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Crudity of travel gives way to progress

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew
Sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite.

This parting comment always gets a laugh from my little great-granddaughter when she goes to bed. But at one time in the early West you were likely to get bit every night by a bedbug. Today's super motels, exhibiting super service, super cleanliness and located super handy to the highways, are a long way from the first overnight lodgings along the Old West's crude trails.

The first known shelters-for-pay were sleeping areas on the road ranches along the busy trails offering goods and services to travelers and providing rested livestock in trade for exhausted team animals. Most who traveled by wagon stayed in their wheeled abodes. As the single travelers riding horseback became more numerous, there was demand for overnight lodging.

Stalls in sheds were first partitioned off with wagon canvas allowing just enough space to undress and lie on a single straw-tick mattress that rattled every time you moved. Strangers often slept together in larger beds, each with a pistol in his hand for protection.

As settlements appeared across the frontier, wagon yards came into being, usually an addition to the local livery stable, providing parking and livestock pens for those staying overnight.

Bunkhouses were often provided for single men. Transportation was slow and most settlers lived many miles out in the hills, requiring an overnight stay to do business and travel back and forth.

Of course, saloons were always built first. To save on building costs, second and third stories were added providing small rooms for rent. Though many were clean and comfortable, most were just barely livable with dirty bedding, small space and the ever-present bedbugs and lice. Most legs of beds rested in small saucers filled with coal oil to keep the bugs from crawling upward.

Progress, gold and cattle fortunes improved, thus the travelers began demanding better food and accommodations and were willing to pay for them. Soon the transformation from seedy hotels to legitimate, pleasant surroundings began to appear. Taxes, building codes and operating costs of hotels back east prompted many experienced hotel owners to sell out and go west where they built grand lodgings with famous chefs providing the best food.

The biggest change came when trains and automobiles entered the scene. Suddenly, everyone was interested in long-distance travel and the demand for facilities rose quickly. Fred Harvey dominated the railroad and lodging stops, bringing fresh food and etiquette to the traveling public. Those who experienced the Harvey food demanded better elsewhere.

Route 66, the first and longest road to the West, saw the evolution from the "greasy-spoon" roadside cafe to roadside diners and on to huge full-service travel centers.

Travelers of today can be thankful they do hot have to endure the bite of a bedbug, a lumpy straw mattress and the snoring of a fellow traveler sleeping inches away with only a thin canvas between the beds. As the old line goes, "Yes, we've come a long way, baby."


August 10 , 2010 Column Delbert Trew

More "It's All Trew"
Delbert Trew is a freelance writer and retired rancher. He can be reached at 806-779-3164, by mail at Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002, or by e-mail at trewblue@centramedia.net. For books see DelbertTrew.com. His column appears weekly.
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