Ralph Budd was born on a farm near Waterloo, Iowa on August 20, 1879. Budd graduated from college with a bachelor's degree in science and civil engineering. His first job was with the Chicago Great Western Railroad in the engineering department as a roadman.
Budd's career continued with a position as division engineer in 1903, of a subsidiary of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway. In June of 1906, he became the chief engineer of the Panama Railroad. Three years later, he took the same position with the Oregon Trunk Railway, a subsidiary of the Spokane, Portland and Seattle. He would soon become chief engineer of the whole SP & S. In 1912, Budd became the assistant to the president and chief engineer of the Great Northern Railway. At the age of forty he took over as the company's president.
In January 1932, Ralph Budd left the Great Northern to become president of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Company. In his new position, he sought ways to reduce operating costs and at the same time improve service. Thanks to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, the railroad industry was able to experiment with new methods and materials. This prompted Ralph Budd to meet with the inventor of a new stainless-steel gas-electric car, Edward Budd (no relation). Ralph Budd asked Edward Budd to build a streamlined, diesel-powered, stainless-steel train. On April 9, 1934, the Pioneer Zephyr rolled out of the plant and immediately replaced two conventional steam locomotives and six heavyweight cars that together weighed eight times as much as the Zephyr.
Budd retired from the CB & Q in September of 1949 and died on February 1, 1962. His obituary stated that he was known internationally as a builder and rehabilitator of railroads.
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