Who was Fred Harvey and why should I care to search for him? Fred Harvey was an incredible Englishman who came to
with a spirit to succeed. He was one of the first to bring about the “chain restaurant” in his Harvey Houses. 19th century train travel was definite not for the faint of heart. It was long, dirty, uncomfortable (many train seats were wooden without cushions), and expensive. America
Add to the above mentioned problems was the issue of feeding folks. Trains had schedules to keep – not that they did that very well, but they tried. Water stops generally didn’t even allow folks to get off the train, and when they were allowed to make lengthier stops to take on fuel or tend to other matters, the time allowed wasn’t all that long. Most passengers learned to pack food for long journeys on the train, but most would make a mad scramble for the local general store or pray there were food vendors on the depot platform.
Now given that some train trips from the east to the west lasted as long as weeks instead of days – depending on the weather and track conditions – that was a long time to go without regular meals. Fred Harvey saw this situation and decided to do something about it—at least for the Santa Fe Railroad.
The Santa Fe Railroad started in
. Remember the “ Kansas Atchison, Topeka and the ” song of fame and fortune? Santa Fe ’s goal was to provide fast, pleasant service with waitresses who were uniformed, clean, pleasing to look at, and personable. The “Harvey Girls” had to sign a contract promising to work for six months and not get married during that time. They were to have at least an eighth grade education and show good manners. They underwent rigorous training to learn how to wear the uniform—how to style their hair—and how to handle customers Harvey
Fred also wanted to provide a “cut above” type service regarding the food and setting. In order to do this,
Portions were to be served of only the finest cuts of beef, lamb, pork and so forth. World famous chefs were hired to cook. Pies were to be cut in quarter—just image eating a quarter of a pie after an already generous meal. No skimping. Fred didn’t want anyone going away hungry, and he didn’t care about his restaurants making profits. If they broke even that was successful as far as he was concerned, and if a restaurant started showing a profit, he fired the managers because he knew they were cutting corners. When Fred died, it’s recorded that he told his sons, “Don’t cut the ham too thin, boys!”
The Harvey Houses were located every 100 miles all along the Santa Fe Railroad with a decided southwest and Native American flavoring. Eventually the Harvey Houses were expanded to other lines and dining cars were added to the trains to offer “on-the-rails” service. Fred loved what he was able to provide the public, and the traveler loved Fred. There are a few Harvey Houses around today, and an extension of the business can still be seen in some of the National Parks. If you get a chance to visit some of these sights, I highly recommend:
La Fonda in
– Santa Fe, New Mexico
La Posada in Winslow Arizona –
and El Tovar at the
Grand Canyon to name a few.
You can actually enjoy great meals
and stay in these wonderful hotels
for a real historical experience.
Released December 2009 Releases March 2010