Vaudeville Travel

I spend a good deal of time in my mysteries dealing with vaudeville travel practices, because travel–especially train travel–was such an integral part of every vaudeville performer’s life. Performers paid for their own tickets. It was their single most costly expense they had, more than hotels or food. Most tried to leave town after the final performance on their last day, which would usually be late Saturday night, so they could sleep on the train and save the money for a hotel that night, and so they could arrive the next morning in time for rehearsal. 

Performers called each train ride a “jump.” They jumped to the next town on their itinerary. But booking agents were not arranging these jumps with any thought to efficiency, so often performers had to “back jump” or go in the opposite direction or re-trace their route. And railroad travel was unpredictable. Trains were often delayed by snow, landslides, or strikes, meaning the performers missed their next gig and a day’s or week’s pay. 

Here’s something I learned that doesn’t make it into my novels–trains in the 1920s were faster than they are today. Incredible? Yes, but true. Why? Less rail capacity and poorer rail quality, plus the dominance of freight travel over passenger travel.  Read this for more. 

Published in: on December 9, 2017 at 8:55 pm  Comments (3)  

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  1. Thanks for this explanation. My mother’s vaudeville circuit in 1918 went from New York to Philadelphia to Chicago, then Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Duluth, Winnipeg, Calgary, Victoria, Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Denver, Lincoln, Kansas City, Des Moines, St. Paul, and back to Chicago — in 6 months. Based on today’s train schedules, I had tried to figure out how they got from Calgary to Victoria, for instance, in one day. Theoretically, they performed in Calgary on 29 October and in Victoria on 30 October. Even with faster trains, that seems impossible, but maybe…

    • Gracious, your poor mother! I don’t know how typical a schedule like hers was, but it certainly sounds grueling. And expensive.

  2. I really enjoyed reading about train travel in your novels. Maybe because I’m a commuter myself (have been for more than twelve years).
    I do like travelling by train… but sometimes is really trying. Delays are still very common… at least here in Italy 😉

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