When my editor invited me to write a novella about the orphan trains, I sensed I had found the perfect background for a story about a rich city gal who lost everything, only to find it again on a farm. And in terms of history, the Stock Market Crash of 1929 was the most obvious time period to write about.
About the orphan trains themselves, I knew very little. When did they start? 1854. With my idea of a story set in 1930, when did they end? The orphan trains which began operation 1854 drew to a close in 1929. Agreements which had allowed continued placement of orphan children in several western states expired and weren’t renewed. Instead, local communities increased their support to allow poverty-stricken families to remain together.
I couldn’t identify the actual date of the last orphan train, but I did locate a suggestion that it traveled as far as Kansas in 1930.
Much of what I assumed was true. Then as now, infants had an easier time being adopted. Some adoptees entered lives that resembled slavery more than beloved children in a new home, although the agency did screen prospective parents.
I quickly discovered several things I hadn’t known.
- The trains weren’t called “orphan trains” until after they had ceased operation.
- Only some of the children were literal orphans. In many cases, the aide societies functioned as a rough foster-home system. Children from families unable to care for them sent them to families who could.
- Both New York’s Children’s Aid Society and the New York Foundling Hospital founded by Sisters of Charity sent children by train.
- Children traveled mostly to the Midwest, not to the far west.
I don’t say much about the stock market crash in To Riches Again, but I imply my heroine’s parents took their own lives. Suicides in 1929 jumped from 12.3 in 100K insureds to 18. The numbers grew by another 18% in 1930. My spinster heroine chaperones the children on their trip west, but she is herself a literal orphan, seeking a new home in the break basket of America.
Best-selling hybrid author Darlene Franklin’s greatest claim to fame is that she writes full-time from a nursing home. This year she expects to reach fifty unique titles in print and she’s also contributed to more than twenty nonfiction titles. Her column, “The View Through my Door,” appears in four monthly magazines. Her most recent titles are Capturing the Rancher’s Heart, Romancing the Ranger, and Cinderella’s Boot.
A year ago, life was full of promise.
Elyssa Philbin partied with the rest of New York’s elite, not worrying about anything beyond her newest dress.
Ian and Bridget McDonnell, although part of a poverty-stricken family, lived secure in their parents’ love. Bill Ward looked forward to a prosperous crop, a new baby, and his loving wife.
Everything changed before the calendar turned to 1930.
To Riches Again chronicles Elyssa and Bill’s return to wholeness after they have both lost everything, and gained much more—thanks in part to two orphan children.