Developed by The Orphan Train Project: Making a Difference
Project Coordinator John Shontz
We used the information in your novel Orphan Train to develop a train trip itinerary for your train rider, Vivian Daley, using the Official Railroad Guide from 1929.
Many railroad historians and rail fans helped with this project via various railroad historical societies and Yahoo groups on the Internet. In your instance, the people who helped put together the itinerary included the folks at the Upper Musselshell Historic Society of Harlowton, Montana. (See their contact info below.)
Incidentally, we treat itinerary letters for actual riders in the same manner as the Children’s Aid Society and the New York Foundling Hospital treat their records. We never share a letter without the express permission of the rider or the family.
Your rider was one of the last orphan train riders, as the New York Legislature banned the out-of-state placement of orphans from New York State in November of 1929. The children usually left New York City on a Monday or Tuesday so that the accompanying adults could return to New York City for church services the following Sunday.
It was not unusual for these children to take a torturous route to their final destinations, as the railroads would attach these old cars to whatever train they wanted to. Often the train the children started on would reach its locomotive’s maximum pulling power as it added regular passengers, so the children’s car was disconnected to wait for the next passenger train that had the locomotive power to take on the extra car, and so on. It was certainly brutal traveling but it was also very real.
Using the guide and other timetables issued by the various railroads, we were first able to use the process of elimination to find the most likely trains that Vivian traveled on. The information in your book was most helpful. Several passenger trains traveled the same route as Vivian’s, but we know that she could not have traveled on these trains as they were sleeper car trains only (very expensive), high-priced, high-speed “crack” trains, or simply did not fit into the time constraints. The children usually did not board a train until after 10 a.m. in New York. It was too difficult to get a troop of children woken up, bathed, dressed, fed, packed and organized to get to the station and ready in time to board, for example, a 7 a.m. train. Early morning departures from New York also did not coincide with the connections that needed to be made going west, primarily out of Chicago. Thus we were able to target, through the process of elimination, the trains Vivian surely didn’t ride those many years ago. We then built an itinerary on the remaining scheduled trains using the information in your book.
The Children’s Aid Society used the New York Central Railroad out of Manhattan. One of the reasons for this was that the New York Central’s station (Grand Central Station) is on 42nd Street, only 20 blocks from the Children’s Aid Society.
The itinerary that Vivian almost certainly traveled follows:
Like so many of the real children (and accompanying adults) who rode on the orphan trains, Vivian had a very trying journey. She was rousted out of bed, bathed, dressed and fed at the Children’s Aid Society on the morning of Monday, October 18, 1929. She then took a streetcar with her 19 young companions to Grand Central Station on 42nd Street. She boarded a New York Central passenger train at 12:40 p.m. for the trip west. As Amtrak does today, railroads in 1929 actually named their long-distance passenger trains. At Grand Central, Vivian and the other children boarded a private car specifically reserved for the orphans that was connected to New York Central train #41 – The 2nd Empire.
A word here about the “private” car Vivian traveled in. The children traveled in a private car because it was cheaper to lease a car for the journey than it was to purchase twenty plus individual tickets. The private car also made it much easier for the adults to contain and control the children who were cooped up for four days and three nights.
Train #41 was a slow train, as it made more stops along its route than the faster “crack” trains. It was old and uncomfortable; the car would have had little in the way of bathroom facilities and lacked plush seats. It was attached to regular trains, so other than its age it appeared as just another car on the train to other passengers.
The 2nd Empire traveled through Albany to Buffalo, New York, where it terminated. Vivian arrived in Buffalo at 10:50 p.m. and her car sat in the yard overnight, with all of the children on board. At 10:05 a.m. on Tuesday, October 19, Vivian’s car, connected to New York Central train #59, The Chicago and St. Louis Special, left Buffalo. The train traveled west along the south side of Lake Erie. Known as the “water level route,” this was the quickest rail route between New York City and Chicago; it remains so today. The train passed through Erie, Pennsylvania on its way to Cleveland, Ohio. Vivian’s train arrived in Cleveland at 4:35 p.m. on Tuesday. Due to train #59 being overweight west out of Cleveland, Vivian’s car was disconnected from the train (a common practice) and waited overnight for the next train to Chicago. On Wednesday, October 20, Vivian’s train was connected to New York Central train #21, The Big Four Limited. The train left Cleveland at 7:35 a.m. and traveled across northern Indiana, stopping in Elkhart before heading to Chicago.
Vivian arrived at the LaSalle Street Station in Chicago at 5:23 p.m. on Wednesday, October 20. From there, Vivian’s car was quickly transferred the seven blocks to Chicago’s Union Station on Canal Street, where it was attached to the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railway (The Milwaukee Road) train #1; The Pioneer. The Pioneer left Chicago at 6:43 p.m. on Wednesday for Minneapolis/St. Paul, where the train terminated.
Vivian arrived at The Milwaukee Road’s Minneapolis station at 7:35 a.m. on Thursday, October 21. She and her compatriots were displayed at the station and selections made. Vivian’s private car also terminated at Minneapolis as there were too few children traveling west of Minneapolis to warrant a private car. She and her remaining fellow travelers boarded The Milwaukee Road train #15, The Olympian, at 9:15 a.m. Vivian arrived at Albans, Minnesota at 12:21 p.m. (noon) on Thursday, October 21.
Traveling some 1,325 miles on the train from New York City to Albans, Minnesota, Vivian certainly had a scary and arduous trip.
By the way, you and your readers can follow most of Vivian’s trip on Amtrak today. You can board the Lake Shore Limited at Pennsylvania Station in NYC and travel to Union Station in Chicago, where you will change to The Empire Builder and travel on to Minneapolis. The Milwaukee Road station is a recently renovated hotel, restaurant and community skating rink. Of course, the trip today will require considerably less time than it did in Vivian’s day. (And there is no current Amtrak service on the remainder of Vivian’s trip from Minneapolis to Albans, Minnesota.)
If you choose to do the trip on Amtrak, you will find excellent china and white linen service in the dining car. May we recommend the herbal baked half chicken for dinner?
We hope you find this information of use and interest! If you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact us via email or letter.
John Shontz, Project Coordinator
The Orphan Train Project: Making a Difference
603 South Oakes Street, Helena, MT 59601
With assistance from Upper Musselshell Historic Society: www.harlowtonmuseum.org.
P.S. The locomotive at the top of this letter is a Northern Pacific 4-4-0 steam locomotive. The 4-4-0 means that the locomotive had four wheels in the front, four wheels in the middle and zero wheels underneath the cab of the locomotive. Since the late 1800s all American locomotives have used this description to determine the class an individual locomotive belongs to.