Harry J. Briscoe
The Last Santa Fe Superintendent to "Own" the 404
Harry Briscoe retired after forty-seven years of service on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad as the General Manager of the Eastern Division, based in Topeka, Kansas. During his employment he was the Superintendent of the Eastern Division in Emporia, Kansas, from 1963 to 1969. This position came with the use of one of the railroad's small fleet of business cars, in this case the 404. Towards the end of his time in Emporia, the railroad phased out this "extravagant" perk, which was in keeping with the diminishing role of passenger services throughout the industry. Mr. Briscoe invited his friend Bill White, the owner and editor of the local newspaper, the Emporia Gazette, to accompany him on the car's last official trip. Mr. White published a long piece about the trip over five consecutive days in the newspaper. A search for this article is under way and will be posted on this web site when it becomes available. Mr. Briscoe also published a book about his railroad career, called, "Watching The Trains Go By." (See related links on the right)

What follows below is a speech written by Mr. Briscoe. It was made available to the Texas Transportation Museum, along with most of the pictures on this page, by David Briscoe, Harry Briscoe's son. We are deeply grateful for his generosity. David also had this to say about his father and business cars in general:
Dad is and always has been a very humble person and realized these cars could give the wrong impression. He always made a point of explaining the perceived "extravagance" of these business cars in a simple but effective manner. These cars were first and foremost an office. Back when these cars were most widely used, rail travel was still the most functional mode of transportation.

(Editor's note: The 404 was delivered to the AT & SF in 1926.)

Highways were largely unpaved and most stayed this way until after World War Two. There was no air travel to speak of, especially in rural Kansas. Since the business was the railroad, a rolling office made the most sense. Communication was still telegraph and memos. Radios were still a few years off and even then not widely effective. The division was the superintendent's responsibility (probably more than today, as decisions now are being made quicker and at a lower level). Being in an automobile on the road was essentially wasted time and having the ability to have other responsible parties with him (road master, foreman, etc...) made a great deal of sense. These cars predated hi-rail vehicles so they were one of the primary modes of hands on track inspection.

(Editor's note: Track inspection gauges are built into the rear of the cars.)

The cook/porter again was a necessity of the time. He was essentially in charge of the car and the trip and had to feed everyone on board, which would have been impossible otherwise. Dad always said "Never pass up a lunch room or a restroom; you never know where the next one will be". Same for the bed rooms - no need to find a motel. I'd venture to say when you add up all the work these cars performed, they were probably more cost and time effective than today's business travel. The extinction of these cars came about by the same need for efficiency that created them in the first place. As communication systems improved and highway and air travel became more convenient, and local offices were centralized and consolidated, this operating mode became comparatively less effective. Today the business cars are much more of an extravagance and though still used by the executives for right of way inspection they are now primarily used for a marketing tool which was rarely the case in the days of the 404 and 409.
Business Cars on the Santa Fe
By Harry Briscoe, AT & SF Eastern Lines General Manager
Editor's note: The liberty has been taken of inserting [404] when Mr. Briscoe is referring to the Santa Fe 404 Business Car. This car is now on public display at the Texas Transportation Museum in San Antonio.
Harry Briscoe, center, on rear of Santa Fe 404 business car
Harry Briscoe - center - on the rear of the Santa Fe 404 business car.
It was during the hot summer of 1937, my first year working for Santa Fe that I took my first trip on a business car. I was the steno to the Transportation Clerk in the Superintendent's office at Slaton, Texas, when Russell Satterlee, secretary to the Superintendent, went on vacation. The Superintendent, J. R. Skillen, had an appointment to visit the elevator at Crowell, located on the old Orient portion of the Slaton Division, and he recruited me to fill in as his secretary on this trip. It entailed a trip from Slaton to San Angelo and then the next morning from San Angelo to Crowell on the rear end of the local.
Santa Fe 404 business car in Emporia, Kansas
Santa Fe 404 business car in Emporia, Kansas.
Emporia, Kansas, freight depot and passenger station with offices for the division superintendent and his large staff, in the 1960s. The Santa Fe 404 business car can be seen on the extreme right of the picture.

The imposing station burned to the ground in 1999. It had been offered to the city several years before when the BNSF moved out but they declined to take it because the almost 100 year old structure was in very poor condition. The fire was likely started by vagrants. The smaller freight and Railway Express Agency depot is also gone, probably demolished when the main depot was closed down.
The 400 class business car was furnished to each Santa Fe Superintendent, and with no form of air conditioning then available, these cars were like an oven in the summer. These cars had steps at the rear end leading to the back platform which had a protective railing around three sides with a door in the middle leading to the observation portion of the car. This room contained the Superintendent's desk at which he sat facing the rear, enabling him to view the track behind the train. There was a divan across the forward end of the car, and a corridor down the left side leading to the dining room. The first room on the right was that of the secretary, but it was not large enough to contain his desk, typewriter and supplies. These necessary items were located in the dining room to the left side of the buffet which contained the dishes and silverware. The secretary's desk was so constructed that the typewriter which was secured to the top of the desk could be lowered down into the desk when not in use, and the desk top used for other purposes. The secretary as he sat at his desk faced forward, and in front of him was a stationery cabinet containing his typing paper, envelopes, and other supplies.
Santa Fe 404 business car in Topeka, Kansas
Santa Fe business railroad car 404, Topeka, Kansas, 1964.
To the right of the corridor entry door to the dining room was a divan which made down into an upper and a lower bunk, in order to accommodate other overnight occupants of the car, such as members of the staff on bridge inspection, supply car trips, etc. Incidentally, these supply cars were operated by the Stores Department personnel headquartered in Topeka, KS and would operate over the various divisions as a special train delivering the supplies ordered by the station agents, section foremen, etc. There was also an upper bunk in the secretary's room. Between the master bedroom and the secretary's room, was a small bath room which included a shower, fold down wash basin, and toilet.
Arthur Bowman, porter on the Santa Fe 404 business car
Arthur Bowman, porter on the Santa Fe 404 business car.
There were many uses made by the Superintendents of these 400 class business cars. In addition to their customary role as an aid in inspecting track and the right of way, they played an important role in Santa Fe's Safety Program. In the 60's when I was Superintendent of the Eastern Division with headquarters at Emporia, about every three months we would take the [404] business car to Chanute to assist with the quarterly Safety Meeting. We would move the car from Emporia to Ottawa on some available train, then from Ottawa to Chanute. At that time, my chef-porter was Arthur Bowman, one of the business car crewmen stationed at Topeka. When I desired to use the car, the Chief Dispatcher would notify Arthur, and he would come to Emporia in time to order supplies from the local grocer and stock and clean the car for the trip.
Santa Fe 404 business car, Topeka, Kansas
Santa Fe business railroad car 404 in Topeka, Kansas.
At Emporia, I developed a friendship with Bill White, the son of the famous editor, William Allen White. Bill was a well-known writer and foreign correspondent in his own right who had inherited the Emporia Gazette and had become its Editor, albeit a non-resident one most of the time, as he lived in New York. and relied on the Managing Editor to run the paper under his guidance. During a time when he was in Emporia for a short while, I asked him to be the program at our Rotary Club, which he did, and I put up a display in the passenger waiting room of our depot featuring interesting items about William Allen White. Later I invited him to accompany me on the [404] business car over the Second District through Ottawa, returning over the First District through Lawrence and Topeka. I had the Division Engineer, Al Ewert, along to give us some professional track information. The train service then was such that we could have lunch before leaving Emporia and dinner as we returned through Lawrence and Topeka. It so happened that this was the very last trip for the [404] business car, as we were advised the business cars were being replaced by hy-rail cars (automobile rigged with railroad wheels that could be lowered onto the track at street crossings). For five consecutive days, Mr. White wrote a long column about this trip. At the end of the last one, he related: "But that run was probably the last ever to be made by this private car. For this particular glory has departed, probably forever, from railroading. The Santa Fe has sent orders thundering out of Chicago that, as an economy measure, its division superintendents must give up their private cars. The dance is over. The lights are going out. Poor Harry Briscoe has been whittled down to size and must dead-head around his empire on day coaches like any section hand - - - - - - - - - - - -And what will happen now that Al Ewert can no longer take his notes? Let them worry about this up in Chicago." (signed) W. L. White.
Harry Briscoe, seated, in rear of Santa Fe 409 business car
Harry Briscoe in the rear of a Santa Fe business car, possibly the 409.
Shortly after Larry Cena became Vice President of Operations in Chicago, a shake up of Operating Department officers occurred, and it developed that I would be going to San Bernardino, CA effective January 1,as Superintendent of the Los Angeles Division. This was a large division, stretching from Needles, CA to both Los Angeles and San Diego, however, it had no business car. Presumably, the last assigned one had gone the way of the others when the hy-rail cars took their place. There was a rather vague invitation that I could use the car of the Assistant General Manager, my boss Charley Rollins, but this arrangement never did come to fruition.
Harry Briscoe exiting Santa Fe 409 business car
Harry Briscoe exiting the Santa Fe 409 business car.
As on the other Grand Divisions, the General Manager did have a business car, and these cars were larger and had a two-man crew, a chef and a porter. In August of 1972, I was notified that I was being transferred to Chicago as an Assistant to the Vice President of Operations, and it soon became apparent that it was the plan that I would later be sent out as a General Manager. In the meantime, I would be in charge of Quality Control, the department whose objective was the reduction of Loss and Damage. On this job, I had no assigned business car, but would on occasion accompany Mr. Cena when he made a business car trip.
Jerry Briscoe, Harry Briscoe's uncle, the superintendent of the Amarillo Division, exiting Santa Fe 409 business car
Jerry Briscoe on the rear of the Santa Fe 409 business car. As luck would have it, the same business car that had been allocated to his uncle while he was superintendent in Amarillo was later provided to his nephew, Harry.
On July 1, 1973, I came to Topeka and relieved L. M. Olson as General Manager of the Eastern Lines. Here I inherited Business Car 37 with a two-man crew as was the standard for all cars except the 400 class. My crew was Chef Charley Butcher and Porter Vince Goldrich. This car, of course, was housed and taken care of at Topeka Shops. It was larger than the 400 class and had one extra bedroom, making it possible to have overnight guests. As Chairman of the Santa Fe Hospital Association, I always invited a guest couple to accompany us when we went to Albuquerque in the Fall of the year to the annual Hospital Association meeting. I averaged at least one trip per month on the business car and frequently had the Chief Engineer and others who were involved with Maintenance and Budget items.
Santa Fe 409 business car, Wellington Kansas, 1959
Harry Briscoe on the rear of the Santa Fe 409 business car Wellington, Kansas, 1959.
On one occasion I took the business car to Anaheim, CA to take part in a scheduled meeting of the Santa Fe Personnel Department and the General Chairmen of the Operating Craft Unions. This was because Dal Fish, the General Manager of the Coast Lines, was ill and could not be present to assist Floyd Elterman, who was representing our Personnel Department.
Santa Fe 409 business car, Wellington Kansas, 1959
Harry Briscoe on the rear of the Santa Fe 409 business car Wellington, Kansas, 1959.
All the General Managers were assigned the 30 Class Business Cars, similar to the 37 described above. The Chicago officers generally used the Atchison, the Topeka or the Santa Fe. These three cars were lighter weight and were streamlined. The Santa Fe was the one used by the Chairman. When more than one business car was trained on the rear of the train, the car of the highest ranking officer would be on the rear end, preceded by other cars in the order of rank of the occupant. There was one additional car in the fleet that was unassigned and available for special use. This was The Mountainaire which had an extra bedroom and had been acquired by Santa Fe as I remember from Benjamin Fairless of United States Steel. My recollection is that this car had a total of five bedrooms, making it suitable for larger parties such as officers of the Traffic Department and their guests.
Santa Fe 409 business car, Wellington Kansas, 1959
Harry Briscoe on the rear of the Santa Fe 409 business car Wellington, Kansas, 1961.
Many things have changed on the railroads since "my day," but I am happy to see that the modem officers still occasionally find a place for the business car.

 

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