First letter from Petrograd
Dearest Family All:
Russia at last! It really doesn’t seem possible that I am here. Just six weeks from the day I left home (just two days behind schedule) we arrived.
How I wish that I might jump into an air ship and fly home to tell you all about the journey on land and sea. It was very hard to write on the train. I sent home one letter, but a number of post cards after leaving Vladivostok. If this goes thru, it ought to reach you near the holiday time.
Never did two girls make a journey under such happy circumstances. With twenty three men to think of our very need and to do everything to make our traveling both easy and enjoyable. Don’t know what we would have done without them.
Our compartment was large and comfortable, so the men were constantly dropping in to have gloves mended, buttons sewed on and to drink afternoon tea with us. They usually brought their own cups and spoons and often contributed to the refreshments by bringing in cakes or little cooked chicken which they bought at the stations.
No place in the world will you find the interesting custom of traveling as you find thru Siberia and Russia. The whole train system is operated from station to station. The train comes to a city, off everyone jumps with his tea kettle to get hot water, which is provided hospitably, free at nearly every station. Usually there is time to buy butter, eggs, cheese and cooked meats, or even a meal, for the stops are from twelve to thirty minutes long. When the train is nearly ready to go, a big bell rings at the station. Two bells [warning] and three to start. So there is no danger of getting left.
The whole trip thru Siberia was so gratifying. In the first place the country is very rich and fertile, and for the most part is yet to be developed. For two days in the Lake Baikal region the scenery rivaled any that I had seen in America -- lovely mountains, great wide rich valleys, and for a half day we rode in the very bank of the lake, the road bed having been blasted out of solid rock. We went thru 40 tunnels in one half day. Thru that section, where the blasting was done for double tracks, the engineering beat anything that I had ever seen.
At Harbin we saw great crowds of soldiers and people who had left the front or Petrograd. Nearer and nearer to the end of the journey we saw an ever increasing number of soldiers. Many were on our train.
I have seen the biggest forest that I probably will ever see. Miles and miles of spruce, and pines, and birches. One day there was frost that covered all the trees until sunset, when the sun came out and shone and brought out the most beautiful colors I have ever seen.
We saw millions of cords of wood, as it seems that the whole of Russia burns wood. We had a coal burning locomotive only a very short part of the trip.
In spite of the great supply of wood, there seems to be great difficulty in getting enough to the cities where it is most needed. At the very large stations, there were regular markets where passengers bought supplies of bread, eggs, meats, and all sorts of things. At Omsk, one of the division fronts, I saw Chinese women whose feet had been bound. It was interesting to note that their children’s feet were not. Somehow I never expected to see them. It made you shudder to think how handicapped they were and would be all their lives.
One place we had such fun. It was pretty cold most of the way, and for three days it was dreadful. So whenever I got off the train, I hopped, and I did some gymnastic steps as I ran to get my blood circulating. It was just as the school children were on their way to school. They looked at me in astonishment, and followed me until I felt like the Pied Piper of Hamlin. They apparently thought I was a live Jumping Jack.
At Manchuria, where we stopped a long time for customs, we entertained the bystanders by doing calisthenics. We understood enough of their Russian to know that they guessed that we were Americans.
After we crossed the Ural Mountains, we saw so many great windmills -- such as one expects to see in Holland. The farmers seem to live in small communities, and their farms are wonderful to see. There should be no hungry people in Russia, for Siberia could feed the world if it had to, I believe. It is sad to think that at such times as these, there should be speculation in foods and fuels.
At Volgoda we had an exciting time. The men, the day before, had received a telegram telling them to go to Moscow instead of Petrograd. And our trunks, their thirty and our five, were all billed together for Petrograd. Their changing made a difficult situation. It resulted in the men unloading their trunks and ours too, as they [officials] would not allow any of the thirty five taken off, without all. So we jumped on the train sadly looking at our 5 trunks standing in the snowy slush, with the men’s, and going to Moscow with theirs. So here we are without the warm clothing which we would be so thankful to have. Our trunks will reach us in due time, but it may be a week, as everything is congested.
The men will be sent in twos to their various places at once, not giving them time to get a hold of the language first. They are made of good stuff and will get along somehow I am sure.
We felt quite lost with all our escorts gone but the two that came on with us. Four YM and our Miss Spencer met us at the train when we arrived just at seven this morning. Two more happy and thrilled girls there never was, than we two. By eight o’clock we had been piled into a vosdick (sort of londo) with our ten pieces of hand baggage and driven thru the misty streets to where our secretaries are living in the spacious apartments of a countess...