Another entry in the "Brief/Short History" series, today we'll check out the extensive and somewhat convoluted history of the Seaboard Air Line.
Here we have SAL 544, a 2-10-0 with a very interesting history itself. Built by ALCo (American Locomotive Company) in March of 1918, it was originally built for Russia, and was part of a much larger order of similar locomotives ordered in 1917, which was also the year the US entered World War 1, and thus these locomotives were even more in demand in Russia to support the Allies. However, also in 1917, Russia underwent the Bolshevik revolution, and deliveries of the locomotives stopped, with 50 actually delivered and 200 stranded in the US. The USRA then had them converted to standard gauge by fitting wider tires (yes, steam locos have tires, the very outside ring of the wheel, which is removable) and then distributing them to various US railroads ... including SAL, who got 40.
544 is preserved at the North Carolina Transportation Museum. It's non-operational.
Our story begins with the Portsmouth and Roanoke Railroad, the earliest predecessor of the SAL.
The P&R was chartered jointly by the North Carolina and Virginia state legislatures, with the goal of building a line between Portsmouth, VA and Weldon, NC. This was completed, and the railroad's first "train" was on March 8, 1832, and was horse-drawn! The first locomotive operated on September 4, 1834.
The P&R would struggle until 1846 when financial issues forced a reorginization, which resulted in the name being changed to the Seaboard and Roanoke Railroad.
Interlude 1: In 1851 the S&R would gain a controlling interest in a steamship company, the Baltimore Steam Packet Line, also known as the "Old Bay Line". This interest would be taken over by the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad in 1901, but SAL would regain control in 1922, at which point it became a wholly owned subsidiary of SAL. In 1941 the Chesapeake Steamship Company would merge into the Old Bay Line, but just over two decades later, in 1962, the whole company was liquidated.
In 1856 the S&R would connect its line to the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad at Weldon, NC.
The R&G also controlled the Raleigh & Augusta Air-Line, and this is the first appearance of "Air-Line" in association with a predecessor of SAL. "Air-Line" was a fairly common term used for marketing purposes at the time, and alluded to the short distance between locations if measured with a straight line on a map - air-miles would be the modern equivalent. That's not really how ground transport works, but it sounded good and looked impressive on maps in advertisements.
These three railroads would become closely associated, and would become known collectively as the Seaboard Air-Line System.
Under the new SAL moniker, the system would begin expanding, starting in 1889 with the leasing of the unfinished Georgia, Carolina & Northern Railway. In 1895 they would once again expand, this time by taking over the Palmetto Railway.
However, SAL would itself be purchased - in February 1899 the whole SAL System was purchased by the Williams Syndicate of Richmond, VA, and be combined with their Georgia and Alabama Railway.
The Williams Syndicate would then move on to acquire several other railroads - in the same year they acquired the SAL they would acquire the Florida Central and Peninsular Railroad and merge it into their system as well.
The very next year, in 1900, they would make another acquisition, this time the Atlantic, Suwanee River & Gulf Railroad.
Also in 1900, they would establish the SAL headquarters in Portsmouth, VA.
A pause would ensue for 1901, but in 1902 they would again expand, with the acquistion of the Atlanta & Birmingham Air Line Railway.
The Williams Syndicate couldn't keep up this pace forever, and in 1904 lost control to Thomas Fortune Ryan.
Ryan would prove to be unable to keep the large company financially stable, and it would go into recievership.
During the recievership proceedings, control of the system was given to Solomon Davies Warfield, who would become the overall Seaboard director and executive.
While under the control of Warfield the SAL would be nationalized during World War 1, and run under the control of the USRA (United States Railway Administration) from December 28, 1917 until March 1, 1920.
Warfield himself would prove equally unable to properly manage the company, and was succeeded by Legh R. Powell in 1927. Powell would find himself in control of a railroad struggling under the issues of poor management and overreach by Warfield during his tenure, along with strong competition from other railroads.
These combined issues would result in the company's bankruptcy in 1930.
The US District Court of Norfolk would then appoint Powell as reciever.
It wasn't all bad news during this era, however. In 1933 the SAL would be the first railroad to operate air-conditioned Pullman coaches, and in 1938 would be the first to dieselize its passenger trains.
Also during this period, specifically in 1940, the comapny would attempt to start an actual airline, "Seaboard Airlines", but this proposal was shot down by the ICC (Intersate Commerce Commission).
In 1945 all the Seaboard properties were sold under foreclosure to bondholders for $52 million.
The next year, in 1946, the company would be reorganized as the Seaboard Air Line Railroad.
Twelve years later in 1958 they would relocate their HQ to Richmond, VA, where it would remain until the line's demise in 1967 - demise? Yes, but we're getting ahead of ourselves here...
Though this would seemingly be a portent of an improved outlook for the company, their profits would decline throughout the 1950's and 60's, and in a bid to reverse this trend, they would merge with their longtime rival Atlantic Coast Line. This merger was proposed in 1958, but wouldn't be approved by the ICC until 1967.
This merger would result in a new name for the combined companies - the Seaboard Coast Line.
SAL and the later SCL would operate many premier passenger trains, including the Orange Blossom Special, but this would end with the formation of Amtrak on May 1, 1971.
SCL was part of the so-called "Family Lines System", which also included Louisville & Nashville, Georgia Railroad, Atlanta & West Point, Western Railway of Alabama, and Clinchfield. The "Family Lines" moniker was used as a marketing tool by a central coprporate structure to suggest each railroad had a larger infrastructure and system than they actually did, and the railroads did operate closely together, but were still legally and operationally seperate.
The collective-but-seperate Family Lines and the similar in concept Chessie System would both come under the control of CSX Corporation on November 1, 1980. Though under the same management the systems would operate independently until the Family Lines systems were all formally merged into one entity - this would be Seaboard System, which came into being on December 29, 1982.
Seaboard System would be short-lived however, and would change its name to CSX Transportation on July 1, 1986, who would then absorb the Chessie System on August 31, 1987, creating the current CSX.
Here we have SAL 1114, and EMD (Electro-Motive Division (of GM) SDP35. Very few SDP35 locos were produced, as they were a variant of the standard SD35, but equipped with a steam generator for passenger service.
It's on display in Hamlet, NC.
Well, that does it for this short bit of railroad history - thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed!