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A Palace on Wheels


While the railroad was an improvement over wagon trains, early travelers across the Great Plains still did not have it easy. Trains were slower than we might imagine, averaging just 25 miles per hour. Trains could go faster on the straightaways, but had to slow for sharp curves, bridges, tunnels, and wildlife. The cars were hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Passengers had to bring their own food and endure uncomfortable seats.

While most passengers had to suffer, there was a class who traveled in style and comfort. One such passenger was Jerome Marble. On this date in 1877, a dispatch from the Bismarck Tribune reported that the wealthy Massachusetts businessman and his hunting party had arrived in Marble’s “palace on wheels.” Marble and his friends rode the rails in comfort unknown to most frontier travelers. According to the Bismarck Tribune, Marble’s private car was “considered a rare piece of workmanship.” The Salt Lake Herald called it “the finest excursion car ever built.” The car achieved a fame all its own and came to be known as “The Jerome Marble.”

The 24-foot car boasted velvet carpet, comfortable rocking chairs, brocade curtains, and an upright piano. At night, heavy curtains separated the car into bedrooms. There was a compact kitchen with an ice box. A second car carried his four dogs, hunting equipment, his chef, and his staff. Marble parked the car on a siding and used it as a hotel. When ready to move on, he had the car added to a passing train for transport to his next destination.

The gentlemen spent their days hunting. They took a massive number of ducks, geese, prairie chickens, rabbits, coyotes, antelope, deer, and foxes. On one trip they reported killing 1,500 prairie chickens. The ladies generally remained with the car while the men hunted. One newspaper reported that “The ladies amuse themselves as in any well-regulated mansion.”

Marble and his famous car continued to turn up in the news. Each summer, he and his party spent several months traveling the West. In 1892, the Bismarck Tribune reported on Marble’s 22nd annual hunting trip. 


Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher



Worldwide Rails. “How Fast Did Early Trains Go?”  Accessed 9/26/2020.

Salt Lake Herald. “The Wilmington Club.” Salt Lake UT. 8/12/1883. Page 12.

New Bloomfield Times. “Hunting in Luxurious Style.” New Bloomfield PA. 1/14/1879. Page 3.

Bismarck Tribune. “Hunting in Palace Cars.” Bismarck, Dakota Territory. 10/15/1877. Page 4.

Bismarck Tribune. “City and County.” Bismarck ND. 9/9/1892. Page 8.

The Columbus Journal. “We called at the car of the Massachusetts’ excursionists.” Columbus NE. 11/12/1879. Page 3.

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