258 Chapters
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Medium 9780253353832

10 A Diverse Inventor

William D. Middleton Indiana University Press ePub

As an inventor, Frank Sprague presents us with a complex character of sometimes seemingly contradictory traits. On the one hand, he provides a textbook example of the “inventor’s shop” model of focused, directed research on a specific set of design problems—working with his colleagues and employees methodically testing and revising designs in a disciplined shop environment. On the other hand, he also displayed characteristics more in accordance with the “lone inventor” stereotype—jotting down ideas and plans as they occurred to him, on nearly any design problem that presented itself during his daily business. Throughout his career, Sprague relied on both spontaneous creativity in recognizing and meeting design challenges, and disciplined, methodical work in refining his ideas. He combined both of these traits with an indomitable sense of purpose and tireless zeal for pursuing and promoting his ideas, as well as asserting his priority to specific inventions or design elements, particularly when he believed himself to be in the right. He must at times have seemed to his “opponents,” and probably to some of his colleagues as well, as something of a gadfly. He did not accept failure easily, and at times persevered against the odds to his cost. We will return to this aspect of Sprague the inventor below.

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Medium 9780253005922

10 Another Renaissance

J. Parker Lamb Indiana University Press ePub

Congressional passage of the Staggers Rail Act of October 1980 was the most extensive overhaul of the nation’s railroads in over half a century. At once it redefined the rules by which railroad commerce was carried out by erasing many of the restrictions that remained from the early twentieth-century era of railroad dominance in interstate transport, a period characterized by the involvement of the Interstate Commerce Commission in virtually every strategic move by a railroad company. In the wake of this deregulation, rigid ICC control was replaced by the less restrictive policies of the Surface Transportation Board. The Staggers Act also allowed more aggressive marketing by railroads and redefined the playing field with respect to consolidations. One of its overall benefits was to transform rail investment into a more attractive market.

An anticipated effect of this loosened federal control was an acceleration of mergers by the nation’s largest companies, themselves formed from an earlier round of mergers during the 1970s. The first of these mega-mergers was the 1980 formation of CSX, which combined lines of the Chessie and Seaboard systems. The former was composed of Chesapeake & Ohio, Baltimore & Ohio, and Western Maryland, while the latter included the Seaboard Coast Line and affiliated lines such as L&N, Clinchfield, and the West Point route.

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Medium 9780253019066

10 Bridge Building and “Overbuilding”

Simon Cordery Indiana University Press ePub

Illinois railroad expansion began to fall behind national growth rates in the 1870s and 1880s. For the decade of the 1870s, railroads built 3,095 route miles in Illinois, adding 64 percent compared with 76 percent nationally, but in the 1880s, Illinois’s 26 percent fell dramatically behind the nation’s 79 percent of added mileage. The reasons were simple: railroads continued to push farther west, while the development of new lines slowed in the Prairie State as it did elsewhere east of the Mississippi River. Nationally, more track was laid during the 1880s than in any other decade in US history. The 73,741 route miles built between 1881 and 1890 represented a two-thirds increase over all rail laid in the United States before 1880.

By 1880 some observers began to complain of “overbuilding” east of the Mississippi, by which they meant that newly constructed lines duplicated existing routes and, consequently, neither could be profitable. In Illinois approximately two thousand route miles were built in the 1880s, still an impressive amount. In northern Illinois the “Little Grangers” made tentative forays into the state, while the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe finalized its long-awaited entrance into Chicago. Though the construction of new lines slowed, the railroads themselves grew in importance. Trains became longer and faster, passenger travel became more comfortable, and direct services across new bridges helped to center Illinois in the railroad network.

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Medium 9780253355485

10 Cooler Heads and Colder Feet Emerge

Jr., Herbert H. Harwood Indiana University Press ePub

As early as mid-1884 some of the original euphoria had begun to vanish, and at least some syndicate members, including Vanderbilt, were having second thoughts.

Vanderbilt was in poor health, suffering from his chronic high blood pressure and, later, from the effects of a mild stroke. Back in 1880 he had arranged with J. P. Morgan to sell half of his considerable New York Central stock holdings, and in May 1883 he had resigned the New York Central’s presidency, turning it over first to James H. Rutter and then, after Rutter died in 1885, to his trusted lawyer, Chauncey Depew. Two of his sons, William K. and Cornelius Vanderbilt II, took his place at the top in guiding the company’s fortunes. Furthermore, his company now had its hands full waging a rate war with both the Pennsylvania and the newly opened West Shore. The Central’s aggressive reaction had helped push the West Shore into bankruptcy in June 1884, only six months after its opening, which was a victory of sorts for Vanderbilt even though he was not yet able to control the new competitor.1

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Medium 9780253356963

10 - Ocean Sail: At the Mercy of the Wind

John H.Jr. White Indiana University Press ePub

At the Mercy of the Wind

TRAVEL BY SEA WAS ESPECIALLY DIFFICULT FOR FIRST-TIME travelers. Almost no one was prepared for the constant motion of the ship, for even in a relatively calm sea it rolls and dips. The floors, always called decks, are on an angle. The vessel makes strange sounds as the rigging and sails rattle and sing. The timbers deep in the hull groan and creak. When you go outside, the scenery is not pastures and fields or streets and buildings but a vast expanse of water that heaves and rolls to a distant horizon. This is a bizarre and different world that frightens and disorients the average person. Yet there is no getting off. Once the ship leaves port, you are its prisoner, and no matter how unhappy, you are condemned to ride on until land is once again at hand.

Finding the way across the sea is an art known only to seafarers. Some of it is intuitive – you follow the winds and currents. Sailors from Columbus's time knew that the winds from North America blow in a westerly direction. The Gulf Stream flows north and then west to Europe. This made sailing to England and France simple as long as you followed the wind and current. It was fast and was called the downhill trip. Most sailing ships could go from New York to England in about twenty to thirty days. Typically they would follow the North American coast to the southwest tip of Newfoundland (Cape Race) then head out into the Atlantic Ocean and follow a curving path that led to Ireland. Some navigators preferred a more northerly course, claiming the sea was calmer away from the Gulf Stream. Coming back from Europe was slower, because both the wind and the currents were against the ship. This was the uphill trip. It took much longer to go westward. The time was generally reckoned at about thirty-nine days. The only fast western way across the Atlantic was offered by the trade winds. It was necessary to go along the African coast to the Canary Islands, where the trade winds would blow the ship westward at a good speed to the Caribbean. Columbus made use of these winds in 1492 but also knew enough to return to Spain by going north to take the westerly trade winds home.

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Medium 9780253347572

10 Some High Society Sex

RushJr. Loving Indiana University Press ePub

As the snowdrifts melted and the flowers started blooming on Philadelphia’s Main Line, Stuart Saunders was still demanding savings, but no one could find anything else to cut—except for workers, but that would have cost millions because of the labor agreement. More urgently than ever, Saunders and David Bevan went on searching for new capital, but now no source seemed left but Washington.

Bevan and Saunders were walking a high-wire, because one was trying to keep the financiers thinking all was relatively well while the other was trying to convince Washington that Penn Central’s straits were so dire that help was imperative. This, plus the constant search for more savings and more paper profits, would tax the time and imagination of the most formidable chief executive officer, and although a man of whirlwind energy, Saunders’s days were being stretched to the limit. In the middle of all that, the chairman’s attention and even valuable working hours were captured and diverted by a much more personal concern that was so well guarded that only three or four of his closest aides ever knew of it.

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Medium 9780253018663

10 The Government’s Case

Howard H. Lewis Indiana University Press ePub

10

The Government’s Case

The government’s case came in two parts. The first, developed to considerable extent in the Final System Plan, was an argument that the country could, if necessary, do without railroads in the Northeast altogether. We thought this contention patently absurd. Indeed, during his examination, one of the government’s key witnesses, Edson L. Tennyson of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, blurted out in exasperation, “Who’s kidding whom? You simply can’t move ore, coal, or grain in the Northeast by land except by rail.” We then set about disproving the government’s assertion by specific examples.

The second prong of the government’s attack was to concede, arguendo, that rail service was indispensable, but to insist that the bankrupt railroads were such hopeless losers that the public, state and local governments and authorities, and the profitable western roads would pay next to nothing for the properties, certainly no more or just a little more than they were worth in liquidation for nonrail use. Their value then would be what the government contended in the Final System Plan. The fundamental thrust of our argument that the government brought the disaster on the railroads was aimed at countering this contention. According to us, if only the government ceased its interference through both regulation and cross-subsidy, the railroads would return to profitability.

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Medium 9780253020635

10 “The Greatest Thing Since Sex and Watermelon”

RushJr. Loving Indiana University Press ePub

CHAPTER 10

“The Greatest Thing Since Sex & Watermelon”

ONE FIRST–CLASS PASSAGE

ONCE THE SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION AND THE Interstate Commerce Commission had verified my Penn Central exposé, I was able to take on Gil Burck’s mantle as the magazine’s transportation specialist, and I went at it with exultation. The first piece was about United Air Lines. Six months after Penn Central’s fall, recognizing they should avoid the mistakes of the railroad’s board, United’s directors had staged a coup, replacing the company’s president with the man who ran a hotel chain the airline owned—Edward E. Carlson, who became one of the best chief executives in the air transport industry. Eddie, who started as a bellhop, turned around United in a year.

It was the makings of a magnificent story, and adding to it, I was able to ferret out how the directors had come to this wrenching decision. It was a drama from inside the boardroom, a place where reporters never ventured. The story caused a sensation, stirring the directors of Pan American World Airways to oust their CEO and causing other publications to begin producing boardroom dramas.

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Medium 9780253337979

10. The Predecessors: 1883–1906

Jr.Herbert H. Harwood Indiana University Press ePub

The Lake Shore Electric’s family tree dated back to the electric railways’ equivalent of Pilgrim Father days and included some especially distinguished pioneers. Inevitably too, it was a complex assemblage of different personalities and lineages. At least ten different company names showed up at one time or another, but by the time the LSE was created in 1901 these had boiled down to four — the Lorain & Cleveland, the Toledo, Fremont & Norwalk, and two Sandusky-based companies, the Sandusky & Interurban and the Sandusky, Norwalk & Southern. A fifth, the Lorain Street Railway, joined the family in 1906.

Three of these had comparatively simple, straightforward histories, but the city of Sandusky seemed to spawn financial and corporate instability for its two railways — perhaps the result of too much competition in a stagnant and marginal market. Whatever the reasons, the Sandusky predecessors were both the oldest and the most complex.

Sandusky’s modest street railway system had its origin in the Sandusky Street Railway, a locally promoted horsecar line which was built primarily to connect its steamship piers and downtown area with the then-remote Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway station. The LS&MS main line was the city’s primary rail route, and originally had entered town from the east along the waterfront. In 1872, however, it was relocated a mile south of the city’s center, and reaching it became a hardship. The first solution was a horse-drawn omnibus line organized by Sandusky’s Gilcher brothers in 1882. But even by then competition was brewing; another group of local businessmen headed by Clark Rude had incorporated the Sandusky Street Railway on August 3, 1881.

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Medium 9780253355485

11 A Summer Cruise on the Hudson

Jr., Herbert H. Harwood Indiana University Press ePub

As the railroad builders worked toward finishing their job, Vanderbilt’s secret talks with the Pennsylvania picked up again. In February 1885 PRR vice president Frank Thomson resumed the dialogue, using General George Magee as the intermediary. Magee, it will be recalled, was a Vanderbilt associate and member of the South Pennsylvania Railroad Syndicate; he was particularly involved in the Beech Creek Railroad, Vanderbilt’s incursion into the Clearfield coalfields and an operation the Pennsy wanted very much to neutralize or take over.

Thomson proposed that the Pennsylvania would guarantee a 4 percent return on the Beech Creek’s bonds and be given half its voting stock in return. The South Penn was a different matter, however. In return for half its stock, he would offer the syndicate an annual return of between $75,000 and $90,000. Since their investment thus far was nearing $5 million, this would amount to less than 2 percent at best—a figure Vanderbilt and Twombly knew would demolish what was already a fragile situation with some powerful syndicate members. They held out for $150,000, or 3 percent, which might well also be too low to satisfy his colleagues, but the Pennsy, still considering the South Penn virtually worthless, would have none of it. (“A hole in the ground,” PRR president George Roberts sneered at one point.) By the end of March the negotiations had slid back into limbo.1

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Medium 9780253353832

11 An Inventor and Engineer to the End

William D. Middleton Indiana University Press ePub

In July 1927 Frank Sprague moved into the 70th year of his life, and one might have expected him to begin easing up on the level of his work, or to have begun to enjoy the pleasures of a life of semiretirement. But this, of course, would not have been Frank Sprague. From the time of his youth onward he had always held these strong interests in an extraordinary range of diverse topics, and he would hold them throughout his life.

Sprague, working with his eldest son, Desmond, would continue his long-running work on his Sprague Safety Control & Signaling Corp. until well into the 1930s. He was in his 69th year when he began work on his innovative dual car elevator design in 1926. And before the end of the decade he would begin his work on his patented Universal Electric Sign System which would use massed electric lamps to display a great variety of signs in either still or moving arrangements, and which could move in different arrangements and at different speeds. At least one example of the Sprague sign technology used was a large moving sign that he designed as part of the Time-Fortune exhibit at the 1933–1934 Chicago Century of Progress Exhibition.

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Medium 9780253018663

11 End Game

Howard H. Lewis Indiana University Press ePub

11

End Game

In the fall of 1980, as we finished the cross-examination of the government’s witnesses, we all turned to writing our briefs, though I, and I think many others, had already started drafting portions of what we wanted to present. Since the court had heard no testimony and had not been given the written evidence, let alone the discovery and cross-examination transcripts, both our cases and the government’s consisted entirely of these briefs and the excerpts of evidence each side wanted to present in the form of appendices. Our briefs were due on January 12, 1981, and the government’s some six weeks later. In the midst of the frenzied assembly of the summary of six years of intense work which consisted of the careful sifting and organizing of the mass of evidence and forming it so that it told a coherent story, two cataclysmic events occurred.

First, Ronald Reagan was elected president, and Drew told us all that he was quitting as trustee to become secretary of transportation. In short, he was switching from being our leader to leading the opposition. The problems of conflict of interest—of how we could get an unbiased hearing before the court or even the appearance of an unbiased hearing—appalled me. I tried as much as I could, since we were never really intimate, to urge him to take another post. “How about Commerce,” I said. “You have an extraordinary record as a business doctor, a fixer of troubled companies. Or how about Treasury—you at least can read a balance sheet, which is more than many of your predecessors could do.”

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Medium 9780253019066

11 Excursions and Interurbans

Simon Cordery Indiana University Press ePub

Railroads created new markets by advertising special excursion trains for vacationers. Long-distance holiday services gained in popularity as Niagara Falls, the Florida coasts, and other locales became fashionable destinations for escape-minded Illinoisans. Growth in this area did not hinder the development of locally oriented interurban railroads around the turn of the twentieth century. Usually powered by overhead electrical wires and using lightweight equipment, interurbans attracted capital and customers in the first twenty or so years of the new century by offering speedy trips between towns. Illinois was home to two of the nation’s largest interurban networks, including one audacious but unsuccessful attempt to link Chicago with St. Louis. Interurbans signaled the desire for fast, frequent, comfortable services and, ultimately, for the types of freedom and mobility automobiles would offer.

Taking a vacation of any distance in the nineteenth century involved riding a train. Railroads catered to a growing taste for travel by operating popular and inexpensive excursions, giving rise to the somewhat exaggerated saying “it was cheaper to travel than to stay at home.” Excursions—literally, to run out—provided cheap vacations for people whose horizons might otherwise remain restricted to their immediate surroundings. Group outings were commonplace and often garnered positive press coverage, serving as early tourist advertisements. An account of a trip to Madison, Wisconsin, for example, described the destination as “the most attractive point for an excursion . . . the prettiest city in the northwest,” where the visitors were treated “with great cordiality.” Methodists created camp-meeting grounds across Illinois and hired trains to get there, highlighted by the Des Plaines gathering of 1860, which attracted twenty thousand people. The CRI&P offered Illinois Oddfellows special fares to Denver between September and October 1887, for example. The Chicago & Alton sold “excursion tickets” to any station within two hundred miles of its line, offered in cooperation with nine other railroads serving Kansas City. Organizations booked round-trip journeys to special events, as with the Chicago-area teachers’ “Grand Excursion” on the Michigan Central for the 1896 National Education Association convention in Buffalo, New York. This included a stop at Niagara Halt “overlooking the grandest panorama in the country.”1

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Medium 9780253356963

11 - Ocean Steam: The Triumph of Technology

John H.Jr. White Indiana University Press ePub

The Triumph of Technology

THIS CHAPTER IS ONCE AGAIN ABOUT PASSENGER TRANSIT across the North Atlantic, the most heavily traveled sea lane during the Victorian era. The motive power was now steam, and Britain would replace the United States as sovereign of the sea. Steam power was readily accepted for river and lake travel in the United States after Fulton's North River boat proved herself in 1807. The Hudson River had a sizable steamer fleet by 1825. Steamers appeared on the Ohio River in 1811, and others were soon running on Lake Champlain, the Delaware River, and the Great Lakes. A congressional report on steam engines published in December 1838 stated that some eight hundred steam vessels were in operation on U.S. waterways. It would seem natural that ocean shipping would be part of this fleet, yet there was not a single vessel in such service. America's pioneer ocean steamer, the Savannah, crossed the Atlantic in 1817, but most of the trip was made by sail. It is true that the Dutch sent a small steamer to the island of Curacao off the coast of South America in 1827. Two years earlier the Enterprise steamed from London to Calcutta in 113 days. The trip was made partway by sail. Even so, popular opinion was that no steamship could possibly carry enough fuel for a 3,000-mile journey. In late 1835 an eminent technical authority of the time, Dr. Dionysius Lardner, declared in a public lecture in Liverpool that a steamship might as well attempt a voyage to the moon. An American expatriate living in England at the time of this lecture hoped to prove the learned doctor wrong.

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Medium 9780253337979

11. Passenger Services

Jr.Herbert H. Harwood Indiana University Press ePub

The historical text of this book broadly described the Lake Shore Electric’s interurban services. But for those more specifically interested in the subject, this chapter takes a more detailed look at these schedule and general service patterns. Even so, it should be remembered that the LSE’s passenger schedules were often adjusted for traffic peaks, valleys, and shifts in riding patterns — sometimes on an ad hoc basis. This was especially so in the summer, when hordes would head for Cedar Point and the numerous parks and resort communities lining Lake Erie’s shore.

The primeval Sandusky, Milan & Norwalk’s earliest known timetable is dated December 1, 1893, and shows not only the line’s service but the specific car numbers for each run. Cars 9 and 11 alternated, with runs every two hours between Sandusky and Norwalk; the 18-mile trip took an extremely leisurely one hour and 50 minutes, a terminal-to-terminal average of ten mph. (For some SM&N riders the specific car numbers were relevant, since combine No. 9 carried baggage; coach No. 11 did not.) Virtually every run connected with one or more steam railroad local trains, which also were shown on the timetable. SM&N cars regularly exchanged passengers with trains of the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern and the Wheeling & Lake Erie at Norwalk, the W&LE’s Huron branch at Milan, the Nickel Plate at Avery, and no less than five railroads at Sandusky — the LS&MS, Big Four, Lake Erie & Western, Baltimore & Ohio, and Sandusky & Columbus Short Line (later Pennsylvania Railroad).

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