Types of companies included in this guide
Please understand that
my primary focus is railroading
and my project goal is to describe every stock and bond issued by and for every railroad company that operated or intended to operate in North America.
There is no general agreement on the definition of railroading, so this page explains the limits of my project.
I offer two decision trees to show how I decide whether to include new companies or not. The first is series of interactive questions that will walk you through the decision-making process. The second is a chart that will show you a snapshot of the entire process at a glance.
Interactive decision tree
Fixed decision tree
Background. Collectors constantly find certificates from companies with peripheral rail involvement and they inquire whether I will include them in this catalog. I understand. They want to have their certificates listed in a price guide. That was that precise reason I took on this project in the first place. The LaBarre, Yatchman and Hendy price guides preceded my efforts by many years. Those ground-breaking works included hundreds of railroad certificates, but only scratched the surface. I wanted a price guide that listed all railroad certificates. I thought the hobby deserved a specialized catalog.
Within hours of recording my first certificates, I realized I needed to control the types of companies I included. Even at that early date, it was apparent that every minute I spent off-topic was a minute I could not contribute to my main goal. Since then, I have tried to keep my goal simple and explicit.
Regrettably, what seems simple and explicit to me is almost impossible to convey in print. Consequently, I have spent hundreds upon hundreds of hours explaining why some companies are allowed and others rejected.
Railroads versus non-railroads. Establishing and maintaining a clear dividing line between railroads and non-railroads is quite difficult. The definition of "railroad" is hard to pin down because vast numbers of non-railroad companies operated railroad equipment at one time or another. For that reason, many companies can seem close to railroading when, in fact, they are not.
Not knowing the process involved in gathering information, collectors assume it takes minimal time to include a few extra near-railroad companies in my project.
They don't realize that every extra company creates time committments that extend into the future for as long as this project lasts. The committment also extends backward in time. That means that I must review all old catalog and price lists for past appearances. Every old reference needs to be re-examined. Researching past certificate appearances usually takes a minimum of thirty hours each.
(Read more about the real time expenditure.)
Focus. Focus. Focus. I want to warn would-be "devil's advocates" that I will focus on my core topic with laser-like clarity. I add new railroad companies to the database continually. I will NOT add any off-topic companies.
Commonly, collectors suggest new off-topic categories "because I already list similar companies in the database." When that happens, I search the database and remove those off-topic companies.
Selection criteria. Here are my rules for deciding which companies to include and which to exclude. My requirements encompass four main categories:
- Intended income source
- Corporate name
- Minimal research
Location. My area of interest is North America. Railroad companies must have intended to operate in:
- North America from Panama north
- Caribbean islands
I do not allow any exceptions to this rule. Companies organized elsewhere are included if they intended to operate or finance railroads within the area I define as North America. I exclude all railroad companies that intended to operate outside of North America, regardless of where they incorporated. Several South American railroads were financed by companies incorporated in Maine and New York. Those companies do NOT get into this database.
Income source. In order to be included, companies' primary intended sources of profit must have been closely related to railroading. My intent is to list certificates from companies that most people would think were reasonably close to railroading. My project includes companies that:
- incorporated for the purposes of making money by conveying passengers and freight from one point to another using rail.
- made products that contributed directly to the ability of railroad companies to carry passengers and freight by rail.
Corporate name. At the risk of sounding redundant, this project is meant to catalog certificates from railroad companies. The closer a company name implies a connection to railroading, the more likely it is to appear in my catalog.
The easiest companies to include are those which used "railroad" or "railway" in their names.
Corporate names create a large area of disagreement. Corporate naming is a vast area of conflicting opinions. I recognize and accept disagreement. Nonetheless, my stance is pragmatic, perhaps to a fault. The harder it is to make connections between company names and railroading, the less likely those companies will appear in my catalog. My opinion is:
- Company names should include a variation or equivalent of the word "railroad." If a company's corporate name does not include a variation of the word "railroad", then I am disinclined to believe that that company was a full-fledged railroad company.
- Companies that excluded "railroad" from their corporate names did so intentionally. If their names do not precisely refer to railroading, I evaluate them individually, but am likely to exclude them.
- Corporate names indicative of other industries were intentional. If a company called itself a mining, manufacturing, bridge, timber or power company, I believe it.
- Just because companies used railroad technology or even ran small railroad operations does NOT automatically qualify them as railroad companies. To understand this limitation, consider computers as modern analogs of railroad equipment. While millions of today's companies use computers, only a microscopic percentage would properly be called "computer companies." TCox & Associates Inc. is a Colorado corporation and makes 100% of its income through the use of computers; no one would call it a "computer company."
Companies which include the words listed below almost always qualify for my project. (See a full list of keywords commonly thought to be associated with railroading and how they are likely to be handled.)
- chemin de fer
- ferro carril, ferrocarril(es)
- narrow gauge
- palace car
- rail road, railroad(s)
- rail way, railway(s)
- rolling stock
- stock car
- traccion, traction
Minimal research. The more research it takes to connect a company to railroading, the less important that company is to this project. When it takes more than rudimentary research to prove railroad involvement, I assume the company is too far from railroading. I added this additional filter as a crucial requirement when I finally realized the exorbitant amount of time I had spent explaining why companies with minimal rail involvement do not deserve to appear in my catalog. (Here is an extended discussion of my rationale for not allowing tedious research.)
Exceptions to all rules. Two decades of effort have proven that every collector can find exceptions to every rule I have ever devised. Still, my initial intent remains intact: to list certificates from North American railroad companies.
- (Rule 1) I include almost any transportation company that used some variation of the word "railroad" (or its non-English equivalent) in its corporate name.
- (Rule 2) I include all street railroads and interurbans.
- (Rule 3) I include subways and monorails.
- (Rule 4) I include tourist railroads as long as they carry or carried passengers for profit off their own private property.
- (Rule 5) I include inclined railroads.
- (Rule 6) I include all manufacturers of rail equipment.
- (Rule 7) I include some, but not all, transit companies. Many companies used the transit moniker for bus operations. Many bus companies operated one or two street rail lines in their early existences. I consider such companies bus companies if the majority of their income came from rubber-tired vehicles.
- (Rule 8) I include practically all railroad equipment manufacturers. It is probable that many manufacturers have escaped detection because their names hid their connections to railroading. I generally define railroad equipment as metallic equipment such as switches, rails, signals, couplers, brakes, wheels, springs, headlights, drive gears, grates, engines, motors and similar items.
- (Rule 9) I include all railroad aid bonds. During the period of heavy railroad expansion in the 1870s and 1880s, political entities frequently issued special bonds with the sole purposes of enticing railroads to lay tracks to and through their cities, townships, counties and states. State and municipal aid bonds qualify for inclusion because they represented direct investments in railroading.
- (Rule 10) I include certificates from Dutch stock and bond holding companies. Dutch railroad investors were crucial to American railroad expansion, but railroad companies often treated them with contempt. In order to leverage their investments into collective influence, Dutch stockholders and bondholders frequently formed investment concerns for the purposes of holding and voting large numbers of shares of individual North American companies. Those Dutch companies often issued their own certificates. All encountered so far have shown direct railroad involvement.
- (Rule 11) I include most railroad holding companies. Holding companies often controlled one or more railroad companies through subsidiary status or through stock ownership. True holding companies were at least one step removed from railroad operations and therefore rarely qualified as true "railroad companies." On the other hand, most holding companies invested heavily in railroading. Given the choice, I would include all holding companies as long as the majority of their income came from railroading. Unfortunately, matters are complicated because so many holding companies chose global-sounding names. That allowed them to pursue income opportunities beyond railroading. Auction catalogers sometimes group holding company certificates with railroads, but they more often list them elsewhere because they don't know they are rail-related. Because their names effectively disguise their corporate intent, holding companies often require substantial research to disclose their connections to railroading. For that reason, I include holding companies in this project if and only if their connections to railroading are close enough to be discovered without deep research. I definitely include companies like the Union Pacific Corporation, Reading Company, etc. I Know I have missed obscure holding companies.
- (Rule 12) I include a few major railroad financing companies. I include certain financing companies in the project if their names are sufficiently close to railroading or if they are widely known to have been rail-related. Even though their names were purposely deceptive, I allow Credit Mobilier and Contract Finance Co. into this project because they had such a major influence on America's rail development through their financing of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads respectively. Most investment companies formed during the 1920s are excluded because their names and involvements were too far from railroading.
- (Rule 13) I include a few railroad construction companies. Theoretically, railroad construction companies belong in my catalog because they contributed directly to the abilities of railroad companies to carry passengers and freight. Unfortunately, many were like holding companies and disguised their purposes behind ordinary-sounding names. Because they are difficult to research, I generally include only those railroad construction companies whose names strongly imply railroad involvement.
- (Rule 14) I include depots, terminals, and stations.
- (Rule 15) I include a few bridge and tunnel companies. Tunnels and bridges are as crucial to railroading rail beds and rights-of-ways. However, many were organized as separate companies and therefore outside the strict definition of my catalog. I personally consider them very much as separate business concerns. Regrettably, my earliest lists followed the custom of major auction catalogs and I listed certificates from those companies among railroad certificates. I conducted informal polls of my readers around 2000 and then again in 2010. The majority of respondents told me they preferred keeping bridge companies and tunnel companies in my catalog. In deference to my readers, I allow the most famous of railroad bridge and tunnel companies to remain in the database. Tunnels used for drainage, mining, and motorized vehicle traffic are excluded. The dual-use (auto, train) Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel at Whittier, Alaska will be included if any construction bonds ever appear. Denver's city-owned Moffat Tunnel is included because it did, in fact, issue its own (now-collectible) construction bonds.
- (Rule 16) I include some rail equipment leasing companies. To qualify for inclusion, companies must generally indicate their specialty in their corporate names.
- (Rule 1) I exclude companies which used railroad equipment for internal uses. Thousands of companies have used railroad equipment to move material within their corporate facilities. If rail movements were limited to internal use only and if those rail operations moved no other company's products for profit, then those companies are excluded from my project. The definition of "corporate facilities" includes factories, mines, quarries, breweries, airports, plantations, amusement parks and most timber companies.
- (Rule 2) I exclude logging companies. Had I strictly enforced the foregoing rule when I first started, I would have excluded logging companies from my railroad project. Nonetheless, I made an exception and included logging, timber, lumber, saw mill and pulp mill companies in my project for over fifteen years. I rationalized that many of those companies were ancestral branches of large railroad companies. Moreover, prior to World War I, the vast majority of logging companies used full scale railroading equipment for their operations and some even ventured into passenger transport. Curiously, I never received a single correspondence during the entire time I included logging companies in my database. The silence from collectors was absolute. As my dad used to say, "The silence was deafening!" That silence finally forced me to recognize that logging certificates were very much separate from railroading. Strictly speaking, logging and timber companies made money cutting and selling wood. They used rail equipment but they were not railroad companies. All logging companies have been removed from the database.
- (Rule 3) I exclude sugar and cotton plantations. Many American, Mexican and Caribbean plantation trams carried passengers on semi-official bases. However, unless they incorporated their rail operations separately, I consider their primary businesses to have been agricultural.
- (Rule 4) I exclude large, diversified companies. Companies such as General Electric, U.S. Steel, CF&I Steel, and Georgia Pacific often hid rail-related divisions within their huge organizations. As large and as important as some of those divisions may have been (the Electro-Motive division of GE, for instance), they were still only small parts of great enterprises. I cannot catalog certificates from diversified giants as "railroads" without stretching the definition to the point of absurdity.
- (Rule 5) I exclude museums and historical societies. While appreciative and supportive of their preservation efforts, such organizations do not haul freight or passengers for profit outside of their own facilities. Exceptions conceivably exist.
- (Rule 6) I exclude non-railroad manufacturers, including toy manufacturers Lionel and Mattel.
- (Rule 7) I exclude all reproduction railroads.
- (Rule 8) I exclude fraternal organizations, brotherhoods and unions.
- (Rule 9) I generally exclude express companies.
- (Rule 10) I exclude municipal bonds issued for purposes of eliminating rail crossings.
- (Rule 11) I exclude all non-rail companies owned by railroads. We know of over 23,500 railroad companies in North America and we know they owned vast numbers of subsidiaries that performed functions outside the principal business of moving freight and passengers. Those subsidiaries were exceedingly diverse. They touched practically every possible type of business. The most common subsidiaries were involved in land development, realty, lumber, bridges, tunnels, coal mining, trucking, grain storage, wharves, warehouses, waterborne shipping, express services, water rights, canals, tourist hotels, business parks, and even amusement parks. That extreme diversity dictates that ownership by railroad companies is insufficient reason for inclusion in this project.
- (Rule 12) I exclude utilities and public service companies. Numerous utilities bought street railways between the 1920s and the early 1940s, but made the bulk of their incomes came through power generation, not railroading. Essentially all utilities converted their street railways to gasoline or electrified buses as soon as possible. Many of today's large power generators own large numbers of railroad cars and use them to transport coal to their power plants. They are excluded because mere ownership of railroad equipment does not classify companies as railroads.
What about ICC reportage? Over sixty years after railroading began, the United States Congress created the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1887. Reports to the ICC theoretically showed companies' intents to operate as common-carrier railroads. It is clear that certain mining, manufacturing and bridge companies reported to the ICC as common carriers although their motivations may have had to do more with tax treatment and bureaucratic definition than genuine efforts to carry freight or passengers competitively. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some railroad companies purposely avoided common-carrier designation through choices of corporate names, special transportation arrangements and even land ownership.
The purpose of this project is to list collectible certificates. I refuse to waste my time researching ever-flexible corporate motives. I think it tedious beyond description to waste my precious time trying to understand corporate schemes relative to governmental oversight. For that reason, I do not consider ICC reportage to be relevent for deciding whether to include or exclude companies.
Practical matters. I already spend thousands of hours per year describing certificates and recording prices for legitimate railroads and railroad-related companies. Every minute I spend on non-railroad certificates is one minute less I have for my core project.
I firmly believe that given a choice, average collectors of railroad certificates would prefer that I spend my time describing and pricing collectible stocks and bonds from railroads. That is the approach I will take.