Research and Facts

Those Speed Demons of the 1800s

In the third of my Sanborn-Malloy series (as yet untitled and unpublished), there is more train travel, not to mention horse travel, than in the first two books, if you can believe that. If there were frequent-traveler miles in the 1880s, the characters in all my books would be riding for free for the rest of their lives.

In the third installment, I needed to better pinpoint the timeframe of cross-country train travel (and take a researcher’s refresher course to remind me of the train schedules that I learned about in order to write the first book, An Improper Situation).

Recently, I came across an interesting site showing how much faster people could travel by the latter part of the nineteenth century compared to the beginning. For my needs, this graphic describing mid-century travel was the most useful:
rates of travel 1857
The numbers on the lower right are measured in days, with the journey originating in New York City, and then as you go westward, the time is measured in weeks. (Source of graphic:

This information is about 30 years too early, so I sped the trains up a wee bit in my story, and gave my characters some comfy seats, too. My main characters in Book Three, Thaddeus and Eliza, travel from Missouri to Massachusetts, from Massachusetts to Montana and back again, and from Massachusetts to Colorado, with many stops along the way. When I look back on where they’ve been, I’m not sure how they had time for all the gunfights and gambling, for falling in and out of love, for fighting and forgiving, but they do it all!

Personally, I prefer train travel to airplanes. How about you?