The Texas and Pacific Railway, better known as the T & P, was started in Texas in 1881, and became a Jay Gould line in 1900. Gould owned 50.1% of the T & P all the way up to 1928, when his bigger line, the Missouri Pacific, assumed control of the smaller line. Among the 49.9% minority shareholders, the Vollmer family of Fort Worth held the most shares. When I was a child, Mr. W. G. Vollmer was the president of the T & P.
He was impressive if for no other reason than his size. He was 6’6’, weighed about 265, and had been an All American football player at SMU in the 20’s. He came from money, had money, but never ever let his wealth color his relationship with his employees. He laughed easily, and a lot. His family used their wealth to help the less fortunate, and W. G. Vollmer treated every employee as an important cog in the workings of the railroad.
The Alexandria yards had a dead end spur that ended just behind the big two story yard office. When Mr. Vollmer came down from Fort Worth, Business Car No. 1 was spotted on this dead end track, right by the parking lot, and men passed by his car going to and from work. He roamed the yard during the day and night, stopping by the roundhouse and car shops, drinking coffee in the shanties, and riding the switch engines. He wanted to know about each mans family, if all was well with his job, and if the railroad was treating him right.
In the evenings, Mr. Vollmer would sit on the rear deck of his private car, in slacks and an undershirt. Anyone could come and sit with him, and Tom, the porter/cook, always had something cool to drink, and ice cream for the kids. A man could sit and talk to Mr. Vollmer about anything related to his job, with absolutely no fear of any type of retribution. He listened to everyone, from the Superintendent all the way down to the lowest laborer, and when you were on the back of Car No. !, you were treated as an equal in the running of the railroad.
I learned a lot about employee relations sitting with my Dad and Mr. Vollmer, listening to them discuss different things. My dad always brought Mr. Vollmer produce from his garden and sometimes fresh fish for Tom to prepare for him.
I grew up thinking that all CEO’s treated their employees the same as Mr. Vollmer did. Sadly, when I got older, I found that he was the exception rather than the rule.
The T & P had an extensive network of employee recreation clubs, know as Red Diamond Clubs. They had monthly meetings, with the food provided by the railroad. In summer, boxcars of sweet green Arkansas watermelons came along the main line, and each terminal got their share. Alexandria had a huge icehouse, and the melons were iced down and then a big party was held, with burgers, ice cream, and watermelon. In the winter, Christmas parties were held, complete with Santa Claus and gifts for everyone. Each employee got a hand signed Christmas Card from Mr. And Mrs. Vollmer, mailed from Postal Car #1. When an employee’s child graduated from high school, a $25.00 savings bond was Mr. Vollmer’s gift, along with an admonition to do well in life so that the workers on the T & P would be proud!
By the time Mopac took over complete control of the T & P in 1966, Mr. Vollmer had died. My dad often said that his heart would have been broken by the ruthless way that his beloved T & P was ripped apart, and sold to the highest bidders. MoPac kept only the most lucrative parts for itself, and let the rest either rust, or ruin, or pass into history.
I could write a small book on how well the T & P treated its employees, but in this day and age of corporate greed, it would sound like a fantasy. W. G. Vollmer was the exception rather than the norm, and sometimes I wish I could go back to the 1950’s, when a tall man with sparkling eyes, a true sense of humor, and an endless supply of ice cream sandwiches made a young kid think that his Dad was someone very important. Why else would he be sitting on the back of a fancy business car dressed in his work khakis, talking to the president of the finest railroad in the world? He had to be important to rate that honor!