Always a Cowboy: Judge Wilson Mccarthy and the Rescue of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad

Always a Cowboy: Judge Wilson Mccarthy and the Rescue of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad

Always a Cowboy: Judge Wilson Mccarthy and the Rescue of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad

Always a Cowboy: Judge Wilson Mccarthy and the Rescue of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad

Excerpt

In the depths of the Great Depression, President Herbert Hoover appointed an obscure Utah attorney and Democratic legislator to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), the powerful institution the Republican administration launched in February 1932 to deal with the nation's deepening financial crisis. As a respected western stockman, lawyer, banker, and businessman, Judge Wilson McCarthy was well qualified for the position, but after his name was presented to the corporation's other directors, one asked, “Who the hell is he?” Eighteen months later, when McCarthy resigned to return to private practice, everyone of importance in the American government knew the answer. “Upon your Board was centered the hopes of a desperate people,” RFC Chairman Charles G. Dawes wrote. Dawes, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who had served as Calvin Coolidge's vice president, saluted McCarthy for his role “in the great governmental effort to tide the nation over the most severe economic and financial emergency of its existence.” The crucial year had been, Dawes observed, “a hell of a time.”

Born to a ranching family in American Fork, Utah, in 1884, McCarthy was a product of the Mormon frontier. He helped his father drive cattle north to Montana when, as he liked to recall, “there wasn't a fence between Great Falls and the North Pole.” In 1913, Columbia University awarded the young cowboy a law degree. He soon sat as a presiding judge of Utah's Third District court for a year. Forever after, he was known as Judge McCarthy.

After the judge attended the 1928 Democratic National Convention and served in the Utah State Senate, President Hoover appointed him to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to represent the West and help rebuild America's shattered economy. The RFC took over the battered Denver & Salt Lake Railroad (D&SL) from the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad (D&RGW) in 1934, and the next year a federal judge put McCarthy in charge of rescuing both railroads from financial ruin.

When Wilson McCarthy began directing the Rio Grande, the “Scenic Line of the World” was a bankrupt wreck. For years absentee owners such as Jay . . .

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