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Promise of the Valley
By Jane Peart
ZondervanCopyright © 1995 Zondervan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCalistoga! Next stop, Calistoga!" the conductor's voice rang out as he wove his way down the aisle of the passenger coach.
"Thank goodness, at last!" Addie murmured with heartfelt relief. Although the last few hours of winding through the beautiful Redwood-covered hillsides on either side of the railroad tracks had been lovely, she was glad to reach her final destination at last-after all these weeks of traveling.
Her cross-country trip had been an adventure to say the least. In 1870, westward-bound trains boasted none of the amenities of eastern trains, which now had dining and Pullman cars. The western railway companies made no effort to make travel easy or comfortable for passengers. Clean hotels were nonexistent. In their place were rustic buildings with cots, hardly a proper resting place for a genteel person. Meal stops were mostly at towns consisting of a shack, dignified as a "depot," a saloon, and a water tank. Food was beyond description. What meals were available were often inedible. They were usually served by a saloon keeper or bartender, for there never seemed to be a scarcity of "spirits" for those who would rather drink than eat the awful fare provided. The menu rarely varied: greasy meat fried to a crisp, canned beans, biscuits called "sinkers," rancid butter, bitter coffee. One either had to develop a sense of the ridiculous or a cast-iron stomach along the way. The last straw was that the "rest and refreshment" stops were limited to twenty minutes, just long enough for the train crew to take on water. This gave the harried passenger a choice of bolting what food he or she could eat or taking a few minutes of fresh air and exercise before reboarding and enduring another long, grueling ride in the cramped quarters of the coach.
Addie enjoyed the scenery, however, which was so different from anything she had ever seen. Still, after a while, the hundreds of miles of wild prairies and endless deserts became monotonous, and she longed for the sight of civilization.
When the train finally pulled into Sacramento, Addie, like most of the passengers, took the ferry to San Francisco. There, Addie decided to splurge. Using one of the gold pieces Cousin Matthew had pressed on her, she went to a fine hotel where she obtained a comfortable room, luxuriated in a warm bath, washed her hair, and had dinner sent to her on a tray. She didn't even feel guilty about it.
The next morning, after the first restful night's sleep she had had in weeks, she sought information about getting to Calistoga. She was told that the steamer left San Francisco twice a day. She had a choice of two departure times, morning or afternoon, to make the sixty-eight mile trip to the Napa Valley. Taking the 2:00 P.M. steamer would break up her trip so that she could spend the night in Vallejo; then, the next morning, she could board the train of the newly established California Pacific line, thus enjoying the scenic trip through the Redwood-covered expanse in daylight. Having read and heard so much about the giant trees, Addie decided that this is what she would do.
She spent the morning walking around the city, being sure to keep within sight of the impressive hotel where she had stayed the night before. San Francisco amazed her with its many fine buildings. It was a city bustling with commerce. The streets were crowded with different kinds of vehicles, from large delivery wagons to polished coaches pulled by matched horses and driven by drivers in flashy livery. Elegant shops of every description lined the hilly streets, their display windows filled with all manner of expensive wares, millinery, fabrics of silks and satins, jewelry, fur-trimmed manteaus, beaded purses. Florist stalls stood on every corner and offered a profusion of flowers, some of which were long out of season back east: gladioli, phlox, chrysanthemums. The sidewalks were crowded with all sorts of people, from stylishly attired men in frock coats and top hats, and women in the very latest Paris creations, to roughly dressed workmen hurrying to their jobs. Construction seemed ongoing, buildings seemed to go up before your eyes, and the sound of hammers banging was constant in the misty, sea-scented air.
Addie window-shopped until it was time to take a hack to the dock to board the steamer. Living as she had for all these years in the small Virginia town, and deprived of seeing such luxurious abundance of merchandise, she felt quite dazzled by it all.
Therefore, she found the leisurely river trip relaxing by comparison. The steamer moved languidly over the placid sun-dappled water. Standing on deck, Addie was awed by the variety of fall colors in the trees that lined the bank. Now, in early November, they still retained abundant foliage in glorious array of polished cinnamon, old-gold, flashes of brilliant scarlet against the sage green of the pines. The river trip passed all too quickly for her, and the afternoon had grown chilly by the time they reached Vallejo.
Upon disembarking from the steamer, the passengers were herded to the only hotel available and served dinner-if the food could be described as such. Later, Addie was shown to a small, dingy room with a narrow iron bed, covered with doubtfully clean blankets, into which she could not bring herself to crawl-even though she was bone tired. There was a little stove whose fire only smoldered instead of burning, and then she could not budge the window to clear the room of smoke.
If Addie had not been blessed by a sense of humor, she might have been totally undone by the situation. It seemed so ludicrous that she found herself having a fit of giggles as she tried a dozen different positions on top of the lumpy mattress. She awakened before dawn and went outside to walk to the train shed. There, alone in the misted morning, she breathed deeply the pine-scented air, as fresh and intoxicating as wine, and heard birdsong high in the majestic trees, and felt she had an idea of California at last.
The whole trip had been an education. She became accustomed to the casual camaraderie of travel, the heartwarming generosity of fellow passengers, and the willingness of strangers to share and help. Although the usual protocol required in polite society was often ignored or dismissed while traveling, there was an unexpected pleasure in mingling with others who were also enjoying the excitement and adventure of crossing the wide, varied country of America.
She felt the train begin to slow, and the chug and the grinding of metal wheels on steel rails began to lessen. They slowly passed orchards, vineyards, and farmhouses. People on the streets stopped to watch and sometimes waved as the train rolled down the tracks toward the yellow frame building with a sign that read "Calistoga."
Excerpted from Promise of the Valley by Jane Peart Copyright © 1995 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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