Trains in the Roaring Twenties: Interview with Hays Watkins

imagesSo there I was, stuck with plot problems on my third novel in the Roaring Twenties series, a book I titled Renting Silence. I have a train robbery in this book and lots of train travel as well, and the logistics were confusing me. Just how did trains work back then? I found nothing trustworthy on the Internet, so I called Hays T. Watkins, retired CEO of CSX, formerly the Chessie System. Who better to explain some things about railroads in the Roaring Twenties than the man who ran the largest train system in the country? He insisted on coming over to my house. We talked for an hour. He saved the plot!!

library01It was a real learning experience for me. What did I learn? Well, for starters, there were no cabooses on passenger trains. (Who knew?? Certainly not I.) There could be two dining cars on one train, and I know now where they were usually placed in the lineup. The baggage car was usually in the front. The two cooks who worked in the dining car slept in two bunks in the back of that car, not in a caboose, as I had surmised, or they got off after the meal was served at the next station. Freight cars weren’t attached to passenger cars, but (since this was essential to my plot) Mr. Watkins said an “office car” could be hooked to the end. That was a rich man’s private car, and it could carry freight, or, in my story, cases of whiskey, and guards. The guards would have been termed “attendants.” I learned how men could uncouple the last car on the train without the engineer knowing, but that they couldn’t then move it anywhere without the help of the railroad. “Even downhill?” I asked desperately. No. But the tracks of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, which is the train in my story, could have been clear for several hours between trains, allowing the thieves time to unload the whiskey before the next train rolled into the station. And so forth. It was highly illuminating! I’m ready to write the last third of the book now. It’s going to be a good story.

Published in: on June 9, 2013 at 8:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

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