RIDES THE RAILS
CHAPEL CARS ON THE NATIONS RAILROADS
by The Rev. Harry R. Walrath, M. Div
I first became interested in railroad chapel
cars some twenty plus years ago when I read an article in
an Episcopal Church magazine about an Episcopal Chapel Car.Then
some fifteen years ago I got the inspiration to build a
model of such a chapel car. I wrote for information to this
church magazine, but was advised that they did not keep
records by subject in their files. So, I was on my own.
I then proceeded to build a model in HO scale from an Ambroid
passenger car kit. With some modification, you see the results
of that endeavor here on the table. My thought was to model
such a car on how I thought it might look. Present day research
would seem to demonstrate that I was not too far off. Especially
in the tradition of the Roman Catholic and Episcopal Church
Then about a year ago, I was encouraged to
write an article for the National Model Railroaders Association
magazine: "NMRA Bulletin". I was told that my writing style
was appreciated by many and the subject was of such general
interest that it would be published. So, once again I began
my search for information about Chapel Cars. I was soon
to learn that considerable writing had been done about this
subject, but only as it pertained to a particular denomination.
As I . pursued my research I came to realize that there
was more here than an isolated event on the pages of history.
With the help of several persons, namely Kyle Wyatt and
Peter Heindel, and many others, we uncovered 11 Chapel Cars
to date, and one author suggests there may be as many as
17. We even uncovered an anomaly in that two Chapel Cars
bearing the same name -"Grace"- may have been in use about
the same time by two different Baptist groups. Investigation
has shown there to be only one Chapel Car named "Grace".
To date there have been 11 Chapel Cars uncovered.
Seven of which were built for the American Baptist Publication
Society, one, for the Rt. Rev. William Walker, Episcopal
Missionary Bishop of North Dakota, and three for the Catholic
Church Extension Society of the United States headquartered
in Chicago, Ill. Two of these cars were built by the Pullman
Car Company of Chicago with all the rest being built by
the Barney and Smith Car Builders of Dayton, Ohio. In regard
to ownership of this cars, it should be understood that
these cars were built on a private owner bases as a private
car would be. No chapel car was ever owned by a particular
As with any event in history, it is best understood
against its own background. In short, no historical event
. occurs in an historical vacuum. And so it was with the
railroad Chapel Car. I saw these cars as a reflection and
response to the spirit of the times. Also, Chapel cars were
not unique to the American scene. Chapel cars existed in
Russia, England and Italy serving the isolated faithful
in small hamlets or towns that were served by the railroads.
The Russian cars are described as being decorated in the
interior like a Russian Orthodox Church, complete with a
cross on the car roof and a belfry thereon. We may presume
that the English and Italian cars were similarly appointed.
So, now let us board our Chapel Car and move on to the next
mining camp, lumber town or farming village in the late
By this time in the century, three events
had taken place either earlier in the century or near the
middle of the century. One event, the industrial revolution
is still going on today. The first event was the The Second
Great Awakening. It had its beginning in the early part
of the nineteenth century and was important in that it affected
the average man on the street. Unlike the First Great Awakening
which was limited to the academic communities of New England
this one spread to the highways and by ways of the South
and West, i.e. Kentucky. Its main thrust was to awaken people
to their Christian moral life, vis, to forswear drunkeness,
profanity, chasing women, . and other evil vices. All of
this was to prepare one for the second coming of Jesus Christ.
The doing of good works was the mark of a Christian man
or woman. A drive to return to the religious life for one
The Second event is called Manifest Destiny.
Here the vision was that America was to bring its moral
and spiritual values -Christian that is - along with its
great technological know how to the unenlightened West extending
into the Pacific basin. Or as Thomas Star King put it in
1851,"The time-honored conviction that God and nature
had designed a unique geographical arena for the American
experiment found continuous expression, ‘ "God designs
that each country should wear a peculiar ideal physiognomy".
An other gentleman, Mr. Asa Whitney expressed it thusly
upon his return form the Orient in his appeal to Congress
for a transcontinental railway to be built in late 1845,
"Nature's God had made this(the railway) for a grand
highway to Civilize and Christianize all mankind."
America was destined to bring the benefits of democracy
and the Christian religion to the unenlightened of the American
West as well as the Far East The Industrial Revolution is
the third event that changed the map of history. In a sense,
it summarizes the effect of the Second Great Awaking and
The Industrial Revolution replaced manual
labor with power driven machinery. The development of methods
of production, the invention of the working dynamo, carbon
lamp,and the gas filled tungsten filament, and incandescent
lamp enabled men to develop the means of production of all
kinds of goods and services. The chief of these was the
railroad which allowed for the then rapid transportation
of people and goods wherever rail could be laid. The apex
of this thrust was the meeting of the Union Pacific RR and
the Central Pacific RR at Promitory, Utah.
With the meeting of the Central Pacific RR
and the Union Pacific RR at Promitory on May 10, 1869 and
the completion of the Northern Pacific RR in 1872 and the
Great Northern RR on July 4, 1893 the West literally exploded.
This marked the end of transcontinental railroads and the
end of era. But it really marked the beginning of a new
era, and that was the exploitation of land, minerals and
timber. For now it was possible to ship the raw materials
of the virgin West to the industrial East in return for
finished goods which in turn were shipped via rail to a
consuming public in the West. With the joining of East and
West it was now possible to move across our nation in a
couple of weeks where it would have taken at least three
months by wagon. These pioneer visionaries saw . rails running
every where especially into the mining towns, logging camps
and farming villages. It was now possible to reach even
the most remote area, - just lay a rail. Not only that,
but the rails could be quickly removed and relayed at the
next turn out. So, it was that not only did the capitalist
visionaries see the potential of these highways of rails,
but so did the religious leaders of the day.
The first Chapel Car was built for the Rt.
Rev. William Walker, Missionary Bishop of North Dakota in
October of 1890. It seems that he conceived of the idea
when he realized the enormity of his task in reaching his
far flung flock in North Dakota. He, also, realized that
it was not good stewardship to expend capital on a building
when there was no assurance that that village or town would
endure for long and allow a congregation to grow and develop
into a self-sustaining parish. So, with a chapel car he
could visit his diocese, conduct services, give instruction,
and counseling and move on to the next town. It may be that
he knew of the English Chapel Cars from his visits to England.
Sometime in early 1889, Bishop Walker approached
some friends in the East for contributions. Among them was
Mr.Cornelius Vanderbilt who made the first contribution.
Soon after that churches and Sunday Schools from all over
the . country contributed to the Bishop's Car. Among the
contributors was an eight year old boy the son of an Episcopal
Priest. He was destined to become the fifth Bishop of North
Dakota. He was the Rt. Rev. Frederick B. Bartlett who served
as bishop of North Dakota from 1931 -1935.
In October 1890, Bishop Walker took possession
of the Bishop's Car as it was commonly referred to. The
Car was built by the Pullman Palace Car Company of Chicago
at a cost of $3,000.00. The wooden car was 60 feet long
and designed by Mr. Charles C. Haight a prominent New York
architect who had designed many of the buildings at the
Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Mass. A rather
unique feature of this car is the roof design. You will
note the the Gothic transcept in the middle of the roof.
The car was divided into two parts. The largest area was
the chapel area which would seat 80 persons. This also contained
the sanctuary which included the altar, lectern, bishops
chair and altar rail with kneeling cushions. As we can see
from the drawing, chairs were used in the Nave instead of
pews as would be the case in subsequent chapel cars. The
second compartment was the quarters for the Bishop. Here
he slept, vested for services, had an office but no kitchen
or bathing facilities. As was the custom in those times,
the faithful would provide meals and accommodations as needed.
Or failing this, Bishop Walker would put himself up in a
hotel 8. boarding house. The interior of the car was heated
with Baker heaters. An organ was placed on the left hand
side of the car near the rear of the car.
On the exterior of the car were the letters
denoting the name and origin of the car. On the facisa or
area above the windows in gold letters was written, "The
Church of the Advent", and on the area below the windows
was written in "Golden Gothic characters:" "
The Cathedral Car of North Dakota".
When not conducting services, instructing
converts, writing sermons, or visiting the faithful or the
sick, the Bishop swept, dusted the car, lit the lamps, and
built and tended the fires. When necessary, played the organ.
When the Cathedral Car was ready to move onto the next stop,
and ten days before its scheduled arrival point the Bishop
would arrange for a placard to be placed in the next railroad
station there. When services were completed, the railroad
would pick up the car-- with the bishop aboard -- and side
track him at the next town or station. Which railroad or
railroads, you might ask. Apparently no one thought it necessary
to record this. As near as I can figure out, it could have
been the Great Northern, the Northern Pacific, the Chicago
and Northwestern, and the many others that passed through
The response to this strange car was many
and varied, but all quite positive. The good Bishop reported
that whenever the car . appeared as many as 90 persons would
gather for services, with three persons sharing two chairs.
A not too infrequent response was that the bishop would
often draw twice the local population. In one hamlet of
38 souls, 65 persons attended services. In one report the
Bishop mentions that in a three month period he visited
13 places and only in three of them was the Chapel car not
filled to capacity. One other factor the Bishop acknowledges
is that curiosity which drew a good many to attend services
in this strange church. "One farmer told him: "I
have been to a good many circuses, and I've seen all the
grandest exhibitions that have come out West; but this is
the biggest show yet."
On one occasion, railroad employees were attracted
to the chapel's services. In September of 1895, when the
chapel car was filled to capacity after putting folding
chairs up an additional 20 railroad laborers were sitting
on the grass outside. Further reading about the Baptist's
and Roman Catholic Chapel Cars reveals, a real need was
met by the Chapel Cars. These people had pulled up roots
to fulfill their dream of land and home, family and friends
were left behind. Especially the railroad workers. Not only
had they left home and family, but loneliness and boredom
gave them a sense of abandinment in addition to frequent
moves from one railhead to the next left them feeling abandoned.
The Chapel Car represented home, friends and loved ones.
It made them feel no longer isolated or alone. Someone Cared!
Undoubtedly publicity world wide helped spread the word
about . this strange railroad car that traveled to remote
and out of the way places. News appeared in newspapers and
magazines world wide. News about this chapel car was published
in China, Japan, India, New Zealand, Canada, Australia,
Scotland, Great Britain, Germany, Norway, Syria, Italy,
and the West Indies. In a secular Japanese newspaper in
Nora, Japan the car is reported in this manner: "Mr.
Dakota has built a railroad car in the city of New York,
to use it as a church in which he will travel all over the
United States." A not very accurate reference evidently
to the Bishop of North Dakota's " Cathedral Car".
What happened to the Cathedral Car? In 1899,
the car was last used in Carrington, North Dakota by Bishop
Edsell, Bishop Walker's successor, where services were conducted
by a Lay Reader or Lay Minister. Here Sunday services were
held until the severe North Dakota winters no longer made
it possible to conduct services. Winter temperatures often
reach 30 to 40 degrees below zero. For example, in one such
winter, Bishop Walker had his feet frozen when the temperature
reached down to that range. He was in a heatless hotel room
where his 6 foot 5 1/2 inch frame did not fit the bed which
was too short and the blankets which were also too short.
The car was sold in the Fall of 1901 for a $1,000 and so
disappeared from the pages of history. The Baptismal Font
and lectern were last seen in St. Mary's Church, Guelph,
North Dakota in the summer of 1919. 10. The next group or
Chapel Cars spand a number of years, specifically 1891 through
1915 when the last car was built for the Baptist Publication
Society by Barney and Smith Car Co. I will not bore you
with giving a detailed history of each car which you have
in your hand out, but rather I plan to present a rather
broad brush picture. This is easily done since all seven
of these cars were owned and operated by the American Baptist
Publication Society and were managed my the Rev. Boston
Smith or "Uncle Boston" as he was fondly referred
to until his death in 1908.
There is little doubt that Uncle Boston got
the inspiration for his Chapel Cars from a missionary who
needed shelter for his Sunday School from the cold Minnesota
winter. He approached the Division Supervisor of the Northern
Pacific Railroad, explained his problem and was in turn
granted the use of a passenger coach on Sunday's which had
been side-tracked for his use. Then the coach would be picked
up on Monday morning. The Rev. Mr. Bosten related his idea
of expanding the Sunday School car to a "Chapel on
wheels" to a group of clergy. Among those listening,
was the Rev. Dr. Wayland Hoyt who happened to be the brother
of Cologate Hoyt an executive of the Northern Pacific Railroad.
Dr. Hoyt while traveling with his brother remarked to him
that "You railroad men ought to be doing more for this
young country than you are now doing." Cologate Hoyt
thought it over, left for New York, and in the summer of
1890 organized The Chapel Car Syndicate. 11. Headed by John
D. Rockefeller. The syndicate consisted of such prominent
men as Charles L. Colby, John R. Trevor, James B. Colgate,
E. J. Barney, and William Hills. These men raised the necessary
funds for the first car. With this backing Uncle Boston
took his plans for the first Chapel Car to E. J. Barney
of the Barney and Smith Car Co. The first Chapel Car "Evangel"
was built, and in the Spring of 1891 Uncle Boston was presented
with the first of what was to become a fleet of seven Chapel
Cars by Mr. Eugene Barney, President of Barney and Smith
All seven Chapel Cars were pretty much of
the same configuration. Evangel, the first, was sixty feet
long, with an open vestibule at both ends, built of wood,
it resembled a Pullman sleeper. The car was divided into
two parts, the one part being the living quarters and was
10 x 16 feet or 160 square feet. In this sumptuous space
was packed an upper and lower berth, a kitchen completely
equipped with a copper lined sink connected to a tank overhead,
an Adams Westlake improved Stove, a sideboard, a china closet,
a linen press, and lavatory. The living quarters contained
a study, dining room, writing desk, book shelves to the
top of the car and a large wardrobe and locker;all this
in 160 square feet. The missionary's wife would often have
to busy herself in the chapel proper or step outside, if
her husband were counseling someone. I should, also, point
out that if 12. the missionary had any children, they were
often left with friends for several years. Later Chapel
Cars were larger and it was often possible to bring the
children along. This was especially true of Chapel Car Grace
which even had a separate bedroom.
The Chapel interior consisted of 440 square
feet. In this space, pews were arranged for seating with
two on one side and three on the other. This provided seating
for about seventy people. To the inside right of the boarding
door was a small coat closet, a Deacon's bench at the altar
end. An Estey pump organ supplied by Col. J. J. Estey of
Vermont. Col. Estey would subsequently supply each Chapel
Car in turn with one of his organs. A "magnificent"
brass lectern adorned the altar area. In the back of the
pews could be found hymnal racks with storage boxes under
each pew for Bibles and tracts. The Domed celling was fitted
with brass chandeliers. Underneath the car were additional
storage compartments in which would be kept wood or coal
for heating extra chairs, and rail for constructing sidings
along the way, folding chairs, and other items that were
necessary in this ministry. Above the windows were panes
of stained glass which would give the touch of being in
a church. Or as one person put it, "To the last detail,
it was a church on wheels."
The clergy who operated these Chapel Cars
were called "Coleporters." The term comes from
the French and means someone who carries a burden across
the neck or shoulders. The Baptist Church 13. already had
Coleporters out in the field, but they either went afoot,
in a wagon, or on horseback. They carried tracts and bibles
in a sack around their neck. Now the title takes on a new
dimension and means almost exclusively those clergy who
with their wives traveled all over the new western frontier.
From now on I shall use this title when referring to these
Where did they go? It would appear that wherever
the trains went,so did the Chapel Cars. We know that the
Episcopal Car "Church of the Advent" covered North
Dakota with Bishop Walker until the Fall of 1901. The first
Baptist car "Evangel" went 1000 miles west of
Minneapolis with Boston Smith. Here she covered not only
Minnesota but North Dakota and Montana. It should be noted
here that so far no comment appears in the press or a coleporters'
logs about the Episcopal car. Which strikes me as strange.
The Chapel Cars Advent and Evangel must have crossed tracks
somewhere along the line. Evangel headed into the great
North Pacific coast for six months in the Winter of 1891
with Colporter missionaries the Rev. and Mrs. E. G. Wheeler.
So, successful was the work that a second car was needed.
Then on May 26, 1893 Chapel Car Emmanuel was dedicated for
work in the West and North West. It is this car that is
of interest to us. According to his account book the Rev.
Benjamin B. Jacques, 14. Emmanuel's route included a stop
over in Reno, Nevada (Show Log on Screen.) This car presently
is nearly totally restored and on display at the Prairie
Village Museum near Madison, South Dakota. The next Chapel
Car, "Glad Tidings" was dedicated in 1894 and
served the South West and is presently incorporated in the
First Baptist Church of Flagstaff, Arizona. In 1895, Chapel
Car "Good Will" was dedicated, but no record,
so far, as to where it went. We may presume "out West".
On May 28, 1898 Chapel Car "Messenger of Peace"
was dedicated. She was known as the Ladies Car. She derived
her name from the 75 Baptist women who raised the funds
to pay for her. She like Evangel and Emmanuel went West
to Washington and disappears somewhere in Snohomish, Washington.
On May 27, 1900 the "Young Man's car
"Herald of Hope" was dedicated. So named from
the business men of Detroit who paid for the car through
the sale of 1,500 bonds at $5.00 per share to raise $7,500
needed to pay for the Chapel car. She headed South and disappeared
somewhere in West Virginia. Before continuing our rail journey,
it is best to explain a situation which I am sure you may
have a question about. And that is ,"How did the Chapel
Cars pay for rail transport. This is especially true of
the Baptist cars since they did not have a central office
like the Roman Catholic or Episcopal churches to pay the
freight. From what I can determine the railroads simply
did not charge for transporting these 15. cars and even
built sidings for their use.
The story of free travel for Chapel Cars is
best seen in the arrangement made for the Baptist cars.
First, many members of the Syndicate were connected with
the railroads. Though, "there was neither promise nor
mention of the fact that their influence would assure passage."
Uncle Boston carefully described how the Chapel Car Evangel
would be used and Mr. William Mellen, General manager of
the Northern Pacific Railroad issued the following order:
"You will pass Mr. Boston W. Smith and one attendant
with Chapel Car Evangel over our lines. You will arrange
to take the car on any train he desires; you will sidetrack
it wherever he wishes. Make it as pleasant for Mr. Smith
as you can." Such an order no doubt accounts for the
success of early missionary work in the Pacific Northwest
where the Northern Pacific would have trackage. And no doubt
other railroads followed suite, so as not to be out done
by the Northern Pacific. It is interesting to note that
neither the Episcopal car nor the Roman Catholic Cars make
any mention of paying mileage on any of the lines that they
traveled. The possibility that the precedent of free mileage
for chapel cars may have already been established by the
Episcopal car and firmed up by the Baptist cars. That the
Roman Catholic cars were the beneficiaries of this policy
especially in view of the fact that they didn't enter the
scene until 1907 makes me believe that the courtesy of free
trackage was extended to all Chapel Cars irrespective of
denomination. It 16. certainly was not to the advantage
of the railroads to provide free passage. The cost of Evangel's
maiden voyage alone would have cost $.54 per mile or in
1891 dollars, $1,080.00. That the religious persuasion of
the railroad executives being well known undoubtedly made
free passage possible. The free passage provided Evangel
apparently was to be extended to all subsequent chapel cars
whether Baptist, Roman Catholic, or Episcopalian.
The next two Chapel Cars after 1900 were either
built for or refurbished for the Roman Catholic Extension
Society. The first was St. Anthony, which was a rebuilt
obsolete wooden Wagner Pullman Car. Rebuilt at a cost of
$2000.00 and dedicated on June 16, 1907. Chapel Car "St.
Anthony" came about as a response to an appeal by Fr.
Francis Kelly, founder of the Roman Catholic Extension Society
on October 18, 1905, who realized the great distances involved
for the work of his society concluded that Chapel Cars were
the answer. He could well have been aware of chapel cars
in Czarist Russia, England, or Italy as well as the American
Baptist Home Missionary Society chapel car which had been
exhibited at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1905. Fr. Kelly
appealed for funds for such a car in the Society's magazine.
His appeal was answered by a Mr. Ambrose Petry of Detroit
who contacted Mr. Richard Dean, vice -president of the Pullman
Company of Chicago. Petry paid $2000 for the car and Dean
paid for the interior decorations. 18. The exterior of St.
Anthony was 72 feet long giving room for a priest, an assistant
priest and an attendant. The interior quarters included
a study which doubled as a dining room, a combination library-
office, sleeping compartments, and kitchen. The Chapel area
included a sanctuary with altar and seating capacity for
50 people in the nave with expansion to 65 persons. The
exterior of the car was lettered above the windows in gold
with the legend "Catholic Extension Society of the
United States". Below the windows was lettered "Chapel
Car St. Anthony" This would be the standard lettering
for the next two cars, St. Peter and St. Paul.
Following her dedication on June 16, 1907,
St. Anthony rolled West on the Rock Island and Pacific RR
stopping at Wellington, Kansas where the first Mass was
celebrated in the Chapel Car. St. Anthony was scheduled
to be used in the West and South. Early on she traveled
into the small towns of Mississippi and Louisiana. Then
in the Summer of 1909 she moved into the Pacific Northwest,
and while en route she visited, appropriately enough St.
Anthony, Idaho. She then proceeded on to Washington where
she would end her days in Wishram, Washington after being
dismantled in 1930. Here she had served as parish church,
then as rectory for the priest until suitable structures
replaced her. The next two Catholic cars as well as the
subsequent Baptist car Grace were built of Steel with a
copper roof. It seems that a Mr. Peter 19. Kuntz of Dayton,
Ohio upon visiting St. Anthony in 1912 was displeased with
her and so donated $25,000.00 to build a new car. The contract
was awarded to Barney & Smith. Barney & Smith was to build
the next two chapel cars, one more for the Extension Society
and one more for the Baptist Publication Society. In a real
sense, these were nearly the last three cars that Barney
and Smith were to build. It seems that Barney and Smith
had fallen on hard times following the crash of 1893.
On June 30, 1912, Mr. Kuntz's Chapel Car "St.
Peter" was dedicated.Following the dedication,she joined
St. Anthony in the Northwest. Chapel Car St. Peter was 84
feet long and could seat 70 people. The interior was finished
in Cuban mahogany outfitted like a traditional church with
altar, movable crucifix,(so it could be stored during travel),
altar lights, tabernacle, confessional, stations of the
cross, and other appointments that one would expect to find
in his/her home parish church. The car was heated by either
steam or oil - stove apparatus, and lit by either electricity
or gas. Of interest, the altar linens and communion wear
-chalice and platen- were stored in compartments build into
the altar along with the missal and altar cards. Mr. Kuntz
was so pleased with Chapel Car St. Peter that he donated
$35,000.00 for the next Chapel Car - "St. Paul".
Essentially, both cars are alike differing only in dimension
. St. Paul is 86 feet long and weighed in at 134,000 pounds
or 67 tons. She was dedicated on . Sunday,March 14, 1915.
Like her predecessors she toured the West and South with
her first stop on the Texas and Pacific Railroad in the
little town of Bunkie, LA.
The beginning of World War I, for the United
States, effectively marks the end of the Chapel Car era.
The Episcopal car "Church of the Advent" was disposed
of in 1901. Bishop Edsall, Bishop Walker's successor in
North Dakota, apparently was not interested in continuing
the Chapel Car ministry. The U. S. Government issued orders
that Chapel Cars had to be side tracked, and no more free
passage allowed. St. Peter was sidetracked at Clakamas,
Oregon where it served as an Army Chapel. St. Anthony was
stored at Union, Oregon where it served as a church for
the local community. We may assume that the Baptist's cars
being likewise sidetracked were put to good service as churches
in the communities where they were needed.
With the lifting of the ban on March 1, 1920
on Chapel Car travel, the Government left it up to the railroads
as to whether or not to continue the free travel privilege.
Each railroad responded differently. The Southern Pacific
charged ten full fairs per mile. The Union Pacific stipulated
that each request for moving had to be cleared through the
main office in Omaha. There to be ruled upon by the Vice-President.
The costs and red tape involved put a crimp in the cars
free movement. The only railroad to still continue the free
passage was the Portland & Seattle RR. In addition to the
increased 21. costs and the advent of the automobile in
the 1920's the need for Chapel cars virtually disappeared.
Chapel Car St. Anthony was retired in 1919. An interesting
incident occurred in regard to Chapel Cars St. Peter and
St. Paul. When they were ordered to the areas where they
had been best used. The orders for their movement got switched.
St. Paul instead of being moved to the South ended up at
the town of Browning, Wyoming the East entrance of Yellow
Stone Park and then subsequently ended up at Nevada City,
Montana where she has been restored and today can be seen
at the Bovey Railroad museum.
A Mass celebrating the 70th anniversary of
Chapel Car St. Paul was celebrated in 1982. The mass was
said in Latin using the Latin missal and altar cards just
as they were used in 1915 on the pre- Vatican II altar.
The Mass was said to a large overflowing crowd. Chapel Car
St Peter ended up at Oxford, North Carolina were she served
as a parish church for fifthteen years and was dismantled
in 1953. Of the seven Baptists cars only two remain in their
original state. Chapel Car Grace has been completely restored
and may be seen at the American Baptist Assembly, Green
Lake, Wisconsin. Chapel Car Emmanuel, the second Baptist
Chapel Car, is nearly restored and my be seen at the Prairie
Village Museum near Madison, South Dakota. The rest of the
Chapel Cars disposition is given on your handout.
Accommodations aboard the Chapel Cars was
at its very best far 22. from commodious. Chapel Car "Church
of the Advent" provided only a bed and wardrobe plus
storage. The Roman Catholic, St. Peter and St. Paul cars
along with Chapel Car Grace were more spacious having been
built much later and were larger cars. This made it possible
to provide more comfortable quarters for the clergy assisting
clergy and/or family. For example, Chapel Car Evangel had
only 160 square feet and no separate bed room whereas Chapel
Car Grace - the last of the Chapel Cars - had 350 square
feet of living space which included a bedroom. It was the
only Baptist car so provided. The kitchens were quite functional
and as one person described the living quarters as: "Cute,
cozy, and romantic." "Romantic", maybe, but
certainly not accommodating. For example the the Colporter's
wife would,without warning, find herself flying to the floor
along with the dishes and food when the car was coupled
up or dropped off onto a siding. In spite of the hardships,
the Colporters and the their wives lived in these cars for
many years. In many ways these Colporters had it much easier
than their circuit riding contemporaries. The Chapel Car
was home, social hall, church, Sunday School, library, and
carried more bibles and tracts than his predecessors. In
addition to the usual ministerial duties, the Colporter
and his wife were expected to be singer, cook, car cleaner,
janitor, fireman, and organist when necessary. Other tasks
preformed would include that of financier, real estate man,
lumber hauler, carpenter, and brick layer. In many cases,
the Colporter not only . helped organize churches, but often
raised the funds to build them as well as build them. How
were the Chapel Cars received, one might will ask. Especially
when we realize that these cars were side tracked in the
rough and tumble mining and logging camps of the day and
among men and women who were no longer constrained by the
usual social constraints of the more settled communities
they had left. From the information available, the Chapel
Cars were generally well received. Judging by Bishop Walker's
experience mentioned earlier, the Chapel Car ministry was
greatly appreciated. It would appear that the cars served
a real civilizing influence wherever they went in the rough
and ready settings into which they were sidetracked.
The main purpose of the railroads was to haul
freight and mail, so the free ride of the Chapel Car was
not always convenient. These cars would occupy a siding
for days, weeks or even months. The Rev. Mr. Rust proposed
that the railroads build a special spur for the Chapel Car
and bill the American Baptist Publication Society. The spur
cost $8.00 to construct. The railroad never once billed
the Society. Often whenever the Chapel Cars were in the
shops for repairs or to be painted the the missionaries
would roll up their sleeves and assist in sidetracking,
coupling and uncoupling or making simple repairs on the
cars as well as the building of spurs. This unquestionably
developed a fraternal feeling between minister and railroad
worker. When these cars were idle in the shops it was not
uncommon to hold services for . the benefit of these lonely
men. Many of these men were Christian, some were not,and
many had not been in church since their youth. These services
were conducted in accordance with the employees schedules
including the middle of the night to accommodate the night
shift .Conversions among the railroad men is not known,
but the effect of this ministry is reflected in a letter
to the Rev. Mr. Rust, Colporter of "Glad Tidings"
as follows: "We the employees of the Chicago,St. Paul,
Minneapolis and Omaha Railroad, in meeting assembled, do
hereby desire to extend to Mr. and Mrs. Rust, of the Chapel
Car "Glad Tidings" our earnest appreciation, respect,
and love for the good we have received from their teaching.
We sincerely hope, God Willing, that we shall meet again
in the near future to renew the pleasant and profitable
meetings just ended. We also desire to extend our thanks
to the officials of our company for giving the chapel car
trackage to our shops, for it has been a blessing to all."
"Resolved that a copy of the above be sent to Mr. and
Mrs. Rust, Mr. W. A. Scott, our General Manager, and Mr.
J. C. Stewart, General Superintendent." Dated: January
19, 1899. There can be little doubt that the chapel car
ministry benefited the railroads in that it provided the
spiritual leavening and morale building was needed to keep
employees content in there work. The chapel cars really
paid their way in this respect. 25. Chapel Cars were not
always well received. But often as a result of hostility
or violent act mutual understanding and cooperation. resulted.
This was an age of very poor ecumenical relations. On one
occasion the Rev. Mr. Rust found Chapel Car "Glad Tidings"
was defaced with fresh bright red paint. Painted on the
side was written "Cattle Car." Mr. Rust was able
to remove this with part of his trousers. In another incident,
this same car was given a bath of eggs.
Although, the towns-people were not receptive
to the chapel car they pitched in and helped to clean it
up. The result was that when the chapel car left a Sunday
School had been organized and left in charge of the local
Methodist minister. In Littleton, Colorado, the Chapel Cars
were not well received. In fact they were denounced from
a local Christian pulpit. Whether out of ignorance or fear
is not known. Never-the-less before the Chapel Car left
an apology was forth coming and two other local churches
joined together in bible study. Again poor Glad Tidings
nearly burned when a brush fire was ignited in the brush
surrounding the car. Discovered by the Colporter and his
wife, the entire community joined in fighting the fire.
The result was a better understanding of the chapel car
ministry and opened up other avenues of understanding. Although
the records or scanty as to where they, went we do know
that they went where they were needed. They traveled from
from North Dakota, Minnesota to California by way of Nevada,
from . Texas to West Virginia; and up and down the Colorado
mountain range and though out the Midwest. Though the records
are scarce, monuments to their ministry are attested by
the churches established throughout the the country.
In spite of the scarcity of records, recent
developments have indicated there may be more information
available on this subject. As a result, both Pet Heindel(
my Chief leg man) and myself are continuing to pursue the
various leads that as they are brought to our attention.
One point of interest is that why is it that
none of the records indicate that one denominational's Chapel
Car seemed to be unaware of the existence of the others
Chapel Car(s). This is especially puzzling when they used
the same trackage to travel over. I noted this in the case
of the Episcopal Chapel Car in North Dakota when one of
the Baptist cars was there in the reported incident of the
man who walked nine miles each way in zero degree weather
to attend a Christmas Eve service. We should also note that
all three men, Bishop Walker, the Rev. Boston Smith, and
Fr. Francis Kelly, noted that the expanding railroads were
the way to reach the remote settlements of Western expansion.
As the entrepreneurs of the day saw the railroads as the
means to bring the benefits of Western Civilization to the
untamed or unenlightened West, so why not Chapel Cars to
bring the benefits of Christian teaching to the heathen
CHAPEL CAR UPDATE: Recent evidance
has surfaced to give a foundation to the idea that that
there may more than the elevern chapel cars origionally
unearthed. In 1996, Mr. & Mrs. Norman Taylor found the existance
of two more Episcopal Church chapel cars one of which is
still in use. Regretfully not as a chapel car. The other
Episcopal car seems to have disappeared in the dust of time.
An other car, name is unknown if it was ever built there
is some doubt. The Episcopal cars were in service in the
Dioces of Northern Michigan and had been commissioned by
the then missionary bishop of Northern Michigan Bishop Mott
Williams. These cars had been built sometime around 1905.
In fact the existing one had origional been designed as
a work car by the Munising Railroad which later became the
Lake Superior & Ishpeming Railroad. This car now rests at
Negaunee, Michiga and is used as a gift shop. The where
abouts of the second car is unknown. Demensionial data and
the where abouts of the appointments of these cars is unknown.
Certainly there use in spreading the good news of the Gospel
cannot be denied. The church flurishes today because of
the rails that were laid. The where abouts and discription
the thired car are unknown It could be that the car was
never built. That subscriptions were asked for and plans
drawn would appear to be real. Whether the car itself ever
rolled is doubtful. At any rate, in October of 1883 a Mr.
Edwin A Harris a former railway conductor proposed to build
a mission car to minister to the men of the railroads on
the South and West. Mr. Harris connected prominently with
the Railroad Young Men"s Christian Assoiations through out
the state. (We beleive Delaware.) He had also traveled extensivly
thoughout the state holding religious meetings among the
railroad men for two years. Because of this experienc, he
proposed to build a railroad car costing between $10,000
and $18,000. Said car would be equiped with quarters for
a staff. It would have a meeting room for bible study, kitchen,
and living quarters The main focus would be the railroad
men and their families. He appealed to various churchs who
could buy shares at $10.00 each. The car would be called
"Bethlehem" and would be built by Jackson & Sharp Co. of
Wilmington, Del. A board of trustees had been appointed
and plans drawn up. The idea was that it could be used by
severial denominations as each had contributed. Thus seems
to be the end of the story. If this car had existed, it
certainly would have been the earliest Chapel Car; Pre-dating
the Cathedral Car of North Dakota by some seven years.