In 1888 my great grandfather Raymond Barker and his family took a trip across the country by train, and as with a previous excursion to Niagara Falls and Toronto, Ray kept a journal which the family press subsequently published. From Lake Erie to the Golden Gate is a longer work than the record made of that earlier trip, but then this was a journey of 44 days and there was much to draw the attention of a 14-year-old boy touring the country for the first time.
It was winter when they left Cleveland, but their route lead south after Chicago, crossing the Mississippi at St. Louis over a bridge of steel, the dimensions of which Ray dutifully recorded as"12,045 feet long." From there they passed through Arkansas and into Texas, where Ray was thrilled to accept the offer of a cowboy to take a ride on his pony. They crossed briefly into Mexico at Paso del Norte where they chose to eat Italian - "soup, fish, meat, potatoes, quails and pie" - and watched a soldier blacking his boots and licking his brush to dampen it. Ray collected some sand from the bed of the Rio Grande, the first of many natural history "specimens" he would collect as mementos of this journey.
They soon had the unnerving experience of running out of water in the desert, but it was the train engine and not their canteens that ran dry:
"Wednesday, Feb 22. This morning we went through more alkali deserts. About 10.15 A.M. we stopped out in one of the greatest of these deserts and soon the report came around that the engine was out of water. In crossing these deserts they have to draw two tank cars filled with water, but ours were both empty. There we were out on an alkali desert with no power to go except foot power, but as it was eleven miles to any habitation or settlement we had to wait. A man on the train said he would go and have an engine come to our assistance. After he had gone they found a man who had a telegraph instrument which he took to a pole with telegraph connections and had an engine brought down. It was 12.15 when it came up with two water tanks. We then switched the two empty cars off on a switch. The place where we ran out of water was called Frink's Station, 653 1/2 miles from San Francisco. It was called a station though there was not a sign of a station or even a hut. All there was, was a switch. We were very glad to start because there was not much pleasure in being out in an alkali desert with the dry alkali blowing about..."
I might add at this point in Ray Barker's narrative that I know something about being stranded in deserts, having had a number of occasions to experience this firsthand while living in Namibia. Ray's story reminds me of one time in particular when we were driving our vintage 1967 Series IIa Landrover along a gravel road in northwest Namibia and suddenly our transmission seized. There was nothing to do but sit by the side of the road and wait, but luck was on our side for the first vehicle to come down the road, about an hour later, were some workers for the telephone company. One of them hot-wired a phone to the nearby lines and called the nearest town where we had friends who spent the next two days getting us back our first two gears so that we could drive 150 kilometers at 20 kph the next day to seek advanced mechanical assistance. They refused payment and we bought and slaughtered a goat to feed everyone so it all worked out in the end, but those long minutes before help arrived were more than a bit disconcerting.
The train reached San Diego on February 23, 8 days after the journey began. We'll pick up the tale in a subsequent post.