Maps and Trains of the 1880s

So a few nights ago I did a whole bunch of research for my NaNo novel, a supernatural adventure tale set in 1880s New Orleans. I had to figure out of what kind of method they would use to travel from the location I left off in the last book, a city in Texas, to New Orleans. Now that sounds a lot easier than it actually was.

I knew they would be traveling by train. That much I had figured out, but the details were still nagging at me. How long would that take? What kind of seating does an overnight train have? Would they have their own little cubby hole or would they need to be mindful of people sitting close around them?

Considering the “special needs” of my main characters, these were very important facts to know. Luckily I have the internet, and there are all sorts of details if you have the time and patience to go sorting through it.

  • LA & New Orleans Maps – Louisiana and New Orleans maps for as far back as 1722, complete with one that shows just how devastating the fire of 1788 was to the city. I have a feeling I’ll be referencing this one a bunch.
  • Absolute Write Water Cooler – When is this site *not* on your resource listing? Some excellent resources and links here that really helped me pinpoint my research. Having a timeframe for train travel, and more importantly knowing what tracks were in use when, I discovered was absolutely essential.
  • Missouri Pacific Railroad Map – I hate to say it, but I don’t quite remember where I picked this image up from. It was early in my researching, and you end up following different links, you know how it is. I think it might have been from Central Pacific Railroad Museum site, but I can’t recall. Anyway, it’s a huge file, so I’ve linked it on the side.
  • Rails West – Another cool site that helped me get a handle on how long a typical train ride would be. Apparently it would take 7 days to go across country, but often there would be a stopover location for a day or two. This site also helped me figure out the sleeping arrangements in 1880s train travel: Pullman Sleepers.

The Pullman Sleepers were pretty fascinating, and how they were configured would greatly impact the storyline. Here is a good example:

Those large glass cases over the head? They fold out into beds, like so:

Kind of amazing to see the kind of close quarters you would have to take during that time period. We have a much different definition of personal space these days. Of course the really updated version looked far more like something we would expect to see these days:

Anyway that’s all I have for today. Just random interesting tidbits from my latest writing! You never know where it’ll take you, am I right?

Update 9/2019 – I noticed a lot of the images in this post were broken since they were posted on Photobucket ages ago. So I’ve transferred them over to my main site for hosting. This is one of my most visited posts on my site after all these years, so I’m hoping this helps!

5 thoughts on “Maps and Trains of the 1880s

  1. Pingback: Trains and Sandstorms of the 1890s | Marlena Frank

  2. Hello Marlena! I am a spec-fic author too (paranormal sci-fi thrillers featuring the modern day remnant of an ancient clan of werecats) but in my day job I’m a railroader. I’ve been a train buff since boyhood and have been making my living “playing with trains” going on twenty years now. If I might be helpful in your research, please look me up. If I don’t know the answer to your question right off the top of my head, I very likely know someone who does. I’ve included a link to my web site, where you can message me or look me up via my various social media links.


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