Trains and Sandstorms of the 1890s

While I’ve been working on Camp NaNoWriMo (slowly, but surely is my motto this month!), I’ve come across some interesting research that I thought I’d share! This novel is Book 2 of my Colton Fen series, and takes place in the 1890s. My characters first have to take a train from western Texas to New Orleans, which at the time took 3 days. (If you want to see the detailed research I had to dig up for that calculation, check out my post on Maps and Trains of the 1880s,probably one of the most popular posts on this blog).

Here’s a quick run-down:

  • Traveling on an Emigrant Train, 1879 – Omg, is that David Thewlis I see on the side there?
    David_Thewlis RobertLouisStevenson
    No, it’s just Robert Louis Stevenson, the same gent who penned Treasure Island. (Maybe I’ve been watching too much Harry Potter lately? Nah!) It turns out he also documented his train ride from Chicago to California to be with a married woman ten years his senior who he was madly in love with. He talks about the newsboy, who goes around selling books, fruit, lollipops, and cigars on the trains. He ended up being given the nickname of Shakespeare. Most notably he talks about the difficulty of bathing on the train.

    There he knelt down, supporting himself by a shoulder against the woodwork; or one elbow crooked about the railing, and made a shift to wash his face and neck and hands-a cold, an insufficient, and, if the train is moving rapidly, a somewhat dangerous toilet.

    I was looking for details on how toilets were used on trains, but this was the closest I got. Certainly quite useful all the same, and it makes me glad for the conveniences we have today.

  • 3 Ways to Survive a Dust Storm or a Sandstorm – Now you might think that sandstorms don’t happen in western Texas, but you would be very wrong. In fact there’s video of one that just happened a couple of years ago.

    Oh and here’s a photo from one rolling into Midland, Texas in 1894. It’s terrifying just seeing it from inside a building with glass windows. I can’t imagine what it must have been like back then.
    Sandstorm_MidlandTexas_1894Either way, it can’t hurt to know how to survive one of these things, right? Oh and those people driving in the sandstorm still probably didn’t read the section about how to survive when you’re in a car. They’re a rare occasion in Texas at least, thank goodness.

These are just a couple of teasers on the sort of things I’ve been writing about!

They Rocked into Germany

I’ve wanted to post about this for a little while, simply because I’m a big fan of history, and an even bigger fan of fighting battles without drawing blood. This whole story epitomizes that:

When an Army of Artists Fooled Hitler


I like to feel the base when I ride to battle!

I know what you’re thinking: you can’t simply rock your way into Mordor, but that’s totally what they did. Just with the sound of an army instead of amazing guitar riffs. Oh and the tanks they had with them on this super dangerous & secret mission? Inflatable. These folks must have had the nerve of steel to do this, and they carried it out without a hitch for a full year.

I can’t even imagine the guts that would take. On top of that, their 20 operations throughout the war are estimated to have saved 15,000 – 30,000 U.S. lives, not to mention the lives of other nations.

There’s just so much I love about this concept: a high-stakes situation being played on a bluff. I know there are plenty of stories like this in history, including the fake movie in the Iranian hostage crisis, the cleverness of spies during the Civil War, among countless others; but it’s great to see what a mixture of ingenuity, artistic talent, and guts can accomplish. It’s a testament to the fact that big problems can be solved with a little bit of smoke and mirrors. Sometimes I think it feels easier to take the obvious action instead of betting on a dangerous side-route, especially when you’re dealing with something as big as World War II.

In plenty of stories that I write, I tend to lean toward characters that are not at all what they appear to be. I’ve made a werewolf pretend to be the victim of a vampire to fool an old man, and turned a cute baby into a coarse detective’s worst partner. It’s important to see that there are plenty of things that shouldn’t be taken at face value in life, but it’s also necessary to imagine: What if?

You never know if you’ll be cherry picked to paint the super top secret project of creating an inflatable tank.