‘Stories Are Spirit’

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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FROM THE EDITOR, RAILWAY AGE SEPTEMBER 2023 ISSUE: Capitol Hill Contributing Editor Frank N. Wilner’s new book, Railroads & Economic Regulation, An Insider’s Account, reviewed by fellow Contributing Editor Jim Blaze, contains an Appendix, “Stories are Spirit,” that shows the human side of some who have regulated our industry since 1887. As economist George Hilton quipped in 1972, “Regulators are not automatons, but men and women who go to baseball games, advocate their political philosophies, have their gallbladders removed, take their cats to the veterinarian, and otherwise behave like the rest of us.”  

Here’s a small sampling—and you can’t make this stuff up:

“This shipper description of railroads appeared in the Jan. 1, 1910, Traffic World: ‘With pilfering clutch they lay a burden on the traffic that I ship, and lo! My profits fail me. Can we be men and suffer such dishonor? Alack, the day I took to merchandising and placed my goods in pawn. Yet there be law to seek, and by this power we’ll tear away the tentacles whereby an octopus does drag us down, and drive the vampire to his cave.’”

“ICC Commissioner Thomas F. Woodlock (1925-1930)—a native of Ireland and one of just three foreign-born members of the ICC or STB—was quoted in the 1941 ICC Practitioners’ Journal: ‘As a junior clerk in a London stockbrokerage firm I heard a good deal about the 1887 Act to Regulate Commerce. It quite convinced me that it would be a catastrophe if it passed and fine if it didn’t. Many, many years later, by a set of curious chances, I found myself a member of the ICC. Often, sitting mute upon the bench, I would, without any warning, hear a small voice whispering in my ear, doubtless that of the devil, ‘Maybe you were right.’”

“Printed in the Report of the Second Annual Meeting of the ICC Bar Association in 1935 is a recollection by Commissioner Joseph B. Eastman (1919-1944) of a note sent him in good humor by Pennsylvania Railroad Chief Counsel Henry Wolf Bikle: ‘Having heard from time to time that you are given to Sabbath-breaking by working on Sundays, I began to wonder whether the things you say in your dissenting opinions, which cause your railroad friends so much distress, may not be written on Sunday and are the product of your sinful habits.’”

“The Dec. 29, 1953 New York Times reported: ‘Two attorneys turned an ICC hearing into a brawl yesterday. The session, held in a small room at 346 Broadway, started in formality and ended in invective and a sharp slap administered by the older of the attorneys, Sidney Szerlip, 71. It was received by 43-year-old Sidney Eisen. Later during the hearing, Mr. Szerlip, agile for his age, ran around four desks joined together as one long table and swung at Mr. Eisen. The latter feinted nicely and sidestepped. Mr. Eisen seemed to debate for a second whether to retaliate with a jab. Instead, he countered with a mumbled remark about ethics. Again, the older counselor stepped in. This time, Mr. Eisen forgot to duck and a sharp slap landed against his already reddened left cheek. The opponents were pulled apart. The case was adjourned and the sides settled privately.’”

Again, you can’t make this stuff up. Buy the book! It’s available from Simmons-Boardman Books.

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