Took 3000 men one day to change to standard gauge — Morgan Silver Dollar Coin

Today, the Morgan Silver Dollar Coin remembers June 28, 1879 when 3000 men changed the 700-mile long track of the Iron Mountain and Southern Railroad in Missouri to standard gauge in one day.

From the Railroad Gazette of July 4, 1879:



The change of gauge of the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railway nearly finishes the work of bringing the railroad system west of the Mississippi to the Northern standard.

But a few years ago most of the Texas roads were of 5 ft. 6 in gauge, though at that time there were not many there. All of them have been changed now, we believe, and the only road of that gauge now remaining that we can recall is the North Louisiana & Texas, which extends from the Mississippi opposite Vicksburg, west 72 miles to Monroe, La., and has no connection with any other railroad, and another local line in Louisiana, 28 miles long.

The 133 miles of the Memphis & Little Rock are all that remain of 5 ft. gauge west of the Mississippi.

The change of the Iron Mountain is significant as to the growing importance of Southern traffic west of the Mississippi as compared with that east of it.

The Iron Mountain carries both and competes for both, and whatever advantage uniformity of gauge may have must be given up for one if it is to be preserved for the other—the railroad is between two bundles of hay.

That, after standing between them for so many years, with the freest access to the Eastern bundle, it should deliberately put the bars up between it and that bundle in order that it may put them down between it and the Western bundle, is sufficient evidence as to which it thinks is the biggest and the best.

The change of the road to 5 ft. gauge (the first gauge was 5 ft. 6in., we believe), which was made about 1870, was of very great advantage to it.

At that time all but a few miles of its road was included in the line from St. Louis to the Mississippi at Belmont, which had no connection to the South except the 5 ft. roads east of the Mississippi.

Then, too, there were no car hoists to transfer car-bodies between trucks of 5 ft. and those of the standard gauge.

The consequence was that for the first time cars could run through between St. Louis and all points in the Southeast of the Mississippi; and as no other road could offer these advantages, the Iron Mountain secured a very large traffic at rates not forced down to the lowest point by competition.

Since that time car hoists have been put in at every crossing of the Ohio almost, and cars are sent through from St. Louis by way of Cairo, Evansville and Louisville as well as Belmont.

Therefore, the traffic, which does not grow very rapidly, as Western traffic does, has been much divided, and, we may assume, by reason of the competitor is carried at a very small profit.

The Iron Mountain’s share of this business east of the Mississippi we may assume to be worth much less to it than it used to be, So that conformity with the Texas gauge becomes desirable not solely by reason of the growth of Texas traffic but by the decrease (in profitableness at least) of the Eastern traffic.

Relatively the Western business has become the more important; it grows rapidly while the Eastern business does not; a competition of Standard gauge bids for the Texas business, but with its gauge changed the Iron Mountain will still be in as good a position as other roads from St. Louis to carry traffic to points east of the Mississippi and south of the Ohio, the difference being that it will no longer have the advantage over them which uniformity of gauge has heretofore given it.

It can hardly be expected that this change will prove as advantageous to the road as the former one.

It will not make it the only line by which cars can run through to Texas without change or transfer of car body; for the Missouri, Kansas & Texas, which reached Texas before it, has always been of standard gauge.

Moreover, lack of uniformity is no longer the obstacle it used to be, for car hoists have made the transfers from trucks of one gauge to those of another very cheap and quick, and the disadvantage is chiefly felt where there is a very large traffic, so that cars accumulate and are delayed waiting for transfer, as sometimes On the Erie.

The change, however, was desirable for another reason.

The Iron Mountain may be said to be a terminal road for the Southeastern traffic: that is, most of this traffic comes from or goes to points beyond St. Louis, so that the Iron Mountain’s inability to transfer its cars to the other roads with termini at St. Louis was not a very great disadvantage, though doubtless a growing one.

It is likely to be different with the Texas traffic.

A good deal of that will not be consigned to St. Louis but only go through it on its way to the East.

That is, for this traffic the Iron Mountain is an intermediate section of lines which extend north and east as well as South and west of it, and its lack of conformity to the standard gauge compels two transfers.

Thus, the shortest route from Chicago to many points in Texas is by way of St. Louis (or Cairo) and the Iron Mountain road, but heretofore shipments made by this route had to be transferred once at St. Louis and again at Texarkana, and this would be sufficient often to cause the Missouri, Kansas & Texas to be preferred, or to increase the expenses of the carriers by the other route.

The St. Louis bridge toll, however, is the greatest obstacle to building up a Chicago-Texas business by way of St. Louis, and may lead to the turning of such part of that business as the Iron Mountain can control to Cairo and its branch to that place, which hitherto has had very little to do.

All its business to the East can also be done by this branch and so avoid the bridge.

The change will be unfavorable to the Memphis & Little Rock road, which is now in position to do all the Memphis-Texas business, but does not get much, we believe.

At least it does not get so much as to make transfers by a car hoist at Little Rock very disadvantageous.

On the other hand the Little Rock & Fort Smith is of standard gauge and gains by the change.

As to other roads, the one most likely to be affected is the Missouri, Kansas & Texas, which will now have the Iron Mountain as an equal competitor where formerly the latter was, as we have shown, at a considerable disadvantage.

The territory of the 5 ft. gauge railroads now seems forever limited on the west by the Mississippi as it long has been on the northwest by the Ohio.


The Morgan Silver Dollar Coin shows with an image of a railroad engine, circa 1874.

Morgan Dollar Coin