BEFORE any but a few enthusiasts realized the revolution that the steam locomotive was to make the usefulness of railroads had become apparent. The name, however, is the chief resemblance between our giant systems and such lines as the Stockton and Burlington Railway, on which the first passenger-car was run.
Built by Stephenson especially for the occasion, the car began its service on the day in September, 1825, when Stephenson ran a locomotive for the first time over the twelve miles of track that constituted the railroad, but thereafter it was pulled back and forth by horse-power, like any other wagon.
This forerunner of palace-cars and dining-coaches was an uncouth affair. Externally much like a magnified bath-house on wheels, it had a long row of seats along each side of the interior and a long table in the center. The door was at the back and in front was an elevated perch for the driver. As at the time of its construction it was the only vehicle in existence - built for this particular purpose, it was christened the Experiment.
The Experiment was a success from the beginning. Though it took the single horse which pulled the heavy wagon two hours to do the twelve miles between Stockton and Burlington, the new way of traveling became popular at once.
The company itself did not operate this pioneer passenger service. Instead it rented out its car to contractors, charging for the use of the road as well. There was money to be made out of the service, however, and more carriages were built, hotel-keepers especially entering into the business with enthusiasm.
But there was not much done for the comfort of the passengers. That there was any light at all in the old Experiment after dark was due entirely to the generosity of the old driver, Dixon, who bought with his own money each night a penny candle. When he was belated, a not infrequent occurrence, he stuck this upon the table in the middle of the car, and with this feeble light to cheer them the passengers rumbled on their way.
At this time railroads were regarded as public highways over which any one who chose had a right to drive on paying the tolls fixed by law. Private individuals and companies went into the business of hauling freight as well as passengers, driving their own vehicles over the road at their own pleasure.
As there was only a single track, with occasional sidings, the lack of any schedule led to confusion and strife. The long argument which invariably followed two carriages meeting each other frequently ended in a battle in which the passengers joined. The beaten party, of course, backed off to the nearest siding.