Thursday, 24 July 2014

Anne of Green Gables Could Have Sat in a Hat Box

In the early 1900's, Lucy Maud Montgomery was working as an editor for the Halifax Morning Chronicle when she read a newspaper article about a local couple who applied to adopt a boy, but instead was sent a girl.  The wheels started turning in Miss Montgomery's head.

In 1905, she wrote a novel about an elderly sister and brother from P.E.I. who apply to adopt a boy, but instead are sent a red-headed, freckle-faced girl with a wild imagination.  Most people would assume that her story was immediately snapped up by a publisher.  But this was not the case.  After five rejections, Miss Montgomery put her manuscript in a hat box and tucked it away.  In the meantime, she got on with her life.

Three years passed.  Finally, the author resubmitted her story.  This time it was accepted by L. C. Page of Boston, Massachusetts.  Anne of Green Gables was an immediate success in bookstores, selling more than 19000 copies in the first five months.  It was translated into 20 different languages.  Miss Montgomery penned seven sequels, all of which enjoyed a certain amount of success.  Today it has sold an estimated 50 million copies worldwide.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

How Gone With the Wind Almost Didn't Get Published

Margarte Mitchell courtesy

It had been ten years since Margaret Mitchell first started writing her Civil War era novel.  The 1000-plus page manuscript was collecting dust under her sofa, replacing a broken leg.  Then fate intervened.

Margaret Mitchell was raised by a lawyer historian father and a mother in Atlanta, Georgia.  Her father would tell her endless stories about the Civil War and encourage her to further her education.  Margaret graduated from college and pursued a career in journalism at the Atlanta Journal.

Atlanta, Georgia circa 1907 courtesy

In 1926, after sustaining injuries in an automobile accident, Margaret decided to take a prolonged vacation to recuperate.  Her husband got tired of bringing home stacks of books from the Atlanta Library for her to read and suggested that she write her own book.  She took him up on it.

Margaret spent several years writing the novel about Southern belle Pansy O'Hara and her Civil War soldier Rhett Butler. Drawing on her father's stories and sifting through countless old newspapers and magazines, Margaret drafted a historically accurate story about Atlanta during the Civil War years.

Margaret kept the manuscript a secret, never intending on having it published.  However, one day she revealed to a friend that she was working on a novel, to which the woman replied:  "You, write a book?!" The remark was the impetus for Margaret to market her manuscript.

In 1936, a publisher from MacMillan was travelling the South looking for new material.  When he arrived in Atlanta, Margaret gave him her precious manuscript.  He read it on the train to New Orleans and was so impressed he immediately sent it to New York City.  Within two months, Margaret had a book contract.


Margaret toyed with different titles for her novel including:  Tomorrow is Another Day, Bugles Sang True, Not in Our Stars, and Tote the Weary Lode.  She settled on a line from a favourite poem by Ernest Dowson:

"I have forgotten too much, Cynara/Gone with the wind/
Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng/
Dancing to put thy pale/lost lilies out of mind.

MacMillan suggested that she change the heroine's name from Pansy to Scarlett and she agreed.

Gone W|ith the Wind went on to sell one million copies in the first six months.  The following year, Ms. Mitchell won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.  The Civil War era novel went on to be translated into 40 different languages.  It has never been out of print.


Margaret Mitchell reading her famous novel courtesy

Monday, 21 July 2014

The Flying Scotsman

The first Flying Scotsman, a green apple painted train, left London for Edinburgh back in 1862.  It set a record for the first steam locomotive to reach 100 miles per hour in 1934.  After a century of service, the Flying Scotsman made its last run in 1963.  

The Flying Scotsman was the dream of Nigel Gresley.  The first locomotive took ten and a half hours to travel the 392 miles from the English to the Scottish capital.  Only first and second class passengers were sold tickets; third class had to find another mode of transportation.  

Nigel Gresley and passengers on board the Flying Scotsman circa 1928 courtesy

IN 1923, a new locomotive was built with such a large tender that it could carry nine tons of coal.  Without the need to stop for refueling the Flying Scotsman made the trip within eight hours.  By now, third class passengers were also sold tickets.  

The train featured a cocktail bar, a Louis XVI themed restaurant and even a cinema coach for a short time. In the hair salon, female passengers could get a new coif while male passengers could get shaved with a straight razor.  

In 1924 and 1925, the Flying Scotsman served as the "flagship" for the railroad company at the British Empire Exhibition in Wembley.  Four years later, the train starred in its own movie bearing the same name.  

In 1963, the Flying Scotsman made its last run from King's Cross Station to Waverley Station.  It was about to be sold for scrap, but was saved from the scrapyard by a local businessman.  Next year plans are in order to restore it once again.  

Sunday, 20 July 2014

The Super Chief

Coined "The Train of the Stars", the Super Chief carried celebrities and everyday citizens from Chicago to Los Angeles from 1936 to 1971.  Offering champagne dinners and speedy service, the Super Chief was a "rolling hotel".

The Santa Fe Railway debuted the Super Chief, the first diesel powered train in the United States, on May 12, 1936.  Once a week it would pick up passengers at Dearborn Station in Chicago and transport them 2227 miles to Los Angeles in 36 hours and 49 minutes.  Travelling at an average speed of 60 miles per hour, it would peak at 112 miles per hour, making it the fastest train in America.  

Super Chief leaving the Chicago station courtesy

The Super Chief boasted a stainless steel exterior and a sleek design.  Inside, it featured rare wood panelling and American Indian artwork.  The train provided modern amenities like air conditioning.  Barbers, maids and valets were on board to meet the needs of the 500 passengers.  

In the dining car, guests clothed in suits and hats, dresses and pumps, waited to be served.  They feasted on caviar and cold salads, grilled fish and sirloin steaks, all served on the train's very own Mimbreno china.   A breakfast favourite was Santa Fe French Toast.  Over one million meals were served on the Super Chief.

Janet Leigh gets ready to board the Super Chief courtesy

For guests who made a special request, there was seating in a private dining car called the Turquoise Room, where you might find the likes of Frank Sinatra, Janet Leigh, Paul Newman or Elizabeth Taylor.  Even President Truman's daughter, Margaret, took the Super Chief.

Sadly, after its heyday in the 1940's and 1950's, the Santa Fe trains started to empty out.  By 1971, it shut down the line. 

Note:  McNeil Lehrer Newshour anchor, Jim Lehrer, remembers the Super Chief rumbling through his Kansas town as it followed the old Santa Fe and Spanish Trails.  He has written a novel Super based on the famous train.

"Santa Fe all the Way" courtesy

Saturday, 19 July 2014

The Trans-Siberian Railroad

"There is no railway journey of comparable length anywhere in the world.  The Trans-Siberian is the big train ride.  All the rest are peanuts." (Eric Newby, The Big Red Train Ride)

It crosses eight time zones -- a third of the world.  It carves its way through the Ural Mountains and across the Russian Steppe.  It navigates taigas, swamps and permafrost.  It is "The Big Red Train Ride".  

The Trans-Siberian Railroad was first conceived in the 1850's.  But it was not until Tsar Alexander III came to power that the railroad was completed.  Construction was done mainly by prisoners and soldiers.  The future tsar, Nicholas II, inaugurated the railroad at the end of his around the world journey in 1891.  A Trans-Manchurian link was completed in 1901.

However, with the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905, Russia was concerned about that stretch of the railroad.  In 1916, they built another link, the Amur Railway, to replace the Manchurian section, making the entire Trans-Siberian Railway within Russia's borders.  At the time, Nicholas II was tsar.

Russia's Civil War damaged sections of the railroad which were repaired in the 1920's.  At the end of the same decade, an electrification project got underway, one that would not be completed until 2002.

The famous railroad would serve to increase Russia's economic and military might, providing Moscow an essential link with the Pacific Ocean.  During the Second World War, China took over the Trans-Manchurian Line.  Of course, Russia fell back on its alternate route, the Amur Railway, transporting essential goods back and forth.  

Today, the 5,778 mile long journey on the Trans-Siberian Railroad takes eight days.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Japan's Bullet Train


In the two decades after World War II, Japan dug itself out from the rubble and rebuilt the country.  With lightning speed, new cities appeared on the landscape.  And with those new cities came new technology.  In preparation for the Tokyo Olympics, Emperor Hirohito launched the Bullet Train on October 1, 1964. It would be the fastest, most advanced train in the world.

At a time when the fastest British train only reached speeds of 100 miles per hour, The Shinkansen was designed to travel at an unheard of 150 miles per hour.  The train looked like nothing anyone had ever seen before with its nosecone, hidden wheels, and shiny white paint.  A railroad was built between Tokyo and Osaka that featured 67 miles of tunnels and over 3000 bridges.  Japan prepared to greet the world with its modern technological marvel.

Travelling to Japan became fashionable.  Not only athletes would take on the train but also celebrities.  At the height of Beatlemania in 1964, the British foursome made a trip to Tokyo.  Singer Ella Fitzgerald also paid a visit to Tokyo.  With its snow capped mountains and cherry blossoms, train passengers could enjoy Japan's scenery in comfort.  The train offered reclining seats, a quiet, vibration free ride, and service provided by impeccably dressed hostesses.  The Shinkansen, well ahead of its time, was the precursor to France's TGV's, Germany's ICE's and Italy's Pendolino's.

Over the decades the Bullet Train has carried 5.5 billion passengers.  Despite its speed of 199 miles per hour, it has a reputation for safety.  No fatalities have occurred on board, despite an earthquake in 2004 and a blizzard in 2013.

Japan is not finished yet.  It is developping a new train, a magnetic levitation that will run above the tracks at the blistering speed of 311 miles per hour.  And it all started with the Tokyo Olympics.


A Nozomi bullet train rests in Kyoto Station (Sean Pavone/Alamy)

Thursday, 17 July 2014

The 20th Century Limited: Roll Out the Red Carpet

A crimson carpet stretched the length of a football field at New York's Grand Central Station.  Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, Marshall Field and Walter Chrysler, lined up to board the train.  The Cunard Line had the Queen Mary and the New York Central Railroad had the 20th Century Limited.  It was the only way to travel from New York City to Chicago.  It was "the tycoon train".

In 1902, the New York Central Railroad was looking for a way to compete with the Pennsylvania Railroad. It came up with the idea of a high speed luxury train from New York to Chicago.  It took no time for the route to attract regular passengers like Theodore Roosevelt, William Jennings Bryan, J. P. Morgan and William Wrigley.  By the 1920's, a fare cost $51 ($604 today).  In the most profitable year, 1928, the 20th Century Limited made a $10 million profit.

By 1938, the railroad company introduced a new improved version of the 20th Century Limited.  The new train was streamlined with suites with toilets, dining cars, an observation car.  Amenities included leather upholstered seats and air conditioning -- and the red carpet, hence the term "red carpet treatment".

Passengers like Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, Bette Davis and Doris Day, boarded the train at New York City.  Upon boarding, Mr. Crosby and Mr. Hope were given carnations while Ms. Davis and Ms. Day were given perfume.  They drank martinis, Manhattans and highballs in the bar as the train headed out of the metropolis.  Then they ate dinner in the dining room, featuring caviar, filet mignon and lobster, as the train steamed along the banks of the Hudson River.  By the time they bit into their apple pie a la mode, the train, travelling 60 miles per hour, would have reached Lake Erie.

Pullman porters and maids would attend to their every need.  Manicurists and barbers were available for guests who needed grooming.  Operators and secretaries were available for businessmen.  Porters would even shine shoes while their owners slept.

The following morning, at 9 am, the streamlined train would pull into LaSalle Street Station in Chicago.  It had covered 960 miles in 16 hours, a blistering speed for the 1930's.  The stars would disembark along with the businessmen and the travellers.  Some would stay in Chicago.  Others would board a second train, often the Santa Fe Express, headed for Los Angeles.

For 65 years, the 20th Century Limited was the "greatest train in the world".  It became part of American culture.  Alfred Hitchocock's "North by Northwest", starring Eva Marie Saint and Cary Grant, was filmed on the famous train.  On December 2, 1967, it made its last run, pulling into the station almost 10 hours late due to a freight train derailment.  It was a not so glamourous ending to one of the most glamourous trains in history.

Note:  For more information on the 20th Century Limited Train, read --

1.  The Art of the Streamliner (Bob Johnston & Joe Welsh)
2.  20th Century:  The Greatest Train in the World (Lucius Beebe)