History of a Wandering Yankee: Train to Portland

Frank and Nell are finally finished with San Francisco, and are now headed north to Alaska via Portland, Oregon. Never one to leave out a stray detail, Frank describes every bit of this 600 mile train ride (I think they were riding on the Southern Pacific Railroad). My favorite parts of this are a short stop at Shasta Springs and a ride on a huge ferry boat called the “Solano” (the largest ferry ever built- it could carry an entire train on it). Frank and Nell try in vain to get some reading done on the train but the scenery is just too interesting to ignore. But who can blame them for enjoying the view?

SPR Shasta Route
Southern Pacific Railroad Shasta Route, Milepost 324.99. 1997. Library of Congress.

We leave on June 2nd in the morning, and board the ferry boat which is the largest and finest I have ever seen (its capacity being 4000 people,) the whole upper deck being entirely enclosed in glass protects the passenger from the wind while offering every advantage to see around. It takes 30 minutes to cross the bay, and, arriving at Oakland (which is principally a residential city for San Francisco business men), we take the train for Portland Oregon, and nothing of interest occurs until we reach Porta Costa where our whole train (broken up into sections) is run on the ferry boat “Solano” and carried across an arm of the bay. Here one can get a good breakfast on the boat and have time to reach his seat on the cars before the train pushes off on dry land again. The Solano is 425 feet long, over a hundred feet wide, and will carry as many as 48 freight cars.

Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum
Ferry Boat Solano. Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum.

We now settle ourselves down comfortably for the day with pillows at our backs, and books to read, as this part of the ride is the least interesting. Continue reading “History of a Wandering Yankee: Train to Portland”

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History of a Wandering Yankee: Journey to the Santa Cruz Mountains

Continuing their leisurely trip up to Alaska, Frank and Nell take a day-trip up to the Santa Cruz Mountains with some new friends from San Francisco. In his usual fashion, Frank takes time to describe the huge trees and mountains in detail for his New York cousins. Also in this section is a story about Mark Twain visiting similar mountains in Switzerland and finding a clever way to experience mountain climbing without all the bother of actually climbing. Twain would have been well known to the Felters’ New York relatives- he lived nearby in Elmira NY for many years.

Shortly after our Chinese affair we joined a party of excursionists and took a ride Southwest into the Santa Cruz Mountains, passing through the beautiful towns of Santa Clara, and San Jose, from which latter place one can take the stage for Mount Hamilton and Lick Observatory, where the 36 inch telescope, the second or third largest in the world is mounted, over 4200 feet above the sea.

We did not take this side trip but kept on until we reached a magnificent forest grove and picnic ground, among the redwood trees.

Sequioa
Visitors beneath the General Grant Tree in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, 1900. National Park Service.

These are a smaller species of the “Sequoia Grande,” the noted big trees of California, some of which reach a height of 400 feet, and a diameter of 30 feet. The largest tree known, in the Santa Cruz Mountains is 21 feet through and 300 feet high, but we did not go far enough to see it. Sometime we intend to visit the genuine “big trees” and if possible

Mark Twain
Twain writing at his Elmira home, Quarry Farm, in 1880. Bancroft Library.

to climb one or two of them. If we cannot do it any other way we will follow the example of Mark Twain when he was traveling in Switzerland. He wished very much to say that he had climbed a certain icy crag, which was not only very high and difficult to ascent, but was extremely dangerous as well. While debating with his traveling companion, his courier, whether to climb or not to climb, they are accosted by a man with a large telescope, mounted, and aimed at the peak of the mountain. “Here you are sir, have a look through the most powerful glass in Europe, sir:- take you within ten feet of the top sir:- all for two francs” So Mark, who is quick to see his chance, takes a look through the great telescope, and is seemingly carried so close to the icy top that he stretches forth his hand to break off an icicle, and draws it back involuntarily, with his fingers chilled, and the drops of perspiration which had been formed on his face from the heat of his argument with the courier, were frozen solid. Mark then retires a few feet and remarks that ” ’tis the real thing,” warms his chilled veins with a flask of brandy, while the courier takes his trip to the summit, and he is able to get back with a few cold chills down his marrow.

Mark has in the meantime paid the bill and taken a receipt in full for two round trips to the Summit. This he shows as evidence that, accompanied by his courier he reached a point within ten feet of this icy crag.

However let us leave Mark to his own ample resources and finish out lunch in the Santa Cruz forest. We do this, listening to the Band awhile, and then return to our San Francisco home.

Having rested a few days, and attended theatres a few evenings we cross the ferry one morning to Sausalito, and from thence proceed by train to the summit of Mount Tamalpias which is nearly 2600 feet high an almost isolated peak near the Coast, and North of San Francisco. We were about 1-1/2 hours on the cars, changing once, and the better part of the trip was on the crookedest railroad in the world.

There are 277 curves in a little more than eight miles of rail. The view is certainly grand from the summit:- looking down below on the city of San Francisco in front, -on the right we gaze miles out to sea, while to the left the Sierras loom up in their grandeur and magnitude, and we feel that we would like to step over the few hundred miles intervening. The atmosphere of California is so clear oftentimes that a distance of 50 or 100 miles seems but a step. Sometimes however, especially along the coast, the fogs come in from the ocean and envelope everything as in a wet sheet.

The summers of Frisco are very cool, and were it not for the high winds of July and August would be delightful. As it is the winders are much more pleasant, and while the Eastern States are covered with snow the people housed up are trying to keep warm, -the residents of San Francisco can pick flowers from their dooryards and eat Strawberries ad libitum.

This post is part of a longer travelogue written by Frank L. Felter of Los Angeles, a distant relative of mine, as he and his wife Nell journeyed up to and around Alaska in 1900. To read the previous part, click here. To read the next part, click here.

Are You a Cowboy or a Colonel?

“’Jim,’ said he, ‘here are two gentlemen going to Deadwood, Dakota. What is it that has occurred at Deadwood lately? Haven’t the Indians scalped the whole population?”
“’No,’ said Jim, throwing himself back in his chair and lifting his eyes to the ceiling with an air of deep meditation. ‘It is in Colorado where that took place, it was not in Dakota.’”
“’Then the cow-boys have taken possession of the city, and burnt the whole of some quarter.’’”
“’No; that was in Montana.’”
“’Ah yes, you are right. It is a flood: I remember now. The river overflowed and carried away all the city. It was last month.’”
“’Ah! After all, it is some weeks since that. The post-office must be restored and reopened.’” (2)

For such a cool book that was really popular in its day, you have to do some searching to find out more about Edmond Mandat-de Grancey and his book, Cow-boys and Colonels. Originally written as a series of newspaper articles about the French baron’s travels in the Dakota Territory, it was popular enough to have been published as a book in 1887, translated into English, and made de Grancey a successful travel writer for the rest of his life (he later wrote travel stories from trips to the Eastern U.S., Ireland, and a couple of other locations too). 75 years later, it was republished by Yale University as part of their Western Americana series but has since been out of print and isn’t easy to find.

I came across this book purely by chance, one of those happy accidents that you read about in book introductions or articles about discoveries in dark and dusty libraries. Well, McKeldin Library at the University of Maryland is a little dark and dusty, and it is where this story began for me. A few years ago, I was there on the sixth or seventh floor to get some books for a paper I was writing.

books
My adventure began in a row just like this. Photo Credit: UMD Libraries

If I remember right, I was walking down a row of books looking for the right call number, and I happened to notice the faded title on a book: Cow-boys and Colonels. That was enough to get me to take the book off the shelf.

It was a rebound copy, pretty worn and unremarkable looking, but for some reason I decided to open it up and read the first few pages. Well, that was enough to get me hooked. I sat down on the floor and  ended up reading the first chapter right there in the stacks before I decided to check the book out and be on my way. I wish I had more lucky library stories like this one! I think its always worth it to wander and browse around your library, there’s always something you’ll never, ever find on the internet or in a catalog, you just have to look at the shelf.

In the busy-ness of graduate school, Cow-boys and Colonels sat on my bookshelf for two years before I picked it up again. I kept on renewing it hoping that I’d have to time to read it but never did. But before I knew it, I had graduated and had to return all my books back to the library. As I packed the book into my backpack to take back to UMD, I remembered how cool it was and that I never had a chance to read it. So, I wrote down the title and added it to my list of books to read for fun now that I wasn’t in school anymore. Half a year after that, I finally got my own copy of the book, a Christmas present from my father-in-law. He has his own farm in Missouri and I don’t think he’d mind having a ranch in the Dakotas, so I think the book title stuck out to him too. I’m finally finished reading now, three and a half years after I discovered it. Well, it was definitely worth the wait! Continue reading “Are You a Cowboy or a Colonel?”