From the early to mid 1960s, information available indicates that there were less than a dozen privately owned passenger cars operating in the United States; the majority of those private cars operated only a few times per year. In the late 1960s, railroads began retiring passenger equipment from service in ever increasing numbers. Some of this equipment was purchased by various private individuals and/or rail museum organizations and operated on occasion. On May 1, 1971 the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (AMTRAK), commenced operations.
Between 1971 and 1975, more car owners began to operate their equipment in AMTRAK trains. AMTRAK slowly developed definite policies for handling privately owned cars. As the number of private cars operating on AMTRAK increased, operational problems began to arise. Concurrently, PV’s moving in freight service also began to encounter problems.
In 1976, while on a tour of the U.S. aboard the HAMPTON ROADS, Roy Thorpe was confronted with a new policy by the BN which prohibited movement of PV’s on AMTRAK trains operating over BN routes. Thorpe contacted the BN Vice President, Public Relations, who put him in touch with the BN President. Thorpe was given permission to make his move on a “one time only” basis. These contacts were helpful in negotiating the removal of the BN prohibition on PV’s several years later. In the early 1970s, AMTRAK imposed a requirement that all private cars be painted in AMTRAK colors, including the red, white and blue window band and the AMTRAK logo. Protests from individual private car owners quickly followed. AMTRAK modified their policy, dropping the requirement for painting the car body in the “platinum mist” color and displaying the logo, but insisted on the red white and blue stripes along the window line. Through the efforts of George Pins, Roy Thorpe and other car owners, even the requirement for the window band stripes was eventually dropped. Until relatively recently, the JO-VI-LA and one or two other private cars still bore the evidence of this requirement.
During this period, eastern car owners Roy Thorpe, Ed Joscelyn, George Pins, Richard Horstmann, Rudy Morganfruh, Mel Ost, Larry Haines, and Larry Battley worked to overcome operating problems in the East. In 1975, Thorpe, Pins, and Joscelyn attended a meeting in Montreal of an organization called TRAIN (Tourist Railway Association) in order to determine if the group could provide private car owners with a unified means of solving problems with AMTRAK and operating railroads. They found that the objectives and priorities of TRAIN were not ones that would best serve individual private car owners.
Western car owners, meanwhile, were also experiencing some operating difficulties. Then on April 20, 1976, a really devastating problem arose. AMTRAK representatives in San Francisco notified Gordon Crosthwait that beginning on that date SP had invoked AAR Passenger Car Rule 18, which permitted railroads the option of refusing to accept in interchange any passenger car 40 years old or older. The effect of the ban was to stop movement of all heavyweight and some lightweight cars from Los Angeles to Seattle, Oakland to Salt Lake City, Los Angeles to New Orleans and in most parts of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. While Crosthwait’s car, LA CONDESA, was the first to be banned by the new SP policy, the CYRUS K. HOLIDAY, owned by Tom Sefton, and the WABASH CANNONBALL, owned by Dr. Jim Stillman, were hit by the prohibition in rapid succession. The prohibition applied to cars moving in AMTRAK service over SP lines, as well as movement in freight service on SP.
During the remainder of 1976, Crosthwait met with SP, many Members of Congress, United States Senators, California legislators, and AMTRAK officials in efforts to resolve the ban imposed by SP, but with no success. Finally, he spent several weeks in the county law library studying railroad law cases and the federal law (“Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970”, Public Law 91-518) which established AMTRAK. His search uncovered a very significant fact. The public law establishing AMTRAK had specifically designated AMTRAK a “railroad.” Since this was the case, it seemed clear that so long as a private car moved in AMTRAK service, no interchange took place and thus the AAR Passenger Car Rule on interchange would not apply. Further, AMTRAK had made it clear that they were willing to permit the operation of PV’s over 40 years old in their trains. This point of law was relayed to AMTRAK’s Legal Department, who concurred that under the designation given by Congress, a movement on AMTRAK would not be considered as interchange. However, because AMTRAK was not willing to complicate their relationship with SP, they were not forceful in pressing the issue with SP. Concurrently, Tom Sefton attempted to resolve the SP ban through his other contacts. These attempts were also unsuccessful.
Thwarted in finding a resolution to the SP problem himself, Crosthwalt began to seek out other private car owners and enlist their efforts. One of the first was Gordon Ingram, Jr., of San Diego, new owner of the private car HULHAM. Ingram agreed that a “lone wolf” approach by individual car owners was not likely to be as successful in resolving operating problems as would a group effort. Both Crosthwalt and Ingram set out to find and recruit every possible private car owner, with the objective of forming an organization to represent car owners. During the process of contacting west coast car owners, they became aware of car owner Roy Thorpe, as a result of an article in a national magazine. Crosthwait immediately called Thorpe. Thorpe said that he and other eastern car owners had seen the need for a unified approach, and he offered to assist in recruiting car owners who he knew. He also made available some secretarial assistance by his office staff to aid the cause. Through Thorpe, direct contact was established with the western car owners as well as some car owners in other parts of the USA and Canada.
Meanwhile on Saturday, April 8, 1977, a meeting had been called by Ingram and Crosthwait at the downtown Los Angeles Hyatt Regency Hotel for the purpose of establishing a private car owners’ organization. In attendance were Gordon Crosthwalt, Gordon Ingram, Jr., R.N. Basich, co-owner of the CITY OF CLEVELAND, Herman Thompson, the owner of the NATIONAL BORDER, Craig Rasmussen representing Overland Rail, current owners of the cars TEHACHAPI, AFTON CANYON, and MOJAVE RIVER, Marshall Woodbridge, owner of JO-VI-LA: Roland, Graham, representing Pacific Railroad Society; Ed Cheetam representing Hulham Enterprises; and Jim Lindquist, from Pacific Southwest Railway Museum, operators of the Cafe Observation 1608. The group nominated and elected the following officers: Gordon G. Ingram, Jr., President R.N. Basich; Vice President Herman L. Thompson; Director Public Relations Gordon L. Crosthwait.
Following a briefing on current operating problems, the members decided to send President Gordon Ingram to Washington, D.C., to meet with AMTRAK and attempt to encourage them into taking a more active position in resolving these problems. In addition, word had been received that when AMTRAK’s new bi-level Superliner cars came on line, Amtrak would no longer accept private cars on their bi-level trains. As a result, this policy would end PV moves on most trains west of Chicago. As justification for their planned policy, AMTRAK claimed that the Superliner diaphragms were not compatible with the diaphragms on standard level cars, and that lack of access between the private car and the new bi-level Superliners was a dangerous situation which prevented train crewmen from working the rear of the train.
Ingram and Thorpe arranged to meet jointly with AMTRAK in Washington to discuss the many problems. Meetings were hold with AMTRAK representatives Dave Watts and Phil Held. AMTRAK was pleasant, but non-committal. However, it was apparent that they would be interested in recognizing and dealing with an organized group representing car owners. AMTRAK realized that it would be easier for them to deal with one entity, rather then having to deal separately with each individual private car owner.
While they were in Washington, Ingram and Thorpe also attended the annual meeting of the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) to explore the possibilities of enlisting support from NARP. While sympathetic, NARP felt that it wasn’t in a position to be of direct assistance.
The meeting between Ingram and Thorpe did, however, produce an important step in AAPRCO’s development. In the process of recruiting car owners for the association, almost all had shown a willingness to join. However, it was also obvious that the car owners from each region were concerned that leaders chosen might be more concerned with problems in their own parts of the country than with the problems faced by car owners in the other regions. Thorpe presented Ingram with a proposal intended to overcome this concern. The plan called for dividing the association into three regions with the provision that each region would be empowered to elect its own candidates to the board of directors, which would be the association’s governing body.
Upon his return from Washington and meeting with Thorpe, Ingram called the second meeting of the newly formed group on the west coast. The group met at the Baltimore Hotel in Los Angeles on May 14, 1977. Ingram reported on the results of the meetings he and Thorpe had undertaken in Washington. He also presented Thorpe’s proposal for regional directors. This idea was met with instant approval. The group also approved a motion to modify the name of the new organization that they had founded in April 1977 by adding the designation “Western Division” to the name in preparation for a meeting later in the year with representatives from all of the proposed regions.
By this time, DeWitt Chapple, owner of the CHAPEL HILL, James Foster, owner of the LIGHTFOOT, and Richard M. Norton, Jr., the owner of the HIRAM, were busily locating and recruiting car owners in the Midwest.
Another development occurred in Texas. In addition to refusing to move private cars greater than 40 years old either in AMTRAK service or freight service, SP began assessing a switching charge that was three times that specified in the adopted tariff for switching cars in Houston. In addition, the 40 Year Rule was applied to a car that was only 38 years old. Paul DeVerter, on behalf of the Gulf Coast Chapter, NRHS, Inc., filed a suit against SP in the Texas State District Court. It quickly became apparent that the case was not high on the docket of the court. So, a complaint was made to the Railroad Commission of Texas which promptly hold a preliminary hearing on discovery and set a calendar. Two days of testimony were taken before a Hearing Examiner in Austin. Post trial briefs and exhibits were prepared and introduced. The Hearing Examiner indicated a decision for the Gulf Coast Chapter NRHS and findings of fact and conclusions of law were submitted. The Railroad Commission of Texas found against the SP, ordered them to haul the cars under the tariff and awarded monetary damages.
The Gulf Coast Chapter NRHS then scheduled a trip in line-haul freight service and a trip was scheduled on AMTRAK. SP refused to handle the car. Several hearings were held before the District Court in Texas and the court took much more interest in the matter due to the age of the case. Finally, a number of changes took place in SP management throughout the company and the opportunity was presented for a settlement conference between the parties. The results were that the SP agreed to discard the 40 Year Rule and to haul any private car which met the mechanical standards set by AMTRAK. After an impartial AMTRAK inspector was flown in and approved the car for movement, the Gulf Coast Chapter NRHS car made the first post 40 Year Rule move in AMTRAK service with a car over 40 years old on Labor Day of 1982. The embargo was broken and the Southern Pacific has been generally cooperative ever since.
The culmination of these many combined efforts was a meeting of the interim directors from each of the three proposed regions and all interested parties at the Marriott O’Hare Hotel in Chicago on Friday, September 30, 1977, for the purpose of formalizing the national organization. The interim board of directors had been appointed in advance to conduct affairs until the first officers and directors could be chosen. The interim directors were: Roy Thorpe, George Pine, DeWitt Chapple, Jim Foster, R.N.Basich and Gordon Crosthtwait. The interim board selected a slate of officers and directors to be presented to the regular meeting of members on the following day. They also agreed that the name of the national association should be changed to “American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners.” Finally, they decided upon an agenda for the meeting of the members and recommended standing committees.
The next day, Saturday, at the regular organizational meeting, those members present adopted the recommended change in the name for the Association. They elected six permanent directors. Since the position of director-at-large had to be elected by members at a general membership meeting, that position had to be left open until the first general membership meeting set for October 1977. The board of directors then appointed three officers: President, Vice President, and Secretary/Treasurer. The election of one director to act as Chairman of the Board of Directors was postponed until the next meeting of the board. It was agreed that the three top priorities to be worked on by the new association were: (1) Attempt to find a resolution to the 40 Year Pule prohibition on private cars; (2) To immediately develop a working relationship with AMTRAK in order to improve handling of private railroad cars; and (3) To make an all out effort to locate and contact every private car owner in the USA and enroll them as members, in order to provide the Association with the leverage and resources to accomplish its goals. By the end of 1977, there were 25 members. Articles of Incorporation as a not-for-profit corporation were issued by the State of Illinois in October, 1977.
In March 1978, membership stood at 54 active and associate members.
We are working on compiling these chapter from inputs provided by our members. We need your help to make this documentation of our history possible.
In the meantime, readers may wish to explore some information about our annual conventions from 1978 thru 2019.
Back issues of our Private Varnsh magazine feature stories and photographs of our annual conventions.