258 Chapters
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5   A Look Back

Lawrence A. Brough Indiana University Press ePub

While the Niles Car & Manufacturing Company was a good civic booster and even fielded a works baseball team each year, it was not very generous in reporting to the public, or to the industry for that matter, about its financial affairs. Except for advertisements in industry trade journals and announcements of cars orders, very little was published about the company. The Niles Daily News carried articles about annual meetings and occasional car shipments but little else. No company records survived, so what is known about the company has been gleaned from newspapers, trade journals, and published traction line histories to create this account.

There was a plethora of car builders operating at the beginning of the twentieth century, a great many having evolved from the construction of carriages and horse cars, which were generally small and lightweight. But the excitement in the electric railway industry at that time was in building interurbans for long distance, high-speed service that demanded cars more like railroad coaches. There were fewer builders of cars of this type and Ohio was in the middle of all this activity. And like the railroad-building boom of half a century earlier, there was plenty of business to share among suppliers to this frenzy (as in the gold rush of the previous decade, it wasn’t the miners who became wealthy but rather the merchants who sold them the picks and shovels). While Cleveland was already a railroad center, Niles seemed an unlikely place to establish a railroad-car-building concern of any type. But it was in the heart of industrial America at the time and skilled labor was easily available.

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Medium 9780253019066

1 Preliminaries

Simon Cordery Indiana University Press ePub

The topography of Illinois is particularly conducive to railroading. Trains move best over flat land, and the state has few hills of any size and nothing that could be mistaken for a mountain. Its 56,400 square miles vary from a low of 279 feet above sea level to the 1,235 feet of Charles Mound on the Wisconsin border near Galena. The glaciated north boasted extensive prairies dotted with stands of timber, while in the heavily wooded south, coal deposits lay concealed beneath the surface. The hilliest section of the state is in the northwest. Here the lead-mining region of Galena escaped the graze of the glaciers, as did Calhoun County in the south. The south offered numerous engineering trials, especially around Cairo, strategically placed at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers but swampy and subject to frequent flooding, while much of far-southern Illinois was viewed as “a hilly extension of the Ozark highland.”1 The state’s rivers provided obstacles to emigrants and challenges to bridge builders, while bluffs at Peoria and Alton restricted railroad development at those two important towns. Generally, however, the gentle prairies presented few insurmountable or even challenging hindrances except distance: Illinois is larger than England, birthplace of the railroad industry.

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1   The Curtain Rises

Lawrence A. Brough Indiana University Press ePub

The year was 1901. William McKinley, the favorite son of Niles, Ohio, began his second term in office as president of the United States. National unemployment was at 4 percent, and Marconi demonstrated his wireless by sending messages through the air from England to Newfoundland. The electric railway era was well along and, like the steam railroads before, electric lines were springing up all over the country in an attempt to connect nearly every town and hamlet. Did this look like an opportunity to invest in America’s future? It did to a group of Niles businessmen, and on May 3, 1901, they incorporated the Niles Car & Manufacturing Company, which, according to its Articles of Incorporation, intended to “manufacture and deal in all kinds of street and railway cars, motors, steam engines, water tanks, and acid tanks and for manufacturing and dealing in railway supplies and appliances of all kinds.” The company was capitalized at $200,000.

The inclusion of the manufacture of water and acid tanks was no doubt influenced by the fact that Niles was located in what was then the heart of industrial America and was home to steel mills, rolling mills, and plants that produced glass, pottery, and firebrick—businesses that would require such equipment—and these tanks were made out of wood, as would be the trolley car bodies. Among the investors were F. J. Roller, superintendent of schools; B. F. Pew, a prominent Niles grocer; G. B. Robbins, director of the Dollar Savings Bank (whose brother, Frank Robbins, became President of Niles); and W. C. Allison, president of the Allison and Company planing mill, whose property would soon become the site of the Niles car factory.

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25 A Catalog of Blunders

RushJr. Loving Indiana University Press ePub

While John Snow continued to carve his own mark on CSX, McClellan was making plans for an alliance of some sort with Conrail. If it could not buy the railroad, Norfolk Southern might worm its way into Conrail’s bed by setting up joint ventures. One potential vehicle for those alliances was the Triple Crown intermodal service that Norfolk was building from its new RoadRailer technology.

McClellan was a strong advocate of the new technology, and he found a fellow supporter in David R. Goode, who became NS’s chairman and CEO in 1992. Quiet and unassuming with a round cherubic face, Goode had joined the Norfolk and Western fresh from Harvard Law School as a tax attorney. Although he had been raised near the N&W main line in the mountains of southwestern Virginia, Goode had no experience with railroad operations. Yet, like McClellan, he loved trains, enjoyed touring historic rail lines, and collected old books and art about railroads.

As did McClellan, Goode recognized that Norfolk Southern needed routes into the Northeast and could not afford to let another line grab them instead. Much of the road’s northbound traffic was handed over to Conrail, and NS failed to capture many east-west movements because Conrail held a monopoly on New Jersey, where they originated or terminated. Norfolk Southern’s tracks crisscrossed the east from Jacksonville to Chicago and New Orleans to Washington, but north of the Potomac and east of the Ohio border they were conspicuously absent. “I think things always pointed us towards the need to get into this big hole that we had in the map,” Goode said. “Any time you went back and looked at the old maps of Norfolk Southern, you had this big hole in it.”

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3 Communities

H. Roger Grant Indiana University Press ePub

COMMUNITIES

3

QUEST FOR RAILS

When railroads made their debut, there were Americans who seemed uncertain about this exotic transportation form, failing to foresee that rail lines would rapidly become the nation’s economic arteries. Individuals occasionally expressed real hostility. “If God had designed that His intelligent creatures should travel at the frightful speed of 15 miles an hour by steam, He would clearly have foretold it through His holy prophets,” charged a resident of Lancaster, Ohio, in 1838. “It is a device of Satan to lead immortal souls down to hell.”

Then there were those individuals, even with a more enlightened view of religion, who had philosophical differences with railroad promoters and worried about the implications of a potential sea change in domestic transportation. In the late 1830s Andrew Johnson, a future president of the United States, blasted the internal improvement program in his native Tennessee. Like fellow Jacksonians he considered charters granted to railroad companies to be unconstitutional because they created monopolies and perpetuities. Johnson also believed that a railroad would destroy much of the business of wayside taverns, throw out of work those men who depended on the “six-horse teams,” introduce fatal diseases, and “violate the laws of nature” by pulling down hills and filling up valleys.

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