Last Work Trip of the Santa Fe 404
Transcript of 1967 Emporia Gazette "Santa Fe" Article
W.L. White, the owner and editor of the Emporia Gazette, was invited to ride in the 404 Santa Fe business car upon the occasion of it's last work trip, by Harry Briscoe, the railroad superintendent to whom it was assigned. The trip was relatively short, a round trip from Emporia, Kansas to Kansas City on the main line with the return by way of the branch line that served Topeka. Nonetheless the resulting article ran over six days in the newspaper. The series of articles was simply called "Santa Fe" over an enlarged signature and lacked any pictures.

TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE: Some original styling, spelling and typos copied intentionally.
Santa Fe
By W.L. White, Emporia Gazette, September 28, 1967
IT BEGAN A FEW weeks ago when Harry Briscoe, the Division Superintendant of the Santa Fe, asked me would I like to go with him sometime on an inspection trip of his track between here and Kansas City, and I had said I would.

We made the trip in his private car (or work car, as it is now called) which stands day and night on the most southerly siding exactly in front of the Emporia depot, except during those times when he is out inspecting trouble somewhere on the line, or closing a depot, or attending some hearing concerning a money losing depot.

Everybody in town has seen and wondered about this car, whose top is painted with aluminum off of which the summer heat is supposed to bounce. It is built like the private cars of yore, when only a few hundred millionaires in America were rich enough to own one, starting with J.P. Morgan and Bernard Baruch and ranging down to the smaller, less substantial fry.

THE ORIGINAL cost of a private care (sic) was whatever you wanted to make it, for the Pullman Company would turn you out a custom job, fitted with mahogany or walnut panelling as your wife preferred, and the same with leather for the seat cushions, and material for the curtains inside - you name it and they would stitch it up, if you wanted to pay the price.

A part of the prerogative of a private car was that it was always hitched onto the rear end of a train, so it had an observation platform in the rear, enclosed with a low railing of brightly polished brass, and room inside the brass railings for perhaps half a dozen canvas folding chairs. In those pre-air-conditioning days even the very rich, in the summer time, had to make do with exactly the same weather that the Lord in His Wisdom was handing out to the poor, so such rear vestibules were so popular that they were occupied in rotation with the rest of the car's passengers sweltering inside the observation lounge just ahead of the vestibule. They got what comfort they could when the train was moving from air through window screens which were of a fine copper mesh, and so screened out the bigger cinders and most of what breeze there might be.

THE FIRST COST of a private car was, however, only the beginning, for the railroad charged you $75 a day and a dollar a mile if they hitched it it onto the the end of one of their regularly scheduled trains. Remember you were also paying, on that private car, for your own cook, and for your own porter who made up the bunks, fetched ice cold drinks at meal times and doubled as waiter, serving you, in the private car's own dining room, whatever dainties that cook had turned out in his galley.

IF THE RAILROAD'S regularly scheduled trains did not fit your whim, and you wanted to move about the country on a time table of your own, the railroad would rent you a locomotive to pull your private car, complete with engineer, fireman and brakeman, all of which ran up considerable extra cost per mile and per day.

Even so there were, in America up through the 1920s, citizens so affluent they could afford all this until, early in the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, all the fun was ended by the stroke of someone's pen, signing an order which provided that the poor millionaires, in addition to paying all the above-listed costs, were also compelled to buy first class Pullman tickets for every seat in each private car - occupied or not; that stopped it.

What we have today is the private executive plane, which up to now soars high above the reach of envious politicians, but so far as conspicuous luxury and affluence is concerned it is poor, mean and scrawny to the glittering private car of yesteryear.

A GHOST OF THE old affluence and luxury survives in the private car which railroads provide for their division superintendents, but it has been renamed a "work car," which it actually is. The glittering brass rail around its rear vestibule, which once was polished at every stop, has now been painted a sober, labor-saving black.

Inside it is structurally the same as the old private car, but with all luxury stripped away. It has a cook's galley which adjoins a little dining room seating four people, a couple of roomette-type bedrooms, and the parlor section has, in addition to a short sofa and three of four chairs, a desk and writing table, on which Harry Briscoe's portable typewriter rests - all strictly business.

With him today is Lowell Hodson, his secretary, a handsome, sprucely dressed but somewhat silent young man, who lugs an ample brief case, and A.F. Ewert, the engineer for this division. For this is a working inspection trip and, except for me, strictly business. Harry Briscoe's work car with its aluminum-painted roof has been hooked onto the rear end of Santa Fe No. 4, so we pull out a little after noon, headed east.

Back in my day a Santa Fe landmark was the switch tower just north of the right-of-way a little beyond East Street, which was then the city limits of our town. the shanty on top was reached by a long ladder. A boy in our high school crowd (I think it was Justin Schroeder) got a night job out there, but had to work even on Saturdays, and so was missing our high school dances. Hence it became our custom, after these dances, to get into our cars and drive out to visit Justin. We always brought along his girl, who had been dancing with other boys, a fate which Justin had to accept because any Santa Fe job held a future.

VISITING JUSTIN, we would climb up this ladder to his shanty which housed two rows of long iron levers, attached to cables. By pulling the levers Justin could open or close every switch in that yard, this tower being so high in the air that Justin could see on west over the yards, clear to the old stone roundhouse and beyond.

I asked Harry Briscoe about this shanty, to find that it has been gone these many years, and is now replaced by a control center located in a closed-off room, just adjoining the waiting room in the depot. It is a kind of war-room, containing a diagram of every switch from the Emporia yards clear through, on the Santa Fe main line, to Kansas City, as well as the location of every freight and passenger train and hand car. Switches along this 112 miles of system are controlled not by the iron levers of Justin's day, but by push buttons from this war-room. Still, it was lots of fun to drive out at nights to visit Justin.
Santa Fe II
Friday, September 29, 1967
PRESENTLY WE PASS a freight train ending in a caboose. I say here at least is one part of the railroad that has not changed. They say that on the inside, you would hardly know it was a caboose. The old iron pot-bellied stove has gone, replaced by a fuel-oil stove for heating, and a propane stove for cooking, and there is even an electric ice box. The old wood benches along the sides have been replaced by foam rubber seats, and up in the cupola above the conductor now sits in a contoured swivel chair. He furthermore has a microphone and is in touch not only with his engineer, but also with the depots in Emporia, Topeka, Olathe, and Kansas City. No need any more to go out and wave lanterns and give hand signals.

HERE IN OUR work car Harry Briscoe has a walkie-talkie which should keep him in similar contact, but today there are bugs in it. He can talk with Alex Bosley, our engineer up ahead but as for the rest, he can hear them but they cannot hear him, so messages must be relayed through the train conductor.

WE PASS ANOTHER freight train pulling flatcars loaded with piggy-back steel containers which here can double as truck bodies. At the freight depot such a container can be picked up from the flat car by a crane and set down on a truck chassis, can then move by highway to its final destination, saving an enormous amount of muscle in loading and unloading. These piggy-back containers are a revolution in transportation both by land and sea. Such a container can be picked up by a crane from a flatcar and set down on the deck of an ocean freighter. Across the Atlantic or Pacific, another crane picks it up and sets it down on another flatcar or truck chassis. The longshoreman with his cargo sling is on the way out, and the chore of loading or unloading a ship which once took days now can be done in hours.

Spotting this trend, the Japanese are now building special freighters which can carry scores of these steel piggy-back containers, and insist that they have made obsolete every other type of freighter which now floats on the ocean. In the river off Saigon's docks are scores of freighters deep in the water with war supplies, awaiting their turn to be unloaded, which often stretches from weeks into months. If all were equipped to carry piggy-backs, they could be emptied and sent on their way in hours. the use of piggy-back containers on the Santa Fe, they tell me, is growing by about ten per cent a year, and those which hold foods are kept refrigerated during the trip.

FOR US ON OUR private car, the new thing is the ride. The old clickety-click of rail joints (with a tiny jolt along with each click) is gone forever, starting with 1950 when the Santa Fe first began installing ribbon rails. Rails which once used to be thirty feet long are now 1,440 feet (roughly a quarter mile) and the distance between those clicks may be as much as three miles. I first rode such mysteriously silent, clickless rails out of Paris just after the war, for the process was invented by the French engineer Bouret. It is a not-too-simple matter of welding those thirty foot rails togther into this continuous ribbon.

What about heat expansion? Of course Bouret had to consider that, and the answer is plenty of a new kind of creeper which joins ties to rails, so tightly that expansion is forced outward and upward, instead of lengthwise. The Santa Fe has two of Bouret's welding plants, originally installed and supervised by French engineers. Both are portable and can be used wherever needed on the system, to set up stockpiles of ribbon rails. One is now in Emporia, the other out in California.

BUT EXPANSION, CONTRACTION from temperature changes is still a problem and the worst time, says Division Engineer Ewert is not as you might think, our scorching Kansas summers. (80 at night up to 115 at noon) but our winters, when the temperature may be 50 at noon, but can drop to below zero at night - a shift in 12 hours of 60 degrees - which really puts Bouret's ribbon rails and creepers to a test.

I ask about the long-train controversy. Back in the 1920s Clyde Reed of Parsons got his start to the governorship by representing the Big Four Brotherhoods in Washington in protest against 300-car trains. When they started and stopped, he pointed out, as the train took up slack the train crew would almost get thrown out of the caboose by the final whip-crack jerk.

Changes in railroading, they tell me, took care of that issue. Once nobody cared how long the freight took. Then came cargoes of perishable foods which needed speed, and this is impossible for long trains. Maximums have now been raised to 90 miles per hour for passenger trains and 70 for freight which means short trains - about 75 cars. A freight train of 150 today is rare.

How the business has changed! Where now are the long trains of cattle cars, loaded with bawling white-face steers in the Flint Hills, and headed for packing houses in Kansas City, Omaha, or Chicago? Or the cars of chicken crates which Bus Jensen used to ride each year from Emporia to New York, to make sure that his Plymouth Rock charges got plenty of water on the trip?

CHANGES IN THE business, they say. New York now eats not Kansas chickens but ones raised in batteries just beyond its own suburbs. And as for the big packing houses of yesteryear, Harry Briscoe says that an Armour man recently told him that the company now owns not an acre of ground in all Chicago - its killing plants have been fragmented and scattered into hundreds of towns, including ours. So what now moves by rail is not live cattle but chilled carcasses, of which more can be hung in a refrigerator car.

Then another question: back in the old days when a train paused at a station, always crews passed alongside, clanging the wheels with hammers to detect cracks, and looking for hotboxes; what has become of this pleasant custom? They ask me to wait a minute, and then point out an inconspicuous-looking box along the right of way. It is an elctronic hotbox dectector, made, they say, by Servo. Lenses are focused on a level with the moving train's wheels, and the temperature data put on a tape. If the temperature curve jumps far above normal, this is a hotbox and, since every car has four wheels on each side, all the tape reader need do is divide by four, and has exactly which car it is on the train, and which of its wheels is in trouble. This way, no one gets a finger blistered.
Santa Fe III
Saturday, September 30, 1967
GLIDING SILENTLY on the Santa Fe's new ribbon rails through the Kansas countryside, green with this summer's lush rains, we pass Ottawa's new station, built to look as much as possible like an airport. People like it that way. Ottawa's old depot of native stone, further in towards town, they managed to give away to the local historical society. It is not easy, they say, to give away an old depot; many are torn down to save taxes.

Just this side of the depot a Missouri Pacific freight is passing a hundred yards away on their right of way. A little further on, they say, is the point where the tracks bend south to cross ours. But there can be no argument as to which train beats the other to this crossing, or any chance of a tangle. Electronics again comes in. Since we seem to be slightly ahead, presently the Missouri Pacific will get an automatic signal to slow down and let us come first. The freight's green light will not come on until after our work car has passed over. Even Boutet has not been able to take the clatter out of such line crossings, but everything else here is handled by electronics, with no need to take chances with a fallible human being.

I ASK about Labor Relations: How does Harry Briscoe get along with Francis Dotson? Oh fine, he says, always did, except that Francis is no longer head of the Brotherhood's grievance committee, that roost now being ruled by Art Weidner. But he gets along just as well with Art. What people don't understand, he says, that the Santa Fe's management always gets along with the unions down here at the local level. Both sides leave all the hollering and ruckaboo to the higher-ups in Washington. If, way up there, they decide to rock the nation's economy with either an exorbitant wage boost or a strike, both sides down here at the bottom will smilingly carry out their orders without a harsh word between them. Relations, locally, couldn't be better, and always have been, as far as he can remember.

Al Ewert, Division Engineer, says he knew the Dotsons in Newton, which is where he comes from, and that they were fine people. He particularly knew John Dotson, Francis's uncle, who owned a produce house. He had been an all-rate basketball forward, and still loved the game to the point where he had fixed up a basketball court in a loft over his produce house, opened it to everybody, and all the boys came to play there. It was, he remembered, a public spirited family. Francis was a very smart boy, and the family put up an awful fight trying to make him go to college, which he had decided he would not like. He did go to K. U. for a while, but after a year or so refused to go back, so the family lost. But Al Ewert can't see that Francis was hurt by it.

EMPORIA USED to brag up the Santa Fe as its leading industry, so I ask a few questions as to how it is doing these days. Harry Briscoe immediately goes to the car's work desk and dives into that battered brief case which Lowell Hudson has brought aboard, and which seems to hold the answer to any question you can think up about the Santa Fe.

Its Emporia payroll, says the brief case, is about $5 million a a year,and is paid out to 620 employees, figures which would put it around the Teachers College. As a taxpayer (if this is to its credit) the Santa Fe is way out in front. In 1966 it paid $173,306.65 into the Lyon County treasury, and this does not count the taxes its 620 well-paid and well-housed employees paid on their homes. In all, the entire state of Kansas clipped the Santa Fe for $5 million in taxes last year.

Then I tell them about a story I intended to write severalyears ago, but had never got around to it - about how unfairly the railroads are treated in this matter of taxes, compared to their competitors, the airplanes and trucks. Railroads are the backbone of our country, but most stagger under a terrific tax burden from which their keen competitors are free. Railroads must pay taxes in their stations, while most airports are owned by cities or their subdivisions, and so are off the tax-rolls. Transcontinental planes fly over Kansas, paying no more taxes than do the birds. But the Santa Fe, crossing Kansas, must pay taxes on every tie, rail and square foot of right of way, all of which must go into the cost of a railroad ticket.

THE CIVIL Aeronautics Authority maintains, for the safety of air passengers, a vast and costly network of radio beacons which costs the air lines not one thin dime, but is paid for by the federal government. And we have seen part of the Santa Fe's elaborate electronic safety system, all of it on the tax rolls, paid for by Santa Fe and manned by Santa Fe employees.

Now take interstate trucks. True, their gasoline taxes and fees pay some, maybe most, of the cost of building and maintaining the two-lane highways over which most of them travel. But it does not cover taxes on the enormous amount of land these highways occupy - far more land than a railroad needs, and all of it off the tax rolls. A railroad, on its comparatively narrow right of way, can carry 10 times the passengers and freight that moves over a two-lane highway, and do it faster and far more cheaply. If land taxes on those super-highways were added to the gasoline taxes, passengers and freight would come swarming back to the railroads and half our traffic problems would vanish in a year.

Up to now the Santa Fe men in our work car had just been listening, not even egging me on. But now Harry Briscoe said this was just part of it - I had forgotten inland waterways, There was a great political clamor for them, because it was argued that water freight was cheaper. Cheaper, Harry Briscoe pointed out, only because the taxpayers shouldered the entire cost of maintaining the right-of-way - digging it, and keeping it dredged. A railroad maintains its own track (and pays taxes on it) but if one of those barges get stuck on a mud bank, they squeal to high heavens for the government to come and get them off, and the government comes running. And that St. Lawrence Seaway, which claimed to make Chicago an ocean port, was one of the biggest boondoggles of all time. But if I ever tried to write all this, someone would start hollering about all the government land given to the railroads about a hundred years ago - every other section along the right of way. The facts are, said Harry Briscoe, that the Santa Fe sold off all its Kansas land at an average of $5 an acre for a total price of $23 million. But in exchange for this land, the Santa Fe had had to give reduced rates on government freight and passengers. And that before this act was repealed in the late 1940's, these reductions had mounted to $189 million. But that when you started explaining all this, most people just stopped listening.

So I said my article probably was not worth writing because nothing would come of it, that our old standards of fairness seemed to have gone out the window, and that the railroads might be the backbone of our nation but the public cared only about kicking its lower end because what people now wanted was something new, by land, sea or air, regardless of cost, provided they did not seem to be paying any of it, and that things would have to get a lot worse (as they would) before they could start getting better. So we all might as well look out the window.
Santa Fe IV
Monday, October 2, 1967
We could see the right of way behind us winding down what railroaders call the Olathe Hill - 14 two degree curves, they said - cut through the yellow limestone of those high Kaw Valley bluffs which stand on each side of the river bottom, alongside which the two little towns of Westport and Wyandotte were built - both of them now Kansas City.

Presently we pass a wonder of which I have never heard - the Strauss Quarry, which is a cave in this limestone ledge big enough to hold 60 freight cars of frozen foods of all kinds. For the temperature inside, they say, is an even 52 degrees the year round, and it is in this cave that refrigerator cars wait - protected from the beating summer sun - until their cargoes can be shifted to trucks. Along this part of the line they are expanding the Kansas City yards - huge yellow gashes bulldozed out of the yellow limestone to widen the existing right of way - it seems to stretch for miles and who can say that the railroads are shrivelling? Certainly the Santa Fe is not.

WE ARE NOW sliding past the old two-story high ceilinged Victorian limestone depot at Argentine, and Harry Briscoe remembers that in the '51 flood, they had to reach its tall, narrow, second-story windows by boat. We talk about all the rain we had in this, the wettest Kansas summer I can remember and I wonder why all of it had not kicked us up a flood. They say it is probably due to the recently-completed dams on the Kaw, which hold the water back, and may continue to do this forever more, or at least until they silt up. And I say that, as a tiny boy, I can remember being on a train crawling through Argetine during the big 1905 flood, with one engine cow-catcher making ripples in the water on each side of us like the prow of a boat.

Argentine is exactly the frontier post of harry Briscoe's empire - the point actually being Milepost 8 which is just this side of Argentine, and this Empire then extends southwest to what they now call the Old Merrick Tower at the west end of the Emporia yards. This tower is no longer an operating switch shanty, having been put out of business by electronics as have most of them, but has not yet been torn down, being used as a warehouse for switching equipment.

BUT THROUGH most of Emporia's history Argentine has been famous among railroaders because it was the end of the line for most train crews on this division - the place where they spent the night before dead-heading back to Emporia, and in this connection there is a story about Argentine told me by another railroader - not by any of the fine, clean-cut college graduates aboard Harry Briscoe's car, but by one who might be called more coarse in fiber - and it came about a few years back when I was bugging him about how, in these diesel days, all firemen had a life of ease, with no need to wash coal dust out of their callouses, if they had any callouses.

Well, this more coarse fibered railroader admitted there might be a little something to it, and began reminiscing about the firemen in the old days, when the firemen really had to sweat, stripped to the waist, and shovelling coal from the coal car behind, into the square door-hole through which you could see the bluish-red flames, shimmering below the coil of steam pipes, which led to the boiler, and the coal banked below shimmering pink lava.

NOW WORK like this, my more coarse-fibered railroader-friend said, really made men out of boys, and you couldn't find an ounce of fat on any of those old-time firemen, it was all muscle, and when one of them, at the end of his run, swung off the train light as a panther onto the pink brick platform of that Argentine depot, the girls in the cat houses there could hardly wait, the poor dears having had to make out, for most of the previous week, on a Metrecal-type diet of necktie salesmen and such transient drop-ins, all of which I see no reason to doubt because my coarser-fibered railroad friend is not a fireman himself but an engineer, and so would have no cause to brag up firemen unless those were the facts.

Just beyond Argentine we then saw, on the north side of the tracks, a whole gaggle of yellow and black locomotives - maybe 20, maybe 50, we were going by too fast to count - stacked up on sidings in front of a round-house type building, and I asked was this a kind of garage for repairing and overhauling diesels, and they said well you could call it that, and not too long after this they were pulling us into the train shed of the Kansas City Union Depot.

WILLIAM A. GOSSETT, the Santa Fe's passenger master for this depot, and some other railroad men, met us on the platform. He is a handsome man with a crop of thick, white hair over a pink face and got aboard to ride with us around the balloon track, a short piece of trackage which is shaped exactly like those balloons which were useful for ascensions at county fairs many years ago. Since you have arrived at the platform with the locomotive first, you back out, and are switched onto this balloon track which takes you around a hill, still backing, and then, still backing, you slide back into the depot beside the same platform you left, except the train is turned around, with the locomotive facing away from the station, ready to start on its trip. The balloon track performs the same function as the turnatable in a round-house except it turns a whole train around, but ordinarily no one gets to ride the balloon track but train crews.

Riding around on this, they asked Bill Gossett and his Kansas City friends what was going on, and he said things were quiet so far as the Santa Fe was concerned, but his opposite number working for another road had had a little spurt of excitement. This man a while back had got a morning call from the wife of one of his trainmen, who lives here in Kansas City, saying her husband was dead and wanting to know all about his last paycheck and his pension. Well, going into what happened to this trainman, it turned out she had just shot him while he was in bed with her. It seems she had found out he had another wife, or something like that, at the other end of his run - a white woman. So his Kansas City wife had waited until he got into bed with her, and then told him what she had learned and before he could come up with some alibi (which couldn't have been a very good one anyway) she had let him have it with a little .32 she had hidden under her pillow. At this range she not be expected to miss. You could hardly blame her for getting right on the phone to the road as soon as the office opened; she didn't want any part of his pay or pension going to that white woman at the other end of the line. In the end she got just what she asked for, the jury or judge, when they heard the whole story, having decided she had acted in self defense or something, but aside from this, things were pretty quiet.
Santa Fe V
Tuesday, October 3, 1967
WE WERE OFF THE balloon track, and back in the depot on our siding. Harry Briscoe's private car now being just the opposite to where the escalators carry people up to the main waiting room.

On the platform beside us is a baggage truck loaded with two open cases, each containing a stuffed moose head with huge antlers, and both addressed from some place in Denver to a doctor in Savannah, Ga. We examined all this, and then figured that this Savannah doctor must have shot them in Canada, and then sent them to Denver where probably there was some specialist in moose-stuffing, and that each moose head probably was worth its weight in gall stones, and the Savannah doctor's wife was probably pretty mad because those things would be stinking up her living room for years to come, until he had his coronary and then she could get rid of them.

THEN WE WENT to the escalator and got on, Bill Gossett starting it with a key he carries. At the upper level I looked around for Slim Campbell, the greatest end the Emporia Hornets ever produced, who then went on to play with the New York Giants, and then came back to Kansas and a Santa Fe job standing at one of the portals in the waiting room checking tickets, looking handsome as ever in his uniform. I wanted Slim to know that I was now being wafted around by his railroad in a private car, not bragging of course, but giving him a little piece of information he might not otherwise have, but Slim was not there, and Bill Gossett said Slim was probably at his desk in his office - because Slim now has a desk and an office in that big depot.

The old station, when it was built, many decades ago, had a stately beauty second only to the recently-torn-down Pennsylvania Station in New York City. Once its only concessions were its Fred Harvey Restaurant, the best in the Middlewest (it still is) and the news stand which also housed one of the best book stores in our part of the country.

But over the years a gaudy supermarket of souvenirs and knicknacks has slowly moved in. You can buy dolls and ball-point pens and celluloid replicas of Indians and cowboys, and soda pop and fancy ash trays and of course books and periodicals as well as comics. All this change has come slowly, as the railroads needed income to meet the staggering tax bill assessed against all such imposing stations. The latest change is that the old high-backed oak benches in the waiting room have given way to gaily-colored plastic contour chairs, of the type you see in air terminals.

WE GO ON upstairs where, in an office overlooking Kansas City's skyline, we meet the young boss-man of this station, Robert E. MacMillan, who represents the 12 railroads who own it. One-third of the employees, he tells us, are engaged in handling mail and luggage. The operating costs are divided among the 12 railroads on the basis of cars in and out for each under an agreement made back in 1909. The Santa Fe, which does 52 per cent of the business, pays in proportion.

There was, he says, a terrible yell when they recently replaced those old benches, although he thinks most people welcome the new posture chairs. But some women agonized about how they had seen their loved ones off to war on those old oak benches, or been courted on them, or things of that nature. But he feels railroads must keep up with the times. He has been able to sell only eight, he says, for a maximum price of $35 per bench, and the rest are in storage. He hopes to move most of the rest for church pews.

We admire his view of Kansas City's skyline and the yards, and get from him a few figures. Since the yards extend over into Kansas, his terminal pays taxes to both states. In 1966 they were $566,611 to Missouri and $176,003 to Kansas. Its only income is from concessions, the biggest being the Fred Harvey set-up, so no wonder they are selling pop, razors, aspirin, and plastic Indian souvenirs to cut the losses the 12 railroads pay.

THEN WE GO downstairs to watch how they handle the mail, a wonder which few people see, for it is deep in a vast, dim-lit basement. Hung from the ceiling is an ever-moving belt, along which mail pouches move. Underneath this belt, mail cars are parked, each beneath a gate alongside the moving belt.

The heart of the operation is a room we never get to see, where mail sacks are put onto the moving belt. Each sack bears an address which means it must get to a particular mail car on one of the many mail tains which are hauled out of Kansas City by these 12 railroads. Before a sack is put on the moving belt the clerk, reading the address, punches one of many buttons, which make sure that when, on this moving belt, the sack comes alongside the particular mail cart which will go to that particular mail car, a gate alongside the moving belt just above this truck opens, and something kicks the mail sack out on this particular truck, and the gate snaps shut again.

They tell me that this button punching system is based on the time it will take each mail sack to reach exactly its right truck as the belt moves along. Beyond this crude explanation I cannot go, but it is weird to watch.

Once we thought this electronic system had made a mistake when it kicked out two mail sacks onto a particular truck, almost together. But when Harry Briscoe stepped over to read the labels on the mail bags, both were going to the same town. It was all wonderful and fast, and it replaces tedious man-hours of work without counting, and must have cost a pot of money.

WE HAVE NOW killed enough time so that we can go back to the platform, where Harry Briscoe's private car has been hitched onto the hind end of No. 11, for the ride back to Emporia. Al Ewert, the division engineer, is sitting in the rear seat where he has a clear view back down the track, with a notebook in one hand and a ballpoint in the other. He joins the talk but is always looking down the track. From time to time there will be an unimportant little jiggle, or the car will sway almost un-noticeably. Then Al Ewert will suddenly stop talking or listening, and make a quick notation in his notebook. When I ask, he explains that he is making a note of places where something needs to be done on the right of way - maybe a little more ballast here, or maybe one rail has sagged slightly - anyway he noted down the number of the telegraph pole - it could be pole 8 beyond milepost 79, and a few days later some section hands will get out to that particular spot to look into the trouble.

We are returning toEmporia not on the main line via Ottawa, as we had come, but by the older (and longer) line through Lawrence and Topeka. When the road was first built this was the main line because the pioneer railroads, hungry for business, grew as does a poor tendril - cross-country zigzagging from little town to to little town, to pick up what freight it could. As they grew older, and richer, with more through trains, for these they would build new main-line track, straightening out the original kinks. My father, for insurance, always referred to the Santa Fe's present main line as "the Ottawa Cut-off," a phrase dating back almost to his boyhood when the Santa Fe had straightened its main line trackage by eliminating Topeka and Lawrence, which are now on a feeder line. Because it is only that and does not handle the fast transcontinental freight and passenger trains, signals here are not automatic and controlled from Emporia,but are the old block signal type of my youth.
Santa Fe VI
Wednesday, October 4, 1967
THE SANTA FE'S early dreams of its future still are embalmed in its name, - Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe - this last town also giving it the cross within the circle - which is still stenciled on its freight cars. But today it starts in Chicago, not Atchison (which is on a branch line) and ends in Los Angeles, and you reach Santa Fe only by taking a bus from Lamy Junction. Another hunk of its history is in the name of Holliday, a tiny station (not even a whistling post) beyond Argentine. Who, watching Holliday flash by, remembers Ben Holliday, immortalized by Mark Twain as the greatest stage driver of his times, who later went into railroading, and was the Santa Fe's first president?

Looking back down the tracks as Al Ewert takes his notes, I see much I had not noticed before. There is a sign along the right of way "60-55." They explain that this is for the engineers, since a railroad has speed limits as does a highway. At this point passenger trains must slow down to 60 miles an hour, and freights to 55.

AFTER WE LEAVE TOPEKA the car attendant comes to tell us dinner is served, so we go forward to the little dining room where he lays on four very fine T-bones, each broiled to rare, medium or well, according to the orders he had taken half an hour ago. The T-bones, they tell me, came from Joe Cannon, not just because Joes carries good meat with age on it, but because Joe will deliver it at any hour of the day or night, which matters when you are running a private car which may have to make a quick run without notice to some scene of trouble.

So then at last we pass milepost No. 111, with the Emporia depot just ahead, as familiar as an old shoe. The run from Holliday to the depot, they tell me, is exactly 112 miles.

BUT THAT RUN was probably the last 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 superintendants must give up their private cars.

The dance is over. The curtain has come down. The orchestra is packing up its fiddles to go home. 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, if you are looking for luxury on the Santa Fe, so far as its employees are concerned, you must look for it in the caboose, where the unions have posture chairs and cook stoves and ice boxes, and maybe next will demand chintz curtains and foam rubber divans for the entertainment of guests, if the boys can get their Ladies Auxiliaries to go along with them on these final demands. Who knows? Maybe they will.

And what will happen now that Al Ewert can no longer take his notes? Let them worry about this up in Chicago.
TTM is a registered 501(c)(3) charity
11731 Wetmore Road
San Antonio, Texas 78247
(210) 490-3554
Find Us on Google Maps
9:00 AM - 3:00 PM
(Last Admittance - 2:00 PM)
9:00 AM to 4:00 PM
(Last Admittance - 3:30 PM)
9:00 AM to 4:00 PM
(Last Admittance - 3:30 PM)
10:30 AM, 11:30 AM, 12:30 PM
1:30 PM, 2:30 PM, 3:30 PM
Adults (Ages 13 and up) - $10
Child (Ages 4-12) - $8
Child (Under Age 4) - FREE
Train rides included with admission.

$1 off admission per person
when train rides not running.
Admission rates vary for Holiday, Special
and Night Events.
We accept:
Allow at least 90 minutes to see the
entire museum and ride the train
2019 TTM Special Events
Click links for more information
Subscribe To Our Mailing List
For Regular Updates on TTM Events
* indicates required
Related Links