William E. Greenwood
Chief Operating Officer (retired)
Burlington Northern Railroad
July 30, 2020
BG: Dr. Brent Glass, Director Emeritus
National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
WG: William Greenwood, Chief Operating Officer (retired)
Burlington Northern Railroad
JK: Julie King, Executive Director
National Railroad Hall of Fame
BG: Well, Bill, it’s an honor for me to be here with you in your home in Fort Worth or near Fort Worth…
WG: Westlake. (Laughs)
BG: Westlake, Texas, and to talk about your career and your life in railroads. I think it’s appropriate to be in a place where the password is ‘railroad’ to get into the WIFI, and so I think that sets the stage really nicely. What I want to do is talk for a couple hours with you about a lot of subjects, and places, and people, and events that have shaped your life, but also that you have had influence. And so, I think it’s best to start at the beginning and talk about Mendota. Am I pronouncing that right?
BG: Yeah, Mendota, Illinois. Talk a little bit about what it was like growing up there and some of the people who influenced you; maybe some of the events or things you did that influenced you. So, um, what should we know about Mendota if we never have been there?
WG: Well, it’s home of the Sweetcorn Festival! (Laughs) It’s a small, Northern Illinois town, about 7,000 population, and of course in the era I grew up in, you know, your parents let you out in the morning, you came back for lunch and dinner, and that was it. You were on your own. I had a lot of good experiences. I think they helped shape things.
Somehow or other I got interested in selling stuff, you know, so I would have, I’d sell chicken eggs. I would sell pop stands. I got a little bit older and I had paper routes, and I mowed lawns. So, I was self-sufficient, you know. I learned a lot from all those experiences. Then In high school I worked at a gas station; uh, went directly to the gas station after school and worked until 10:00 p.m. I closed it up. So, I’m 15 years old, I’m driving a tow truck, picking up accidents. That was, you know, really uh, I learned a lot there.
So, it was right next to the railroad track, and there was a telegrapher and operator who worked the second shift at an interlocking tower right behind the gas station where the Burlington crossed the Illinois Central and the Milwaukee. And he’d come down and buy a bottle of Coke and a candy bar right before I closed at 10:00. So, when I was a senior in high school, at the end of my first semester in wintertime, he said, “What are you going to do this summer?” I said, “Well, I’m going to work here at the gas station.” “How much do you make?” And I said, “Sixty-five cents an hour.” He says, “How would you like to make $2.02 an hour?” I couldn’t believe there could be so much money in the world as $2.02 an hour!
So, he said, “I’ll tell you what. When you get off work here at 10:00, come on up in between 10:00 and midnight when I am relieved, and I will teach you how to be a telegrapher and an operator.”
WG: And so, I did that, and I’ll never forget my very first night. I sat up there with him at 10:05 p.m., and the yard line rang. Of course, there were all kinds of phone connections, jacks, and those scissor-microphone kind of things, you know. He said, “Go ahead and answer the phone. It’s the yard line.” So, I answered the phone. I had no idea what the guy on the other end said, and he hung up. And so, he said, “Who was it?” And I said, “I don’t know.” (Laughs.) “Well, what did he want?” “Something about some farm animals.” I said, “Uh, I remember he mentioned a goat, and he said the goat wanted to do something in a pot. (Laughs.) He said, “Oh, maybe he said, ‘the goat wants the pot for the transfer to make a double.’ Does that sound right?” “I think so.” (Laughs.) Well, here’s what you do. You go over there and throw in 54’s lever, pull up 55, pull up 54 again, and then pull 60 lever which is the pot signal.” And that was my very first experience.
BG: Well, just doubling back a little to growing up, before you got into high school…but I think that’s a great story and a great way to get started in the industry is to just solve a problem as it happens. Who were some of the, uh, did you have a large family? How many siblings did you have?
WG: There were five of us, and I was the second from the last. The three older ones were girls, and the younger one was a girl, so I was the only boy, and according to them, very spoiled. (Laughs.)
BG: Were any of your immediate family or did you have extended family in the town?
WG: No, my parents were raised in Alexis, Illinois, about 100 miles away, and we were the first ones. My dad was a banker, so he, you know, would go from bank to bank. That was his last bank there.
BG: So, were there any people, either immediate family or teachers or anyone that you would consider a role model or a great influence on you as you were growing up in Mendota?
WG: Oh well, of course, obviously my parents, both my mother and father for different reasons, you know, provided a lot of ideas on leadership and that sort of thing. And when I would have problems with my paper route or with a lawn or collecting money or something, my dad would give me advice about what to say or how to approach it. So, a lot of interaction there that way; all very positive. And the fact that they let me do what I wanted to do (Laughs) just gave me a great degree of independence.
BG: Any childhood friends from Mendota that you’ve stayed connected with?
WG: All of them.
WG: Oh yeah, still do.
BG: Do they still live in that area?
BG: They’ve dispersed?
WG: Dispersed, but I probably have, oh gosh, five or six that I am in constant contact with, you know, now.
BG: Who are neighbors of yours?
WG: Well, in a small town everybody’s a neighbor. Classmates. And Facebook and email has really helped a lot.
BG: I see; rediscovered them.
WG: Well, made the contact much easier.
WG: Yeah, well going back for high school reunions, I mean, it’s just like where we left off. We had a very successful class. My classmates, many of them, have done extremely well in life and so on. It’s been fun staying --- I’ll tell you a funny story in that regard. When I was in marketing, I had an opportunity to go to Detroit where we were going to call on Ford and General Motors and Chrysler. And we had new technology we wanted to try with them by robotically loading new automobiles into a trailer. So, we had to come in one company at a time, because we couldn’t dare mix the companies together. The company from Ford came in, so when Ford came, we each picked off an executive. I picked off this one guy, gave him the whole spiel about what we were doing, gave him a demonstration. And as we were leaving, I asked him for his business card, and I gave him mine, and we’re both standing there looking at the business card. And I looked at him, and I said, “You know, I went to high school with a Norman Eilers.” “Really?” He said, “I went to high school with a Bill Greenwood.” I know we’re looking at each other, ‘that old SOB can’t be him!’ So, I said, “Well, that Norman Eilers set a record for throwing the javelin in high school, and that record still stands.” He said, “Well, that would be me!” (Laughs.) And then another classmate was head of marketing for General Motors at the same time. So, you know…
BG: Huh, so you all went into transportation in slightly different ways.
WG: Yeah, in different ways; engineering, etc.
BG: How often did the train come through Mendota? Was it a frequent event?
WG: Oh, all the time. There was never a time…growing up with no air conditioning, windows were open, you heard trains. You heard switching of trains ‘cause there was a yard in Mendota. So, you heard the switching with the cars making couplings, making loud noises when they did it. And steam; you heard the steam engines whistle all the time. So, it was around you all the time. Mendota was kind of a railroad town.
BG: Did most people who weren’t in, let’s say, the commercial district, were they all, was it the biggest employer?
WG: No, no, not by any means.
BG: Or was it mostly farming?
WG: Yeah, it was mostly agriculture related. I went back and looked at the records one time, and there were at the time I was there and started on the railroad, there were 75 employees with the railroad in Mendota.
BG: And this was right before --- during the war, actually, right? -- when you were growing up was during WW II.
WG: Mmm, hmmm.
BG: Did that have a particular impact on you or on the town? You were too young for the Army obviously, but with many people going off to war or trains taking people away, was that a big part of life there?
WG: Well, I was a little bit young. I was born in 1938. So, what I do remember is my two older sisters had all their classmates got early drafted, you know. And they were losing some classmates, and so I felt bad. When any of the guys came home on leave, their old high school classmates, they would come to our house. So, there were always soldiers in our house or sailors, and then when the war was over, I can remember VE Day and Victory in Japan Day, too. I remember those two events clearly because we all got in the car and drove around town honking the horn with everybody else. All the church bells were ringing, the factory whistles were blowing, we were honking our horn; little kid hanging out the window, waving. So, I remember that very clearly.
BG: Did your grandparents live in Mendota?
WG: No, I had no grandparents. They had all deceased early, and so they were long gone before, by the time I came along.
BG: How about, staying in Mendota, any teachers that were memorable that shaped you in any way?
WG: Oh yeah, I went to a parochial grade school. There were a couple of nuns there that I’ll never forget. (Laughs) Oh, I remember in 8th grade, for example, our 8th grade nun for some reason or other – she was the principal -- chose me to be in charge of money for the lunch program for the whole school. So, I don’t think I did but half the work required in 8th grade because I was busy going around to all the classrooms collecting the money. And then I’d take the money down to the cafeteria and say “Here’s today’s money,” this is what the headcount is. They would say, “Oh! We’re going to be short three loaves of bread,” or whatever it was. “Would you go get it for us?” So, I’d get my bicycle and bike downtown to the local bakery, get that, and bring it back, so...
BG: You had no time for school.
WG: No! So anyway, that was fun. And she was good. She was always helping me, doing stuff, so...
BG: What was your favorite subject in school?
WG: Well, my favorite subject in high school would have to do with who the teachers were, and the two were English and US History; wonderful teachers in both cases. Our US History teacher was always relating things of history to what happened to him personally, you know, and so you could really relate to it. He was very good.
BG: Well, I mean at that point you’re not that far off from the Civil War generation. You probably had a couple people whose grandparents served in the Civil War or had some stories coming, uh…You know, American history is still a pretty short period of time. We’re not that far removed from some of those events.
WG: That’s right, and my Dad loved to talk to me about his relatives that were in the Civil War. I was always full of a lot of questions of him. I am to this day. I just ran into a person the other day who’s…He’s 94, and his three uncles were in the Confederacy. He remembered all their stories. I was picking his brain for stuff; it was fascinating. So, any connection to the Civil War, I always jumped on right away.
BG: Yeah, that’s really interesting. So, then you decided to go off to college at Marquette. Why did you go there?
WG: (Laughs.) It’s a little bit of an amusing story. My mother’s brothers’, some of them went to Knox in Galesburg, and my mother wanted me to go to Knox. So, that’s sort of the direction I was headed and thinking what I wanted to do. Well, my dad thought Knox was a communist school. (Laughs.)
BG: Too liberal.
WG: Too liberal! (Laughs.) And so, he had this correspondent banker from Chase Manhattan in New York that came to see him about once every six months; a small correspondent bank for them, and he was a graduate of Marquette. And so, Dad arranged for him to recruit me. They saw me, came to town, we had lunch together the three of us, and as a result of that lunch, I decided I wanted to go to Marquette. So that’s how I chose that school.
BG: Wow. Well, going back to Knox, and I think it’s relevant to what we’re doing at the Hall of Fame, the tradition of Knox and the tradition of Galesburg was as an abolitionist town going back to the Civil War. And back, when we’re talking now about the late 1940s, early ‘50s when you’re looking at schools, that tradition probably still carried on a little bit.
WG: Oh sure, no question about it.
BG: Yeah, so that’s really interesting. So, were your years at Marquette fulfilling? What was it like there?
WG: Very. Loved Marquette. Marquette is a Jesuit school. I’m Catholic, so it was a nice fit for me. There’s something about a Jesuit education that is special. I drank the Kool-Aid; loved going to school there. And I can remember my senior year, second semester, every class, you know, I’d be looking out the window, listening to the professor, just hanging on to every minute because I knew this was going to come to an end, and I didn’t want it to end. It was a marvelous experience.
BG: What did you major in?
WG: Business. But at that time at Marquette business was 75 percent liberal arts. (Laughs.) So, I majored in finance, but minored in philosophy. And uh…what was my second minor? History, I think; but I had two minors.
BG: And so, you spent four years there. When did you graduate?
BG: Ok. So that was, at that point, had you decided on a career or what you were going to do post-graduation?
WG: No. At that time, I was worried about the draft. I was very close. They were going to draft me probably within a few months of graduating, I figured. So, I worked summers on the railroad as an operator, as I told you earlier, and I loved that. It was a wonderful experience. I worked every single interlocking tower from Union Avenue in Chicago to Wataga, which is right outside of Galesburg.
BG: So, when you say you worked, you lived in Chicago for a while or…?
WG: Well, later I did, but no. When I was an operator in the summertime, I would work vacation relief over the course of four years. Even when I was at Marquette, my supervisor would call me up at Marquette. They were short people. And he said, “Do you think you could do an afternoon shift in Downers Grove next Saturday?” I said, “Sure!” And you know, pay is good! So, he’d send me a pass on the Milwaukee Railroad to take the train to Chicago. Then he sent me a pass on the Burlington to take the suburban train to Downers’ Grove. And then I’d work the afternoon shift. I’d get a hotel room for five dollars in Downers Grove and go back the following day. Which incidentally, I made enough money working for the railroad to pay for all of my education costs with money left over.
BG: Really? During the summers, summer vacations, and then these little part-time stints? Talk about the gig economy!
WG: Oh, yeah! Oh, absolutely! So, I’m working again in the summer after I graduated, thinking --- and I volunteered for the draft, but what I volunteered for was six months active duty, and five-and-a-half years of reserve. And they gave me a date, and the date was like in November of 1960…October. So, I worked on the railroad all that time. Then when I came out of the service --- my dad died while I was in the service --- and so when I came out, I decided I’d stay home and help my mother get things taken care of. So, I went to work at my dad’s bank. I worked there for about a year. Then I was in the process of interviewing banks in Chicago. I was in final interview stage for the Northern Trust Company in Chicago as a financial analyst, and I was on the train, going for my final signing of the papers and everything. My old supervisor that I had as an operator was on the train that I was on. So, he wanted to be brought up to date. He asked me, “What’s going on with you?”
WG: So, I told him. He said, "How would you like to come back to work for us?” He said, “I’m now in charge of a kind of a management training program,” and he said, “You’re the kind of person I’d love to have.” And I said, “Well, how much is the pay?” And I think he said, “$700 a month.” Well, the Northern Trust was only offering me $500 a month! (Laughs.)
BG: What was the name of this man?
WG: Forrester Ducelle. He just died a month ago at age 97, I think it is.
BG: Was he still living in Mendota?
WG: No, he lived in a suburb west of Chicago.
BG: So, he was a pretty influential person in your life!
WG: Oh, yeah! Oh, absolutely! When I first started on the railroad, he was a dispatcher. He’d be the dispatcher, and basically, I worked for him on the shift. Then later on, I started getting promoted to other jobs. Good man. I liked him a lot.
BG: Yeah, and he obviously liked you.
WG: Oh, yeah. He sure did. We had a good relationship.
BG: Let me just interrupt, just for the sake of…because I think there are a lot of terms that people don’t know what they mean. What does an operator do?
WG: Well, when I went to work, you had to learn telegraphy. That’s how communication took place between you and the dispatcher. And the dispatchers, they were at central locations, and each division basically had their own dispatcher’s office. I was on the Aurora, Illinois, division, and so we had dispatchers in Aurora, and that’s where he worked. There would be a chief dispatcher. By ‘dispatcher,’ what I mean is, they wrote the train orders for how the railroads had to operate in conjunction with each other on what we call ‘dark territory’ where there’s no signals. Where there are signals, he tells the operators what track to put the trains on. There were operators basically every ten miles on the Aurora division. So, it was a ‘jawbone railroad’ then, as we used to say.
BG: It was an, excuse me, what?
WG: Jawbone. You talked your way through operation of the trains.
BG: What kind of freight were they hauling at that point? Was it all agriculture or…?
WG: Yes, the freight trains were either what we call merchandise trains, and they had all kinds of what we called LCL, ‘less than a carload’, of traffic. They’d combine at freight houses into a carload…But anyhow, lots of grain. And all the grain shipped in boxcars back then, and the boxcar was the general-purpose car for everything. Gondolas would be shipping scrap iron. So, there was a whole…very busy. In Mendota at that time when I started, there were probably on the Burlington there were, I’m guessing, nine passenger trains a day each way. Uhhh…I’m thinking about train sheets. We’d fill up every train sheet they had; probably 25 freight trains a day each way. Then the Illinois Central had four trains a day each way going north and south through Mendota, and the Milwaukee had two trains a day each way. The Illinois Central and the Milwaukee were on branch lines that no longer exist. They’ve all been taken up.
BG: So, every hour there was something going on around the clock.
WG: Every minute, because all three railroads switched in Mendota. They all had their own yards, so it was very, very busy with railroad sounds.
BG: A lot of towns, I think Galesburg certainly is still that way, what with 100 or so freight trains and Amtrak.
WG: Yes. Much different today than it was back then, but uh, yeah.
BG: So, you basically became a railroad guy without any family connections to railroads, but because of this…it’s always interesting to look at the coincidences in life, the serendipity. If you hadn’t had that job at the gas station, whether or not you would have found your way into the field.
WG: No, no. That’s absolutely right. Yeah, and I realize that.
BG: $2.02 an hour certainly beats $0.65 an hour!
WG: (Laughs.) Yeah, that’s right. So, when I was offered this job at the Northern Trust company and the Burlington at the same time, I told him, I said, “Well, what do I have to do to get the job to work for the railroad?” He said, “Well, you come and see me after you’ve had your appointment at the Northern Trust.” So, I went into the Northern Trust and told the guy that I’d decided I was going to work for the railroad instead. That was before I even had the job, so I was taking a risk. And he got a little upset with me and said, “Railroad?! Why would you want to work for a railroad?” I said, “Well, it pays $200 more a month than what you’re paying.” “But there’s no prestige!” He said, “If you’d work here, you’d have prestige!”
BG: You can’t eat prestige.
WG: I know. I said, “Well, I’ll take my chances.” (Laughs)
BG: Were you married at that point?
WG: No, no. I wasn’t married yet. So, the two offices were close together. Northern Trust was on LaSalle Street. I’d just headed west on Jackson to where the Burlington was right on the other side of the river. In fact, I remember the phone number -- WABASH-22345, (Laughs.), 547 West Jackson Boulevard --- and uh, filled out all the papers. I had my physical with the company doctor inside the office building. And I think by 4:00 p.m. I was an employee, that quick.
WG: Yeah. So, that's how it began.
BG: So, this would have been ‘61 or ‘60? So, then you went into the service? Where were you stationed in the service?
WG: Two places. First was Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and the second place was Fort Hood, Texas. (Laughs.) I can remember getting off the bus at midnight in Fort Hood, you know. It was like February or March. I'm like, ‘God, this is wonderful!’ You know, Fort Leonard Wood was all rain and snow and cold. Everybody had a cold. Got off the bus, and it was warm. I thought, “Man, this is a good place.”
BG: So, now you're in the railroad, and you're based in Chicago at that point?
WG: Yes, I’m at headquarters. Yeah.
BG: And how long were you there?
WG: I was there for, let’s see, about three years in Chicago. And then I got transferred to Denver as a traveling car agent. And that's when I got married. I got married while I was in Denver.
BG: And what were you doing? You were traveling…?
WG: Traveling car agent.
BG: A traveling car agent?
BG: Okay. What does that involve? It sounds like something like a code for an undercover investigator or something.
WG: We did a little bit of that. I spied on other railroads in terms of what kind of traffic they were handling. When their trains would come in from the west, I’d sit outside Proviso Yard in Chicago and record the car numbers, and then I’d go back and find out where those cars came from; get that information to our salespeople so they could then go call on those customers; see if we could get the business. In Grand Junction, Colorado, that's where I was spying on the connection between the D&RGW Railroad and Missouri Pacific because that's where they split at Grand Junction where they’d go east of the Burlington to Denver or east and a little bit south to the Missouri Pacific at Pueblo.
BG: So, there was that much competition?
WG: Well, in a sense. We all had the same price, and the only thing you could compete on was who played the better golf, you know, and who serve the best Scotch. But that was not mine. I turned that over to the salespeople.
BG: So, it was just more selling and developing these relationships more than anything else rather than pricing or…?
WG: Exactly. Or service. We all had the same thing, selling a commodity. But then the other thing I did, I would go to different stations in the system where I was assigned to go and see that they were enforcing all the car handling rules. When this car was made empty, what are you supposed to do with it? Where were you supposed to bill it? And we had manuals back then. This was before computers. And then when I would get sent to Denver, my territory was Billings to Galveston. So, I had everything north and south in that territory.
BG: So, from Galveston to where?
WG: Billings, Montana.
BG: That's a big territory.
WG: It was. Yeah, yeah. There were passenger trains serving it, so I went everywhere by passenger train.
BG: I see. I meant to ask, during this whole time were there any major…a couple of questions about, first of all, were there any major catastrophes or crises or derailments that stand out in your mind? That's usually when you read about railroads today, it's always when there's an accident or something. Was that common when you were coming up in the, in the field?
WG: Well, later on I had to deal with that a lot. So, I had a lot of exposure to it later on in my career, but at that point, not too much. I remember one. I was in Dayton’s Bluff, right outside of St. Paul, Minnesota, and there was a switchman that fell off a car; got run over, cut in half. And I saw it, you know. So, that's my first one, not thinking there were many more to come in my career, which there were a lot.
BG: You never forget that.
WG: No, not at all. Railroads are much safer today; much, much safer.
BG: So yeah, I want to talk about that as we go through, because I think that's part of the evolution of the industry that people don't really understand is how much has been done. So now you're out in Denver, and that's when you got married. Talk a little bit about that event in your life.
WG: Colleen was a high school classmate. (Laughs.)
BG: So, one of those high school classmates who stuck around.
WG: Yeah, and she stayed in Mendota to work on her family business. And then when I came back to Mendota from the service to help my mother in that first year after Dad died, Colleen and I started dating a little bit. And so, we dated off and on for five years. And when I got that transfer to Denver, that's when we decided to get married. So, while I was engaged to her, before we actually got married, I would take the train every weekend from Denver to Mendota and back to Denver.
BG: Wow. And that's a long trip.
WG: Yeah, it's about a 14-hour train ride. Loved it. (Laughs.) I had a pass now. I could get a sleeping car. And so, I arrived in Mendota on Saturday morning about 7:00 a.m. and then leave Mendota Sunday evening at 5:00, 6:00 p.m.; get back into Denver 8:00 a.m. the following morning.
BG: And you have the night you can stay on the train.
WG: Yeah, yeah; ride up in the dome car at night.
BG: So, railroads really influenced your courtship, also.
WG: It did. Yeah, a lot.
BG: So, how long were you in Denver, and what did you do there?
WG: I was a traveling car agent. And that's when I had that territory from Galveston up to Billings. But I was there less than a year, and I got transferred back to Chicago as a traveling car agent again; different territory. But then I started getting assignments, and that kind of went through my whole career where there were real difficult things that had to be solved, and for some reason or another, you know, my boss at the time, asked me to go tackle that particular hard issue.
BG: I kind of think that…I don’t want to stretch this analogy too much, but it seemed that throughout your career, just as the nun identified you as the one to collect the lunch money, and gave the responsibility…that people identify you as the ‘go to’ person. Is that fair?
WG: I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I guess that's right.
BG: I don't know what kind of qualities you feel you had. When you talked about your parent’s influence on you, a little bit about leadership and teamwork or whatever it might be, that just occurs to me that it seems that people see you as reliable, I guess; consistent. I’m not trying to put words in your mouth, but it seems like it’s a theme throughout your, your early career, certainly. And so, this problem solving or being called on to, for example, what would they call on you to…?
WG: Oh, early on, like is as a traveling car agent, there’d be a particular issue…in Cicero, for example, that involved what kind of information was being collected by everybody. And it was a particularly difficult superintendent there that wouldn't let anybody in, you know. And so, they asked me to go take care of him. When I walked into his office, he said, “Where's your hat?!” “Uhhh, I don’t have a hat.” But he says, “You’re gonna come to my yard, you’re gonna wear a hat. You go get a hat.”
WG: So, I went downtown Cicero, looked for a clothing store, bought myself a hat, and then came back in, and then he would talk to me, you know. So, it worked out good, and I got what I needed.
BG: So, traveling car agent sounds like it's an umbrella for a number of different, uh…the job descriptions today say, ‘other duties as assigned.’ Is that the way it was? You had a wide portfolio?
WG: That's, that's correct. Yeah. Sure did.
BG: That's a great way to learn the industry.
WG: Yeah. Oh, I learned a lot, you know. My days as an operator were valuable to me to the day I retired. I mean, that seems crazy, an obsolete technology, but it was, because I understood the railroad from the ground up, you know; worked with everybody, you know, the people that maintain track, you know; the people that maintain bridges; uh, people that worked in the round house. I had to deal with all those people. So, it was good.
BG: Yeah. I think that the complexity of railroads and the different levels of responsibility and how interconnected everything is, is quite amazing, to make that whole system work…
WG: Breakdown a complex network of everything…
BG: And people make such a big difference.
WG: Well, they do make a big difference, but also organizationally, you know, I mean I recognized early on --- these wouldn’t have been my words at the time --- but everything was in a silo. You know, all these responsibilities didn't come together any place in the organization. So, it was always difficult to make them work well together. And so, at the local level, even when I was just a lowly operator, I would work, even with all my telephone…I had in the IC Tower in Mendota, they had a total of probably 40 or 50 telephones, and 40, 50 lines. And I would work at those things and work to convey, help people convey information that I could see wasn't being conveyed. I was trying to solve problems that weren’t really in my job description at the time, but I liked it. It was fun.
BG: So, when did you become a train master?
WG: My first train master job was in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1968.
BG: So up until that time you were a traveling car agent?
WG: Uh, huh. I got transferred to Lincoln with Colleen. We had one baby by that time. And, uh, rented a home on 400 Frost Drive – I can remember the address -- in Lincoln. And rented the home from the head of the Physics Department at the University of Nebraska, which was helpful because I learned a lot from him.
As an assistant train master in Lincoln, I sat in the train masters’ office across a desk like this. I was on one side of the desk, and the train master was on the other side of the desk. His name was Bob Huff, and he was from Childress, Texas. I loved that guy. He was so good. I learned so much from him. And yet we were entirely different from one another.
I remember when I was on the phone one day, and I looked across, and he was sitting there looking at me. He said, “What do you do on that telephone all the time?” I said, “Well, talking to people. Solving problems.” He said, “You can't solve a problem with a person unless you can see their eyes!” (Laughs.) To demonstrate what I’m talking about, he'd get on the phone, and he and the phone just had a hard time. He was talking to a yardmaster one day in Hastings, Nebraska, in our territory, 100 miles west of us. He’d get so frustrated with the guy. He said, “You stay right there!” He hung up the phone. He said, “I’m going to Hastings. I'll be right back.” He drove 100 miles to Hastings to deliver this guy a five-minute message because he couldn't see his eyes! (Laughs) And he turned around, and he came back.
He called me English, but he always looked at me strange. He didn’t understand how I did things. But he was, he was a smart guy. I learned more from him. Later on, I worked for him when I was a train master and he was assistant superintendent in Omaha. I remember one time he came and told me, he says, “You get that guy into your office and ream him a new rear end, because he's screwed up…” well, four times in a row on something and other. He said, “He's down in the lunchroom.” So, I got a guy called Blacky Johnson who was kind of like a junior yardmaster. I said, “Go down to the lunchroom and bring this guy into my office.” The guy came into my office, you know, and I said, “No more of this,” and we talked it through, and he left. And so later on I asked Blacky, I said, “Did he get the message?” He said, “Well, he said, ‘It wasn't what Greenwood said to me that shook me up. It was the way that Bob Huff looked at me when I walked into his office!” (Laughs.)
BG: Because you were sharing the same office?
WG: No, he was in the one next to me. But he was standing in his office entryway when this other guy walked by our adjacent offices.
BG: So, he had that ability to just give you a look.
WG: Ohhh, Bob was wonderful. Yeah, I really like that guy a lot.
BG: Was there, was there a generational divide in the industry between the, mostly men at that point, who had gone to college and those who just came up through the ranks, and was that part of what you were describing? Sounds like Bob Huff was not a college guy.
WG: That's right. He was an engineer, locomotive engineer. I just smile every time I think of him because he was such a character, but so good.
BG: So, what did the train master do?
WG: Well, as either assistant train master or train master, you had a territory, and you basically were in charge of all stations. As one of the guys said to me on my first job, he said, your responsibilities are right-of-way fence to right-of-way fence, basically which meant anything that went on on the track, whether it was training crews, maintenance, anything at all, you know, you've got some responsibility for it. And, but it was primarily train crews, and we had a lot of discipline cases. Any discipline, you conducted it.
BG: Was it unionized at that point?
WG: Mmm, hmm.
BG: So, you had a lot of dealings with the union.
WG: All the time. All the time.
BG: How’d that go?
WG: Pretty good. Our unions were pretty good. I remember in Lincoln, the local chairman of the union, that’s the head guy, he came into me one day – this would never happen today -- he said, “So-and-so is calling in sick too many times,” one of his own members. “I want you to open up an investigation on him.” (Laughs.)
BG: I believe that. I think that very often the union relied on management to keep their own members in line.
BG: Because, you know, if someone's going to be a problem to management, that person may be a problem to the Union.
WG: That's right.
BG: Yeah. That's interesting. So how long did you do that?
WG: I was in Lincoln until 1970. Now, we had the merger in March of 1970.
BG: The merger of Burlington…
WG: The merger of Burlington, Great Northern, and Northern Pacific. And I forgot to tell you a story when I was a traveling car agent. One of the things that I did was get on a merger committee. And there were three of us, and our job was to see, go around and see and analyze every railroad in the industry’s data system so that we could come back with a recommendation about where the best data system was; benchmarking, basically. And I did that. That's why I got the advantage of seeing every railroad headquarters in the United States, the major railroads; get to know some of the people and see what their data system was.
BG: Did they willingly share that?
WG: Yep, they did.
BG: So, who was the best? What was best?
WG: Well, in my view, in our view, it was the Southern railroad. And the worst was the Southern Pacific railroad. So, we came back with a recommendation. Guess what? We went with the Southern Pacific system! I learned we were merely window dressing to come up with something, come up with the right answer. We came up with the wrong answer. Because our vice president of finance at the time was from the Southern Pacific. He wanted us to use their system. Terrible system. I mean, it was labor intensive and capital intensive. And we paid the price for 10 years of…
BG: Just by how you collect data?
WG: Well, yeah. And indeed, what you're interested in is data accuracy. They had the worst data accuracy of any system, and the Southern had the best. So anyway, that was fun. You asked me earlier, so what did I do as a train master?
BG: Yeah. From being assistant train master to train master, then in 1970 you transferred to…
WG: Yeah, I got transferred from Lincoln, where I was an assistant train master, to Omaha, a new regional office, to be in charge of all equipment distribution on the entire Omaha region. And so, I had probably, I don't know, half a dozen, maybe 10 car distributors working for me. And thus began some of the things I sort of did outside the box, you know. I had lot of disputes with headquarters. You know, they told me that I had to send all the covered hopper cars, that we made them free up north because they had better revenue per car. Well, I had better terms than they did with lower revenue. And I got more revenue per car from a number of different trips. And so, I figured out, how do I get covered hoppers here?
BG: What do you call it, a covered hopper?
WG: Oh, excuse me. That's a car for loading grain. It’s better than a boxcar; got a hopper. It's got a top entry for putting the grain in. The grain flows out at the bottom through gates. So, from my days in Cicero as a traveling car agent, I knew a lot of people. And so, I called the people who worked the night shifts, and I said, when you get these new cars coming off of, coming from Pullman Standard -- and I knew what time they’d come in to delivery every night -- I want you to ‘card.’ That was just a terminology that was used for where you bill those cars. I want you to bill those cars to me in Omaha. And they did, and so for several months, I was getting every new covered hopper. (Laughs) And I set up this wonderful turn system where the cars would load; they'd be sent west to load wheat in eastern Colorado, and they’d come back to a terminal elevator in Omaha, unload the wheat, and then we’d load corn for grain for feedlots in Omaha and send them right back. I’d get one round trip out of every car. Up north they were getting one round trip every two months with the same car.
BG: And the reason for that? Why were you so much more efficient?
WG: Because I set up service to match the equipment and work towards those terms. Well, I got discovered, and the head transportation guy called our regional vice president, you know, and said, “I want you to fire him.” So, the guy that was our head guy came back to me and asked what this is all about, and I told him. He said, “I’m not going to fire you. You did the right thing.” And the guy up in St. Paul never forgot that, and he never forgave me. He tried to screw me over anytime he got a chance later on.
BG: Even though you were, even though you were improving production or improving the operation?
WG: But that wasn't the issue. I was disobeying instructions. So that was my first escape; many more to come. (Laughs.) But, so now I’m in Omaha and in charge of distribution there, and I had two traveling car agents that worked for me in the field. And since I had been one at one time, you know, I sent these guys up, and…and we had a problem with, our orders were always way inflated for how many cars each station wanted. Instead of making a capacity order to load maybe 10 cars a week at a grain elevator, well, they’d have orders in for 100 cars, because the idea was that the more orders you had in, the better chance you have to get your equipment. So, I wanted to put some integrity in it.
WG: I wanted to improve the car ordering system. So, I worked with another department in the relay office who gets the orders and brings all the telegraph wires and things from the field that come into them. As a traveling car agent, I had worked with these new IBM punch cards and things. So, I designed a system for the IBM punch cards for the people in the field to put their orders in, in a certain exact format -- same way -- and to come into this place in Lincoln -- in Omaha, I mean; come into the relay office. I had to have these two guys go out and train every station agent on my region -- there were a lot -- and I had no budget for this, for anything. So, these two guys agreed to sleep in tents at night.
WG: They were so committed to the project, and we had no money. I had money to pay them for meals, but that's it. So, they did that. And they were out for, I think it took them two months to get all the field people trained. Meanwhile, parallel to this up in St. Paul where the headquarters was, they were spending millions of dollars on this stupid TOPS system which had no car ordering system. I don't know how long it was going to be before we ever got that. It wanted to solve this problem now. So anyway, we got the thing going. And I got the orders, and I had accurate orders now for every station that came in for my car distributors to work with. It didn't cost us anything. We used, I don't know, the relay guy says don't worry about we get to the IBM punch cards, you know. And the guy I know designed a way that they could go from telegraph to teletype to punch cards; to design that inside. Very unique.
WG: So, it was a team of sorts, you know. And we were all really very proud of what we had achieved. It was good. And it worked. Nice to say to the people in St. Paul, “You ought to come down here and see our ordering system. You know, it won’t cost you anything.” (Laughs.)
BG: They didn't have people who were willing to live in tents?
WG: Yeah. Well, that’s true, but they could have done it with the budget. But so, that's one of the main things I remember from that job I had as head of car management in Omaha. And then I got promoted to train master in Omaha working for Assistant Superintendent Bob Huff, again. So, we came back together again in Omaha. I had short territory. I had Omaha, Pacific Junction in Iowa, and Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Omaha, Nebraska. And I worked there for, let's see, probably about a year and a half. And there was a huge meltdown in Cicero. By that I mean they'd gone into gridlock. And there was the Interstate Commerce Commission that put an order out banning any further movement of cars through the Burlington at Cicero; 5,000 cars on hold.
BG: And what was the cause of that, of this gridlock?
WG: I have to be very careful…The cause of it was that we got a new CEO who was from Chicago, and he wanted to do his civic duty. So, he said, “For the next year, we will only hire hardcore unemployed people in Cicero.” And this hard-core unemployed group of people basically didn't come to work on time, laid out sick all the time, didn't want to work when they got there. And it was horrible. So, this…I was one of the people that was tapped to go in and help solve the problem. I went in as an assistant superintendent, nights. There was already an assistant superintendent, days, there. I went in as assistant superintendent, nights. I got the call, and I was told to report the following day; no time at all.
BG: Was this like 1970?
WG: ‘73. And it was terrible. I’ll tell you about my first afternoon I was there. I heard this…I was in my office on the second floor of the yard office in Cicero, and there was a...I could hear all this noise coming from down below me which is where the lunchroom was. So, I ran down there, and there was this race fight going on between…there were blacks on one side, whites on the other side. And there was a black man and a white woman screaming and yelling at each other, throwing stuff at each other.
BG: Wow. In the lunchroom?
WG: In the lunchroom. So, I waded into it, into the middle of it, and got them stopped. And I had the office manager was there, and I said, “You take him,” the guy, and I said, “I'll take her.” And so, I hadn’t spent 30 seconds with her, and I recognized the problem. She was drunk! And so, I wanted to take her --- in those days you go to the hospital to get an alcohol blood test done; a breathalyzer.
WG: So, I got the special agent who's a railroad detective to drive us over there to the hospital in Cicero. And I said, “You guys stay in the car. I'm going to run in there and get permission.” Got the permission, came out. I said, “Okay, you come with me.” And he said she has something she wants to tell you. “What do you want to tell me?” “I'm not going. I refuse to go.” Well, that raised the hair on the back of my neck. I looked over at him. I knew. I knew he told her not to do it; our own guy, you know. I thought, someday I'm going to find out, you know. So anyhow, we still kind-a ended up getting what we wanted. We had enough stuff to hold the investigation to fire her and turned out that she was fighting him because he said something about her that she said was false, and that's why they had the fight.
BG: They were literally physically fighting?
WG: Yeah, uh huh. Physically fighting. I got that solved. I no more than sit down at my desk, and I hear this…we had a speaker where all the yard information comes over, and someone radios…there was a train coming in the yard, and the radio says, “I think we just ran over somebody in the yard!”
BG: This is your first but first day?
WG: First day. First afternoon. And so, I get in my car and run up there, you know. And sure enough, there's an off-duty brakeman, I think from Galesburg, who wandered out -- he was going to go get something to eat -- wandered out in front of a moving train, you know. He got cut in half.
BG: So, this is not the first time you've seen that.
WG: No, second time. Yeah, and many more to come.
BG: To go back to this situation in Cicero, at that point, your position was as assistant superintendent?
BG: Yeah. Were there other troubleshooting…Uh, that's quite the first day on the job.
WG: Yeah. There were a total of 18 of us that were brought in and that happened to be my particular job was that one. But you know, we got the place turned around in a matter of eight weeks.
BG: Well, I think that part, that time in the country was a big turning point as far as race relations were concerned. I think about the late ‘60s, early ‘70s, as quite a big transition going on. I’d imagine in the railroad industry as far as labor was concerned, that was, could be quite a tense time. I don't know how you saw it.
WG: Yeah, it was very tense at the time. And it was so hard to deal with, you know. I got my first experience before that though, when I was in Lincoln as assistant train master. I hired what might have been the first black employee in train service. I just wanted to, you know. I wanted to get somebody, get going a little bit. We didn't have any mandate or anything at that time. It caused me a lot of problems, because the union came in and said, “We want individual hotel rooms for everybody to stay in.” See, at that time, they teamed up. They'd stay two to a room. They said, “we want a new agreement and individual rooms to stay in because…”
BG: Because you had a...?
WG: Yeah. I believed in this guy, except he had the problem of coming to work on time and calling in sick or one thing or another. And I just kept working with him, working with him, working with him. I finally got him, you know, to where he was self-disciplined; learned how to get up on time, come to work on time. And incidentally, I got a note from him when he retired.
BG: Had he stayed with railroad?
WG: He stayed with the railroad his whole career.
BG: What was his name?
WG: Oh, I can't even remember now. But he's stayed in the railroad for 30 years.
BG: And he wrote a note to you?
WG: Wrote a note to me, yeah. So now I'm in Cicero, and this is not one person. It’s 150 of them, you know. Oh gee, you know I mean, it was so hard. We fired, we wound up firing, gosh I don’t know, 120 people, something like that, as a way to get the place running.
BG: Black and white?
WG: Well, almost all black, because those were all the new employees that weren’t coming to work on time. So, we had a step process, you know, first offense, you know, you talk to them. Second offense, you hold an investigation, you mark their record. Third offense, you give them another chance. Fourth offense, you’re fired. So, I call this one guy, and I said, “You've got only one more chance.” I said, “Every time I talk to you, you have to have off because your grandmother died.” And I say this while holding up the paper, “Here’s four grandmothers that died in the last three months with you.” I said, you know, “How many grandmothers do you have?” “Oh, I have a lot more,” he said. So, he ultimately failed to come to work one day, and that was it. And it was just so difficult. We did the best we could. Later on, we got a class action lawsuit over it, and we lost.
BG: Oh, really. Over the firings?
WG: Yeah. Well, I say ‘lost.’ They settled. They didn’t want the publicity.
BG: Who was the plaintiff? Who sued you?
WG: Oh, some plaintiff’s lawyer is all I know.
BG: Not an organization?
WG: No, no, on behalf of all those people that I fired. So…
BG: You settled that.
WG: Yeah. That was some years later that took place. But the important thing is we got the place back up and running. And I had one other incident that took place where I almost got fired again. We were short of power, that's locomotives, to run and make our deliveries at night to other railroads. And, you know, we're backed up and congested as a result. And every night I’d talk to power control, which was a place in St. Paul that managed all the locomotives on the railroad. Big board, you know, with magnets, showing every locomotive. We probably had 3,000 locomotives at the time. And the guy would say to me, you know, “You've got three or four units there in the diesel shop in Cicero. Why don’t you just take those?”
WG: I said, “No.” I said, “We don't have any down there.” And so, he said, “Well, I show you got three that are okay.” So, I went down to the diesel shop and looked at their records; didn’t ask anybody, I just went. I look at the records, and they didn’t match what the people at St. Paul had at all. I couldn’t figure out why, but I’d tell them, “Okay, here are the locomotives that they really have that are not ready and they're working on, but they told you they’re ready.” I did that every night, and I got power. They then would give me power, you know, to allocate power from some other source to make my deliveries. That went on for about three weeks. One morning, about 7:00 a.m., the superintendent comes in, Charlie Keck. He says, “You and I have to go downtown.” That's where general manager's office was. And I said, “What for?” He says, “I don't know, but we’re in trouble for something. You have any ideas?” “No, I don’t have any idea.”
So, we went to the general manager’s office, a guy by the name of Jack Hamer. The guy next to him was the head of the mechanical department, Chuck [inaudible], head of maintenance. I walked in the office with Charlie Keck. The guy that was the head of maintenance says, “I got you stopped Greenwood! I'm going to get you fired. You stay out of our business.” I thought, “Oh, boy. What’s this about?”; still didn’t know. So, Jack Hamer was sitting at his desk, started talking, “Now look, we all work together as a team. We have these goals to make. And if we make these goals, we all get a bonus. Locomotive readiness is one of the goals. And you are ruining it by telling them that these locomotives aren’t ready! Well, we're reporting them as ready because we want that bonus!”
WG: “And you understand!” I didn’t say anything, and he said, “You better understand, or you’re gone!” And I said, “Yes, sir.” And as I walked out, this other guy, Tom Cotner, he looked at me, and he said, “I got you. And I’m going to watch you from now on.”
BG: So how did you resolve that?
WG: I quit going down to the office to see what the records were! (Laughs.)
BG: Did you get your bonus?
WG: It wasn’t my bonus! It was their bonus! (Laughs.)
BG: So, do you think that that was a common practice, and that that multiplied through the system could make it really pretty, pretty inefficient?
WG: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah, no. That's right. And so, I complied, you know. But on the other hand, about two months after this, I get a call and said, “We're promoting you to staff assistant of the regional vice president.” And so, I left Cicero and went to the downtown regional office in Chicago, working with the same guy who was going to fire me.
BG: This is ‘73, ‘74?
WG: ’74, yeah; end of ’74.
BG: So how long did you stay there?
WG: Well, I was there about a year. I did a lot of things there. You know, it's like all jobs I went on. They tell me my job is one thing, and it's mundane, you know. It’s looking at records or one thing or another. But I’d see opportunities. Now, I knew from my days as a traveling car agent, another thing we’d been doing, we had this new big coal businesses that was about to emerge. And every region was supposed to come up with an operating plan. Our region didn’t have one yet. So, I just took it on myself to develop a region plan for what had to be done. And, and so we did, and Jack Hamer, I said, “I need to make a trip around the region to get people a certain kind of information. Would you, you know, set that up for me?” He says, “Better yet, I'll go with you.” So, we went. We high-rode the whole region. Got the stuff I needed, put a big plan together. Then we go to all the operating people in the whole region, and I made a presentation. It turned out we now had the best plan of any of the five regions. You know, Jack Hamer, and our regional vice president proudly took our plan to St. Paul to show what they, what they had done. So, about three weeks after that, I get a call. They wanted to promote me to director of strategic planning for the whole railroad. So, I packed up and moved to St. Paul. Now I’m director of strategic planning for the whole railroad.
BG: For the whole Burlington line?
WG: Yeah, all of Burlington Northern. Now I'm working for the guy who’s vice president of strategic planning. I was a director. I tell you I was in so much over my head. I didn't know anything. I mean, all these guys that worked for me, they were bright MBAs, you know, who were educated way different than me.
BG: So, by this time, you're not quite 40. You’re not 40 years old at that point.
WG: No, not yet. So, I remember we had three presidents that were over different divisions. One president of the railroad grew up speaking a Norwegian language of some sort, you know, couldn’t speak English well at all. So, one of my jobs was to write a board speech for this guy. So, I wrote a board speech. I wrote an outline for a board speech and sent it to him; said, “Call me if you have any questions.” Right after the board meeting, Tom Lambert, another president came in, “I hear you wrote this speech for Lawrence.” I say, “That’s right.” He says, “Look, he gave a speech where you said, ‘I sent him a draft.’ He got up there and said, “Point Roman numeral one A; this is B; this is C…” (laughs)
So, I got called out for that. He said, if you do that again, I’ll fire you. So anyway, I wrote another for the next board meeting. I made sure I went to his office and talked to him, showed him what I had and sent him the whole speech. He liked it. Tom Lambert comes in after that. “You idiot! Don’t you know he can’t pronounce ‘th’? You can’t use ‘th’ in a speech for him.” Speechwriting was definitely not one of my best skills.
So um, now the railroad has got, while I’m on that job, they’re negotiating a new Amtrak contract, first time ever, for any railroad in the industry. Amtrak chose Burlington Northern as the first railroad to negotiate with, and the negotiations weren’t going anywhere. So somehow or other I got called on to be in charge of the negotiating team for Amtrak. And I remember I had to go to the attorney that was in charge of everything else, and these people were so learned, you know. Here I am, this country trainmaster coming in and leading this Amtrak negotiation.
BG: Did you have any counsel with you?
WG: Yeah, him. (Laughs) I was put over him, and so anyway, that wound up with me spending six months in Washington, DC, negotiating the Amtrak contract. And they were hard, really tough, because we had to negotiate it within the framework of the law that was passed creating Amtrak that gave them all kinds of power and authority. And, um, they were hard negotiations. And the negotiating team for Amtrak, they’d have a cheering squad. They’d be sitting in the back of the room, and anytime anyone makes a point that wasn’t in favor of them, they’d jeer, you know. Yell, “Booooo!”
BG: During negotiations?
WG: Oh, yeah. During negotiations!
BG: And this was negotiating over the use of the track, freight versus passengers?
WG: Right. Yeah, anyway it got down to about 100 points to solve, and we got maybe all but about five or six major ones solved. This was an important contract. It was going to be the boilerplate for the whole industry. So, the next group to come in to help me finally close it out was the operating vice president, chief financial officer, the general counsel, five vice presidents, and they came to work with me on it. And we did. After about a week in Washington, DC, of tense negotiating, we finally got a contract signed. And the operating Vice President looked at me, and he said, “I not only like what you did, but I like the way you did it.” I thought that was nice. So um, I go back to St. Paul now to continue to be Director of Strategic Planning.
BG: Let me interrupt one second. Do you remember what was the biggest point of contention between…I mean of these hundred items, what was an example of one of the thorniest problems, because this still is a problem today, the sharing the tracks and the right of way.
WG: The biggest problem was that we wanted to, that we agreed to an incentive being paid to us if we provided on-time performance, and we wanted that, and they agreed to it. We won. What I wanted was for them to be responsible for delays to the freight trains that are caused by Amtrak, and they wouldn’t. They said, “That is a non-starter.” Well, I left it on the list anyway, and that was the hardest one, and we lost that one, but it was on the list.
BG: So, then you go back to St. Paul.
WG: Yeah, I go back to St. Paul. Now I’m back in this environment of, ‘Well, what do I do now?’ (Laughs.) But the Operating Vice President saw that, and he wound up promoting me to terminal superintendent for a brand-new yard that just opened up in Minneapolis, a classification yard. And so, that was my next job. It uh, again you know, I had to put a team together of people, and a team that I liked. I had to fight with the regional vice president because he liked people who were dopes, in my estimation. (Laughs.)
BG: So, you had to reach into the…
WG: Yeah, I had to fight him on this stuff.
BG: How big of a yard was it? How many tracks?
WG: Well, it was the largest in the country at the time, but it was before North Platte got as big as it is for the UP, but it was the largest in our railroad.
BG: Was it 20, 30 tracks?
WG: I believe it was 63 classification tracks.
WG: And yeah, probably, yeah, eight receiver tracks. It was a big yard, the most modern in the world, and as a result, I was giving tours. Every day somebody came out to that yard, including Russians. And I have a funny story on that. The Russian railroad system was run by 12 superintendents, the top guys of the railroad, very Russian, spoke through an interpreter. And, uh, I had to welcome them out on the tower. We had it staged, ready to go. We had the train ready to start humping so they could see how it was automatic. We had a distance decoupling feature. We knew how much to retard the wheels of the car to hold the cars at the right speed over the hump. We had wind resistance; we measured the wind. We had routing. Cars were automatically routed by the car number being in a punch card, and it was run from the yard office across the tracks.
Anyway, we said ‘Go.’ So, our locomotives were pushing them up over the hump. You know, they don’t really sit in there because the computer also runs the locomotive. And about three cars get up over the top of the hump, start down the other side. All of a sudden, everything freezes up. The retarders freeze up and stop the cars. The locomotive stops moving. Bells and whistles are going off in the tower. Something’s wrong, and we don’t know what it is, and everybody’s panicking. And the head Russian guy looked to me and he said, “In Soviet, you go to Siberia! Ha, ha, ha, ha!” (Laughs.)
BG: Was he kidding?
WG: Noooo, he was serious! And it turned out that the clerk in the yard office loaded the cards backwards, so our edit systems picked up that these cars weren’t the right matching weight. They weren’t the right destination. And so that’s why it froze up. Took them half an hour to figure out what the problem was, but got it solved. Then we impressed them after that, but they lied about everything that they had. “Oh, this is nothing. You switch two thousand cars a day. We hump four thousand cars a day at our yard.”
BG: I’m interested in the design of this new facility. Who would do the design? Did you have a union engineering unit that just designed classifications yards and things like that?
WG: We had an engineering unit to oversee it, but they contracted that out, the actual design.
BG: That’s quite a special niche.
WG: Oh yeah, I don’t remember who it was they had do it, but there were a lot of startup issues with that place.
BG: And your title there was?
WG: Terminal Superintendent.
BG: Terminal Superintendent.
WG: Yes, I was there on that job for a couple years, and then in 1979 the phone rang again from the state operating vice president that I was with on those Amtrak negotiations, John Mertog, wonderful guy, and he says, “I’m sending you to Alliance.” He said, “We’ve got a terrible situation there.” He said, “Gridlock. We’ve got to build new railroad, we’ve got to maintain railroad, we’ve got to run trains, and we can’t seem to do either well at all.” And I said okay. So, I went to Alliance.
BG: This was 1979?
WG: 1979. First day in there, I say to one of the train masters, “Let’s go for a high rail trip.” The high rail will take us up as far as Hannaford. Couldn’t go any further than that because the sun would go down, and you don’t high rail any at night. We get halfway there, and I get called on the radio, “New Superintendent Greenwood? Call so-and-so on a private phone.” So, I called, and he said, “There is a walkout, a sickout occurring. We’ve had 26 engineers call in sick in the last hour.” And he said, “They’re sending you a message, the new guy.”
WG: So, I turn around, high rail back, and I call up the very first engine I see in the yard. I introduce myself, and I says, “I know what’s going on.” I said, “I’m going back to my hotel room. Here’s my room number. Tell ‘em I’m ready to talk, whoever wants to talk.” And 2:00 a.m. there’s a knock on my door, and these two scraggly looking guys come in. Oh, my gosh. I had a lot lower cut of people than I’m used to dealing with on those jobs. And anyway, we talk for two or three hours, and I agreed to meet by myself with all the union people in the union hall that night after dinner.
BG: So, this would be your second day on the job.
WG: Yeah, so I went to the union hall all by myself, and I’m telling you, they had the wives, the children, the union people. And their complaints were they can’t get off work. And if they get off work, they hold an investigation on them, and they’re being treated unfairly, and there just aren’t enough people, one thing and another. I made notes. But the spouses were the ones who just hated me, screamed at me all the time.
BG: So, Alliance was totally a railroad town?
WG: Yeah, totally a railroad town.
BG: And totally a Burlington Northern town?
WG: Totally Burlington Northern.
BG: So, were you surprised by all of this?
WG: Yes. Uh, I knew. I was told it was bad, but I didn’t know it was this bad, you know. So anyway, I promised everybody that I would get going on all these problems we had talked about. And I said, “Well, I’ll solve it.” I had no idea how I’m gonna do it. I worried about it a lot the next couple days. They were genuine problems.
Meanwhile, the place had just terrible congestion. Nothing happened right. Derailments; two or three derailments every day all over the division. So, I had a board of directors’ special that was scheduled to come through Alliance, um, like four days, five days later. I thought to myself, ‘I’m gonna go for broke.’ I’m gonna put together a plan for resources I need. I’m gonna present it to all the highest-ranking officials on the railroad on that train, and if they don’t give it to me, uh, I can’t stay here. I can’t do this unless I get resources.
So, I want this board train to be handled right, and so I got everybody together. I got the engineering department together, and I went over where I want to stop, for example; twelve, fifteen cars. And I had the engineering department draw up a diagram where the cars would be, where I want to stop, where the locomotive would stop. And then I had an officer -- division officer -- stationed at each door way all the way back, and I had them paint on the platform an X, for the number, so everyone knew what their assignment was and who was going to be on that car. “You’re nuts!” they said. “We have board specials down here all the time, and we don’t do all this.” I said, “Well you’re gonna do it now.”
So, we went off perfectly, and we stop, went to the Alliance Country Club, had a big dinner for them, and then came back, got on the train. And I got on the train with them, and I’m gonna ride as far as I have to, to get my message to every senior officer on the railroad. I start with Lou Menke, Chairman of the board. And his response…what I asked for, I want 27 new division officers. I need more train masters and assistant superintendents. I want to set up a control center for running the division. I had all kinds of stuff. Menke says, “Why is it anytime anybody new goes somewhere they got to add more people?”
BG: This is Lou Menke?
WG: Lou Menke, uh huh. And then I went to Norm Lawrenson, who was one of the presidents. I went to Tom Lambert, another president. I went to the CFO, well everybody; talked to everybody. Nobody said yes, but nobody said no. So, when I got back into Alliance the following day, I wrote a letter to my boss in Denver, the assistant Vice President of Operations. I said, “I’ve made this presentation to the board, and they’ve approved it.”
BG: [Laughs.] Because nobody said no.
WG: Nobody said no! And he called me on the phone and said, “That’s the most outrageous thing I’ve ever seen. Nobody’s gonna approve anything like that.” I said, “Well they did.” I said, “By the way, here’s Lou Menke’s phone number. You wanna call him and ask him?”
BG: So, you got it. You got it.
WG: Well, not through him, I didn’t. In the meantime, I had a couple friends that worked in the Vice President of Operations Office in St. Paul. I sent them the same letter, too. I said, “You’re going to hear something on this,” and this is what’s happening. I told them the real story, the truth, but they were supportive of me. So anyway, one of them picked up the phone. He said, he called this guy, my boss, said, “Say, we’re supposed to get a new operating plan from the Alliance division. We haven't seen it yet, do you have it?” So, I got my people.
WG: Yeah, yeah. Made all the difference in the world. We went from loading two coal trains a day to 12 almost overnight. Our derailments went way down. Our productivity went way up. I mean everything. Our safety record was the worst in the industry. Our safety record we had a ratio, a frequency severity ratio over 100, which means every employee gets hurt more than once a year. And we brought that down in the first year, down to about 18, which is still the worst in the industry but a good direction.
BG: And this was all because you got more resources?
WG: Yeah, and I put together a plan as to how they work and what they would do. I created a control center; took the control of the railroad away from the dispatchers and gave it to this new control center, staff, and train masters. It was beautiful, worked wonderful.
BG: Did it become a model for other divisions?
WG: No, because no other division had this problem like we did.
BG: I see.
WG: Yeah, it was a big, huge success.
BG: In creating that team that you brought in there, were these insiders within the company, or did you pick them from other companies?
WG: They were inside the company. First of all, nobody wants to come to Alliance.
BG: Well where is Alliance?
WG: It’s in the panhandle of Nebraska. It’s close to the Colorado-Wyoming border. So, I arrive there and every officer that’s there wants out. It’s just they’re burned out, and I learned very quickly that no one’s gonna come, so I put out a word to all my...I never worked through personnel. I always worked directly with my own network. “If you’ve got anyone in the ranks that you’ve been wanting to promote, that’s good, that you have a lot of confidence in, I’ll take ‘em”, and I said, “The older the better.” So, I got a bunch of old guys, and they were really, really good; guys that were in their fifties. And then I got a bunch of young guys just off the training program. So, the older guys were the mentors to these new young guys. It worked wonderful. And um, and I wouldn’t take anybody who wasn’t of the style of management that I was. A popular style at the time was beating ‘em up, motivating by fear. That’s not my style.
BG: So, you were more collaborative.
WG: Collaborative, yeah. Work as a team.
BG: That’s a tough culture to overcome if you have a culture that’s so embedded, and you’re talking about a company that was at that point 100 years old or more, yeah.
WG: Yeah. Very definitely.
BG: So, what made you know that that was the right approach? I mean, that was so contrary to everything else that was going on there. What did you attribute that to?
WG: Well, I had to solve a problem. I only knew, I knew that if I didn’t solve the problem, I was done. You know, toast.
BG: So, you had the fear.
WG: Yeah. Right. (Laughs.)
BG: You didn’t translate that to…
WG: I wouldn’t have been done. They wouldn’t have fired me. But that’d be my career and my job, and I’d be sent up to where my predecessor was sent to -- some unknown place in the iron region of Minnesota. So uh, I had a major, major problem on the division, uh, alcohol abuse. They were so short of people, they were hiring anybody that could breathe, practically, and most of them were kids -- 19 years old, 20 years old. And uh, my predecessor held his meetings with the union guys at the American Legion Club in the evening. (Laughs.)
BG: I can imagine what that was like.
WG: He never fired one single person on Rule G the whole time he was there. Rule G is about drugs and alcohol abuse. So, you know what our team did? We fired 160 people for alcohol abuse in the first, probably 90 days I was there.
BG: In your division.
WG: Yeah, yeah.
WG: It was awful.
WG: I remember…and they weren’t complying with all the rules of safe operations, you know, and it was totally out of control.
WG: People just wouldn’t believe, these new people I brought in, what kinds of things were happening. So, when we solved the drug and alcohol problem, at least to the degree that we solved it, I had two…I asked part of the team of people, 27, I wanted two drug abuse, alcohol abuse, counselors on my staff. So, I had two of them on the division. No other division had their own counselors. I wanted two because I knew I had this problem. I remember one time I was high railing after I’d been on the division about six months. And it was over on Gillette, and we were waiting for some trains to move, and this guy came off the locomotive that was parked near us, and he said, “Are you Mr. Greenwood?” I said, “Yes sir.” He said, “I just want to thank you. You’re a man of Jesus, I can tell. Everybody knows you have to be that way because of the way you have handled this alcohol problem we had. God bless you. God bless you!”
BG: And at this point, was this a totally a white male culture, right? Very few women, if any?
WG: No, I had women.
BG: In management?
WG: Uh, no, but I had women brakemen. Women were new you know, which was a real social problem in itself. Lots of fights would break out, you know, over whose woman, whose man do they belong to, stuff like that. But there were a number of social issues on the Division because they were so young, and just things you never dreamed of happening would happen all the time.
One time -- I’d been there a while, at least a year -- and my secretary came in to see me one night at 5 o’clock, time to go home, and said, “Mr. Greenwood, can you come into the conference room, please? The women of the office want to talk to you.” Now, I had a male chief clerk and working for him was about, I would say, 12 women clerks that worked for him. So, I go in and here’s all these stone-faced women sitting in this conference room, and I thought, ‘Uh, oh.’ So, I walk in and sit down. And my secretary tells me where to sit, so she sits in the first seat to my left over here. She said, “Each one of these women have a story they want to tell you,” and it was about the chief clerk. They start about something he had done. Not ‘done’; he didn’t do anything physical. It was what he said and what he suggested, and everyone, after they’d tell their story, they’d cry.
WG: I sat there and listened to all of these, everyone, you know. And I thanked them, and I said, “I'll take care of the problem for you. You will not see him again.” And so, I went home, and I called this guy. Well, I called him before I left work, called him at his house. He was a nice guy, you know. Really. I had no indication there would be a problem like this. I said, “Why don’t you come to my house, and meet me in the living room?” I asked Colleen to get the kids and everybody else out for a while. So, I relate to him what had happened. And I said, “I want your resignation.” And, uh, he said, “I’m not resigning!” And I said, “Well, I’ll tell you what. Here’s your choice. If you don't resign, I'm going to have a formal investigation. I'm going to march all 12 of these women in, and they're all going to tell their story with you sitting there. And this is going to be a matter of a record that will be permanent.” He gave his letter of resignation.
BG: Wow. And that's a fascinating story, I think, and you know, it's true. You still read about it today. It's a timeless issue in the workplace. But in railroads, in particular, which is such a male culture…
BG: I imagine it must have been particularly challenging.
WG: It was. Every place I went. I skipped over a bunch of other stories that happened prior to this, but I had issues like that all the time. When I was terminal superintendent northbound, I had a girl…We were short of people, so I said anybody had to call me if they wanted to lay off. So, this girl called. She said, “I can't come into work.” And I said, “Well, why can't you come into work?” She said, “I can't come into work because I got raped over the weekend by one of my coworkers.”
WG: So, I said, “Would you come in and talk with me please?” And she said, “Yes.” So, into the office walks this really, very pretty young lady. She’s probably 5’10”, and she had a backpack on her back. So, she told me her story. And it was before Labor Day weekend, something like that. And so, there's another employee, a black employee, who discovered they both lived near Lake Harriet and had nothing to do over the Labor Day weekend, so they’d get together and ride their bikes around Lake Harriet. They’d go hiking together and go to a movie together. And one of the nights he came back before they went to the movie. She took him to her apartment and asked him to wait while she changed clothes to go to a movie. When she came out, her story, he grabbed her and raped her on the sofa. His story is, she came out and came on to him, you know, and was scantily clad, let her robe drop. And so, yeah, “We had sex that was very consensual.” So, when she told me her story, I said “Did you go to the police?” She says, “Yes.” I said “When?” She says, “Well, three days later.” And I said, “What’d they tell you?” Said, “Well, they can’t do anything three days later.”
So anyway, I got two different stories to deal with. What do I do? So, I told him that I didn't want him bidding on her shift anymore. He’d have a lot of other options. He said, “I don't want to do that. She's lying! Why should I not work when I want to work?” Well, let's be frank. I said, “You're one of only a handful of blacks that work here. And if you work around here, imagine if she starts telling anybody. I got a promise from her that she'll never ever tell anyone.”
BG: So, where we were, was that you had given this employee the option of bidding on other assignments, you know, but outside of her jurisdiction.
WG: So, I said, “Look, I've got an agreement from her that she's not going to tell anybody.” And, and I said, “You’ve got to be realistic that if she doesn't get what she wants, you're going to have to deal with all these other people. Who knows what they might do or say to you? You, you don't want to have that happen to you.” So, we talked it through, and I was able to successfully talk him into not ever bidding on her job again. I called her back, had her come in, told her the arrangement we had. And I said, “This whole thing depends on your honesty and that you will never tell anybody.” And I said, “I will check from time to time, even if I leave here. I will check to make sure you’ve never told anybody.”
BG: Well, I mean, what you've described is a very personal style. In the absence of formal rules and formal protocols, you just did what was right, what made common sense, right? And that, that often drove you maybe sometimes to not worry about what was in the rule book or what was a protocol. But that seems to be an approach that works for you, you know. It could’ve backfired, but it sounds like it worked.
WG: Yeah, I know I'm a little bit off where, we were in Alliance, but…
BG: No. I think it's relevant, I really do, and I want to get into the work in Alliance…
WG: Also, I want to tell you one more story on Northtown.
WG: So again, I got the appointment to go to Northtown as Terminal Superintendent. I hadn’t been there but a month, and there was a headline in the Minneapolis Northeast Edition newspaper that said, ‘Neighbors Want Burlington Northern Out Of Town.’ And so, and they quoted this one alderman, um, 50 times in this article. So, I call this alderman, and didn’t get anywhere, but I agreed to appear before the community, if he’d get them together for a town hall kind of meeting. So, I called the law department to tell them what I was doing. So, they said, “We are going to send an attorney with you; make sure you don't say the wrong things,” you know.
So, sat there in this town hall; probably 300, 400 people showed up. Oh! They told us terrible stories about all the noise we're making, and the lights, you know, and they can't sleep; one thing right after another.
And some guy, after this had gone on for about an hour, said, “Burlington Northern! Let’s go get them!” And people started coming up from the audience! They were so full of hate, you know? And this is my style, I don't run away. I just walked out with the mic in my hand, came off the stage, and said, “Tell me what you want!” They start peeling people off one at a time like this. And I got through them all. So, I turned around to talk to my attorney friend, and he was gone! He never came back! (Laughs.)
So, I went back up on the stage, and I promised everybody that I’d solve the problem. I said, “Give me the time, but I'll solve it.” And so, what I did, I put together all our officers on the terminal, and said “We're going to call on every neighbor we have up there.” You know, our yard was four miles long.
BG: This is in your new yard?
WG: Yeah, our new yard.
WG: Here's what we want to do. Main complaints are noise and lights. Let's see what we can do. Listen carefully, tell them you’re gonna solve it. And if you find a way that the lights are blinding them, we’ll redirect the lights. And then you go back, and make sure they're happy with it. We did that over the course of about six months. And a new headline came out in the Minneapolis newspaper. It said, “Burlington Northern Proves They Are A Good Neighbor.”
WG: And our HR department submitted this whole thing to some competition that exists in the country. We came in second place in the United States for the best PR program. PR, hell! It was just our guys going out calling on them. (Laughs.)
WG: Yeah, and we only came in behind the Love Canal project.
BG: Which had a long way…
WG: Oh, yeah. Right. Yeah. But in terms of the…
BG: But you know what's interesting is they knew going in when you were building this thing that it was going to have an impact. I mean, it sounds like it shouldn't have been any surprise, but…
WG: It is, you know, and most things, most of the complaints about noise came from the dynamite that was used. We had to cut back a big cliff. So, they had dynamite explosions every day for weeks.
BG: But wasn't that like a one-time thing?
BG: It wasn't going to be repeated.
WG: I know, but they were still mad. I said, “We will stop that dynamite.” [Laughter}
BG: Which you had to do anyhow.
WG: Which was way past! (Laughter) No more dynamite.
BG: So, let's talk about Alliance a little bit in terms of where the industry was at that moment, 1979. It's, uh…the energy crisis is really big.
BG: We're not that far off from the gas lines that were surrounding every community. And ‘Where we going to get energy from?’ Where we're going to…’We’re too oil dependent.’ Now, the Powder River Basin comes into existence or is discovered, and that was really your, one of your big opportunities.
WG: Yeah. And, now the…it was always known that the coal was there, but it was so far away from the market. And the BT unit -- British thermal units, uh, energy -- was so low that the coal was never competitive. But the Energy Act of 1966, amended in ‘68, ’69, and the ‘70s -- each amendment to the Energy Act made it more attractive. Now it got to the point that everybody wanted this low-sulfur coal from Wyoming. And so, we had mines opening up right left, and we had to haul it a thousand miles, 1,500 miles, 1,800 miles, all over the Southeast, and the South, and the Midwest. Everywhere. And we couldn't handle it all. We didn't have the capacity. So, we had to not only rebuild the railroad that was there, because it was a secondary railroad. It was built to haul fill sand. And we had to add much more capacity. And then double track, more crossovers, signaling, and we had to build 100 miles of new railroad, uh, basically between…well, I’ll call it Gillette, and near Casper, and places between Casper and two names you wouldn’t recognize. Donkey Creak is one. (Laughs.)
But uh, anyhow, it was a monumental task. And uh, one of the stories I tell is that Wall Street was creeping down on us. And we had two board members that resigned in protest over this big investment that was being made. And one of the board members went to the Wall Street Journal and the Interstate Commerce Commission saying that we were making a dumb investment; we were betting the shareholders’ money. And Lou Menke, coming down on an elevator after one of those contentious board meetings, said to one of the presidents of the company, said, “Bob, you and I better be right about this Powder Basin thing, because we're toast if we're not right.” And for the first time in the history of our company – if you use the Burlington railroad’s history -- we had to pass on a dividend. We did not pay a dividend in 1974, because we were out of cash.
BG: And this is ’74?
WG: ’74. Yeah.
WG: But just to show you, the company bet the balance sheet against all of the expert opinions, against everything Wall Street wanted us to do; what some members of the board didn't want us to do. They said it’s too risky. Turned out to be a huge payoff. Excellent, excellent, Investment to make.
BG: Wow, and a lot of that was coming out of your division?
WG: All of it.
WG: All of it. Yeah. So, it was uh...
BG: So, you were building up this infrastructure…
BG: …that didn’t exist to serve this new market, this new source of, uh…And then transporting it over hundreds and thousands of miles.
WG: Right. Yeah.
BG: How long did that go on? And at the same time, that's when -- and we're going to get into the Staggers Act at some point, when that gets passed. Were you involved at all in the negotiation over coming up with the details of that legislation?
WG: I was just an operating guy. I’d never heard of it before. I didn't know anything about it. So, in 1981…uh, let’s see, ’81? Yeah, ’81. Um, I get one of those calls, you know, “We're creating these new business units. And I want you to run one of them. And it's called piggyback.” And so, I later on figured out I got picked because I was just another dumb operating guy, that the guy who was picking to run business units, he wanted someone from operating to run intermodal because it's more of an operating thing. And you want to make sure that this piggyback stuff wouldn’t take business out of boxcars and put it in piggyback, because he wanted to stay in boxcars. I didn't know that until much later. And uh, so, one of these kind of first-day-on-the-job kind of things, you know, I take my, uh…
BG: So, you were still based in Alliance?
WG: Uh, well now I’ve been transferred in St. Paul. It was one of those deals, I had one week to get there.
BG: I see.
WG: In St. Paul. So, I take my team of marketing people out to lunch. And they all ordered martinis. (Laughs.)
BG: They all ordered what?
BG: Martinis. Yeah, yeah.
WG: I just got through firing people for two years for that. It was so uncomfortable. And then, some of them ordered two martinis. And some decided not to go back to the office with me because they wanted another drink! Oh, here we go again. (Laughter) So, um, I called a couple of them in. I said, “You need to go through treatment. You stop. You can’t do it. I’ll help you through treatment, and you won’t lose your job. But if you don't do it, you’ll lose your job, especially if you keep drinking on the job.” So, a couple people took me up on it and went through treatment. It worked good.
So, everybody's talking a language I don't understand. They’re talking about TCF territory in this territory, and that pricing thing and this pricing meeting. It's all pre-deregulation stuff, where the government controlled everything. I couldn't participate in discussions because I didn't know what they were talking about. And anyway, I started reading up on this new thing called ‘deregulation.’ And before it was actually going to take effect for intermodal traffic, back then called the piggyback traffic, on February 1, 1981, I believe it is. And I thought, “Oh, my gosh,” you know, “We aren’t ready for this.” And I called the guys in, “What's this mean?” And they said, “Well, it doesn’t mean hardly anything.” “Well it’s gotta mean something!” (Laughs.)
And so, I started calling the people that I knew that might know something about it. And nobody knew much of anything. I couldn’t find anybody inside our own company that did. And I started doing some reading and a couple of young guys, you know, said, “Hey, there’s a big opportunity;” management training types. I listened to them. I believed them.
Then I called our biggest piggyback shipper, guy by the name of R.C. Manning. I said, “RC, have you been reading up on deregulation and what it means for you?” “Yeah,” he says, “I have.” I said, “I think it's a huge opportunity for us.” I said, “Let’s get together.” So, we got together, he said, “I tell you what. If you will write me a one-page contract, I will guarantee you ten new trailer loads of business a day from Chicago to Seattle and back, and here’s the price I have to have it at.” Now at the present time, our price was something like $3,000 for a load coming east, and it was like $100…no, it was $3,000 coming east. I think it was almost $6,000 round trip, is what I recall. Well he wanted a price of, I think, $3,000 round trip, something like that. Well, I went through the math and thought, “Well hell, we don’t have any business now at the prices we have, so what difference does it make what the price is?
BG: What was his role in the company?
WG: Uh, he wasn't in the company. He had a third-party logistics company…
BG: I see.
WG: …called National Piggyback. And so, anyway, we wrote the elements of the contract that we thought we had to have in it on my back porch in my home near Minneapolis, and I took it to our law department. And they said, you know, there's no such thing as one-page contract in our business. I said, “Well let's try.” And a guy by the name of Doug Babb who was like the number two lawyer -- good guy -- he worked with me on it. He gave us a one-page contract. And, so we got that approved. Within a month we're handling 100 trailers a day of business between Chicago and Seattle, round trip. A hundred!
BG: And these would be trailers that came off of trucks or coming off of boats? These are the containers…
BG: These are the containers. And that was the big thing with intermodal was that obviously…
BG: …But it seems so obvious now, looking back at it, that that was going to be the way to move freight around the country and around the world.
BG: But no one saw it.
WG: No, and no one saw it for a good four or five years. And it was the beginning of so much to start taking place. And I knew that I had, I had to replace the people I had that were working in there with people that were a little more…not, not saddled with some of this.
BG: So, would that have happened if the deregulation hadn’t passed?
WG: Nope. No.
BG: So, deregulation made…
WG: You couldn't write contracts until deregulation. Deregulation allowed us to write contracts, and before that you had to go to the government to get approval for the price changes. Twenty railroads would meet, a hundred people would meet at the Union League in Chicago to debate what the price is that we could charge from Chicago to Seattle.
I gave a talk, after about only being on the job six months, to the National Association of Commerce Attorneys -- and that was their title, ‘commerce attorney’. That's all they did was handle issues for railroads and shippers at these meetings that would take place all the time about what the price ought to be. And again, I’m kind of ignorant, so I’m giving this talk, and oh, the first question a guy asked, “You know what you just said? You just told us we’re all out of a job.” You want to know something? There were 10,000 in Minneapolis for their convention. Five years later there were zero commerce attorneys left.
BG: Zero what?
WG: Commerce lawyers.
BG: Commerce lawyers, wow.
WG: Yeah, zero.
BG: Because they didn’t need them.
WG: That's what a dramatic change it had. And so, I gave a lot of talks. I was asked. I’d kind of been getting known for shaking things up in the marketplace. And so, I was getting a lot of invitations to talk about it, but I’m still ignorant. I don't know much about this stuff. I had a talk at the Union League Club in Chicago. I gave a talk there about all the things we’re gonna look at doing and what the future is of this thing called piggyback on the Burlington Northern. And a guy came up to me. He was the founder of HUB, and uh, I forgot his name for the moment. Anyway, he came up to me afterwards. And he said, “You know, I didn’t like anything you had to say. You basically told me you don’t need me.” And I told him, “Well, no, I need you.” I don’t know why, but you know… (Laughter) Anyway, so I got to develop a relationship with him, you know, over why he felt what I was saying was going to happen to him, so. These were channels of distribution issues. How we were going to channel ourselves and our place in the marketplace. And I was talking about us having our own channel. We managed ourselves all the way to the customer. The piggyback was totally third-party people. We sold to third party people, and they brokered. They were our brokers.
BG: So, what you just described was the big change, but you went and outsourced a lot of your work.
WG: Yeah. Right. One of them. So anyway, I started putting together a team of people. And boy, I put together a super dramatic team, I mean it was incredible. There was Bill Dewitt, who you don’t know. He was in charge of marketing. Mark Kane, who was just off the management training program. Great analyst, you know. I mean he worked the numbers for us real good; later on became, you know, a successful operating manager in his own right. Dave Burns, who was out of the operating department. He was the superintendent, but he was basically our [inaudible] leader. Ken Heppner, who was kind of my personal assistant, was just a wonderful strategic guy. I'm leaving out a couple people. I’m apologizing, but anyway, we met every morning at eight o'clock. And we had about a 10-, 15-minute meeting; discuss the day’s activities, how we were going to go. We developed strategic plans. We changed the name from piggyback to intermodal for the whole industry; the whole industry always followed us on that. We took our railroad from eighth place in volume of piggyback in less than one year to number one; I’d say, two years. Number one. We had more piggyback trailers than anybody else did in the industry.
BG: And was this because you ordered more trailers or you changed your method of…What was the change that produced such a dramatic, uh…?
WG: We understood the marketplace. We understood what the right price was in the marketplace for a movement. We understood the importance of roundtrips on your trailer. We understood the importance of utilization. We get a lot of trips per month per trailer instead of one trip. We understood the importance of why we had to know the customer ourselves instead of the brokers knowing it; keeping information from us. And we probably changed 45 things, you know; big substantial things as to how you do this business. And I was working to get control over every aspect of intermodal: the mechanical part, you know, repairing them; the part of accounting for them, and we were successful at that, too. So, we were one integral business unit that had all the functions together. No more silos; no more negotiating. We can make the changes ourselves.
BG: And deregulation made that possible?
WG: No. What made that possible was a new CEO by the name of Dick Bressler who liked the idea of business units, and he fostered it and pushed it and made sure that we all set up these business units. Most people didn't know what to do with them or how to deal with it very well at the beginning and neither did we. And so, everybody I hired to work for me were all operating people. And the operating people had an advantage of understanding our product better than anybody else. Operating people had the advantage of execution, knowing how to execute directly without having to go through any people.
BG: So, operating people as opposed to what, engineers? Or as opposed to…?
WG: Uh huh, and salespeople, marketing people. So, I truly got the operating department going.
BG: So, the big change was an organizational change…
BG: ...that happened to coincide with deregulation.
WG: That’s right and learned how to take advantage of deregulation. We learned that we didn’t have to wait. We could make changes. I got feedback years later from people, saying… Vendors would say every time they’d call on another railroad, like say the Santa Fe, the Santa Fe guy would say to them, “What are they doing over there at Burlington Northern? We can’t figure them out. Why is their business growing so much?” So, it was…
BG: That must have been an exciting time!
WG: It was a wonderful, exciting time. I mean, it was a powerful team. We still communicate all the time.
BG: Have you saved any of those speeches you’d given?
WG: I never wrote speeches. I just talked.
BG: Well, I guess after the experience of writing speeches for the CEO you got out of that habit.
WG: I’d have an outline, you know, of the stuff I wanted to make sure I covered...
BG: But that sounds like you were not only just internally making changes, but externally you were getting a national platform.
WG: Yes, and over here I’ve got a Silver King Pin award. You see that king pin from a truck trailer? That’s the top award for intermodal. I was given the honor of that award one year for the stuff we did that I’m talking about right now.
BG: Because the container was developed in the ‘70s, wasn’t it? Or was it in the ‘50s…
BG: …the container came out of North Carolina…
BG: …McClean. McClean Trucking. But that was in the ‘50s? But it didn’t really catch on. It took a while.
WG: It took a while. The containerization had already taken place well before I came on the scene. But it was pretty well restricted to…Southern Pacific had a contract with Sealand and ran containers up and down the West Coast. We had containers that were built with the KBs, but we didn’t use them for domestic loads. That's not where we were making a lot of changes. We were making changes on domestic business.
BG: So let me just ask you, because in my notes here I want to make sure I understand this: ‘Bill created an expediter network, dedicating entire train sets to intermodal traffic contrary to previous practice of moving them in general merchandise.’ Translate all that. What is that?
WG: First of all, it’s a little misleading. The team created it. I didn’t create it. Expediter is a name given -- a branding -- of short haul moves. Railroads don’t like short haul moves. Short haul is anything under 500 miles. There’s a huge market under 500 miles, most of the market is under 500 miles. We figured out a way to create this product that we could be successful in it, and we did it with some of the words I’ve used before, ‘utilization.’ We put this fixed equipment together and ran round trips pairs between cities that were roughly 500 miles apart -- Chicago-Minneapolis, Chicago-St Louis, Chicago-Omaha, Chicago-Kansas City, you know, uh, Dallas Fort-Worth to Kansas City -- in a big expediter network, and the fixed equipment, the locomotive and the cars, all stay together. And we negotiated a special deal with labor. At that time there were four or five men, four or five people, on each crew. We negotiated two people which is standard now, but we were ahead of most of...
BG: And the two people were who, the engineer and the…?
WG: Yeah, an engineer and a conductor. But that was not easy. The vote was only carried by one vote.
BG: Within the union?
WG: Yeah. And the union guy that helped us carry it lost his job the next day. But we created a whole bunch of new jobs that didn’t exist before.
BG: Is this the time to talk a little about safety also? Was that a part of the equation that you were coming up with to cut down on delays because of safety issues?
WG: Well, the safety issue for us was damage to contents inside the trailers. So, we wanted to make sure our trailers did not move on general merchandise trains ‘cause there’s so much slack action back and forth; that they don’t get switched over at all because they couple at too fast of a speed. So, we got that successfully done. So, we created a separate network of intermodal trains. When we took over, intermodal piggyback cars moved on regular trains. We created our own network.
BG: I see. So, you would have a train set of what would be a mix of intermodal and boxcar?
WG: Oh, it would be 80 boxcars or, 80 boxcars and gondolas or coal cars and maybe 10 piggyback cars scattered through the train. Back and forth.
BG: I think later on we’ll get into this, but double stacking became more common, but that’s a little later right?
WG: Okay, yeah. That is later.
BG: So, to continue on this big change with intermodal, one of the changes was in creating the terminal services. What was involved there?
WG: That was a pretty major impact. At the time I came in we had 68, I think it was, piggyback ramps…no, it was 200…200 piggyback ramps around the company. That meant that you would push one trailer load, one flat car with maybe two trailers on it up against this ramp, and a truck driver would back up to it and pull them off one at a time. You’d have one at every little place that might load one a year, maybe, whatever it might be.
So, we dreamed up an idea of creating these hubs. We’d have 22 of them around the country. And those hubs would have all of our quality level of services we could provide in the hub. We had a problem in that, when I took over, they were run by Teamsters, mainly services provided by our subsidiary truck line which is a Teamster organization, which meant that our costs for, say, handling a trailer between the ramp and the customer was $2 a mile. We knew that you could get it for $1 a mile or less. So, we came up with a proposal to reduce it to these number of hubs, hire people from the trucking industry to run them because they were more truck than they were rail, and through this consolidation, close all those country ramps that we had all over the place. So, this was quite a major undertaking and a change in the railroad and the railroad industry, as far as that’s concerned.
I had to make a presentation to the CEO and the President of the company. The CEO was a railroad guy from the Frisco by the name of Dick Grayson, and the President was an oil and gas man by the name of Drexel. And Drexel didn’t like me. In fact, my boss didn’t like me, who was Dick Gleeson. He hired me for one reason, he didn’t expect me to get aggressive. And it winded up I was making my business unit more significant and important than all of the other business units that were under him. Well, I was under him too, but I didn’t get any support from him. He tried to actually get me fired. And he got with Mr. Drexel. He got a partner to help him. Drexel thought I should be fired, too.
So, I had this presentation now before Drexel and Grayson. It was supposed to be a 30-minute presentation to get their approval for the capital necessary to go forth with this project. We needed capital for every location. I was there four hours being grilled by them, and it was just so difficult. And neither one of them wanted to support it, but they didn’t quite know how to…they didn’t want to say ‘no’ either.
Anyway, what it finally came down to is that Grayson, the CEO, said, “Look. I’ll tell you what. Let’s you and I each pick one location, and give him the money for that one location, and see how it works out at that one location.” He said, “Now me, I’m going to pick Portland,” he says, “because Portland is where we’ve got competition with the Union Pacific, and we’ll see how it can hold up against our biggest and best competitor we have; UP intermodal.” So, he looks over at Drexel, “Walter, what do you want to pick as a location?” He said, “Well, I don’t believe that they can keep all the business that they say they can at these. I am going to pick Minneapolis, because that’s the place that’s got the most number of ramps that they manage.” Like 40 or 50; not maybe that many, but 30 ramps we were going to close in that jurisdiction. He says, “But I like the idea of him hiring non-railroad people! Hiring truckers!” So that’s why he went for it. He didn’t like the railroad.
BG: He worked for the railroad, but didn’t like the railroad?
WG: Yeah, he was only around a couple of years. So, anyway, so I came downstairs. I felt like I had failed my team. I didn’t know how to break the news to them, that we only got two and I went up for twenty-two. And it was very emotional. But my team being my team, they celebrated! They thought it was a huge victory. They said, “Couldn’t ask for a better outcome, ‘cause we can do this!” And in my office, they immediately started firing off directions: what to do, who to do it, when to do it, how they were going to do it, what the timing was going to be. We opened up and got all the construction done with Portland and Minneapolis in a matter of like 60 days and started up, and it just way exceeded our wildest expectations! I mean, our businesses just grew by 15, 20 percent a month, you know, just kept growing as a result of this integrated approach at the local level being run by these truckers on site.
So that paved the way for us to get approval for the rest of them, and we did. So, we’d peel off another couple, you know, get the next two going. We beat the socks off of UP in Portland. UP wound up with no business practically as a result of what we had and what we were doing there. And we outgrew our capability that we’d planned for very quickly in doing those things. So, this is just one of many, many things that we did.
BG: But that’s a big one.
WG: It is a big one. So, I want to fast forward a little bit when later on I was in charge of marketing. There was a consultant from McKinsey and Company that came into my office one day. He was making the rounds of his teams, and we had a McKinsey team on board at the time. He said he was going to retire. He was sort of phasing out now. I said, “What are you going to do in retirement?” He says, “I’ve always wanted to write a book about teamwork.” I said, “Oh, I love teamwork. What are you going to say about teamwork?” He said, “Well, I’m going to write a book about high-performing teams.” I said, “Well, how do you define a high-performing team?” He said, “I don’t.” He says, “But I know it when I see it. Why? Do you think you have some team stories?” I said, “Yeah, a few of them are coming to mind right now.” So, I told him one story, then the second story. “Yeah, yeah.” Then I told him the third, told him this intermodal story, he said, “Stop! Stop! That’s it!” You know, he loved the idea I was about to get fired and everything we did. So, he sent in a couple of his researchers to sit down and interview me. He said, “Can you get the whole team together?” “Sure!” So, I got the whole team together. We had all kind of gone our separate ways after this.
WG: And he wrote a book called The Wisdom of Teams. We are the lead-off story in Chapter Two in The Wisdom of Teams by Jon Katzenbach, and it was the number one best-seller of business books for years and years and is still required reading in many business schools. I was on the board of two business schools, the board of visitors at TCU and Marquette, and it was both required reading in their MBA programs. So anyway, high performing teams. So that was one of the things I was kind of proud of.
BG: Well, I think that it’s useful to remember that, yes, whenever you talk to people who have been in the industry during the period that we’re talking about now, they will say, “The Staggers Act, the Staggers Act,” but it really comes down to other, it comes down to people knowing how to take advantage of that. It wasn’t just a piece of legislation that made it happen. And it was, the story you tell I think is really…it might have happened independent of the Staggers Act, but it certainly…
WG: I don’t think so.
BG: ‘Cause that opened up the innovation…
WG: Yeah, it opened up the idea of innovating. You don’t have to run to the government for permission to do anything. It allowed the mindset to be changed inside the railroads of who’s going to make decisions, because now you have a…you have a knowledge set that’s required to be successful that’s rendered irrelevant one day in February of 1980, ‘81.
So, interestingly enough, and I’ve thought a lot about this, but I haven’t really been able to make the connection in a way that is believable, but other things started changing in the company with deregulation: innovation from the engineering department, innovation from the purchasing department, innovation in the accounting department. All of a sudden, we had an entire company that’s innovating like they could not and did not do under regulation. And then we led the way in intermodal and really got a lot of attention in the company. In 1987, I can’t remember the year, but I remember the month, it was October of ‘87. There were three trade magazines that cover the industry: Railway Age, Progressive Railroad, Modern Railroads. That month, all three magazines had us on the cover!
WG: And all had different stories about the ‘progressive, innovative railroad.’ In fact, in intermodal we had written on all our trade materials, “Innovative intermodal service.” We used the word ‘innovative.’ The head of our engineering department, Bill Glavin, he’d go to Europe and see what the best technology was they were using in Europe for switches for track, for example, or anything they were doing. And he’d bring it back. The best of the things he’d find, we’d incorporate it right away into our company. I mean, I can tell you story after story after story after story that occurred this way that improved our safety, improved our performance, improved our profitability, and there was a great pride in our company. And then we had, in the middle of all this we got a new CEO, a new president that took Drexel’s place by the name of Darius Gaskins. Best guy I’ve ever worked for in my life!
BG: Who was that?
WG: Darius Gaskins. He worked for Jimmy Carter, and he executed the deregulation of the…he’s an economist, the economist that came up with it. He deregulated the trucking industry, the airline industry, the railroad industry. So, he got hired in our company because Bressler said, “If this guy deregulated, he’s the guy who understands.” He’s why I never lost my job. It’s because now Dick Gleeson reported to him. I remember one time, Gleeson called all of us business leaders into his office. He says “Guys, we got this new guy here, Gaskins. We all got to stick together.” He says, “He’s dangerous. This guy is going to be hard to deal with.” So, we all had to make a presentation to Gaskins. I remember my first presentation to him. I went in there, and I had an agenda for him, and I had a slideshow. This was back when we had slides.
WG: He said, “Okay, I got this agenda. Only talk to me about the last two items and forget those slides.” It was bang, bang, bang, question, question, question. I walked out of there, ‘Whoo!’ I had an hour meeting with him in ten minutes, but I said, “I like this guy.” So Gaskins and I never talked directly much because he was busy getting himself established and everything, and a guy that I used to ride to work with, Joe Davis, head of another business unit, he says, “Greenwood, Gleeson is gonna fire you because you’re not being cooperative on fending off Gaskins.” I said, “Hey, if there’s gonna be a battle there, I know whose side I want to be on!” (Laughs)
So, it wound up one day, Darius Gaskins called me into his office. He said, “I’ve been watching you. I like the way you work,” and he said, “I just got promoted. I’ve been promoted to president of the company, and I want to make you executive vice president of marketing over all the business units.” And uh…I hesitate to tell this story, but I’m going to tell it anyway. [Laughs]
BG: Yeah, tell it.
WG: So, he said, “Okay, here’s a quick question for you. What are you gonna do about Dick Gleeson?” I thought, “Oh my gosh. This is a test.” “I’ll be honest,” I said, “I’m going to fire him.” He said, “Right answer.” He said, “I’ll do it for you.” And so, that began, you know, just a massive and wonderful change that took place in marketing that I was able to do. You know, he gave me, he said, “Here are three things I didn’t get accomplished when I ran marketing that I want you to do.” One of them on the list was, “Our grain pricing is never right. When the demand is up, our prices are down. When the demand is down, our prices are up. I want you to find a way to make our grain marketing in sync with the actual grain market, how it works.”
So, I walked out of his office like, hurgh durgh; how do I do this? You know, I don’t know anything about this stuff. So, I decided that I needed to hire somebody from the grain industry to help me. But how do I bring them into the company, in a way that doesn’t involve, that doesn’t affect us. So, I found a guy -- the Human Resources found him for me -- by the name of Richard Carter. He was head of the worldwide wheat trading organization for Continental Grain company. And, I brought him in at a very high, secret salary, to be the assistant to the head of the grain business unit at the time. And nobody knew except Darius, and me, and him, what the deal was. And we’d meet with him once a week, or I would. I’d meet with him once a week after business hours. “Progress. What’s going on? What do you see?” Because we gave him one year. In one year, he’ll take over. And so then, I’d keep Darius informed.
And uh, after about six months Darius called me into his office and says, “You’ve got one week to put Richard in charge of grain, the business unit.” I said, “Darius, I’m not ready!” He says, “Yes, you are. You’re ready.” So anyway, I got Richard together, and one morning all the grain businesspeople came to work, and half of them were without a job and the other half had different jobs. Then we brought in two more people from Continental Grain Company, Phil Weaver and a third guy whose name slips my mind at the moment. Wow. Wow, wow, wow, did we ever make a difference!
They came up with a thing called COTS, Certificate of Transportation. They basically designed a program where, through the Minneapolis Grain Exchange, we would auction off our transportation capacity up to six months ahead of time, and the market would bid on it just like they bid on the grain futures they were buying. Then that established what the value was for our transportation and had it in sync with the market. That was just one change. We made many more changes, we improved the…Our grain business was not making enough money to be reinvested! Now all of a sudden, it’s the most profitable business in the company. Through that and a number of other changes….
Just one more quick story about Darius Gaskins. So, one day, during the harvest season we had to lease in a whole bunch of cars, thousands of more cars. And we’re paying real high rates on these cars. We were paying like $1,000 a month, $1,200 a month, per car. And so, we’re wrestling with how to get that rate down, because we didn’t figure that was a market rate. It was too high. So, it was Richard and myself, Phil and all the other guys talking this over. And Darius Gaskins was a ‘walking around CEO.’ He walks in, and he sits down. “What are you guys talking about?” He listens from the back of the room. He says, “Do a Dutch auction!” “Huh?” “Do a Dutch auction!” “What’s a Dutch auction?” So, he describes a Dutch auction to us, so we decide that we’re now going to go to the market, and we’re going to say, “Here’s the number of cars that we want to have. Maybe we want 10,000 more cars in the month of September, the month of October. What do you want to bid to us, and we’ll pay you for those cars?” And, it turned out that the market price was $300 a month, not $1,200 a month. That’s what we paid for them!
Things like that that brought our costs way down. And then we created these shuttle trains, where instead of shipping 10 cars or one car, maybe 20 at most, we would now send 100 cars. And you had a much lower rate. All of a sudden, grain companies were wanting to build these shuttle tracks. They could hold them a mile long because it would focus all the business on fewer grain elevators, and the unit trains are so much more efficient and more profitable.
So, we did that. And one day I’m in New York at a formal railroad function that’s held every year, black tie. I’m up on the dais, and there’s probably 50 of us on the dais. It’s a big deal, probably 1,000 in the audience. Guy sitting next to me, you know, who I had not met before, he looks around at my nametag, you know, and from the place tag, he says, “Greenwood, Burlington Northern...You S.O.B.!” This guy was from General Electric. He was the president of General Electric’s transportation division. He said, “You S.O.B.! You ruined the pricing on the grain market! You ruined it! You ruined it!” I said, “No, we didn’t. The market said that’s what the value was.” Oh, he was angry! [Laughs.]
BG: Now, you also had some opposition from the grain companies.
WG: Oh yeah, I forgot that story. Cargill did not like it. So, they flew down. They put together a planeload of people and flew down to Fort Worth. And there were all the presidents of all their divisions. They came in, sat down across from us; it was me, and Darius, and Rich Carter. And they informed us, “We’re your largest customer you have.” It was true. They were the biggest customer we had in anything. They said, “We don’t like what you’re doing, so we’re telling you to stop doing it.” And Darius said, “We're not going to stop doing it.” He says, “You’re only paying the price that’s required to pay by what the market says your value is.” He says, “Our business is packaging your transportation and grain marketing together and arbitraging it. Get out of our business!”
And Darius blew a cork. He came up out of his chair, and said, “You don’t tell me to get out of your business, and if you follow up on what you say you’re going to do, I’m going to get into your business! I will buy every country elevator I can around Cargill, and we’ll underbid you on everything!” He says, “You want a battle? I’ll take you on!”
BG: Do you remember who it was from Cargill? Was it McMillan? Was it one of the McMillan’s?
WG: No, it wasn’t McMillan. I know who you are talking about. They had the titles. Cargill said, “Alright, we’re gonna retaliate against you guys.” Says, “Have at it.” They went back, and three months later, they gave up retaliating, and they wound up being our biggest user of the certificate of transportation thing; made hay with it.
BG: Wow. That’s quite a change.
WG: Well, I mean, I just, I got a lot of stories like that.
BG: Well, I would want to hear as many as you can, but um, but how, by that time you were in Fort Worth. We didn’t talk about the move from St. Paul to Fort Worth. Was there anything else, uh, ‘cause in my notes here, I have about going to AC locomotives. Was that after you moved when you came here?
WG: Uh huh. I was here.
BG: So, Fort Worth at that point, and St. Paul…the merger with Santa Fe hadn’t occurred, right?
WG: No, no, that occurred after I retired.
BG: Oh, ok. So that occurred in the ‘90s. So, what was the reason to move to Fort Worth? Why was the…?
WG: Okay. Walter Drexel, who I’ve talked about before, didn’t like the railroad. And I was with him on his first day on the railroad which was April 1, 1983, I think. Anyway, we were on the back of a train, and then we got an announcement there was gonna be a derailment ahead, and we had to detour over another route. And I had UPS customers; UPS was a customer on the train, also. It was an opportunity for Drexel to meet them and everything. And, everything that could go wrong went wrong, and he thought this was the stupidest company that he ever had anything to do with. Just, on and on about ‘dumb railroad.’ ‘Can’t run a simple train’, you know. He didn’t know anything about trains. So, anyhow that’s his start. And I’m in his office after the trip, in St. Paul, and he says, “Look at it out this window. Look at it.” Well, you know, in Minnesota in April, the ice is still on the lakes, the snow was dirty, and the sky’s cloudy. It’s not very pretty. “Who wants to live in this hellhole?”
So, he called his boss, Dick Bressler in Seattle and said, “I don't like it here. You mind if I move the headquarters?” And Bressler said, “Well, I don't like the politics in Minnesota, either. Go ahead and move it.”
BG: This was in…?
BG: In ‘83. Uh, huh.
WG: So, in ‘84, out of all the locations the search team came up with, they came up with a file of four or five: Denver; Seattle; Chicago; Lincoln, Nebraska. And that was it. Drexell looks at the list, and he said, “I don't see Texas on here.” “Well, no, sir. We don't have a secondary line in Texas. Our main line doesn’t go there.” “I want Texas on this list!” (Laughs.) So, Dallas-Fort Worth got put on the list. We wound up in his fraternity brother’s office building in downtown Fort Worth.
BG: Purely a personal thing,
BG: Not a strategic business, uh...
WG: That’s right.
BG: What was it when he mentioned he didn't like the politics in Minnesota, was that a labor issue?
WG: No, Rudy Perpich was the Governor.
WG: And he attacked businesses publicly all the time. 3M Company moved their imaging business out of Minnesota to Austin, Texas, for that reason, because of an angry Perpich against 3M. And Dick Bressler, who was now in Seattle, had a terrible exchange with Perpich. And so, he was very agreeable to moving the headquarters.
BG: So, Burlington Northern was based in Seattle?
WG: The holding company was in Seattle…
WG: …but the revenue was in St. Paul.
BG: So, in 1984 you moved to Fort-Worth.
WG: That’s right; moved to Fort Worth. And at that time I came down here, I was…
BG: VP of marketing?
WG: …marketing, I think. Yeah. Executive VP of Marketing.
BG: So, then the shift to AC locomotives occurred during that time when you moved here.
WG: Yeah, it occurred in about ’92.
BG: Okay. So, it was later.
WG: It was when I was chief operating officer that happened.
BG: So, what were some of the issues once you came here, that were…certificates of transportation occurred here…
WG: Yes, that occurred here.
BG: What were some of the other issues that confronted you here? Was the remoteness from the lines an issue?
WG: No, no, we figured it out, you know. I had, uh, when I took over marketing, I inherited about 500 salespeople, I think, and a few hundred marketing people. Anyway, the sales organization…they both reported to me, both marketing and sales. I didn't like it reporting separately. I wanted them to be integrated. I wanted the salespeople to be integrated with business units. And so, working with my team, we created an idea for a draft. And then on one Saturday morning, the business unit heads all came in. And we put all 500 salespeople up on the board and had an NFL-style draft; worked the same way.
WG: Yeah. And it was real interesting, because the top 10 percent of the people got, everybody wanted the same ones. The bottom 10 percent nobody wanted.
WG: So, we were able to reduce the size of sales department by about 50 people because nobody wanted them. And so, you know, it was an easy way to handle that decision and wound up with a much more effective organization with the two of them together.
BG: By merging sales and…
BG: That makes a lot of sense. And in retrospect, because you need that kind of cross fertilization. You know, going back to this idea of unleashing innovation, did it also involve diversifying the workforce in terms of younger people, more women or, you know, was it, was it, was that also part of the culture of innovation that you were open to? Because the workforce is changing a lot in America at that point.
WG: Sure. And, and it was a kind of a parallel effort on the part of HR; creating those kind of goals. One thing that worked well for us, one of our predecessor companies had hired people into the training program since, like 1945, something like that. And we continued that to where we were hiring 50 people out of colleges every year into our training program. So, we always had this continual influx of new people, younger people, and, and the ratio of male to female was about half and half. And so, it was part of our own…we had our own affirmative action programs before they were imposed on us in terms of what to do.
BG: Were there any women who came up in that time who rose through the ranks and who were, became leaders in the industry? That you know; that you remember?
BG: I don't know if Lisa Stabler was, was she after you?
WG: She was after me.
BG: After you.
WG: Yeah. Um, there's one, and I can't remember her name now. I just learned the other day; she got a very significant position in another company in industry. She left us. But she was from Montana; started work on the section gang during her college years in the summertime. I'd like to know…her name almost came to me. Yeah…
BG: That’s all right. We’ll get it.
WG: And, and she ended up running one of the business units for me.
BG: Is she still in the industry now?
WG: No, no, she's outside the industry. And a lot of them rose up to what I would call low senior level positions, you know, when I when I retired from the railroad.
BG: So, let's talk about the locomotives then, because I’d like to know a little bit more about why that change, and why it was so significant.
WG: Well, Ed Bauer was our chief mechanical officer. And Ed also traveled around the world, along with his cohort in charge of engineering, to benchmark and see what's going on. And Ed was in Alliance when I was in Alliance. Ed ran the diesel shop at Alliance, and I was running the division. So, he and I worked side by side quite a bit. And he came back with this idea one time of using AC traction and incorporating it into freight locomotives and incorporating some other changes. So, he sat down with the two builders of locomotives, GE and EMD. EMD is at General Motors at that time. And said, “Let’s uh, here's what we want. We want AC traction, we want radial axle-controlled trucks, where the axles moved independent of one another, and we want microprocessor control of all this in the locomotive. We want one new generator locomotive. That’s what it takes. Went to both builders and threatened each builder that we were going to order 1,000 locomotives, and whichever one goes this way will get the order.
And GE said, “No. We are the experts on electricity, and you can’t do that.” And Electromotive agreed to do it. And so, it took a couple of years, two or three years and lot of testing in Pueblo, and that was out of Pueblo for some of the testing. And the advantage of the AC is, is that you could, you could move at a slow rate of speed, say one mile an hour, and it won’t burn up the traction motor. Whereas a DC motor will start burning up anything under nine miles an hour. And so that solved one problem.
The other thing is, is it could creep, you know, and the amount of electricity going into it doesn’t surge. Third thing is, you can get more power into an AC motor in the same space, where there’s a space limitation on the axle of the diesel locomotive. And if you go to AC you get to use more of the space for the traction motor itself. So, you get more horsepower from that way.
BG: So again, this is sounds like there's no downside to it. What was the downside? Why hadn't it been adopted before?
WG: Well, to quote one CEO who told me ‘No,’ that will remain unnamed, “I never do things first.” He said, “I want someone else to do things first, get all the bugs out, and maybe I'll do it second, third for sure.” So, there's a lot of that.
BG: Yeah. I see.
BG: And no one wanting to take the first step.
WG: Yeah. I’ll talk about another one, for example. Let's take continuous welded rail, which I believe is among the top three or four technological changes in the industry that made the industry far more efficient. You know, one of them is going from steam to diesel; huge jump in efficiency! Going from continuous welded rail to…uh, going from jointed rail, a joint every 39 feet with an angle bar, and you know, six bolts to the keep the rail together and with a bumpity, bumpity, bumpity, clickity clackity, clickity clackity, you know, which wears the wheels out, wears the rail out. And that didn't really catch on strong until, let's say, the ‘70s and really strong by the ‘80s. And yet, the first continuous welded rail was installed by a streetcar line back east in 1917. And there were different railroads that would have stretches of it, you know, but they didn't adopt it; just took forever for people to understand.
BG: So how long would a continuous rail be? Could it be miles? Could it be…
WG: Miles and miles and miles and miles.
BG: Without a break?
WG: Yeah, cause the factory welded them in quarter mile sections. Then you’d take ‘em out and put them in the field and then you weld the quarter mile sections out there in the field.
BG: Who would be the suppliers for that? Which steel companies?
WG: I can’t speak for them today. It used to be Colorado Fuel and Iron. A lot came from Japan. Bethlehem provided it. But I would guess it all comes from Japan now. I don’t know for sure.
BG: No, ‘cause I’m just, I mean that was the whole, the growth of the steel industry was railroads and producing rail was what most of them did, as well as locomotives and other things, but that would seem to be a big part of their business as the shift is starting to come on. That’s right at the time the US steel companies were really going under or shrinking in size.
WG: Yeah, that’s right.
BG: They were not innovating to keep up with the international competition.
WG: We had a wonderful innovative spirit at our company. It came to an end eventually, but it was really strong.
BG: So, I want to… I mean, you and I talked earlier before we started, and one of the biggest crises in the industry, and it was really a crisis around the country, was the flood of 1993.
WG: Oh, yes.
BG: Walk us through that; what happened then and how it affected the company, and you, and everything else.
WG: Well, it was a major flood and probably the worst one of that time. I think maybe this year is even worse, but... We parallel the Missouri River for a great distance, all the way from Omaha to basically to Kansas City, you know, near Kansas City. And we parallel the Mississippi River in a number of locations, and we then have tributaries to those rivers that we parallel. Remember when railroads were constructed, it would have been where the least grade was which is in river bottoms. And so, we had miles and miles of railroad we lost.
BG: In that flood?
WG: Yeah, in that flood. I’ll give you one segment, for example -- Pacific Junction, Iowa. The approach to the Mississippi, on the east side of the Mississippi, is a fill that goes across probably four or five miles of flood plain. And we built up considerably above the flood plain, and we lost our railroad there because the approaches got flooded out by the running water of the river. So, we had to fill that. And then we had to start building the railroad back up, and the more the water rose, the more we’d come back in with ballast cars and put down another six, eight inches to a foot of ballast. We kept raising it, kept raising it, kept raising it, to stay above the flood water, until it quit coming up. So, we had to do that at dozens and dozens and dozens of locations. And then when the water went down, we went in and did permanent repairs on some of that stuff, but we also rebuilt coalers, rebuilt bridges, to prevent it from happening again.
BG: Did this flood, what was the impact on the company internally?
WG: It meant that you couldn’t provide service worth a darn to your customers. It meant that your utilization on your locomotives and your equipment goes way down ‘cause they have to go longer routes, more delays, they're tied up. I mean, it’s drastic.
BG: So, was that a turning point for you and how you operated within the company?
WG: No, I was Chief Operating officer at the time, and uh, you know the higher you go, the less you have to do with…
BG: …the day to day.
WG: (Laughs.) I could deal with strategy, things like that.
BG: Who was CEO at that time?
WG: Uh, ’93...that would have been, uh, Gerald Grinstein, Gerry Grinstein.
BG: So, that was a major event and that was before the merger. Am I right?
BG: Did that event precipitate the merger or was that already in the works?
WG: No, no, everywhere in the West was having the same trouble to varying degrees, but it had to deal with it anyway.
BG: So, how many Class I’s were there? When did that idea of Class I’s come into…When was the first Class I family?
WG: I don’t know, but I’m guessing a hundred years ago.
BG: Oh, okay.
WG: The American Association of Railroads came up with an idea of how to classify railroads in terms of their size. It’s a revenue thing. Get to a certain high, a certain level, you go up a class. And the number of Class I’s has declined because of the mergers.
BG: Well, you know, coming from where I sit in the museum business and historic preservation, we always think of the railroads as abandoning lines or abandoning old stations. So, the idea of preserving some of that history really started to become more visible in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but from where you were sitting it was an efficiency issue.
WG: Right. Because the government wouldn’t let us abandon anything, and so we had to maintain these lines that had no business on them, uh…and lose a lot of money, and once deregulation and the Four-R Act that came about the same time gave us the right to make our own decisions, that just made a huge difference. So, we got rid of thousands of miles of railroad. And uh, short lined a bunch of it, and that means that we take one particular line and put it up for bid. Anybody want to bid on this? So, there was a whole new industry that emerged called short line railroads. And a lot of them were very successful.
BG: Just looking back, you’ve talked a lot about people you admired within Burlington. Were there other leaders that you interacted with during the course of your career that you think were really outstanding from other lines, other railroads, or related industries?
WG: Uh, yeah, of course you know Lou Menk was from our own railroad. I think he was unquestionably the leader of the railroad industry for years. He was the head of our company.
BG: And he’s in the Hall of Fame.
WG: Yes, yes, yes. And I’m trying to think of a name again…Jim Hagen. I liked Jim Hagen a lot.
BG: Where was he from?
WG: Conrail. I knew him when we were both in Marketing. Jim’s a good guy. Right off the top of my head, I can’t think of others. There’s somebody out there.
BG: I’m just thinking, when you guys were sitting around the office, say, I just was at a meeting with so and so or I’m watching how this other company operates. Why can’t we? You felt were always the standard.
WG: I will give you one, Mike Walson, Union Pacific. Unfortunately, he had a tragic death; died prematurely. I liked him a lot. I watched him, talked to him a lot. I mean, here he is; we were fierce competitors. But, uh, he was on the go, and I thought he was going to make Union Pacific this formidable competitor. But he died, and it didn’t happen.
BG: Um, I’m just gonna take a little pause here because I want to shift into some of the things that you’ve been involved with since retiring. Talk a little bit about your consulting work since retiring from BNSF.
WG: Well, I didn't do much consulting on my own, but I did create an umbrella, a consulting umbrella under which people who were leaving Burlington Northern could use to launch themselves into something else. And I set up an office in one of the Tower buildings in downtown Fort Worth to allow those people to use my umbrella: our phone numbers, office space, and everything else to help these people. And I’d do some consulting on my own, but that wasn’t my real forte I was interested in. Oddly enough, Union Pacific hired me a couple times. One was to represent them on a coal case that was going before a jury trial in Arkansas somewhere. I did that. But most of my time afterwards was, uh, I got active going on boards of other companies. In time I was on 13 different boards.
WG: I love board work. I like board work because I could make a difference. And I was real strong on covenants. You know, such things as the CEO and the Chairman of the board should be separate positions, not one position occupied by the CEO. I believe that the CEO should not be in charge of naming committee heads. That should be the independent head of the board does that. As such, you know, it was contentious a lot of times. On two boards I was on, I had a fellow board member by the name of Alan Shapiro who was head of the economic, finance department at USC. And, uh, we plotted together all the time how we were going to make this a better company; make sure the covenants were followed, you know.
BG: It’s just good governance.
WG: Good governance. Really good governance. And it was, uh…I was on two boards that were in the oil and gas…three, in the oil and gas business. Love the oil and gas business; reminded me a lot of the railroads. Had their own culture, their own language. They were passionate about the business. They were out there doing big things, you know. Heavy stuff. It was a fun business. I was on boards of transportation companies, that would be brokerage firms and a leasing company…a number of different ones. Almost all the boards I was on were companies that were distressed when I went on the board, and then we built the company back up, and then we sold the company.
BG: For example, what would be one?
WG: Well, uh, one would be Trancisco, a leasing company out of San Francisco, and we sold them ultimately to Trinity in Dallas.
BG: Where you and I went for a visit. Yeah.
WG: Yes, and another one was Remington Box Energy that turned into Remington Oil and Gas. Then we sold it to a company for quite a huge profit. I took all my pay always in stock, and so when the stock’s selling for a dollar and a half or two dollars on the Wall Street exchange, later on we’d sell the company for $12, $15, $25; whatever the case might be.
BG: Yes, yes. It also occurs to me that during this time when your career and you’re having success and also the industry is changing so much, from the point of view of the public the image of the railroads was antiquarian. It was your grandfather's age. So how did you…and also more and more transportation museums are growing. I know you’ve been involved in those. So, do you see a contradiction there or an irony, I guess, that actually the industry was modernizing and becoming more…and when you go to some of these conventions like I have with the Railway Supply Institute…some of these incredible new technologies that are being introduced. It must seem ironic to you that people have a totally different perception.
WG: The industry is very, very safe. Compared to what it was when I started on the railroad, it's just been a gradual improvement year after year, and it’s still improving all the time. That's because we understand the importance of safety and how to manage it, but also in technology. Technology has helped make it much safer. And, uh, what the industry has never done a good job on is putting their right face out there in the public because they don't allocate enough money or resources to making this happen, and it’s important. My contention is you do it at the local level. You have some way to manage it better at the local level about what it is that you do. Because if you’re gonna have an oil train derail somewhere, it's going to be out in the middle of nowhere. And it’s gonna be the highlight that will make all the news. It's almost like everyone’s another [Exxon] Valdez incident in terms of the impact that occurs. That's another reason why I’m interested in the National Railroad Hall of Fame. It’s a great story to tell about the importance of the industry, how much it’s done for the country, how much it’s still doing for the country, and what it’s going to do in the future. There’s a great story to be told. It's my hope that the industry will latch onto this and make it happen.
BG: And you’re still involved with the Mendota museum? Why do you do that?
WG: Well, when I retired, my stepfather at the time was a wealthy man, and he wanted to build a new library in the community. In exchange, he wanted the old Carnegie building to be a history museum dedicated to the life of his son who died prematurely. So, he called me on the phone and asked me if I would come back. He said, “I’m 96 now, and I can’t hold meetings like I used to.” And, “Would you hold some meetings and get support to get something going?” Well I came back, and I held some meetings. And I said, “This is much bigger.” It can be much bigger.
So ultimately, again, I hired Ken Heppner who is now in consulting. He’s the guy who worked for me in Intermodal. “Ken, come in. I want you to build a business plan for three museums. This community is about railroads, it’s about agriculture, and it’s about the life of the people that live here; the local history. I think we should have a museum for each one of those three.” And so, I of course updated my stepfather about all of this stuff, and he liked it all. So, he donated another half of a million dollars to rededicate, restore the Carnegie building to its original luster, and another quarter of a million dollars to help restore the train depot to what it should be. And so, uh, it’s kind of like when they say, ‘a little bit pregnant.’ I couldn’t get out! (Laughs) I got so far in to get it started, I was stuck. But I am not saying it critically, because I really enjoyed it a lot. And so now we’ve got a very successful organization. We’ve had lots of gifting, we’ve raised lots of money. All three are running very nicely.
BG: Is it an attraction? Is it a tourist attraction?
WG: It’s a tourist attraction to some degree.
BG: But it's mostly for the people.
WG: Yeah, for the people in the area. We have the largest Wild Bill Hickok collection in the country in the Carnegie Museum because that's the area where he’s from originally. I think we’ve got over a thousand artifacts of his there. And the agriculture museum has got the usual, all kinds of recycled, different kinds of equipment for it. Same with the railroad museum. We have a steam engine. Oh, that was a mess, a political mess to get that. That steam engine was located in Ottawa, Illinois, in a small park that basically was controlled by one guy. It was the closest steam engine we [inaudible], cause every railroad museum, you got to have a steam engine. So, I went down to talk to him, and said that we’d like to have that steam engine. We’ll keep it in LaSalle County. But we’ll take care of it one way or another. He didn’t like the idea very well. But at some point, he said, “Go ahead and do it.” So, we started. We went in to do it, and he got a court injunction order against us. So now we’re in a court battle, and it took $25,000 in legal costs to win that one. And he moved the [inaudible] on that engine. We got the engine moved, and of course, got it located in Mendota. And my phone rang one day, and it was Matt Rose on the telephone, CEO of BNSF. He says, “Say I have Jerry…the Speaker of the House…forget his last name now…Speaker of the House who’s from Yorkville, Illinois, and we’re just going through Mendota on my business car with him, and he says, ‘See that engine over there? That caused me a lot of problems. Letter writing coming from both sides of the story’.”
BG: This was the Speaker of the Illinois House?
WG: No, no, Congress. US Congress!
WG: I forgot his last name. He was before…so we’re talking probably in the late ‘90s, I’m guessing.
BG: It wasn’t Newt. Newt was gone by then.
WG: It was after Newt. The guy that went after Newt.
BG: There was one guy very briefly was in there.
WG: No, it wasn’t brief. He’d been a gym instructor before he was a...
BG: Oh, I know who you mean. Yeah. He was from Illinois. [Editor’s note: The Congressman in question was Denny Hastert.]
WG: But since then we’ve had one benefactor just left us a big farm. We get an income off that. One left us a couple warehouses, and we get income off of that.
BG: Wow. That’s quite a story.
BG: Let me ask you a couple other questions about, first of all, this house. When did you build this? It has a strong railroad theme to it.
BG: When did you…what was the background there?
WG: Well, I always promised Colleen that when I retired, we’d get to have our house that she dreamed about. So, when I retired in 1994, she said, “Where's my house?” (Laughs.) ‘Cause we had moved 14 times, and I always picked the house because I didn’t have time for us to look for one. So anyway, we hired an architect and hired a builder in early ’96…or early ’95…and started drawing this house out. You know, it was me talking, Colleen talking, and the architect talking. And I went in there, and I said, “I want a 5,000 square foot house” given the budget I had. And at the end of the first session, he says, “You're up to 9,000 feet. Better start cutting back.” So, I said, ‘No. Let’s not cut back. Let's keep going, and we’ll cut back when we get done.” Every time we’d meet, you know, we’d add something; make something bigger, longer, something else we’d think of. We’d see something at another house we toured and want it. So, we broke ground on a 14,000 square foot house in basically January of '96, and we moved in, in late December of ‘97.
BG: So, two years?
WG: Two years of construction.
BG: What's a feature of the house that you’re most, uh, that you think is one of your favorites or something you really thought was important?
WG: It's hard one to answer because there's so many little things. But it's fun living in a place where you know everyplace you look there’s a story and you know what that story is. For example, we had wonderful subcontractors. Subcontractors who were the guys who did the trim work inside the house. They set up shop down in what’s now the living room. Master at work, master!
So, we got a lot of complications with the house. For example, when the upstairs was framed in, I said to Larry Cole, our builder, “Larry, see these? These are so boring. These just look like square boxes up here.” He said, “Well, I could splay them up.” “What's that?” He said, “Well, in the corner, we’ll splay ‘em up, give you a couple more feet.” ‘Cause there’s just an attic there, you know. I said, “How much is that gonna cost me?” “Ah, nothing. Just a little more labor; will cost you a little more lumber.” And he says, “Now the trim guys might be a little annoyed at how much harder their job’s going to be to do the trim.” So, the trim guys loved it. These trim guys viewed this house as a wonderful challenge to do the trim, because every trim piece you see is three pieces. One day, one of the trim guys comes to me and says, “Say Mr. Greenwood, can we trim your closets?” I said, “Uhhh, why do you want to trim my closets?” “Because we’ve never worked in a house before where they said, ‘Trim the closets’”. I said, “Have at it!” So, they trimmed the closets.
BG: You have quite a library here.
BG: Are you a collector of any…? Do you collect art, or books, or what do you collect?
WG: No, I just happen to have books that I buy for various reasons. This library and the study below it was designed after the one in Ashville, North Carolina.
BG: The Biltmore?
WG: Yes, the Biltmore. While the house was being built, we visited the Biltmore, and I said, “That's what I want.” So, we hired a guy from Connecticut to do all the woodwork. It's all handcrafted in both the library and the study. And so, the library has got various sections. One’s for business, you know. One’s for history. And so that’s how I have things divided is by the subject matter.
BG: So, it’s not just railroading?
WG: No, I have a railroad section. It’s rather sizable, but it’s not all railroad that’s in it.
BG: When you travel around the country and around the world -- I know you’ve done quite a bit of travel -- what railroads…do you ride the railroads when you’re in another country? What impresses you the most, and what’s your favorite line that you recommend to people?
WG: Well, I like the TGV in France a lot. And I like…I forgot how to pronounce it in Japanese, but the Japan bullet train railroad. I like them because, I like looking at the engineering because they’re so smooth. And I like them because of the very intricate schedules they operate on, to the exact minute. Not a half minute off. And I know how they do it. You know, I dream about how I could have done that in this country. Those are the things I like about it.
BG: Did you ever have counterparts in the freight industry in other countries that you came to know?
WG: No, there's nothing anywhere in the world, maybe except Australia, that’s worth looking at in terms of freight. Because outside of North America, railroads aren’t all that good at it…and Australia.
BG: I have one or two other questions, but I just want to make sure we talk about these pictures on your desk.
WG: Okay. This picture right here was taken last Christmas, and it's a picture of the whole family. It’s all my kids, all their kids, and there’s 16 of us.
BG: You have three kids.
WG: Mmm, hmm. My son John is Vice President and General Manager of Sales for a data processing company in Dallas. My son-in-law, Kevin, who is married to my daughter Kathy, he runs an engineering company. He’s project manager of the operation in Dallas, and my son-in-law Dell, who’s married to my daughter Susan, is in Billings, Montana, and he sells nearly used cars…no, nearly new cars, European imports. He has a dealership in Billings.
Then I have these wonderful eight grandchildren. Six of my eight grandchildren have red hair. All three of my kids have red hair. I had red hair. They’re all straight-A students; all straight-A students. Some of my son John’s kids are star athletes in addition to being straight-A students. The oldest of my granddaughters is 16. She wants to go to Division I basketball scholarship. She’s good enough to do it.
BG: And where does she live now?
WG: Here. She lives in Trophy Club just five, ten minutes from here.
BG: What about this one there? Is that your children?
WG: Yeah, that’s my three kids: Kathy, Susan, and John.
BG: And this one?
WG: Oh, that's just me and my grandkids all hugging me, as they should. [Laughter] A couple years ago.
BG: I imagine…Do they all gather here in the house? You’ve got the space for them.
WG: Yes, we meet here. We have every-other Christmas, at Christmas time here. And then on the off Christmas, we do Christmas at Thanksgiving. This year we are going to do it…we did it two years ago…we’re going to do it again this year on Marco Island where I’ve got a place on Marco Island. And so, we’re gonna do Christmas there this Thanksgiving.
BG: And I don’t want to leave out this last picture:
WG: Oh yeah. So Falah and I met…this is my wife as of last April 1, a year ago April 1, a year and a half. We met at a Halloween party in New Orleans in 2010. Somehow, we got to talking on the phone and texting in early 2011. Met her again, without a mask on for the first time, in about April or May of 2011. Had our first date June of 2011. Started dating, and I dated her kind-of off and on, for the most part until I asked her to marry me a year ago September 7th. I asked her to get engaged. And she did. We finally got married last April. I guess it was 2016. It was 2016 I asked her to marry me; that was it. But, uh, it took me a long time. I should have done it a long time ago.
BG: I’m gonna pause for a second. Julie, do you have a couple of questions?
JK: I would like to hear Bill talk about…talk to the person who is not at all clued into the railroad industry about…how this industry supports this country and each of us in our lives every day.
WG: One of the reasons why I support the National Railroad Hall of Fame so much is that I want to see something get going in the industry where there can be an opportunity for the general public to be educated about the importance of the railroad to each of their lives. This is an old technology, the steel wheel on the steel rail. It goes back 150 years. That keeps applying new technology to this old technology. And it’s efficient, and it’s vital for the continued economic progress of this country. And it’s that way because it knows how to keep moving freight more efficiently all the time. And everything that you have in your home practically, it came there by rail most of the way. In the last mile, it came on a truck. But anything you have that’s manufactured in Asia or Europe comes to America on a boat, gets on a railcar inside of a container moving on something we call double-stack and that moves across the country to the major distribution centers in the United States; places like Salt Lake, Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta. And uh, and then goes on the highway on a truck after that. So, the nation developed like it is now because the railroads made it possible, and it seems like every step of the way, the railroads continue to play a major role. And I think they will forever.
BG: I do have a couple of related questions. You and I have talked about the fact that this is the 150th anniversary of the Golden Spike. But as you’ve pointed out to me in past conversations, a lot of history happened before the Golden Spike that really shaped the country, really shaped the industry. It really started on the East Coast. Want to talk about that, because that gets overlooked a great deal?
WG: I think the first rail operations were around 1828, and uh, and started to develop very quickly; little small, short railroads that were around communities on the East Coast. And by the time you reach 1847, 1848, twenty years later, there’s a network on the whole East Coast of the United States of railroads that exist, all trying to reach Chicago and St. Louis…And they did. And they got there in the late 1840s. And then now you start, around 1850, now they start building west out of Chicago and out of St. Louis to various places. Like my railroad, the Burlington Railroad, we built in 1848 from Aurora, Illinois, to West Chicago and then ran over the Northwestern into Chicago from that point. Then started building in 1853 from Chicago…from Aurora to Mendota to Galesburg and on it went. By the time you get to 1860, we were already almost to Omaha, and to Omaha in some cases.
So that’s how fast it happened. And played a very key role in the Civil War and the Union victory. So, when the Transcontinental Railroad came together at Promontory Point, by that time most of the industry in most of the country had already been developed. So, it was the last link required that was there to bring the far western part of the United States together with the rest of the country. And it did that.
BG: In fact, in some ways, even more than the Civil War, that accomplishment knitted the country together.
BG: Ensured that the country would be together.
WG: Very true. Yeah.
BG: And then, you know, you could look at the interstate highway system, pretty much follows those same corridors that had already been developed, so….I always say it’s the shaping technology of the 19th century, and in many ways, continued to be although there were noticeable moments where people would say the railroad industry is dying. It wasn’t dying, but it was reforming.
WG: It was reinventing itself. In all of history, commerce has always followed transportation. I mean, whether it was ocean vessel across one continent to the other, one country to another, or uh, ocean meeting river, you know, ocean transportation meeting river transportation, and on and on it went. So, it just naturally follows railroads developed the country because commerce followed them.
BG: Yeah. I think that commerce and also, unfortunately, war is influenced by road building. And I think of a number of important roads, not so much railroads, but roads in this country that were first military supply lines.
WG: Route 30, US 30, was one of them.
BG: Well, Bill, I thank you! We could go on, but you’ve been so patient and so, uh, really informative about your career and related matters, so I’m really delighted to spend this time with you.
WG: Thank you. And I appreciate very much you doing the interviewing. I feel very honored.