramical cars designed by Sir Nigel Gresley for the super fast train inaugurated in 1937 in occasion of the coronation of George VI. Aerodynamical from end to end, the Coronation went from London to Edinburgh in just six hours, reaching sometimes the speed of 170 kilometers/hour. The distinctive shape of the panoramical car was not only pleasant to the eye, granting the passengers the possibility of observing the exterior, but also had the immense advantage of suppressing the clattering that often occurs in the rear part of any vehicle that moves at high speed.

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