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4 Entrepreneur Extraordinaire

J. Parker Lamb Indiana University Press ePub

While the early history of the GM&N was developing to the west of Meridian, another of its citizens would follow the path of William H. Hardy, developer of the New Orleans & Northeastern. Sam A. Neville entered the city’s rail scene as an archenemy of the traffic monopoly by the Queen & Crescent combine. Neville was born in Kemper County (immediately north of Meridian) in 1870, and his family moved to Meridian when he was seventeen. He later became associated with a number of businesses with a wide range of products, from caskets to pickles. By 1906 he was a partner in the Meyer-Neville Hardware Co., located on Front Street, which was adjacent to rail lines in the downtown area. After a fire destroyed the building, Neville soon became an officer of the Millbrook Lumber Co. and was also chosen to be president of the Meridian Board of Trade and Cotton Exchange. Such local groups were the ancestors of today’s Chambers of Commerce.

His position with the Board of Trade eventually fueled Neville’s desire to expand Meridian’s rail service to include a competitor to the Q&C. However, this would not be an easy task, since the most valuable corridors were already under Q&C control. His first rail venture began with the April 1911 charter for the Meridian & Deep Water Railroad, an attempt to tap into the thriving north–south boat traffic on the Tombigbee River, which lay only 50 miles eastward in Alabama. Construction began on Meridian’s east side, with rails extending from M&O’S Bonita Branch. Soon there was widespread concern within Meridian that the construction would damage the Bonita Lakes, the city’s main water supply, and the resulting public outcry caused Neville to halt the grading. Interestingly, evidence of this early construction is still visible today along the hiking trail at the lakes and at the picnic island formed by one of the early cuts.

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5 Roller-Coaster Ride

J. Parker Lamb Indiana University Press ePub

The Mobile & Ohio timetable of October 1, 1922, included the same level of passenger service in Meridian as in 1916, namely, Nos. 1–4 plus locals 5 and 6. However, it shows that Pullman transfers had been revived by the Alabama Great Southern to Birmingham and the New Orleans & Northeastern to New Orleans, although there was no sleeping car occupancy leaving the Crescent City, requiring a passenger to ride coach to Meridian and then board the sleeper. Between Birmingham and Mobile, both M&O trains carried sleepers in both directions, although the road had discontinued (presumably due to cost) dining car service on Nos. 1 and 4 and reinstituted meal stops in Cairo, Illinois; Jackson, Tennessee; plus Corinth, Tupelo, and Meridian, Mississippi.

A new approach to passenger relations was clearly evident in M&O’S February 27, 1927, timetable. Gone were Nos. 3 and 4, replaced by the Gulf Coast Special (Nos. 15 and 16), which carried a New Orleans Pullman and a parlor-lounge-dining car. Schedules of the road’s four trains were shortened by over two hours, allowing it to advertise their rides as a “passage through the historic and scenic South in daylight.” The Special continued M&O’S connection with the Montgomery trains (now denoted as Nos. 115 and 116). This timetable also included a note that Nos. 1 and 2 carried a drawing room–sleeper between Memphis and Mobile (via transfer at Tupelo). Conversely, by this time there was only a single local on the main line between Mobile and Saint Louis, consisting of Nos. 7 and 8 between Meridian and Jackson, Tennessee. However, both of these trains also carried a Memphis connection at Tupelo.

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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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6 A Tumultuous Decade

J. Parker Lamb Indiana University Press ePub

Early operations of the Rebel streamliner (see Plate 1) proved to be the economic miracle hoped for by GM&N’S management. In 1935 its total cost was 44.4 cents per mile (including a direct operating cost of 31.8 cents), while it produced a surprising income of 59 cents. The excess of 14.6 cents per mile provided needed funds for general operations. But, more fundamentally, this surprising experience began to convince the road’s management that using diesel-electric locomotives for freight could also produce similar savings. It was a lesson they would not forget in the coming years.

An important event in 1936 was the road’s decision to create an independent highway subsidiary, Gulf Transport Co., thus consolidating and formalizing its earlier forays into supplementary highway transportation. The road’s management emphasized that this company would not seek new business but would be a low-cost supporting element of its rail-based operations. Consequently, the bus company was never a large moneymaker, but neither did it produce a drag on net income. However, it did go a long way in convincing shippers in its service area that GM&N valued their business (Oliver).

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3 A New Century

J. Parker Lamb Indiana University Press ePub

Although traffic levels on the Mobile & Ohio had increased substantially after the reorganization of 1879 and later completion of the line to Saint Louis, the road hovered near insolvency during the 1890s. It was hemmed in by Illinois Central lines on the west and those of Louisville & Nashville to the east. Many contemporary observers suggested that Mobile & Ohio needed a powerful partner to assure its future success. Not surprisingly, the growing Southern Railway system seized this opportunity to expand its influence by offering a stock swap to M&O owners, exchanging a share of M&O for a share of Southern Railway Co.– Mobile & Ohio. This led to acquisition of 90 percent of M&O stock by April 1, 1901, with the level reaching 94 percent by 1929. With this bold move, the moribund M&O became a member of the Queen & Crescent system, solidifying Meridian’s role as a Q&C hub.

The Southern undoubtedly expected this move to lead to outright merger, but there was opposition from elected officials in Mississippi who were unwilling to accept control of a homegrown railroad by a Virginia company. To non-southerners this might seem surprising in view of the two states being political allies during the Confederacy period. However, in hindsight it appears that opposition was rooted in the extreme dislike by average southerners for large corporations (especially railroads) in the wake of the distasteful times of Civil War Reconstruction. More details of what became known as the Mississippi Merger Suit will be discussed in a later section. Needless to say, Southern Railway put a positive spin on its control of M&O, noting publicly that the two roads enjoyed a harmonious relationship in their operations (Harrison, First Supplement).

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