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While we’re on the topic, Gordon Andrews recalls that, as a kid in Virginia, he saw the section gangs burning the brush and grass on the right-of-way every year. Here’s my reply:
The spectacle you witnessed - of the section gang burning the right-of-way - was peculiar to Virginia in the sense that it was Virginia law that all railroads - the RF&P, the C&O, the N&W, the SAL and ACL - had to burn their ROW every year. After the section gangs were cut to the minimum, even after dieselization, Southern still had to burn its ROW in the Commonwealth. In later years, this function was performed by contractors. When I was in Southern’s purchasing department (1976-1982), it was my job, at one time, to solicit bids from contractors to burn ROW on most segments of Southern’s main lines in Virginia. Unless the Virginia forestry commission gave SOU a waiver, all ROW with combustible vegetation on it had to be burned, regardless of what the neighbors said. The burning usually took place in the winter or early spring, before the vegetation began to sprout. The law was finally annulled in the 1980s or 1990s.
As far as I know, Virginia was the only state served by the Southern with this law or this requirement. Does anyone know otherwise? Did Southern burn their ROW in any other states?
On Aug 9, 2019, at 4:38 PM, A&Y Dave in MD <dbott@...
This sounds as plausible as any theory. There was the restructuring to simplify the corporate complexity to save money and deal with the funded debt that was due. This would be another way to save money, and one that was pushed by mechanization and the growing cost of labor after WWII. The economy was growing, but competition was based on reducing labor costs. The unions were nearing their zenith in size and power and the cost per employee was getting higher. Income wasn't growing quickly that long after WWII and the only way to improve profits was reducing expenses. The biggest expense was the payroll. And once you reduce the payroll, why keep the supporting infrastructure?
Friday, August 9, 2019, 11:37:01 AM, you wrote:
My sense is that mechanization was a major driver in the reduction, or elimination, of MofW section gangs and the need for section houses. I’d like to see some documentation of this hunch, but Southern, like most other railroads in the 1950s, realized that they no longer needed section gangs every five to ten miles to maintain a given section of track. The sections were expanded in size when routine labor-intensive functions, such as spike driving, tie replacement, or ballast regulating, were economically performed by machines. While mechanization probably came to the large system gangs first, it did eventually trickle down to the sections.
One other consideration was the sense that a pretty railroad was not necessarily a cost-efficient railroad. We all love to see images of main line trains on rock ballasted track with a knife-edge definition to the ballast line. Restoring the roadbed to this condition after routine maintenance was, in the old days, performed manually with shovels and a large straight-edge - it was called dressing the track. As the 1950s progressed, that knife-edge appearance disappeared, not only because of deferred maintenance, but because the railroad no longer believed it needed a pretty right of way.
Another consideration is vegetation control. In the days of sections, weeds and brush were manually cleared to the right-of-way line - maybe 100’ on each side of the track - to prevent fires from passing steam locomotives. Section hands used picks and shovels and maybe scythes or sickles in this process. Once the steam engines disappeared, many railroads, Southern included, stopped clearing brush and weeds by hand, and depended on chemicals from weed spray trains to control stuff growing between, and just outside, the rails. In the Brosnan era, Southern even economized on weed control, spraying diesel fuel on the weeds instead of a specialty chemical. A review of photos of Southern trains from the 1960s will show that diesel fuel was largely ineffective on weeds, and the track and right-of-way really looked ratty.
All factors mentioned above made the old style section gangs - where you had a gang of five or six men and a foreman assigned to a section, which covered five to ten miles of track - an unnecessary luxury. Not all of the massive layoffs among the MofW forces in the 1950s were due to mechanization of the big gangs. Many men from the local section gangs were laid off too.
|On Aug 9, 2019, at 7:16 AM, George Eichelberger <geichelberger@...> wrote:|
Two days of work in the SRHA archives has turned up yet another category of Southern Railway data...and a question.
After WWII, there were a number of "programs" that included the retirement of various structures and facilities. Memos show at least 20 different programs but a comprehensive list has not been found. One large system wide program identified structures and tracks no longer needed because of dieselization. Lists of items were prepared, then reviewed to determine which would be removed. Not every item made the final list, for example if a track used to service steam locos was also being used for diesels it would be taken off the list. The timing of the dieselization list is obvious, when a division stopped using steam. That list included all roundhouses, turntables, and coal and water stations as well as any stem rerlated tracks and "appurtenances".
The time of another "program" is not clear. 1951 appears to be when the Southern decided section houses were no longer needed. Can anyone suggest what happened in 1949-51 for the railroad to make the decision to dispose of many section houses: a new labor agreement, an ICC ruling, changes in tax laws?
There are several drawings and many photos of section houses in the SRHA archives, certainly enough for a comprehensive TIES article. I've attached one example of the documents used to sell company property. Although I have always been aware that section houses and depots were sold and then removed from railroad property, the proportion of "sold" properties is much higher than expected. The attached sale document may explain why, even in 1951 dollars, $65 to purchase a house, coal shed and outhouse is a good price, even considering they had to be removed from Southern property in most cases.
Although many section houses were constructed in the 1880s and 90s, some survive today as residences.
Ike <French Lick, IN section house 79-EB-1.jpg>
Sent from David Bott's desktop PC