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The Buffalo area's growth as one of the nation's largest rail, manufacturing and bowling centers can be traced through the 100-year history of the Transportation Club of Buffalo, which claims to be the oldest organization of its kind in the United States.

"We used to have 18 railroad sales offices in Buffalo, and now there are none," said James F. McClellan, editor of the club's bimonthly news magazine. He explained that each rail office would employ two or three salesmen who would call on local manufacturers to solicit freight.

"The salesmen needed to fill up their railroad's boxcars and get the product shipped over their lines. They'd suggest the use of a certain route and each railroad along the route would get a portion of the shipping charges."

Through a combination of downsizing and mergers in the railroad industry as well as the area's shrinking manufacturing base, all rail orders now are handled on a regional basis through sales offices in places like Philadelphia and Jacksonville, Fla., McClellan said.

Besides the link to the area's few remaining rail lines, the club's membership roster of more than 300 members includes employees of trucking firms, airfreight forwarders, warehouse and distribution centers and other related service businesses.

The club was founded on March 5, 1898, at a meeting of 30 rail and marine shipping representatives in Ellicott Square. The club's membership climbed to a record high of 1,000 in 1960, and member firms sponsored 56 bowling teams in the group's league in 1961. Today the club has 400 members and a dozen bowling teams.

Club President Tom Schwallie, of Empire State Shippers Association, notes that the transportation business has changed dramatically over the years with the transition from horses to railroads to trucks.

Now, just-in-time inventory management and high-tech systems have put more pressure on shippers to meet the demands of companies on a day's notice. The speed of business has changed dramatically in recent years, he noted.

"As a sales rep, I see things all over the world that are marked made in Buffalo or made in Western New York and it makes me proud," Schwallie said. "But those things wouldn't be there without the transportation industry."

The club continues to sponsor various social events including men's and women's golf outings and the annual dinner, which is the highlight of the year.

In preparation for the group's 100th anniversary, the "Centennial Celebration" will begin with this year's Annual Dinner which begins with a reception at 6 p.m. Wednesday in Samuel's Grande Manor, 8750 Main St., Clarence.