VIEW THE MOBILE VERSION of Informational Site Network Informational


From: How To Write Special Feature Articles
(Category: PART II)


He stands there at the door of his car, dusky, grinning,
immaculate--awaiting your pleasure. He steps forward as you near him
and, with a quick, intuitive movement born of long experience and
careful training, inquires:

"What space you got, guv'nor?"

"Lower five," you reply. "Are you full-up, George?"

"Jus' toler'bul, guv'nor."

He has your grips, is already slipping down the aisle toward section
five. And, after he has stowed the big one under the facing bench and
placed the smaller one by your side, he asks again:

"Shake out a pillow for you, guv'nor?"

That "guv'nor," though not a part of his official training, is a part of
his unofficial--his subtlety, if you please. Another passenger might be
the "kunnel"; still another, the "jedge." But there can be no other
guv'nor save you on this car and trip. And George, of the Pullmans, is
going to watch over you this night as a mother hen might watch over her
solitary chick. The car is well filled and he is going to have a hard
night of it; but he is going to take good care of you. He tells you so;
and, before you are off the car, you are going to have good reason to
believe it.

Before we consider the sable-skinned George of to-day, give a passing
thought to the Pullman itself. The first George of the Pullmans--George
M. Pullman--was a shrewd-headed carpenter who migrated from a western
New York village out into Illinois more than half a century ago and gave
birth to the idea of railroad luxury at half a cent a mile. There had
been sleeping cars before Pullman built the Pioneer, as he called his
maiden effort. There was a night car, equipped with rough bunks for the
comfort of passengers, on the Cumberland Valley Railroad along about

Other early railroads had made similar experiments, but they were all
makeshifts and crude. Pullman set out to build a sleeping car that would
combine a degree of comfort with a degree of luxury. The Pioneer, viewed
in the eyes of 1864, was really a luxurious car. It was as wide as the
sleeping car of to-day and nearly as high; in fact, so high and so wide
was it that there were no railroads on which it might run, and when
Pullman pleaded with the old-time railroad officers to widen the
clearances, so as to permit the Pioneer to run over their lines, they
laughed at him.

"It is ridiculous, Mr. Pullman," they told him smilingly in refusal.
"People are never going to pay their good money to ride in any such
fancy contraption as that car of yours."

Then suddenly they ceased smiling. All America ceased smiling. Morse's
telegraph was sobering an exultant land by telling how its great
magistrate lay dead within the White House, at Washington. And men were
demanding a funeral car, dignified and handsome enough to carry the body
of Abraham Lincoln from Washington to Springfield. Suddenly somebody
thought of the Pioneer, which rested, a virtual prisoner, in a railroad
yard not far from Chicago.

The Pioneer was quickly released. There was no hesitation now about
making clearances for her. Almost in the passing of a night, station
platforms and other obstructions were being cut away, and the first of
all the Pullman cars made a triumphant though melancholy journey to New
York, to Washington, and back again to Illinois. Abraham Lincoln, in the
hour of death--fifty years ago this blossoming spring of 1915--had given
birth to the Pullman idea. The other day, while one of the brisk Federal
commissions down at Washington was extending consideration to the
Pullman porter and his wage, it called to the witness stand the
executive head of the Pullman Company. And the man who answered the call
was Robert T. Lincoln, the son of Abraham Lincoln.

When Pullman built the Pioneer he designated it A, little dreaming that
eventually he might build enough cars to exhaust the letters of the
alphabet. To-day the Pullman Company has more than six thousand cars in
constant use. It operates the entire sleeping-car service and by far the
larger part of the parlor-car service on all but half a dozen of the
railroads of the United States and Canada, with a goodly sprinkling of
routes south into Mexico. On an average night sixty thousand persons--a
community equal in size to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, or South Bend,
Indiana--sleep within its cars.

And one of the chief excuses for its existence is the flexibility of its
service. A railroad in the South, with a large passenger traffic in the
winter, or a railroad in the North, with conditions reversed and travel
running at high tide throughout the hot summer months, could hardly
afford to place the investment in sleeping and parlor cars to meet its
high-tide needs, and have those cars grow rusty throughout the long,
dull months. The Pullman Company, by moving its extra cars backward and
forward over the face of the land in regiments and in battalions, keeps
them all earning money. It meets unusual traffic demands with all the
resources of its great fleet of traveling hotels.

Last summer, when the Knights Templars held their convention in Denver,
it sent four hundred and fifty extra cars out to the capital of
Colorado. And this year it is bending its resources toward finding
sufficient cars to meet the demands for the long overland trek to the
expositions on the Pacific Coast.

The transition from the Pioneer to the steel sleeping car of today
was not accomplished in a single step. A man does not have to be so
very old or so very much traveled to recall the day when the Pullman
was called a palace ear and did its enterprising best to justify that
title. It was almost an apotheosis of architectural bad taste. Disfigured
by all manner of moldings, cornices, grilles and dinky plush
curtains--head-bumping, dust-catching, useless--it was a decorative
orgy, as well as one of the very foundations of the newspaper school of

Suddenly the Pullman Company awoke to the absurdity of it all. More than
ten years ago it came to the decision that architecture was all right in
its way, but that it was not a fundamental part of car building. It
separated the two. It began to throw out the grilles and the other
knickknacks, even before it had committed itself definitely to the use
of the steel car.

Recently it has done much more. It has banished all but the very
simplest of the moldings, and all the hangings save those that are
absolutely necessary to the operation of the car. It has studied and it
has experimented until it has produced in the sleeping car of to-day
what is probably the most efficient railroad vehicle in the world. Our
foreign cousins scoff at it and call it immodest; but we may reserve our
own opinion as to the relative modesty of some of their institutions.

* * * * *

This, however, is not the story of the Pullman car. It is the story of
that ebony autocrat who presides so genially and yet so firmly over it.
It is the story of George the porter--the six thousand Georges standing
to-night to greet you and the other traveling folk at the doors of the
waiting cars. And George is worthy of a passing thought. He was born in
the day when the negro servant was the pride of America--when the black
man stood at your elbow in the dining rooms of the greatest of our
hotels; when a colored butler was the joy of the finest of the homes
along Fifth Avenue or round Rittenhouse Square. Transplanted, he quickly
became an American institution. And there is many a man who avers that
never elsewhere has there been such a servant as a good negro servant.

Fashions change, and in the transplanting of other social ideas the
black man has been shoved aside. It is only in the Pullman service that
he retains his old-time pride and prestige. That company to-day might
almost be fairly called his salvation, despite the vexing questions of
the wages and tips of the sleeping-car porters that have recently come
to the fore. Yet it is almost equally true that the black man has been
the salvation of the sleeping-car service. Experiments have been made in
using others. One or two of the Canadian roads, which operate their own
sleeping cars, have placed white men as porters; down in the Southwest
the inevitable Mexicano has been placed in the familiar blue uniform.
None of them has been satisfactory; and, indeed, it is not every negro
who is capable of taking charge of a sleeping car.

The Pullman Company passes by the West Indians--the type so familiar to
every man who has ridden many times in the elevators of the apartment
houses of upper New York. It prefers to recruit its porters from certain
of the states of the Old South--Georgia and the Carolinas. It almost
limits its choice to certain counties within those states. It shows a
decided preference for the sons of its employees; in fact, it might
almost be said that to-day there are black boys growing up down there in
the cotton country who have come into the world with the hope and
expectation of being made Pullman car porters. The company that operates
those cars prefers to discriminate--and it does discriminate.

That is its first step toward service--the careful selection of the
human factor. The next step lies in the proper training of that factor;
and as soon as a young man enters the service of the Pullmans he goes to
school--in some one of the large railroad centers that act as hubs for
that system. Sometimes the school is held in one of the division
offices, but more often it goes forward in the familiar aisle of a
sleeping car, sidetracked for the purpose.

Its curriculum is unusual but it is valuable. One moment it considers
the best methods to "swat the fly"--to drive him from the vehicle in
which he is an unwelcome passenger; the next moment the class is being
shown the proper handling of the linen closet, the proper methods of
folding and putting away clean linen and blankets, the correct way of
stacking in the laundry bags the dirty and discarded bedding. The porter
is taught that a sheet once unfolded cannot be used again. Though it may
be really spotless, yet technically it is dirty; and it must make a
round trip to the laundry before it can reenter the service.

All these things are taught the sophomore porters by a wrinkled veteran
of the service; and they are minutely prescribed in the voluminous rule
book issued by the Pullman Company, which believes that the first
foundation of service is discipline. So the school and the rule book do
not hesitate at details. They teach the immature porter not merely the
routine of making up and taking down beds, and the proper maintenance of
the car, but they go into such finer things as the calling of a
passenger, for instance. Noise is tabooed, and so even a soft knocking
on the top of the berth is forbidden. The porter must gently shake the
curtains or the bedding from without.

When the would-be porter is through in this schoolroom his education
goes forward out on the line. Under the direction of one of the grizzled
autocrats he first comes in contact with actual patrons--comes to know
their personalities and their peculiarities. Also, he comes to know the
full meaning of that overused and abused word--service. After all, here
is the full measure of the job. He is a servant. He must realize that.
And as a servant he must perfect himself. He must rise to the countless
opportunities that will come to him each night he is on the run. He must
do better--he must anticipate them.

Take such a man as Eugene Roundtree, who has been running a smoking car
on one of the limited trains between New York and Boston for two
decades--save for that brief transcendent hour when Charles S. Mellen
saw himself destined to become transportation overlord of New England
and appropriated Roundtree for a personal servant and porter of his
private car. Roundtree is a negro of the very finest type. He is a man
who commands respect and dignity--and receives it. And Roundtree, as
porter of the Pullman smoker on the Merchants' Limited, has learned to

He knows at least five hundred of the big bankers and business men of
both New York and Boston--though he knows the Boston crowd best. He
knows the men who belong to the Somerset and the Algonquin Clubs--the
men who are Boston enough to pronounce Peabody "Pebbuddy." And they know
him. Some of them have a habit of dropping in at the New Haven ticket
offices and demanding: "Is Eugene running up on the Merchants'

"It isn't just knowing them and being able to call them by their names,"
he will tell you if you can catch him in one of his rarely idle moments.
"I've got to remember what they smoke and what they drink. When Mr.
Blank tells me he wants a cigar it's my job to remember what he smokes
and to put it before him. I don't ask him what he wants. I anticipate."

And by anticipating Roundtree approaches a sort of _n_th degree of
service and receives one of the "fattest" of all the Pullman runs.

George Sylvester is another man of the Roundtree type--only his run
trends to the west from New York instead of to the east, which means
that he has a somewhat different type of patron with which to deal.

Sylvester is a porter on the Twentieth Century Limited; and, like
Roundtree, he is a colored man of far more than ordinary force and
character. He had opportunity to show both on a winter night, when his
train was stopped and a drunken man--a man who was making life hideous
for other passengers on Sylvester's car--was taken from the train. The
fact that the man was a powerful politician, a man who raved the direst
threats when arrested, made the porter's job the more difficult.

The Pullman Company, in this instance alone, had good cause to remember
Sylvester's force and courage--and consummate tact--just as it has good
cause in many such episodes to be thankful for the cool-headedness of
its black man in a blue uniform who stands in immediate control of its

Sylvester prefers to forget that episode. He likes to think of the nice
part of the Century's runs--the passengers who are quiet, and kind, and
thoughtful, and remembering. They are a sort whom it is a pleasure for a
porter to serve. They are the people who make an excess-fare train a
"fat run." There are other fat runs, of course: the Overland, the
Olympian, the Congressional--and of General Henry Forrest, of the
Congressional, more in a moment--fat trains that follow the route of the

It was on one of these, coming east from Cleveland on a snowy night in
February last, that a resourceful porter had full use for his store of
tact; for there is, in the community that has begun to stamp Sixth City
on its shirts and its shoe tabs, a bank president who--to put the matter
lightly--is a particular traveler. More than one black man, rising high
in porter service, has had his vanity come to grief when this crotchety
personage has come on his car.

And the man himself was one of those who are marked up and down the
Pullman trails. An unwritten code was being transmitted between the
black brethren of the sleeping cars as to his whims and peculiarities.
It was well that every brother in service in the Cleveland district
should know the code. When Mr. X entered his drawing-room--he never
rides elsewhere in the car--shades were to be drawn, a pillow beaten and
ready by the window, and matches on the window sill. X would never ask
for these things; but God help the poor porter who forgot them!

So you yourself can imagine the emotions of Whittlesey Warren, porter of
the car Thanatopsis, bound east on Number Six on the snowy February
night when X came through the portals of that scarabic antique, the
Union Depot at Cleveland, a redcap with his grips in the wake. Warren
recognized his man. The code took good care as to that. He followed the
banker down the aisle, tucked away the bags, pulled down the shades,
fixed the pillow and placed the matches on the window sill.

The banker merely grunted approval, lighted a big black cigar and went
into the smoker, while Warren gave some passing attention to the other
patrons of his car. It was passing attention at the best; for after a
time the little bell annunciator began to sing merrily and persistently
at him--and invariably its commanding needle pointed to D.R. And on the
drawing-room Whittlesey Warren danced a constant attention.

"Here, you nigger!" X shouted at the first response. "How many times
have I got to tell all of you to put the head of my bed toward the

Whittlesey Warren looked at the bed. He knew the make-up of the train.
The code had been met. The banker's pillows were toward the locomotive.
But his job was not to argue and dispute. He merely said:

"Yas-suh. Scuse me!" And he remade the bed while X lit a stogy and went
back to the smoker.

That was at Erie--Erie, and the snow was falling more briskly than at
Cleveland. Slowing into Dunkirk, the banker returned and glanced through
the car window. He could see by the snow against the street lamps that
the train was apparently running in the opposite direction. His chubby
finger went against the push button. Whittlesey Warren appeared at the
door. The language that followed cannot be reproduced in THE SATURDAY
EVENING POST. Suffice it to say that the porter remembered who he was
and what he was, and merely remade the bed.

The banker bit off the end of another cigar and retired once again to
the club car. When he returned, the train was backing into the Buffalo
station. At that unfortunate moment he raised his car shade--and Porter
Whittlesey Warren again reversed the bed, to the accompaniment of the
most violent abuse that had ever been heaped on his defenseless head.

Yet not once did he complain--he remembered that a servant a servant
always is. And in the morning X must have remembered; for a folded bill
went into Warren's palm--a bill of a denomination large enough to buy
that fancy vest which hung in a haberdasher's shop over on San Juan

If you have been asking yourself all this while just what a fat run is,
here is your answer: Tips; a fine train filled with fine ladies and fine
gentlemen, not all of them so cranky as X, of Cleveland--thank heaven
for that!--though a good many of them have their peculiarities and are
willing to pay generously for the privilege of indulging those

Despite the rigid discipline of the Pullman Company the porter's leeway
is a very considerable one. His instructions are never to say "Against
the rules!" but rather "I do not know what can be done about it"--and
then to make a quick reference to the Pullman conductor, who is his
arbiter and his court of last resort. His own initiative, however, is
not small.

Two newspaper men in New York know that. They had gone over to Boston
for a week-end, had separated momentarily at its end, to meet at the
last of the afternoon trains for Gotham. A had the joint finances and
tickets for the trip; but B, hurrying through the traffic tangle of
South Station, just ninety seconds before the moment of departure, knew
that he would find him already in the big Pullman observation car. He
was not asked to show his ticket at the train gate. Boston, with the
fine spirit of the Tea Party still flowing in its blue veins, has always
resented that as a sort of railroad impertinence.

B did not find A. He did not really search for him until Back Bay was
passed and the train was on the first leg of its journey, with the next
stop at Providence. Then it was that A was not to be found. Then B
realized that his side partner had missed the train. He dropped into a
corner and searched his own pockets. A battered quarter and three
pennies came to view--and the fare from Boston to Providence is ninety

Then it was that the initiative of a well-trained Pullman porter came
into play. He had stood over the distressed B while he was making an
inventory of his resources.

"Done los' something, boss?" said the autocrat of the car.

B told the black man his story in a quick, straightforward manner; and
the black man looked into his eyes. B returned the glance. Perhaps he
saw in that honest ebony face something of the expression of the
faithful servants of wartime who refused to leave their masters even
after utter ruin had come upon them. The porter drew forth a fat roll of

"Ah guess dat, ef you-all'll give meh yo' business cyard, Ah'll be able
to fee-nance yo' trip dis time."

To initiative the black man was adding intuition. He had studied his
man. He was forever using his countless opportunities to study men. It
was not so much of a gamble as one might suppose.

A pretty well-known editor was saved from a mighty embarrassing time;
and some other people have been saved from similarly embarrassing
situations through the intuition and the resources of the Pullman
porter. The conductor--both of the train and of the sleeping-car
service--is not permitted to exercise such initiative or intuition; but
the porter can do and frequently does things of this very sort. His
recompense for them, however, is hardly to be classed as a tip.

The tip is the nub of the whole situation. Almost since the very day
when the Pioneer began to blaze the trail of luxury over the railroads
of the land, and the autocrat of the Pullman car created his servile but
entirely honorable calling, it has been a mooted point. Recently a great
Federal commission has blazed the strong light of publicity on it.
Robert T. Lincoln, son of the Emancipator, and, as we have already said,
the head and front of the Pullman Company, sat in a witness chair at
Washington and answered some pretty pointed questions as to the division
of the porter's income between the company and the passenger who
employed him. Wages, it appeared, are twenty-seven dollars and a half a
month for the first fifteen years of the porter's service, increasing
thereafter to thirty dollars a month, slightly augmented by bonuses for
good records.

The porter also receives his uniforms free after ten years of service,
and in some cases of long service his pay may reach forty-two dollars a
month. The rest of his income is in the form of tips. And Mr. Lincoln
testified that during the past year the total of these tips, to the best
knowledge and belief of his company, had exceeded two million three
hundred thousand dollars.

The Pullman Company is not an eleemosynary institution. Though it has
made distinct advances in the establishment of pension funds and death
benefits, it is hardly to be classed as a philanthropy. It is a large
organization; and it generally is what it chooses to consider itself.
Sometimes it avers that it is a transportation company, at other times
it prefers to regard itself as a hotel organization; but at all times it
is a business proposition. It is not in business for its health. Its
dividend record is proof of that. All of which is a preface to the
statement that the Pullman Company, like any other large user of labor,
regulates its wage scale by supply and demand. If it can find enough of
the colored brethren competent and willing and anxious to man its cars
at twenty-seven dollars and a half a month--with the fair gamble of two
or three or four times that amount to come in the form of tips--it is
hardly apt to pay more.

No wonder, then, the tip forms the nub of the situation. To-day all
America tips. You tip the chauffeur in the taxi, the redcap in the
station, the barber, the bootblack, the manicure, the boy or girl who
holds your coat for you in the barber's shop or hotel. In the modern
hotel tipping becomes a vast and complex thing--waiters, doormen, hat
boys, chambermaids, bell boys, porters--the list seems almost unending.

The system may be abominable, but it has certainly fastened itself on
us--sternly and securely. And it may be said for the Pullman car that
there, at least, the tip comes to a single servitor--the black autocrat
who smiles genially no matter how suspiciously he may, at heart, view
the quarter you have placed within his palm.

A quarter seems to be the standard Pullman tip--for one person, each
night he may be on the car. Some men give more; some men--alas for poor
George!--less. A quarter is not only average but fairly standard. It is
given a certain official status by the auditing officers of many large
railroads and industrial corporations, who recognize it as a chargeable
item in the expense accounts of their men on the road.

A man with a fat run--lower berths all occupied, with at least a
smattering of riders in the uppers, night after night--ought to be able
easily to put aside a hundred and fifty dollars a month as his income
from this item. There are hundreds of porters who are doing this very
thing; and there are at least dozens of porters who own real estate,
automobiles, and other such material evidences of prosperity.

A tip is not necessarily a humiliation, either to the giver or to the
taker. On the contrary, it is a token of meritorious service. And the
smart porter is going to take good care that he gives such service. But
how about the porter who is not so smart--the man who has the lean run?
As every butcher and every transportation man knows, there is lean with
the fat. And it does the lean man little good to know that his fat
brother is preparing to buy a secondhand automobile. On the contrary, it
creates an anarchist--or at least a socialist--down under that black

Here is Lemuel--cursed with a lean run and yet trying to maintain at
least an appearance of geniality. Lemuel runs on a "differential"
between New York, Chicago and St. Louis. Every passenger-traffic man
knows that most of the differentials--as the roads that take longer
hours, and so are permitted to charge a slightly lower through fare
between those cities, are called--have had a hard time of it in recent
years. It is the excess-fare trains, the highest-priced carriers--which
charge you a premium of a dollar for every hour they save in placing you
in the terminal--that are the crowded trains. And the differentials have
had increasing difficulty getting through passengers.

It seems that in this day and land a man who goes from New York to
Chicago or St. Louis is generally so well paid as to make it worth
dollars to him to save hours in the journey. It is modern efficiency
showing itself in railroad-passenger travel. But the differentials,
having local territory to serve, as well as on account of some other
reasons, must maintain a sleeping-car service--even at a loss. There is
little or no loss to the Pullman Company--you may be sure of that! The
railroad pays it a mileage fee for hauling a half or three-quarter empty
car over its own line--in addition to permitting the Pullman system to
take all the revenue from the car; but Lemuel sees his end of the
business as a dead loss.

He leaves New York at two-thirty o'clock on Monday afternoon, having
reported at his car nearly three hours before so as to make sure that it
is properly stocked and cleaned for its long trip. He is due at St.
Louis at ten-fifteen on Tuesday evening--though it will be nearly two
hours later before he has checked the contents of the car and slipped
off to the bunking quarters maintained there by his company.

On Wednesday evening at seven o'clock he starts east and is due in New
York about dawn on Friday morning. He cleans up his car and himself, and
gets to his little home on the West Side of Manhattan Island sometime
before noon; but by noon on Saturday he must be back at his car, making
sure that it is fit and ready by two-thirty o'clock--the moment the
conductor's arm falls--and they are headed west again.

This time the destination is Chicago, which is not reached until about
six o'clock Sunday night. He bunks that night in the Windy City and then
spends thirty-two hours going back again to New York. He sees his home
one more night; then he is off to St. Louis again--started on a fresh
round of his eternal schedule.

Talk of tips to Lemuel! His face lengthens. You may not believe it,
white man, but Lemuel made fifty-three cents in tips on the last trip
from New York to Chicago. You can understand the man who gave him the
Columbian antique; but Lemuel believes there can be no future too warm
for that skinny man who gave him the three pennies! He thinks the
gentleman might at least have come across with a Subway ticket. It is
all legal tender to him.

All that saves this porter's bacon is the fact that he is in charge of
the car--for some three hundred miles of its eastbound run he is acting
as sleeping-car conductor, for which consolidated job he draws down a
proportionate share of forty-two dollars a month. This is a small sop,
however, to Lemuel. He turns and tells you how, on the last trip, he
came all the way from St. Louis to New York--two nights on the
road--without ever a "make-down," as he calls preparing a berth. No
wonder then that he has difficulty in making fifty dollars a month, with
his miserable tips on the lean run.

Nor is that all. Though Lemuel is permitted three hours' sleep--on the
bunk in the washroom on the long runs--from midnight to three o'clock in
the morning, there may come other times when his head begins to nod. And
those are sure to be the times when some lynx-eyed inspector comes
slipping aboard. Biff! Bang! Pullman discipline is strict. Something has
happened to Lemuel's pay envelope, and his coffee-colored wife in West
Twenty-ninth Street will not be able to get those gray spats until they
are clean gone out of style.

What can be done for Lemuel? He must bide his time and constantly make
himself a better servant--a better porter, if you please. It will not go

unnoticed. The Pullman system has a method for noticing those very
things--inconsequential in themselves but all going to raise the
standard of its service.

Then some fine day something will happen. A big sleeping-car autocrat,
in the smugness and false security of a fat run, is going to err. He is
going to step on the feet of some important citizen--perhaps a railroad
director--and the important citizen is going to make a fuss. After which
Lemuel, hard-schooled in adversity, in faithfulness and in courtesy,
will be asked in the passing of a night to change places with the old

And the old autocrat, riding in the poverty of a lean run, will have
plenty of opportunity to count the telegraph poles and reflect on the
mutability of men and things. The Pullman Company denies that this is
part of its system; but it does happen--time and time and time again.

George, or Lemuel, or Alexander--whatever the name may be--has no easy
job. If you do not believe that, go upstairs some hot summer night to
the rear bedroom--that little room under the blazing tin roof which you
reserve for your relatives--and make up the bed fifteen or twenty times,
carefully unmaking it between times and placing the clothes away in a
regular position. Let your family nag at you and criticize you during
each moment of the job--while somebody plays an obbligato on the
electric bell and places shoes and leather grips underneath your feet.
Imagine the house is bumping and rocking--and keep a smiling face and a
courteous tongue throughout all of it!

Or do this on a bitter night in midwinter; and between every two or
three makings of the bed in the overheated room slip out of a linen coat
and into a fairly thin serge one and go and stand outside the door from
three to ten minutes in the snow and cold. In some ways this is one of
the hardest parts of George's job. Racially the negro is peculiarly
sensitive to pneumonia and other pulmonary diseases; yet the rules of a
porter's job require that at stopping stations he must be outside of the
car--no matter what the hour or condition of the climate--smiling and
ready to say:

"What space you got, guv'nor?"

However, the porter's job, like nearly every other job, has its glories
as well as its hardships--triumphs that can be told and retold for many
a day to fascinated colored audiences; because there are special
trains--filled with pursy and prosperous bankers from Hartford and
Rochester and Terre Haute--making the trip from coast to coast and back
again, and never forgetting the porter at the last hour of the last day.

There are many men in the Pullman service like Roger Pryor, who has
ridden with every recent President of the land and enjoyed his
confidence and respect. And then there is General Henry Forrest, of the
Congressional Limited, for twenty-four years in charge of one of its
broiler cars, who stops not at Presidents but enjoys the acquaintance
of senators and ambassadors almost without number.

The General comes to know these dignitaries by their feet. When he is
standing at the door of his train under the Pennsylvania Terminal, in
New York, he recognizes the feet as they come poking down the long
stairs from the concourse. And he can make his smile senatorial or
ambassadorial--a long time in advance.

Once Forrest journeyed in a private car to San Francisco, caring for a
Certain Big Man. He took good care of the Certain Big Man--that was part
of his job. He took extra good care of the Certain Big Man--that was his
opportunity. And when the Certain Big Man reached the Golden Gate he
told Henry Forrest that he had understood and appreciated the countless
attentions. The black face of the porter wrinkled into smiles. He dared
to venture an observation.

"Ah thank you, Jedge!" said he. "An' ef it wouldn't be trespassin' Ah'd
lak to say dat when yo' comes home you's gwine to be President of dese
United States."

The Certain Big Man shook his head negatively; but he was flattered
nevertheless. He leaned over and spoke to Henry Forrest.

"If ever I am President," said he, "I will make you a general."

And so it came to pass that on the blizzardy Dakota-made day when
William Howard Taft was inaugurated President of these United States
there was a parade--a parade in which many men rode in panoply and
pride; but none was prouder there than he who, mounted on a magnificent
bay horse, headed the Philippine Band.

A promise was being kept. The bay horse started three times to bolt from
the line of march, and this was probably because its rider was better
used to the Pompeian-red broiler car than to a Pompeian-red bay mare.
But these were mere trifles. Despite them--partly because of them
perhaps--the younger brethren at the terminals were no longer to address
the veteran from the Congressional merely as Mr. Forrest. He was General
Forrest now--a title he bears proudly and which he will carry with him
all the long years of his life.

What becomes of the older porters?

Sometimes, when the rush of the fast trains, the broken nights, the
exposure and the hard, hard work begin to be too much for even sturdy
Afric frames, they go to the "super" and beg for the "sick man's run"--a
leisurely sixty or a hundred miles a day on a parlor car, perhaps on a
side line where travel is light and the parlor car is a sort of
sentimental frippery; probably one of the old wooden cars: the Alicia,
or the Lucille, or the Celeste, still vain in bay windows and grilles,
and abundant in carvings. For a sentimental frippery may be given a
feminine name and may bear her years gracefully--even though she does
creak in all her hundred joints when the track is the least bit uneven.

As to the sick man's tips, the gratuity is no less a matter of keen
interest and doubt at sixty than it is at twenty-six. And though there
is a smile under that clean mat of kinky white hair, it is not all
habit--some of it is still anticipation. But quarters and half dollars
do not come so easily to the old man in the parlor car as to his younger
brother on the sleepers, or those elect who have the smokers on the fat
runs. To the old men come dimes instead--some of them miserable affairs
bearing on their worn faces the faint presentments of the ruler on the
north side of Lake Erie and hardly redeemable in Baltimore or
Cincinnati. Yet even these are hardly to be scorned--when one is sixty.

After the sick man's job? Perhaps a sandy farm on a Carolina
hillside, where an old man may sit and nod in the warm sun, and dream
of the days when steel cars were new--perhaps of the days when the
platform-vestibule first went bounding over the rails--may dream and
nod; and then, in his waking moments, stir the pickaninnies to the
glories of a career on a fast train and a fat run. For if it is true
that any white boy has the potential opportunity of becoming President
of the United States, it is equally true that any black boy may become
the Autocrat of the Pullman Car.

* * * * *

_(The Independent)_



Add to Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network

Viewed: 1955