|The Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (C&O) was a Class I railroad formed in 1869 in Virginia from many smaller |
railroads begun in the 19th century. Tapping the coal reserves of West Virginia, it formed the basis for the
City of Newport News and the coal piers on Hampton Roads, and forged a rail link to the mid-west,
eventually reaching Columbus, Cincinnati and Toledo in Ohio and Chicago, Illinois.
The Chesapeake & Ohio Railway traces its origin to the Louisa Railroad of Louisa County, Virginia,
begun in 1836 and the James River & Kanawha Canal Company, also starting in Virginia in 1785.
The C&O of the 1950s and 1960s at its peak before the first modern merger, was the product of about
150 smaller lines that had been incorporated into the system over time.
In 1923 when the great Cleveland financiers, the Van Sweringen brothers bought a controlling interest in the
line as part of their expansion of the Nickel Plate Road (NKP) system. Eventually they controlled the NKP, C&O,
Pere Marquette Railroad in Michigan and Ontario and Erie railroads. They managed to control this huge system
for a time by a maze of holding companies and interlocking directorships. This house of cards
tumbled when the Great Depression began and the Van Sweringen companies collapsed. However, the C&O was a
strong line. Despite the fact that in the early 1930s over 50% of American railroads went into receivership,
it not only avoided bankruptcy, but took the occasion of cheap labor and materials to rebuild itself.
Because of this great upgrading and building program, the C&O was in prime condition to carry the monumental
loads needed during World War II. During the War it transported men and material in unimagined quantities as
the government used the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation as a principal departure point for the European
Robert Ralph Young got control of the C&O through the remnants of the Van Sweringen companies, in 1942. For
the next decade he became "the gadfly of the rails," as he challenged old methods of financing and operating
railroads. Young inaugurated many forward looking advances in technology that have ramifications to the
present. He changed the C&O's logo to "C&O for Progress" to embody his ideas that the C&O would lead the
industry to a new day. Young eventually gave up his C&O position to become Chairman of the New York Central
before his suicide in 1958.
During the Young era and following, the C&O was headed by Walter J. Tuohy, under whose control the "For
Progress" theme continued, though in a more muted way after the departure of Young. During this time, C&O
installed the first large computer system in railroading, developed larger and better freight cars of all types,
reluctantly switched from steam to diesel motive power, and diversified its traffic, which had already
occurred in 1947, when it merged into the system the old Pere Marquette Railroad of Michigan and Ontario,
Canada, which had been controlled by the C&O since the Van Sweringen days. The PM's huge automotive industry
traffic, taking raw materials in and finished vehicle out, gave C&O some protection from the swings in the coal
trade, putting merchandise traffic at 50% of the company's haulage.
The C&O continued to be one of the more profitable and financially sound railways in the United States, and in
1963, under the guidance of Cyrus S. Eaton, helped start the modern merger era by "affiliating" with the
ancient modern of railroads, the hoary Baltimore & Ohio.
Headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, USA, in 1972 it became part of the Chessie System, along with the
Baltimore and Ohio and Western Maryland Railway. In 1980, the Chessie system combined with Seaboard Coast
Line Industries to form CSX Corporation, which by 1987 had merged all its railroad subsidiaries into CSX
Transportation, one of seven Class I railroads operating in North America at the beginning of the 21st century.
The C&O itself disappeared in a merger into CSX on September 2, 1987.