From Telegrapher to Titan: The Life of William C. Van Horne

By Valerie Knowles | Go to book overview

Chapter Four
New Challenges and Hobbies

Van Horne was thirty-five years old, a seasoned railroader, and an experienced professional manager in a cutting-edge industry when he was lured back to the Chicago and Alton in October 1878. When he had first joined the road over fifteen years earlier, it had been as a telegraph operator and ticket agent. With this most recent appointment, he became the general superintendent of an important, well-established railway that during the Timothy Blackstone era (1864 to 1899) never failed to pay a dividend of 6 percent a year and took pride in its claim of being the best sectional road in the West.193

Because of his reputation as an iconoclast in railway operations, news of his appointment struck fear in the hearts of many men at the Chicago and Alton. Once he had taken up his new post, however, conscientious employees quickly found that they had no reason to be alarmed. As one railroading man later summed up the situation, “Everybody thought Van Horne would tear things. Everybody looked for lightning to strike. Even the general manager was disturbed over his appointment. But Van Horne went his gait in a characteristic go-ahead style, invariably hitting it right.”194

The railway that Van Horne was now associated with was a prosperous, well-run road that boasted 840 miles of first mainline and hauled more coal into Chicago than any other road. It was also a prime mover of corn, wheat, and livestock from its Kansas City terminal.195 But to achieve and maintain this position it waged a ceaseless war with other roads for traffic that had decreased during the depression of the mid-seventies. Ironically, one of these competing railways was Van Horne’s old employer, the St. Louis, Kansas City and Northern Railway. Against it the Chicago and Alton competed furiously for Kansas City traffic. Van Horne, with his combative temperament, energy, and abundance of initiative was, of

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From Telegrapher to Titan: The Life of William C. Van Horne
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Table of Contents 7
  • Preface 9
  • Acknowledgements 11
  • Prologue 13
  • Chapter One - Growing Up in Frontier Illinois 17
  • Chapter Two - Early Career 37
  • Chapter Three - Rapid Advancement 55
  • Chapter Four - New Challenges and Hobbies 83
  • Chapter Five - New Horizons 95
  • Chapter Six - Toward the Last Spike 117
  • Chapter Seven - Cutting Costs 147
  • Chapter Eight - The Final Push 175
  • Chapter Nine - All That Grant Was to the U.S.a 209
  • Chapter Ten - Van Horne at the Helm 239
  • Chapter Eleven - Art for Art’s Sake 283
  • Chapter Twelve - Family Matters 299
  • Chapter Thirteen - Cuba Beckons 325
  • Chapter Fourteen - Building the Cuba Railroad 339
  • Chapter Fifteen - Chasing the Money 367
  • Chapter Sixteen - Dodging the Grim Reaper 397
  • Afterword 429
  • Bibliography 433
  • Notes 443
  • Index 495
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