"Tyranical" USRA in 1918


George Eichelberger
 

While scanning multiple WWI era files in the SRHA archives, I’ve learned about an aspect of the United States Railroad Administration (USRA) I was not aware of. In addition to the typical railroad officers, the Southern had a “Federal Manager” that acted as an intermediary between the railroad management and the USRA. The correspondence shows decisions about which USRA “allocations” had been requested, to accept them and then how to pay for them were made by some combination of the three.

One answered a long-standing question of mine about why the Southern had so few USRA design box cars. In a full page letter to the USRA, Southern explained that its standard 30-ton, 36ft box cars were more suitable to its freight traffic than the 40ft, 40-T USRA standard cars (designed by the NYC?) that had been allocated. Costs, parts made far from Southern territory and other items were mentioned in the reasons to reject the allocation (apparently not requested by the railroad).

Of the multiple examples where cars were allocated but not accepted/wanted by the Southern, the letter sent to Southern President Fairfax Harrison (attached) Nov 14, 1918 resulted in the memo sent by “FH” the next day. Southern managements always resented any attempt at “Government Control” but forcing the railroad to spend money they did not think justifiable was too much.

Ike



Kenneth Montero
 

Wasn't USRA's John Skelton Williams a major figure in the competitor Seaboard Air Line Railroad? If so, that would have added fuel to the fire.
 
Ken Montero

On 04/12/2021 9:05 PM George Eichelberger <geichelberger@...> wrote:
 
 
While scanning multiple WWI era files in the SRHA archives, I’ve learned about an aspect of the United States Railroad Administration (USRA) I was not aware of. In addition to the typical railroad officers, the Southern had a “Federal Manager” that acted as an intermediary between the railroad management and the USRA. The correspondence shows decisions about which USRA “allocations” had been requested, to accept them and then how to pay for them were made by some combination of the three.
 
One answered a long-standing question of mine about why the Southern had so few USRA design box cars. In a full page letter to the USRA, Southern explained that its standard 30-ton, 36ft box cars were more suitable to its freight traffic than the 40ft, 40-T USRA standard cars (designed by the NYC?) that had been allocated. Costs, parts made far from Southern territory and other items were mentioned in the reasons to reject the allocation (apparently not requested by the railroad).
 
Of the multiple examples where cars were allocated but not accepted/wanted by the Southern, the letter sent to Southern President Fairfax Harrison (attached) Nov 14, 1918 resulted in the memo sent by “FH” the next day. Southern managements always resented any attempt at “Government Control” but forcing the railroad to spend money they did not think justifiable was too much.
 
Ike
 
 


Eric Hansmann
 

Thanks for sharing that correspondence, Ike. I suspect there were similar letters from other lines. I know the Nickel Plate refused their USRA double-sheathed boxcar assignments and the Lehigh Valley refused their USRA hoppers.

 

A key USRA freight car article was published by James E. Lane in the Spring 1973 Railway and Locomotive Historical Society’s “Railroad History, No. 128”. The article features tables of the original equipment allotments, based upon what USRA officials felt the individual lines needed for their routes. There are also tables of the final equipment assignments. I created a resource page with the USRA assignment data on my blog.

http://designbuildop.hansmanns.org/usra-freight-car-assignments/

 

I mentioned earlier that the Nickel Plate refused their cars, yet they are on the assignment list. The cars were in service for a couple of years with Nickel Plate lettering until the Wabash picked them up in 1922. Several notes appear on my data tables to indicate ownership change in the years after USRA control was relinquished.

 

 

Eric Hansmann

Murfreesboro, TN

 

 

 

 

 

 

From: main@RealSTMFC.groups.io <main@RealSTMFC.groups.io> On Behalf Of George Eichelberger
Sent: Monday, April 12, 2021 8:06 PM
To: main@SouthernRailway.groups.io; RealSTMFC@groups.io
Subject: [RealSTMFC] "Tyranical" USRA in 1918

 

While scanning multiple WWI era files in the SRHA archives, I’ve learned about an aspect of the United States Railroad Administration (USRA) I was not aware of. In addition to the typical railroad officers, the Southern had a “Federal Manager” that acted as an intermediary between the railroad management and the USRA. The correspondence shows decisions about which USRA “allocations” had been requested, to accept them and then how to pay for them were made by some combination of the three.

 

One answered a long-standing question of mine about why the Southern had so few USRA design box cars. In a full page letter to the USRA, Southern explained that its standard 30-ton, 36ft box cars were more suitable to its freight traffic than the 40ft, 40-T USRA standard cars (designed by the NYC?) that had been allocated. Costs, parts made far from Southern territory and other items were mentioned in the reasons to reject the allocation (apparently not requested by the railroad).

 

Of the multiple examples where cars were allocated but not accepted/wanted by the Southern, the letter sent to Southern President Fairfax Harrison (attached) Nov 14, 1918 resulted in the memo sent by “FH” the next day. Southern managements always resented any attempt at “Government Control” but forcing the railroad to spend money they did not think justifiable was too much.

 

Ike

 

 


George Eichelberger
 

Eric:

I just scanned a memo that mentioned the DL&W was refusing 5,000 (!) USRA freight cars.

This may explain why I see “errors” in USRA car quantities. Some may be “allocated”, other never purchased because they were not wanted. In a third case, cars were swapped before delivery. SR was allocated USRA single sheathed box cars and managed to get them changed to double sheathed cars

The SR controlled the M&O in 1918, USRA allocated a large number of hoppers to them and expected the Southern to finance them. The M&O was always poverty stricken* and Southern had determined that the M&O could simply not afford to acquire them. Apparently, the SR, USRA and the “Federal Manager” for the Southern could not find documentation ordering them in the first place.

Ike

*Southern serviced M&O locos at Birmingham. Even at some minimal cost, the M&O could not pay Southern for water put in their tenders.

PS You need to make a plan to go down to the SRHA archives this summer!


Garth Groff and Sally Sanford <mallardlodge1000@...>
 

Eric,

Interesting that the Western Pacific was not assigned any USRA freight cars. 

The USRA did mess with the WP though. The USRA forced the WP to take 5 USRA light 2-8-2s, series (1st) 321-325, in December 1918. The road had already acquired 5 heavy 2-8-2s in June (they were actually a bit beefier than the USRA's heavy design), and the WP didn't want the lighter engines. Too bad! In 1920 WP bought five USRA-owned heavies returned by the EJ&E, and the light 2-8-2s were promptly sold to the Wabash.

The USRA also interfered with the WP's operations, though this turned out to be a success. The government forced them into a paired track arrangement with the SP on roughly parallel lines across the Nevada desert. This actually turned out to be a good thing for both railroads, and the paired track arrangement was later revived.

Yours Aye,


Garth Groff  🦆


On Tue, Apr 13, 2021 at 9:03 AM Eric Hansmann <eric@...> wrote:

Thanks for sharing that correspondence, Ike. I suspect there were similar letters from other lines. I know the Nickel Plate refused their USRA double-sheathed boxcar assignments and the Lehigh Valley refused their USRA hoppers.

 

A key USRA freight car article was published by James E. Lane in the Spring 1973 Railway and Locomotive Historical Society’s “Railroad History, No. 128”. The article features tables of the original equipment allotments, based upon what USRA officials felt the individual lines needed for their routes. There are also tables of the final equipment assignments. I created a resource page with the USRA assignment data on my blog.

http://designbuildop.hansmanns.org/usra-freight-car-assignments/

 

I mentioned earlier that the Nickel Plate refused their cars, yet they are on the assignment list. The cars were in service for a couple of years with Nickel Plate lettering until the Wabash picked them up in 1922. Several notes appear on my data tables to indicate ownership change in the years after USRA control was relinquished.

 

 

Eric Hansmann

Murfreesboro, TN

 

 

 

 

 

 

From: main@RealSTMFC.groups.io <main@RealSTMFC.groups.io> On Behalf Of George Eichelberger
Sent: Monday, April 12, 2021 8:06 PM
To: main@SouthernRailway.groups.io; RealSTMFC@groups.io
Subject: [RealSTMFC] "Tyranical" USRA in 1918

 

While scanning multiple WWI era files in the SRHA archives, I’ve learned about an aspect of the United States Railroad Administration (USRA) I was not aware of. In addition to the typical railroad officers, the Southern had a “Federal Manager” that acted as an intermediary between the railroad management and the USRA. The correspondence shows decisions about which USRA “allocations” had been requested, to accept them and then how to pay for them were made by some combination of the three.

 

One answered a long-standing question of mine about why the Southern had so few USRA design box cars. In a full page letter to the USRA, Southern explained that its standard 30-ton, 36ft box cars were more suitable to its freight traffic than the 40ft, 40-T USRA standard cars (designed by the NYC?) that had been allocated. Costs, parts made far from Southern territory and other items were mentioned in the reasons to reject the allocation (apparently not requested by the railroad).

 

Of the multiple examples where cars were allocated but not accepted/wanted by the Southern, the letter sent to Southern President Fairfax Harrison (attached) Nov 14, 1918 resulted in the memo sent by “FH” the next day. Southern managements always resented any attempt at “Government Control” but forcing the railroad to spend money they did not think justifiable was too much.

 

Ike

 

 


Tony Thompson
 

George Eichelberger wrote:

This may explain why I see “errors” in USRA car quantities. Some may be “allocated”, other never purchased because they were not wanted. In a third case, cars were swapped before delivery. SR was allocated USRA single sheathed box cars and managed to get them changed to double sheathed cars
Do you mean beyond what is listed in the Lane article? He gives quite complete-looking tables of “allocated” vs. “received” USRA cars. Do you have info beyond what he presented?

Tony Thompson
tony@signaturepress.com


Eric Hansmann
 

The USRA messed with many roads. They used Western Maryland coal hoppers as rolling coal warehouses. Rather than emptying the cars quickly, they let them sit for long periods through all types of weather. The coal loads kept the steel sides and slope sheets wet, which accelerated metal failure and fatigue.  

 

The WM bought 5000 new hoppers from Pullman from 1916 and into 1917. Due to this, they did not receive any USRA hoppers. Many of these new hoppers, and their older fleet, suffered damage while under USRA control. After USRA control was relinquished and company officials surveyed the equipment damage, the company sued the government for compensation. The WM embarked on rebuilding all their hoppers in 1926 using the channel side stakes.

 

BTW, the only USRA car designs assigned to the Western Maryland were 300 single-sheathed boxcars.

 

I’m sure there are other USRA stories out there.

 

 

Eric Hansmann

Murfreesboro, TN

 

 

 

From: main@RealSTMFC.groups.io <main@RealSTMFC.groups.io> On Behalf Of Garth Groff and Sally Sanford
Sent: Tuesday, April 13, 2021 3:17 PM
To: main@realstmfc.groups.io
Subject: Re: [RealSTMFC] "Tyranical" USRA in 1918

 

Eric,

 

Interesting that the Western Pacific was not assigned any USRA freight cars. 

 

The USRA did mess with the WP though. The USRA forced the WP to take 5 USRA light 2-8-2s, series (1st) 321-325, in December 1918. The road had already acquired 5 heavy 2-8-2s in June (they were actually a bit beefier than the USRA's heavy design), and the WP didn't want the lighter engines. Too bad! In 1920 WP bought five USRA-owned heavies returned by the EJ&E, and the light 2-8-2s were promptly sold to the Wabash.

 

The USRA also interfered with the WP's operations, though this turned out to be a success. The government forced them into a paired track arrangement with the SP on roughly parallel lines across the Nevada desert. This actually turned out to be a good thing for both railroads, and the paired track arrangement was later revived.

 

Yours Aye,

 

 

Garth Groff  🦆

 

 


Rupert Gamlen
 

The CB&Q was allocated 500 double sheathed box cars, even though the company had switched to single sheathed ones in 1913. The USRA ones only lasted on the roster for about 33 years, until 1951, compared to 41 years for single sheathed ones constructed in 1914-1917.


Rupert Gamlen
Auckland NZ

 

From: main@RealSTMFC.groups.io <main@RealSTMFC.groups.io> On Behalf Of Eric Hansmann
Sent: Thursday, 15 April 2021 3:39 am
To: main@RealSTMFC.groups.io
Subject: Re: [RealSTMFC] "Tyranical" USRA in 1918

 

The USRA messed with many roads. They used Western Maryland coal hoppers as rolling coal warehouses. Rather than emptying the cars quickly, they let them sit for long periods through all types of weather. The coal loads kept the steel sides and slope sheets wet, which accelerated metal failure and fatigue.  

 

The WM bought 5000 new hoppers from Pullman from 1916 and into 1917. Due to this, they did not receive any USRA hoppers. Many of these new hoppers, and their older fleet, suffered damage while under USRA control. After USRA control was relinquished and company officials surveyed the equipment damage, the company sued the government for compensation. The WM embarked on rebuilding all their hoppers in 1926 using the channel side stakes.

 

BTW, the only USRA car designs assigned to the Western Maryland were 300 single-sheathed boxcars.

 

I’m sure there are other USRA stories out there.

 

 

Eric Hansmann

Murfreesboro, TN