Sunday, June 25, 2017

Hell-On-Wheels Railroad Camps—and a Giveaway




I’m excited to announce that on July 1, my fifth novella releases in the Of Rags and Riches Romance Collection from Barbour Publishing. The collection’s theme is the Gilded Age—nine stories spanning from the late 1860’s through the turn of the century. Each story explores some different aspects of the era, whether that be wealth, leisure, opulence, social reform, immigration, industry, or other ideas.


My own story in this collection, Union Pacific Princess, focuses on the building of the Transcontinental Railroad and how Westward Expansion impacted the Native American culture of the time. The story is set in 1867, in a hell-on-wheels railroad camp near Cheyenne, Dakota Territory (modern day Wyoming). My heroine is Dara Forsythe, the socialite daughter of one of the Union Pacific bigwigs. After her mother’s untimely death, she leaves Boston to join her father, whom she hasn’t seen in seven years, with the hope of recapturing the closeness they once shared. Unfortunately for Dara, she has a bit of a culture shock when she steps off the train.

Used to the society life of the Boston elite, Dara steps out of her private railcar to find herself in a hell-on-wheels railroad camp. Dingy white tents of all different sizes housed anything from building supplies for the railroad to sleeping quarters for the workers, perhaps even the occasional church or office. But most often, they were the mobile homes for saloons, gambling halls, and brothels which followed the train’s progress, offering a place for the railroad workers to spend their hard-earned money. Can you imagine the astonishment a young, 18-year-old society girl might feel when she steps outside the plush Pullman train car she’s called “home” for the past several weeks, only to look around and find nothing but a sea of tents with nary a single permanent building, and nothing more than mud pathways connecting them all? No matter how much she might have mentally prepared herself for the change, I dare say it would be a “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Boston anymore!” moment.

Photograph of Benton, Wyoming, along the Union Pacific line 672 miles west of Omaha. Located 11 miles east of the present-day town of Rawlins, Benton only existed for three months from July to September, 1868. The tent city boasted a population of 3,000 people, and included 25 saloons, and five dance halls. Image courtesy of the Denver Public Library, Western History & Genealogy Digital Collections.


As noted above, the Hell-On-Wheels camps were moving towns that followed the railroad’s path. They would spring up, almost overnight as both Confederate and Federal soldiers sought new homes and lives after the ravages of the Civil War. Also plentiful were Irish immigrants who’d come to America seeking a better life during the Great Famine of the late 1840’s and early 1850’s. Many of them came to New York or other East Coast cities but gradually began making their way west. Then, of course, you had your card sharks, saloon owners, and soiled doves, as well as your more respectable sorts who set up reputable mercantiles, barber shops, and other enterprises.

A group of railroad workers make music in their off time-one of the more wholesome pursuits
 that occurred in a Hell On Wheels railroad camp during the building of the Transcontinental Railroad.
© Andrew J. Russell [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Most of the Hell-On-Wheels camps popped up for a short time—usually about two months—and once the train moved far enough west, the businessmen and women packed up their establishments and moved down the tracks, leaving little but their trash behind. However, some such camps developed into slightly longer-lasting towns that tried to make a go of life on the frontier. Many failed within a few years for various reasons, often having to do with where the train made regular stops. However, there were a few such camps-turned-towns that survived—and thrive even today. One such town is Cheyenne, Wyoming. One reason why Cheyenne may have succeeded is that it wasn’t solely a stop on the Union Pacific Railroad line, but it was also the junction point where the Southern railroad spur leading to Denver, Colorado, began. That secured it as an important hub of train activity, far longer than many of the ill-fated towns that failed to make a go of life along the Union Pacific tracks.

It’s your turn: If you had lived during this period of history, would you have wanted to visit a hell-on-wheels railroad camp or possibly consider working for the railroad? Why or why not? Leave me your email address when you answer these questions, and you will be included in the drawing for a print copy of the Of Rags and Riches Romance Collection.

Of Rags And Riches Romance Collection

Journey along in nine historical romances with those who lives are transformed by the opulence, growth, and great changes taking place in America’s Gilded Age. Nine couples meet during these exhilarating times and work to build a future together through fighting for social reform, celebrating new opportunities for leisure activities, taking advantage of economic growth and new inventions, and more. Watch as these romances develop and legacies of faith and love are formed.




Jennifer Uhlarik discovered the western genre as a pre-teen when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed with a B.A. in writing, she has finaled and won in numerous writing competitions. In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. She currently writes historical novellas of the American West for Barbour Publishing and works as a Content Editor for Firefly Southern Fiction. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers and lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, college-aged son, and four fur children.


21 comments:

  1. Jennifer, it would of been a challenge to live during this time period and moving so often. But we do what we need to do to survive. The 1860's during the Civil War Era and afterwards is one of my favorite period to read. I would visited and possibly even worked in a railroad camp. Yes, the dangers were present but also the adventure of discovering new relationships with others, making a living with trust and faith in God. Our grandfather worked on the railroad for a few years. A friend from church currently works for the railroad and travels to various areas where RR issues need to be taken care of.

    Of Rags and Riches Romance Collection will be a great novella series to read. Congratulations on the upcoming release of this new novella romance collection. Thank you for sharing this informative post.

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    1. I'm so glad you stopped by, Marilyn. Thank you. I agree that the challenges were there, but people do what is necessary to survive. I've seen that in my own life all too many times. ;) Interesting that you have relatives and friends who have worked/do work for the RR! I bet they have some stories to tell.

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  2. congratulations. wow, your book sounds like it would be a lot of fun helping her find her way in her new life. hmm If I lived at this time I would want to visit to see what it was all about. Could I be a help? I love reading about the civil war era. I would have wanted for sure to be a rancher at that time. My son is 31 now. From the age of 13, he and my husband, through boy scouts started doing civil war reenacting. They started a confederate group because there were none in the area. He still does this today. So does his wife. And he sews and sells men's clothes to civil war reenactors. His wife sews and sells dresses and undergarments for civil war women reenactors. When my husband and son started this is when I started digging into information about the civil war era.

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    1. Hi Lori, my brother and nephews were into Civil War reenacting for many years as well. My brother is a huge history buff, having gotten his first bachelor's degree in history. (He later got a second bachelor's in another, more marketable field). But for all the years my nephews were growing up, he'd take them on the reenactment weekends, camp out, and enjoy the time. Now both my nephews are grown and serving our country in different branches of the military. I wonder how much those reenactments lit the bug for them to join the military.

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  3. I don't think I could have spent time in Railroad camps or working for the Railroad, as I hate moving. I prefer to stay in one area as long as possible. What a wonderful story you have created. I can't wait to read it. I love collection books. So many different stories packed into one book.

    princessdebbie1_2000(at)yahoo(dot)com

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    1. I can't blame you one bit, Debbie! Moving is not a fun prospect! I've lived in my current home since 1994, and sometimes I feel the itch for a new house since I've been in this one so long (we moved around a lot when I was a kid, so feels like I've been here forever! LOL) Then I think about the prospect of going through my house and having to pack everything or get rid of stuff. OY! I'm happy--no new house for me. LOL

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  4. Great post...and a great story in the Of Rags and Riches Romance Collection! Congratulations on your release!

    I would visit a camp. Would I want to live in one? Well, that's another story.

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    1. I'm with you, Susie! Nope, I don't think I'd have wanted to live in one, but the visit would've been interesting!

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  5. That would be a very difficult situation for a young woman to live in!

    Have you seen the AMC TV series Hell in Wheels? We had Netflix for a while and i watched the first season and maybe part of the second... pretty gritty. We didn't keep Netflix so I didn't watch anymore of it but it was rather dark anyway. Probably not the best thing to put in one's mind.

    pattymh2000(at)yahoo(dot)com

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    1. I actually had seen a few episodes of Hell On Wheels, though I don't tend to watch a lot of television, particularly at night, since that's when I do my best writing. So I didn't even get a full season in. Thank you for stopping by, Patty!

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  6. I wouldn't want to live in a railroad camp, but working for the railroad sounds like a good opportunity for those looking for work or a way to move West.

    colorvibrant at gmail dot com

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    1. Hi Heidi, thanks for stopping by! From all my research, I would likely have to agree with you. I'm not sure I would've wanted to live in the hell-on-wheels towns. A bit too rough for my taste, although they sure are fun to write about. ;)

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  7. I don't know if I would have visited a town like that. Hard to say when you don't know what your circumstances might have been. I prefer the wagon train idea I think. If my husband had worked for the railroad, I don't know if I would have followed him until he had a place for me to live!!!

    bcrug(at)myfairpoint(dot)net

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    1. Hi Connie! Yes, you're right--hard to know how to answer some of my questions without knowing what your circumstances might have been, living in that day. The wagon trains were probably a bit more family friendly, come to think of it. :)

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  8. No, I don't think I would want to live in a railroad camp. I had an uncle who lived near a vacated one and the area was noisy, dirty and desolate.

    I would love to be added to your giveaway.

    Blessings,
    Cindy W.
    countrybear52 AT yahoo DOT com

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    1. Very good points, Cindy. I can only imagine the noise and dirt in such places. As someone who enjoys her peace and quiet, the noise alone would make living in that environment difficult for me. ;)

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  9. I love the post...thank you for sharing! I don't think I would have enjoyed being part of the railroad. I never moved around so I think that would have been very hard. I am sure it was hard, nasty work...tough work! I lived with a train running in front of my house many of my growing up years. The sway and sound of the train running on its tracks had its own rhythm, for sure!

    mauback55 at gmail dot com

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    1. You and I have something in common, Melanie. I lived in a house for several of my growing up years with a railroad track as the back border of our yard! I was young enough, I slept right through those middle of the night trains! LOL Thanks so much for stopping by and for sharing your thoughts.

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  10. Jennifer, thank you for this very interesting post! I don't I could have lived in the railroad camp. Working for the railroad would be interesting.

    Thank you for the chance to win a copy Of Rags and Riches.

    psalm103and138 at gmail dot com

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    1. Thanks so much for stopping by, Caryl! I appreciate you sharing your thoughts.

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  11. Connie R, you are my winner! Please expect an email from me shortly! Thank you everyone for participating!

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