locked Extraordinary Obsolesce - Section Houses


George Eichelberger
 

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


Bill Schafer
 

Ike:

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. 

—Bill  

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>


A&Y Dave in MD
 

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?

Dave

Friday, August 9, 2019, 11:37:01 AM, you wrote:


Ike:

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.

—Bill  


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>



--
David Bott

Sent from David Bott's desktop PC


darrell2010
 

Dave,

Do you have anything to backup your statement that "the biggest expense was payroll"?

Thanks,
Darrell Sawyer

On Friday, August 9, 2019, 05:38:44 PM MDT, A&Y Dave in MD <dbott@...> wrote:


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?

Dave

Friday, August 9, 2019, 11:37:01 AM, you wrote:


Ike:

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.

—Bill  


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>



--
David Bott

Sent from David Bott's desktop PC


Robert Hanson
 

There's a pie chart in the 1961 annual report that shows that 37.9% of the company's expenses were payroll expenses.  By far the largest single item.\

The next largest was the catchall "other operating expenses" that made up 13.7% of the total.

Source - Southern Railway Annual Report for 1961, page 5.

Bob Hanson
Loganville, GA


-----Original Message-----
From: darrell2010 via Groups.Io <darrell2010@...>
To: main <main@SouthernRailway.groups.io>
Sent: Fri, Aug 9, 2019 7:53 pm
Subject: Re: [SouthernRailway] Extraordinary Obsolesce - Section Houses

Dave,

Do you have anything to backup your statement that "the biggest expense was payroll"?

Thanks,
Darrell Sawyer

On Friday, August 9, 2019, 05:38:44 PM MDT, A&Y Dave in MD <dbott@...> wrote:


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?

Dave

Friday, August 9, 2019, 11:37:01 AM, you wrote:


Ike:

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.

—Bill  


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>



--
David Bott

Sent from David Bott's desktop PC


George Eichelberger
 

Certainly an interesting series of comments! All are certainly logical and probably contributed to the decision to get rid of section houses. Could the fact that most of the company house designs; section hand, section foreman, station agent, etc. did not have either indoor plumbing or running water be a factor? Upgrading everything would have been a cost to avoid.

And congrats and thanks to Dave Bott for his article on the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1905!

It is in the current issue of “TIES” and does an excellent job of describing how a complex topic effected the railroads. That the event led to the creation of the Public Health service (an interesting factoid) tells us how serious it was. For non-SRHA members, many train shops sell White River publications and issues can be ordered through the SRHA company store. (We will have copies and a table at the upcoming Atlanta train show.)

Ike


On Aug 9, 2019, at 7:52 PM, darrell2010 via Groups.Io <darrell2010@...> wrote:

Dave,

Do you have anything to backup your statement that "the biggest expense was payroll"?

Thanks,
Darrell Sawyer

On Friday, August 9, 2019, 05:38:44 PM MDT, A&Y Dave in MD <dbott@...> wrote:


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?

Dave

Friday, August 9, 2019, 11:37:01 AM, you wrote:


Ike:

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.

—Bill  


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>



--
David Bott

Sent from David Bott's desktop PC


Rodney Shu
 

A quick comment from a new subscriber......

I was working a summer job as a "Rodman" on a surveying crew in Birmingham in 1966 and remember seeing a work train spraying "fuel" on the right of way in north Alabama.   It was an extremely hot day and I remember how glad I was to see that train leave the area where we were driving stakes and turning angles for a new industrial spur.

Rod Shu


darrell2010
 

Wow! I had no idea labor would have been such a large percentage back then. I was thinking the swing would have been later. 

Thanks for the info!

Darrell Sawyer


On Friday, August 9, 2019, 06:21:17 PM MDT, Robert Hanson via Groups.Io <RHanson669@...> wrote:


There's a pie chart in the 1961 annual report that shows that 37.9% of the company's expenses were payroll expenses.  By far the largest single item.\

The next largest was the catchall "other operating expenses" that made up 13.7% of the total.

Source - Southern Railway Annual Report for 1961, page 5.

Bob Hanson
Loganville, GA


-----Original Message-----
From: darrell2010 via Groups.Io <darrell2010@...>
To: main <main@SouthernRailway.groups.io>
Sent: Fri, Aug 9, 2019 7:53 pm
Subject: Re: [SouthernRailway] Extraordinary Obsolesce - Section Houses

Dave,

Do you have anything to backup your statement that "the biggest expense was payroll"?

Thanks,
Darrell Sawyer

On Friday, August 9, 2019, 05:38:44 PM MDT, A&Y Dave in MD <dbott@...> wrote:


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?

Dave

Friday, August 9, 2019, 11:37:01 AM, you wrote:


Ike:

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.

—Bill  


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>



--
David Bott

Sent from David Bott's desktop PC


A&Y Dave in MD
 

Specific to the Southern? no.  This was general business and technological history of the 20th century from grad school.   I can get articles and studies to back up the claim and to see if it was as true for the Southern, but I was merely suggesting support for Bill's theory.

Dave

Friday, August 9, 2019, 7:52:59 PM, you wrote:


Dave,

Do you have anything to backup your statement that "the biggest expense was payroll"?

Thanks,
Darrell Sawyer

On Friday, August 9, 2019, 05:38:44 PM MDT, A&Y Dave in MD <dbott@...> wrote:


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?

Dave

Friday, August 9, 2019, 11:37:01 AM, you wrote:


Ike:

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.

—Bill  


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>



--
David Bott

Sent from David Bott's desktop PC



--
David Bott

Sent from David Bott's desktop PC


Bill Schafer
 

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?

—Bill

On Aug 9, 2019, at 4:38 PM, A&Y Dave in MD <dbott@...> wrote:

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?

Dave

Friday, August 9, 2019, 11:37:01 AM, you wrote:


Ike:

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.

—Bill  


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>



--
David Bott

Sent from David Bott's desktop PC