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8 Postwar Metamorphosis

J. Parker Lamb Indiana University Press ePub

During my senior year in high school (1950–51), I was immersed in recording the diminishing presence of steam locomotives in Meridian. Unfortunately, the GM&O dropped its fires so quickly that I was never able to photograph one of its steam-powered trains in action. But there were still opportunities on the other three roads (SR, IC, and M&BR). I was extremely fortunate that the cold weather of the fall and winter of that school year gave me my only opportunity to record local steamers with billowing smoke plumes. Indeed, my rarest steam locomotive photo was taken on a frigid day when I casually dropped by the SR/IC yard for a quick inspection and saw, to my astonishment, a Birmingham train about to leave behind one of Southern’s largest engines, a simple articulated 2-8-8-2.

I had seen photos of these mountain engines operating in their usual territory between Birmingham, Atlanta, Knoxville, and Asheville, but I never expected to see one on the relatively flat lines of the AGS. In subsequent years I discussed this rarity with Frank Ardrey and other Southern observers, and none could recall such a movement. I finally concluded that this could have been just an unusual substitute engine for the normal 2-8-2 or a shakedown run for the articulated giant fresh from an overhaul at the Finley shops in Birmingham. But the real reason will always remain a mystery.

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2 A New Start

J. Parker Lamb Indiana University Press ePub

During the period immediately after the war, rail planning and construction again became important to Meridian’s economy as well as throughout all the former Confederate states. Both of the troubled lines in western Alabama were finally completed. The Selma & Meridian Railroad’s ongoing financial problems led to another reorganization in 1871 as the Alabama Central Railroad. However, a new disagreement arose after the Northeast & Southwest Alabama, operator of the York–Meridian line, refused to give Alabama Central the trackage rights into Meridian it had granted to the Selma & Meridian prior to the war. To counteract this decision, the Alabama Central obtained court approval to construct a 12-mile line from York to Lauderdale, Mississippi, where it would be granted trackage rights over the M&O. This line began operating in July 1878, although later consolidations would render it unnecessary.

These difficulties were no doubt tied to the bankruptcy of the North & South Alabama line in October 1868. This allowed its return to the previous owners, the Wills Valley, which renamed it the Alabama & Chattanooga Railroad. However, financial problems continued, and on January 1, 1871, the state of Alabama foreclosed on its bonds and became the legal owner. The state’s efforts to sell the road to another investor dragged out for nearly six years before a London banking firm, Emile Erlanger & Co., made a successful bid in June 1877. It renamed the line Alabama Great Southern Railway Co. Ltd. and began rebuilding it to contemporary standards (Harrison, First Supplement).

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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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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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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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