The Lost Culture of Train Travel
Like airplane travel, train travel was transportation that started out not very friendly towards passengers and then changed over time. Trains have been around longer than planes though and use to be one of the most common modes of travel. Even before highways and roads, train tracks crisscrossed and connected America. Train travel for the common man use to be very plain. The train was plain. The seats were hard. You brought your own lunch and dinner of whatever you had safely packed in a basket and you endured until your stop finally came. Not unlike traveling in the tube nowdays. 🙂
But just like airplanes had their moment of luxury travel, trains did too. Pullman cars became popular after the Civil War and with them the idea of traveling in luxury on the train. Unlike plane travel today, train travel is seen as a novelty now and often has become very luxurious again!
The idea of a dining car as part of a train came into being because of the need for speed. Trains use to make many more stops on their routes which allowed for the passengers to disembark and grab a meal usually at a restaurant or dining house near the tracks. The famous “Harvey Houses” created by Fred Harvey sprung up during this time meeting the need for a good meal served quickly by smiling waitresses. But on long distant trips, the dining car was born out of a need to feed the hungry passengers as they traveled.
Elegance was the byword for these dining cars just as it was for airplanes during their golden age. Dining cars were treated like a moving resturant with often tablecloths, china, crystal, silver and paper menus gracing the tables. Fresh food and local ingredents were expected most of the time and such dishes as braised duck, lobster, fresh fish, steaks, soups, freshly made pies and pastries, fresh fruit, french toast and breads were common on train dining cars. Many trains even had holiday themed meals if you happened to be traveling during the holidays to visit relatives.
If you are interested in learning more about train food, here is an excellent article about train menus and fare!