Great Northern 1948 Annual Report

The 1948 cover uses orange and green to depict the streamlined Empire Builder. It’s not four colors like the 1946 cover, but its better than just green and black, which is what the title page (page 3) uses to portray the Empire Builder. The green on the train is printed as black while the orange is strangely printed as green.

Click image to download a 23.3-MB PDF of this 40-page report.

The 1948 centerfold is a testament to how the Great Northern responded to the post-war decline in business by increasing the efficiency of its operations. A hand-written “memo to all Dept. Heads” from GN President Frank Gavin reads, “Present railroad problems are not completely solved by increasing charges to the Public. More important if Great Northern is to maintain its strong competitive position is establishing the most economical operation through a continuation of the mechanization program and increasing efficiency.” The memo may actually have been in Gavin’s handwriting; otherwise, there would be no excuse for making it so hard to read. The “efficiencies” shown in the centerfold include Dieselization, use of key punch and tabulating machines, and Great Northern motor trucks in place of local freight trains.

The report notes that overall passenger miles declined by 14 percent, but revenues from the new Empire Builder grew by 10 percent. This persuaded the railway to order $12 million worth of new passenger cars. “Following the gratifying public acceptance accorded the present Empire Builder,” wrote Gavin, “and to provide more modern cars for the Oriental Limited, a completely new set of trains for the Empire Builder was approved. Present Empire Builder equipment will be transferred to the Oriental Limited when the new trains go into service, possibly in 1951.”

Page 18 mourns the passing of Louis Hill at age 75. “Some of the many accomplishments of Mr. Hill for the benefit of the railway were the development of better agricultural practices in Great Northern territory,” the report notes. “He early sensed the importance of the iron ore movement from the Mesabi Range and secured the benefit of a substantial and continuing volume of this traffic to Great Northern. Mr. Hill was also largely responsible for the development of Glacier Park, the only important National Park on the main line of any transcontinental railroad.” Although Hill retired as chairman of the board in 1929, he remained on the board of directors until his death.

The report only briefly mentioned that Louis was the son of the railroad’s founder. “The passing of Mr. Hill severs the ties of a lengthy and distinguished career of service to the railway,” says the report, but just as painful must have been the loss of the connection with James J. Hill.

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