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.
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.
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.