Historical accuracy versus common sense
Sometimes you have to use your commonsense instead of being super duper historically accurate, as this article in my ‘writing a historical novel’ series explains.
I’m describing a scene which is set in the West Side Line freight train yard in New York City in 1870.
The railroad was owned by the New York Central Railroad, a company which had only been in existence for about three years.
It was an amalgamation of several other railroads, including ‘The Tonawanda Railroad,’ the ‘Mohawk and Hudson Railroad,’ the ‘Atica and the Schenectady Railroad’ and the ‘Auburn and Rochester Railroad.’
As it was effectively a brand new railroad I thought about writing something like the following:
‘She looked at the line of freight cars and saw that most of them had ‘New York Central Railroad’ lettering on the sides.’
‘The paint looked fresh, as if it was a new company, or a new company had taken over the railroad.’
This would be historically accurate, but it wouldn’t be common sense.
Would a railroad company really go to all the trouble and expense of removing the previous railroad company lettering from their freight cars and replacing it with their own lettering, in the short space of three years?
Personally, I don’t think it would, so this is what I finished up writing:
‘She looked at the line of freight cars and saw that they had lettering including ‘The Tonawanda Railroad,’ the ‘Mohawk and Hudson Railroad,’ the ‘Atica and the Schenectady Railroad’ and the ‘Auburn and Rochester Railroad’ painted on their sides.’
But just in case the company did bother to change the lettering on some of its freight cars, or built some new freight cars, I added this, to cover my ass:
‘One of them looked newer; it had ‘New York Central Railroad’ lettering on the side in what looked like fresh paint.’