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Orphan Train Riders Itineraries




                                                                                603 South Oakes Street, Helena, Montana 59601


December 3, 2013

Mr. George Johnson

33324 Stiff Wind Road

Anytown, Texas, 34567

Dear George,

Thank you for contacting the Making a Difference project. We very much appreciate the opportunity to put the “train” back into orphan train. We did take advantage of the information that you sent us to successfully develop a 1919 train trip itinerary for your Mother. We have been able to define your Mother’s trip as we have found the exact Official Railroad Guide for 1919.

We do want you to understand how we do this. First, we use a set of Official Railroad Passenger Service Guides that date back to 1868. The guide (still published today) featured the schedules of all passenger trains (even the small town locals) in North America during any given month. Every passenger agent in every depot in every town in the United States used the Guide to write tickets for departing passengers to destinations across North America including Canada and Mexico.

Using the guide and other timetables actually issued by the various railroads we are first able to use the process of elimination to find the most likely trains that your Mother traveled in September of 1919.  In addition, the information you provided was most helpful. As to the railroads, there were several passenger trains which traveled the same route as your Mother but we know that she could not have traveled on these trains as they were sleeper car trains only (very expensive), were high priced crack trains, or simply did not fit into the time constraints that your Mother traveled in. In addition, we know that the children usually did not board a train until after 10:00 a.m. in New York. It was just 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 7:00 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 are able to target, through the process of elimination, the trains your Mother surely didn’t ride those many years ago. We then build an itinerary on the remaining scheduled trains using the information you provided.

There are many railroad historians and rail fans that help with this project via the various railroad historical Yahoo.com 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. You can also find out more about us at www.harlowtonmuseum.org.

We know that the New York Foundling Hospital preferred the New York Central Railroad out of New York City. One of the reasons for this preference was the fact that the New York Central’s depot (Grand Central Station) in New York was on 42nd Street; not far from the Foundling Hospital in Manhattan (twenty blocks). 

The itinerary that your Mother almost certainly traveled follows.

Your Mother was rousted out of bed, bathed, dressed and fed on the morning of Monday, September 21, 1919. She then took a street car to Grand Central Station on New York City’s 42nd Street (just a few blocks from Manhattan’s theatre district today). She boarded a New York Central passenger train at 1:00 p.m. for the trip west. As Amtrak does today, railroads in 1919 actually named each passenger train. At Grand Central Station, your Mother boarded a private car specially reserved for the orphans that was connected to New York Central train number 41; The Western Express. Train number 41 was a slow train (thus tickets were cheaper) as it made more stops along its route than did the faster crack trains. The New York Foundling Hospital used The Western Express to Chicago frequently due to its closeness to the Hospital and its favorable departure time from New York and arrival time in Chicago.

The Western Express traveled through Albany to Buffalo, New York where it turned southwest along the south shore of Lake Erie. Known as the “water level route”, this route was the quickest rail route between New York City and Chicago; it remains so today. The train passed through Erie, Pennsylvania, Cleveland and Toledo, Ohio across northern Indiana (it stopped at Elkhart) and drove on into Chicago.  Your Mother arrived at the New York Central’s Chicago LaSalle Street station at 1:20 p.m. on Tuesday, September 22, 1919. From the LaSalle Street station, your Mother’s car was transferred the seven blocks to Chicago’s Union Station on Canal Street.

At Chicago’s Union Station, your Mother’s car was connected to The Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad’s (the Burlington Route) train number 47 for the trip to St. Paul, Minnesota. The train left Chicago at 6:30 p.m. for the overnight trip. The train passed through Dubuque, Iowa, La Crosse Wisconsin and Winona, Minnesota on its way to St. Paul. The train arrived at St. Paul Union Station at 7:15 a.m. on Wednesday, September 23, 1919. We know that she rode the Burlington Route from Chicago to St. Paul because the Burlington Route and the Northern Pacific Railroad were owned by the same family; The Hills. The Hills refused to allow passengers west out of St. Paul boarding onto Northern Pacific Railroad trains UNLESS they rode the Burlington Route from Chicago to St. Paul.

At St. Paul your Mother’s car was switched to the Northern Pacific Railroad for the trip to Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. Her train, train number 7, left St. Paul at 10:38 a.m. on Wednesday, September 23, 1919. The train traveled through St. Cloud, Brainerd, Staples and Wadena, Minnesota on its way to Detroit Lakes. Your Mother’s train arrived in Detroit Lakes at 4:16 p.m. on Wednesday, September 23, 1919.

 Traveling some 1,700 miles on the train from New York City to Detroit Lakes, your Mother certainly had a scary and arduous trip!

A word about the final stop; it was usually very short. An eyewitness (not at Detroit Lakes) described how a New York Foundling Hospital orphan train rider was dropped off at the station where the receiving family awaited her.

The train pulled into the station and the conductor opened the top half of a dutch door while the train was slowing. When the train stopped, a nun handed a clipboard to the conductor who handed it down to the station agent. The agent gave the clipboard to the new father, papers were signed and the clip board passed back to the conductor. The nun then passed the child and bag to the conductor who then immediately passed the child and bag down to the station agent who passed the child and bag to the new father. The top of the door slammed shut and the train was immediately on the move out of the station. The bottom of the car’s dutch door was never opened and the entire transaction took less than a minute.

While we do this at no charge to you, if you want to make a contribution to support this project, then please feel free to send a donation to The Upper Musselshell Historic Society, Post Office Box 364 Harlowton, Montana 59036. Please note “orphan train project” on your check’s memo line. Thank you. Please do NOT feel obligated to make a contribution but we appreciate any help you can provide.  Upper Musselshell  researchers were key to generating your itinerary.  

The locomotive on the top of this letter is, by the way, 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. All American locomotives have always (and still do today) used this description to determine the class an individual locomotive belongs to.

We want to let you know that you can ride a couple of segments of your Mother’s trip. You can board Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited at New York City and travel to Chicago. You can also board an Amtrak passenger train at St. Paul (The Empire Builder) and travel the same route as your Mother did to Detroit Lakes. The Empire Builder is a night train between St. Paul and Detroit Lakes. There is no current Amtrak service on the remainder of her traveling route. By the way, if you choose to do The Lake Shore Limited leg of 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?

Finally, your Mother entrained at Grand Central Station in New York City and may have detrained at Chicago’s Union Station and at the newly restored Union Station in St. Paul, Minnesota. You can still walk in the steps at these stations that your Mother may have walked nearly one hundred years ago. 

 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.

Sincerely yours,

John Shontz, Project Coordinator

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