Chicago As The Railroad Hub Of The US???

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Chicago As The Railroad Hub Of The US???
Posted by caldreamer on Wednesday, April 25, 2018 6:42 PM

Why did Chicago become the railroad hub of america instead of cities such as Kansas City, St Louis or Memphis?

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Posted by Firelock76 on Wednesday, April 25, 2018 7:34 PM

No one planned it that way, it just "happened to happen."  Look at Chicago's geographic location, especially it's proximity to the Great Lakes, and that'll probably provide a clue.  Remember, people traveled by the lakes before the railroads came.  First came the city, and the rails came to the city.

And, it's not called Americas "Second City" for nothing 

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Posted by Convicted One on Wednesday, April 25, 2018 9:01 PM

caldreamer

Why did Chicago become the railroad hub of america instead of cities such as Kansas City, St Louis or Memphis?

 

Blame the French.  The area that is now Chicago was once a popular portage between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. French trappers and traders  wore many paths between Canada and New Orleans, and Chicago was among the more popular. Because of this, infrastructure grew at this location.

It reached a point that since "everybody" was already there, that's where you had to go to do business with them.

As means of travel  gradually moved to land (wagons, rail, and  then later highways) another factor keyed in. 

Draw a straight line between New York and San Francisco. Notice that Chicago sits at the western most point on the Great Lakes that this line passes through. 

If you were building a major east-west railroad, you could hardly afford not to go there.   And since most everybody else felt the same way, it was easier to make connections there with a greater number of connecting lines.

Location, location, location!!

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Posted by Convicted One on Wednesday, April 25, 2018 9:22 PM

 

Further, In the 1800's New England was pretty much the straw that stirred the drink in terms of the economy in this country. And all the major trunks that served New England , built into Chicago. So if you were a western RR that wanted to ship Grain, or beef, or minerals from the west to New England, you pretty much needed to link up with them there, or plan on going the long way around the Appalachians. Plus, I'm sure the western lines didn't want to short-haul themselves, if they could avoid it. 

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Posted by tree68 on Wednesday, April 25, 2018 10:16 PM

Recall, too, that the industrial center of the country was in the northeast, making Chicago a natural gateway.

It might be interesting to consider what might have happened if the Great Lakes hadn't forced the railroads into that area.  

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Posted by Shadow the Cats owner on Thursday, April 26, 2018 7:07 AM

What really made Chicago the center for the railways was when Meat production became centered in the Slaughterhouses of Chicago.  Chicago offered a central hub for all points east for the most part for fresh meat to be shipped after processing.  It also offered a central point for all cattle and hogs to be shipped to.  

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Posted by PNWRMNM on Thursday, April 26, 2018 7:24 AM

The best treatment of this subject that I know of is Nature's Metropolis - Chicago and the Great West by William Cronon.

A very short version of his story is traffic. Michigan lumber from across Lake Michigan, and grain from the West to Chicago. Lumber to build towns was initially the head haul, with grain the back haul.

Another factor commonly cited is Lincoln locating the east end of the Union Pacific in what is now Council Bluffs, which advantaged Chicago vs. St. Louis as compared with a more southern point like St. Joseph.

Another factor that I do not recall much discussion about is that the Chicago lines were all on the ground making interchange relatively easy, and the Chicago lines were able to bridge the Mississippi upstream of St. Louis where the river was not as wide as at St. Louis and downstream points. At St. Louis, bridging the Mississippi was acomplished significantly later, so interchange involved ferrying cars across the river, a slow, capacity constrained, and expensive process. The map of Illinois Railroads in 1861 on page 69 of Metropolis shows the greater river distances at St. Louis clearly, and if I am reading the map correctly, both the Rock Island and the Burlington had bridges over the big river by that date.

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Posted by dmoore74 on Thursday, April 26, 2018 9:42 AM

You might also read Lincoln's Greatest Case: http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/books/ct-books-lincolns-greatest-case-brian-mcginty-20150220-story.html

Lincoln battled the riverboat interests in favor of the railroads and won.

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Posted by Firelock76 on Thursday, April 26, 2018 5:36 PM

In addition to being one of the best presidents we've ever had Ol' Abe was a helluva lawyer! 

Living proof there can be extraordinary possibilities in very ordinary people.

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Posted by wanswheel on Thursday, April 26, 2018 9:38 PM
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Posted by Gramp on Thursday, April 26, 2018 11:47 PM

Don’t underestimate the force of Chicago politics, too. 

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Posted by tree68 on Friday, April 27, 2018 4:41 PM

"A hog doesn't have to change trains in Chicago, but you do..."

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Posted by MidlandMike on Friday, April 27, 2018 7:08 PM

Many points have already been touched upon, but I will relay some more points from the book Where Rails meet the Sea by Michael Krieger.  By the time of the first railroad in Chicago in 1848 (a C&NW predecessor) Chicago was already the largest port in the midwest.  It was the Great Lakes system's western lakehead (the Soo Canal was not built until 1855), and another canal had joined Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River system at Chicago.  

The 2 railroads building from the east (Michigan Central and Michigan Southern) first started as state funded internal improvements in the early 1840's, but by the mid 1840s the state sold out to private interests.  The private MC and MS soon diverted the lines to head for Chicago, as even then Chicago was recognized as the up-and-coming destination.  The 2 ralroads eventually reached east to Buffalo.

Soon all railroads saw the need to get to Chicago.  Railroads that missed Chicago, like the Wabash, eventually had to build lines there.  Even lines in the far west felt they had to connect there.  The Santa Fe by extension, the Hill lines by acquisition of the Burlington, and the UP thru Harriman's IC.

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Posted by Convicted One on Saturday, April 28, 2018 12:05 PM

PNWRMNM
Another factor that I do not recall much discussion about is that the Chicago lines were all on the ground making interchange relatively easy, and the Chicago lines were able to bridge the Mississippi upstream of St. Louis where the river was not as wide as at St. Louis and downstream points. At St. Louis, bridging the Mississippi was acomplished significantly later, so interchange involved ferrying cars across the river, a slow, capacity constrained, and expensive process

I've often wondered if there is any definitive answer as to why the eastern titans of rail never built out into the west?

You'd think that Minneapolis, or Omaha, or Denver would have had a lot of promise for a PRR, or NYC. But other  than PRR's acqusition of  control of the Wabash (Kansas City), I can't recall any similar attempts.

The best explanation I've been able to come up with is that by the time such consideration became practical, the eastern big boys were already tying up too many resources trying to cut each other's throat to give serious consideration to expanding further west. (Buying up or leasing  under performing parallel lines to prevent them from falling into the hands of their adversary, etc)

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Posted by ELRobby on Tuesday, May 01, 2018 2:27 PM

After delving into the MC and MS board of director's meeting minutes and the MC Treasurer's outbound correspondence file along with other documents, I'm leaning to the theory that going to Chicago just happened as one reply said.  Originally, both the MC and MS were chartered to end at a port on the west side of Michigan on Lake Michigan.  The MC minutes contain page after page of analysis comparing one port to another - they ultimately picked Benton Harbor.  Although Benton Harbor was the poorer harbor and they had to build a long pier to make it work, their analysis showed that boats could get to Chicago quicker and make more round trips from there.  After reading the minutes, I have to ask the question, why not just build the railroad to Chicago?  The MC's conservative board was opposed to going any further and they even bypassed a deal to buy up the Buffalo&Mississippi/Northern Indiana charter at a cheap price that would have got them across Indiana.  Building to Benton Harbor, because of charter restrictions, also blocked out their arch rival, MS, from getting to a Lake Michigan port in Michigan.  In turn, MS bought the B&M/NI charter and started towards Chicago.  The MC, prompted by James Joy, finally also started towards Chicago, but had to spend more money to buy the New Albany & Salem charter to build a branch line anywhere in the state of Indiana.  The NA&S (Monon predecessor) used that money to finish building their line to the other port on Lake Michigan, Michigan City.  The NA&S intent was to pay off the MC and reclaim the line from MC but that never happened.  The significant thing there is that the NA&S was more interested in Michigan City than Chicago.

The MC and MS in early 1851 were jointly involved with negotiations with the Galena & Chicago Union to make a joint connection it.  These negotiations were dropped (with no explanation in the minutes).  MC connected with the IC and MS with the RI.  From the correspondence, MC was negotiating with the IC financiers even before Stephen Douglas pushed the land grant bill through Congress that made the IC possible.  One can't say that the MC wanted to connect with the IC just to get to Chicago.  Their bought NA&S charter allowed them to build anywhere in Indiana yet they chose to connect with the IC at Kensington.  Their given reason is that they could get to the south quicker without having to go additional miles into Chicago.  The southern traffic was more important to them than Chicago and they made that clear in their minutes and correspondence.  Another question is why was the IC even building to Chicago?  The line to Chicago in the IC charter is shown as the Chicago Branch.  It wasn't initially considered the main line.  In the initial MC/IC negotiations, there was some thought that the MC was going to build that part of the railroad for the IC.  At the time there was a hint of scandal in that a possible reason for building to Chicago was that Stephen Douglas' family owned lake front property in Chicago.  This was never proven. 

For the MS to get into Chicago they struck a deal with the Rock Island to acquire the property from Englewood (then known as Junction) to Chicago in the name of RI (since the MS had no charter to build in Illinois), build the railroad and split the ownership in a 50/50 undivided arrangement (and a small portion of that between Metra and NS exists to the present).  The RI was more interested in downstate and only had limited capital so relied on the MS to get them into Chicago.  The MS was interested in the Mississippi River traffic that the RI would bring them. 

It's almost by accident that the MS and MC wound up making their connections in the Chicago area.

With the Pacific Rail Act, the G&CU would become more interesting but that was over 10 years in the future when the MC and MS were building west.  Obviously of no interest to them at that time as they both dropped their negotiations with Ogden and the G&CU.  I get the impression that it was thought more probable that the southern members of Congress would push their southern transcon route through first.  That was one of the reasons for the Gadsen Purchase.

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Posted by 54light15 on Tuesday, May 01, 2018 3:19 PM

this one is for Firelock- Regarding Abe Lincoln, in the film about him from 1939 directed by John Ford, "Young Abe Lincoln" with Henry Fonda as young Abe, he is referred to as a "jackleg country lawyer." What does that mean? Also, the term "shirt-tail relative." is used in the film. I have no clue! 

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Posted by BaltACD on Tuesday, May 01, 2018 3:44 PM

54light15
this one is for Firelock- Regarding Abe Lincoln, in the film about him from 1939 directed by John Ford, "Young Abe Lincoln" with Henry Fonda as young Abe, he is referred to as a "jackleg country lawyer." What does that mean? Also, the term "shirt-tail relative." is used in the film. I have no clue! 

http://www.word-detective.com/2012/01/jackleg/

Country Lawyer.  A rural lawyer.  This term can carry positive connotations, but it sometimes suggests modest intellectual abilities.

         

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Posted by Deggesty on Tuesday, May 01, 2018 4:49 PM

Looking "jackleg" up, I saw several descriptions, none of which was complimentary; they generally indicated someone who was hopelessly incompetent.

I am not sure that the opprobious term really fitted him in his early practice, but it certainly did not fit him in his later life. 

Of course, some people will apply scurrilous terms to someone else who does better that the one who applies such terms.

Johnny

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Posted by BaltACD on Tuesday, May 01, 2018 5:46 PM

Deggesty
Looking "jackleg" up, I saw several descriptions, none of which was complimentary; they generally indicated someone who was hopelessly incompetent.

I am not sure that the opprobious term really fitted him in his early practice, but it certainly did not fit him in his later life. 

Of course, some people will apply scurrilous terms to someone else who does better that the one who applies such terms.

Just remember, in all cases the 'opposition' will always use the most discrediting terms possible.

Just witness what our country is wading through at present.

         

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Posted by MidlandMike on Wednesday, May 02, 2018 8:40 PM

Convicted One

 

I've often wondered if there is any definitive answer as to why the eastern titans of rail never built out into the west?

... 

Gould built into the west.  He acquired the Mo Pac and built the line to Pueblo to connect with his D&RGW.  And then he built the WP to give him a transcontinental system to the Pacific. 

Harriman controlled the UP, SP, IC, and was trying to gain control of eastern lines to form his own transcontinental system.

The Feds stepped in to brake up the systems to keep any system from becoming too powerful and monopolistic.

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Posted by tree68 on Wednesday, May 02, 2018 9:37 PM

Convicted One
I've often wondered if there is any definitive answer as to why the eastern titans of rail never built out into the west?

Collis Huntington certainly did.  He had a great camp in the Adirondacks, and AFAIK Huntington, WV is named after him.  Of course, he was one of the Big Four who built the Central Pacific.

Thomas Durant (of Credit Mobilier' infamy) also had eastern ties, including an attempt to build a railroad across the Adirondacks from Saratoga to Lake Ontario.

As an aside, Huntington and Thomas's son William (WW Durant), together with several others, built a 17 mile railroad from William Seward Webbs Mohawk and Malone  at Carter Station to Racquette Lake, so as to more easily reach their great camps.

One account of why the railroad was built has Huntington's wife telling him that she would not go to the great camp again unless she could make more of the trip by rail.  After all, he'd built a transcontinental railroad, he could certainly handle one seventeen miles long...

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Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Thursday, May 03, 2018 11:14 AM

Another reason why the eastern roads didn't build further west was because they didn't need to.  Several roads had already established routes into Chicago from Illinois and further west and interchange was cheaper than new construction or a buyout.

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Posted by MP173 on Thursday, May 03, 2018 4:55 PM

"The North American Railroad" by Vance goies into considerable detail about how and why railroads were built, including the Chicago situation.

Basically you had agricultural products from the west which were process for movement to the east and you had manufactured products from the east moving to the developing west.  

Vance discusses the importance of rivers (Mississippi and Ohio in particular) and why railroads often ended at points such as St. Louis, Cincy, Louisville, Memphis, New Orleans, etc.

A great book.

 

Ed

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Posted by rcdrye on Thursday, May 03, 2018 7:04 PM

Owning your own line east and west of Chicago would be great - if you went everywhere in both directions.  The advantages of Chicago interchange were recognized early, with many junctions and interchange places created very early in the Chicago railroad era.  IC and MC interchanged with C&NW at the mouth of the Chicago River until the work began to reverse the River.  The St. Charles Air Line, a short connector south of the Loop, still in use and owned by CN (IC), BNSF (CB&Q) and UP (C&NW), was chartered in 1852 and completed in 1856.  Street layouts in various parts of Chicago and nearby suburbs like Forest Park still follow some of the early interchange paths.

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Posted by Convicted One on Saturday, May 05, 2018 10:36 AM

tree68
Collis Huntington certainly did.  He had a great camp in the Adirondacks, and AFAIK Huntington, WV is named after him.  Of course, he was one of the Big Four who built the Central Pacific.

 

Well, I guess you "got me" there. Black Eye  Thumbs Up

 

Did Huntington's  C&O  ever tie-in directly with his western interests?

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Posted by tree68 on Monday, May 07, 2018 1:20 PM

Convicted One
Did Huntington's  C&O  ever tie-in directly with his western interests?

Can't say that I know.  The history of fiscal connections within the eastern railroads are not my forte - nevermind between eastern and western lines.

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Posted by BaltACD on Monday, May 07, 2018 1:44 PM

Convicted One
 
tree68
Collis Huntington certainly did.  He had a great camp in the Adirondacks, and AFAIK Huntington, WV is named after him.  Of course, he was one of the Big Four who built the Central Pacific. 

Well, I guess you "got me" there. Black Eye  Thumbs Up 

Did Huntington's  C&O  ever tie-in directly with his western interests?

The C&O did reach Chicago with it's line from Cincinnati - what traffic sustained it, I don't know.  Chessie System abandoned segments before merging into CSX account severe grades and curvature.

         

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Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Monday, May 07, 2018 1:53 PM

The C&O of Indiana seemed to survive on overhead traffic.  It got into Chicago by trackage rights over Erie and CWI from Griffith and did not have a Chicago yard of its own (Rockwell Street was a PM yard).  South Shore's Burnham Yard was used to cut off blocks for other railroads from through trains which presumably terminated at the yards of connecting roads.

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Posted by CShaveRR on Monday, May 07, 2018 3:38 PM

Paul, were you familiar with the Hammond Belt line at all?  

I learned about it quite by accident once--it was part of the C&O of Indiana's original route into Chicago (maybe even that of its predecessor Chicago, Cincinnati & Louisville).  From Griffith to HY Tower in Hammond was paired trackage between C&O and Erie.  HY was the C&O's original engine facility in the Chicago area, and there may have been a bit of a yard there, too.  From HY, the Hammond Belt headed west (slightly northwest) on its own, before curving more northerly, crossing the NKP, Erie, and C&WI on its own crossing west of the PRR crossing of those three lines.  It joined the IHB at that point, then connected with the IC in Riverdale.  The C&O's original freight house was off the IC.  All of this was gone by the 1920s.  One could see a very slight trace of embankment between Cal City and Burnham along that road that I always use so I have no need of its name, but that was since obliterated by newer houses years ago.

It was the Van Sweringen conglomeration that made it more feasible for the C&O to use Erie and C&WI in later years.  

The C&O of Indiana was a second-rate main line, compared to the rest of the C&O proper.  Even C&O's overhead coal business, which would have been substantial, was routed up through Ohio and to the NKP via Fostoria (NKP was also an affiliate).  The grades and curves were such that at one point six-axle locomotives were prohibited (that restriction probably disappeared with Amtrak's use of the line by its SDP40Fs and Pooches). 

Still, the C&O of Indiana was well maintained, and--I believe--the shortest route between Chicago and Cincinnati.  I think those Amtrak trains got a reduction in schedule time when they made the switch from whatever old route they were using at that point.  Then they had to reroute via B&O and the C&O LaCrosse Sub after the creation of Conrail (it was that aforementioned connecting portion of the Erie Lackawanna that the creators of Conrail had dictated would be abandoned along with the rest of their line...they forgot about the poor ol' C&O).

At the lower end, Chessie's creation of the Queensgate Yard in Cincinnati beginning in 1974 spelled the end for the line between Cincinnati and Cottage Grove, Indiana, after which the B&O was used east of Cottage Grove to Hamilton, thence down to Cincinnati.  I was fortunate enough to have traversed the line a couple of times before its demise, including the spectacular descent from Cheviot into the valley at Cincinnati.

Carl

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Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Tuesday, May 08, 2018 6:59 AM

Not really familiar with the Hammond Belt, sounds like much of it was gone before my parents were born.  I assume the street you have in mind is State St/Dolton Ave., which is south of the IHB through Calumet City and Burnham.  SD35/40's did run on this line prior to 1971 but that pretty much ended as C&O/B&O's huge fleet of GP40's and GP40-2's was purchased.

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