Posts by gculver

Harvey Girls

A Lasting Legacy of Hospitality

February 4th, 2018 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “A Lasting Legacy of Hospitality”
Harvey Girls

Harvey Girls

By Rosa Walston Latimer.

Research of Fred Harvey and his inventive approach to business has revealed his contribution of many familiar hospitality-related practices such as the “blue plate” lunch special and requiring men to wear coats in the dining room. However, perhaps the Harvey “way”’s most influential and long-lasting impact is dedication to exemplary customer service.

You can imagine how unusual it must have been for early 20th century railroad passengers to encounter impeccable table settings and Harvey Girl service in the mostly uncivilized Southwest! Today the few remaining Harvey Houses that provide food service remain loyal to the Fred Harvey way of doing business and nowhere will you find more dedication to that principle of customer service than at the Slaton Harvey House. A visitor from Nebraska provided this review of her recent stay:

A recent stay at the 1912 Slaton Harvey House proves that vintage charm can be combined with modern upgrades to provide a most relaxing stay.  From the re-created newsstand now serving as the registration desk to the convenient elevator every amenity is provided.  But be sure to make at least one trip up the original staircase with metal steps and imagine the Harvey Girls at work.  The bedrooms are furnished with comfortable beds and up-to-date bathrooms.    Decorative accessories provide era-appropriate ambience.  Spend a night or a weekend.  Enjoy the sitting area.  Prepare yourself for a most delicious breakfast.  Savor West Texas hospitality.

Harvey House china

Harvey House china

This current review of a Harvey House experience in many ways echoes similar complimentary communication from satisfied customers written through the years. Since Harvey opened his first restaurant in 1879 I would guess thousands of satisfied customers took time to express their appreciation.

Outstanding service at the El Paso Harvey House was praised in a letter to the Fred Harvey company headquarters from “A Unit of Nurses” dated April 20, 1946.

Dear Sir:

   For a long time I have intended to write to you. Seeing the movie “The Harvey Girls” made me know more than ever I must write. The advertisement in Fortune Magazine showing the Syracuse china made us appreciate the dishes our food was served from. Not a chipped or cracked one on the table.

   In our travels we were transferred to El Paso, Texas. It was between eleven and twelve at night when we arrived at the station. Several of us went into the Harvey House dining room; after days of traveling in hot coaches and having only two meals, we were so pleased to be in a cool room, where everyone was so pleasant.

   The most courteous and sweet gray-haired lady took our order. We all noticed the efficient way she served her customers. All agreed someone should write and thank her. Through you we want to tell her that we will never forget the person that showed us how to be gracious.

[signed] A Unit of Nurses.

The nurses’ emphasis on their gracious server reminds us that the “face” of the Fred Harvey service was the Harvey Girls. The following letter was written to the Fred Harvey company by Mr. H.R. Pattengill of Michigan in 1910. The final sentence is priceless!

Nearly forty days of travel and experience along the Santa Fe, and corresponding familiarity with the Harvey eating-house system, leads us to pay this tribute to its force of dining-room girls. In all this time, in a score of different hotels, and of the hundreds of waiters, the editor did not see any unladylike or flippant action. The young ladies were, without exception, neat and becomingly attired, courteous and expert in their work, dignified yet cheery, bright eyed, clear faced and intelligent. It is also worthy of note that they received from the thousands of guests whom they served the courtesy which their bearing demanded. Some of the traveling show troupe women, with their bepowdered, enameled, ready-made complexions, peroxide puffs, wienerwurst curls, loud talk and louder behavior, might well get some wholesome lessons in womanliness from the Harvey House waitresses.

Thank you, Fred Harvey, for setting the standard high! And thank you to Harvey Houses such as the restored bed & breakfast in Slaton, Texas for continuing the tradition!

Fred Harvey Eating Room sign

Fred Harvey Eating Room sign









Photo captions:

#1          Fred Harvey Blue Chain china serving pieces from the collection of Everet Apodaca. Photo courtesy of Mr. Apodaca.

#2          Unidentified Harvey Girls. Photo courtesy of Brenda Thowe.

#3           Original Fred Harvey restaurant sign. Photo courtesy of Skip Gentry Fred Harvey Memorabilia    Collection.





Harvey Girl Ethel Willis

A Harvey Girl Christmas Story

December 21st, 2017 Posted by Uncategorized 3 thoughts on “A Harvey Girl Christmas Story”

By Rosa Walston Latimer.


When the railroad forged its way through the West, it brought Fred Harvey restaurants and hotels with it. Certainly Mr. Harvey had a unique vision and was an astute businessman, as were his sons and grandsons who continued the business after his death in 1901. However, it was the employees, led by waitresses known as Harvey Girls, who made the Fred Harvey company a success. Through the years, over 100,000 women followed the Santa Fe Tracks westward to work as Harvey Girls.

Harvey House Christmas menu cover

Harvey House Christmas menu cover

How was life as a Harvey Girl beyond the ever-present smile and distinctive black and white uniform? Certainly it was an exciting adventure for some and a guarantee of a husband for many. The Harvey House staff was in many ways a protective family, still it could be difficult as most of the young women left home for the first time to work in a Harvey House. No doubt at the end of a twelve-hour shift, bone tired and alone on the second floor of a Harvey House, many of these young women cried themselves to sleep. As a result of research for a series of books on Harvey Houses and Harvey Girls I have heard many personal stories expressing loneliness and a feeling of constant fatigue; however, invariably there were happy endings.

Even though Harvey Houses were festooned with Christmas decorations and the menu was brimming with traditional holiday food this time of year was especially difficult for young women who were working far from their home and family. In many ways, their experience was no different from what we feel today when faced with similar situations.

Harvey Girl Ethel Willis

Harvey Girl Ethel Willis

Ethel Willis Irby was born just over one hundred miles northwest of Las Vegas, New Mexico in the tiny mining town of Brilliant. After graduating from high school in 1928, she went to work as a Harvey Girl at the Castaneda in Las Vegas.

Her first Christmas in Las Vegas Ethel was very homesick as she had always been with her family during the holidays. As we might say today, she decided to apply some “retail therapy” to her situation. Ethel went shopping and bought some new shoes. Although the purchase took almost all of her weekly wages, she felt special in the slender, black pumps and decided to have the shop owner wrap up her scuffed, tan ankle boots declaring she wanted to wear the new shoes. Stepping a little lighter in her shiny pumps Ethel continued to saunter along Bridge Street enjoying the holiday decorations in the shop windows. Then it began to rain and water quickly puddled on the uneven dirt footpath. This is when Ethel discovered her pretty new shoes were not leather, but were instead made of cardboard with a glossy surface. Before she could make her way in the pouring rain the few blocks to the Rawlins building where she and other Harvey Girls lived, her new Christmas shoes had almost disintegrated.

Ethel’s cold, wet feet were a perfect match for her dampened spirits. She felt she had wasted her money on a frivolous purchase and the whistle of an approaching train reminded that if she didn’t hurry, she would be late for work. Thankful that she had recently chosen a fashionable bob Ethel used her bath towel to dry her hair as best she could, slipped into her black and white uniform, put on dry shoes and reported for work in the bustling, crowded Castaneda dining room. She was still lonely and disappointed but it was time for her shift and she had train passengers to feed!

Through the years the lives of Harvey Girls have been romanticized making it easy to forget the difficulties the young women surely faced.  However, for the most part, they shared a strong desire to meet the Fred Harvey standards and faced each day with renewed determination.

Slaton Harvey House 2017 Christmas Tree

Slaton Harvey House 2017 Christmas Tree

Three years later Ethel Willis transferred to Los Chavez Harvey House and Hotel in Vaughn, New Mexico. While working in the lunch room she often served meals to a Boston wool buyer, Sumner Irby who traveled regularly to the southwest for business. Ethel was twenty years old and Sumner thirty-five when they met and she considered him a kind, gentle “old” man. According to Ethel’s daughter, it took Sumner two years, but he eventually convinced the pretty Harvey Girl to marry him and provided Ethel with a happy, comfortable life with as many pairs of leather shoes as she desired!


Rosa Walston Latimer is the award-winning author of a series of books about the establishment

of Harvey Houses along the Santa Fe Railroad: Harvey Houses of Texas, Harvey Houses of New

Mexico and Harvey Houses of Kansas, which received a “Kansas Notable Book Award” in 2016.




Ozzie and the Sobbing Black

May 24th, 2017 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “Ozzie and the Sobbing Black”
Engine 1809, the Sobbing Black

Engine 1809, the Sobbing Black

by Jessica Kelly
Slaton Harvey House
April 4, 2017

He is just a little guy, but his dreams are big.

Ozzie, his brother, and his parents came to stay at the Slaton Harvey House Bed & Breakfast in September 2016. It was his sixth birthday and, being the train enthusiast he is, spending the night in an old train station was a dream come true. His parents, new to the Lubbock area, were thrilled when they found our little house of history, knowing that for Ozzie, a night spent here would be the greatest gift.

His family toured our little town of Slaton, visiting the town square and spending some time taking in the majesty of 1809, the monstrous steam engine that was dedicated to Slaton in 1955 and sits on City Hall’s lawn today, its presence still commanding attention in our little square. Engine 1809 is surrounded by a chain link fence, but Ozzie would have climbed aboard if he could.

Back at the Slaton Harvey House, the train lover’s face lit up with intrigue and excitement as he perused our small railroad artifact collection, the Brakeman hats and coats, the pictures. As a train approached and the building began to rumble, Ozzie ran to the window, eyes wide and bright, eagerly anticipating it’s passing. He didn’t take his eyes off that train.

He gets it. At his young age, he gets the power and mystique of the railroad. According to his mother, Ozzie has been a train fan since he was two years old and started playing with his junior Thomas the Train wooden engines and track. “He’s graduated to elaborate wooden track sets, including real life types of engines, like the Santa Fe, and has an electric Santa Fe that runs the perimeter of his room, close to the ceiling, that his Dad made for him. At Christmas, Ozzie’s Granddaddy’s full sized Lionel Train comes out to run around the tracks at the base of the Christmas tree. No matter what the size or type of train, Ozzie loves them all!” she said.

He is connected to his past, a legacy of railroaders before him. He was quick to tell me that his granddad worked for the Frisco line, and even quicker to rattle off the cache of facts and trivia he’s acquired in his short life. He understands the power of the steel rails, the importance of its history and future, and he plans to honor it.

The family visited us again in March. They brought Ozzie’s grandparents to experience the legacy of the Slaton Harvey House. Ozzie’s mom asked if he’d shared his life goal and vision with me; when he’s a grown up, he wants to restore The Sobbing Black.

The Sobbing Black is Engine 1809, the retired steam engine on the Slaton square that captivated Ozzie in September. When asked why he named it “The Sobbing Black,” Ozzie said “The rust had bubbled up the paint to where it looked like it was crying. And from my Peanuts Cartoons, I knew that sobbing means crying hard, because some of the characters would have a bubble beside them that said ‘SOB!’”

Ozzie’s dream isn’t short-sighted, and he already has his restoration plans lined up. He says he is going to ask his Dad to replace the missing glass and weak wood, his Mom to scrape off the old paint, and his brother Leo to get the wheels in working order. Ozzie plants to paint The Sobbing Black all by himself.

His mother said he’s drawn many pictures of his beloved Sobbing Black, and even made little books titled “Me and The Sobbing Black.”

His long-term dream is to be the engineer on the fully functional 1809. He is planning to let dogs ride in a separate car, and has asked to borrow our caboose (the wooden Fort Worth & Denver caboose – currently under restoration – which sits outside the Slaton Harvey House).

Ozzie’s excitement is contagious, and we were blessed to make his acquaintance, and that of his brother and parents, who encourage and support his big dreams.

This is more than a six year old boy. Ozzie is hope for our future. He and his family are sure to bring honor to the railroad for years to come, and I doubt we’ll wait until he’s a grown up to get him on board. His parents have already asked if Ozzie and his brother Leo can come volunteer some time, and we look forward to the inspiration and magic that they’ll bring to the Slaton Harvey House, the railroad, and to Engine 1809, Ozzie’s vision, The Sobbing Black.

Ozzie and the Sobbing Black

Ozzie at the Harvey House

Engine 1809 Slaton

Engine 1809

February 26th, 2017 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “Engine 1809”

Built in 1906, her career lasted 49 years, including service to Slaton.  Donated to Slaton in 1955, now residing in the town square park.   (photos courtesy

Engine 1809 Slaton

Slaton’s Engine 1809

Engine 1809 Slaton

Front view

Cacarets - multi purpose ailment cure

Souvenirs, Cold Cures and Flat Fifties: Fred Harvey Newsstands

November 6th, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “Souvenirs, Cold Cures and Flat Fifties: Fred Harvey Newsstands”

By Rosa Walston Latimer, Author of Harvey Houses of Texas

Harvey House Newsstands

Fred Harvey Newsstands – Slaton Harvey House

Visitors to the Slaton Harvey House have an opportunity to experience firsthand one of the lesser known Fred Harvey merchandising successes – the Harvey newsstand. The Slaton newsstand remains intact along the west wall of the area that was once the Harvey lunch room.

In a sense, Fred Harvey newsstands were the twentieth-century forerunner of modern-day convenience stores. In most Harvey House locations, the newsstand was inside the Harvey Lunch Room; however, in larger train depots, it was usually a separate shop that opened into the depot waiting room as well as onto the trackside platform. The amount and variety of merchandise offered was in proportion to the number of passengers passing through the train station.

Havey Girl, Grace Koepp, Gallup NM Newsstand

Havey Girl, Grace Koepp, Gallup NM Newsstand

The first Fred Harvey business in Texas was a newsstand that opened in the Paris train depot in 1896 and operated until 1930. There was no Harvey eating house at this location; however, just thirty miles north in Hugo, Oklahoma, there was a Harvey House Lunch Room with a newsstand.

One other Texas location, Beaumont, had a Harvey Newsstand and no eating facility. It is the only Harvey business in Texas that was associated with a hotel not owned by the Fred Harvey Company. The newsstand is listed in a 1905 promotional booklet titled Fred Harvey Meals, as being located in Beaumont’s new Crosby Hotel. The five-story brick Crosby Hotel was built soon after the Spindletop oil boom of 1901.

Fred Harvey Newsstands - Books for Sale

Fred Harvey Newsstands – Books for Sale for those long train rides

The Crosby Hotel lobby would have been crowded with men frantically competing to take advantage of the great Texas oil boom. One can only imagine the burgeoning business enjoyed by a Fred Harvey Newsstand, with its sophisticated stock of cigars, cigarettes and current newspapers brought in by train from such faraway cities as Chicago and Kansas City.

Tobacco products were the prominent merchandise in every Fred Harvey Newsstand. The Fred Harvey private brand of cigars as well as Roi-Tan, Cremo and Prodigo were sold with the promise, “We give discount on cigars bought by the box.” Large Lucky Strike Cigarette posters featuring young beauties in shorts and ballet slippers declared, “It’s toasted!” and “Lucky’s are always kind to your throat!” Colorful advertising touted such products as “flat fifties,” cigarette tins popular in the 1940s. The American Tobacco Company included this message inside the tins: “These LUCKY STRIKE CIGARETTES will commend themselves to your critical approval. The additional toasting process adds to the character and improves the taste of the fine tobacco.”

Lucky Strikes - 50 Flats

Lucky Strikes – 50 Flats. A big seller at Fred Harvey Newsstands

The Harvey newsstands also offered major newspapers of the time as well as a variety of magazines and books. Chewing gum and candy were big sellers, and the newsstands were always framed with wire displays of postcards. The postcard business flourished after 1904 when Ford Harvey began working with the Detroit Publishing Company, which had developed a process for colorizing black-and-white photos. A good number of the collectable postcards from the early Harvey days have survived and are often offered online.

Souvenirs were attractively displayed to appeal to train passengers. Key chains and letter openers as well as figurines and toy trucks all clamored for the travelers’ attention. Displayed on glass shelves, small items were advertised as souvenirs for bridge prizes. The variety of merchandise was endless: cloisonné compacts, sewing notions, watches and brightly colored felt triangular pennants emblazoned with the state’s name. Small cactus plants were sold in the El Paso Union Station Harvey newsstand.

Fred Harvey Newsstands

Fred Harvey Newsstands, with papers shipped from as far away as Chicago and Kansas City

Solutions for the wide-ranging needs of a traveler were for sale at larger Harvey newsstands. These were listed alphabetically on multi-sided signs. Some of those items relieved a traveler’s ills: Bromo Quinine cold tablets, Bromo Seltzer for the tummy, liniments, Listerine, Mentholatum and Lavoris. Men’s garters and collar buttons were available, as well as cold cream, face powder, nail files and perfume for the ladies. Perhaps the most useful remedy available at the newsstands was tins of Cascaret. The advertising for these brown octagonal tablets—reputed to have a taste almost as pleasant as chocolate—promised to eliminate “Heartburn, Colic, Coated Tongue, Suspected Breath, Acid-rising-in-throat, Gas-belching, or an incipient Cold.”

Cacarets - multi purpose ailment cure

Cacarets – multi purpose ailment cure, sold at Fred Harvey Newsstands

Fred Harvey newsstands were a very successful business, and throughout the Harvey system, many survived long after lunchrooms and dining rooms had closed. Next time you walk into the Slaton Harvey House take a moment to observe another of Fred Harvey’s brilliant business initiatives. Mr. Harvey didn’t only “feed the trains” – he also provided for the personal needs and wants of the train passengers.

slaton harvey house

The Waitress and The Whaler: A Love Story

August 5th, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “The Waitress and The Whaler: A Love Story”

We are grateful for Rosa Latimer’s support of the Slaton Harvey House by serving on it’s board and providing wonderful ideas, offering illuminating stories for your reading pleasure.

(Such as below) and, coming soon, having her delightful play “The Harvey Girls” acted out in our own Harvey House. Here’s Rosa:

The year: 1913. The place: a Harvey House in the tiny New Mexico town of Rincon. The event was the wedding of a young nurse from Philadelphia to a handsome Frenchman from the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. Given the limited travel opportunities of the time and inadequate long-distance communication (a century before Face Book!) how did this improbable union take place? Two words: Fred Harvey.

slaton harvey house

Although generally Harvey rules banned Harvey Girls from dating Santa Fe men, even the mighty Fred Harvey couldn’t stop love! Joe Fondy worked as a cook at the Slaton Harvey House cook until he was old enough to work for the Santa Fe Railroad. On his runs to Sweetwater he met Harvey Girl Ethel Reeves. The family history tells us that when Ethel first saw Joe enter the Harvey House she declared that he was the best looking man she had ever seen and she intended to marry him. The wedding soon followed.

The bride, Gertrude McCormick and the groom, William Alexander Balmanno, were my grandparents. This very personal, true story set me on a path to pay tribute to the thousands of women who truly civilized the West – Harvey Girls.

Gertrude was an orphan who had finished nursing school in Philadelphia and after working a while, decided she wanted to go to Alaska. In early 1912 this would not be an easy accomplishment for a young single woman. Gertrude learned that Fred Harvey was hiring “educated women of good character” to work in his restaurants that stretched from Kansas across the Southwest to California. She recognized an opportunity to work her way toward Alaska, interviewed to be a Harvey Girl and promptly boarded a train to Rincon, New Mexico. I can only imagine the culture shock of leaving a city the size of Philadelphia and landing in this small railroad town in southern New Mexico. However, it wasn’t long before excitement entered Gertrude’s life when a tall, dark and very handsome young Frenchman came to town.

At the age of twelve William left his family on the island of Mauritius to work on whaling ships. Seventeen years later, he and a friend quit their whaling jobs in Vera Cruz, Mexico, and decided to walk to California. On the way, in Rincon, New Mexico, William took a job with the Santa Fe Railroad to earn money to finish his trip.
The lunch counter in this small Harvey House seated twenty-six, and there was no dining room. Most likely no more than six Harvey Girls worked in Rincon at any one time. The new railroad man who spoke with a heavy French accent must have caused quite a stir. Petite Gertrude caught his attention, and three months later, William and Gertrude married. They spent the rest of their lives in New Mexico, and William worked for the Santa Fe until his retirement.

slaton harvey house blog

Maxine Cockrell started working at the Canadian, Texas Harvey House at age 15 when she was hired as a “salad girl” in the kitchen. Once she turned 18 years old she began her Harvey Girl duties at the lunch counter. There she met a local cowboy, Harold Wilson and after courting a few months the couple married and sold Harold’s horse to provide funds for a move to California. However, they soon returned to Texas so their first child would be born in their native state.

Of course this is just one Harvey Girl love story. In my writing I focus on personal Harvey Girl stories: the life situation that drew them away from home; the interesting and diverse people who crossed their paths and how these young women changed the culture of the west and southwest in so many ways. You can find all of this in my series of books: Harvey Houses of Texas, Harvey Houses of New Mexico and Harvey Houses of Kansas all published by The History Press and available wherever books are sold.

You can also enjoy the light-hearted, nostalgic story of Gertrude and other Harvey Girls in upcoming live performances of the play “Harvey Girls” performed in a dinner theater setting at the Slaton Harvey House. Performances are Friday, September 30 & Saturday, October 1, 2016 at 6:000 p.m. Tickets are $30/person (dinner and play) and reservations are required as seating is limited. For more information or to make your reservations, email or call 806-828-5900.

Please join me for a truly enjoyable evening that will also serve as a fundraiser for the Harvey House along with the Slaton ISD and Post ISD theater departments.