Answer Man

Dining cars were railroad’s bread and butter

Q: Were there dining cars on trains in the 1930s and ’40s?

L.D., of Red Bud

A: Even before that legendary golden spike completed the first transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869, passengers were being treated to culinary delights aboard what already had become chew-chew trains.

The early advent of dining cars was a necessity. Before they were added, travelers on multi-day journeys held their noses as they gathered what sustenance they could from the grimy roadhouses near a train’s water stops. The grub was often pretty grubby: rancid meat, cold beans and perhaps last week’s coffee. Not surprisingly, it reportedly discouraged many from traveling at all.

Realizing this was a problem to their bottom line, railroads began adding dining cars in the mid-1800s. In 1870, for example, the Central Pacific, one of the two railroads that built the first transcontinental track, offered this notice to passengers: “This train does not stop for meals. Supper is now ready on (George) Pullman’s palace dining car Cosmopolitan attached to this train.”

By the mid-1880s, almost any railroad not offering dining cars would have found itself starved for passengers. The lone exception: the Santa Fe Railroad, which relied on the Harvey House to feed its passengers. Like today’s IHOP or Denny’s, it is thought to be the country’s first interstate chain of restaurants, which were built near key railroad hubs.

As competition became fiercer, dining cars began to rival posh restaurants for service and quality. Even Santa Fe cooked up something special. When it introduced its new Pleasure Dome lounge cars in 1951, it added the Turquoise Room, which it trumpeted as “the only private dining room in the world on rails.” Used by celebrities and other dignitaries riding the Super Chief, it could accommodate 12 guests and be reserved for private dinners and parties.

Dining cars have had a long and sumptuous history. I know I will never forget my 53rd birthday dining on steak and wine aboard the Lima-Huancayo in Peru. At the time, it was the highest railroad in the world as we reached a peak of 15,843 feet in the Andes — and stopped for photos.

Q: In many ranch homes built in the 1950s, the bathtub is less than a foot from the toilet. Although the world has changed since the 1950s, especially our knowledge of sanitary conditions, whoever thought that was the acceptable thing to do? Not suing, just curious.

Jeff, of Belleville

A: When my parents managed to scrape together enough money to buy their first home in the midst of the Depression, they, like most folks, weren’t exactly awash in money. They bought a $3,000 house with one bathroom the size of a postage stamp.

Unless you were the Rockefellers, I’d bet it was how most bathrooms were designed. In those days, there were no thoughts of Jacuzzis, palatial showers and double vanities. People needed something practical but, most important, affordable. Ours was like those in every other house in our neighborhood that I can remember. Sure, even one was almost a crowd in that bathroom, but it was always clean and had all the necessities — the toilet in the southwest corner, inches away from the tub and sink. I certainly wasn’t haunted by thoughts of some evil pathogen waiting to pounce as I kicked off my Fruit of the Looms.

My dad later added a shower and second toilet in the basement, but I spent many happy hours in that tiny bathroom sailing the plastic boats I had gotten as prizes in my Rice Krinkles or Alpha-Bits. And, in some ways, things really haven’t changed much since. My own first house had an almost identical bathroom (although the toilet was built into a niche) and my current circa-1929 home has something similar on the second floor, although I favor my far more spacious (and newer) loo in the basement.

Having survived such bathrooms for so long without contracting some exotic disease, I can’t see the problem you do. You’re not using both at the same time, and as long as you flush with the lid down, nothing escapes.

Besides, there are far worse things lurking in your lav, according to a 2014 list of people’s biggest bathroom mistakes published by the Huffington Post. According to a Harvard University study, your toothbrush should always be at least 6 feet from the toilet because aerosolized particles can float in the air that far if you flush with the lid up.

In addition, an ABC News report found that your bathroom floor has more germs than your toilet seat (so always wear slippers) and you should change towels at least twice a week. One final tip I never realized: If you’re limber enough, squatting instead of sitting on the toilet seat may help you do your thing an average of 80 seconds faster. Who knew?

By the way, the toilet-tub configuration didn’t even make the list.

Today’s trivia

Where would you now find the highest railroad in the world?

Answer to Friday’s trivia: Those wanting to experience a miner’s life without the dangers should visit the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum in Leadville, Colo. There you’ll find a replica of an underground hard-rock mine, where the tracks will take you on a history of mining from the use of crude hammers and pickaxes to high-tech drilling equipment. You’ll also find plaques detailing the lives of prospectors, teachers, adventurers and colorful rascals. For more info, go to www.mininghalloffame.org.

Roger Schlueter: 618-239-2465, @RogerAnswer

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