Listing companies

Missouri Pacific Railway office building from stock certificate

Office building of Missouri Pacific Railway Co,
image courtesy of Max Hensley

This project is about identifying all collectible stocks and bonds issued by railroad companies in North America (see Project Purpose). The only companies allowed to issue securities were those officially chartered by states, provinces, territories, and countries. Certificates need to be indexed by company name, so I had two approaches I could have taken:

  • catalog companies only after certificates were positively known
  • catalog every railroad company I could find prior to cataloging

I took the second approach. Nevertheless, it was inevitable that I would run into several additional questions:

  • Should I include companies that never operated?
  • Should I list companies when I am unsure whether they incorporated or not?
  • Should I include locomotive and railcar builders?
  • Should I list depot companies, signal manufacturers, etc. etc., etc?
  • How far down the rabbit hole of "railroad involvement" should I go?

Initially, I was doing the project for myself, so the effects of my decisions were minimal. I was limited only by the size of the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet I was using. I didn't need to think much about the many different kinds of companies I listed. I knew what I meant by "railroads."

BNR Press published the first edition of my project in 1995 and the ramifications of my earlier decisions became obvious. More and more collectors began asking for more and more expansions of my project boundaries.  My initial boundaries had proven too "soft."

<!-- HTML Credit Code for Can Stock Photo --> <a href="">(c) Can Stock Photo / njaj</a>

I spent a estimated 40 to 60 hours per year between 1996 and 2019 answering inquiries and explaining why one company belonged in the project and another did not. Sadly, I lost a couple of very good contributors because I black-balled too many companies they thought belong in my catalog.

I fully understand how much collectors want to see their certificates listed in a catalog. Unfortunately, they have no way of knowing that expanding the project boundary by a single off-topic company required three or four full workdays re-examining old catalogs and price lists for previous occurrences.

Deciding what kinds of companies to include and exclude in this project is much like trying to define the boundaries of faraway galaxies. Observers with average telescopes can define blobs of stars as specific galaxies with no problem. Those with great telescopes have intense problems defining exact boundaries.

I deeply regret the loss of dis-affected collectors, but I was the guy in charge of defining boundaries. I made every decision with all collectors of railroad certificates in mind. As hard as those boundary decisions were to make, the alternative would have been to burn out and give up on the project.

Based on reactions to several earlier attempts,  I finally formalized a set of "rules" in 2019. Those rules defined which types of companies I would include and which I would exclude. A few vagaries and inconsistencies might still exist in a few areas, but decision-making is much easier. I finally cut my annual time expenditures explaining expansion inquiries to about a quarter of earlier levels.

If wondering whether a company of certificate will be cataloged, please consult my Rules for listing companies.

These links will takes you to more discussions about companies cataloged:

What information is recorded?

Rules for listing companies

Industries that used rail equipment

What about utilities that operated street railways and interurbans?

Mystery companies (Help needed to determine whether companies were REAL railroads)

Non-railroad companies (companies that have already been rejected)