traveler today, no matter what mode of travel he prefers, owes a
salute to the organizational genius of Fred Harvey. This slender
wisp of a man was all gentleman and laid the groundwork and quality
goals for travel hospitality, making such trips comfortable, reliable
After horse-drawn transportation waned and before automobiles and
airplanes came along, the train had its heyday. Until Fred Harvey
came along, train travel was dirty and tiresome with the food and
accommodations terrible. Even the railroad executives owned private
rail cars in which to travel.
Fred changed all that when he came aboard the Santa Fe Railroad.
Depot by depot, restaurant by restaurant he cleaned, organized,
trained employees and supplied excellent food and service, making
it the model of the future and forcing all other railroads to follow
Heading his Fred Harvey Corporation, he became a genius at devising
schemes to provide better service and food to passengers. Santa
Fe gave him almost a free hand and placed all their rail equipment
and facilities at his disposal for use. His success is now legend.
gentleman eccentric, he insisted all men wear coats at the tables
and kept varied sizes of coats on hand for those without. To disobey
meant you would not be served, no matter who you were or your station
to run on time and stops were for short periods. Pre-arranged signals
sent ahead, had prepared meals waiting on the counters to make sure
everyone was fed and free to again board the cars when the whistle
An example of the organizational schemes devised by Fred involved
a "cup-code" for the beverages. The patrons were asked if they preferred
coffee, hot tea, iced tea or milk. The waitress then fiddled with
the cup and moved on. Immediately the drink waitress arrived and
without a word poured the right beverage. The customers were amazed
at the accuracy of service.
The plan was
simple. The first waitress left the cup upright in the saucer for
coffee, upside down for hot tea, upside down and tilted against
the saucer meant iced tea and upside down and away from the saucer
Similar codes were used for four choices of standard meals which
were changed each week, and for selections of desserts. Each item
arrived on time, and only extremely slow eaters had problems finishing
their meals before time to catch their train.
Ernie Pyle, an avid train traveler who wrote for newspapers as he
traveled the U.S., noticed the final waitress who brought the check
made a big show of turning up one corner of the heavy cardboard
ticket as she placed it in front of the customer.
Ernie and friends
came to believe it was some sort of signal like the cup code used
in providing the beverages. All sort of theories were voiced and
finally he called waitress and asked what signal the turned-up corner
of the ticket was sending?
She smiled and answered, "Oh that's so the customer can pick up
the check off the counter easier."
© Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew"
November 20, 2007 Column
See Texas Railroads
Texas | Online
Magazine | Features |
| Columns | "It's
All Trew" |