1875 Rail Route Chicago to Memphis

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Seanchaidh

New Member
Hi

Hope this is the right place to post and not too odd a request..

I am writing a story set in 1875 and would like to depict a rail journey from Chicago to Memphis. Would like to get an rough idea which line (would there be transfers?), what type of cars and locomotives, and how long such a journey would take.

Any info or pointers to sources would be appreciated.

Thanks
 

Bill Anderson

Well-Known Member
We routinely get requests for info by someone writing a book or screen play with a railroad theme. There will be enough books to fill a library if all those budding authors come through. ;)

The classic Chicago-Memphis passenger train was the Illinois Central's City of New Orleans, made famous by the song of the same name. Unfortunately for you, it was not started until 1947.

I would start by searching online for Illinois Central time tables of the 1870's to see if the IC had Chicago-Memphis passenger trains that preceded the City of New Orleans.

Another avenue of research may be one of the predecessor roads of the Gulf, Mobile, and Ohio Railroad.
 
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Skyliner

New Member
To add on to Bill's post above:

Before the City of New Orleans (and concurrently after 1946), the Illinois Central Railroad ran the Panama Limited from Chicago to New Orleans. The main difference was that the Panama Limited was an overnight all-sleeper car Pullman train, and the City of NO was a daytime coach train. However, the Panama Limited didn't start until 1911. Before that, the train was called the Chicago and New Orleans Limited. Exactly when that train started, I'm not sure, but it probably wasn't earlier than 1889, because there wasn't a railroad bridge across the Ohio River in southern Illinois until that year.

In the 1850's, trains from Chicago would run as far as Cairo, IL and passengers would transfer to steamboats to ride downriver to Memphis and New Orleans. After 1873, trains would run to Cairo, be ferried across the river on a ship, and then continue south. Exactly which railroads one would be on from Chicago to Memphis in 1875, I'm not sure. The Illinois Central (IC) partnered with the Mississippi Central and New Orleans, Jackson, and Great Northern Railroads on train service to New Orleans at roughly that time, but exactly who owned which tracks and where, I don't know. At the time, there were still numerous regional railroads all over the country, and some were owned or leased by others, some were controlled by others, and some had agreements to run trains on other railroads. Many of those would eventually be merged into larger railroads (The IC eventually took over the other two railroads mentioned above).

Here's an article I found online with some of the information passed along:

If you can find one, probably a good starting point would be the Official Guide of the Railways. This was a phone-book sized publication that listed the routes, timetables, and information for the nation's railroads, steamship lines, and later on, airlines. Before computers, this was how travel agents and travel departments figured out how to get from one place to another. They show up online and other places, I've got a 1952 edition I found in a used-book store.

Well, look what I found. Google has digitized many Official Guide's from years ago. They even have an 1875 edition online. There's your starting point. From there, you should be able to research each individual railroad and figure out what equipment they ran. Hmm...from a quick look, it appears there wasn't a direct train on the IC to Memphis at that time, their Chicago-New Orleans service bypasses Memphis. Well, I'm sure you can find which connection gets there.


Good luck.
 

Bill Anderson

Well-Known Member
To add on to Bill's post above......
Thread jack. Thanks for the info, which brought back some childhood memories I was 7 or 8 years old when we moved from Lewiston, ID to Sikeston, Mo. in early 1958 due to my father being transferred. My mother, brother and sister, and I made the entire trip by train. The last leg was a night train on the Illinois Central from Chicago to Cairo were my father picked us up and drove us on to Sikeston.

While we lived in Sikeston we took a few "Sunday drives" (pretty much a thing of the past) to Cairo and Paducah, KY as both are in the vicinity of the junction of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. As a kid it was very exciting to cross both of those large rivers on the high automobile bridges.

I remember Cairo had many old brick buildings with what my parents told me was French era wrought iron architecture. They also said Cairo was a "tough town." I gathered they meant that you did not want to be out on the streets after dark.
 

Seanchaidh

New Member
Thank you all so much, this information is very helpful.

I am intrigued with the idea of transferring to steamboat at Cairo. This is something I had not considered and has real possibilities.

Thanks again!
 

Bill Anderson

Well-Known Member
Thank you all so much, this information is very helpful.

I am intrigued with the idea of transferring to steamboat at Cairo. This is something I had not considered and has real possibilities.
Thanks again!
Based on my parents' remark, characters in your story could get into all sorts of (mis)adventures laying over in Cairo for a night waiting to catch a steam boat down the Mississippi for Memphis the next morning.

It is the right era for riverboat gamblers like the Maverick brothers of the old TV western. Depending on your characters' luck or lack thereof, they might not get off the boat until they reach New Orleans. 🤠
 
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