A combination car, that is, a car which carried passengers in one section and baggage, mail, or both in another, was commonly used on branch lines of railroads. By literally combining two or more functions into one car, a railroad could reduce the number of cars needed on short branch line trains. This helped cut down on fuel costs as well as on the number of cars the railroad needed to maintain service.
Combination cars were usually on the "head-end" of a train with the baggage and mail section towards the locomotive tender—this prevented the possible security problem of people passing through the baggage or mail area to reach the seating area. Generally, the seating in a combination car was considered second class, and was not as nicely furnished as a regular coach on the same train. Because of this, the combination car was often used as a smoking section, and thus became the nearly exclusive domain of men, since women rarely smoked in public during the pre-World War II periods in which this car saw service.
The railroads also had to comply with Jim Crow laws in certain states, and had created separate, but not altogether equal accommodations for people of color traveling their roads while in those states. Combination cars, on many lines, were known to serve those passengers not allowed to travel in the main cars. Rules of segregation were also implemented against those of lower socio-economic classes—the late 19th century saw the birth of the emigrant car and third class passenger accommodations. With all this in mind, the combination car might have been a refuge for some and a restraint cell for others, depending on the perspective of the individual traveler.