The Railroad Pass and the Deadhead

W. Arnot Craick September 1 1911

The Railroad Pass and the Deadhead

W. Arnot Craick September 1 1911

The Railroad Pass and the Deadhead

W. Arnot Craick

TO be able to ride free on a railroad train is one of those blissful sensations which is probably more enjoyed in imagination by people who do not have passes than it is in reality by those who do. It is such a commonplace to the man with a pocketful of annuals to travel around for nothing, that he soon ceases to enjoy the experience. But, notwithstanding this inevitable result, there is an undoubted glamor about railroad passes that makes them objects of interest and desire. .

By all established precedents in entering on such a subject as the present, one should first define just what a railroad pass is. To do this in an illuminative way, it is only necessary to refer once again to the story so often told of the farmer away back in the early days of the railroad, when typewriters were unknown, who wrote a letter to the president of an American railway demanding redress for the death of some pigs, killed by a locomotive. The president took the trouble to write in

reply a personal note to the farmer on the official paper of the railroad company, but, on account of his poor writing, only the signature was legible. The farmer could not decipher the letter, nor could his family or friends. Presently somebody suggested that it might mean that the president wanted the farmer to come and see him. Judging this to be the case, the farmer boarded the next train for the city and when the conductor came for his ticket, produced the letter, explaining that the president had sent for him. The conductor, seeing the signature, concluded that this was the case and allowed the farmer to travel free. Arrived at the city, the latter went to the president’s office and explained to the great man’s secretary that he had come to seek compensation for the death of his pigs. The president was away and so he was sent to the claims agent who adjusted the matter to his satisfaction. After that, whenever the wily farmer wanted to travel on the railroad, he took along the president’s letter and, show-

ing it to the conductor, claimed a free ride. For twenty years he never had to pay a fare. The president’s signature was sufficient to enable him to dispense with a ticket, and while the letter was really an invitation for the farmer to betake himself to a warmer region, he was always prepared to interpret it otherwise and travel as the guest of the road. This story will probably serve without further explanation to define a railroad pass.

It was by no means an uncommon thing in the early days for the higher officials of railroads to scribble off an order for free transportation on any slip of paper that came to hand and their signatures were always honored. Veterans like Mr.

Edmund Wragge, of Toronto, who was General Manager of the Toronto, Grey and Bruce many years ago, can recall the time when a few words from his pen were sufficient to secure anyone a free ride over that road. The same gentleman treasures an old, soiled and tom piece of paper on which Jay Gould had written in his own hand an order to the conductors of the Erie Railroad to pass Mr. Wragge from Suspension Bridge to New York. The old financier had been about to add, by force of habit, doubtless, “and return,” and had written down the “and” when he remembered that it was not required. A rub of the thumb across the word served to obliterate it, partially at least. On such make-shift passes as these men travelled

in 1871. But those halcyon days are over. Issuing passes has become a regular business now and even presidents and general managers must conform to the rules and get the transportation they require through the proper channels and in the regulation form.

Generally speaking there are, or have been, three kinds of passes: The life

pass, a delightful affair, which, alas! is no longer honored; the annual pass, the cherished possession of officials and members of Parliament; and the trip pass, the commonest form of all. which vanishes into thin air with the using thereof.

To an antiquarian the old “life passes” possess considerable interest. They were

usually issued in metal or ivory, intended to be hung as charms on the watch chains of the railway magnates of the earlier days, and were to be honored during the life time of the privileged possessors. Only a limited number were made and in consequence only a very small number of them have been preserved down to the present day.

The late George Laidlaw, who was connected with several of the local roads in Ontario, which have subsequently lost their identity in either the Grand Trunk or C.P.R., had probably more of these life passes than any other person. The Laidlaw family cherish no fewer than five of them.

The shareholders of the Credit Valley Railway Company, by resolution of October, 28, 1880, conferred a life pass on Mr. Laidlaw, including each member of 'his family. It took the form of a gold medallion, one and three-quarter inches in diameter. On the obverse is a coat of arms surmounted by a beaver. The shield is divided into four quarters; the right hand top corner containing square and compas; the left hand the Union Jack over three maple leaves; the right hand lower corner, a sheaf of wheat; and the left hand a locomotive. The coat of arms is surrounded by scroll work, with the words“Credit Valley Company” on the

outside. On the reverse side is an inscription conferring the pass on Mr. Laidlaw'.

By resolution of the shareholders of the Toronto, Grey and Bruce Railway, September 13, 1871, a life pass over this old road was granted Mr. Laidlaw. It is a bloodstone locket, one and one-half inches long and seven-eighths of an inch wide, with a bloodstone set in gold. On one side is the family crest, which consists of a hand, heart and dagger, with the words on a belt surrounding, “Fides probata coronat.” On the other side is a monogram reversed, T. G. & B. Ry. Inside on the left is inscribed, “Toronto, Grey and Bruce Railway. Pass Mr. George Laidlaw at all times free over this Railway, signed by Jno. G-, President, and W. Suther-

land Taylor, Secretary-Treasurer” ; on the right, there is an inscription passed at a meeting of the shareholders of the company held on the 13th day of September, 1871.

The Victoria Railway pass is a silver card three and one-quarter inches long and one and seven-eights inches wide, with embossed screw heads at the corners, inscription “Life pass to George Laidlaw and his family” on one side and resolution of the shareholders on the other. The Toronto and Nipissing pass is also a plain silver card with inscription and resolution.

The Grand Trunk Railway issued a number of life passes in the early days,

wdiich are still treasured by the descendants of those on whom they were conferred. The one illustrated is in the possession of Dr. H. B. Yates of Montreal, and was granted to his father,'at one time chief engineer of the railway. It is made of ivory and originally had a nickel rim. On one side the inscription reads “Grand Trunk Railway of Canada—Free Pass,” and on the other,“Grand Trunk Railway of Canada—Chief Engineer.” It was worn as a watch charm and a very useful charm it used to be.

The passing of the Interstate Commerce Act in the United States and the Dominion Railway Act in Canada have very considerably altered the conditions under which passes may be issued. Restrictions

of a drastic character prevent the wholesale dispensing of free transportation as in the olden days. In the United States the regulations are even more strict than they are in Canada, and such a circumstance as Mr. William Wain wright recorded the other day would be impossible. In the year 1871 he issued a G.T.R, pass to a gentleman reading from Montreal to the terminus of the road at Rouse’s Point. On the back of the pass he wrote in his own handwriting, “Connecting roads to New York please honor,” and signed his name. This pass actually carried the man right through to New York, an altogether incredible feat at the present day.

The Dominion Railway Act provides that free carriage may be given by railroad companies to their own officers and employees, or to members of legislatures or of the prass or to such other persons as the Board of Railway Commissioners may approve. Railroad employees of humbler rank than those lucky officials who are furnished with annuals frequently ask for transportation and it is indeed ludicrous to read the letters which some of them write when preferring their requests. That they are the most benevolent people on earth is soon apparent, for not only do they usually support wives and large families, but in many cases they also provide food, shelter and clothing for fathers-in-law, mothers-in-law, sisters, cousins and aunts. So deserving are they that their requests are nearly always granted.

The C.P.R. officials never tire of telling the story of the section foreman at Grand Valley who wrote, “Please issue pass favor of my wife, Grand Valley to Toronto and return, but do not make it good for longer than three days.” The motive which prompted him to ask for such a short time limit is unknown—it will admit of several interpretations.

An employee of the same railroad in British Columbia was discharged. He asked the superintendent at Vancouver to furnish him with a pass to Ontario. The latter did not wish to do this and wired to Montreal inquiring if he should issue one. Sir Thomas Shaughnessv, to whom the matter was referred, telegraphed back, what purported to be “Don’t let him

walk.” On the strength of this the superintendent gave the man a pass and he came east. Sir Thomas heard of the way of his coming and was wroth. Investigation followed and it was discovered that, by the omission of a period in transmission, the president’s message had been altered from a prohibition, to what sounded like a very charitable expression of opinion.

Some years ago there was a station agent at Teeswater, Crabbe by name, who was transferred to Merrickville. In writing for transportation, he said, “Kindly send me a pass favor myself and wife and eleven little Crabbes.” For the sake of the little Crabbes, no doubt he was furnished with the necessary paper.

Members of Parliament, by virtue of their office, are entitled to travel free on every railroad in the Dominion. It is said that an attempt was once made to keep them off the Grand Trunk’s crack train, the International Limited, on which passes, as a rule, are not honored and to which private cars are never attached, but the M.P.’s are superior to any little railway by-law and they travel when and where they like. They are not given passes by the railroads, but the Clerk of the House issues cards which certify that they are members and as such are entitled by the Railway Act to ride on any railroad train in the Dominion. These cards are made in the same style as railroad passes and have the advantage of combining in one all the privileges that would otherwise require several dozen cards to express. The cards are numbered and a book is issued to the railroads giving a list of the members with the respective numbers of their passes. This serves as a check should any member be so foolishly sinful as to lend his pass to anyone else. Before the Railway Act made it legal for M.P.’s to ride free on the railroads, the latter were accustomed to issue annual passes to them. It is said that there were only three members who would not accept the complimentaries—the late Dalton McCarthy, Sir William Mulock and W. F. MacLean. If there were others, their names are forgotten.

The enforcement of the Dominion Railway Act has undoubtedly tended to reduce the number of passes issued and the rail-

way companies themselves have not been the last to welcome the relief. Officials used to be plagued by all sorts of persons advancing all sorts of arguments for free transportation and generally speaking, they had to produce the pass. Now they have the law of the land to back them up and can refuse requests with good reason. Sope of them even go to the extent of quoting scripture, referring applicants to Numbers 20, verse 18, “Thou shalt not pass,” and to Nahum I., verse 15, “The wicked shall no more pass,” ending up with a reference to Jonah I., verse 3, “So he paid the fare and went.”

On the Intercolonial Railway, prior to the days of the Commission, it was reputed to be positively scandalous the way passes were issued. Every politician in Canada had a claim on the management and used his authority to secure transportation for his friends and his constituents. A traveler once told the writer that on one occasion when he was going from Montreal to Halifax, the conductor informed him that the entire passenger list in the sleeping car in which he travelled, with but two or three exceptions, was made up .of “dead-heads.” Those were great days for the grafters, great and small, and that circumstance accounts in a large degree for the deficits that annually confronted the people.

In the United States, as has already been pointed out, the change made by the Interstate Commerce Act has been even more drastic. An action bearing on this subject has recently taken place in the American courts, which will illustrate the severity of the law. In 1871, a man named Motley and his wife agreed that, if the Louisville & Nashville Railway Co. would issue to them annual passes for the rest of their lives, they would not prosecute a suit for damages on account of personal injuries received in an accident. After the passing of the Act prohibiting the issuance of free transportation, the railway company discontinued providing Mr. and Mrs. Motley with their annuals. The couple were naturally aggrieved and took action in the Kentucky courts to compel the railroad to live up to its agreement. They were successful in their suit, but the defendants carried the case to the Supreme Court at Washington, which overruled the decision of the Kentucky court, hold-

ing that the performance of private contracts could not be urged as an excuse for violating a statute. In a subsequent case, the Monon Railway which was penalized by the Circuit Court of Northern Illinois for issuing passes in payment for advertising matter in a magazine, appealed to the Supreme Court but failed, to secure a reversal of judgement of the state court.

This wholesale cancellation of timehonored privileges recalls the case of Bill Nye, the humorist, who, among others, was compelled to give up his annual pass on the Santa Fe Railway in 1887, when the original Interstate Commerce Act made it illegal for railroad companies to issue free transportation for certain purposes. Bill Nye was a great friend of the late W. F. White, general passenger agent of the Santa Fe, and he wrote that gentleman a playfully pathetic letter on the occasion. The document is so amusing that a few extracts from it may not come amiss.

“Dear Sir:—I enclose herewith annual pass No. Q035 for self and family, over your justly celebrated road for the year 1887.

“I also return your photograph and letters you have written me during the past five years. Will you kindly return mine?

“And so this brief and beautiful experience is to end and each of us must go his own way after this.


. “To you this may be easy but it brings a pang to my heart which your gentle letter of the first instant cannot wholly alleviate.

“It is well enough for you to talk about going your several ways. You have every facility for doing so, but with me it is different. Several years ago a large north-western cyclone and myself tried to pass each other on the same track. When the wrecking crew found me I was in the crotch of a butternut tree, with a broken leg. Since that time I have walked with great difficulty, and to go my several ways has been a very serious matter with me.

“But I do not want you to think that I am murmuring. I accept mv

doom calmly, yet with a slight tinge of unavailing regret.

“Sometimes perhaps, in the middle of the dark and angry night, when the cold blasts wail through the telegraph wires and the crusliingsleet rushes with wild and impetuous fury against the windows of your special car, as you lie warmly ensconced in your voluptuous berth and hear the pitiless winds with hoarse and croupy moans chase each other around the Kansas hay-stacks or shriek wildly away as they light out for their cheerless home in the Bad Lands, will you not think of me as I "grope on blindly through the keen and pitiless blasts, stumbling over cattle guards, falling into culverts and beating out my rare young brains against your rough right of way? Will you not think of me? I do not ask much of you, but I do ask this as we separate forever.

“As you whiz by me do not treat me with contumely, or throw crackers at me when I have turned out to let your haughty old train go by. I have spoken of you always in the highest terms, and I hope you will do the same by me. Life is short at the best, and it is especially so for those who have to walk. Walking has already shortened my life a great deal, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the exposure and bunions of the year 1887 carried me off, leavinga gap in American literature that will look like a new cellar.

“Should any one of your engineers or trackmen find me frozen in a cut next winter, when the grass gets short and* the nights get long, will you kindly ask them to report the brand to your auditor and instruct him to allow my family what he thinks would be right?

“I hate to write to you in this dejected manner but you cannot understand how heavy my heart is to-day as I pen these lines. %

“Can I do your road any good, either at home or abroad? Can I be of sendee to you over your right of

way by collecting nuts, bolts, old iron or other bric-a-brac?

“I would be glad to influence immigration or pull weeds between the tracks if you would be willing to regard me as an employee.

“I will now take a last look at the fair, young features of your pass before sealing this letter. How sad to see an annual pass cut down in life’s young morning, ere one-fourth of its race has been run. How touching to part from it forever. What a sad year this has been so far. Earthquakes, fires, storms, railway disaster and death in every form have visited our country, and now, like the bitingblasts from Siberia or the nippingfrosts from Manitoba, comes the congressional cut-worm, cutting off the early crop of flowering annuals just as they had budded to bloom into beauty and usefulness.

“I will now close this sad letter to . go over into the vacant lot behind the high board fence, where I can sob in an unfettered way without shaking the glass out of my casement.”

The interchange of annual passes between the officials of various railroads is a species of courtesy that calls for no comment. In the case of certain dignitaries, the shower of these dainty little pasteboards which descends on their heads at the New Year is positively embarassing. In they come—all styles, all shapes and all colors—entitling the happy recipients to take their pick of accommodation on all the roads of America.

On one occasion, the president of a little railroad in New Brunswick, a few miles long, sent an annual to Sir Thomas Shaughnessy of the C.P.R., with the request that the president of the big transcontinental line would reciprocate. Sir Thomas wrote back, pointing out how unreasonable it would be to expect an exchange of privileges when the C.P.R. was so very much longer than the little New Brunswick road. To this the easterner replied, “I am quite ready to admit that your road is longer than mine, but I would respectfully point out that mine is just as broad as yours.” Needless to say. this clever answer brought, him the desired pass.

Sometimes, however, there are railroad officials who are more gullible than Sir Thomas. The story is told that a prominent contractor on the G.T.P., who is also interested in a big lumber mill back of Fort William, was very anxious to get a pass for himself and his car over the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway. It happened that the company operating the lumber mill owned a small stretch of track, six miles long, connecting their mill with the Fort William branch of the G.T.P. The contractor gave this six-mile section a fancy name and issued a number of elaborate annual passes. One of these he sent to the T. & N. 0. asking for a return of the courtesy. Some official of the latter road wrote back

a very polite letter, enclosing the desired pass and thanking him profusely for 'his kindness, adding that “I have never travelled on your road before, but I hope to be able to get over part of it at least this summer.”

A small number of passes are issued by the Pullman Company, but the C. P. R. which operate their own sleeping cars do not issue any. It used to be the custom of both the Wagners and the Pullmans to provide officials with books of coupons entitling them to free berths in their cars, but Phis has been done away with.

In fact, it is becoming every day, more difficult to obtain free transportation, and railway companies, in addition to the restrictions of the law, are asking a quid pro quo for every pass they issue.