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STATEMENT OF MR. GEORGE M. BRINSON, REPRESENTING THE
MIDLAND RAILWAY, SAVANNAH, GA.
The CHAIRMAN. Give your name and address and whom you represent.
Mr. BRINSON. George M. Brinson; the Midland Railway; Savannah, Ga.
The CHAIRMAN. You may proceed and make your statement without interruption.
Mr. BRINSON. Mr. Chairman, so far as that goes I am not anything of a speaker. I can not stand up and think to save my life, and never could. This is just one thing I have not done. I have done everything else in the world I could for my little road except come here and talk to you, and I felt I ought to do that, whether I create any impression or not. I felt I ought to come here and tell our experiences during the war.
I have got 88 miles of railroad running out of Savannah in a northwesterly direction; that is to say, we run to a point known as Stevens Crossing. We completed it there along about the time this Government went into the war, or a little after. We were not able to get equipment, especially locomotives, during the war on account of the fact that during the war we could not get locomotives at all, and since the war the price has been so high that we could not afford to pay for them, and we have been in a deuce of a fix, with lack of equipment and the abnormally high prices for labor and fuel and supplies. That has just about broken our backs. We are almost strictly a local proposition running out into a new territory; pioneering, as it were. We have three competitive points, and while we have lost a little business to those points by reason of freight being diverted from us, that has not been the worst trouble with us. For instance, Pineora is a junction point with the Central Railroad. Statesboro is another junction point with the Savannah & Statesboro and Central Railroad, and Garfield with the Georgia & Florida. More or less freight has been diverted from us, but that is not the worst of it. The worst of it with us was the lack of equipment. We did not get started quick enough before the war began, and then we could not get it during the war, and since the war the prices have been so abnormally high until we did not feel as if we could stand it, and we have been and are in a pretty close condition. That just happens to be our fix. If we had been equipped before the war began it would not have fallen quite so heavily upon us, I do not believe, although we would have lost money. Just as sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west that day we have lost money and there is no help for it.
It looks to me that operating a little railroad is no place for preachers' sons. I do not believe there is ever going to be any chance again for little railroads in this country, and it seems to me that some plan whereby the little railroads at some value could be taken over and put into some of these big systems and let the little fellows out—it seems to me that is about the only hope I see for the little railroads in these United States. I am not a quitter. I own this railroad. It is about all I do own, and I personally would like to get something out of the wreck, but I do not see how I can do it
as the matter stands. Unless rates are raised and unless conditions are made more tolerable for the short-line railroads, I do not see how any of them can get along unless it may be some railroad that drags empties up to a coal mine and lets them run down by gravity. Those people might get along because they have a cinch, but as for the little railroads who go out and do a local business pure and simple, whenever these railroads are turned back and big railroads, frightened to death at conditions-heretofore, under the arrangements that little railroads were able to make with the big railroads they connected with, they kind of looked upon them as a big, strong, able brother, you know ; now, when it is “ dog eat dog and every fellow out for himself,” the little railroads, in my judgment, are simply going to be overwhelmed. They are going to be “ kivered up," so to speak. There is not going to be anything left of them.
Mr. Sims. What is your suggestion, in a practical way, as to what should be done in the way of legislation?
Mr. Brinson. I believe that Senator Cummins's plan of putting the railroads into zones or into large systems is about the only way that the little railroads will ever get anything for the money they have invested in them. Maybe I am too pessimistic, but I have had two years and a half of it, and of course, every ewe thinks her lamb is the whitest, and every man thinks his troubles are the greatest, and I may be unduly pessimistic.
Mr. Sims. You have had experience, though, on which you base that statement. Mr. BRINSON. I have; yes, sir.
Mr. DEWALT. Was your railroad taken over by the Railroad Administration ?
Mr. BRINSON. That reminds me, if you will excuse me for the interpolation of this statement, of Mr. Windom, who is a mighty good fellow, president of the Central Railroad and now Federal manager of the Central Railroad; Windom was just kind of laughing at me about being taken over by the Railroad Administration under a short-line contract, and I said, “Windom, the difference between me and you is that you are in the bosom of Uncle Sam, and I have a slipping hold on his left hind leg.” That is about the way of the short-line contract.
Mr. DEWALT. That does not answer my question. Were you taken over?
Mr. BRINSON. Yes, sir. I thought you would understand that by what I said. We were taken over under a short-line contract.
Mr. DEWALT. Under that contract, were you not able to meet expenses?
Mr. BRINSON. Oh, no; the contract, if I may say so, really meant about this, in fact, where the big railroads did not need the cars and they were standing about on sidings, not in use, we could get them. When the big railroads needed the cars they would say to us, "We are 300 or 500 or 1,000 cars short to-day and we can not give them to you.”. The purpose and intent of that contract, as I understand it, was that we were to share and share alike. It has not been true in our case.
We have not shared and shared alike. We have got them just when they did not need them.
Mr. Sims. Mr. Brinson, you present a case that is very serious and one that should be considered by the committee. If existing short
lines can not continue to operate without loss, how can we expect to have any new construction of the same character of lines to open up new territory. Mr. BRINSON. You never will in these United States.
Mr. Sims. As you live in the South, and I do, too, we have a similar knowledge. Does not the future development of the South, south of the Ohio and east of the Mississippi Rivers, largely depend upon new construction of feeders or short lines for the development of localities where no trunk line is likely to go or to be hereafter constructed.
Mr. Brinson. Yes, sir. In other words, the short-line railroads are pioneers. They go out into the new territory where the population is thin and where taxable values are low. They build up the country and they enable the people to increase their property valuation and to my mind, although it sounds a little ridiculous, that is the reason I am in the short-line railroad business. I built three or four little railroads, and on each one of them I came out fairly well, but I built just one too many, just one.
Mr. Sims. How can we expect anyone throughout the South to put any capital into a new enterprise of that sort if those already in existence can not maintain themselves. That is the saddest feature of all of it.
Mr. Brinson. I can not conceive of how any man under conditions as they now exist could be foolish enough to go ahead and build a new railroad into new territory, unless it were necessary for the individual to build the railroad in order to get his own stuff out or something of that kind; that is, build a short line to a sawmill or something of that sort where he owned a lot of timber or a lot of coal, and build what you might call a tap line.
Mr. Sims. Or a plant facility.
Mr. Brinson. Yes; exactly, but what I started to say just now that is the reason I am in this business now, and for a hard-headed business man to say it, it might sound foolish to you all, but to my mind there is nothing in the world like building a railroad out through a new territory and seeing it grow and prosper and feeling that you helped them to do it. That is the kind of thing my wife does not understand.
Mr. Sims. Is it your theory or your thought that we can, by legislation, force the trunk lines connecting with these short lines to pur. chase them and pay their property value, or how do you expect to secure the sale of such roads to the trunk lines? What power have we got to force that, especially as they are already losing propositions?
Mr. Brinson. If you have not the power—and I do not know whether you have or not-because I do not know much about the legal part of it; in fact, I do not know anything. You see I have had my nose so close to the grindstone all my life that it has been like a cat chasing its tail, going around in a ring all the time, but if there is no balm in Gilead, if there is no way to help the little railroads, then they are in a sad situation.
Mr. Sims. Could we or not authorize a rate over the short line that would, of itself, permit the short line to live, if the rate was not so high that it would practically prevent the use of it by the shippers! Mr. Brinson. If you had a dozen short lines and you would examine into the needs of each particular short line without prejudice and do the best you could, I believe that could be done, but where you have seven or eight hundred of these little fellows scattered all over the United States, how you could promulgate any rate that would suit all individual cases I do not know, unless you made it abnormally high.
Mr. Sims. So high as to depress development on the line.
Mr. Brixson. Yes. You see, these short-line railroads under the situation that has heretofore prevailed, have, by the practice of small economies and large ones, too, been able to get along on thin revenue. They did not pay, for example, standard wages. They took a kind of fatherly interest, so to speak, in the few employees they had and kind of kept them together by furnishing houses for them and various little things of that sort which were things they could do which the big railroads could not, and they were able to keep their costs down, but we are confronted now with a situation that is the most extraordinary I have ever seen. I had a boiler maker the other day working on an engine—I hope I do not tire you gentlemen-he had been working for me off and on for 15 years. He used to work for me at $3 a day and give me good service. He is now getting, I believe, 88 cents an hour. He was putting in a few staybolts, and I said to him, and there was nobody listening but him, “ John, sort of push along. I am obliged to have this engine to-morrow. You are not doing your duty. You are not doing like I know you can do, push along and give me this engine.” There was nobody listening, but he got up and brushed the dust off of his overalls, the son-of-a-gun, gathered up his tools and walked off.
Mr. Sims. It has been suggested in these hearings that we might, by legislation, compel discriminatingly favorable divisions of a through rate on freight originating on, or delivered to, or destined to these short lines as compared with the trunk-line haul; would a thing of that sort save such situation as yours?
Mr. BRINSON. Yes, sir; I believe so. Any rules or laws could be made that would suit generally, whether you could fit the case to the individual railroad or not, how you would do that, I am not prepared to say. So far as I am concerned, if I knew that I could pay expenses and interest, without making a dollar-I am not talking about the stock, I am talking about the interest on my debt-for the next three or four years, I would be tickled to death.
Mr. Sims. And you would take a chance on the country growing? Mr. BRINSON. Yes, sir.
Mr. DEWALT. Mr. Brinson, I am going to ask you these questions, they are rather personal questions
Mr. Brinson (interposing). All right, I will answer them as far Mr. DEWALT. I will not be offended if you do not answer them. Your railroad is 88 miles long? Mr. BRINSON. Yes, sir. Mr. Dewalt. It runs out of Savannah? Mr. BRINSON. Yes, sir. Mr. DEWALT. What is the other terminal point ? Mr. Brisson. Stevens Crossing, where the Georgia & Florida Railroad runs between Augusta and Madison, Fla.
as I can.
Mr. DEWALT. How many connecting roads have you?
Mr. Brinson. The Georgia & Florida, the Central of Georgia, and the Savannah & Statesboro, which is a subsidiary of the Seaboard.
Mr. DEWALT. How many trunk lines?
Mr. Brinson. The Central of Georgia—well, I suppose you call the Georgia & Florida a trunk line; it is 300 or 400 miles long.
Mr. DEWALT. What did your road cost you, the 88 miles?
Mr. DEWALT. Your stock and bond issues aggregate $860,000 and the cost of your road was what?
BRINSON. About $1,200,000. Mr. Dewalt. You built just preceding the war; just about the time that the war opened.
Mr. Brinson. Yes, sir. I thought I was mighty shrewd to build while everything was cheap.
Mr. DEWALT. What was your deficit the first year!
$? Mr. BRINSON. Yes, sir,
Mr. DEWALT. And the other two amounts for the other two fiscal years?
Mr. Brinson. Yes, sir.
Mr. DEWALT. How is this stock owned; by two or three parties or by yourself!
Mr. Brinson. By myself, except 4 shares to qualify.
Mr. DEWALT. In this 88 miles, how many towns have you along the line of any size; which are the largest towns!
Mr. BRINSON. The only town of any size, except the terminal in Savannah, is Statesboro.
Mr. DEWALT. How large is that?
Mr. DEWALT. How many villages have you of, say, 500 inhabitants along the line?
Mr. Brinson. Pineora, where we cross the Central Railroad, has probably 800; Garfield, where we cross the Georgia & Florida, has probably 1,500; and then we have another little town, Portal, of 600.
Mr. Þewalt. The towns which you have mentioned are not of any size at all, and you have what you call a railroad running through an agricultural region ?
Mr. BRINSON. There is considerable timber there. There is more timber proportionately along our line than any railroad running into Savannah for its length.