I recently looked at your blog on the Rock Island RR (RI) again. I was a bit skeptical of your accusation that the ICC was "dilatory" when it came to dealing with the proposed RI/UP merger. So, I checked what Bill Marvel wrote about this merger proposal in the book he put out on the RI called The Rock Island Line. I first met Bill in late 1969 at an interlocking tower in downtown D.C. He was working for the National Observer, a Wall Street Journal sponsored newspaper, as its arts columnist. I guess it was better than covering the cop beat in Denver, where he grew up and got his start as a reporter. After retiring he became an independent writer. This book on the RI, one of his favorite RR's, is one result of his efforts.
Starting on page 140 in a sub section called "Merger Madness" Bill gives a brief, but pretty thorough, synopsis of what happened and why it took so long for the ICC to render a decision. The madness started in June 1962 when Ellis Johnson of the RI met with Donald Russell of the SP to talk about a merger. In September UP joined the talks. In both cases the proposed merger of RI with either of these stronger RR's made lots of sense. The result was that RI stock rose from $20 to $26 per share.
The following summer UP formalized its offer for the RI, and the RI Board of Directors approved and recommended approval by the stockholders. Feeling threatened by the loss of interchange traffic with the UP, CNW's President Ben Heineman made a counteroffer and filed the plan with the ICC. This plan called for a merger of the RI, CNW and MILW RD. Alarmed by this proposal the ATSF and MOPAC announced they were in merger discussions and invited other western RR's to join in. Thus, Heineman's proposal put the UP-RI merger proposal onto a "side track."
In late 1964 UP recommended that the RI hire Jervis Langdon Jr. as its CEO. He had just brought the B&O back to health, and UP thought he might be able to do the same for the RI as well as aid in merger negotiations. However, the opposition of other RR's continued to grow. The DRGW and WP joined the fray. With both the UP and CNW offers to consider the RI stockholders waffled and failed to give the UP a needed majority of votes. A federal judge ordered there be another vote. UP upped its ante promising to pour $200 million into the decaying RR. This time the stockholders overwhelmingly approved UP's proposal. New locomotives and freight cars for the RI followed.
The DRGW challenged the merger proposal announcing it wanted RI's trackage east to the Missouri River and trackage rights almost everywhere on the SP. CNW meanwhile wanted the RI to sell everything south of Herrington, KS, to the ATSF. Meanwhile the ATSF was proposing splitting the RI with MOPAC and CNW. All this time MOPAC was buying up ATSF stock, and then asked the ICC to bundle all the petitions and counter petitions into one giant merger case. The SOO Line seconded this idea. The UP, SP, and RI also agreed to this idea. And thus was born the most complicated RR merger case in the ICC's history.
Proceedings rolled on through 1967 into 1968. By that time the case had generated 43,000 pages of testimony. Meanwhile, the RI was losing $$$, and its situation was getting desperate. Most of the testimony was arcane arguments about which RR would lose traffic to which other RR. Langdon was becoming exasperated as his thinking was there were already too many RR's in the area.The number needed to shrink. If all the RR's could do was argue, Langdon felt the ICC had to make that happen.
Nothing happened in 1969. The Dept. of Transportation then proposed consolidating all these Midwestern RR's into three systems. No one paid any attention. And by this time the RI was getting less than 10% of the UP's traffic at Council Bluffs, IA. The RR couldn't handle any more. Langdon left the RI to become a trustee of the Penn Central. William Dixon took his place. There were now 155,000 pages of testimony.
Now more trouble arose. In response to galloping inflation in August 1971 President Nixon had imposed a price and wage freeze. That October RR workers were due a wage increase. Dixon worried that if the wage increase, when allowed, were made retroactive to the start of the freeze the RI would be crippled. The employees were apparently willing to give the RI a break, but then had to contend with the bad winter of 1972-1973. At one point the Colorado line was blocked for five days. By the summer of 1973 only two RI freights were running at 55 mph, both on the Golden State route. That fall brought a rush of business which the power short RI had to meet by leasing anything and everything it could get its hands on. That's when we started seeing all that foreign power in El Reno. And John Ingram became the RI's president.
On November 8, 1974, after 11 years, 300 lawyers and now over 200,000 pages of transcripts the ICC gave its conditional approval to the UP/RI merger. The conditions were:
the DRGW get the RI trackage to Omaha;
everything south of KC would go to the SP;
ATSF would get the Choctaw Route to Memphis;
jobs would be protected; and
some traffic arrangements would be preserved.
All this was too much for the UP, especially since the RI's Omaha mainline was now virtually worthless. And thus the RI withered away eventually to be dissolved. So ends Marvel's discussion of this merger debacle.
In fairness to the ICC it had never had any case like this. At the time the RI was liquidated it was the largest liquidation of any company this country had ever seen. The ICC wasn't really interested in seeing such a large liquidation and had no idea what would happen once it occurred. As it turned out the knotty issues of this merger proposal were due to the RI's parts being worth more than the value of the whole RR. Look at a map of the RI, and you'll see that a significant portion of it is still in use. By becoming Langdon's Midwest Borg the UP has ended up with virtually everything the SP and CNW wanted. That includes the Golden State line and the Spine Line. The Iowa Interstate RR (IAIS) has been renovating the Chicago - Council Bluffs route [well, west of Bureau, IL, as the CSXT got the line east to Joliet, and METRA owns the tracks between Chicago and Joliet. IAIS has trackage rights over the CSXT portion, and IAIS and CSXT have trackage rights over METRA into the Chicago area]. Thanks to eating up the MKT UP also has RI's Texas mainline through Oklahoma. The Iowa Northern runs a part of the former mainline to the Twin Cities between Cedar Rapids and Manly, IA. There are other RR's operating former RI trackage as well. We've visited three of them in Oklahoma.
So, to call the ICC dilatory is, in my humble opinion, being overly harsh. By the time the ICC is abolished and replaced with the STB (Surface Transportation Board) and RR mergers biforcated into "major" and "minor" mergers in 1995, the ICC had outlived its usefulness. However, this had as much to do with the greater freedoms RR's were given in rate making and other areas under the Staggers Act in 1980 (in part a reaction to the UP/RI merger proposal) as due to the ICC's own faults.
The RR's are what created the ICC and most of the RR regulations passed by Congress up into the 1920's, and they also were happy to see the ICC go away.
Absolutely fantastic! Your post is a real treasure that brings back so many wonderful memories of the Rock Island. Would you happen to have any pictures of the RockReplyDelete
Island's former division office building in Shawnee, OK? It later served as the freight station and crew change point until shutdown. My ancestors worked for the R.I. in the shops at Shawnee. Sadly, I failed to get many pictures of the building and would like to make a model of it someday. I hope you consider publishing a book of your wonderful exploits on the R.I. In Oklahoma, as your photographs and narrative are superb. I can't thank you enough. Regards. J. Kent Fredenberger
What a wonderful tribute for the once mighty Rock Island. I live in Missouri, where efforts to try and keep the St. Louis to Kansas City line active were undertaken, but the west end of the line was never reactivated, while trains continued as far west as Belle -- just a few miles east of the longest trestle in the state of Missouri spanned the Gasconade -- until 1983 and then slowly retreated eastward...to Owensville, then Union. The line from St. Louis to Union is still operated today by Central Midland Railroad, while the remainder of the line, which was never officially abandoned is being converted to a trail...the lines rails and ties removed over the past 18-24 months.ReplyDelete
In addition to that connection to the Rock, I went to school at the University of Oklahoma (after the line had shut down). In a span of weeks, I fell hard for the wide open space of the state. I was only there for a few years, but when I read "The north-south main traversed those fields in some of the loveliest, red dirt country you will ever see.", I knew exactly what you meant. The winter wheat, the blaze of a sunset, the forks of lightning across a canopy of thunderheads...it may not be everybody's embodiment of picturesque, but it is and always will be mine.
Thanks for your efforts to document the line and sharing it!
Paul, this is a fantastic collection of beautiful photos of one of my favorite parts of the Rock Island. My grandparents lived in Okarche. In your photo of 4154 South, their house is hidden in the cluster of trees directly above the locomotive and to the right of the municipal airport hangar; my uncle's house, which was originally my grandparents' house, is visible at the extreme right-hand edge of the photo, across the road from my grandparents' later house among the trees. As a kid I would be able to hear southbound trains climbing the hill out of Kingfisher long before they got there, because the house was generally quiet since there were few electronic distractions and noisemakers in the house. I would be able to walk back to the fence line opposite the airfield and watch those trains move through town - sometimes at a crawl, and sometimes really moving. It was a great theater. My family lived there - cousins still do - throughout the 20th Century, including when a 5000-class Northern blew its boiler in town, an event they remembered clearly. In the 30's they would feed transients from the trains in exchange for farm work. My dad was RI's safety manager in the 1970's, and we would always stop for a roll-by for any train we saw while we were driving US 81 en route to Okarche. These photos are pure gold for me. Thanks for sharing them!ReplyDelete
Love the photos. My memories are from the “Little Rock” that ran from Biddle Yard to Ville Plat, LA. I went to college Ruston, LA and would watch the Saturday local exchange cars there with the east west ICG. Have some pictures from a local going thru Ruston near the end that I am willing to share. The freight house is still there & functions as a bank.ReplyDelete
Thank you for posting this. This is history that MUST be recorded and remembered. So many little towns in western Oklahoma exist only because these railroads were their life blood. What is left today is just remnants of what is left behind.ReplyDelete
CRI&P 301 West Meets F-Units In Oklahoma City -- July 1978 - Nope, not 1978.ReplyDelete
Same Train "Rocking and Rolling" Through Oklahoma City on Way to El Reno
No, The Biltmore hotel is still standing in the picture. The Biltmore Hotel was demolished in October of 1977.
Just a friendly correction. Great pictures of the Rock Island.
Enjoyed this very much! Great photos and text! Thanks for putting this together and posting it for all to see!ReplyDelete
Neat bunch of photos, I enjoyed them very muh. Even though I am actually a fugitive of the Rock Island Railroad, I guess when it's in your blood...ReplyDelete
Thanks so much for the historic views of your past! you should put it in a book, and talk more about that particular part of the line.ReplyDelete
Outstanding pics & dialogueReplyDelete
Great pictures, thank you for sharing.ReplyDelete
I grew up along the RI line between KC & Denver in the little town of Stratton, CO. Worked at a COOP in the late 60's to early 70's. Loaded grain into box cars and hoppers. Fixed up box cars so they could be loaded with grain. It was called "coopering" or something like that. Made mouth whistles out of the metal straps that had holes in them. The straps would be used to nail cardboard to the wood along the doors and wood that was added at about 5' high across the door opening. Used an old Case tractor to move the cars into loading position under the downspout from the elevator and to move them down the spur when filled. Seems like a lifetime ago....ReplyDelete
Paul, your presentation is one of the very best of the Rock Island I’ve ever seen! The photos are suburb! My dad was a conductor in Little Rock between 1940 - 1980. We lived two blocks from Biddle Yard and I knew many Rock Island employees. Use to go on trips all over Arkansas when I was a kid. Ran switch engines when I was six years old! Both of my grandads worked for the Rock. Being a boomer, I followed and studied all the railroad mergers and really wanted the Santa Fe to buy the Amarillo – Memphis line. I do think they were interested but the timing was not right along with freight being interchanged with the Frisco. In retrospect with so many railroads in the Midwest, I honestly think the Rock (along several other railroads) were simply left behind. Uncle Pete seems to have obtained around 2500 miles of the Rock with several short lines using what was left. Politics and big money sure play a part!!! Great Job Paul!!ReplyDelete