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Contact the
Roger Hensley

  Railroads of Madison County
Craig Sanders

Date: Mon, 09 Jan 1995
Subject: Follow-up to earlier message

Roger --

While going through some old mail messages this morning, I noticed that you and I talked briefly a while back about when the New York Central took over the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway.

Here is some additional information. The Vanderbilt family, which owned the NYC, obtained control of the Big 4 in the early 1870s. However, the New York Central Lines did not fully absorb the Big 4 until 1930.

I'm not quite sure what is meant by "fully absorb." I have two timetables, one dated 4-2-33 and another dated 3-15-33 that were both issued by the Big 4. The cover also sports the New York Central Lines logo and the words: "C.C.C. & St.L. Ry. The NYCRR Co. lessee."

I think what this all means is that on paper the Big 4 remained something of a separate entity. It probably still had its own charter and so forth. And for economic and regulatory purposes, had to maintain something of a seperate identity. Yet, control of the company clearly rested in the hands of the NYC. It seems to me that one would need to know what the regulatory climate was in the 1930s to fully understand why a company that was "fully aborbed" by another company would continue to have somewhat of a separate identity.

Maybe it was in part a marketing ploy as well. Since railroads were still heavily involved in the passenger business in those days, perhaps the Big Four name was a more marketable commodity than the NYC name at the time. People were familiar with the Big 4 name, less so with the NYC.

It's interesting, though, how railroad names linger. I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s in Mattoon, Ill, located on the Big Four mainline to St. Louis. During that time -- including after the formation of Penn Central, people would continue to refer to the railroad as the Big Four. That name would on occasion appear on city maps. This was long after the Big 4 name ceased to appear on timetables, rolling stock, etc.

For what it's worth, the Big 4 purchased the Peoria and Eastern (between Peoria, Ill. and Indianapolis) in 1890. It bought in 1902 the Cincinnati Northern in 1902. That line extended from Cincy to Jackson, Mich.

At one time, the Big 4 was headquartered in Indianapolis. Its HQ building still stands, I believe, on the SE corner of Meridian and Maryland. That's across from the new Circle City downtown mall. The Big 4 began construction in 1906 of a new shops complex in Beech Grove. This is the same shop that Amtrak owns today. Previously, the Big 4 had a shops complex in Brightwood (an east side Indianapolis neighborhood) along the Bee Line, which is still used by Conrail.

The Big 4 at this time (1906) had six routes out of Indy:

Indianapolis-St. Louis (via Terre Haute)
Indianapolis-Chicago (via Lafayette and Kankakee, Ill.)
Indianapolis-Peoria, Ill.
Indianapolis-Cleveland (via Muncie and Galion, Ohio)
Indianapolis-Galion, Ohio via Springfield, Ohio)

The Big 4 also had a route from Louisville, Ky. to Benton Harbor, Mich. which ran through Anderson. There were also numerous other Big 4 branches in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. In total, the Big 4 once had more than 2,000 miles of track.

I wonder how many of these lines still exist today? Perhaps that could be a project we could work on it you're interested.

I hope this information has been helpful and interesting.

craig sanders

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