80 Years Ago this Month

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Eric in East County

Service Attendant
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Jan 20, 2016
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163
Location
East San Diego County
80 years ago this month, Pullman (“The 1st Class way to go!”) ran a full-page ad in National Geographic magazine extolling the virtues of traveling in a Pullman. Much of the ad copy could, with only a few minor alterations, be used by AMTRAK today to help sell sleeping car accommodations. Here are some of the ad copy’s highlights:

EXPERIENCED TRAVELERS know how much the pleasure of a trip is enhanced by friendly service. And that is why they choose Pullman!

They know that, on Pullman, a porter is available at any hour of day or night – ready to respond to any traveler’s reasonable request – eager to fill that request with dispatch and courtesy. Every Pullman employee is selected and trained for service to you!

But Service is only one of Pullman’s . . . outstanding advantages. You know them all – you probably take them for granted. And that in itself is a tribute to Pullman!

Why not make it a rule to go Pullman, the way that gives you more for your Money.


Great PULLMAN Travel Advantages

ROOMINESS – room to “stretch out,” take it easy and move about. Ample space for personal luggage without extra charge.

“HOME-LIKE” COMFORTS – Completely equipped dressing rooms. Individual toilet facilities in private rooms. Club cars on principle trains.

SERVICE – courteous efficient and truly hospitable.

PRIVACY – freedom from unwelcome intrusions. You don’t have to share your accommodation with anybody.

SLEEP, in a real bed, just as at home. In air-conditioned comfort. Get there feeling fit!


If this doesn’t want to make you book sleeping car accommodations on your next long-distance train trip, we don’t know what would!

Eric & Pat
 

MARC Rider

Conductor
Joined
Apr 5, 2011
Messages
3,011
Location
Baltimore. MD
Hmm, let's compare the ad copy with the real experience today.

EXPERIENCED TRAVELERS know how much the pleasure of a trip is enhanced by friendly service. And that is why they choose Pullman!

They know that, on Pullman, a porter is available at any hour of day or night – ready to respond to any traveler’s reasonable request – eager to fill that request with dispatch and courtesy. Every Pullman employee is selected and trained for service to you!
HaHaHaHa!!!!! (At least based on all the complaints I read here about all the SCAs who are apparently AWOL the entire trip, except when it comes time to collect the tip.)

Great PULLMAN Travel Advantages

ROOMINESS – room to “stretch out,” take it easy and move about. Ample space for personal luggage without extra charge.
Well, you can fit one mid size roller bag on the ledge by one of the seats, and a backpack on the shelf that's also used as a step for the upper berth. Everything else goes into a common luggage rack in the lower level (superliner) or in a hard-to-access cubbyhole above the compartment door. (Viewliners)

“HOME-LIKE” COMFORTS – Completely equipped dressing rooms. Individual toilet facilities in private rooms. Club cars on principle trains.
Dressing rooms? Where? Toilets in the rooms? Half the people posting here can't wait to see that eliminated. Also, I can't believe that the copy editor missed "principle" subbing for "principal." And, yes we now have club cars for sleeping passengers, but that's an "apology"[ for cutting back dining car service and serving Flex Meals.
SERVICE – courteous efficient and truly hospitable.
Not from the accounts that I see posted on this forum.
PRIVACY – freedom from unwelcome intrusions. You don’t have to share your accommodation with anybody.
But, but.. you could just buy two coach seats and have them for yourself at a much lower cost!
SLEEP, in a real bed, just as at home. In air-conditioned comfort. Get there feeling fit!
Yes, if your bed at home is 6 ft by 2 ft. and has a 3-inch thick foam mattress and a thin blue blanket. And if the heating/AC controls in your bedroom at home never quite work properly. :)


With regard to the "service" you got from Pullman, remember that it came at a price:

Choosing Servility To Staff America's Trains | Alicia Patterson Foundation

Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters - Wikipedia

Working for the Pullman Company was, however, less glamorous than the image the company promoted. Porters depended on tips for much of their income and thus on the generosity of white passengers who often referred to all porters as "George", the first name of George Pullman, the company's founder (see also Society for the Prevention of Calling Sleeping Car Porters "George"). The company required porters to travel 11,000 miles, nearly 400 hours, per month to earn a basic wage. In 1934, porters on regular assignments worked an average of over 73 hours per week and earned 27.8 cents an hour while workers in manufacturing jobs averaged under 37 hours per week and earned an average of 54.8 cents per hour. They spent roughly ten percent of their time in unpaid "preparatory" and "terminal" set-up and clean-up duties, and they had to pay for their food, lodging, and uniforms, which could consume up to half of their wages. They were also charged whenever their passengers stole a towel or a water pitcher. Porters could ride at half fare on their days off—but not on Pullman coaches. They were not eligible for promotion to conductor, a job reserved for whites, despite frequently performing some of the conductor duties.
 
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Eric in East County

Service Attendant
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Jan 20, 2016
Messages
163
Location
East San Diego County
All we know about the people who staffed the Pullman coaches back during the “golden era” of rail passenger service is what we’ve read in the books of Lucius Beebe. Back then, the porters and other service personnel who worked for Pullman would indeed have had to been “hand-picked,” since it was assumed they would be in direct contact with the likes of temperamental A-list movie stars and top entertainers, well-known writers, leading scientists and educations, captains of industry, foreign dignitaries, famous musicians and singers, etc., many of whom were regular riders. It goes without saying that all of the Pullman staff had to have good “people skills” in order to successfully deal with such an eclectic lot.

The Pullman porters who worked on such famous trains such as the 20th Century Limited and the Super Chief were considered the tops in their profession and would have been treated as valuable assets by Pullman since, according to Beebe, people would book passage on a specific train in order to ride with certain Pullman staff members whom they’d known from long acquaintance.

For many years, the 20th Century Limited ran in multiple sections with 3 or more trains departing within a few minutes of each other daily. Each of these trains had to have a full complement of skilled Pullman personnel to see to the needs of its passengers.

It is difficult to determine with any degree of certainty what a Pullman porter’s annual income was since porters seldom revealed the size of the tips they received, lest a porter with more seniority pull rank and bump them off the train they’d been working.

We’ve had good and sometime outstanding service from the SCAs we’ve ridden with. And as long as AMTRAK continues to provide private bedrooms on its long-distance trains, we will continue to travel by train.

Eric & Pat
 

Anderson

Conductor
Joined
Nov 16, 2010
Messages
9,638
Location
Virginia
I think the point about "tipped income" being a major factor is something that is overlooked in the context of pay. There was a quote from someone working in the diner on the Champion in the 1960s that the money from the tips was enough that they didn't really need to bother cashing their checks. I suspect a bit of hyperbole, and of course on a slam-full train the diner would be getting traffic from perhaps 6-8 sleepers and a bunch of coaches while in-season...and of course, this was a busier train and I'm sure things weren't as nice on a second-tier train only hauling a single Pullman sleeper and some coaches.

I don't know what that translated to for porters vs waiters, but I think there's every chance that the Pullman porters were bringing in at least as much in tips as they were in regular pay...and that tipped income was not going to be going by the tax man, now, was it? So at least by the time you get to 1942 (when the base income tax rate went to 19%) there's a good chance that the OBS folks were ultimately doing rather better than the "average" worker in this respect.

(Also, the article omits the fact that of those "400 hours", at least some would have been sleeping time...I would be stunned if the current practice of SCAs arranging to cover one another for some time at night didn't have precedent, especially on trains with longer consists [I can see things being a bit more "stretched" on trains with, say, a single sleeper]. Trying to sort out "hours worked" versus "hours paid" on this front is always an interesting exercise.)
 

railiner

Conductor
Joined
Mar 20, 2009
Messages
9,381
Location
Palm Beach County
All we know about the people who staffed the Pullman coaches back during the “golden era” of rail passenger service is what we’ve read in the books of Lucius Beebe. Back then, the porters and other service personnel who worked for Pullman would indeed have had to been “hand-picked,” since it was assumed they would be in direct contact with the likes of temperamental A-list movie stars and top entertainers, well-known writers, leading scientists and educations, captains of industry, foreign dignitaries, famous musicians and singers, etc., many of whom were regular riders. It goes without saying that all of the Pullman staff had to have good “people skills” in order to successfully deal with such an eclectic lot.

The Pullman porters who worked on such famous trains such as the 20th Century Limited and the Super Chief were considered the tops in their profession and would have been treated as valuable assets by Pullman since, according to Beebe, people would book passage on a specific train in order to ride with certain Pullman staff members whom they’d known from long acquaintance.

For many years, the 20th Century Limited ran in multiple sections with 3 or more trains departing within a few minutes of each other daily. Each of these trains had to have a full complement of skilled Pullman personnel to see to the needs of its passengers.

It is difficult to determine with any degree of certainty what a Pullman porter’s annual income was since porters seldom revealed the size of the tips they received, lest a porter with more seniority pull rank and bump them off the train they’d been working.

We’ve had good and sometime outstanding service from the SCAs we’ve ridden with. And as long as AMTRAK continues to provide private bedrooms on its long-distance trains, we will continue to travel by train.

Eric & Pat
Being a Pullman Porter, at the time, was considered by many as one of the most prestigious and highly coveted occupation's in their community. They were relatively sophisticated, and well-travelled individual's, with impeccable manner's, and were often times leader's and social advocates for their community, as well.
 

jruff001

Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 23, 2020
Messages
150
OK, this might ruffle some feathers, but I have seen enough posts / threads here romanticizing the Pullman Porter era and I feel I need to speak up.

All the nostalgia for the Pullman Porters without even the semblance of a reflection that "Gee, that was a great time for passengers but maybe not so much for the Porters" is an extremely offensive example of white privilege. I suspect the demographic here is mostly older, white men (like me, so nothing against that demographic!), and I know people are speaking from their own perspectives (which is legitimate and welcome), and I am not saying anyone means to be hurtful, BUT . . .

While yes the Porter job was well-respected in the Black community back then and paid relatively well (mostly through tips), that was because they had NO OTHER JOB OPTIONS because of their race. In fact, the Porters were treated horribly by the Pullman Co. and by many passengers, but they had no recourse but to suck it up and take it, or be fired. (And yes, to one of the comments above, Porters were indeed expected to be awake and ready to serve passengers 24/7 the entire trip until, after decades of fighting, they finally got a union which got them a couple of hours of sleep per night.)

I highly recommend Rising from the Rails and Miles of Smiles, Years of Struggle for more on the perspective of the Porters themselves. It is fascinating reading and I learned a lot. I found those books after ordering and reading Pullman: America's Hotel on Wheels and becoming incredulous and angered that not one of the articles / stories in it was by or about an actual Pullman Porter! (There was one from a Pullman Conductor, but that is an entirely different perspective.) How can you tell this story without including them??? So I looked around to find that point of view.

Sorry if this offends. That is not my intention. And I know people just mean they miss good service. But longing for the "good old days" of the Porters comes across as really cringeworthy if you know the whole story of what those jobs entailed. Whether you realize it or not, it is really only a small step above longing for the good old days of slavery. So I felt I had to say something.
 
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