THE SOUTHERN “BIG JOHN” COVERED HOPPER TOOK ON THE SUPREME COURT AND CHANGED THE INDUSTRY!
In the late 1950s, the Southern Railway believed that new methods would allow for a reduction in shipping rates for grain and feed traffic. The Southern proposed a strategy to create large, lightweight, 100-ton covered hoppers. At this time, railroads shipped grains in 50-ton boxcars. The Southern projected that this strategy would allow for a 60% rate reduction under boxcars. However, the concept was met with resistance, and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) appealed with the ICC, who had approved of the Southern’s proposed rates. The TVA operated Alabama and Tennessee lock, dams and water transportation. They viewed the reduced rates as a threat to barge traffic. In the litigation that followed, the Supreme Court heard two cases, and Congress was encouraged to review rate regulation. In addition to car rates, avoiding interchange fees was a strategic component of the Southern’s competitive strategy. As such, the Southern was strict about service routes. In the early years of Big John service, the cars remained on Southern system so to avoid interchange charges. Big Johns were primarily operated to gateway points in the Midwest. There, mid-western railroads and river barges would offload lading into elevators, and then, the Southern Railway would reload the same lading into Big Johns—all to keep cars on home rails. Additionally, there were virtually no single car movements—common for grain traffic in the early 1960s. Instead, the Southern moved these cars in large blocks—a notion well in advance of the unit train concept. ExactRail’s Magor 4948 “Big John” Covered Hopper has been developed in close association with the Southern Railway Historical Society. The Southern Railway Historical Society gave ExactRail’s Magor 4948 “Big John” Covered Hopper the absolute highest praise! Thank you to the Southern Railway Historical Society for their help with this project!