C&LC Stolen Boxcars

Any historical questions can be posted here. Answers would certainly help as well :)
User avatar
Ann Arbor RR Nerd
Posts: 33032
Joined: Wed Dec 22, 2004 7:39 pm
Location: Washington, MI

C&LC Stolen Boxcars

Unread post by AARR »

Posted by Alex Huff on 12/6/2014, 3:00 am

This is something I know something about, having met the principals, Joe Bonanno, owner, and Tony Crisafi, his shop foreman.
What follows is my recollection from 1970. I have posted this before so the "facts" haven't completely left me. From past posts, you folks know I kind of run on, be forewarned.

Joe Bonnano was an entrepreneur in New Jersey. He told me he got in the rail car business in an odd way. He had purchased some raw land for development. It needed fill dirt. He bought six very used 50 ton, two pocket coal hoppers with intentions of having the Penn Central move the cars in local service to and from a hill he had acquired in a nearby township. However, the local politicians wanted the dirt to stay within the township for development in their own bailiwick. A PC freight agent, who had probably advised him to this point, said "Why don't you let PC use them and we will pay you per diem." Joe reported he said, "That sounds like a good idea, what's per diem?" A deal was made, PC short of cars, even 50-tonners, put them to work and paid Joe. Joe liked that since he hadn't paid much for the cars. Joe looked around for other opportunities. After PC had filed for bankruptcy, they canceled some of their car leases. One company, finding itself with an asset that was now costing them money for storage, was happy to sell a bunch of boxcars to Joe on a time payment plan. Forty foot, plain jane cars. The cars Joe bought were mingled in a single number series with cars he didn't buy. In order to collect per diem, the cars had to have railroad reporting marks. He made a deal with the La Salle & Bureau County, an Illinois shortline, to use their reporting marks and rent shop space to repair cars as they came in from PC and change the reporting marks and renumber as I recall to a four digit number. Cars starting coming. Since the cars were co-mingled with sisters in the same number series, it was common to get cars delivered to the short interchange track that were delivered in error. Presumably, yard clerks, rather than sift through a long list, just marked up cars in the number series. Culling the mis-routes added to the work load for the LS&BC switch crew. They really got cranky when a rejected car showed up a second or third time. Joe says he then talked to someone in PC's headquarters and said something along the lines, of "Specific car numbers are causing everyone a lot of extra work. Since all the cars in the number series are owned by the same insurance company, why not just give us the total number of cars I bought out of the series rather than pick and choose?" It was apparently a hand shake deal. At some point, car accounting people noticed something was amiss. Ah-ha, someone is stealing our boxcars! Joe Bonanno's name came up. Ah-ha, said the FBI, since there was a gentleman of the same name in the Mafia known as Joe Bananas. The FBI lost interest when they found there were two different people. The car situation did get the attention of the Federal judge overseeing the bankruptcy. Howard Noble and Cliff Lenten attended a hearing in Philadelphia. They told me afterwords that the PC employee, when questioned about the handshake agreement, got very nervous and denied he had made such an agreement. Howard and Cliff felt he was lying to save his job.
Somewhere in this chain of events, the Wall St. Journal got hold of the story and published an amusing piece about a railroad that couldn't keep track of its boxcars. As an aside, these stories, in the center column of the front page, were known in the WSJ as A-hed stories. They now appear at the bottom of the front page. Back to the judge. He ordered PC to deliver the correct cars per the original agreement and Joe to return all cars he had repainted that weren't in the agreement. It turned out that some of the cars that were to go to Joe were "paper cars", still listed but in actual fact wrecked and retired before Joe bought them. The family that owned the LS&BC were not happy to see themselves and the good name of their railroad held up to ridicule and told Joe to find another shortline. He did, the Cadillac & Lake City. The deal was he would pay a daily rate per car for each car marked with CLK reporting marks. My recollection is it was a dollar a day/car, pretty good money for the C&LC. Many of the cars came home to the C&LC, since the whole business had soured the PC. They were stuffed on the branch to Falmouth. PC filed for bankruptcy, C&LC followed, taking $50,000 of per diem earnings owed to Joe where the money was frozen. If Joe had been Joe Bananas I doubt Howard and Cliff would have survived. With a very sour relationship with Howard and Cliff, Joe relocated his cars to an even more woe be-gone operation in Florida, the Marianna & Blountstown. The owner of the railroad was actually in the middle of an ICC hearing for having abandoned service without formal ICC permission. The ICC in those days took itself seriously and was about to throw the hapless owner into an ICC dungeon somewhere or at least its Federal equivalent. Joe showed up, asked for a fifteen minute recess, talked to the owner and agreed to buy the line. Joe and the relieved ex-owner told the ICC they had struck a deal. Joe said he would restore service. The ICC was probably relieved, as no one may have known where the dungeon keys were. Tony Crisafi went down to Florida and called me up, inviting me to come to work for him as the General Manager for $4/hr equal to $24.50 in today's devalued currency. I declined. I had talked to someone who had seen the operation. One wooden trestle was so weak, the engineer refused to run across it. The conductor, driving his own car, would go ahead and sweep sand off the crossings ahead of the train. At this particular bridge, he would park on the far side while the engineer put the SW-1 in first notch and got off. The conductor would get on, bring the train to a stop and wait for the engineer. The engineer wouldn't even walk on the bridge. He walked on a parallel highway. I saw the bridge later. It was the only one I ever saw in use that had a heavy cable tied to an upstream tree so the current wouldn't tip it over.
Proving its a small world, I later bought a GE 70-tonner in Iowa which had been purchased new by the M&B.

Did Joe and Tony actually steal any boxcars? Howard and Cliff gave me a master list of all the cars with the number changes. They didn't want it in the office. Over the years, the copy faded until it was unreadable and I pitched it. There were six extra cars.
PatC created a monster, 'cause nobody wants to see Don Simon no more they want AARR I'm chopped liver, well if you want AARR this is what I'll give ya, bad humor mixed with irrelevant info that'll make you roll your eyes quicker than a ~Z~ banhammer...

User avatar
Iron Horse Whisperer
Posts: 7004
Joined: Sat Feb 13, 2010 4:52 pm
Location: On my laptop!

Re: C&LC Stolen Boxcars

Unread post by Jochs »

When I have a few hours to kill I'll read all of that! :P :lol: :wink:
Jeff O.
Celebrating 8 years dial-up free!

(18:36:45) MagnumForce: Railfanning is way more fun when you stop caring about locomotives and signals
(19:11:29) cbehr91: I can't believe I'm +1ing Brent but +1

Posts: 4740
Joined: Wed Aug 24, 2005 12:28 am
Location: Marysville, Michigan

Re: C&LC Stolen Boxcars

Unread post by GreatLakesRailfan »

Seems like Alex posts that story every couple years or so. For the sake of keeping some of this stuff reasonably linked together, here's the link to AARR's archiving of the March 2009 version.

Alex Huff
Posts: 6
Joined: Wed Sep 22, 2010 3:30 am

Re: C&LC Stolen Boxcars

Unread post by Alex Huff »

Re-reading myself, the six "extra cars" may have been substitutes for the non-existent "paper cars" that had been wrecked and scrapped of which the insurance company was unaware. I will make a note to ask Howard Noble.

Post Reply