A couple months ago we went with our grandchildren to the California State Railroad Museum since our grandson is a huge fan of Thomas the Train. There were lots of Thomas's for them to play with, but the museum was very interesting for us grandparents to see as well.
We were able to stroll through a sleeper car, a dining car, and even a mail car. The kitchen area was miniscule, but we found out that the food they served from there was very upscale. I never realized what all could be accomplished on a train, rolling through the countryside.
Prior to World War I, rail travel was done for necessity. There weren't too many options to get across the country other than to board a train and ride for days. Railroad companies didn't have to cater to the passengers because they were pretty much guaranteed to have passengers all the time. They didn't think about making the experience a comfortable one to draw in people. Just equate that with air travel today...
However, during the 1920s and into the 1930s, the rise of automobiles brought down the number of passengers willing to ride uncomfortable trains. To lure passengers back toward train travel, railroad companies started focusing on improving technology. A lightweight Streamliner passenger train was built and put into service to increase speed and efficiency which cut down on the travel time between cities.
Trains were some of the first places to have air conditioning available for the passengers. By the end of the 1920s, some trains blew air over large blocks of ice to cool down the passenger compartments. Later on mechanical air conditioners were added to trains making all the compartments more comfortable.
The height of train travel was during the 1940 war years. With the gas rationing throughout the country, people turned to rail to get from one location to another. More people traveled by rail from 1941 to 1947 than any other time in history. After that time, train travel has been replaced by automobiles on improved roads and air travel.
This might makes us nostalgic for the good ol' days of train travel, but this luxurious means of transportation was not for all passengers. Many people could not afford to sit it in the fancy first class and had to travel with smoke and cinders blowing in through the open windows. Sounds more like our air travel today - not too comfy.
Oh well, we can wish for the past, but most of us probably wouldn't have been able to afford riding in first class anyway. Now we're all resigned to taking off our shoes at the airport and getting our body scan just to go to see our family who lives in another state. Things aren't always greener on the other side of the fence.
Information taken from Union Pacific Passenger Trains and Rail Transport in the 1930s.