Confessions of a Railroad Signalman


IT makes little difference what phase of the situation between labor and management on American railroads we choose to investigate, the supreme importance of personality and personal responsibility is impressed upon us at every turn. As with the safety problem in the operating department, so with all questions relating to piece-work and the bonus system, — the principle at stake is not only the absolute right, but the fundamental obligation, of every man to do his level best under all circumstances, just as truly and inevitably in the best interests of a railroad as of human progress and civilization. The story of the stifling of personality and of the neglect of the human equation in American industrial life, and on the railroads in particular, will probably have to be related and insisted upon over and over again, before public opinion can be brought to realize the widespread nature and importance of the issue.

The principles involved in an ordinary preventable accident on a railroad can be picked out and followed through different stages of railroad life, all the way up to the leveling process which, generally speaking, the labor unions insist upon in promotion by seniority and in matters relating to mechanical work in the railroad shops. The steps in the process are all as plain and unmistakable as the rounds of a ladder. Let us begin with one of the first appearances or germs of the trouble.

A freight train is backed into a yard or side-track, and by reason of rough handling or carelessness, a small collision occurs and several cars loaded with valuable merchandise are jammed down and off the end of the track into the swamp. The superintendent investigates the case and decides that the engineman was guilty of rough and careless handling. The engineman appeals from this decision, claiming that a wrong motion was given by the brakeman, or the brakes did not hold, — anyway he appeals, and his contention is taken up and supported by his organization. After weeks of discussion and attempted arbitration, the whole business is quietly dropped, because the men decline to give in and the management, with the business interests of a wide section of country in actual peril, are not prepared to tie up the road and fight the issue to a finish. It is useless to minimize the widespread effect of this interference. I have given an illustration of a principle that is at work on all railroads, and, in the way I have described, the men are furnished with a precedent, and the managers with a very good idea of the difficulties to be expected in the future. So the manager now goes to work and orders hunters put up at the end of these tracks in all yards and sidings. He has been driven to the conclusion that, although it may be out of his power to teach and enforce carefulness and personal responsibility, he can nevertheless put up bunters which, when butted against, will act as practical reminders in regard to the location of the cars and the duties of the trainmen.

Although the incident described is merely a figurative illustration, the bunter principle itself is of widespread application, and to-day is practically the mainstay and sheet anchor of the American railroad manager. To a much greater extent than an outsider would imagine, these bunters, derailing switches, and other mechanical devices for the protection of life and property, are, in the main, confessions of weakness and indications that the personality of the men along these particular lines has been tried and found wanting.

As another illustration of our topic, but of a somewhat different nature, let us now take a glance at what is usually known as the “Nine-Hour Law,” — more especially in its application to telegraph operators.

Twelve or fifteen hours at a stretch is too long a period for any man or boy to remain in harness. As I look at it, the primary object of this law is, or should be, to increase the efficiency of the service. This is particularly desirable for the reason that some of the worst wrecks in the history of railroading have been attributed to sleepy and careless telegraph operators. But it by no means follows that, because the law has increased the operator’s pay and shortened his day’s work, it has also increased his efficiency. You can depend upon a good man, who works twelve hours at a stretch, while you can place little reliance upon a shiftless fellow who is called upon to work only nine. To increase efficiency in any department or industry, you must touch or act upon personality in some way. This giving of something for nothing by the United States government is at best a very questionable proceeding, and it is a pity that the nine-hour law could not have been framed with at least some reference to merit, attention to duty, and length of service. The man who works eight hours at high pressure is much more likely to be overworked, and, generally speaking, is more worthy of assistance than the twelve-hour man who may handle on an average one message per hour, and consequently has difficulty in keeping awake. Unprejudiced judges are of the opinion that, as framed at present, the law will have no effect whatever upon the efficiency of the service. Of course the function of a railroad manager is to promote efficiency, but laws of this description ignore the usual and constituted authority and divert the attention of the employees to their unions and to the national government. But now we will take up this matter of personality and the human equation from a vastly more important point of view.

A very serious and somewhat remarkable accident took place quite recently — an engine attached to a passenger train ran into an open draw and dropped thirty feet, leaving the tender and four coaches, containing seventy-five passengers, on the brink. The following day, in a report of this accident, the Boston Transcript quoted President Tuttle of the Boston and Maine Railroad, as follows : —

“ You can’t open that draw, you can’t pull the bolts that block it, until all signals are set for danger, and they remain at danger while the draw is open. They do not disappear until the draw is closed and the signals for a clear track are set. The engineman knew these signals were there and he knew what they meant. A railroad may supply every safety device known to modern science for precaution, it may put in the perfection of safety-appliances for the safety of its passengers and its stock, but you can’t get by the human equation. You’ve got to stop right there. You can only discharge the man and get another, and in turn, he is liable to do the same thing.”

Every word of the above statement of the president of the Boston and Maine Railroad is true. It is the conclusion of common sense, of the law and of the prophets on the subject. And yet the criticism which I intend to apply to it is most, damaging.

It is, alas, only too true that practically very little good is accomplished by discharging a man who runs a passenger train into an open draw. It is simply a case of locking the stable-door after the horse has been stolen. But the principle of punishment for offenses of this nature is universally recognized, and in the matter of railroad accidents it thus becomes the duty of the managers, supported by public opinion, to see to it that this punishment is inflicted at the right time and in the right place. On a railroad, with human life and much valuable property at stake, a system of discipline that does not punish for trifles is a mockery. As a practical matter of fact, all mistakes and accidents, without serious consequences, can be written down as trifles, and taking the situation in a wide sense, covering all railroads, it is safe to say that there is no power in the country to-day that is either able or willing to discipline enginemen for trifles. When a passenger train has been brought to the brink of a draw, it is too late a day to apply your prevention method.

The battle in regard to this matter has long ago been fought and won by the men. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers is now in a position to tire out any board of railroad management in the country. The statement made in Faneuil Hall by a railroad man, that in rush times the management will “lap up any schedule that is placed before them,” was no empty boast. The right of unlimited appeal to be found in the schedules of the organizations has knocked the ground from under the superintendent and made the punishment for trifles a practical impossibility. The public may just as well be informed of the facts now as later. The men upon whose vigilance and caution the safety of railroad travel is altogether dependent are not being educated in a school in which even the rudiments or principles of safety are being taught or insisted upon. That a great majority of railroad employees are sound in their habits and thoroughly honest and conscientious in their intentions, is not open to question; but it is practically the fault of these good men that the careless individuals are not subject to discipline, and so cannot be weeded out before the day of reckoning. But as a matter of fact, the system is almost as fatal to the best man as to the worst, and in the words of President Tuttle, “You can discharge a man and get another, and, in turn, he is liable to do the same thing.”

Furthermore, however unpalatable the truth may be, it is nevertheless an unquestionable fact that the American railroad man, above all others, is most in need of an inflexible system of discipline. The reasons are obvious. To begin with, the railroad man is a typical American. He is fearless, quick, clever, and resourceful. He cuts loose, only too easily, from custom and tradition. He has supreme confidence in his own individual importance and ability. In unmistakable quality and quantity he is in possession of the sterling characteristics that have made the American the most resourceful antagonist by land or sea, the cleverest designer and inventor, the most fearless innovator and reformer, and the poorest railroad man, from the safety standpoint, in the world to-day.

Nothing can be more simple than the explanation of this paradox. In the mental composition of the American railroad man there is no such idea or faculty as dogged obedience. And yet it must be evident to the most superficial thinker on this subject that never can there be any prospect for, or approach to, safety in railroad travel, without this indispensable ingredient of personal character. It is the sine qua non of successful railroad operation. “Theirs not to reason why” is the solution of the safety problem in a single forceful expression. And yet in a lifetime of railroad service, I can honestly affirm that I never met more than half a dozen railroad men who had any conception, either in theory or practice, of this principle of dogged obedience. Furthermore, I never came across a manager who was big enough to preach the doctrine, and I am equally certain I have never read in the newspapers or magazines any widespread expression of public opinion that would lead a railroad manager to expect public support and approval of any such principle. Consequently, my argument is an arraignment not only of the men, the unions, and the managements, but of the manifest opinion and public policy of the American people. The price that is being paid in tribute to this lack of dogged obedience and its attendant evils is graphically emphasized in the twenty-first annual report of the Interstate Commerce Commission, issued December 23, 1907, as follows: —

“Accidents to trains on the railroads in the United States continue to occur in such large numbers that the record, as has been repeatedly declared by conservative judges, is a world-wide reproach to the railroad profession in America.”

That the men should lack the faculty I speak of is not, under the circumstances, so very surprising, but that a great many railroad managers, as well, should remain uncertain and doubtful as to its fundamental importance, is by no means so easy to understand. Some time ago the writer of this article received in writing, from the head of the operating department of one of our largest railroad systems, the following question: —

“ Is it not equally essential that the meaning of and reason for a rule should be evident on its face as that the rule itself, that is, its wording, should be plain and unmistakable?”

My reply was as follows: —

“By no means. From the safety standpoint the order itself is primary; the reason for its being in the time-table is secondary. Is it not very significant that the principle of dogged obedience should be open to question on a railroad, while in the case of a city ordinance or a state law, no liberty of thought or action in such matters is tolerated for a minute ?”

The following illustration is interesting and well to the point: —

In our time-tables we have a rule for the guidance of enginemen on what are called “helping engines,” which reads something like this: “Never hang up the numbers of the train you are going to help on your headlight, until you are actually hitched on to said train.” The reason for this rule does not appear on its face, and yet the rigid necessity for dogged obedience in regard to it wall at once be understood, when we study its origin.

About twenty years ago, while working as telegraph operator at East Deerfield, Massachusetts, I received a telegram ordering an extra engine out of the roundhouse to help a regular freight train, No. 94, which was expected in from the east. Meanwhile the helping engine stood waiting on a siding with “ 94” displayed on its headlight. Before long an extra or “wild” freight train from the west, with orders to meet No. 94 at East Deerfield on single track, came along, and, mistaking the engine with “ 94 ” on its headlight for the regular train, kept on its way without stopping. No. 94 and this wild freight met in a cut, and “piled up” in probably the worst “head-on” freight collision in the history of the old Fitchburg Railroad.

Every rule in the time-table has its history written in suffering and dollars, and while, of course, it is advisable for employees to be conversant with their meaning and significance, it is evident that the principle of dogged obedience is the only safe method for employees to pursue in regard to them. An inflexible enforcement of this principle would be looked upon as little short of tyranny, and yet, seriously and fairly considered, it is nothing but the subordination which every railroad man owes to the community in the interest of safety and general efficiency. That the organizations of railroad men do not insist upon, or even countenance, this absolute subordination to authority, is thoroughly understood by every man and manager in the service. We are all tarred with the same brush, and rather than acknowledge the weakness of our position, we prefer to keep calling on the public to pay the penalty. It is time to call a halt when the liberty and liberal views of a few endanger the safety of the many.

But in passing from this branch of my subject, I wish to call attention to an almost unnoticed fact in regard to the efficiency of railroad service. Taking an accident bulletin, issued by the Interstate Commerce Commission, at random, I copy the following: —

“The total number of collisions and derailments during April, May and June, 1907, was 3777, of which 220 collisions and 221 derailments affected passenger trains. The damage to cars, engine, and roadway by these accidents amounted to $3,232,673.”

This report, treating as it does exclusively of collisions anti derailments, is serious enough, but the note that is appended to it is the significant feature of the situation: —

“Collisions and derailments which cause no death or personal injury, and which cause not over $150.00 damage to the property of the railroad, are not reported.”

Seeing that the public should be in possession of all the facts in regard to efficiency of service, it occurs to me that a list of narrow escapes and of collisions and derailments which cause no deaths, or personal injury, would make very interesting reading. These are the very “trifles” to which I have already called attention. They are the seed from which we reap our crop of disasters. They are well worth reporting and paying attention to, and no annual or other statement of the situation on the railroad is worth much if it fails to recognize the significance of this feature.

But apart from the influence and power of the railroad organization upon the individuality and personal conduct of its members in relation to train wrecks and discipline, there is another branch of the topic that is perhaps still more interesting, from a human and national point of view.

Comparatively speaking, public attention has been but slightly directed in any specific way to the matter of accidents to employees on American railroads. It is certainly one of the most distressing features to be studied in connection with the safety problem. Collisions, derailments, defective hand-holds and brake apparatus, and the like, cause injuries to great numbers of employees. For example, at Haverhill, New Hampshire, the other day, five employees were instantly killed, through the alleged carelessness or oversight of a fellow employee. Such instances, of course, are particularly painful topics for discussion among railroad men, and yet this is the kind of an accident one reads about in the newspapers almost daily. But in twenty-four hours the reading public will forget the very worst of these accidents to employees. Their frequency takes the edge off their significance. During the year 1907, on a single American railroad, 104 employees were killed outright, and 3575 were injured. The cost of these accidents to the railroad in question was something like $285,000. With an employers’ liability law in force and operation, as in countries abroad, the increase in total paid to employees alone on this road would have carried the aggregate to half a million dollars. The magnitude and importance of the safety problem in relation to employees is still more evident when we consider that for the year ending June 30, 1907, the casualty list on American railroads shows a total of all persons killed, from all causes, of 5000, and injured 72,286; the totals for employees alone being 4353 killed and 62,687 injured.

The following figures in regard to actual train accidents and the casualties resulting therefrom show a rather discouraging state of affairs, from the fact that the employees themselves were in the main responsible for them. In 1904 the killed and injured employees in train accidents numbered 7834; in 1905, 7850; in 1906, 8362; and in 1907, 9935. As with all other items, so with accidents to employees, the total of casualties has largely increased year by year.

But one of the most distressing features to be considered in connection with accidents to employees, whether caused by their own carelessness or otherwise, is the absolute indifference with which news and statistics of such casualties appear to be received by the average railroad man. So far as an impartial investigator would be able to discover, “It’s too bad ” is about the limit of criticism and action in such matters. The indifference I call attention to, so far as the minds of the employees are concerned, is not real, and the actual reason and history of the seeming neglect can easily be located and analyzed.

The railroad employee, as a unit, is whole-souled and sympathetic; not a suspicion of indifference can be imputed to him, either as a man or as a brother. Individually speaking, when a passenger or an employee is injured, there is no sorrow like his sorrow; but unfortunately, the organizations or machines through which alone his desires and sympathies can be expressed, have never shown any disposition to interest themselves in any practical way in matters relating to the safety of the public, or of the employees, whenever such interest is liable to develop info a probe of the conduct and efficiency of the railroad man. The heads of the national organizations of railroad men, with particular reference to those connected with the operating department, occupy positions that are usually threequarters political. The wishes and sentiments of great majorities of employees on certain railroads can be, and have been, set aside by the political shake of the head of one man in Washington or Chicago. The acquiescence of the rank and file in this state of affairs is paid for in legislation and concessions. Nevertheless, from the human and social point of view, it would seem as if the organizations, or men-machines as we may call them, should bestir themselves in this matter of accidents to their members. In order to do this, coöperation with the management is necessary, so the following questions very naturally arise: —

By consultation, or otherwise, has any personality been put into the business? Have our organizations ever said to their members, “Come boys, let us reason together : when a man runs a signal, or disobeys orders, it is a disgrace to our machine. In reality we, the employees, are the principal stockholders in a railroad. When passengers, or our own members, are killed or injured, we have to pay a large proportion of the bill. We pay in loss of prestige and character, and every time one of us makes a mistake, it is a blot on our scutcheon. We should see to it that this matter is made personal to every member of our organization. We should coöperate with managers in locating the blame for these accidents, and without regard to consequences, we should insist upon the removal of offenders.”

Is there any evidence to show that this is the actual state of affairs ? If so, I have yet to meet a man who is aware of it. But, on the other hand, if no such influence is being exerted by the organizations, in all candor, and in the name of public safety, I ask, why not? For, right here, the public puts in its appearance and the following additional question must forthwith be answered: —

Are our organizations prepared to say to the public, “We are sorry, but the fact is, our machine is constructed purely upon selfish principles. Our time and efforts are exclusively occupied in fencing with the management. When passengers, even our own brothers, are killed, it is up to the superintendent every time. Let him change the rules if he thinks fit, but according to precedent and the rules of our organization in such cases, we are not expected to show any signs of sympathy or humanity. Consequently, to all interests apart from what may be called the political welfare of the whole machine, we are deaf, dumb, and blind ? ”

Is this an overdrawn picture ? I think not. It is simply a truthful matter-offact description of railroad organizations from whose calculations and behavior the personal and sympathetic element in regard to these safety questions has been eliminated.

But now, widening our horizon a little, we have next to take note that these questions of personal character, personal responsibility, and unhampered personal effort, are real and intense problems for thoughtful people to study, not only in relation to preventable accidents, but in every department of railroad life.

Some time ago, in an issue of the Engineering Magazine, a note of warning was sounded against the result of certain American manufacturing methods. It was pointed out that the principle of securing the largest output of uniform character, at minimum cost, made automata of the operatives, and discouraged skilled and trained artisans to so great an extent that the quality of the men today, for lack of proper inspiration, was generally poor and unreliable. According to the opinion expressed in the article that I refer to, many American manufacturers are beginning to realize the necessity of attracting men of high character to their employ, of surrounding them with an environment tending towards sobriety, integrity, and industry, and rewarding them according to their efforts, in order to avoid the effects of this so-called “ American tendency.”

That American methods of conducting business should be considered retrogressive on account of lack or poverty of inspiration, certainly points to unhealthy conditions somewhere. If these American tendencies can be shown to have the effect of discouraging individual effort and the natural growth and ambition of the worker on railroads or elsewhere, the matter certainly calls for serious attention. To say the least of it, it betokens a very peculiar state of affairs, for the reason that if there be one characteristic that more than another distinguishes the American citizen from the rest of the world, it is his freedom of personal action, his propensity for striking new and unexplored trails in almost every branch of research, industry, and invention. The American is par excellence the world’s inventor. And yet, without the utmost liberty of thought and action, an inventor would cut but a sorry figure. It follows, therefore, that any curtailment of or interference with these distinctively American gifts and instincts will, as they say, bear watching.

Quite a number of years ago an American firm secured a contract for the erection of a large factory somewhere near Manchester, England. The contractor soon discovered that no persuasion or encouragement would induce the British workman to lay more than a certain number of bricks per hour, according to the fixed law and schedule of his union. In order to complete the work within the allotted time, the contractor was compelled to send for American bricklayers. These men, who were paid according to their industry and personal effort, were able to lay four bricks to the Englishman’s one. The American could beat the Englishman four to one, not because he was, to that extent, a cleverer and quicker workman, but because at that time and place he was a free man. Transferred to American shops and factories, and in a different atmosphere, the foreign workman easily adapts himself to conditions and is able to hold his own.

According to the writer in the Engineering Magazine, American manufacturers are taking measures to stimulate and revive the principle of individual effort in order to secure excellence in workmanship; but, according to other authorities, these efforts are being counteracted by the labor unions on the railroads and elsewhere, which appear to be following in the footsteps and adopting the methods of the British organizations. However, the ideas and ideals of many wide-awake manufacturers and managers have found practical exemplification in various manufacturing establishments, as well as in railroad shops in different parts of the country.

Perhaps the best field for a short consideration of this interesting subject, so far as railroads are concerned, is to be found on the Santa Fé railroad system. The introduction of the individual-effort eward or bonus system of stimulating employees to extra or unusual effort, and of compensating them suitably therefor, is probably the most important of all the betterment work on this railroad. The inauguration of the system followed the strike of the machinists, boilermakers, and blacksmiths, in May, 1904. The credit for its introduction on the Santa Fé is due to Mr. J. W. Kendrick, Second Vice-President. Mr. Charles H. Fry, associate editor of the Railroad Gazette, who has written a valuable and comprehensive report of this betterment work, gives the following as its principal features and objects: —

“ To restore and promote cordial relations, based on mutual respect and confidence, between employer and employee;

“ To restore the worker to himself by freeing him from the small and debasing tyrannies of petty and arbitrary officials on the one side, and from individualitydestroying union domination on the other;

“ To give the company better, more reliable, and more trustworthy employees;

“To increase automatically, and without fixed limit, the pay of good men, this increase of pay depending on themselves and not on their immediate superiors;

“ To increase the capacity of the shops without adding new equipment;

“ To increase the reliability of work turned out and the efficiency of operation performed;

“ To do all these things, not only without cost to the company, but with a marked reduction in its expenses.”

The programme was certainly ambitious and praiseworthy, and in Mr. Fry’s report the results, after a thorough trial extending over several years, are given in the following paragraph: —

“It can safely be said that the betterment work has resulted as anticipated in restoring harmony between employer and employee, in restoring self-respect to the latter and increasing his efficiency and reliability. Also it has raised his wages ten to twenty per cent on the average. In addition, for every dollar of supervising and special expense incurred, the company has saved at least ten dollars in reduced costs.”

But just here two very important points require to be noticed and emphasized. In the operations of a railroad, efficiency must never be sacrificed for the sake of economy, and on the Santa Fé railroad when questions arise in which there is even the remote possibility of impairment of efficiency, all economical propositions or arrangements are at once postponed or vetoed altogether. Again, it is manifest that as a result of the improved methods and greater individual effort, certain reductions in working force will become possible. In regard to this matter the Santa Fé management claims that such reduction, when necessary, can easily be effected, simply by not replacing men who naturally drop out. This has been their uniform policy, and therefore, from their point of view, there is no possible ground for objection by employees on that score.

The individual-effort reward system on the Santa Fé thus far has been limited to the maintenance of equipment and to locomotive operation. The labor employed in the shops is, of course, distinctly non-union. The saving effected under these methods on tools and machinery alone, at Topeka, for the last fiscal year, was $119,000, and the total economy on 1633 locomotives (repairs and renewals) for one year, amounted to $1,737,626. These facts and figures are derived from a comparison of the cost of actual and identically similar work before and after the inauguration of the bonus system.

It is impossible at this time to enter into a minute explanation or description of the system which is to-day in actual operation on the Santa Fé railroad, and under which such satisfactory results, both to employer and employee, are being obtained. The work itself is notable not so much because of its economical results as on account of its moral and sociological aspects. Without taking any side in the questions at all, it is evident that the movement and work on the Santa Fé, from beginning to end, has been an appeal to individual effort and character, and a protest against the recognized ideals of the labor unions. But it will not be found necessary to go into details of the Santa Fé system in order to illustrate and emphasize the principles that are at stake and the nature of the problem that must, before long, be settled, one way or the other, by an educated and enlightened public opinion.

On the Santa Fé railroad, prior to the installation of the bonus system, a vast number of time-studies had to be made and schedules prepared. Every operation or piece of work to be bonused had to be studied by competent men, to determine, from the machine and other conditions, a fair or standard time to apply to it. Thousands of such studies have been made at the Topeka shops and properly recorded and preserved on regular blanks.

The following illustrations are only partially descriptive of the Santa Fé method, but they are sufficiently accurate to cover the principles involved, the benefits that are derived from them, and some of the objections which have been advanced by the union men on the railroads, who are opposed to the bonus system in any form.

You take a certain piece of machinery, say a part of a locomotive. You make a “study” of this part. After making one hundred tests, under all sorts of conditions, you make a schedule in your machine-shop for this particular operation or piece of work. You then fix upon a standard time for doing this work. Standard time is simply the time which it ought reasonably to take to do the work without killing effort, but by eliminating every unnecessary waste. The elimination of waste is the fair and square proposition you present to your workman. You say to him, “Make a standard time on this piece of machinery and I will pay you twenty per cent above your hourly rate, that is, above your regular pay. If you take more than standard time, your bonus will diminish until at fifty per cent above standard time it will simply merge into your day-rate. On the other hand, if less than standard time is taken, your bonus will increase above twenty per cent. But under any conditions or circumstances, you will always receive your full day’s wage.”

The situation becomes still plainer, if you explain it to your workman in this way. You say to him, “During the past year I have watched your work closely, and made hundreds of ‘studies’ in regard to the ‘part’ you turn out with that machine. I find that you have averaged about six to the hour. Now I am convinced that you can just as well turn out seven. Your pay is now $2.50 per day; if in the future you can make seven instead of six of these ‘parts’ in an hour, I will pay you $3.00 per day. In fact, your pay will increase in exact proportion to your cleverness and industry. Furthermore, if by any manner or means you can invent a way, such for instance as an improvement in the mechanism or in the operation of your machine, whereby you are enabled to turn out a dozen of these ‘parts’ in an hour, I will see to it that your pay is increased accordingly, without any limit whatever.”

Continuing our general illustration, we will now take it for granted that you are able to start this bonus system in your factory or shop, in which, under ordinary circumstances, you give employment to one hundred union men. At the end of a certain period you find, on account of the extra effort put forth by the most ambitious and cleverest men, that the number of these “parts” which you require in your business, or on your railroad, can easily be turned out by seventy-five men. So without delay you reduce the working-force in your shop accordingly, It matters not how you do this, whether by simple discharge or by omitting to fill vacancies as they occur in a natural way, the fact remains that at the end of the year you have decreased your force twenty-five per cent, and besides, without adding to your equipment, you have made a substantial reduction in your operating expenses.

Meanwhile the men who have lost their jobs have lodged a complaint with their union, and you are soon confronted with a grievance committee. These gentlemen inform you that the bonus system is all wrong, from beginning to end. From the union standpoint they will explain to you that the idea is, not to offer a reward for quickest and best work, nor to encourage the best men to get rich quick, or to vaunt their superiority over thetr duller and less fortunate comrades, but to make the job, whatever it may be, last as long as possible, and thus to afford employment to the greatest number of workers, at a fair and fixed rate of wages to every individual, regardless of ability or ambition, or of the profits and interests of the establishment. You are further informed that the grievance committee cannot enter into the discussion of ethical and sociological questions. The race is doing pretty well as a whole, and posterity will accord to labor its due share of credit. Meanwhile the men will be called out of your shop and the issue between the bonus system of reward for individual effort and the leveling process in shop-work will be fought to a finish.

Take another illustration: You make a great many “studies” in relation to the use of oil and other supplies on a locomotive on your railroad. You arrive at a fair standard of expense. You conclude there must be considerable waste going on somewhere, so you say to the engine crews, “So much, per month is a fair average of expense for such and such tools and supplies on your engine. If you can lower this average, we will share the amount saved in this way.” So you put the system in force on one thousand locomotives and save thereby four thousand dollars per month, which you divide with the men. But in doing this you have increased the pay of the careful men, and done nothing for those who are not interested in the general welfare of your railroad. The grievance committee takes the matter up with you; it protests against the whole business, and puts forth the argument that it is a dangerous proceeding, for you are guilty of encouraging a certain class of men to let engines “run hot” in order that they may secure your bonus for economy. In a word, you are requested to put a stop to this phase of your bonus system on the railroad.

Regardless of my somewhat crude and incomplete method of explaining the working of a bonus system on a railroad, my illustrations afford a very good idea of the Santa Fé system, which is in successful operation at the present day, as well as the proposed plans of the New York, New Haven and Hartford management, which quite recently the labor unions compelled the railroad to abandon.

But apart from successful operation in one quarter and defeat in another, the principles at stake in this bonus system are of world-wide interest and importance. Bearing this in mind, a few direct and pertinent questions have occurred to me, which I submit for the thoughtful consideration of my fellow workers on the railroads, as well as of liberty-loving people everywhere.

In the interest of human progress, and in particular with a view to efficiency of railroad service, do you think a railroad man should be permitted and encouraged to do his level best under all circumstances ? Would you recognize and promote individual effort and good work in your sawmill, if you owned one, for the good of the business, and in the interest of your pocketbook ? Would you recognize and promote individual effort, attention to duty, and efficiency of service on a railroad, understanding, as you do, that upon these personal characteristics the welfare of the railroad and the safety of the traveling public are almost wholly dependent? Again, would you hesitate to encourage and reward the economical administration of the affairs of your own town or your sawmill, for fear lest the departments or the machinery might be deliberately ruined by employees, or by your fellow townsmen, in their efforts to secure said reward and encouragement ?

If, after painstaking experiment, you become convinced that the plan would result in benefit to the interests of both management and men, would you hesitate to offer a bonus, or reward on cooperative principles, as an incentive to the economical use of supplies on a locomotive, for fear lest unprincipled engine crews should play tricks with the engine in order to secure the bonus ?

Furthermore, if the encouragement of the best men and the best service can be shown to work against the interests of second-class men and poorer service, would you be willing, on a railroad, to sacrifice these second-class men and their interests, in so far as this action should become necessary, to secure the greatest possible efficiency for the safeguarding of the traveling public ?

Finally, in the history of the development and civilization of the human race, is it possible to point to a single item of real progress, efficiency, or achievement, that has not been the direct result of the sacrifice of something below to the more important interests of something above?

Does it not therefore follow that any legislation or labor movement that has the effect of checking individual effort, or of interfering in any way with the free play of the best that is in any man, must necessarily reduce the standard and ideals of labor ? for such movements are an inversion of the laws of progress, and at the same time a reflection on the best thought and tradition of the American people.