N.P. Ry.

Any Particular Effort -- The Upbraiding of Nelson Bennett





Nelson Bennett and the Northern Pacific had a long relationship in Washington. He first became involved with the company back when it was still the NPRR, helping build the Cascade Branch from Pasco towards Yakima. Bennett stuck with the road through the lean years following Henry Villard's ouster and return, then submitted the low bid for the NP's 28 month wonder: Stampede Tunnel. Tales tell that he later lost his shirt in the Alaskan gold rush of the late 1890s. By 1899 he was working with the NP again; his crews were scattered hither and yon on the 20 some odd miles of the Palmer Cut-Off. The Engineering Department referred to the connection between the existing Stampede Pass line and the soon to be rail hub of Auburn as ''Rodent Frugality'' in its telegrams. It was an apt description, as the project was completed five months behind schedule. No one attached to it seemed to be immune from criticism--the Chief Engineer received bitter letters from the First Vice President, the Division Engineer was called on the carpet by the Chief Engineer, and the Assistant Engineer received abuse from all sides. The engineer's problem on the Palmer Cut-Off was not mud, or heavy grades, nor rivers or rock, it was Nelson Bennett.
Ironically, a little more than a decade later, they named a tunnel after him.


Tacoma, Wash.
September 13, 1899

Messrs. Henry and Bennett,
National Bank of Commerce Building
Seattle, Wash.

Gentlemen:

I wish to call your attention to the necessity of a prompt increase in the force on the Palmer Cut-Off. The reports show very small increase on the working forces during the last few weeks, and it will require vigorous action on your part to get the work in such shape before wet weather sets in, that the completion may not be unduly delayed.

Yours truly,
Charles S. Bihler
Division Engineer


St. Paul, Minn.
October 21, 1899

Charles S. Bihler

Dear Sir:

Please impress upon the contractors Messrs. Henry and Bennett the necessity for more vigorous prosecution of their work on the Palmer Cut-Off. This work seems to be going very slowly and at the present rate will not be completed in 12 miles. I not on the progress profiles some large cuts which are as yet untouched. As before instructed, you should make particular efforts to secure an early completion of the eastern section between the coal mines and the junction near Palmer.

Yours truly,
E[dwin] H. McHenry


Auburn, Wash.
November 8, 1899

Henry and Bennett

Gentlemen:

I enclose herewith a copy of my weekly progress report which may help you to see the present condition of the work. You will notice that I calculate that you should have 522 men and 117 teams at work to finish your work on the day called for in your contract. viz.: the first day of April 1900, and the report shows 328 men and 59 teams. The above figures refer to the grading alone, so that you are considerably behind in the progress of the work compared with what you should have done.
Your last estimate shows 87,500 cubic yards for the monthly, and 191,500 cubic yards total to date. Now the total yardage on the cut-off is about one million cubic yards. One million less 191,500 leaves 808,500 cubic yards to be done, and assuming your last month's rate of 87,500 yards, it will require nine and a half months for you to complete the work, and as you have only five months left, you surely must make an extraordinary effort to finish in time.
In order that you should have finished in the required time you should have moved 1,000,000 dived by three and two thirds months equals 115,500 yards per month, every month from the 10th day of July till the first day of April.
And now, in order to finish the grading in the required time you will have to move 170,600 yards per month, or double your last months yardage, and in order to finish in time to get the track laid by the first day of April, you should move about 200,000 yards per month. Hoping that the above will aid you in arranging for the pushing of the work from this on, I remain,

Yours truly,
G.A. Kyle
Assistant Engineer


Tacoma, Wash.
December 12, 1899

Henry and Bennett

Gentlemen:

Referring to progress on Palmer Cut-Off. I note there are still some portions of the work which are insufficiently covered with forces. Section 18, I understand Mr. Bennett is making arrangements to put in steam shove. On section 16 which I understand is sublet to Mr. McLean, no work to speak of has been done so far, and it would seem necessary that start should be made on this section at once. No forces appear to be working in sections 11, 12 and 13 and on the large cut between Stations 560 and 570. Especially this latter cut, which is a large one, and several of the cuts between 11 and 13, should have forces on, so that this portion of the line may not cause delay ultimately. I hope also that you will be able to expedite the work between the Columbia and Puget Sound crossing and Leary's coal mine as you promised. The completion of this section of the grade should be accomplished not later than the first of next month, so that the mines may be enabled to ship coal.

Yours truly,
Charles S. Bihler


Tacoma, Wash.
March 14, 1900

Henry and Bennett

Gentlemen:

I wish to call your attention to the state of the work on Sections 18 and 19, on the Palmer Cut-Off.
On Section 18, 55,000 yards are yet to be removed, and only 14 teams are at work at the present time. At the present rate it will take about three months to complete this section. The same holds good for Section 19, where the steam shovel has got to move about 44,000 yards, and is now moving it at the rate of about 600 yards per day. We will undoubtedly be delayed with track on these sections, unless the work is pushed very much more energetically than it has been up to this time. The sub-contractor on this work has made all sorts of promises of what he was going to do to secure better progress, but up to this time, has entirely failed to make any showing. Will you please make arrangements at once to secure the progress on this section which is absolutely necessary to prevent delay to the track. I believe that the most ready way by which this can be accomplished, will be to put on a night force on Section 18, and to cut down the work allotted to the steam shovel on Section 19 by the employment of teams and station men at some of the cuts, or else by working the shovel with double shifts.
I expect that you will take the necessary steps without delay to put this into execution.

Yours truly,
Charles S. Bihler


Tacoma, Wash.
March 20, 1900

G.A. Kyle

Dear Sir:

I had a talk with Mr. Bennett, concerning the progress on his sub-contract, and as usual, he had a lot of grievances and reasons why he does not make any better progress. I told him I could see very readily the reason for his not pushing the work, and that he was simply trying to string out the work so as to get in a more favorable working season. He disclaimed any intention of doing so, but the fact is quite apparent.
In order to have his work completed in time, it will be necessary to cut down the amount of work to be done by steam shovel, and to place forces on the intermediate cuts. Arrangements should also be made to work at least during all daylight hours at the cut east of Little Soos Creek. You may perhaps find it possible to narrow up the cut and fill, so that it will be possible to get the track over it more quickly. If arrangements are not being made by the contractor to increase his forces, please let me know. Bennett has always had the habit of snubbing the engineers in the field and he is stubborn and extremely hard to handle; but I do not propose that he should be allowed to proceed with this work entirely to his own convenience.

Yours truly,
Charles S. Bihler


Tacoma, Wash.
May 10, 1900

Henry and Bennett

Gentlemen:

I am again compelled to call your attention to insufficient progress on the Palmer Cut-Off. It is of the greatest importance that this line should be completed at the earliest possible date, and you do not seem to be making any particular effort to get the work finished. The further along this work continues to drag, the more difficult it will be to secure the necessary labor. The particular points on which considerable effort is demanded to prevent delay, outside of the work on Section 17, which seems to be progressing favorably, and the large cut on Section 10, where we will probably have to resort to a temporary raise in grade in order to get track through, is the fill at Station 640, near mile 12, where about 5,000 yards remain to be put in, and where at the present time, no work is being done. I understand from Mr. Kyle that there are teams on hand for this work, but no men to drive them.
The securing of labor for this work does not seem to be handled with any particular energy or method, and it appears that the men who are sent out by the employment agencies do not find any body at the station to direct them to the work. Of a number of men sent from Spokane, practically all did not stop at Auburn, but bought tickets and went through to Seattle. Undoubtedly if some body had been on hand to receive and take charge of them, a number of them might have been secured. The surfacing gang is entirely too small to get the work done within a reasonable time. With the 40 or 50 men which you have on this work it will not be possible to complete more than perhaps a quarter mile per day, now even this small force has been taken off for track laying. The force is hardly sufficient to lay track with reasonable dispatch, and you should make an effort to increase the force for this work so that the track can be completed to the Green River crossing by the time the erection crew is through at the first crossing. Meanwhile a good sized surfacing gang should be organized for the upper end so that the ballasting may be completed to Henry's Switch at the time track laying can be resumed from above.
I hope that you will use every effort to comply with this request, and would be glad to be advised what steps you will take to bring your forces up to the requirement.

Yours truly,
Charles S. Bihler


SOURCE:
University of Montana
Mike and Maureen Mansfield Library
K. Ross Toole Archives
Northern Pacific Collection 128
File 208, Folder 7, Box 33



Author: John A. Phillips, III. Title: Any Particular Effort -- The Upbraiding of Nelson Bennett. URL: www.employees.org/~davison/nprha/bennett.html.

© August 21, 2000

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