Traveling by Train from Memphis to Las Vegas in 1956

Discussion in 'High Speed and Other Non-Amtrak Intercity Rail' started by shanghaiamtrak, Sep 8, 2019.

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  1. Sep 8, 2019 #1

    shanghaiamtrak

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    shanghaiamtrak

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    I am a big train buff and also collect Elvis Presley memorabilia. I own a Telegram from 1956 that Elvis sent to his manager. From what ive read, Elvis took a train from Memphis to Las Vegas at this time. The person I bought the telegram from told me he thinks Elvis sent the telegram from Las Vegas and that the Green River Wyoming notation is just routing used by Western Union. However, I found a train timetable from 1956 for UP Challenger train from Chicago to LA that shows a stop in Green River from 315 PM to 325 PM. I theorize that it makes more sense that Elvis sent the telegram during such a stop over in Green River. The stamp on the telegram says 430 PM--maybe Elvis' train was an hour late or the telegram was telegraphed a few minutes after he was at the Western Union office. My question to old time train buffs here is--is my thinking correct? If one were to go from Memphis to Las Vegas by train in 1956, is the routing Memphis to Chicago then Chicago to LV via the Challenger the most plausable route? Im just trying to nail down whether Elvis did in fact send the telegram in Green River as opposed to the person telling me Elvis sent it from Vegas and the telegram was just routed through Green River. Any info/help from anyone would be appreciated. Thanks!
     

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  2. Sep 8, 2019 #2

    ehbowen

    ehbowen

    ehbowen

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    Well, as the Challenger was an all-coach train, it is much more likely that young star Mr. Presley would have been traveling on the other, all-Pullman half of the train, the City of Los Angeles. But there is an even better possibility which does not require the train to be late or Mr. Presley's telegram to have been "spiked" for an hour. You see, he would have had to get FROM Memphis TO one of the CoLA's eastern temini...either Chicago or (enroute) Omaha. And Elvis was coming west from Memphis. Well, through service between Memphis and St. Louis was (rather surprisingly to me!) hard to find, but there was the Chickasaw operated by the Illinois Central (which also carried through cars from the Panama Limited) which departed Memphis at 11:15 p.m. the previous evening...although a set-out St. Louis sleeping car could be boarded at 9:30 p.m....and arrived St. Louis at 7:38 a.m. The competing Frisco likewise offered up the Memphian, bound from Miami, which also departed Memphis at 11:15 p.m. (sleeping cars could be boarded, again, at 9:30 p.m.; there was a four hour layover in Memphis) and arrived St. Louis a minute earlier at 7:37 a.m. The Frisco also offered the all-coach Sunnyland which departed Memphis at 7:40 in the morning and arrived St. Louis at 3:35 p.m., in time to make the connection; up to you to decide whether young Mr. Presley prioritized his time or his privacy at this stage of his career.

    In St. Louis, he would have boarded the joint Wabash/Union Pacific Domeliner City of St. Louis at 4:15 p.m. This train would stop in Kansas City from 9:10 to 9:40 p.m. (to be complete, Elvis also could have taken the Frisco's Kansas City-Florida Special to connect in Kansas City; it left Memphis at 7:30 the previous evening and arrived Kansas City at 7:30 in the morning) and then proceeded west over Union Pacific's Kansas lines, stopping in Denver between 8:05 and 8:35 in the morning and also making that same stop in Green River between 4:20 p.m. and 4:40 p.m....just in time to send that telegram.

    The City of St. Louis made a stop in Las Vegas at 7:05 a.m. If Elvis was merely stopping over in Vegas for "a few hours", it's likely that he continued his westbound trip on Union Pacific's City of Los Angeles (which ran combined with the all-coach Challenger) which departed Las Vegas at 2:40 in the morning (party hearty, anyone?) and arrived Los Angeles the following morning at 9:30. But who needs sleep at that age?

    Edit To Add: Rereading the telegram, I see that Elvis expected to arrive Los Angeles Sunday afternoon. In that case, he probably stayed in Vegas a full 24 hours and resumed his trip on the next day's City of St. Louis, which was scheduled to leave Vegas at 7:20 a.m. and arrive Los Angeles at 3:15 p.m. Please note also that while in Vegas Elvis would have been eligible to apply for the "free side trip to Hoover Dam" (see in the notes here) which Union Pacific offered to all through passengers bound from Eastern cities to California.

    Another Edit To Add: Oh, by the way, it was common practice at the time for passengers to send telegrams from trains en route. The conductor and porters carried supplies of Western Union blanks; the passenger would simply fill them out and give them to the conductor. At the next station with a Western Union office the conductor would hand the outgoing messages to the telegraph operator and they would be sent out (probably by Teletype rather than Morse Code at a major station in that era, although Morse was still in use on branch lines into the 1960s). Telegrams could also be sent to passengers on trains; see my comments on this page for the procedure and also a link to the reference from which it was taken.
     
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2019
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  3. Sep 10, 2019 at 10:52 PM #3

    trainman74

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    Couldn't help but notice the typo in the signature: "Elvin."
     
  4. Sep 13, 2019 at 7:06 PM #4

    shanghaiamtrak

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    shanghaiamtrak

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    Thank you very much for the very thorough response! I was hoping for such good info when I posted in this forum. I assume Elvis was coming from Memphis but small chance he started out somewhere else. He was known to ride the train often in the 1950's rather than fly. I know that when he performed in the Pacific NW in 57, he took the Empire Builder from Chicago, first traveling by train from Memphis to Chicago to connect. Its possible that he preferred to keep changing trains to a minimum so if that could be done once in Kansas City or ST Louis than I would guess that is more likely than going via Chicago. And if such a train passed through Green River at about the exact time the telegram was sent, that would make it even more plausible. I didnt know that one could send a telegram from the train as you mentioned--that is probably what Elvis did and Green River Wyoming is the stop that it was actually transmitted. (Do you believe that the telegram was definitely transmitted/sent from Green River as opposed to "simply routed" that way from another location as I was told? )

    I forgot to add that it has been document in Elvis' estate records that he actually rented a car in Las Vegas for the trip from there to LA, and did so on the morning of the 12th (Monday). So it appears that Elvis spent the weekend in Vegas and not just a few hours. Probably having too much fun........

    Is there somewhere online that i can find those train timetables you referred to (ST Louis and KC routings). Thanks again for your very thorough answer. Much appreciated.
     
  5. Sep 13, 2019 at 7:10 PM #5

    shanghaiamtrak

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    shanghaiamtrak

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    Yes I thought that was interesting--id think that by November of 1956 most people in the country would have known who Elvis was including the telegram operator (November was after Elvis was on the Ed Sullivan and Steve Allen TV shows). Im not an expert on how telegrams worked but im thinking its possible that the operator sending the telegram did know who Elvis was but that was how the message was written to him. Either that or the receiving operator made the mistake (again maybe knowing who Elvis was but typing the message out as it was sent to him). Or i guess its possible one of the telegram operators didnt know who Elvis was and thought the name was indeed Elvin. Only thing I know for sure is Elvis would have known how to spell his own name so I imagine when he wrote the message he spelled his name correctly........
     
  6. Sep 13, 2019 at 8:25 PM #6

    ehbowen

    ehbowen

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    I have a July 1957 timetable from the City of St. Louis posted which is virtually identical to the July 1956 timetable; while I don't have November it's reasonable to assume that there was no significant schedule change in between them. I also have an April 1961 timetable up for the Kansas City-Florida Special; west of Birmingham it's very close to the 1957 train. Nothing on the Chickasaw or Memphian yet, I'm afraid, although another site (Timetable World) does offer a complete copy of the 1952 Official Guide on line for your review.

    I think it's almost certain that Elvis sent his telegram from aboard the City of St. Louis and that Green River was the stop it was actually transmitted from. Also, as far as the signature, since (commonly) the message was hand-written on Western Union blank forms and the sender did not have to be present at the office (particularly for a collect telegram, which this was)...just how good was Elvis's handwriting?
     

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