The Gulf, Mobile and Ohio
By James H. Lemly

 

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CHAPTER II

Employee Relations, 1920-30

 

Track Construction Crew      None of the problems which the management of the Gulf, Mobile and Northern faced in the years 1920-30 was more important than that of relations with its employees.   Improved service and better earnings could not be hoped for without the wholehearted interest and help of at least a majority of the men and women who staffed the road.   Partly because of the importance of the problem, partly because he did not know too much about the technical side of railroad operations, but primarily because he liked to work with people, Mr. Tigrett threw himself into the forefront of the job of employee relations.   In the crucial years from 1920 to 1922, the new President became well known to almost all of the employees of the little GM&N.

WAGE POLICY AND RELATIONS WITH UNIONS

H. G. Sparks, who was made General Manager in fall of 1921, was always on the hand to give support, but the President himself did much of the negotiating with the various union groups in the days of readjustment which followed the return of the road to private hands.   Early in 1920 the labor policy for the GM&N was set.   The road decided to abide conscientiously by the decisions of the new U.S.  Railroad Labor Board while at the same time trying to get all the intelligent effort possible out of its employees.  Soon after the July 20, 1920, announcement of the Labor Board that the railroads should grant a 22 per cent increase in wages, a few railroads angrily announced their intention of noncompliance.   Mr. Tigrett, however, held group meetings all over GM&N territory and stated that the GM&N would follow the dictates of the labor board, in spite of the added burden of increased wages.   While agreeing to abide by this ruling of the Board which raised wages, the management of the GM&N also announced that as and when the Board called for a reduction in wages such a ruling would be followed by the road.

The sharp business recession early in 1920-21 pushed the wage issue to the fore for the new GM&N.   This nationwide decline brought rail income down rapidly, and this, coupled with the 22 per cent wage increase granted in 1920, caused a large majority of the railroads to show operating deficits for 1920.   As a result, in the spring of 1921, most of the railroads of the country had banded together and had filed a request for a reduction in wages.  The GM&N decided not to be a party to the general hearings but to file a petition separate from that of the other southeastern railroads.   The management felt justified in asking for special consideration and also wanted to see the outcome of the bigger case before pressing its own request.

At the same time that the GM&N was readying its case for the Railroad Labor Board, it was rapidly reaching operating agreements with all its labor groups except the shopmen.   Each of these contracts called for the Company and the brotherhood to abide by any wage decision handed down by the Railroad Labor Board.  Willingness of the labor groups to sign these agreements is testimony enough of the respect the men had for the new management.  They knew that the Company was asking the Railroad Labor Board to cut wages.   In general, however, the employees of the GM&N were willing to co-operate with this management team which seemed to possess a basic aim of fair dealing with employees and the public. 

The Railroad Labor Board did order a 12 per cent reduction in wages paid by the GM&N and other roads.   The employees of the Company, true to their contracts, accepted it with as good grace as any group can face a loss in pay.   Mr. Tigrett’s comment on this acceptance of the cut by the men is quoted below:

 Since that time, the Labor Board has ordered a reduction of approximately twelve per cent (12%) which has been put in effect by this Company and has been recognized and accepted by our men without complaint insofar as I know.

They did not complain because they realized, I think, that some step of this kind was necessary in order to keep our Road in operation.  They also realized, I think, the justice of it when they remembered that the owners of this property have never received one cent in return for their investment, the public and the employees having been the only beneficiaries. 

They also realize, I think, that the failure of this Railroad to make money was not due to any large salaries being paid to officers, and that while the Road was paying its other employees the same wages that were paid by roads like the New York Central and the Illinois Central, it was paying its officers perhaps lower wages than any road of its size in the country.

I think I may also claim for our men that they recognize the injustice of their continuing to receive such high wages while their fellow men in other lines are receiving a scale so much lower, and while, also, so many of their fellow employees have been laid off because the Railroad, having only a limited amount of money, could employ at the high wages only a limited number of men.

They were also bound to recognize the fact that the increased wages granted to the men in May, 1920, was through a decision of this same Government Agency, the United States Railroad Labor Board, and that they could not, in good faith, insist on the railroads accepting the decision of the Labor Board when an increase of 22 per cent was given, and later decline to accept the decision of the Labor Board when a decrease of l2 per cent was ordered.

  A reduction of wage rates in this period without the approval of the Labor Board would have provoked an immediate strike in protest, but layoffs apparently had less effect, because the individual men thus laid off were only part of a union group. 

Wages of skilled workmen in shops not owned by the railroads were considerably lower than those of railway shopmen.  Because of this, car repairs could be done on a contract basis at considerable savings by these shops.  As a result, the cash-conscious GM&N decided to turn to outside sources for help in rebuilding some of its many bad order freight cars.

When the Brotherhood of Railroad Carmen of America, Local No.  649 of Mobile, complained about this program, the management replied frankly and candidly.  The plans were admitted, and the railroad’s position was explained in detail.

The reasons were simple and understandable even though the shopmen were not satisfied with the position management took on this matter.  The answer, however, did not anger them further.  Neither did it give other groups of employees a reason to side with the shop employees in the controversy.

The policy of doing car repair work in outside shops spread throughout the country and the shop craft unions became more and more angry.  Finally when the Railroad Labor Board announced an order which called for an additional wage reduction the whole group went out on strike on July 1,1922, and the GM&N was not excepted.   The men stated that they were on strike not against the GM&N, but against a decision of the U.S.  Railroad Labor Board which they did not like.

The management promptly began to do everything possible to keep the GM&N operating in spite of the strike by the shop workers, and in this largely succeeded.  The strikers were told that they faced loss of seniority rights and that new employees hired to fill the places of strikers would be given prior status.  This was in keeping with the decision of the Labor Board and was the policy followed by all the roads whose employees were on strike. 

There was a certain amount of early sympathy for the strikers among the general public, but the waves of violence which broke out over much of the country soon dissipated that feeling, and before long it was evident that the strike was a losing struggle.   On the GM&N none of the other labor groups went out in sympathy, and soon the road was operating almost at capacity even though the strike was officially still on.   Some mob violence occurred in Laurel, Mississippi, but other than that, only isolated instances of trouble arose.

In September Mr. Tigrett received a letter from one of the union officials representing the striking men on the GM&N.  The union wanted to hold a conference with the Company to consider a settlement of the strike on the GM&N on the basis of rehiring all striking employees.  Mr. Tigrett’s reply, which is reproduced in Figure 2, was a firm refusal, but it was conciliatory in tone.  Although the road was not willing to “trade” on the union’s terms, a definite effort was made to prevent further bitterness and violence on the line.

The shopmen’s strike was so nearly over on October 25,1922, that the road was willing and able to sign a working agreement with the working shop employees on duty at that time.   This provided working conditions and wage terms similar to those in agreements previously signed by the other unions on the railroad.

Perhaps one of the smartest moves by management in this period was a voluntary raise given to the employees of the Maintenance of Way Department.  The GM&N News of November 10, 1922, carried the following announcement:

  Effective November 1, Maintenance of Way employees, who have been receiving 20¢ per hour, will be increased to 22½¢.  Those who have been receiving 23¢ per hour, will be increased to 25¢.

This action is taken without any request on the part of the employees and is in recognition both of their efficient and loyal service, and also in recognition of the present living conditions.

I.  B.  TIGRETT

President

  This was a 12 per cent increase given to the lowest-paid group of employees, while the craft groups, among the highest paid, were still out on their nationwide strike which was rapidly becoming unpopular.   In some companies such a move during a strike might have backfired and made more employees resentful of management’s tactics.   On the GM&N in 1922, however, it had its desired effect of showing the willingness of management to pay better wages for work well done and of showing appreciation for loyal service during the strike.  

               

Mr. TIGRETT’S REPLY TO THE UNION

GM&N News, September 22, 1922

 

DEAR MR. DEVAUGHN:

I have just received your letter of September 19th, which came during my absence.  I note that you ask for a conference to consider the so-called “Chicago Agreement” in connection with the settlement of the strike on the Gulf, Mobile and Northern.

In reply I beg to advise that I shall be very glad to see you or your committee at your convenience.   I think I should say to you, however, very frankly that the policy which I have heretofore outlined both to our former employees and to the public, as well as the obligations which I have assumed to the new men that we have employed will prevent this Company entering into any negotiations with those men as a body who went out on strike on July 1st, 1922.

I have previously stated that we are quite willing to consider the applications of any individual who may care to take employment with us, and the fact that the applicant went on strike on July 1st 1922, will not prevent his application receiving full and fair consideration.  This, of course, has reference only to such jobs as we may have open at the time any application may be received.

 

FIGURE 2

 

One should not forget that this strike was not against the roads as much as against the U.S.Railway Labor Board.

Because of this, the Labor Board had authorized the roads to hire new men and thus break the strike.  It would be unfair, however, to surmise that under different conditions the GM&N would seek to break a strike by employing “scabs”.   Over its history the company made many requests of its unions to get more acceptable terms, but it never tried to “break” a union to which its men belonged.

In reality, the GM&N did not employ many new men during the strike, for many of the old shopmen stayed on the job.  The work force was also kept small during the period so as not further to aggravate the situation.

The consideration shown by management during this difficult period was rewarded when the strike was called off on April 10, 1923.   Mr. Tigrett received the following telegram signed by E. W. Sherman for the Federated Shop Crafts:

 “I wish to inform you that the strike on the Gulf, Mobile and Northern has this day been called off, and I am so informing the Railway Employees Department of the American Federation of Labor.   Permit me to again thank you for the courtesy shown me during the time of this controversy, and I wish for you and your company every success in the future.”

The GM&N had no more serious labor trouble in the decade prior to 1930.  Disputes arose, of course, but they were always settled on the road, and no grievances were taken to the national boards for adjustment.

In 1926, when the GM&N began to operate its trains into Paducah, Kentucky, the labor union situation changed as well as the wage policy of the road.  By that time, the GM&N was prosperous enough to pay the national wage scales, which it proceeded to do.  Also, certain of the operating rules which had been local in character were standardized with national practices.  The GM&N found that it was no longer a small sectional road to which no one paid much attention.  After 1926 the national railway labor executives took more interest in the line and required conformance to national standards.  Fortunately, the road had become strong enough to be able to live with such conditions; no trouble ensued at the time of the change or later.  

EMPLOYEE MORALE

The 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.

Fortunately 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.

Perhaps 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.

The 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.

  Fortunately 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 employees.

In 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.

Management’s 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.

By 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.

Management 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 1925.

The 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.’

  The 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.  

In 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.

By 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 operations.  Mr.Tigrett’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

GM&N News, 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 in contact. 

I. B. TIGRETT, President

FIGURE 3

               

In 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 that problem.”

Mrs. 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.

At 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 whenever possble.

Mr. 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 ahead.

Illustrative 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.

The 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.

Following an inspection trip of the road in October, 1923, Mr. Tigrett issued the following statement:

  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 connections.

  In 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.”

In 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.”

The 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.”

At 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.

 

CHRISTMAS GREETINGS

GM&N News, 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 employees.

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 influence.

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 is assured.

P.E.  Odell

 

FIGURE 4

 

The 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.

One 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 accidents;

No main line derailments;

Only one engine failure;

Exceptionally good “on time” performance;

Increased the northbound average train load from 1303 tons to 1367 tons.

  Affairs 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. 

  

THANKSGIVING MESSAGE

GM&N News, November 13,1925

 

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.

I. B. TIGRETT, President

 

FIGURE 5

  

One 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.                             

“Nineteen 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.

During 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.

This 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. 

Mr. Tigrett was not boasting when he made his statement about 1926.  His entire statement to the employees is given below.

IN RETROSPECT

Nineteen twenty-six was a good year.

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 stock.

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 transportation.

We employees will meet this obligation. 

  The 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.

By 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.         

 

APPEAL TO EMPLOYEES

GM&N 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 transportation.   We are the Gulf, Mobile and Northern.

Robert Hall, Editor

 

FIGURE 6

 

Probably 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.

One 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.

The 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.

  Mr. 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.

   

EMPLOYEE PARTICIPATION  

One might think that a company which had good employee morale would also have effective employee co-operation in efforts toward growth.  The management of the GM&N did not always find this to be the case.  The employees showed a willing spirit, but they had to be taught how to assist the road in its development.

First efforts directed to improvement and growth were aimed toward a reduction in operating expenses.  Each of the sections of the Operating Department began campaigns to save on operating costs in every possible way.   Trackmen were urged to use less time to achieve better results.   Shopmen were encouraged to try newer methods of maintenance.   Engine crews began to hold fuel conservation contests to reduce coal usage.   Office workers were asked to use less paper, or rather, to have less waste of necessary forms and reports.   Train crews were encouraged to reduce the charges the GM&N had to pay for use of foreign freight cars.   Higher train speeds and faster turn-around were sought to reduce this car rental charge.  No conceivable item was too insignificant to be mentioned in the “reduce expenses” campaigns which started on the GM&N between 1920 and 1924.

Along with the drives for economy, the Company began to ask for new business.  The Traffic Department employees were not the only ones urged to solicit freight traffic for the GM&N.  Every employee soon discovered that he was expected to make what effort he could to secure additional business.  If more carloads could not be obtained, the employee was asked to solicit his friends to allow the GM&N a longer haul on current tonnage.  If the haul was as long as the GM&N could hope to obtain, the next step was to secure control of the routing of carloads of freight, so they could be “swapped off” to adjoining roads.   In this way, the GM&N might be in a position to bargain for additional tonnage from its connecting roads.

The GM&N solicitation program, along with its morale-building campaign, really began to produce results soon after the first issue of the News in November 1921.  That issue and those to follow were devoted to employee co-operation, not employee gratification.   Alongside Mr. Tigrett’s message about the anticipated shopmen’s strike and Mr. Platten’s inspection report were two traffic articles.   One discussed the poor showing of passenger earnings and asked the employees what they could do about improving this record.   The other article was the call by the Traffic Department for the road to obtain $1,000,000 in gross business between October 15 and December 31, 1921.  All other stories in this issue of the News were either personal stories or stories tied in with some of the “reduced expenses” campaigns.  Clearly, too much was expected of GM&N employees for the News to devote much attention to pleasantries.

A four-page Company newspaper with no pictures whatever, filled with stories about improving performance, would have little appeal today.   In most instances, such a paper would be called a useless expense and a waste of the editor’s time.   In 1921 it apparently was well received, however, and the GM&N employees kept asking for more.  Their desire to do something to help the Company made the News interesting reading to them even without glossy paper and pictures.   Many of its stories were a mixture of appreciation for an outstanding bit of work and an appeal for other employees to go out and do better.   A good example of this type of article is shown in Figure 7.   The Company did not quite reach its goal of $1,000,000.00 in new business for the latter part of 1921, but the management gave the employees credit for making a fine effort to achieve the objective.   Fortunately, by more effective work in expense control, the road nevertheless ended the year with a small net income instead of a deficit, which was duly acknowledged as being in large measure the result of employee cooperation.

 

J. E. LINDSEY, OUTSTANDING EMPLOYEE

GM&N News, December 16, 1921

Flagman J. E. Lindsey, running on trains five and six between Louisville and Jackson Tennessee, has secured some splendid new business for the Gulf, Mobile, and Northern through his personal appeal to a friend, and by doing so sets a pace for trainmen on passenger trains.   The new business secured is flour shipments in car load lots.   Knowing the salesman he approached him relative to routing his shipments over this line.   A car load, which started from Red Bud, Illinois, on Friday morning, and delivered to this line at Jackson the next morning, was spotted for unloading at Louisville, Mississippi, Sunday Morning.

Pleased with the result another car was routed the same way but was never delivered to our line, being handled another way.   Delivery was made in five days.   The result is that the mill in Illinois is solidly behind the salesman’s request that all shipments possible to his territory be routed by the Gulf, Mobile and Northern.       

Mr. Lindsey makes it a point to be courteous to all of his passengers but especially to traveling salesmen.   He is cultivating friendship looking toward solicitation of their business.   Among other shipments recently promised him are several cases of shoes for delivery on our line.   Former shipments of this kind having been routed a longer way around.

Such effort on the part of all trainmen coming in contact with commercial salesmen would result in many profitable consignments.

 

Figure 7

 

The twin drives for reduction of expenses and increased traffic continued almost without a pause.  No item was too small to be investigated; no effort withheld which might produce results.  The following appeared in the News of May 19, 1922, under the heading: “Useless Expenditures”

From time to time during my incumbency as an officer of the Gulf, Mobile and Northern, I have stressed the importance of eliminating the useless expenditures in railroading.   I have insisted that this should always come before wages are reduced.   I have also insisted that an employee or party of employees who would arbitrarily attempt to fasten an item of expense to the Company which was unnecessary was so wholly lacking in interest in the welfare of the company that it was almost hopeless to expect any loyal and efficient service from them.

 An illustration of this class of expenditure and this lack of interest may be found in the effort of certain employees, who have a regular work time each day or night to go to work, who know that under the contract this time cannot be changed without giving 48 hours notice, and yet who insist that the Company furnish a call-boy to call them each day or each night prior to the regular hour for him or them to go to work.

I.B.T.

      Other expense items which seemed excessive continued to be examined, and whenever practical, were presented to the employee family with a request to help reduce these costs.   The News of February 13, 1925 carried a stark comparison about damage payments for employees and others.  It said:   

   

LOST: $352,000.00!

Which was paid out by this Company during 1923 and 1924 for personal injuries and accidents.  This does not include $55,000.00 which yet remains on the books of the Mississippi Courts in judgments.  This loss is equivalent to a loss of all the 250 class locomotives with a half dozen cabooses thrown in for good measure.  In money it means the same as totally destroying the main line from Middleton to Walnut, or the total destruction of the main line mileage between Newton and Straton.   A train of 150 box cars, hauled by one of our new locomotives with caboose attached run off the pier into Mobile Bay resulting in total destruction would mean no greater monetary loss than the loss sustained by this Company during the past 2 years on personal injuries and avoidable accidents.

               

A “Scratching for Business” Club was started in November, 1922, for the dual purpose of giving all employees a method of helping the Traffic Department and to see that the employee received credit for his effort.  The months and years which followed saw many promotional efforts started by the management in an effort to utilize the full power of their employee family.  Some were not effective and had to be discontinued, but these failures did not deter the men in control.  New plans, new programs, new slogans were constantly coming forth.  The evidence is conclusive, too, that most of the aims of the management were attained.  Sometimes it may have been perseverance, rather than brilliance, which won the fight; but, after all, achievement was the thing the GM&N was seeking.  

One of the most striking solicitation programs that the GM&N was to utilize began in the summer of 1924.   It was a plan which did much to increase the freight tonnage of the road, and it also did much to hasten the rise of one of the GM&N’s brightest young men.   Credit for the idea was given to Glenn Brock, at that time assistant to the general manager.   He also had much to do with its successful execution in the months and years following its adoption.   The plan was called, “Over All Solicitation.”   The following description is from the News of November 7, 1924:

Mr. Brock conceived the idea when the new 250 class locomotives were purchased.   The engine crews handling them were proud of the new engines and the train crews were proud that they were being pulled by such power.  Everybody else on the Railroad evidenced pride because of the results being achieved.   Why couldn’t our shippers be acquainted with the service we could give them and the pride we as individuals would take in servicing them? That question in Mr. Brock’s mind developed the novel plan of letterheads carrying pictures of this equipment and trains being handled by them, the letterheads to bear the names of the crew instead of Traffic Department officials. 

Letters were written to shippers who had cargo in the train and were signed by members of the crew.  These letters expressed personal interest in the handling of the shipment in question and gave some interesting information relative to how it was being taken care of.  The shipper was told when it was received and when it would be delivered to connecting line and the condition it was in when in our train.

These letters were not written to just a few, but to shippers in general.  Nor were letters sent only to those with full carload shipments.   No one was overlooked.                                   

Results were instantaneous.  Members of the crews writing the letters began to get replies, some coming from men high in affairs of big business.  And they have continued to come.  Scores have written to the officers of the Company about the plan and all are loud in their praise of the novel method of soliciting business.

The Letters to shippers are still being sent out and will continue to be.  As time passes the novelty of the plan may wear away and it may not attract such wide publicity, but it will still be serving in the capacity originally intended-solicitation.”

“Over All Solicitation” helped to obtain tonnage, and it also produced widespread publicity which was worth almost as much to the Company.  Also the employees who wrote the letters were very proud that their effort should be acknowledged by prominent national figures and magazines.  As a result, team spirit soared and the good work continued.

In the summer of 1926 Glenn Brock, who had been made Assistant Manager, gave the Operating Department employees a strong commendation.  He listed 15 new records which had been set by the Operating Department of the Company in June, 1926.  All of these were important, but at least two of them were outstanding in the Southern Region.  The GM&N led all roads in the region in pounds of coal consumed per 1,000 gross tons for the four months ending April 30, 1926.   The road also led all others in percent loaded to total cars for the same four months.

The year 1926 probably saw the high point of family spirit and outward show of cooperation among the employees of the GM&N.  In 1920, when the drive to improve began, there was much that an alert, interested employee could do to obtain new business.  But by 1926 there was not much unsolicited business moving in the GM&N territory.  Also, the shift in the traffic patterns caused by the new operation into Paducah affected the amount of traffic which employees could influence.   When the GM&N made this connection, the Illinois Central ceased being a rather kindhearted but indifferent older brother.  

Instead, it became overnight a jealous rival, on guard against any further encroachment.   Under this changed competitive situation, only better service of a truly superior nature could hope to win large amounts of traffic.   In one swift year the GM&N ceased to be a provincial road primarily concerned with a small territory.   It had entered national competition and was to be opposed henceforth by some of the smartest and strongest roads in the country.   The best proof of the spirit and loyalty of the GM&N’s employees is the fact that 1926 actually proved to be only the beginning of the Company’s expansion.   It might be called the end of the GM&N’s adolescent days, and the beginning of its adult life.

 

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