Champion transportation: From horse-drawn drays in 1894 to railroad freight cars in 1898 to team trucks in 1994
In 1994 a customer can enter an order today at the Hamilton mill and have it delivered by truck tomorrow to a printing plant in Chicago, Atlanta or Boston, according to Dave Senne, traffic manager.
But it hasn't always been that way, especially May 4, 1894, when J. C. Giffen, Champion's first shipping clerk, dispatched 10 cases of paper, weighing between 500 and 600 pounds each, to the Chatfield and Wood Company in Cincinnati.
Giffen and others lifted the first Champion paper onto a horse-drawn dray, and then patiently drove the load over Hamilton's unpaved streets to the east end of High Street where the order was transferred to a canalboat. Because of the poor condition of the streets, making two round trips of less than five miles in a day was a major accomplishment for the horse teams.
Under ideal conditions, it took at least seven hours to make the trip from Hamilton to Cincinnati on the Miami-Erie Canal, which had a speed limit of four miles an hour. Usually, paper sent by the canal left Hamilton at 6 o'clock in the evening and arrived in Cincinnati by 8 o'clock the next morning.
Most early shipments for other points went by railroad, which required a shorter wagon trip from the mill to a siding on the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad at the Niles Tool Works (a site now part of Champion's distribution center on North Third Street). In the mid 1890s, Hamilton paper destined for Chicago usually reached that city by the second morning after shipment.
Coal and supplies for the Hamilton mill had to be hauled by horse-drawn two-wheeled carts from the same siding about half a mile from the mill. Most of the work was entrusted to three teams of horses owned by Jim Hutchison.
Harry T. Ratliff -- who succeeded Giffen as shipping clerk -- recalled helping carry 250 bundles, each weighing about 240 pounds, from the shipping room to the dray on his first day on the job Nov. 28, 1895.
He was supposed to work 10 hours, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., but instead continued until 10 p.m. He worked 15 hours five days a week during his first five months in the mill in that horse-and-wagon era.
Transportation improvements were envisioned before Champion produced its first paper. Conrad Semler (of the Semler flour mill, on North B Street, south of Champion) suggested a belt railroad in 1893, but obstacles delayed incorporation until April 30, 1896. Semler found a valuable ally in Peter G. Thomson, Champion's founder, and both men served on the board of directors of the Hamilton Belt Railway Company.
The railroad was assured success Aug. 3, 1898, when Champion signed a contract guaranteeing to receive and dispatch at least 600 rail car loads a year over the Belt Line, that looped from the Hamilton-Indianapolis mainline of the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad near Millville and Edgewood avenues, across Main Street and along Two Mile Creek to North B Street, then south to the Champion and Semler mills.
Only three of Ohio's 90 railroads had fewer miles than the Belt Line, which measured 2.95 miles of mainline track and 1.53 miles in yards and sidings. It cost $95,474.55 to build, an average of $21,311 per mile. (Later, the line was absorbed by the CH&D, and in succession by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, the Chessie System and then CSX.)
The Belt Line gave Champion direct access to Hamilton's excellent rail network. Via its north-south mainline, the CH&D linked the city to Cincinnati and the Ohio River to the south, and Dayton, Toledo and Detroit to the north. The Erie Railroad -- which had trackage rights over the CH&D -- provided service to Cleveland, New York and other eastern cities. The Hamilton- Indianapolis mainline of the CH&D offered connections to St. Louis, Chicago and other western and upper Midwest cities. The Pennsylvania Railroad's Cincinnati-Chicago mainline also passed through Hamilton and connected to PRR western and eastern lines.
Belt Line service to Champion started in November 1898. The first inbound train brought coal to the mill. Because of the unsteady condition of the new track, it took a steam switcher locomotive and a single coal car three hours to travel the five miles from the CH&D's Hamilton yard.
The first crew included Billy Smith, conductor; Peter Brannon, engineer; C. W. (Dutch) Herman, fireman; and James (Dido) Smith, helper. At Champion, Samuel Mench, Joe Heitzman and Joe Fisher loaded paper on the first outbound boxcars, which were sent to Chicago.
"For the balance of that year, if we had five cars out a week, it was not bad business" recalled Ratliff, who became mill traffic manager in 1900. "The first sidings we had were an outbound track that held two cars, an inbound track that held three cars, with another track to the boiler house that held two cars of coal," said Ratliff, who had worked for the CH&D after leaving Miami University.
Soon the Belt Line became Champion's lifeline, delivering raw materials and coal, hauling paper to printers, and later transporting customers via special trains to Hamilton for tours of the mill and promotion of its products. Champion easily fulfilled its promise to handle 600 rail car loads a year.
"In 1906, tonnage became heavier with about 15 cars a week outbound," noted Ratliff, who was general traffic manager for all Champion operations during his more than 50 years with the company. By 1926, he said, Champion sent out 18 to 20 cars of paper daily, and inbound handled an average of 144 box cars and 55 coal cars each week.
"Average shipments from the mill to Chicago amount to from 55 to 85 cars monthly," said R. H. Butterworth, Chicago office manager, in describing the situation in 1926. "These cars leave Hamilton at noon and arrive in Chicago the second morning between 7 and 9 a.m., giving practically express service to our Chicago customers." Butterworth said "we also have to have for our outside territory from 50 to 60 cars monthly, which means in round figures that the requirement from a tonnage standpoint for this office are from 120 to 150 cars of paper each month."
By 1940, the Hamilton mill railroad yards included more than 20 miles of track where several steam locomotives shuttled cars around the clock.
World War II strained the nation's railroads, and demanded more efficient use of the system by Champion and other industries.
In December 1943, for example, Karl Kehr, of mill shipping, reported the average Champion carload that year had reached 63,000 pounds, compared with 38,000 in May 1941, seven months before the U. S. entered the war. Based on 55-foot boxcars, then the norm, Kehr said Champion had saved 1,950 cars, or enough to compose a freight train 19 miles long. In 1943, the Hamilton mill handled 11,857 outbound cars.
"It takes 500 tons of coal a day to operate the Hamilton mills during the winter months, and summer means a slightly smaller demand," CHIPS reported in 1944. Before the war, 38,000 tons of coal - a 76-day reserve - had been stored in the mill coal yard along Two Mile Creek, but war-time car limits cut that total more than 50 percent.
In December 1947, two years after the war ended, a national coal shortage caused the Office of Defense Transportation to order an embargo on many rail freight shipments to conserve fuel. In a race against the 12:01 a.m. Dec. 6 start of the embargo, Ratliff said the Hamilton mill shipped 33 boxcars with more than 2.28 million pounds of cargo on Thursday, Dec. 5, 1947.
Champion acquired its first truck when the March 1913 flood shutdown rail lines serving Hamilton. Charley Stephens was the driver and mechanic for the three-ton Packard used to collect mill machinery and paper which had washed down the Great Miami River, and haul damaged equipment for repair between Hamilton and Cincinnati.
The flood had destroyed four Hamilton bridges, leaving a sturdy iron span at Venice as the only link to Cincinnati. The first truck had a governor which limited its speed to 12 miles an hour. But the device wasn't needed, Stephens said, because the condition of the rural roads made it impossible to complete a 40-mile round trip to Cincinnati in less than five and a half or six hours.
By 1925, Bob Chambers of the traffic department reported Champion's seven Mack trucks that year had traveled 84,109 miles, or more than 3.5 times around the world, and had hauled 123,741,066 pounds of paper and other materials, including 17 million pounds transported to Cincinnati.
The next year, Maury Hall and Bill Frazee completed what Hall called "a record trip" to Ford City, Pa., via Pittsburgh, in one of the Mack trucks. "We left the mill with a load of about 4,000 pounds Tuesday morning, April 17, at 4 o'clock," explained Hall. "We arrived at Pittsburgh, Pa., at 9 p.m. as scheduled. After resting about three hours, we drove on to Ford City that night, arriving there about 8:30 Wednesday morning. We were ready to leave Ford City on the return trip at 11:15 a.m. Wednesday, April 28, with a load of 8,000 pounds, a drive for No. 24 calender, coating mill." Hall said "we were on the road 31 hours returning with only two hours' rest, which we got on the truck while parked on top of one of Pennsylvania's mountains. We pulled into the garage at the mill at 6:15 p.m. Thursday, April 29, after traveling 683 miles in 54 hours and using 111 gallons of gasoline."
A threatened increase in railroad rates for paper in 1931 encouraged the mill traffic department to experiment with trucking paper to Chicago. Chambers, manager of the trucking department, declared the test runs a success, saving time and money. "The outbound loads from the mill consisted of paper for various customers in Chicago," Chambers said. "On the return trips the trucks were loaded with waste paper. The average outbound load on the six-wheeler and trailer was approximately 40,000 pounds - return load average 28,000 pounds."
Verl Kennedy and Dan Manning left the Hamilton mill at 1 p.m., March 4, and arrived in Chicago at 3 a.m., beating the railroad time by about seven hours. They left Chicago at 10 a.m., March 5, and arrived in Hamilton about 3 a.m., including a delay of several hours because of a heavy snow storm. They completed the 594-mile round trip in 38.5 hours. A second trip April 2 was longer (603 miles) because of a detour, but Chamber said "trip time was cut to 36 hours and each item of expense was cut down, with the exception of fixed charges."
"We bring an average of about 310 to 320 rail cars a month, inbound, of which about 130 cars are coal and the balance pulp, scrap for our recycled products and other chemicals used in papermaking," said Dave Senne, traffic manager, in describing the mill's current transportation system.
Rail service to the mill has been provided by the Great Miami Railroad for about five years. "They're an independent, privately-owned company that does nothing but switch cars for the mill," Senne explained. "They're paid a monthly fee to do all our switching. They replaced the service that CSX had performed before." With Great Miami, Senne said, "we have much better control and better service." He said Champion has no outbound rail shipments "because of market demands for quick delivery and order sizes being smaller."
Gone also is the reserve coal pile which the mill maintained along Two Mile Creek. Instead, a three or four-day supply is in bunkers at the mill. Senne said "the coal pile was removed in 1992, and the site is now grassed over."
Senne said "the trend has been away from rail for the last 10 to 12 years. We're now 100 percent truck, of which 97 percent is truckload, the balance of which is piggyback and stack trains, or intermodal, and LTL."
"We ship five days a week, sometimes six" and average about 35 truckloads a day out of the mill and the distribution center. "Truckload carriers are now about 97 percent of our total tons, the balance being piggyback and LTL," said Senne. Some trucks -- with capacities of about 40,000 to 45,000 pounds each -- haul to one destination; some make multiple stops.
Major delivery points, besides Ohio printing centers, are Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Kansas City, Dallas and Denver with "most of our business east of the Mississippi," Senne explained. "Our average load is 550 miles."
In the vital Chicago market area, he said, "with trucks, we have shipments today, delivery tomorrow. A customer can enter his order today by noon, and have it in Chicago tomorrow by noon."
Most long hauls are team runs with two drivers alternating behind the steering wheel of one truck. "Generally, a single driver can cover 500 miles in a 24-hour period, and a team with two drivers will double that," Senne said.
"We run three teams into the Boston area, where we ship today, deliver tomorrow. And on additional team loads, it's order entry today, ship tomorrow and deliver the next day," he said. "In the New York area, we'll run four team loads, and its enter the order today, ship today and deliver tomorrow." Senne said most orders are "enter today, ship tomorrow."
A familiar name at mill loading areas is Baylor, a trucking company which has been doing business with Champion for at least 40 years. "They're a family-owned business located in Milan, Ind.," Senne said. "There are two brothers who run it now. It started with their father. They're an excellent carrier, and we use them basically to the East Coast. They take a lot of the team loads."
"We are becoming more and more focused on what the customer needs," replied Senne, when asked about the traffic department's participation in Champion's Customer Driven Quality program. "What the customer needs, we'll make every effort to make it happen with the trucks. That's our end of Customer Driven Quality. It's also the quality of the carriers we use. They have a high level of quality and customer service," Senne said.
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