Methodology for researching the histories of specific lines : LUSENET : ACL and SAL Railroads Historical Society : One Thread

Over the years, I have enjoyed reading and learning from responses regarding questions on histories of specific lines. Also, I recently benefited from the response to my question concerning the history of the old ACL branch line from Elrod to Chadbourn, NC. However, now I have a generic follow-up question that could provide a benefit to all of us interested in the histories of specific lines. What approach does one use to obtain the info often provided in answers by members such as Mr. Underwood? What literature must be on hand for reference when researching specific line history? The basis for my question here is simple. I would like to have the ability to do such research myself. That would allow me to enjoy this hobby more while at the same time reducing my dependence on others. Using the example of my question posted a few back on the Elrod-Chadbourn line, I can understand how one gets from a predecessor railroad company to the line being in the hands of the ACL. I would use Edson's "Railroad Names" to follow, for example, from the Southeastern Railroad to the ACL. That book would also give the dates involved in any takeovers, purchases, or whatever. How does one initially determine who originally constructed some obscure branch? Ideally this would include when construction began, as well as when a line opened. Are old "Official Guides" used? How does one go about establishing when it was abandoned? If a portion of a line was sold rather than abandoned, how is info obtained about that the date that occurred and what particular section of track was involved? I would be grateful if those of our group who are proficient with respect to this would be kind enough to explain to those of us wishing to learn how, in detail, this information is obtained. Help us to help ourselves. Ed Faggart Lincolnton, NC

-- Ed Faggart (, December 21, 2003


Ed - I apologize - while typing my response, I hit the submit button in the middle of what I was saying. I will continue by advising that both Poors and Moody manuals may be available in State Libraries - I know that they are available in the Virginia State Library in Richmond. 3. Another great source is the annual reports of the State Corporation Commissions. Under state constitutions, states have authority over railroad matters within their state. For example, they control discontinuance of intrastate passenger service and the closing of stations and agencies. I think most of these annual reports are available in state libraries and if you could access the background files for the cases at the state commission, you could probably obtain even more information. I have established the date for the closing of practically all of the SAL stations in Virginia from the State Corporation Commission annual reports. 4. Railroad annual reports prior to the 1980's are a good source of history about the road. Railroad annual reports of the last 10 or 20 years are worthless public relations bull. 5. Railroad employee magazines can be a good source of information. Some railroads magazines are better than others. You will also have to wade through a lot of favorite recipes, wedding, birth and graduation news - but there can also be exceptionally good articles on new facilities, equipment and service. 6. Employee timetables are valuable accounts of operational data as of the date of the timetable. 7. Railroad files, if you can access them, are THE source of railroad information. Of course, to get at them you need to be a railroad employee, have a friend who is a railroad employee who will give you access to them, or access the files once the railroad has donated them to a library or historical society. For example, C&O files have been donated to the C&OHS; N&W files have been given to Virginia Tech and most of the RF&P files are at the Virginia State Library. The John W. Barriger Library at St. Louis University has a tremendrous collection which includes the negatives of the American Car and Foundary. In some instances it is possible to access the files or at least determine what files are available through the library's website. I have found that some of the most valuable files for historical data on railroads are the company's AFE files in the Accounting Department. When a department wants to make a purchase of a substantial nature,i.e., buy locomotive, rolling stock, bridge, etc. or dispose of same, they are required to complete an AFE (Authority for Expenditure) form with supporting documentation for the request, which then goes to the Board of Directors for approval. I found these files invaluable for finding data on acquistion and disposition of RF&P locomotives and rolling stock. 8. Court cases are a great source of information. If there is a law school nearby, go to their library and just look up the railroad's name in the index of court decisions. I used to check the Virginia Reports for decisions of the Va. Supreme Court and the Southeastern Reporter for cases involving railroads all over the South. You may be surprised at what you will find. 9. Also go to the state library and check out the statues in the State Code that apply to railroads. You can find railroad charter information in the code. 10. While you are at the library, check out the county histories for the counties where your favorite railroad operated in the state. As a result of the bicentennial, many counties published histories of their county and you will find chapters on the railroad in that county and frequently there are photos of the railroads gathered from county residents. I have gotten leads on some amazing photos from this source. 11.Newspapers can be a good source but can't always rely on their reporting of the facts and you need to know an approximate date of what you want to research. Then go to the library and go through the their microfilms of the newspapers. This is an especially good way to research train wrecks, station openings, special trains,etc. 12. Don't forget magazines (like Trains) and historical society publications (NRHS Bulletin, ACLSALHS Lines South). Someone may have already done a lot of research on the subject. 13. Do a keyword search on the internet. Alot of junk comes up, but you may also uncover a gem.

A warning, researching railroad history is habit forming. The folks down at the Virginia State Library knew me on a first name basis. Happy hunting.

-- William E. Griffin, Jr. (, December 31, 2003.

Ed - Your question opens up a subject dear to me, i.e., researching railroad history. I'd done quite a bit of it, and here are the sources I use: 1. Far and away the best source of authoritative railroad history is found in the reports of the Interstate Commerce Commission (now known as the Surface Transportation Board). In 1914, the ICC began the valuation of all properties of the railroads held for and used in the service of transportation. In those Valuation Reports, railroads companies and their predecessors are documented, as well as their properties, equipment, etc. Also, the ICC has jurisdiction over railroad transactions such as mergers, acquisitions, abandonments, trackage rights, service startups and discontinuances, rates, reciprocal switching, etc. These transactions are reported in Finance Docket reports and contain a wealth of railroad history. The Valuation and Finance Dockets, which go well over 300 volumes can be found in the law offices of any railroad and in the offices of attornies licensed to practice before the ICC. I used to have ready access to them in the law office of the RF&P and I still go down to the CSX law office in Jacksonville to look up information. Research of the ICC dockets in made easy by using the Hawkins Index of the ICC decisions. Unfortunately, ICC reports are probably not available in any libraries. Hopefully, the ACL&SALHS can obtain a set for our archives. 2. Poor's Manuals are one of the best sources for the historical development of early railroads. The manauls give yearly updates on the construction of lines and their equipment. The Poor's Manual was followed by the Moody Transportation Manuals giving financial data and investment information on railroads. Both Poors' Manual and Moody Manuals ma

-- William E. Griffin, Jr. (, December 31, 2003.

Although I agree with Bill's idea that the personal side of railroading history is very imnportant, I must take issue with his notion that dates of completion or abandonment are "cold dry facts" and that 100 years from now anyone can determine these dates.

I for one an always curious about completion and abandonment dates and find that information quite interesting.

And as for the alleged ease of determining completion/abandonment date, I just wish it was that easy. Prior to the Transportation Act of 1920, which gave the ICC jurisdiction over construction and abandonment, hundreds of small roads started and quit without so much as a by-your-leave from any authority, especially smaller lumber or mining roads that conducted only marginal common carrier activities.

This having been said, I do agree with Bill that the "human side" of railroading is every bit as important as construction and abandonment dates.

Bob Hanson

-- Robert H. Hanson (, December 24, 2003.

As someone who has done a little research, let me offer the following sources of information:

First and best source would be Poor's Manuals, or Moody's Manuals, as previously mentioned. They provide essentially the same information. In addition to giving financial information, these volumes provide thumbnail histories of the various companies and occasionally provide better maps than are found in an Official Guide. Also, if you hit the right year (and this varies) you can sometimes find a promotional piece on a railroad that is in the organizational stage. This is rare, however.

Second - The ICC's Statistics of Railways. This gives the name of the company, its length, and its corporate affiliation, if any. It also lists abandonments that occurred in the year covered by the volume. (Covers entire corparate abandonments, not branches or line segments.) I found roads here that I've not heard of before or since.

Third - Official Railway Guides - as previously mentioned

Fourth - Railway Equipment Registers - these not only provide listing of freight and passenger equipment (freight only after 1943), but provide maps, interchange points, officers, etc.

Fifth - Employees Timetables. Operating timetables offer information as to distances, unusual operating problems (heavy grades, light bridges, etc.), and speed limits can speak volumes about track conditions.

Sixth - Annual Reports. These are iffy. When the company is independent, they can contain a wealth of info. If the company is a subsidiary of a larger one with very few minority shareholders, it will contain what is required by the ICC and/or the SEC and not a comma more.

I've most of the above in the UGA library in Athens, but I'm certain that almost any major university library would contain the same info. The University of Alabama library in Tuscaloosa has a marvelous collection of timetables (mostly public, but some employee) and will make copies for a fairly nominal fee.

Hope this helps.

Bob Hanson

-- Robert H. Hanson (, December 24, 2003.

Ed - A thought occured during the day... Poor's also published a MANUAL OF PUBLIC UTILITIES, elec., gas, etc., operators. If you intend buying Poor's, make sure you are getting the RAILROAD version. The only saving grace of the PUBLIC UTILITIES version is that it covered some interurban and city trolley lines. FYI, eh?

-- Tom Underwood (, December 23, 2003.

Ed - The difference between an OFFICIAL GUIDE and a Poor's MANUAL is that an OG is a book of timetables while a Poor's is an investment guide. The OG will only give you the same data that a system timetable does, albeit for all RR companies. A Poor's, an annual, gives basic data, when lines opened, mileage (usually broken down by line & branch), how many locos and cars, and financial data. If a RR opened a new branch during the year, the MANUAL will give the date. It also outlines corporate connections, listing subsidiary operators, etc. Poor's published yearly from about 1860 into the 1930's. It was superceded my Moody's MANUAL, which, I think is still being published. Almost any library will have a copy of the current Moody's. There are complete sets of Poor's in libraries around the country. Generally colleges that give MBA dipolmas. Some State Libraries, also. If you are planning on buying copies of Poor's, expect to pay about $200 each. I have not heard of any Poor's reprints. Selling copies on a CD would be easier and cheaper. Wouldn't that be a researchers godsend?

Another source of similar data is the annual reports that railroads made to the state Public Utility Commissions or as they were earlier known, the Railroad Commission. These are on file at PUC libraries in the State Capitol, or the State Library. These reports also list accidents, pedestrian deaths, new buildings, etc., and are somewhat the same as a railroad companie's financial annual report sent to stock holders. Annual reports list new construction, rolling stock totals, as well as new customers, and financial data.

There is a lot of sources out there. It's just a matter of finding them and making copies. Good hunting!

-- Tom Underwood (, December 23, 2003.

Thanks for the input. There are few aspects of this on which I would appreciate some elaboration. Since I believe the anticipated response will be of some interest to the group as a whole, I pose this here on the forum. I have a reasonable number of books on the ACL, SAL, and related lines. I also have a copy of "Railroad Names". At present, I do not have any of the Poor's Manuals. However, there should be little problem in obtaining some issues. Thus, I believe that I could in the future have the resources to do research to some degree of detail using railroad books, Poor's, and as a cross-reference "Railroad Names". My first question is how do I get from a specific line, such as the ACL's Elrod to Chadbourn branch to the railroad who built the line? Are there maps in Poor's of the state for the year of issue? Once the original railroad is established, I believe I can follow its ownership using "Railroad Names" and other references. Second, if the line is sold to a shortline and later abandoned, how it that readily determined as opposed to the line being abandoned outright by the ACL, SAL, SCL., or other major railroad? With my current level of understanding, it seems overlooking that could be easy. Third, what is the fundamental difference in a "Poor's Manual" and an "Official Guide"? Finally, are some the old issues of Poor's being reprinted the way the Guides are?

-- Ed Faggart (, December 23, 2003.

Against my better judgement, I have to jump in here. Bill, I disagree with your perception that no one is interested in the kind of details you mention. On the contrary, I think that is precisely the kind of stuff that most of us armchair railroaders are interested in hearing. Sure, there may be some interest in who- built-what, but that is in addition to, and not instead of, the more human element. That is why your articles in Lines South, and your postings on some of the other internet groups, draw such a wide audience. The maps and the corporate histories will be around a lot longer than the guys who ran the trains. I have made this point before. Check my article, "Missed Opportunities," in the August 2001 Model Railroader, p. 106. The one area where I think RR historical societies in general are weak, including this one, is the preservation of day-to-day operational details, and the stories of real railroaders. From my own experience, I know that a lot of retired railroaders don't understand the interest of us amateurs, and some don't want to be bothered. That is why those like Bill who are willing to share their knowledge, are such treasures. Now, Bill: Loosen up those fingers and start typing.

Sandy Bridges

-- Sandy Bridges (, December 22, 2003.

A good discussion on one of my favorite topics! First, let me jump in and say I see NO conflict whatever between the "cold, hard" facts and the "human interest" side of railroading - although different people have different degrees of interest in one or the other, to me they are inextricably linked, and the full railroad story is incomplete without both. As for Tom's call for Bill to publish his memories, Amen to that, but we are already doing our best to move Bill along by publishing his stories in Lines South just as quickly as they come in, and in fact I was e mailing Bill again just today about his latest submission. Bill, I know you have MUCH more to share, and believe me your audience is out here waiting anxiously for every new story you tell.

Now as to research, Tom covered that front very well, and I share his pain at the absence of the ICC library and the inexcusable fact that it remains boxed up somewhere in Colorado. The only slightly good news in that vein is that the AAR library, which also decamped from Washington some years ago, is at least available, although it is in St. Louis. The Library of Congress (so far) hasn't packed up and moved, and it has many good holdings, but you have to have a lot of patience and time to find and see what they have. Same goes for the National Archives, just outside Washington. Anyone who is in the Washington area (or wants to come visit) and wants to know more about these collections, can contact me and I'll supply more details.

Many other libraries have good information too - Ed, in your area, I would try UNC Charlotte, UNC-CH, and NC State. Most of these places have bound volumes of Railway Age with indexes, an excellent source of old RR construction and corporate news. Also the NC state archives in Raleigh has a good collection of photos and building drawings.

Finally, look no further than your friendly neighborhood historical society. We offer many issues of SAL annual reports, for example, although we currently don't offer any ACL reports; we may reprint these at some future date. We do offer reprints of the ACL News magazine however. In our data book reprint selection, we have ACL and SAL corporate histories that feature detailed histories of each line segment's origins. Our ACL and SAL track profiles would also be of some help in establishing what track was in place as of the publication date.

As Tom rightly points out, it does take time and money to accumulate all this, but once you have it, this material pays repeated dividends in information. There's much more that could be said on the subject, but e mail me off list if you want to continue the discussion.

-- Larry Goolsby (, December 22, 2003.

Ed - With all due respect to Mr. Sellers posting, might I suggest that he publish his railroad memories. Thus, "100 years from now", not only will the historical dates be available, but also the day-to-day operations. To answer your question, there are two ways to go about doing railroad research. 1.) Travel around the country to State Libraries, University Libraries, etc., delve into their collections and make copies, OR, 2.) Build a personal library, using the money you would've spent on travelling around the country. If you opt for the later, you would start with the published company histories, such as Prince's book on the ACL, followed by copies of Poor's MANUAL OF THE RAILROADS, Bill Edson's RAILROAD NAMES, Annual Reports, timetables, etc. In answering the Elrod-Chadburn posting I also used the Kalmbach paperback book on shortlines. Something is to be said for the library visits, though. Such as a complete set of Poor's, sets of annual reports, etc., that would be near impossable for one person to amass at this late date. My biggest loss was when the ICC Library closed in downtown Washington DC. This was during the reorganization into the Surface Transportation Board ("Surf Board"?). The ICC collection was given to a college in Denver, CO., and I understand that the collection is still in boxes years later. The ICC collection had huge collections of OFFICIAL GUIDES, EQUIPMENT REGISTERS, trade magazines, etc. I spent alot of time there in years past. While the foregoing may only partly answer your question, it'll get you started.

-- Tom Underwood (, December 22, 2003.

Ed: This is obviously of little use in answering your inquiry about the method used to conduct research into railroad history, but rather is a personal observation on my part. I never have understood why all this nitpicking about when a rail line was built, and by who, and when it went out of business. Your Elrod-Chadburn branch is a case in point. It is a cut and dried statistic that the first segment of that line to be abandoned was between Fairmont and Chadbourn in the mid fifties.That is a simple cold uninteresting fact. But when it comes to people such as myself who can relate to the days when Chadbourn was a beehive of activity as a produce center originating many carloads of truck farm crops going in various directions, that is classed only as the musings of an old has-been. Another cold fact is that the Washington & Vandemere Railroad extending from Washington, N.C. to Vandemere, N.C. via Aurora, N.C. was abandoned in 1954. But is anyone interested in the fact that I fired the second locomotive on doubleheaded 75 car train of irish potatoes that originated in Aurora and went to Rocky Mount. Not hardly. Or the fact that when I was a young railfan during the depression 30's I was taken along on the local to Vandemere by Captain Ellsworth, the conductor who brought the first train into Washington, N.C. when the ACL was opened between Parmele and Washington at the turn of the century. I suppose my point is that we who were still around operating those lines are dying off, and our memories along with it.The beginning and end of a line can still be determined 100 years from now in the record books, but the people who made them a living breathing operation will have long been forgotten. Does this add up, or am I out of date?

-- Bill Sellers (, December 21, 2003.

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