The Gulf, Mobile and Ohio
By James H. Lemly

 

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CHAPTER III

Public Relations, 1920-30

 

Railroad-sponsored Poultry Raising class at Miss. A&M College  

Very quickly Mr. Tigrett also took personal responsibility for improving relations with the public in general and with the many business and regulatory units in the service area.  Improving the image of the road was vital and non-operating expenses needed to be contained and reduced wherever possible.

    The GM&N recognized that the “show window” of a railroad was its passenger service.  The average citizen rarely becomes directly involved in the movement of freight, so people usually judge a railroad by the passenger service it provides.  For this reason, the GM&N tried to maintain a relatively high level of passenger service in its territory.  Unfortunately, passenger service was so bad in the early development years of 1920-21 that the only approach the road could use was to admit its faults and ask for time to make corrections.  An open letter from Mr. Tigrett to the editor of a Mississippi newspaper illustrates the position the road was forced to take on this problem.  It presents the difficulties and the public relations objectives of the road so clearly, it is reproduced here:  

  “ The editorial which appeared in the last issue of your esteemed paper furnishes cause for sincere regret both to our management and to our employees.

The passenger service which the Gulf, Mobile and Northern is furnishing to its patrons is not what we would like to have it, and is not what we hope in time to make it.  Every officer and every employee is eagerly looking forward to the day when we can equip our trains with new and modern passenger coaches.  We are all looking forward to the day when our business will justify through trains with Pullman service.

At the present time, however, our passenger business does not justify the latter, and our financial condition will not permit of the former. 

The Railroad now known as the Gulf, Mobile and Northern has never, since its construction, paid to its owners one cent in dividends.  Worse than that, it has not in the past been able to meet its operating expenses and pay the interest on its indebtedness, and twice already has been forced into the hands of a Receiver.  Indeed, up to this time, its principal beneficiaries have been its patrons and those who live along its line.  During the year 1920 the Road failed by more than $700,000 to earn its operating expenses.

You, I am sure, will recognize that such a state of affairs cannot continue indefinitely.     

We, who are now charged with the responsibility of its management, have been putting forward every effort within our power to produce different results for the year 1921.  We have been fighting with all our might to turn a deficit of more than $700,000 in 1920 into a net return sufficient to pay operating expenses, taxes and interest in 1921, and while this has not yet been accomplished, we have come nearer to doing so this year than in any year for a long time.

I regret very much that it was necessary to delay for an hour one of our trains on which you were a passenger.  Notwithstanding the fact that we maintain passenger service on our line at a loss, still we do make an earnest effort to keep our trains on time and to give the best service possible.  Your statement that we are acting independently and unmindful of the interests of our patrons is certainly a very erroneous interpretation of the purposes and intentions of either the management or the employees, and I am very hopeful that the occasion which called forth your criticism will appear to you in a different light in view of the statements herewith.

While, as I have said, our passenger equipment is not modern yet the improvement which we have made towards safety in improving the condition of our roadway, in improving the capacity of our locomotives, will be proof to you that the Company is doing everything in its power to sustain and build up a property that will constantly become more serviceable to the communities through which it runs.      

In a very short while we will owe the State of Mississippi nearly $200,000 for taxes for the year 1921.  We haven’t the money to pay it.  I have impressed upon every one connected with the Road the necessity of utmost economy in order to provide these funds.

We depend almost wholly upon our freight service to produce revenue for meeting our obligations.  The instance about which you complain occurred through our delaying a passenger train for a short while in order to try to help a freight train over the road.

You, yourself, are engaged in conducting an enterprise which is at least semi-public.  You have, no doubt, in building up your paper, sustained embarrassments and misfortunes which do not come to those who publish larger papers and who have a larger income.  You have, no doubt, expected and received the forbearance and co-operation of the public whom you serve.  I most sincerely ask for the same forbearance and cooperation from you and the public generally whom we serve.”

     At the same time, however, the road was trying to do what it could to please its traveling public within its limited means.  In a December, 1921, issue of the News, the road announced to its employees and the public that all passenger trains on the GM&N now had free drinking cups for their patrons.  No longer was it necessary to put a penny in a slot to buy a paper cup.  To those of us who did little traveling and no remembering before 1920, this comes as quite a shock.  Free drinking cups today are standard equipment, but this evidently was not so before 1921.

   While the road was trying to improve its service as rapidly as possible, it also used the newspapers to publicize this effort.  In addition, the Company was making an attempt to reach the general public by direct contact whenever an opportunity presented itself.  All of the officials of the Company gave much of their time to speeches before any and all local gatherings available to them.  The county fairs held along most of the line in the late summer and fall were ideal for this type of public appearance.  These “reports to the public” which the officials made gave the road a chance to put its problems before the people and appeal for increased support and confidence.

   Mr. Tigrett was especially good at this form of presentation.  Soon after he had spoken at the Neshoba County Fair, the News received a long letter expressing interest in the magazine and the road.  In part, the letter said:

I cannot refrain from saying that your President, Mr. Tigrett, must be a wonderful man, from the methods he has adopted and is now pursuing.  He is rapidly making friends among all classes of people along his line of railroad.

We are intensely interested in the success of the Gulf, Mobile and Northern railroad.  Its success means our success, its success means the success of all kinds of business along its line and we earnestly bid it success for the future and have every reason to believe that with the present good management and the advice of its president, that it will in a few years be one of the great trunk lines of the South.

   Although the management was pleased with the general response to its improvement program, one phase of the Company’s contacts with the public was quite disconcerting.  Lawsuits were so common in the state of Mississippi that the Company decided to appeal to the general public for relief.  The following advertisement is such a request.

Taking it for granted that a certain amount of litigation and court procedure is necessary in connection with the operation of a railroad, and establishing a ratio on the basis of mileage, of population and of capital invested, THE NUMBER OF DAMAGE SUITS BROUGHT AGAINST THE GULF, MOBILE AND NORTHERN RAILROAD IN MISSISSIPPI SHOULD NOT BE MORE THAN FIVE TIMES THE TOTAL NUMBER OF CASES BROUGHT IN THE OTHER TWO STATES.  AS A MATTER OF FACT, HOWEVER, THERE IS TWENTY-FIVE TIMES AS MUCH LITIGATION AGAINST THE ROAD IN MISSISSIPPI AS IN THE STATES OF ALABAMA AND TENNESSEE.

The grave question confronting us in this connection is how we are to continue to meet this expense.  Are the people of Mississippi willing that rates should be increased in order to meet this large cost? Have the people of Mississippi considered the possibility of this character of expense reaching a point where the railroad could not survive?

I.B.  TIGRETT.


  The same type of public appeal was used to direct attention to the increasing tax burden which the Company was being called on to pay.  The advertisement reproduced in Figure 8, which the road inserted in newspapers along the line during 1923 shows the company’s approach. 

 

WHO PAYS THE TAXES ON RAILROAD PROPERTY

GM&N News, August 3,1923

 

The only source of revenue that this railroad has is that derived from the transportation of freight, and passengers.   Its every expense, such as taxes, judgments for damages, wages and operating costs, must come from this source.

In 1910 the Gulf, Mobile and Northern Railroad paid in taxes $49,540.62    

In 1922 the Gulf, Mobile and Northern Railroad paid in taxes   $311,316.

In 1910 taxes were $123.00 per mile

In 1922 taxes were $632.41 per mile

This is an increase of 528 per cent in taxation against a mileage increase of 22 per cent.  We simply refer to this matter so as to make it clear Railroad taxation must be added to the cost of transportation and therefore has a direct bearing on freight and passenger rates.

I. B. Tigrett, President

GULF, MOBILE AND NORTHERN RAILROAD CO.

 

Figure 8.

 

The GM&N obviously had early recognized the power of the press and it did a fine bit of public relations work for itself in 1923.The Mississippi Press Association held its annual meeting in Mobile with the Alabama Press Association during the first week of June.  The GM&N ran a special train to Mobile for about seventy-five editors throughout Mississippi.  Many of these men and women came from communities not on the GM&N, but all seemed to enjoy the trip.  For weeks after this event the News carried excerpts from favorable editorials clipped from papers all over Mississippi.      

  At least partial success for the public relations program of the GM&N is clearly indicated by an incident which occurred in Laurel, Mississippi.  It also shows the approach the Company took toward public discussion of railroad affairs.  The News quoted the following story from the Laurel Leader for April 2, 1924.

  “ One hundred businessmen of the city of Laurel met with President I. B. Tigrett, of the Gulf, Mobile and Northern Railroad Company in the Strand theater at 10:30 o’clock Wednesday morning for the purpose of holding a general discussion to clarify the situation brought on by rumors prevalent regarding the movement of shops and other departments of the Gulf, Mobile and Northern away from Laurel.

As W. T. Scott so ably expressed it in the meeting, “It is merely a family row that turns out as they all do, in a love feast.” Following discussions by the businessmen and explanations by Mr. Tigrett as to why the few men of the Gulf, Mobile and Northern were moved, S.  M.  Jones moved that the meeting accept President Tigrett’s statement that the removal of employees from Laurel was for the good of the road and that the city pledge itself to support the road in every way possible.  A rising vote adopted this motion unanimously.

Another Case of Rumor

A. G. Rush, president of the Laurel Chamber of Commerce, opened the meeting by briefly stating the purpose for which it had been called, saying in part that there had been a discussion of Gulf, Mobile and Northern shops enlarging in Laurel but after the strike in 1922 it seemed that the road tried to retaliate by sending the shops to Louisville.  Rumors were prevalent on the streets, he said, that the Gulf, Mobile and Northern was going to move several other departments from here and that some of the businessmen did not understand the reason for such action.

Mr. Tigrett opened by the statement, “If asked if the Gulf, Mobile and Northern was inadequately protected in Laurel during the strike he would say unhesitantly, ‘Yes.’” But if asked whether retaliatory measures had been resorted to, he would emphatically deny it.

The strike opened the eyes of the officials of the road to the inefficiency along many lines and since that time they have been improving the general efficiency all along the line.  The moving of several men from Laurel was shown to be an improvement in every way for the road, he said, and added that he believed that the people of Laurel would understand that anything that was for the betterment of the road would indirectly make for the betterment of Laurel.

Centralizing Departments

Louisville is the half-way point on the Gulf, Mobile and Northern, Mr.Tigrett said, and is the logical place for the largest shops.  The railroad has in the past been operating with departments scattered but is now bringing them together in one place which will make for more efficient and speedy transportation.                             

Mr. Tigrett explained that the average car miles of the road had increased from 9.9 miles per day in 1919 to 32.2 miles per day during January, 1924.  The increase in business of the road since 1919 has been 150 per cent while the increase in employment has only been 20 per cent, he stated.  In 1919 there were 282 employees of the Gulf, Mobile and Northern in Laurel, he said, and in January, 1924, there were 312.  Removing of seven, which is now being done, would leave 305 in Laurel, he added.  The monthly payroll in Laurel is about $38,000 and more in proportion to volume of business than any other point on the road.

Speaking of the consolidation of the Alabama-Mississippi Improvement Association with the development department of the road in Mobile, Mr.Tigrett said that the Association had simply run out of money, and when such a condition occurs there are but two things to do.  One is to abandon the project altogether or to combine it with some other department.  The road decided to adopt the latter policy, he said, and that is why the Association is moving its offices to Mobile.

Report Excellent Service    

John Bissell and W. L. Pack told of the excellent service being rendered their business by the road and stated that they would boost the road as far as possible.  S.  M.  Jones offered the motion to accept Mr. Tigrett’s statements and the city pledge itself to boost the road in every way possible, which motion was unanimously adopted by the meeting.

By 1925 the GM&N had done much to live up to its claims of attempting to grow in order to serve its territory better.  In spite of its improved financial position, however, and in spite of much better passenger train service, the road was experiencing a steady decline in passenger patronage.  In an effort to combat this trend, the Mississippi Railroad Commission and the GM&N held a jointly sponsored session at Louisville, Mississippi, on June 13, 1925, to consider passenger train schedules.  No decisions were reached, but the Company learned the desires of the towns and also advised the territory of its problems.  It was a friendly session, and none of the communities came with the intent of “making trouble for the road.” In fact, Laurel sent its mayor with a resolution expressing confidence that the GM&N was doing all it could to “furnish adequate passenger, mail, and express service to the patrons of the line.” No such resolution would have been passed in Laurel two years earlier, but the Company’s service policy and good-will program had changed the attitude of many people.   

A constantly recurring theme of the public relations drive of the GM&N was the attempt to reduce the high level of damage claims against the road.  The immediate purpose was to reduce expenses, but the Company also had the long-range objective of winning a place in the hearts of the people of the territory as a good citizen and good neighbor.  As long as the road was thought of as a cold-blooded, impersonal corporation, it could not expect the wholehearted assistance of its public.  Damage payments had to be reduced, but the method to be used must be something other than sharp legal practice.

The road began this campaign by informing its employees and the public of the extent of claims for livestock destroyed on the right of way.  Soon after the Company started to release these reports, a few of the newspapers along the line began to print editorials to support the Company’s position.  In January, 1922, the Newton Record carried a story which was both humorous and helpful.  The News quite proudly reprinted this editorial, which is reproduced below. 


   

LIVESTOCK CLAIMS

GM&N News, January 27, 1922

 

According to Claim Agent J.  J.  Henry, of the Gulf, Mobile and Northern Railroad, Diogenes could have found one honest man in these days were he in Tippah county.  Mr. Henry has, during his tenure of office, settled claims for approximately 2,000 animals killed by the Gulf, Mobile and Northern Railroad, and of this number, with the exception of two, it was claimed by the owners that the stock was of a superior grade or breed.  One man, however, wrote Mr. Henry recently that the cow for which he was making claim was only an ordinary animal for which he had paid only $18, and all he wanted the railroad to pay was an equal amount.  Mr. Henry thought the letter making this statement was worth preserving.

       

People often denounce the railroads for high freight and passenger rates and for other alleged offenses, but no wonder they have to charge as much as they do, when so many people want to “gouge” the railroads.  Some folks have an idea that they have a perfect right to get all they can out of a railroad.  They seem to think that if a railroad accidently kills a scrub cow worth about $15 or $20 that there is nothing amiss in putting in a claim for two or three times that amount, and to claim that the animal killed was a fine one.  If that is honorable, then there is nothing wrong in taking money that belongs to the railroad.”

 

FIGURE 9

 

Other claims also received their share of publicity.  The following is taken from a letter written by an employee in the “Problems of the Railroad” contest mentioned earlier.  It said in part:

The question of litigation is the most serious.  It is something that we must strive with our whole body and soul to overcome or at least to reduce to an absolute minimum.  The losses every year through litigation are something terrific.  A few of them, I presume, are just, but for the most part they are a rank injustice.  I refer particularly to a case now pending in which a lady is suing this company for nearly four thousand dollars because she alleges that there was no fire in one of our waiting rooms upon a certain morning and she contracted a cold which confined her to her bed for three weeks… As a matter of fact, there was a fire in the waiting room stove on this day and she also walked three miles through the rain nine days later and signed a freight bill at this same station.  But can we make a jury believe that she should not be entitled to damages?  I am afraid not.

Damage suits against the road in 1923 totaled approximately $300,000.  This did not include claims amounting to a considerable sum which the Company settled out of court.  One of the outstanding suits against the Company was a case in which the injured party had driven his automobile into the tender of the locomotive after the road was completely blocked by the moving train.  Other suits were filed by trespassers on railroad property who were injured while trespassing.  Mr. Tigrett humorously told a group of prominent Mississippians that he felt sure an income tax applied only to damage-suit lawyers would provide sufficient income to finance the state’s operations for some time.

Mississippi passed a law in 1924 for which the GM&N could claim partial credit.   A “Stop, Look, and Listen” law similar to those passed by other states was enacted in the spring of that year.  This did not mean the end of crossing accidents; neither did it mean the end of damage claims against the railroads.  It did, however, mark the willingness of the state legislature to acknowledge that a train could not stop for a car except in unusual cases.  From this date on, juries had a hard time accepting the logic of railroad responsibility in cases where people clearly broke a state law by not stopping at the crossings to avert an accident.

One of the most spectacular damage suits ever to be filed against the GM&N was the Brown case, which was tried in Newton County, Mississippi, during 1924.  A jury awarded $40,000 in damages for one of three people injured in a crash.  The railroad felt that this amount was so excessive that it appealed its case to the public through the newspapers, while also appealing to the State Supreme Court.  The public appeal is so unusual that it is presented here:

              AN EXPLANATION AND AN APPEAL

“Some time last Summer, a banker of Newton, Miss., while driving an automobile containing his family along a road with which he was entirely familiar, attempted to make a crossing ahead of a freight train on the railroad tracks of this Company.  At the particular crossing at which this accident occurred, an approaching train could be seen from any point within seventy-five feet of this crossing, for more than a quarter of a mile.  As a result of the accident, suits were brought against the Gulf, Mobile and Northern Railroad aggregating one hundred twenty-one thousand eight hundred dollars ($121,800) for injuries alleged to have been sustained by this banker, his wife and his son.  A jury in Newton County has just awarded a verdict against this Company in favor of the Banker’s wife for forty thousand dollars ($40,000), for injuries alleged to have been received by her.  This is five times as large as any verdict ever rendered against this Company before for any automobile crossing accident, even where there was loss of life involved, and where the injured were permanently incapacitated.  It is twice as large as any verdict of any character ever rendered against this Company.

It is so large that we are compelled to announce that pending the final disposition of this and the other cases involved, this Company will have to curtail its improvement and development program.

This statement is in no sense prompted by a feeling of resentment.  We believe this Company has already had occasion to prove that it does not let prejudice or retaliatory tactics have any place in the operation of this Railroad.  Furthermore, we realize that when we leave off some improvement, we are, to that extent, preventing a more economical operation which would benefit ourselves as well as the patrons of our line.

Unfortunately, however, we have other claims pending against us.  We have no surplus upon which to draw.  We are dependent upon our earnings out of which to pay our operating expenses and our improvements, as well as our taxes and our damage claims.  We have no other source of revenue.  We are, therefore, compelled to use appropriations intended for other purposes in order to meet unexpected liabilities of this kind.

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

It should also be stated that nothing herein is intended as a criticism of the Courts or the juries.  The law in Mississippi is our law, and we make every effort to uphold it.  If the law makes it incumbent upon long heavy freight trains or any other kind of trains, daily running over the same tracks located in the same place, to keep out of the way of automobiles, then those who violate the law must pay the penalty.  If the jury was instructed that the Railroad was responsible for the safety of the occupants of this car, and that this wife whose misfortune we greatly deplore but who was in attendance at this trial, was injured to the extent of $40,000,it is not the purpose of this statement to make any criticism of the jury.

This advertisement is intended as an explanation of why we are forced to forego certain improvements and forced to limit certain development projects which have been proposed along our line, and which we had hoped to make.  This advertisement is also a little more than that.  It is an appeal to the automobile owners and drivers for a more careful approach to railroad crossings.  An accident represents an economic loss to the injured party, to the railroad, and to all the people along the line of railroad. 

Again, it is a special appeal to bankers to use our crossings as little as possible.  If our enginemen and trainmen could have some notice of their intention to drive across our line at some particular time, we could well afford to suspend operations entirely for that day.

We repeat again that the management and the employees on this line are making an earnest effort to make the line useful to the communities through which it runs.  We also repeat what we have said before, that no territory is going to enjoy much prosperity that is not served by a prosperous transportation line.

This Company cannot hope to become prosperous when it is afflicted by such needless liabilities as the one herein mentioned.  Many such would nullify the usefulness of this Railroad, and would, in effect, destroy the value of the property to the owners and to the public.

We again appeal to every citizen along our line for aid and co-operation.

 

I. B. Tigrett, President

GULF, MOBILE AND NORTHERN RAILROAD

 

Evidence of the success of the efforts to reduce damage claims is found in a statement by Mr. Tigrett to the Memphis News-Scimitar of October 2,1924.  The paper is quoted as follows:

The change in the attitude of the public and of the employees toward the railroads that has taken place in recent years is one of the big factors contributing to the improvement of rail transportation in this country, according to I. B. Tigrett, president of the Gulf, Mobile and Northern Railroad who is in Memphis today.

“The public always wants to be fair, I am convinced.  Any other attitude can always be traced to a lack of information concerning the situation.  We find the people living along our lines anxious to co-operate with the railroad.  We are trying in every possible way we can to keep the public informed regarding all details of operations, earnings, cost and improvements in the service.”

As an evidence of the improved relations, Mr. Tigrett said that the Gulf, Mobile and Northern railroad now has practically no litigation of consequence in the courts. 

In the latter part of February, 1925, the Mississippi Supreme Court handed down its decision on the appeal of the Brown case.  The court reversed the decision and remanded the case for further action.  This was a tremendous victory for the road, and many people felt that it was in a measure a personal triumph which some other railroads might not have won.      

In spite of this and other victories in the courts, traffic accidents continued to plague the railroad and make the lives of engineers and crewman unpleasant.  For these reasons, the road’s battle against crossing accidents continued unabated.  A majority of the public now seemed willing to support the position of the railroads, but the vocal and sometimes troublesome minority still had to be dealt with.  The Company continued its use of newspaper advertisements in an effort to win support from the careless.  In case this support was not forthcoming, the road sought protection from the acts of the willful few.  The following is a public appeal published by the company:     

Within the past few days, we have had three cases where engineers have had to stop our engines and assist in pushing stalled automobiles off the tracks.  We recently had a brakeman run ahead of moving cars and actually lift a front end of an automobile around and off the track to the apparent enjoyment of the occupants of the car.  We earnestly appeal to officers of the law, to our patrons, and to all other good citizens along our line to aid us in our effort to prevent these accidents.

Again in July, 1927, the road used the newspapers in its continuing effort to win the public to respect its own safety.  One of the advertisements used in this campaign said:

We are again appealing to public officials and to the public itself to aid us in making the autoists more careful.

Just a few days ago, a man, driving an automobile down one of the streets in a town on our line, went right on into a train which was standing on the crossing.  He hit a box car fifty feet long and fourteen feet high.  We do not know the dimensions of the counter attraction - probably much smaller.

Careless driving not only endangers the safety of the occupants of the automobile, but it puts in jeopardy the lives of passengers who ride the trains, as well as the trainmen in control of them.

Reckless automobile driving is decreasing the efficiency of railroad service.

This is a situation that can be greatly improved.  May we not have your assistance?

There was one consolation to those who had to struggle to protect the revenues of the Company.   Apparently the desire to collect funds from a railroad was an age-old failing.   At any rate, the following story would indicate that it is not a new thing:

Sam Neville, builder of the Meridian and Memphis and the Jackson and Eastern railroads, told an amusing story on railroad public relations at the banquet tendered by the city of Jackson on the occasion of the entrance of the Gulf, Mobile and Northern and the New Orleans, Great Northern into the Mississippi Capital.

The Meridian and Memphis railway had been built as far as Little Rock, Mississippi, a few miles west of Meridian, and the community was holding a meeting in celebration.   It was the only railroad in the section and opened up a territory which in the strictest sense of the word was virgin.

A number of eulogizing speeches had been made.   Speaker after speaker told of the vast riches the new road would bring into the section, of the certain benefits, which the section would derive.   J. R. Buckwalter, a prominent lumberman was also slated to speak.

“Friends,” he said “now that your dreams have been realized, now that you have your railroad, what are you going to do with it?”  He paused impressively, and prepared to go on with his talk.  THEN-a voice interrupted the silence, a voice from the rear of the gathering. 

“Gwine ter sue it,” it said. 

Crossing accidents continued to be such a national problem that finally the U.S.  Supreme Court had to rule on one of them.   Mr. Justice Holmes’s decision in the celebrated Goodman case was rendered in November, 1927.   There is no way of knowing how much influence this decision had on cases in GM&N territory, but it certainly provided fresh incentive to those struggling to protect the railroad against crossing accidents.   The Supreme Court said: “When a man goes upon a railroad track he knows that he goes to a place where he will be killed if a train comes upon him before he is clear of the track.   He knows he must stop for the train, not the train for him.... If at the last moment Goodman found himself in an emergency, it was his own fault that he did not reduce his speed earlier or come to a stop.”

By 1928 the Company had attained a reasonable degree of success in its consistent campaign to reduce damage suits of all types.   In most of its territory it had been accepted as the good citizen it tried to be.   The management felt, however, that no one part of its territory should “profit” at the expense of the whole.   The new territory through which the Company had by this time built its lines into Jackson, Mississippi, apparently was not accustomed to accepting corporations as neighbors and friends.  From 1926 to 1928 the GM&N was hit by a large number of damage suits of all types which were filed in this area.   Once more the Company turned to newspaper advertisements to present its case to the people of its new territory.   One of the advertisements is reproduced in figure 10.

                                  

TO THE PEOPLE OF SCOTT AND RANKIN  COUNTIES, MISSISSIPPI

GM&N News, March 25, 1928

 

During the past year the Gulf, Mobile and Northern has put into operation an extension of its line into and through Scott and Rankin Counties.   Whether or not this large expenditure will bring any returns to the stockholders of the Company is a matter of uncertainty.   There can be no possible doubt, however, that benefits will accrue to these Counties.

The number of claims that have been filed against the Company in this new territory has been noted with keen regret and concern.   We believe that an investigation would develop the fact that it is not necessary to sue in order to get a fair settlement from us.   It is neither neighborly nor co-operative to file suits before an opportunity is given to discuss their merits.

The fact that lawsuits against railroads which originate in other parts of the State are transferred by the claimants’ attorneys to Scott County for trial evidently indicates a belief that there is either more prejudice or more justice in that County than elsewhere.   Is this true?

We sincerely trust that the relations of the Gulf, Mobile and Northern Railroad with the people of Scott and Rankin Counties will be similar to the friendly and helpful attitude which exists in most of the counties through which we operate.   We shall leave nothing undone to bring about such condition.

I. B. Tigrett, President

GULF, MOBILE & NORTHERN RAILROAD

FIGURE 10

Even though much improvement had been seen, damage claims for livestock losses in 1929 were still larger than the GM&N thought they should be.  In newspaper ads the Company announced a cooperative plan which it hoped might help to prevent these losses.  For the land or stock-owner who would provide the fence posts and put up the fence, the GM&N agreed to provide the wire and staples.  The road felt that at least some of the farmers along the line would try to keep their stock off the right of way if free fencing were provided.

J. N. Flowers, General Counsel of the GM&N, made a speech to the surgeons employed by the road in 1930.  In discussing his topic, which was “Claims,” he gave very clear expression to the over-all public relations policy of the road.  He is quoted in part:

The Legal Department is concerned with the activities of the physicians and surgeons in at least two important respects: with the character of treatment given persons injured in the operation of the Railroad and with the correctness of the information furnished them as to the nature and results of the injuries.

We are also concerned with the attitude of the public toward this Company resulting from the impression carried on the public mind as to our customary way of dealing with the people with whom we do business.  Are we fair? Do we practice trickery? Do we impose upon the ignorant and helpless?

Do we drive hard bargains wherever we can? Do we treat all claims as being fraudulent? Are we arbitrary, unreasonable or hard to do business with?

This management has labored to get its relations with the public on an agreeable basis.  It has exerted itself to establish the reputation of dealing fairly and reasonably with every person with whom it has business whether it is in the issuing of a bill of lading, the hauling of freight, the transportation of passengers, the acquisition of property needed for railroad purposes, payment of taxes, the settlement of cow claims, the adjustment of personal injury claims, or the delivery of freight.  Whatever the business is we want the public to entertain the belief that this Company stands ready to promptly and agreeably do what the right of the thing requires, whatever it may be. 

Few people who watched the growth of the GM&N throughout this period would question this statement made by Judge Flowers and thus it seems a fitting close to this section

 

 

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