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 argusrail.com)
By Rosa Walston Latimer, Author of Harvey Houses of Texas
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com 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.
By Rosa Walston Latimer
Rose Heilers sat on the window sill of her second floor bedroom of the Harvey House in Slaton, Texas. She leaned against the glass so she could see further down the railroad track below. Since meeting Bill Farschon, a railroad man, a few months ago this is how she has spent many of her late evening hours – waiting for Bill. She smiled at the thrill of watching the train approach the depot, first just a small, dark dot on the horizon. As the dot grew larger she could hear the “clackity-clack” of the wheels on the steel track. The passenger train whistled as it crossed the final intersection before it slowed and rumbled into the train yard below. Rose could actually see Bill’s face when the train passed the smokestack beside the tracks. He was usually smiling. She liked to believe that he knew she was waiting for him and the smile was meant just for her. With the screech of brakes and a great puff of steam, Bill was home.
This description of a Harvey Girl overlooking the rail yard waiting for the man she loved is my fictionalized version of the story of a real Harvey Girl. Following is an excerpt from my book, Harvey Houses of Texas (The History Press, 2014) that tells the true story of Rose Hielers who lived on the second floor of the Slaton Harvey House and “fed the trains” in the restaurant below.
While spending the summer of 1936 in Slaton with her aunt, twenty-one-year-old Mary Rosina “Rose” Hielers heard there was an opening for a waitress at the Harvey House. Her Aunt Mattie recommended Rose for the job, and she was hired. Rose left her home and most of her family in Stratton, Nebraska, to become a Harvey Girl.
As with most Harvey Girls, Rose discovered working for Fred Harvey was a pleasant experience and was much more rewarding than her job as a sales clerk in the general merchandise store in Nebraska. Her hours there had been long, and the pay was meager. At the Harvey House, all of the employees were congenial, and the family atmosphere made being so far from home much easier. There were about twenty employees at this restaurant and newsstand, including the manager and his wife. The Harvey Girls lived on the second floor, and the manager’s wife acted as their house mother. Male employees lived in a separate building.
A job at the Harvey House was a special blessing, as jobs of any kind for women were hard to find in the mid-1930s. The young women were paid one dollar a day plus tips and received free room and board. They also enjoyed laundry service and received a pass to ride the Santa Fe anywhere in the United States. All of these benefits plus her salary were equal to twice as much as Rose’s previous income. “To be a Harvey Girl, you had to have good morals and be reasonably attractive,” Rose said. “You had to be modest and well mannered.” She also explained that a little bit of lip color was the only makeup allowed, and jewelry was not allowed. Rose met Bill Farschon on a blind date. They were married over sixty years before Bill passed away in 2002. Rose died 6 years later. She was a member of St. Joseph Catholic Church, the Altar Society and a charter member of Catholic Daughters. After restoration of the Harvey House in Slaton, Rose donated many personal items from her Harvey Girl days and enjoyed wearing a replica of her original black and white Harvey Girl uniform for special events.
Respected and loved by all who knew her, Rose Heilers Farschon is a fine example of the positive influence Harvey Girls had in the communities where they worked and lived. These women truly civilized the West!
By Jessica Kelly
As a child, bouncing along in our family’s VW van, I always looked forward to the times we passed a train. I loved joining in as all seven of us broke out in the same tune, gleefully singing about the “little red caboose behind the train, train, train, train.”
My generation saw few very little red cabooses, but when we did, it was a majestic and memorable sight to behold. There was just something magical about those rail cars and the mysteries they held.
As manager of the Slaton Harvey House Bed & Breakfast and Event Center, I have had many conversations with people about their memories of trains and train travel. With an enchanted sense of nostalgia, they reminisce… and their memories are almost always fond ones: eagerly anticipating the powerful engine pulling the train into the station; the conductor yelling “all aboard!”; stepping up onto the metal stool that put them into a “time travel machine” that whisked them from Slaton to Amarillo and back home again.
Other memories create the picture of a young boy running alongside the “iron horse” as it pulled away from the station, chasing his railroad worker father as Daddy went off to work… a tearful mother waving goodbye as her child left for war… a happy couple hugging after they step off the train to return home from their honeymoon…
As I imagine each memory shared, I always envision the same scene. There is a platform bustling with families in suit coats and long dresses. There are children carrying small, hard luggage cases as they excitedly await the train. There is a powerful steam engine — like the majestic “1809 Cotton Special” that graces the Slaton Square lawn — steam bursting and whistle blowing. And there — seemingly pushing the train along the track as it pulls out of the station — is the little red caboose.
No train illustration is complete without it. No movie involving a train would dare leave it off. Each of us, even those who have never seen a real-life caboose can envision it… a train pulls out of the station and the hero runs to the back, hanging dangerously off the caboose handrails, declaring his undying love to the maiden who weeps and waves goodbye from the platform, handkerchief in hand.
The caboose is romantic. It is nostalgic. It is surely one of the most iconic pieces of our nation’s history. It holds memories of the brakemen who looked out the cupola window, perched like birds, watching the train ahead for any sign of trouble. It represents an era of change, of travel, of civilization, and, for many, the heartache of watching the train lug their loved ones away.
In some ways, it represents a beginning. In other ways, it symbolizes the end.
I feel fortunate to look out the window each day to the wooden caboose that adorns the Harvey House lawn. It is truly a magnificent piece of history, and I look forward to its approaching restoration, so that all can see the beauty of an artifact that played such an important role in the establishment of our country.
Little Red Caboose, chug, chug, chug!
Little Red Caboose, chug, chug, chug!
Little Red Caboose behind the train, train, train, train.
Going down the track, track, track, track.
Bringing up the back, back, back, back,
Little Red Caboose behind the train!
CELEBRATE SLATON’S HERITAGE: HELP SAVE THE ‘LITTLE RED CABOOSE’
To donate to the restoration of the historic and rare red caboose, please call or email the Slaton Harvey House: 806-828-5900, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Slaton Harvey House, a landmark Santa Fe Railroad facility built in 1912, was part of a chain of eating rooms created by Fred Harvey in 1876. The kitchen staff and hostesses — known as Harvey Girls — provided fine dining to passengers and townspeople alike for more than 30 years.
The two-story Mission Revival structure features concrete walls a foot thick and a parapet decorated with Santa Fe Railway symbols.
Today, the Slaton Harvey House has been restored to its former status as host to travelers, providing bed and breakfast service and an archive of Slaton’s railroad heritage artifacts. The beautiful building also serves as an intimate event center for meetings, conferences, and receptions.
Slaton Harvey House, 400 Railroad Avenue, Slaton, Texas; 806-828-5900; SlatonHarveyHouse@gmail.com
By Rosa Walston Latimer
In almost every discussion about Harvey Houses, the question is asked: “Wonder how many are still standing?” When Fred Harvey died in 1901 (at the age of sixty-five) he owned and operated fifteen hotels, forty-seven restaurants, thirty dining cars and a San Francisco Bay ferry. I haven’t found a definitive list of all Harvey establishments during the span from 1867 when the first Harvey House opened (Topeka, KS) until the mid-1960s when the last Harvey Houses closed. However, determining the number of Harvey Houses that still exists isn’t all that difficult. Let’s begin with Texas!
In the Lone Star State there were originally sixteen Harvey House restaurants and hotels. Only six of these buildings remain in Slaton, Gainesville, Amarillo, Brownwood, El Paso and Houston.
The Mission Revival-style Slaton Harvey House opened in 1912 at a reported cost of $75,000. In 1989 residents of Slaton saved the Harvey House building from the Santa Fe wrecking ball and the next year the Slaton Railroad Heritage Association was organized to purchase the building and oversee restoration. In 2006 the Slaton Harvey House opened as a bed-and-breakfast and the space where Harvey Girls once served customers at the lunch counter is now available – without the counter – to rent for meetings, receptions and other special events.
Originally the Slaton Harvey restaurant seated 42 people around a large oval counter with a marble top. The newsstand and gift shop opened into the eating area and the kitchen and bakery were tucked behind wooden swinging doors. Now you can easily recapture the spirit of those early times when you visit the space – especially when the trains pass by!
The depot and Harvey House in Gainesville (1901-1931) have been restored and the building is home to the Santa Fe Depot Museum. I attended an event at the museum a few years ago and loved standing in the area where the Harvey House lunchroom served passengers for thirty years. You can still see the imprint of the large, curved lunch counter in the floor. Upstairs the rooms where Harvey Girls lived remain virtually unchanged. As I walked down the narrow hall passing transom doors that opened into the small Harvey Girl bedrooms I could almost hear the “swishing” of those starched black and white uniforms!
The Amarillo Harvey House (1910 – 1940) dining room and lunch room occupied the north end of the Santa Fe Depot and a newsstand was part of the public waiting room space. The large brick, Mission Revival-style building is similar in style to the Gainesville depot and Harvey House and has been beautifully preserved. Recently the City of Amarillo purchased the building with plans to establish a railroad museum.
The last Texas Harvey House opened in Brownwood in 1914 and closed in 1938; opened again in 1940 to serve troop trains and closed permanently in 1944. The design of the tan brick building stayed true to the design of many Santa Fe buildings of the time, with dark brown trim and a red Spanish tile roof. A covered walkway joined the Harvey lunch room and dining room to the Santa Fe Depot (built in 1910), giving an effect of one large building. The building has been restored and maintained as part of the Brownwood Transportation Complex. The buildings serve as offices for the Brownwood Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center; the Convention and Tourism Bureau and the Gordon Wood Hall of Champions Sports Museum. The Lehnis Railroad Museum is across the street.
In addition to the trackside Harvey establishments, Texas Harvey House lunch counters and dining rooms served train passengers in Union Stations in Galveston, Dallas, El Paso, Houston and Fort Worth. You can still visit the spaces occupied by the Harvey House dining room, bar, lunch room, curio shop, and barber shop in the El Paso Union Station that also houses an Amtrak station. The Houston Union Station has been restored and is now the main entrance to Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros.
When you hit the road for your summer travels, why not tour the Texas Harvey Houses and enjoy an overnight stay in the Slaton Harvey House!