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Subject:  Burlington Route: A History of the Burlington Li Date:  7/19/2006  11:22 PM
Author:  pauleckler Number:  319 of 756

Burlington Route: A History of the Burlington Lines, by Richard C. Overton, 1st Edition, Hardcover, Alfred A. Knopf, NY, 1965. This is the definitive history of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad from its earliest beginnings in 1847 to about 1960. Overton was given access to company records and relies heavily on its annual reports for a detailed presentation of the corporate history. The original was a three volume masterpiece, that now has been shortened to 588 pages. In many respects it is merely an overview, but even so it can be tedious at times. Still it is a remarkable summary of the railroad's history.

The CB&Q began as a Chicago railroad backed by Boston financiers and operated by experienced railroad executives. The initial segment was chartered as the Aurora (Ill) Branch Railroad on Feb 12, 1849. Eventually the main line stretched from Chicago across northern Illinois through Burlington, IA, to Omaha (for connection to the Transcontinental Railroad/Union Pacific as a participant in the Iowa Pool), and then on to Denver. Branches extended to Minneapolis from Chicago and to Billings, Montana. Early backing for the Hannibal and St. Joseph, the first railroad in Missouri, provided a parallel line to the south in the days when St. Joseph was the possible jumping off place for the Transcontinental Railroad. A branch line provided the first railroad into what became Kansas City. An acquisition brought the line south into St. Louis. The Colorado and Southern connected Denver with Galveston by way of Dallas and Houston.

The Burlington is usually considered a granger road. Its territory included extensive farm lands. Hence, agricultural products were major freight items. The railroad also received land grants, and in most cases built pioneer railroads into largely unoccupied territory, where only subsistence farming was possible until transportation improvements were made. Burlington was effective in promoting settlement of these lands–offering low cost excursions to those considering land purchases. It also worked with agricultural extension services to help farmers develop more productive practices. Special trains brought experts and demonstrations of improved methods.

Burlington was a conservatively managed railroad. New lines were usually built by creating a shell company with local investors putting up the capital. Then the Burlington agreed to reinvest any earnings by buying the bonds of the new railroad. In this way, the Burlington used its prestige to extend its reach while taking on little financial risk This approach served it well. The Burlington never defaulted on its bonds. James F. Joy was a key player in the early management of the railroad.

Burlington regarded the cities of Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, Denver and Minneapolis as gateways to its route system. It undertook efficient service between these cities. But St. Louis to Kansas City posed special problems. Their main line by way of Hannibal and then across the Hannibal and St. Joseph was round about. To correct his, in 1904 they built a line from Old Monroe, north of St. Louis, to Francis, MO near Mexico, MO. This allowed connection with the Chicago and Alton line to Kansas City. Apparently this failed and the rails were removed. Parts of the line now forms the Katy Trail in Western Missouri. A later line extension shortened the connection between Kansas City and the Hannibal and St. Joseph line.

Competition was fierce in the railroad business. Robber Baron Jay Gould was active in the area, taking over most railroads in Missouri (especially the Missouri Pacific, the Wabash, the MKT, and the Terminal Railroad in St. Louis, Eads Bridge in St. Louis, as well as a major interest in the Frisco and a board seat on the Rock Island) and maneuvering, unsuccessfully, for admission to the Iowa Pool. Because of the loose association between Burlington and its branches, he was able to gain control of the Hannibal and St. Joseph from 1871 to 1883. This caused the Burlington considerable problems. Later all the branch lines were integrated under a master mortgage.

James J. Hill is a key player in the Burlington story. He built the Great Northern railroad. In 1893, the Northern Pacific fell into receivership. As part of the reorganization, Hill was to take over management of the Northern Pacific. That effort failed, but none the less he became a major shareholder. In 1901, the Hill lines acquired the CB&Q with backing from JP Morgan. The Northern lines wanted direct access to Chicago, and Burlington management thought the Northern lines were a better fit than the alternative to be acquired by Harriman's Union Pacific. (Interest in possible connection with Santa Fe waned after Santa Fe built its direct high speed connection between Kansas City and Chicago through Burlington territory.) Details of the Hill organization were overruled by the courts. But thereafter the three Hill railroads ran co-operatively. They exchanged managers and pursued common objectives.

Hill interests soon realized their system was short of coal, an essential in the days of steam engines. An expert found high quality coal in southern Illinois. To reach thes