General discussion about railroad operations, related facilities, maps, and other resources.
Moderator: Robert Paniagua
Shippers with any significant amount of traffic kept themselves well informed about how various routes performed overall and knew exactly how they wanted their shipment to go. If they didn't know how to find the cheapest rate (most did, and the biggest companies hired rate clerks away from the railroads to get the benefit of their knowledge) they could use traffic consultants, referred to informally as rate sharks, to find the best rate. I don't think it's possible to find out how many shipments were routed by shippers rather than a railroad, but it seems likely that the great majority of shippers, particularly regulars, wanted to retain control by specifying the route themselves rather than leave it to the railroad's local freight agent. Interesting to speculate, though, who the CGW might have given the car to at Chicago, since their revenue would have been the same, regardless. All the Eastern railroads had sales offices in Minneapolis (and plenty of other cities), and if a sales rep for one of them made a practice of regularly calling on local freight agents in his territory, and maybe leaving a few cigars, a freight agent for one of the roads serving Minneapolis might reciprocate by giving that (Eastern) road any unrouted cars--always provided that there was a valid route to the destination concerned--or even talk up the advantages of using that road in discussions with shippers whose practice was to specify routing.
It was more than cigars, too. Shortlines were treated as a customer (which in a sense they were). Pens, calendars, coffee mugs, playing cards, cigarette lighters, scratch pads, you name it and somebody was handing it out. A lot of that stuff used to be in demand by railfan collectors, but today I can't give it away. Times change.
I don't know whether I ever posted this, but when the PRR discontinued its wall calendar (I think at the beginning of 1957 or -58) railroad freight stations all over New England had a large square of pale green on the agent's office wall--contrasting with the much darker green on the rest of the wall--where the PRR calendar used to hang. They were personally delivered by the PRR sales rep; local freight agents were always a source of good information about forthcoming (and existing) freight movements for a sales rep looking for business. (The rep would then call on the shipper in town to ask for PRR to be included in the routing; if the traffic was routed by an office somewhere else, the rep would notify his counterpart there.)
On the passenger side, I just spotted in the New York State Railfan forum a copy of a local newspaper from 1905 containing a display ad for the Michigan Central pushing their service via Niagara Falls and containing the statement "Your agent will have your ticket read via the Michigan Central if you tell him to." It worked the same way on the freight side.