All Aboard!

Trains are amazing machines. From the oldest to the newest. The biggest to the smallest. Speaking of small, check out these HO gauge set-ups. HERE and HERE. When it comes to trains, some kids just can’t stop building out their railroad sets.

If you grew up in this area, no doubt you’ve heard the name Nickle Plate Railroad. Ironically there is a Nickel Plate Road, 10 minutes from my house, I never really knew how that name came to be!  The New York, Chicago, and St. Louis Railroad (reporting mark NKP), was a railroad that operated in the mid-central United States. Commonly referred to as the “Nickel Plate Road”, the railroad served a large area, including trackage in the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri, with its primary connections in Buffalo, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Toledo.  Like most boys, I love the railroad – the sounds and raw power that goes into a giant mass of wheels and steel going by catches my attention and curiosity.  Where did it come from?  Where’s it headed?  Who’s running the train?  What’s onboard?  And more. Even now when stopped by a train, I look to see the names on the cars, while trying to keep track of the total number of cars being pulled!  Today marks a special day for the NPR – when back in 1882 the trains ran the system for the first time, linking the populated cities together like never before.  I get to see remnants of the train system working every day outside my office window.  The history is centered in Cleveland and the battle for control.  Enjoy, and thanks to Wikipedia for the info and YouTube for the song. Fun classic to listen to while you read.

  • The Nickel Plate Railroad was constructed in 1881 along the South Shore of the Great Lakes connecting Buffalo and Chicago to compete with the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway.
  • The new rail lines created an economy of scale – larger, more efficient factories as the agricultural heartland of America was no longer confined to a market of single day’s trip by wagon. Railroad and railroad construction became one of the largest industries during that era. By 1881 one out of 32 people in the United States was either employed by a railroad or engaged in railroad construction.
  • Starting about 1877, two great railroad developers, William H. Vanderbilt and Jay Gould began competing for the railroad traffic along the south shore of the Great Lakes. By 1878 William Vanderbilt had a monopoly on rail traffic between Buffalo, New York; Cleveland, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; and Chicago because he owned the only railroad linking those cities – the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway, making him the richest man in America at that time.
  • By 1881 Jay Gould controlled about 15% of all U.S. railroad mileage, most of it west of the Mississippi River and he was considered the most ruthless financial operator in America. Gould’s major railroad east of the Mississippi River was the 335-mile Wabash, St. Louis, and Pacific Railway (Wabash). The Wabash mainline ran from St. Louis, Missouri, to Toledo, Ohio, where it was forced to deliver its railroad traffic to William H. Vanderbilt’s Lake Shore Railroad for delivery to the eastern United States.
  • Jay Gould and William Vanderbilt together oversaw all east-west rail traffic in the mid-west. The Seney Syndicate, owners of a 350-mile (560 km) railroad, the Lake Erie and Western Railroad, were interested in tapping new sources of revenue. The stage was set for the creation of the New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad.
  • The Seney Syndicate, headed by banker George I. Seney, met at Seney’s New York City bank and organized the New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railway Company on February 3, 1881. The original proposal for the NYC&StL was a 340-mile railroad west from Cleveland, Ohio, to Chicago, Illinois, with a 325-mile branch to St. Louis, Missouri.
  • On April 13, 1881, the New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railway Company bought the Buffalo, Cleveland and Chicago Railway, a railroad that been surveyed from the west side of Cleveland, Ohio to Buffalo, New York running parallel to Vanderbilt’s Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway.
  • The idea of an east-west railroad across northern Ohio was very popular with the people of Ohio. They wanted to break the high freight rates charged by Jay Gould and William Henry Vanderbilt.
  • Another reason for the popularity of the New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railway was the positive economic impact on cities that any new railroad went through at that time. During a newspaper war to attract the NYC&St.L the Norwalk, Ohio Chronicle Newspaper referred to it as “… double-track nickel-plated railroad.” The New York, Chicago and St. Louis adopted the nickname and it became better known as the Nickel Plate Road.
  • It was decided to start building along the surveyed route between Cleveland, Ohio and Buffalo, New York rather than build the branch to St. Louis, Missouri. Five hundred days later the Nickel Plate’s 513-mile single-track mainline from Buffalo, New York to Chicago was complete. The railroad was estimated to require 90,000 long tons (80,000 metric tons) of steel rails, each weighing 60 pounds per linear yard (30 kg/m) and 1.5 million oak crossties. Additionally, the railroad required 49 major bridges (talk about a PIA Job!)
  • Vanderbilt tried to lower the value of the Nickel Plate by organizing a campaign to smear its reputation before a train ever ran on its tracks… He succeeded in creating long-standing rumors about the line but failed to devalue the company or scare the investors.
  • The cost of construction was higher than expected and the Seney Syndicate began to negotiate with Gould to purchase the railroad, but unlike Vanderbilt, Gould lacked the capital. Frustrated at the failing talks, Gould broke off negotiations and gave up on his attempt to break Vanderbilt.
  • In early 1881, William Henry Vanderbilt could have had the Nickel Plate for one million dollars, equal to $26,500,000 today. He realized if he allowed Jay Gould to gain control of the Nickel Plate his monopoly on rail traffic from Toledo, Ohio – east would be broken. He decided he would do anything to keep the Nickel Plate out of Gould’s hands.
  • On October 25, 1882, (a few days after the first trains ran) the Seney Syndicate sold the Nickel Plate to Vanderbilt for $7.2 million, equal to $190,800,000 today. Vanderbilt transferred it to his Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway. However, Vanderbilt had a problem: he could not run the business into the ground or it would fall into receivership and someone else would buy it. He could not close the Nickel Plate either because it cost a fortune to buy. So, the Nickel Plate Road did business, but just enough to keep it solvent.
  • By the advent of the 1920s, the Nickel Plate was an obscure line that earned its keep through the transfer of freight from other rail connections. During the same period, Vanderbilt’s Lake Shore and Michigan Southern prospered and expanded.
  • Vanderbilt kept most of the rail traffic on his Lake Shore and Michigan Southern. Fewer trains on the Nickel Plate meant that they could move faster, so that is the railroad traffic they went after. By 1888 the Nickel Plate had been dubbed “The Meat Express Line.” Observers at Fort Wayne, Indiana reported six long meat trains every night and a couple of fruit trains during the day.
  • The Van Sweringen brothers of Cleveland, Ohio were the next owners of the Nickel Plate. Oris Paxton Van Sweringen and his younger brother Mantis James Van Sweringen were real estate developers who constructed a rapid transit line from their development at Shaker Heights, Ohio to downtown Cleveland. As early as 1909 the Van Sweringen brothers proposed a stub-end terminal on Public Square in downtown Cleveland. The Cleveland interurbans and traction companies were in favor of the new terminal and right-of-ways leading to it.
  • The Nickel Plate was the key. It traversed Cleveland from east to west, had a high level crossing of the Cuyahoga River Valley, and it was adjacent to the proposed terminal. The Nickel Plate also provided a natural route to the proposed terminal for the Van Sweringen’s rapid transit and the other traction lines.
  • The Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway was controlled by the New York Central Railroad’s Alfred Holland Smith, a close friend of the Van Sweringens. He had guided the Van Sweringens and even financed their rapid transit to Shaker Heights. In late 1915, the Attorney General of the United States advised the New York Central that its control of the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern and the Nickel Plate was in violation of the Federal antitrust laws. Alfred Smith called his friends, the Van Sweringens on February 1, 1916 and offered them the Nickel Plate. They bought it for $8.5 million on April 13, 1916, equal to $199,700,000 today. In return for operating concessions and access to certain stations, they only put up a little over $500,000 (equal to $11,750,000 today) but they controlled 75% of Nickel Plate’s voting stock.
  • The Van Sweringens had no intention of running the Nickel Plate. Alfred Smith was happy to give the Van Sweringens a vice-president of the New York Central, John J. Bernet, and some of his top men. Smith wanted to show that the Van Sweringens were not New York Central puppets, and the Nickel Plate needed to earn money to retire the $6.5 million in notes owed to the New York Central.
  • During Bernet’s reign, the Nickel Plate grew substantially. In 1922, the Nickel Plate purchased the Lake Erie and Western Railroad, giving it access to Sandusky, Ohio and Peoria, Illinois. Later that year, on December 28, the Nickel Plate purchased the Toledo, St. Louis and Western Railroad, also known as the “Clover Leaf Route”, finally giving the Nickel Plate access to the St. Louis area, as well as to the port in Toledo, Ohio.
  • Bernet also doubled the railroad’s total freight tonnage and average speeds system wide, while cutting fuel consumption in half. In 1934, Bernet ordered 15 Berkshire locomotives, which would become legendary with the Nickel Plate and remained as the president of the company until his death in 1935.
  • On December 29, 1937, the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway gained control of the Nickel Plate and helped with the war effort.  After the war, in 1947, the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway ended its control of the Nickel Plate, when it sold off its remaining shares.
  • Numerous legends have grown about when and how the name “Nickel Plate” was first applied. The accepted version is that it appeared first in an article in the Norwalk, Ohio, Chronicle of March 10, 1881. On that date the Chronicle reported the arrival of a party of engineers to make a survey for the “great New York and St. Louis double track, nickel plated railroad.”
  • Later, while attempting to induce the company to build the line through Norwalk instead of Bellevue, Ohio, the Chronicle again referred to the road as “nickel plated” – a term regarded as indicative of the project’s glittering prospects and substantial financial backing.
  • At the end of 1960, NKP operated 2,170 miles (3,490 km) of road on 4,009 miles (6,452 km) of track, not including the 25 miles (40 km) of Lorain & West Virginia. That year it reported 9758 million net ton-miles of revenue freight and 41 million passenger-miles.



Me, too.

As you may know the Kowalski Heat Treating logo finds its way
into the visuals of my Friday posts.
I.  Love.  My.  Logo.
One week there could be three logos.
The next week there could be 15 logos.
And sometimes the logo is very small or just a partial logo showing.
But there are always logos in some of the pictures.
So, I challenge you, my beloved readers, to count them and send me a
quick email with the total number of logos in the Friday post.
On the following Tuesday I’ll pick a winner from the correct answers
and send that lucky person some great KHT swag.
So, start counting and good luck!  
Oh, and the logos at the very top header don’t count.
Got it? Good.  :-))))
Have fun!!





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