Louis W. Menk was born on April 8, 1918 in Englewood, Colorado. His mother was a school teacher and his father was a railroad brakeman.

He started his railroad career as a telegraph messenger for the Union Pacific Railroad. In 1940, he moved to the Frisco Railroad and rapidly rose through the ranks. By October, 1964, he was named their Chairman and President. In the fall of 1965, Louis was asked to became President and CEO of Burlington Lines a railroad more than double the size of his former company. It thrived under his leadership, just like Frisco before it.

On October, 1966, he became President of Northern Pacific Railroad one of Burlington's parent companies with assets that exceeded $1 billion. That year Louis Menk was named Railroad Man of the Year by Modern Railroads magazine. In June 1967, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by Monmouth College, Monmouth, Illinois.

After working on the project for fifteen years, Menk oversaw the merger in 1970 of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad; Great Northern Railway; Northern Pacific Railway; and Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway to form the Burlington Northern Railroad. Louis Menk was named the President of the new company.