In early America, travel happened by foot, by boat, or by stage. We all know 'a stage" is a four wheel driven vehicle powered by horses or mules. They run on established routes, following a regular schedule. Early stage routes trans versed the early colonies and later the west shuffling people in a simplified, lighter coach than their English counterparts. These coaches were often referred to as a stage wagon or a mud coach. Navigation was done by a driver or coachman accompanied by a guard called a shot gun messenger.
role of travel was slow five to seven miles per hour, however over a
day, they might cover sixty to seventy miles. Breaks occurred at places
called swing stations or home stations. Stages began running regular
routes in 1744, between the budding metropolis of New York and
Philadelphia. The distance took three days to cover until the year 1766
when a new more trustworthy coach was implemented. These coaches carried
not only letters, but packages, merchandise, and in some cases - money.
By 1832, Boston alone had over 77 lines.
vehicles were great in moving the masses, they were not comfortable.
Iron and steel springs did not allow the body of the coach to compensate
for the pot holes by moving side to side. They instead bounced up and
down jostling the passengers and often tossing them against their co
riders. In 1829, a major innovation came through the use of leather
straps that allowed the body to be somewhat suspended and move not only
up and down, but also side to side. In Twain's book, Ruffing It, he
described his travels by stage as "riding a cradle on wheels".
meant money. People were often crammed inside on three hard seats. If
riding in the middle they held on to straps suspended from the ceiling
to keep from pitching back or forward. Others decided it was safer to be
perched on top of the stage. If you think about it, you can understand
why. Imagine, if you will, nine passengers, layered with dust, boots
covered with animal waste, perhaps bodies and/or clothing unwashed for
months - yeah, it's a good thing Hollywood made it glamorous.
So how much
did this 'luxury' travel cost. Remember, no coke and peanuts. Nope.
Meals were extra and cost $1.00 for each meal consumed. Our passengers
could chose their travel. First class, cost $7.00 and they rode for the
whole trip. Second class passengers were required to walk when the road
was bad. And those economy seats in third class, they not only had to
walk, but if the coach was going up hill, they were required to push.
Something to write home about for sure.
routes followed the Pony Express examples. Stages stopped in intervals
of twelve and fifty miles at two types of stations, a swing station or a
home station. Home stations would be at the fifty mile route marker.
These would be run by families and served hot meals and allowing their
'guests' to sleep over night on the hard floors. Home stations would
also be where drivers changes occurred. A swing station came at the
twelve mile markers and would be run by bachelor stock men. Their
accommodations would be a cabin or barnc. The stage would stay long
enough to change teams and allow passengers to stretch their legs. From
Kansas to California there were one hundred and fifty of these type
All good things do come to an end. Railroads
pushed the stage lines from the most prominent towns. Routes they
followed, now took them to towns the trains didn't service. However, the
death blow to the stage lines came with the invention of the automobile
in the early 1900's.
Famous stage lines were:
Buutterfield's Overland Mail Company
Wells Fargo and Company
Holladay Overland Mail and Express Company.
Until next time