H. H. Williams and the Great Baggage Battle

By Grady Atwater


H.H. Williams fought with the Missouri Pacific Railroad as he tried to travel from Osawatomie to Ottawa on a mixed freight and passenger train in 1883. Williams was travelling from Osawatomie to Ottawa in 1883, and found much to his consternation he had to pay the freight rate for his baggage. He protested to no avail when he boarded the train, and paid what he considered an exorbitant baggage fee, and traveled to Ottawa despite the baggage fee.

However, Williams filed a complaint with the Missouri Pacific Railroad over the incident, which was taken seriously enough to be recorded in the Annual Report of Railroad Commissioners, published in 1883, which reported “Complainant [Williams] alleges in complaint dated July 24, 1883, that Respondent permits passengers to travel on freight trains, but refuses to carry baggage unless paid for at freight rates.”

The Missouri Pacific Railroad Commissioners investigated the complaint, and Missouri Pacific Railroad officials opened their policy manuals and responded politely, that common railroad policy was to wait for the first passenger train that came along and transfer the luggage to the later passenger train, with the hope that the luggage and the passenger would later be reunited. The Annual Board of Railroad Commissioners report continued,” The Passenger Agents of the A.T.& S.F. Rld. and the Union Pacific Rly. Co. being asked the practice of their companies in like cases, answered substantially that they “do not take baggage on freight

trains but send it by the first passenger train.”

Apparently that answer was not good enough for H.H. Williams and he pressed his case further, which prompted the Board of Railroad Commissioners to investigate more deeply into the case. They contacted the Missouri Pacific Railroad, and asked if it were possible to make an exception for the Osawatomie to Ottawa branch line due to H.H. Williams’s complaint. L .A. Emerson, General Western Agent for the Missouri Pacific Railroad, stood by Missouri Pacific Policy and refused to budge an inch. Emerson explained that though passenger cars were included with the freight trains that ran on the Osawatomie to Ottawa branch, Missouri Pacific Railway policy would stay in place. Emerson wrote,” we could not with consistency check and forward baggage on freight trains on this particular branch, and refuse to do it on other portions of the system. This I think is the first case- at all events during my connection with the Missouri Pacific Rly- that we have been asked to receive and forward baggage on freight trains. In the first place, we have no facilities for keeping baggage records, etc. You are certainly aware that transportation of baggage requires a perfect record at forwarding and receiving points and constant watchfulness of the baggage master, none of which is furnished on freight trains.”

H.H. Williams did not receive the answer he wanted from the Missouri Pacific Railroad, but his battle with the Missouri Pacific Railroad offers a view into the operations of the early railroads.

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Posted by admin on Mar 30 2011. Filed under Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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