In 1895 a different kind of railroad car rolled into Texas, bringing the "good news" of the evangelical Gospel to transient railroad workers and far-flung communities alike. A ministry to railroad men and their families lay at the heart of chapel car work, which over a period of fifty years saw thirteen rail chapel cars minister to thousands of towns, mainly west of the Mississippi. Author Wilma Rugh Taylor's portrayal of this ministry for the one car, Good Will, which served Texas, provides a view of life in towns such as Denison, Texline, Marshall, San Antonio, Laredo, Abilene, and Dalhart. The railroads that carried the Texas chapel car included the Texas & Pacific; the Missouri, Kansas & Topeka; the Southern Pacific; the International & Great Northern; and the Mexican International. Taylor writes about the travels of Good Will with fondness and an eye for detail. She describes the car itself (its living area was just nine by eighteen feet with a decorative rococo stencil on the ceiling), the missionary couples who traveled in it, and the services they held. She considers the philanthropists who supported the mobile chapel and the guilt and other motives that moved them. She looks at the issues the chapel car faced as it rolled into town: temperance, turbulent religious rivalries, racism and immigration, the role of Masons and other lodges in rural society, and even the devastating Great Storm of 1900 in Galveston. A novel window into Texas and railroad history, this book tells a warmly human story set on a larger stage of charitable works, evangelical fervor, and social change.
WILMA RUGH TAYLOR, an author, historian, and former journalism teacher, is an active member of the American Baptist Historical Society and National Railroad Historical Association. With her husband, she is the co-author of a previous book on chapel cars, This Train Is Bound for Glory: The Story of America's Chapel Cars. Their research encouraged the restoration of chapel car Grace, which is currently in progress at the Green Lake Conference Center, Green Lake, Wisconsin.
"This is a fine work of social, cultural and religious history. Taylor's style is almost cinematographic in that it is conceptualized in a visual way. It reminds me of the novel Lonesome Dove in the way McMurtry slingshots between locations, introducing characters and the suggestions of characters that will enter the story at some later time. I also like the way well known historical figures are set into this largely unknown theme linking evangelism and transportation. It's a powerful narrative and great fun to read."--Paul C. Stone, University of Minnesota
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