N&W in 1903 -- New President

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Mon Feb 18 22:01:32 EST 2008

The New York Herald's Norfolk correspondent says:
"It is a long distance from the greasy overalls and grimy face of a locomotive fireman to the position of president of a great railway system. Yet the distance was traversed by Lucius E. Johnson, who has been chosen president of the Norfolk and Western railway. He made a quick trip of it.
"Mr. Johnson is not far past his 50th [blurred, best estimate] milestone. His energy and activity are those of a man 25 years his junior. These qualities he will possess until he dies.
"Mr. Johnson began his railroad career as a fireman on the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy. He 'fired' until he was given an engine, and was an engine driver a year or two. His superiors had their eyes on him. He was seen to be of no common stuff. His intelligence, industry, proclivity for hard work and devotion to the interests of the company were qualities that could not fail to attract the official eye. He was too valuable a man to be kept on an engine. He was promoted to a place in the general office of the road. Promotion was steady until he became master mechanic at Aurora, Ill., and in 1886 [blurred, best estimate] superintendent of the St. Louis division of the road. In two years he was made a superintendent of the Chicago division, the most important on the road.
"He was by this time a man with a reputation. His genius for organization and his ability to direct men had attracted the general attention of the Western railroad men. The Manhattan Central [sic., Michigan Central??] got him as a general superintendent in 1890. In less than three years he accepted the position of superintendent of the most important division on the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern. Mr. Johnson's reputation had traveled eastward. The directors of the Norfolk and Western were casting about for a general superintendent. Somebody suggested Mr. Johnson's name. Investigation of this record led the board to believe that he was the man for the place. He was offered the position and accepted. How well he filled it may be judged by the fact that in two years he was made vice-president and general manager of the road.
"In the first week of last month Mr. Johnson was elected president to succeed the late F. J. Kimball. It is understood that his election was unanimous.
"It is said that nobody has ever known so much about the Norfolk and Western railway as L. E. Johnson. Ever detail of the business, the condition and features of every mile of the track, from Norfolk through all its windings among the coal fields of the Virginias, he seems to have in his head, ready for instant use.
"Mr. Johnson make an argument before the committee on taxation and finance of the Virginia constitutional convention. Prominent railway men from all over the country, as well as gray-headed lawyers who had devoted their lives to study of corporations, had appeared before that and other committees of the convention. But none made an argument which attracted as much attention as that of the former locomotive fireman. He is not an ornate talker, but his speech has the power of directness.
"To a non-railway man Mr. Johnson's manner of talking is his chief charm. The listener may be ignorant of what the railway president is talking about, but the way in which Johnson is saying things is convincing. One feels that one is listening to a man who knows what he is talking about. Mr. Johnson does.
"Mr. Johnson's career is a remarkable instance of what may be accomplished by brains and industry alone. He never had a pull. His career, extending from the locomotive cab to the private car of the president of the road, is an inspiration to every man under him."

Bluefield Daily Telegraph
December 2, 1903

[In later years the N&W had the reputation of promoting from within. It is interesting that the third president of a rather mountainous heavy-haul railroad was recruited from mainly "flat-land," high-speed railroads. Johnson was elevated to chairman in July 1917, N. D. Maher becoming president then, but Johnson returned to president in December 1917 when Maher resigned to become manager of the U. S. Railway Administration's Pocahontas Region. Maher returned to the N&W presidency in March 1920.]

Gordon Hamilton
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