Similar to the Chessie System in the east the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio
Railroad of the Midwest and South was a short-lived line whose
legend continues to live on today. The GM&O wasn’t created until
the early days of diesel power (although its predecessors dated to the 19th century) and it was gone by the early 1970s.
However, during its roughly 40 years of operation it was a fierce
competitor and although always surrounded by giants it held its own in
many of the markets it served, which is not surprising as the railroad
is also known as The Rebel Route. Eventually, the GM&O would merge with its rival, the Illinois Central, forming the Illinois Central Gulf (which would later be renamed as just the Illinois Central). Today, this system is part of the Canadian National.
The GM&O (or "Gee-Mo" as fans of the road often called it) was actually created to take control of the Gulf, Mobile & Northern and Mobile & Ohio railroads, two systems which had fascinating and interesting histories. The GM&N dates back to the mid-1910s when the New Orleans, Mobile & Chicago was reorganized, a railroad which connected Mobile, Alabama with Middleton, Tennessee. The M&O on the other hand was constructed in the late 19th century to connect the Gulf Coast with points north, in this case being St. Louis, Illinois and the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers at Cairo, Illinois.
Perhaps the most influential person in the creation of the GM&O was Issac Burton Tigrett. Tigrett got his first taste of railroads in 1911 and would come to run predecessor Gulf, Mobile & Northern after World War I (where at the age of just 26, he was named interim president). During his time as president of the GM&N he saw several improvements and growth of the railroad, such as the acquisition of the Birmingham & Northwestern Railway and a shortline in Tennessee. The GM&N would also lease the New Orleans & Great Northern Railroad, giving the railroad access to New Orleans.
Now serving most of the central southeast region the GM&O was interested in connecting and serving Chicago, which would give the railroad a direct north/south route, a rather odd arrangement being that most traffic flowed east/west. Regardless, after taking control of the Chicago & Alton in the latter 1940s the GM&O proved highly successful at competing for traffic in the markets it served. The Chicago & Alton Railroad, later known as simply the Alton Railroad, dates back to 1847 with its earliest ancestor, the Alton & Sangamon Railroad created to connect Alton, along the Mississippi River with the state capital of Springfield. The railroad opened in 1852.
Another ancestor of the C&A was the Joliet & Chicago
Railroad of 1855 which connected Joliet with Chicago. Both the J&C
and A&S would come to be controlled
by the Chicago & Mississippi Railroad, which connected Alton with
Joliet. In 1857 the C&M was reorganized as the St. Louis, Alton
& Chicago Railroad and five years later in October of 1862 it became
the Chicago & Alton Railroad. At its peak the C&A connected
Chicago with St. Louis to the south and Kansas City to the west.
In July of 1931 the C&A came under the control of the Baltimore
& Ohio, giving the eastern trunk line a link to Kansas City as well
as a north-south route between Chicago and St. Louis. Under B&O
control the railroad was renamed the Alton Railroad Company.
The B&O saw little financial gain from the control of the Alton and sold the railroad to the GM&O in May of 1947 giving the railroad a direct north-south line between Chicago and New Orleans. Aside from the GM&O’s maverick attitude the railroad is also well known for a number of its passenger trains including the Gulf Coast Rebel, the Alton Limited, and the Midnight Special. Its most famous trains, however, were the Rebel, Abraham Lincoln, and Ann Rutledge (which continues today under Amtrak). These trains carried a beautiful livery of two-tone maroon/red with yellow trim.
The GM&O and its predecessors do hold "first" titles within the railroad industry. For example, the first Pullman sleeper was built in the C&A's Bloomington shops; one of the very first steel bridges was built on the C&A across the Mississippi River at Glasgow, Missouri; the C&A was one of the first railroads to use reclining chairs in its passenger trains. For all of the railroad’s accomplishments it was having trouble by the end of the 1960s and decided in 1972 to merge with the Illinois Central, after the two agreed that such a move would be best for both companies, to form the Illinois Central Gulf.
Alton Limited: (Chicago - St. Louis)
Abraham Lincoln: (Chicago - St. Louis)
Ann Rutledge: (Chicago - St. Louis)
Gulf Coast Rebel: (St. Louis - Mobile/Montgomery)
Midnight Special: (Chicago - St. Louis)
Night Hawk: (St. Louis - Kansas City)
Prairie State Express: (St. Louis - Chicago)
The Mail: (Chicago - St. Louis)
The Rebel: (Jackson, Tennessee - Union, Mississippi/New Orleans/Mobile)
The only problem with the ICG merger was that much like the disastrous Penn Central in the late 1960s, the IC and GM&O mostly paralleled one another and were staunch competitors. Because of this the success of the merger has often been debated. In any event, the ICG would soldier on and later drop the Gulf and was simply known as the Illinois Central once more. The IC’s end came in 1998 when it became part of the Canadian National Railway. While the Gulf Mobile and Ohio is no more its legacy certainly lives on in its tenacious spirit, Chicago to St. Louis main line (a major corridor, especially for Amtrak), and the Ann Rutledge which continues to be operated by Amtrak.