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 these fields, Burlington acquired a line from E. St. Louis to Centralia, and then extended it southward to Metropolis, IL. After construction of a bridge over the Ohio River, the line reached Paducah, KY, in 1917.In the 30s, Burlington pioneered the use of diesel engines and the high speed, streamlined, Zephyr passenger trains. Primitive diesels had been used in switch engines from about 1925, but they were slow. In 1932, General Motors had perfected a light weight, 600 horse power, eight-cylinder diesel engine, Model 201A. At the time, Burlington had a 3-car self-powered, streamlined, high speed (to 120 mph) passenger train under construction at EG Budd Manufacturing in Philadelphia. The diesel was adopted to power it. It was named the Zephyr, selected as the last word in the dictionary, to signify the last word in passenger travel. The first unit was received in April, 1934. After touring the country to rave reviews and thousands of visitors, it was placed in service on the Omaha-Kansas City line on Nov 11, 1934. Additional Zephyrs were soon added throughout the Burlington system. They were followed by diesel passenger trains, beginning in 1936. Burlington also invented the domed passenger car. The first Vista-Dome car was introduced on Jul 23, 1945. In the area of technology, presumably Burlington arrived on the scene after telegraphy became the essential element of train control. Manually operated semaphores at stations along the line indicated the presence of traffic before the next station. Pneumatic signals were installed in 1887 between Chicago and Downers Grove. Installation of the printing telegraph, a primitive teletype machine, was begun in 1910; by 1912, 2589 miles of road was dispatching trains by phone. The first automatic block signals were installed in the 1920s. Automatic train control was installed from Creston to Pacific Junction in 1924, and extended to Lincoln in 1926. The first centralized traffic control was installed in 1928. Further installation was delayed by the financial difficulties of the 1930s, but began in earnest once wartime traffic began to grow. By 1946, either CTC or multi-tracks covered the entire route from Chicago to Denver and from Chicago to Minneapolis. In cab signals were installed beginning in 1951. Later in the decade, engines and cabooses were equipped with shortwave radios for communication with train dispatchers and way stations. Janney automatic couplers were installed in the 1880s. Heavy duty Westinghouse air brakes were perfected in Burlington tests by 1887. The Burlington enjoyed relatively favorable labor relations. In 1877, a major railroad strike resulted after railroads attempted to reduce wages by 10% in response to declining earnings caused by recession and rate cutting competition. Riots resulted in Pittsburgh on the Pennsylvania and in Baltimore on the B&O. Burlington took a more moderate approach avoiding wage cuts to their already low wages. Strikers in Illinois and Iowa soon went back to work.This is a nicely done railroad history, with considerable detail of various aspects of operations. Many will find it fascinating.
Thanks, Paul - after reading your review I ordered a used copy of the paperback edition. I grew up in Northern Illinois and have fond memories of the CB&Q, CNW and IC circa the 40s and 50s.pete
Thanks pete. I enjoy reading railroad histories and have a pretty good collection of them. I've heard much about this one and finally was able to get a used copy.
Note that BNSF's website has an excellent set of references to history of their various predecessor railroads.http://www.bnsf.com/aboutbnsf/history/recreading.html
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