NEWS BLOG (WSAU) In
the days when people traveled by train instead of airplanes, everyone knew what
an “upper” was. It was the upper birth in a
“Uppers” were the lowest class of sleeping accommodation on an overnight train. The “lower”, which converted to a bed by sliding and folding down the two seats that faced each other, was much preferred. The lower birth was wider and allowed the passenger to look out the window once they put their head down. By comparison, most upper births didn’t have windows and not much head-space between the bed and the car roof. Many people found them claustrophobic.
The Pullman Company priced the upper birth 15-percent cheaper than a lower… and they were almost always empty unless the rest of the train was sold out.
Who was the most common passenger in an upper? A government employee or a soldier or sailor. Into the 1950s, federal employees were required to travel in uppers – it was the only train accommodation that the U.S. Government would reimburse for when expense reports were submitted. If the employee wanted a lower or a private compartment or drawing room in the sleeping car, they had to pay for it out of their own pockets.
The Baltimore & Ohio and The Pennsylvania were the last
railroads to retire their old upper/lower compartment sleeping cars, as others
in the railroad industry switched to cars that had separate walled-off
roomettes. These were the railroads that served
Look how far we’ve come. Today an inspectors report will detail $50-million of IRS spending for employee conferences. Locations? Resorts and posh hotel ballrooms. Travel? First class airfare. Accommodations? For some, the hotel’s Presidential Suite at $3,500 a night.
Are we outraged? No, not really. We’ve been conditioned to expect waste and excess from our government. And it’s a shame.