Seeking the Perfect Machine
E. H. Harriman is not a railroad builder. He is not a pioneer. He took the labor off the hands of other men, Crocker, Stanford, Huntington, bought in a lump the life-labor of these men, greater perhaps than himself, and reared upon their hard-built foundations a structure of his own planning—the Harriman System…. He followed the path blazed out by the great pioneers—followed it and built it over anew upon a plan and scale of marvelous perfection….
An executive officer must be judged by the results of his acts. His methods are a question of the day. His results are for all time.
—Wall Street Journal, August 25, 1906
One clue to Harriman's management style eluded all but a few observers sharp enough to look more at what than who his officers were. Nearly all the men who oversaw his roads had been trained as engineers: Horace Burt on the Union Pacific, Samuel Felton on the Alton, S. R. Knott of the Gulf line, and Julius Kruttschnitt of the Southern Pacific. Harriman wanted not merely top engineers to do the work but managers who understood what the engineers were telling them.
As the newest member of this team, Kruttschnitt had to undergo the usual Harriman rite of initiation. The man who would later be hailed as the “von Moltke of transportation” found himself walking a stretch of Southern Pacific roadbed with Harriman one day. Harriman's roving eye stopped on one of the bolts holding a rail in place.
“Why does so much of that bolt protrude beyond the nut?” he asked abruptly.
“It is the size which is generally used,” said Kruttschnitt.
Harriman's eyes blazed. “Why should we use a bolt of such a length that a part of it is useless?”
“Well,” admitted Kruttschnitt, “when you come right down to it, there is no reason.”
They walked on in silence. Harriman stopped suddenly and asked, “How many track bolts are there in a mile of track?” Kruttschnitt did a quick calculation and produced a figure. “Well,” retorted Harriman, “in the Union Pacific