Red Signal

4 minute read

As quietly as he had moved through 28 years of able public service, Joseph Bartlett Eastman, 61, Director of the Office of Defense Transportation, died last week in Washington.

For 26 months, as ODT boss, genial, drawling Joe Eastman had worked a killing 15 hours a day to keep U.S. transportation fluid. As ICC commissioner for 25 years he had labored to master transportation economics. No other man knew the subject so thoroughly. And in politics-ridden Washington he was outstanding as a man who kept his mind on the job.

Joe Eastman was appointed ODT head over the opposition of critics who held that the depression-blighted railroads were unprepared for war.* They wanted Government control backed with a big stick, and Eastman, they protested, was no big-stick man. But Eastman dumbfounded his critics. He successfully carried an ever-increasing burden without faltering—and so did the railroads.

There was a reason. Eastman knew what his opponents had never taken time to learn. The railroads did not break down during World War I because of inability to handle mass transportation. They failed when shippers and Government procurement agencies used railroad cars not as rolling stock but as warehouses. Months elapsed before some cars were unloaded.

This mistake was not repeated. Wise Joe Eastman’s orders were: 1) no cars loaded until the consignee’s sidings can receive them; 2) load cars heavier. Proof that his ideas were sound came in the 115% increase in freight ton-miles over 1939—still there is no serious car shortage.

Trouble Ahead. But even before Joe Eastman died the railroads feared disaster in 1944. Reason: by January the railroads had lost 270,000 employes to the armed services—over 20% of their prewar employment total. They now have 100,000 jobs open and no takers. Worse, by June the draft will have blown away another 50,000.

ODT and ICC have been unable to halt this drain on the railroad manpower pool. Traffic jams on most of the U.S. railroads are nearing the critical point.

From the 230,000-mile operating front a stream of despairing reports flowed. In Buffalo, Railroadman Arthur W. Conley said: “We have been maintaining efficiency only by working employes 70 and 80 and 90 hours a week, but the men are not going to be able to stand it much longer.” And the ICC reports on the numerous train wrecks frequently attributed the blame to inexperienced personnel.

These reports dimmed hopes that 285 million bushels of Canadian wheat could be imported via the lower Great Lakes ports this year, over & above the 90 million tons of iron ore and 57 million tons of coal that must move by that route. And reports made the bulge in Florida vacation travel seem more scandalous.

Most worried were the operating officials of the Western railroads. The long miles of single track that snake through the Rockies must move heavier & heavier loads of troops and munitions to West Coast ports. Southern Pacific has ordered 300 locomotives and 10,000 freight cars since 1939, but now S.P. must have 10,000 more employes to keep traffic rolling.

Irony. This is the year when the railroads had hoped that their problems would ease. They had hoped to get through the war without a serious car shortage. For 1944 WPB has promised steel enough to build 60,000 freight cars and 1,200 locomotives. Pullman has delivered the last of 1,200 troop sleepers.

These improvements have speeded up trains and made heavier loads possible. With the new rolling stock to be built this year, the railroads could handle the estimated 761 billion freight-ton miles, and 102 billion passenger miles if they had the men.

This was the grave problem that troubled tall, erect Brigadier General Charles Duncanson Young, 65, who last week took over Joe Eastman’s job. Railroad-trained (42 years with the Pennsy) Young helped Eastman set up ODT in 1942, was in the Army Supply Division for six months as Director of Procurement and Distribution. He returned to ODT in July 1942, was Deputy Director when Eastman died.

* This week, spry old Henry Ford suggested thatthe railroads might not be needed after the peace.”With the full development of the airplane,” saidthe master of Willow Run, “I really think therailroad will go in time.”

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