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Author Topic: Railroad wars  (Read 13935 times)
Woody Elmore

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« on: September 15, 2012, 08:46:05 AM »

For the readers among us, there is a great book about the building of the Central Pacific. It's part biography, part history with a little legend thrown in. For example - where did the term "Hell on wheels" come from?

The book is "the Great American Railroad Wars" and the author is Dennis Drabell. It is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and is available in Nook format so I would assume it's also on Kindle.

I am amazed at what shenanigans went on with Stanford, Huntington and the other two California robber barons. If you think Uncle Sam is mis-spending tax money now, then read this book!
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mabloodhound


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« Reply #1 on: September 15, 2012, 09:41:37 AM »

I read the Stephen Ambrose book "The Men Who Built the TC RR" http://books.google.com/books?id=TZp_GT7PscIC&printsec=frontcover&dq#v=onepage&q&f=false and enjoyed it thoroughly.
From what some others have said, there were some historical discrepancies in his book, but the lives and dirty deals were clearly laid out and the book is an easy read.
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Dave Mason

D&G RR (Dunstead & Granford) in On30
 “In matters of style, swim with the current;
 in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”   Thos. Jefferson

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CNE Runner


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« Reply #2 on: September 15, 2012, 10:42:40 AM »

In upstate New York (specifically Dutchess County) during the late 19th century, two railroads ran very close to each other near the town of Pine Plains. This was the Poughkeepsie & Eastern and the Newburgh, Dutchess & Connecticut. It was not unusual for train crews to throw rocks at the rival's trains as they ran alongside. A mention of this practice is in Bernard Rudberg's book Twenty Five Years on the N.D.& C.

Ray
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"Keeping my hand on the throttle...and my eyes on the rail"
jward


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« Reply #3 on: September 15, 2012, 11:27:26 AM »

the shenanigans at the central pacific were small potatoes compared to what the union pacific was doing.

google: credit mobilier
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Jeffery S Ward Sr
Pittsburgh, PA
ebtnut

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« Reply #4 on: September 15, 2012, 04:11:40 PM »

You read about all this stuff that went on, and it's no wonder that the railroads were one of the earliest major industries to be regulated by the Feds. 
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Desertdweller

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« Reply #5 on: September 15, 2012, 11:21:35 PM »

Good point.

The public was more dependent on the railroads back then than they are now.  Shenanigans involving railroads had an immediate effect on the public, dependent on railroads for personal transportation as well as movement of goods.

In the Midwest and West, towns lived or died depending on if they were on a railroad route.  People that were boosters promoting railroads to come to their towns turned against the railroads when the railroads imposed predatory rates.

It didn't help that this was in the "Robber Baron" era, when corporate policy essentially had no limits.  I think the railroads brought this regulation on themselves.

Les
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CNE Runner


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« Reply #6 on: September 16, 2012, 11:40:07 AM »

One only has to read Frank Norris' 1901 book The Octopus: A Story of California to see all the nefarious ways railroads operated pre federal regulation. Actually the rise of the Grange [the Patrons of Husbandry] movement owes its existence to the predatory railroad actions of the 19th century.

Ray
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"Keeping my hand on the throttle...and my eyes on the rail"
Desertdweller

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« Reply #7 on: September 16, 2012, 03:41:55 PM »

The problem was especially bad in the Midwest, where railroads were the only practical way of getting farm products to big-city markets and mills.

Places like Iowa and Minnesota were settled before the coming of the railroads, and towns that were by-passed died.

States west of there were mostly unsettled until the Pacific Railway Act of 1862.  The Land Grant system gave empty land to the railroads as incentive to build.  States like Nebraska, South Dakota, and Kansas were unsettled before then.  In those states, the railroad preceded the towns.  The railroads then had to establish towns to provide a traffic base for themselves.  The lucky towns had more than one railroad serving them, providing some protection from unfair rates.

In Nebraska, both the UP and the CB&Q were allowed to appoint their own State Senators!  This was especially important here, where we have no State Representatives, only a State Senate.

In South Dakota, there was a competition between towns (and railroads) to be the State Capital.  The competition came down to two towns on the Missouri River, Pierre and Mitchell.  Each was sponsored by a competing railroad, C&NW and MILW, respectively.  Each town was effectively "owned" by its railroad:  the railroad (developing its land grant) owned the town site, and was the real estate agent for the land.  Moreover, the railroad agent was also the mayor.

Pierre was chosen as capital ostensibly because of a second railroad, the NP, was supposedly building into town.  A few miles of roadbed were graded leading northeast from town, just enough to look convincing (you can still see it).  This was enough to clinch the title for Pierre.  I don't know who paid for the grading, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't the NP.

Shippers in towns with one railroad soon found they were being charged higher rates than shippers with more than one railroad.  This, along with questionable safety rules and unfair labor practices brought on the regulation.

A hundred years later, a relaxation of rate controls brought about a resurgence of small railroads created from spin-offs from the big ones.  Unfortunately by then the damage had been done.  I've approached many firms that once shipped by rail (usually several changes of ownership before) that were stunned by the fact that a railroad would actually solicit their business.  I have also been approached by a businessman who wanted to initiate rail service, only to have the project blocked by the very railroad I was working for (although it was blamed on a Class One connection, a situation I later found to be untrue).

Les
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Doneldon

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« Reply #8 on: September 16, 2012, 08:51:18 PM »

Shippers in towns with one railroad soon found they were being charged higher rates than shippers with more than one railroad.  This, along with questionable safety rules and unfair labor practices brought on the regulation.

Les-

Think "airline deregulation" and you'll find exactly the same thing. I live in the Twin Cities, a virtual monopoly for Northwest and now Delta, and we have the highest fares for a major city in North America. The people who preach government deregulation have only to look at the railroads and airlines (not to mention banks and investment corporations) to see how people are exploited when there are no rules to limit corporate or at least monopolistic power.
                                                                                                                                                                                                         -- D
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Woody Elmore

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« Reply #9 on: September 18, 2012, 09:14:59 AM »

I read once that there were small Iowa cities that has as many as six railroad lines running through town.

The book I recommended "Railroad Wars" gets into how much the railroads were paid by the mile. They were paid the least on flat land and the most through mountains so the engineers were told in no uncertain terms to make routes through hilly or mountainous areas where possible.



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Desertdweller

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« Reply #10 on: September 18, 2012, 11:34:23 AM »

Yes, Iowa was extremely overbuilt with railroads.   Even small towns were often served by two or more railroads.

I think a lot of that was spurred by the Pacific Railroad Act.  Chicago was already a major rail hub by then, and a lot of those railroads were eager to get to the "jumping off point" of Council Bluffs, Iowa.  This resulted in much more east-west trackage than north-south trackage.

I grew up hearing that it was impossible to travel more than seven miles in Iowa in any direction without crossing a railroad.  While I think that is a bit of an exaggeration, it wasn't far from the truth.

Ultimately, of course, that much trackage could not be sustained by the traffic base.  It was more cost-effective for the railroads to serve large elevators than the many small-town elevators.  The big shippers were favored by the railroads.
A good road system in Iowa allowed farmers to take their crops to the larger facilities.  This situation continues today.  Until the megamergers of the 1980's, many of these large facilities were served by more than one railroad.  This was a result of the overbuilding of the 19th Century.

Les
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Ray Dunakin


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« Reply #11 on: September 18, 2012, 01:36:41 PM »

The best book on the subject of the transcontinental railroad is "The Empire Express" by David Haward Bain. He really delves into the period and provides a lot of background, putting everything into the context of the times. It's also more balanced than a lot of things I've seen on the topic.

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Visit www.raydunakin.com for photos, step-by-step articles and other information about the rugged and rocky In-ko-pah Railroad!
Johnson Bar Jeff

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« Reply #12 on: September 19, 2012, 02:17:19 PM »

The best book on the subject of the transcontinental railroad is "The Empire Express" by David Haward Bain. He really delves into the period and provides a lot of background, putting everything into the context of the times. It's also more balanced than a lot of things I've seen on the topic.

I agree. Best book I've ever read on the subject. It covers everything from the logistics of surveying the lines on the ground to the financial and other shenanigans in New York and Washington.
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Doneldon

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« Reply #13 on: September 19, 2012, 08:51:11 PM »

Steven E. Ambrose' Nothing Like It in the World is an excellent historical novel about the trans-con.
You may know him as a military writer, including Band of Brothers.
                                                                                                         -- D
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Desertdweller

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« Reply #14 on: September 19, 2012, 09:56:56 PM »

I was raised in Iowa, so the plethora of railroads did not seem unusual to me at the time.  My own small city was served by three railroads.  Two others scored near-misses a few miles away.

Even the big Class Ones that served Iowa were Graingers.  These railroads' traffic base was primarily agricultural products.  Like the farmers themselves, their income was seasonal.  A bad harvest could break them as well as their customers.

The stronger railroads were those with the most diverse traffic base, able to weather the ups and downs of harvests better than their weaker competitors.  There was even an interurban electric network in Iowa at one time.

Les
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