Canadian Transport Sourcebook

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Canadian Transport Sourcebook > All works> 52 Questions on the Nationalization of Canadian Railways > Chapter 3


What is Morale?

It is the guarantee of that energy, alertness, initiative and enterprise-with-discipline which produces a maximum of result from a minimum of staff, with a minimum of material in a minimum of time.

What does Morale do?

What an automobile tire is without air—that is a nation-wide railway system without Morale.

How can That be?

You hear, coming from the vicinity of the railway yards, one stormy night, a rumble of sounds. You visit the yards. . . Very picturesque, you say. Black iron beasts, one eyed, with humps of coal on their backs, move clumsily backward and forward in the railway yards, herding their docile flocks. Others move in from the open road: or out.

Caravans of dripping shadows, you say, marked at the head with an arrogant eye of light, at the tail by a glowing ruby, or an emerald. You observe the laconic twist and turn of signal lamps on ghostly towers. The flash of quick-swung lantern. Far away the polished main-lines wheel out into the fields, spinning swift smooth paths east and west. Comes from out there the cry of the last out-bound Adventurer, fainter as he thrusts deeper into the night. Near at hand, a silver flicker on a switchman's dribbling tower . . another Adventurer in-bound through the storm. The rail joints click like castanets ahead of him. The fixed stare of his furious eye silvers the waiting curve and commands ghostly smiles on trackside puddles! He plunges past, great thighs working fast! His rocking caravan in tow looks a pious lot, heads bent, mumbling, under his plume of flame-lit smoke.

Picturesque, you say!

More than that. The rain, mark you, makes the rail slippery. The cold, please observe, makes the steel tire slow to "bite". There has been, therefore, grim work to-night on the heavy grades,—hard firing! Wet, cold jobs cutting long freights in two to climb the hills. Or flagging thirty poles behind with lamp and torpedoes! Flagging thirty poles ahead—and trudging back to the long wail of the engine.

Tense work in despatchers' offices ordering "meets!" Tense work in the round-houses keeping up with repairs! And in the offices of Superintendents and General Superintendents, working hard to prevent break-downs, or to clear up those which seem inevitable.

Yet this is child's play compared to winter. Twenty-five below, and air leaking from the stiffened couplings! Brakes jammed! A blizzard sucking the steam out of the engine! Snow drifts packing over the rail! Terminals snowed under! Storage tracks full! Main lines jammed!

Here is adventure! And as it is Morale that in the long run crowns the Adventurer with success whether in a raid across No Man's Land or tiger hunting in Bengal, so it is in the carrying of common goods.

You sell ten cheese for Montreal delivery or bring a crate of eggs from Cousin Lizzie's farm up north. You pay a fee and sign a bill. But part of what you have bought is pluck! The spirit and the discipline that make railroads win or fail in the War with Time, with the weakness of men and machines and the devilment of storms.

That is Morale!

Small organizations may not need it; your local street car line; your provincial affair; one man in charge may dominate a staff. But in the far-scattered organization of national railroads—here fighting snow, there fighting rain, here fighting track trouble, there fighting a sudden rise in the flood of traffic—Morale is life!

What Has Morale To Do With My Town?


Two towns lay at equal distances from a great market. Each dominated a rich valley. Down the valleys placid rivers made their way to the market. Each of the towns had about the same population and the same endowment of capital.

One shrivelled and became a joke for the vaudeville actors.

The other grew greater.

The first was served by a moderately well-run railway. The General Manager of this railway was the nephew of the owner. Like most men whose positions have been given not earned, he was afraid of the owner.

The latter was wealthy and whimsical. He had not built this railway but had inherited it. His moods and his multiplicity of interests compelled the manager to be cautious of change, to avoid innovation unless the owner asked it. The manager suppressed his own initiative. He studied only to keep his road doing a jog-along business without getting into trouble with the owner.

The changes the owner did order were erratic. He had no special desire for dividends. He had numberless scattered and varied interests, social, political and industrial. He was no more susceptible to the wiles of a smooth talker than any other human being; a good phrase tickled his fancy probably as much as it did any intelligent man—not more. But being indifferent to the earnings of the road, he allowed the smooth talk, the good phrases, and social and political matters to influence his view of the railway management.

Plain railroad facts did not stir him. They made dry reading.

His manager operated the railway on the harum-scarum policy resulting from the owner's divided interest and the inexpert advice of his cronies.

The railway which served the second town was poor. Its management had just been placed in the hands of a man who had been offered ten thousand shares of stock and a chance to own the road if he could pull it out of the hole and show a dividend.

"I will," he had said, "provided I have a free hand. Absolutely no interference until I show my balance sheet at the end of the first year."

He cut the dead wood out of the staff. He showed his men that there were rewards, and big rewards, for those who helped make the line a success. He injected some of his own spirit into the staff. He made every man a worker, not just for the road, but for the industries along the road, its customers!

Together, they pulled the road out of the hole.

The first road gave erratic service. it broke down easily under strain. Its repairs fell behind. The industries in its chief town were sometimes held up for lack of incoming shipments of raw material or for failure of deliveries to get through to customers on time. Protest was vain. Threats were useless. The owner of the road was getting what he thought he wanted out of it—friendships, political pull, amusement of a sort. The industries were finally closed down or sold to second raters. The owner sank his whole fortune trying to mend his broken-down property—and failed.

The second road turned its chief town into a city by giving crack service and helping the town to capture new industries.

The first road ruined its territory because its Morale failed. And that happened because its owner had too many scattered interests and was to susceptible to persuasive language.

The Public is just such an owner.

[Public Domain] Copyright/Licence: This work was first published in 1964 or earlier, and the author of the work was anonymous. To the best of my knowledge, the author of the work was unknown at the end of the year 50 years after the work was published, meaning that this work would be in the public domain in Canada, per section 6.2 of the Copyright Act. Note also this link. See disclaimers.