Let Us Kick

Check out this humorous historical anecdote about the troubles in the sleeping car of a train in the late Victorian era.

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Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
A Currier and Ives print about a disturbance in a sleeping car.

When I was in the U.S. Army during the early 1950s, I had several opportunities to travel quite long distances on trains and we were always, in the U.S., treated to the luxury of a Pullman car, where at night a porter converted the seats used during the day into double-decker bunks, complete with sheets, pillows, blankets and privacy curtains. I found it soothing to drift off to sleep to the gentle swaying of the car and the clickity-clack of the wheels on the rail joints. It wasn’t always so comfortable however, as attested by the following story that was published in 1888 in the book, “A Man of Samples. Something about the men he met ‘On the Road,'” by William H. Maher (1846-1913), a travelling salesman.


[The following sketch by M. Quad in the Detroit Free Press, will be new to some of our readers, and will, we think, be appreciated by them all.]

I really and truly believe that the day will come when the kicker will be classed where he belongs and be entitled to the reverence due him. I look upon him as a philosopher and a philanthropist. He stands forth one man out of ten thousand. He is actuated by the most unselfish motives. He is the real reformer.

I am not a kicker. I am simply taking the preparatory lessons to enable me to blossom out. The other day when I bought a ticket to go east they told me at the ticket office:

“While the train does not leave until about eleven, the sleeper is open at nine, and you can go right to bed and wake up at Niagara Falls next morning.”

I entered the sleeper at half-past nine and went to bed. That is, it is called going to bed. You are boxed up, boxed in, surrounded and smothered and charged two dollars for the misery. A sleeping-car is a mockery, a fraud and a deception. The avarice of the companies results in misery for the passengers. Four other persons had gone to bed, and at ten o’clock we were all asleep. At that hour two men entered with a great clatter. They were talking loudly, and they sat down and continued. I waited fifteen minutes for one of the other sleepers to kick. No one uttered a protest, so I rose up and asked:

“Do you men know that this is a sleeping-car?”

“We do,” they answered.

“And do you propose to continue this disturbance?”

“We propose to talk as long and as loud as we please!”

I called the conductor and inquired:

“I have paid for a berth in which to sleep. I can’t sleep for this disturbance. Will you stop it?”

“Really, I can’t,” he answered.

“Are there no rules?”

“Yes, but people in a sleeping-car must expect to be disturbed.”

“Oh, they must. Very well — see me later.”

Four others came in with just as much racket, and they kept their chattering going until eleven o’clock. At half-past eleven the lights were turned down and everybody was ready for sleep. I had been patiently waiting for this. Lying on my back, arms locked over my head and my palate down, I brought a snore which went thundering over that car in a way to open every eye. After two more a man called out.

“Thunder and blazes, but we’ve got a whale aboard!”

After three more they began to yell at me from every berth. I put in two extra ones, and the porter came down and shook my arm and said:

“Here you — stop that!”

“Man!” I said, as I looked up at him, “if you come here and do that again I may fire upon you!”

As soon as he had gone I went back to business. When a man sets out to snore for revenge you’d be surprised to know what a success he can make of it. In five minutes they were calling for the conductor. He came down and parted the curtains and said:

“Hey — you — wake up! You are disturbing the car.

“Conductor, haven’t I paid for this berth?” I asked.


“Is there any rule which prohibits snoring?”

“No, but –”

“Then you keep away from me! I have a revolver, and I might take you for a robber!”

Then I returned to the main question. I snored in every key of the scale. I snored for blood. I had every person in the car swearing mad and ready to fight, and they sent for the passenger conductor. He refused to interfere. Several chaps volunteered to “pull me out o’ that,” but when they came close enough to see the muzzle of a revolver they fell back. At two o’clock in the morning they held a convention, and as the result one of them asked:

“Stranger, is there any way on earth to stop that bazoo of yours?”

“The four of you who came in last were grossly selfish. You had no care for the rights of others. The four who were here before I came were disturbed but hadn’t the grit to kick. Now, then, promise me on your solemn words that if you ever enter a sleeping-car again you will respect the situation, and I will let you off.”

Every soul in that car made the promise, and half an hour later we were all asleep.

Just another look back at “The Good Old Days.”

Sam Moore

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