N&W vs. Southern Railway

nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org
Mon Oct 24 23:18:11 EDT 2005

Having worked for Southern Railway up to and through the 1982 merger,
let's have a look at the fiscal policy of both roads. As we all know, the N&W
was a financial success frm the outset all the way through the depression
years of the 1930's. But why in heavens name shouldn't it have been. Like
it's two counterparts, the Virginian and the C&O, all they had to do was
lug coal from the mines down to Tidewater for export. Profitable, yes, but
about half of it's westbound traffic consisting of non-revenue empty hopper
trains. Among other things the N&W would squeeze a nickel until the
buffalo dropped dead. I(n the early 70's while visiting family in
Martinsville, Va., I would on occasion visit the local N&W operation. The
operator I talked with was cvrying the blues. THe N&W was beginning to
install CTC between Roanoke and Winston -Salem and were planning to
abolish every operator's job between those two points. Anything to save
a buck, right? O.K., now let's check out policy on the Southern Railway.
I went to work as an operator for Southern in 1968 on the extra board.
In October of that year yhey created a new second trick operator's job
in Gainesville. I bid on the job, got it, and worked it for 18 years until I
retired and NEVER ONCE in that 18 years was I ever rolled off that job
by an older operator. They ventually added a new third trick operator's
job at Gainesville which gave continuous operator service during the week.
For the first couple of years after I went to work there was no relief for
the first trick operator on Saturday or Sunday. The first trick operator
agreed to work it on Saturday, and I agreed to work it on Sundays. It was
8 hours overtime for both of us. I earned about enough overtime to put
my youngest son through the University Of Georgia. When I went to work
for Southern the mast outside of the depot that once held upper quadrant
train order signals was being used only as a support for the radio antenna
for the depot base radio station. Southern Railway, mind you, alkready
had CTC between Atlanta and Washington. About 6 months after they
put on my second trick job, things began to happen. The C&S Dept.
re-installed the upper quadrant train order signals, including lighting the
lights on the position lenses. At the outset we were handing up orders by
hand using string delivery with a "Y" shaped train order hoop. For safety
reasons the trainmaster had Coster Shops in Knoxville fashion two metal
delivery stands, one for either side as it was doubletrack through town.
And a concrete base next to the track held a receptacle in which to place
the train order stand. any times I had orders hanging on both sides for
trains going in both directions. The C&S Dept. also installed flood lights
on each side of the tracks to aid train crews in seeing the orders at night.
And our stationery supplies started including form "19" train order pads,
with carbon sheets for multiple copies, clearance cards, and balls of
twine to string up the orders. Of the various jobs we put to work daily,
one was an 11:00 PM switcher. He was deliberately scheduled to begin
work at 11:00 PM as during the period 8:00 PM until eleven there was
Amtrak No. 820 aqnd the dispatcher regularly wanted to meet the "shots"
as they were called in thaty doubletrack territory,. and a switcher could
hardly get any track time anyway until 11:00 PM. My tour of duty ended
at 10:15 PM, with no relief on Friday nights. For a few years I stayed until
11:15 PM to put that job to work, which meant an hour of overtime. The
Southern Railway let well enough alone, but not the N&W. That was not
so much a merger as it was the N&W just taking over the Southern Ry.
Within three months of the merger one night the trainmaster said "Bill,
we are going to have to move the eleven o'clock job up to 9:00 PM, as they
are making noises about your overtime on Fridays." So there you have it.
Who in blazes is the cheapskate between the two companies? Southern
Railway could care less about the overtime, but that bunch of skinflints
on the N&W want to account for every penny. And I defy one of you
N&W buffs to give me the name of a person in N&W management worthy
of even holding the coat of Southern Railway president D. W. Brosnan
when it came to innovations to get traffic back on the railroad instead of
sitting on his butt hauling coal downhill to the docks, and going back for
more. It took L. Stanly Crane, another good manager for Southern
Railway to straighten out that Conrail fiasco and put it on a paying basis.
In the case of Norfolk Southern, it was another case of the tail wagging
the dog when that merger took place. Bill Sellers

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