GM&N’s firm but considerate treatment of its unions was only one
part of a much broader program. The
Company desired to live on friendly terms with its workers, but it also
wanted, and in fact had to have, a superior kind of employee loyalty and
co-operation if the road was to grow.
for the management, the GM&N’s labor force was made up of a highly
stable group. Most of
the employees of the road were native-born whites, a majority of whom
had lived all their lives in the territory of the road.
Thus they knew that the management was not trying to deceive them
when statements were issued which said that the road was in bad shape. Many of these employees had worked for the predecessor
companies from the time the road opened.
Some of these employees had worked previously for various lumber
concerns and had been laid off when these mills ceased operations.
They knew at first hand that the timber was being cut out, thus
potentially depriving them of their jobs.
the most loyal group of all the employees were the Negroes who were
fortunate enough to work for the road.
World War I had brought some changes, it is true, but in rural
agricultural Mississippi in 1920, a Negro considered himself to be “in
luck” when he had a steady job with a railroad.
Such a job generally assured better working conditions than most
other Negroes had, together with a fairly steady flow of cash income.
The railroads, knowing this, had generally been careful to employ
only those Negroes who had shown exceptional qualities of loyalty and
willingness to work.
Negro employees of the Transportation Department of the GM&N had a
special reason to be loyal to the Company.
In the early months of 1921, as the postwar down turn deepened
and layoffs became unavoidable, some of the white employees decided that
the jobs held by Negroes should be made available to the nonworking
white men. As a result, demands were made on the company to
discharge all Negro employees in the transportation department. Mr. Tigrett later told the story in these words:
“It is true that in 1921,
during the depression, the representative of the four Train Service
Brotherhood notified the Management on Saturday that, regardless of
their contracts, the
members of their organizations would walk out on the following Monday
unless the Management agreed to discharge all Negroes in the
Transportation Department. It
is true that they were asking us to violate our contract by so doing.
It is equally true that they did not carry out their threat, but
for months afterward Negro employees were cowed, and beaten, and shot
at, and one or two were killed. This is the darkest stain in our labor history, but one which
time and a higher class of citizenship have almost eliminated”
Although the road in 1921 could
ill afford to run the risk of a strike by all its transportation
employees, the full weight of the Company was put behind the effort to
prevent molestation of its Negro employees.
In an attempt to win the more moderate white employee to the
support of the Negroes and the Company, an agreement was made to cease
employing any new Negro workmen during the period.
The GM&N News, after
it was started, carried editorials and stories which appealed to the
employees to stop acts of violence.
One of the best of these is quoted as follows:
“It is quite probable that
every man and woman connected with the Gulf, Mobile and Northern is more
or less familiar with the lawless and cowardly acts which have taken
place on our line during the past year.
For the most part, this
lawlessness has consisted of either the murder or the attempt to murder
defenseless negroes who were engaged in their regular work, the negroes,
of course, being in the open, while, as is the usual case with the
assassin, the latter stayed under the cover of darkness, or otherwise
hid. The vital question
which every honorable engineer, conductor, fireman or brakeman is
concerned with today is whether or not these law breakers and murderers
will be allowed to pursue their way unpunished.
for all parties, the postwar down turn was short lived and the tenseness
of the situation passed as most of the furloughed employees were
returned to their jobs. Many
of the Negroes who were employees in those difficult years remained and
worked for the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio when that merger took place and the
position of the Company remained unchanged in its determination to
support all its employees in their right to work.
As a result of this policy and similar decisions at later periods
the GM&O was able to remain outside the legal entanglements of court
cases which emerged in later years involving the rights of Negro
spite of the problems created by racial animosity and competition for
jobs, these two groups of employees generally worked well together, and
both groups in general were well above the national average in loyalty
and devotion. They had not
had the training, however, to operate a first-class railroad; neither
had they felt, for a long time at least, that they were working for a
successful road. Long and difficult receiverships are not conducive to
confidence in any business venture.
Furthermore, the poor condition of the track and rolling stock
worked against the employees’ taking pride in their work and company.
task was to develop a will to win among its employees and to give them
confidence that, by harder effort, the road could really become
something of which all employees could be proud.
the end of the first six months’ operations in 1921, physical
conditions on the GM&N had definitely improved.
New rolling stock was on hand, with more on the way. The track had been built to a position of relative stability.
The 12 per cent reduction in wage rates was to take effect on
July 1, as ordered by the Railroad Labor Board; yet productivity per
worker was increasing. The time had come to attack further along the line of
employee morale and co-operation.
had established the policy in 1920 of full and frank discussion of
employee problems in group meetings.
This plan of group contact with the employees was continued when
the occasion arose, but other means of communication were felt to be
necessary to speed up the growth of loyalty and interest in the road.
The first issue of the GM&N News came out on November
4, 1921. J. B.
Haman was the editor who began the publication on a trial basis.
“Jake” as he soon became known, was an instant success and a
tremendous force for growth until his death in an automobile accident in
News started out as a working house organ.
In his first issue, Haman announced that it was being published
“by the road, for the benefit of the road.” He also said that its
purpose “chiefly is to draw us all closer together, to make us feel
that we are all of one big family, to get us better acquainted with each
other.” As Mr. Tigrett said, in speaking of what he wanted the News
to do, ‘We are looking toward better service, increased revenue, and
more economic operation. Surely
we all are interested in those three things and will cooperate with the
management in bringing them about, for without them the road cannot
prosper, cannot meet its expenses, and you and I, the employees of the
road, must suffer.’
lead article in this first issue of the News was a letter of
commendation from J. W. Platten, Chairman of the Board of Directors,
following his annual inspection trip.
He especially commented on the improvements made on the line by
the employees. The “pat
on the back” was flanked, however, by a request for all employees to
get behind a campaign for additional business so the road could earn its
expenses in 1921. At the
end of September it appeared that the road’s railway operating revenue
would not cover its expenses by about $100,000.
A special solicitation campaign was started to get an additional
$1,000,000 in gross business in the last months of 1921.
It was this campaign which the News was pushing in its
November 4 issue.
the December 16, 1921, issue of the News, Mr. Tigrett prepared to
admit failure in the campaign to get a million dollars in new business.
The employees were advised that the management did not expect the
impossible and would not blame employees for conditions beyond their
control. The general
decline in business conditions throughout the country was given as the
reason the Company could not expect to achieve its goal.
the end of 1921 few if any of the GM&N’s employees doubted the
interest, loyalty and sincerity of the man in charge of the road’s
“New Year’s Message,” which was printed in the News just
before the end of the year, should have helped convince any who still
doubted. It is quoted in
full in Figure 3.
NEW YEAR’S MESSAGE
December 30, 1921
To those valued men and women who, during the past year,
have given their energy and ability to this Railroad--theirs and
ours--I send most appreciative greetings.
There are many problems which will confront us in the New
Year problems pertaining to our relations with each other, relating to
our shippers, and relating to our Government.
In settling all of these problems, the mind and voice of each
of us can be a helpful factor.
There is, I think, a passage in the Scriptures which
urges both employer and employees to be just and equitable to each
other. I strongly cherish
the hope that every officer and every employee will join in a fixed
determination that this teaching shall be adhered to on the Gulf,
Mobile and Northern.
I cherish the further hope that officers and employees
will join with each other in a determination to pitch our standard of
living on a higher plane so that we may be not only more useful to
each other, but more useful also in the development of the communities
in which we live, and more helpful to the fellow man with whom we come
I. B. TIGRETT, President
an effort to improve the morale of employees and to get all of them
interested in the problems of the road, the News announced a
monthly contest in letter writing with prizes for the best ones
submitted. First topic was to be, ‘What is the most important problem
facing the Gulf, Mobile and Northern Railroad, and how I would solve
H. B. Wiseman was, until November 1,1922, Home Demonstration Agent for
Union County, Mississippi. Effective
this date, however, she became an employee of the GM&N to work with
the wives and children of employees of the GM&N in an effort to
improve their home life and living standards.
The Mississippi State Extension Department was brought into the
plan so that clubs of employee wives and daughters could compete in the
state-wide contests sponsored by the department.
an impromptu meeting of employees held in New Albany, Mississippi, in
the first part of December, 1922, Mr. Tigrett announced that the year
just closing would be the best in the history of the GM&N.
He said that the Company had made money, but none would be paid
out for dividends. All
available funds were being spent on improvements of plant or equipment,
in keeping with the Company’s policy of developing from earnings
Tigrett shared his “New Year’s Greetings Message with his two top
assistants in 1923. P.
E. Odell new General Manager, who was hired after the sudden death of
Vice-President Sparks, and F. M. Hicks, Traffic Manager, joined in
thanks to the employees and a request for added efforts in the year
of the growing feeling of comradeship among the employees was the first
annual ball given in Mobile by the general office employees on December
30,1922. Mobile had been
the site of the general office of the road for approximately 25 years,
but prior to this time employees had not felt close enough to have a
group party of this type.
News of September 21,1923, carried a story of the intention of
the GM&N Home Economics Club to hold its fair at Laurel in
conjunction with the South Mississippi Fair.
Four hundred dollars in prizes were to be awarded, and
competition was expected to be keen.
Mrs. Wiseman was to be in charge.
Apparently this phase of employee relations was prospering.
an inspection trip of the road in October, 1923, Mr. Tigrett issued the
TO THE MEN AND WOMEN WHO ARE OPERATING THE GULF, MOBILE
& NORTHERN R.R.
I have just finished an inspection trip covering all the
property of our line which we are now operating.
While we are far from perfection; while we have much work
to do immediately; and while we have many problems in the future, still
it gives me a lot of pleasure and satisfaction to be able to say that I
feel sure our physical condition and our organization is better today
than at any time in the history of the railroad. I am delighted with the results which we are now getting, and
with the prospect of continued improvement.
Every now and then, I have felt that I would have to give
up my railroad work. However,
when I think of the associations with you which I have formed in working
out the difficulties which have beset us; and when I think of the
generous co-operation and constant loyalty which you have given me, I
confess that I always weaken in the thought of severing these
August 1924, the employees in the Operating and Traffic Departments
decided to have a company-wide picnic.
It was held at Louisville, Mississippi, and reflected much the
same spirit as the Mobile General Office ball.
Everyone not urgently needed to operate trains that day showed up
and enjoyed the baseball games, swimming, and dancing, to say nothing of
the food provided by the GM&N Ladies’ Home Demonstration Club of
Louisville. In rural
Mississippi in 1924, nothing could have been more indicative of good
morale than outings and parties such as these, where all employees took
part as if they truly “belonged.”
September, 1924, Mr. Platten made another tour of the line, and Haman
phrased the sentiments of the Board Chairman thus: “In addition to the
physical changes in the property, there has been a decided change in the
attitude of the personnel. Three
years ago, a spirit of dogged determination only was manifested, while
this year this spirit had been supplanted by one of enthusiastic belief
in the property.”
Board of Directors in November, 1924, gave a share of preferred stock to
“Uncle Billy” Crawford, oldest white employee in time of service
connected with the GM&N. One
clause from “Uncle Billy’s” letter of thanks said:
While it is true that I have spent most of my life in the
service of this Company and have made some sacrifice, the kindness of
the present management has more than amply repaid me for any hardships
that I might have endured.”
the close of 1924 Mr. Odell joined with Mr. Tigrett in sending Christmas
greetings to the employees. His
statement, which was aimed primarily at the operating employee, was a
strong challenge to continue the good work throughout 1925. The message is quoted in Figure 4.
December 19, 1924
When one thinks of a railroad, it is track, engines,
cars, etc., that one usually has in mind, and yet all of this
enormously expensive physical equipment and machinery is inert and
valueless except as it is energized and made to do useful work by
The success of any railroad, as well as the happiness and
well being of those in its service, depend solely on the interest and
loyalty of those actively engaged in the operation of the property, in
all its details.
Not only must the physical and mechanical features be
kept in good condition and worked efficiently, but of equal importance
is the maintenance of proper relations between the railroad and the
public, and in this no employee is too obscure to exert a beneficial
It seems not an exaggeration to assume that the unusual
success of the Gulf, Mobile, and Northern for the past few years has
been due to just this enthusiastic and loyal effort.
On this approach of the holidays, it affords me great
pleasure to extend you the sincere wish for a Merry Christmas and
Happy New Year, and my heartfelt thanks for the splendid cooperation
that has brought about these results.
In thanking you all for this fine teamwork, I can not
refrain from indulging the pleasing thought that continuance of same
good work did continue. Looking
back now, it is easy to see that by Christmas of 1924 the employees of
the GM&N had been molded into a highly effective team.
In the less than five years since March, 1920, the management had
in large measure achieved one major objective.
Most GM&N employees were interested in the road as well as
their job, and they were proud to be associated with the Company.
Mr. Odell, speaking of the winners of a fuel conservation
campaign said: “It is certainly a great pleasure to be associated with
men who are so thoroughly interested in their work, and who take such
fine and active interest in the welfare of their Company.
of the big reasons for this fact was that accomplishments were truly
good. The News in
May, 1925, carried the following:
SOMETHING TO BE PROUD OF
During the month of April the
following new records were established on the Gulf, Mobile and Northern:
Best fuel performance in the
history of the Road;
Fifty per cent reduction in
No main line derailments;
Only one engine failure;
Exceptionally good “on time”
Increased the northbound average
train load from 1303 tons to 1367 tons.
of the employees and those of the road went so smoothly in 1925 that Mr.
Tigrett felt he should guard against overconfidence, which might cause
harm in the future. The
road was not so strong that it could stand severe trials, nor were the
employees fully protected against business reverses.
In his “Thanksgiving Message for 1925”, which is quoted in
Figure 5, Mr. Tigrett tried to warn against future troubles and to
counsel his employees to develop a frugal spirit.
His bank-developed sense of caution was much in evidence.
With the advent of another Thanksgiving Day, I believe
each one of us will be willing to pause for a moment to give thanks
for the happy year which the Gulf, Mobile and Northern family has
spent, knit still closer together in ties of friendship and loyalty.
We have, I believe, obtained a still better understanding
of the viewpoint of each other, and unless I misinterpret our
situation, each year is increasing our faith in the purposes and
integrity of each other. May
I not express the further hope that each one of our employees is
putting aside something for a rainy day.
The past economic history of our Country makes it almost
certain that there must sooner or later come business setbacks and
depressions. It would be
a very comforting thing to the management to know that every one of
our employees had a little savings laid by against these periods.
The employment of a trained nurse and the appointment of
a Home Economics Instructor were actuated by the thought that they
might help to make the family expenses a little less.
The President joins most heartily in the general thanksgiving,
and at the same time acknowledges his reliance upon that Divinity who
has overshadowed our efforts and protected our lives.
B. TIGRETT, President
of those physical benefits which bigger or stronger companies had long
provided was started for the GM&N just before Christmas of the year
1925. Group life and
accident insurance was instituted on a joint company and employee
contribution basis. A large
group of the employees signed up immediately for the protection offered
by the plan. Each protected employee was to pay 85 cents per month, with
the Company paying the balance of the costs.
At the time, it probably would have been hard to determine who
was more thankful, the employees or Mr. Tigrett, that the Company could
make this move so soon after being practically bankrupt in 1920.
twenty-six was a good year.” Those were the words of President Tigrett
when he looked back over the twelve month period.
It was indeed a good year for the GM&N and for its loyal
employees. Mr. Tigett’s
statement was public recognition for the work and effort put forth since
March, 1920. It was the
proof that good morale, plus good leadership, plus some outside
assistance, could produce outstanding results even in a shaky, fumbling
company like the GM&N of 1920.
1926 the GM&N began operating its own trains to Paducah, Kentucky,
where it made direct connection with the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy
(Burlington) for Chicago. The
Company also obtained permission to buy the Jackson and Eastern with the
privilege of extending to Jackson, Mississippi, there connecting with
the New Orleans Great Northern for New Orleans.
meant, in effect, that the GM&N became a junior partner with the
Burlington in a Chicago to the Gulf haul rather than a road seeking
favors from more strategically located neighbors.
From a traffic standpoint, this move put the GM&N into major
freight hauling circles. The
operating employees must have been just as proud of this accomplishment
as the traffic men, for they continued to break operating quotas or
objectives almost as fast as they were established.
Tigrett was not boasting when he made his statement about 1926.
His entire statement to the employees is given below.
Nineteen twenty-six was a good
It was filled with many
accomplishments for the Gulf, Mobile and Northern Railroad.
Closer relationships between us all were formed, which had much
to do with the operating results that were obtained.
Financially, we have reached a
position where we do not have to fear the sheriff or dodge our
creditors. That does
not have to mean, however, that we have attained the rank of wealth.
We are very far from that, in fact, we have never yet been able
to pay the dividends which were due several years ago on our preferred
The only cloud that looms before
us today is the inclination on the part of a few state and county
officials and a few jurors to penalize us through lawsuits of various
character, chiefly it seems, because we have made some progress.
However, regardless of these
obstacles - and possibly discouragements - we have no option but to
carry on. We have an
obligation to the people we serve to furnish them with first class
We employees will meet this
GM&N found 1927 not as profitable as 1926, neither was it a year in
which employee relations occupied the front page of the GM&N News.
It may have been partly because Jake Haman was gone from the
scene, but some of the old spirit seemed gone, too.
This is not to imply that the supervisors of the Company changed
their policies. Probably it
was the natural result of seven years of constant effort.
Striving toward good employee relations had by now become second
nature and was no longer front-page news.
Mr.Tigrett’s “Christmas Message” for 1927 seemed to say
that it wasn’t the fault of the employees that 1927 was less
prosperous than 1926. He
asked only that care be taken to see that 1928 was not worse than 1927.
1928 many of the employees must have realized that the bonds which bad
tied them together in earlier years were no longer so tight.
There was still great loyalty for the road and especially for the
official family, but the individual spirit of kinship for the group was
gone. In the November 10,
1928, issue of the News, Editor Robert Hall put this feeling into
print and accepted some of the blame for this state of affairs.
His comments, which are reproduced in Figure 6, did not seem to
indicate, however, that the situation was permanent.
He apparently did not realize that the former closeness of
feeling would not likely return.
News, November 10, 1928
As a railroad we have expanded tremendously since the
first issue of the News appeared, and many new names have been
added to the roster of the railroad family.
We have also become more sophisticated, more cosmopolitan, and
many of us have developed a wide range of interests outside the
railroad. We cannot
say that this is bad. We
must merely accept it as one of the inevitable consequences of the
rapid progress we have made as a railroad.
We realize that as a smaller railroad faced with almost
insurmountable obstacles, we were drawn closer together by the bond of
a common interest in a common conflict.
We were, to put it simply, fighting together for a common cause
and were therefore closer together.
Since we have expanded and since there has come into the
original organization new members not wholly familiar with the
tradition of work-and-fight which characterized our family spirit in
the mud days, this feeling of common interests is not as strong as it
was seven years ago. This,
then, is a plea for a return to that spirit.
Let us assimilate the newer members.
Let us teach them the traditions of our family and try to keep
alive forever that proud, glowing family spirit of one-ness.
We are the Gulf, Mobile, and Northern.
We are those who have built from the mud and chaos a
transportation system. We are the fighters.
We are the builders.
Let us continue to fight and to build - together!
That is the message which the Gulf, Mobile and Northern News
seeks to give you on its birthday.
This little paper seven years ago was entrusted with the
guardianship of the family spirit and if there has been a lessening of
the common bond, we cannot refuse to accept a share of the blame.
It is therefore in conscience-stricken mood that we invoke all
our powers of eloquence for this plea.
This is written at no official behest, and no one of our
officials will have seen this until it appears in print. It is the voice, therefore, of one employee to another,
of one official to another.
The impress of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address is still strong
upon us when we speak in this view, and it is in his memorable phrase
that we ask “to rededicate ourselves” to the principles of
loyalty, unity, and family spirit.
We are the fighters.
We are the builders who from the mud and chaos have built
are the Gulf, Mobile and Northern.
many of the employees who read what “Bob” Hall had to say agreed
with him wholeheartedly, but nothing could restore things as they had
been. The growth of the
Company, as well as the growth and urbanization of the railroad’s
territory, were all working to split the “family” into smaller
groups, each with its own individual area of attention.
should not assume that the road was suffering greatly because of this
changing atmosphere. In
some respects the road actually benefited from this development of new
interests. Many of those
who had been in the “family,” however, could not help the feeling of
loneliness and longing which came to them in later years for the close
comradeship of 1920-1926.
decade moved rapidly toward its close.
In 1929 the GM&N suffered with the rest of the country when
business collapsed. The
year 1930 brought unemployment to people in the GM&N group.
By December this had become such a problem that the Company
instituted a voluntary contribution program to aid its unemployed. It was hoped that by this effort all GM&N employees
who had been laid off would escape privation and suffering, especially
during the Christmas season.
Tigrett’s “Christmas Message” for 1930 was a thoughtful expression
of his ideas on comradeship. As
such, it is a fitting climax to this discussion of employee relations
for these formative years, 1920-30.
This was his message:
Mr. J. B. Murphy, Superintendent of Telegraph of the
Mobile and Ohio Railroad, and one of the finest characters in the world,
wrote me a little note this week which contained the following quotation
which he had taken from Patchwork:
“Stand off by yourself in your dreaming,
And all of your dreams are vain;
No grandeur of soul or spirit
Can man by himself attain.
It is willed we shall dwell as brothers
As brothers then we must toil.”
I believe this spirit has been in the hearts and minds of
the Gulf, Mobile and Northern folk during these years when we have
enjoyed reasonable prosperity. lt
is this same pride which will make us share each other’s burden; which
will tide us through the present period of adversity, and which will
make us all the more worthwhile because of the experience.
To the Gulf, Mobile and Northern family I am sending
Christmas greetings which are filled with cheer and courage, both of
which I get from your loyal and undaunted spirit.