In 1915, you could catch a train within 12 miles, anywhere in Iowa.
In the heyday of Iowa train travel, you could ride an hourly commuter train between Boone and Des Moines. In Des Moines, you caught a trolley car to your destination.
In those days, passenger trains traveled at speeds up to 100 mph. In those days, men might commute to town each day to work, but ‘nice young women’ might not.
I learned this history when I took a ride this week on the Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad 1920’s Excursion Train in Boone, Iowa. I bought my ticket in the original depot and boarded a train car that had 1920’s era bench seats with backs that flipped back and forth so you could always face forward. We inched our way across an extremely high bridge that had me gripping the window frame for dear life as I peered down into the valley, even though there was no way I could have fallen out.
As I write historical fiction set in the early 1900s, it helps me to see what people saw, experience what they did. The day was exceedingly hot – one of those high temperature-high humidity days that gripped the Midwest this summer. As a breeze through the open-air car ruffled my hair and offered a breath of relief from the heat, I thought of travelers at the turn of the 20th Century. I’m sure they were not wearing shorts and tank tops!
Cars spelled the end of convenient passenger train travel for Iowans and many others in the United States. I would love to see passenger train travel become a reality in Iowa again. Perhaps with climate-controlled cars.