Portrait of Daniel Willard

Daniel Willard

Just 100 years ago, Jan. 28, 1861, there was born in North Hartland perhaps Hartland's most famous son, Daniel Willard. He was a product of pioneer stock as his ancestors were here at the very birth of Hartland. The Hoyt house, the Phelps house, and the Potwin house were all Willard homes. Daniel Willard, the son of another Daniel grew up on the farm now owned by William Smith.

He went to the church now standing here and taught Sunday School. He went to school in a building on the green and at fifteen taught in a one room school. He met Mrs. Samuel Taylor, who was to influence his whole life. She taught him to love books and he was ever after an ardent lover of good books.

He attended a term and a half at Windsor High School. He wanted terribly to attend Dartmouth, but couldn't afford it. He did attend the Mass State Agriculture College in Amherst for a time but had to give it up, because of poor eyesight.

Running through the family farm were the tracks of the Vermont Central railroad, and young Dan's imagination was fired by the idea of piloting one of those shining, wood-burning engines, especially the old Governor Smith which he never ceased to love.

Montreal of the Connecticut & Passumpsic Railroad, 1872 (University of Connecticut) So at eighteen, Daniel Willard got his first job on the railroad on a section gang for 90 cents a day for 10 hours on the Vermont Central. He soon went to the Connecticut and Passumpsic where he was a fireman. He weighed only 125 lbs. but he managed to feed the old engine the 10 to 12 cords of wood she consumed in a long day. At eighteen, he was an engineer on the line, respected by the men he worked with for his burning ambition and keen mind. He always had a good book in his pocket.

Soon after this he was lured to the level track and higher pay of a western road, the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway.

This proved temporary and he went to the Minneapolis and Sault St. Marie which was being built. Here he became trainmaster, and in fourteen years was superintendent.

From here he went to the Baltimore and Ohio, then to the Erie, then operating VP of the Burlington and Quincy then back to the B&O as president, a job he kept from then on.

He had grown up with the railroads and knew every problem. He threw himself wholeheartedly into the job of building tracks and bridges, straightening lines, bucking the constant politics, both among the railroads themselves and government.

He understood the problems of the workers and fought for their interests. Against the desires of many another President he helped to get the 8 hour day. He remembered only too well the times he had fallen asleep and bumped a train in front of him when he had been forced to operate a train beyond the limit of human endurance.

Besides President of the B&O, he became Chairman of the Advisory Commission of the Council of National Defense in WW I. It was made up of distinguished men such as Bernard Baruch and others well known, and the War Industries Board.

He fought off a serious strike and organized the RR Presidents to try to fight off government ownerships which worked for a while. President Wilson did not take over while Willard continued his war job.

At the end of the War, the B&O had to be built up again from near bankruptcy and later fought through the great depression. He was no longer a young man, but took on such jobs as member of the Board of Trustees of John Hopkins University and this self educated man finally became president of the board.

In 1937, the B&O held the Fair of the Iron Horse, a great entertainment and show of railroading past and present. That kept Willard from accepting an invitation to speak at the Hartland celebration of the Sesquicentennial of Vermont but he had not forgotten Hartland. In his last years, he visited the Smiths at his old home, and asked to see the old steep back stairs he had remembered from early boyhood.

He died in 1942, and rests in Hartland soil.

He left his library to the three Hartland libraries and the quality of those books reflect the great intelligence and keen mind of this son of Hartland.

Found in the Hartland Historical Society archives - author unknown, but I suspect it was a speech. C.Y.M.

Reprinted from The Hartland Historical Society Newsletter, Spring 2003.

Related Links:

Time Magazine Cover Story:
Dan Willard

"Uncle Dan" Willard was born on a farm near North Hartland, Vt. during the first year of the Civil War. The first locomotive he saw ran by the farm on the old Central Vermont. Aged 16, he taught school for a spell. Aged 17, hi was sent to Massachusetts Agricultural College. Bad eyesight compelled him to give up his studies, get a job in a track gang. Three years later he was an engineer on the Connecticut & Passumpsic River, now a part of the Boston & Maine. Then he went West.

When next seen he was "hogging" (driving a locomotive), on the Lake Shore & Michigan with a pair of red mittens on his hands and a book or two under the cab seat. There is good reason for "Uncle Dan" to sympathize with the 500,000 men laid off railroads in the last two years. The business depression of 1883 took him out of his cab, put him to work as a conductor on the Soo. From conductor he started up the long grind of a railroad operating man's career: trainmaster, assistant superintendent, superintendent.

When a railroad official gets a chance for a better position on another line, not infrequently he takes a subordinate or so along with him. When Frederick Douglass Underwood left the Soo to become general manager of the B & O. he took Superintendent Willard along as his assistant. That was in 1899. Two years later Mr. Underwood became president of the Erie, asked Mr. Willard to accompany him. "Uncle Dan" went along as general manager In 1910 he returned East to become president of the road he had left nine years before.

In 1910 the B.& O. was a great, rusty T-shaped giant. The top of the T ran from Philadelphia to Washington. The stem split, one line reaching out in Chicago, the other ending just over the Mississippi River at St. Louis. Corporate headquarters were at the top of the stem in Baltimore.

When he took charge, one of the first things President Willard did was cancel all advertising. "We'll start again when we have something to advertise," he said. Having spent nearly half a billion on his railroad in the past 20 years, "Uncle Dan" now has something to advertise. He has authorized copy written this way: "70,000 of us invite you to travel on the B. & 0."

A tangible improvement of the Willard administration was the acquisition of than any other man for the Eastern four-system unification plan. (sic) Under him Chicago & Alton was taken over as a western B. & O. link. Last week B. & O. began operating the Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh as a division of its system.

The atmosphere of "we're-all-B. & O.-men-together" is one President Willard likes to get into his bulletins. Sample: "No matter how hard we try, we cannot make the B..& O. the greatest, straightest or richest railroad, but we can, if we try hard enough, create for it the reputation of being the best railroad in the world from the point of service." A prime Willard maxim: "Be a good neighbor." Farmer boys and girls up and down his line get settings of eggs. Officials are sent to make friends with local shippers. And in 1927 "Uncle Dan" put on a 23-day pageant ("The Fair of the Iron Horse") outside Baltimore to show what his road had accomplished in its century of existence.

It is generally agreed throughout the system that no one works harder on the B. & O. than President Willard. He gets up early, works late. Once he told Jim, porter of his office car, No. 99, to wake him at 5 a.m. As the dawn was breaking, the blackamoor felt a tug at his covers, looked up into "Uncle Dan's" smiling face. "Wake up, Jim," said President Willard. "It's 5 o'clock."

There is a good deal of confusion as to who has ridden on No. 99. The fact is that no one except President Willard and his officers ride on it. If they are important enough, celebrities traveling over the B. & O. are given the Maryland.

Just as no one rides on No. 99, few get inside "Uncle Dan's" white stucco house, which hides behind trees in Baltimore's smart Roland Park. There he lives with his wife and his two orphaned grandchildren, whose parents died in the influenza epidemic of 1918. He plays his violin occasionally, is a wretched golfer. Like many a railroad man, he goes to the office on Sundays. Like many railroad children, his grandsons like to go along, too. He owns the farm where he was born, farms it. He belongs to the Unitarian Church, drinks a little, smokes a little.

When he was on the Wartime Council of National Defense he saw a good deal of Walter Sherman Gifford. After the War, Mr. Gifford saw that Mr. Willard was made a director of American Telephone & Telegraph Co. Mr. Willard saw that Mr. Gifford was made a fellow trustee of Johns Hopkins University.

The typical railroad president is not always the typical railroad man. Often they come by their positions through the legal department. This month "Uncle Dan" completes the 71st year of his life, the 22nd of his presidency. This week he will be a principal figure in discussions involving the welfare of more than half the trackage on earth. He has health, the respect of his associates, a comfortable share of the world's goods. More important to 1,250,000 rail employees who are also involved, is the fact that he is not just a railroad president. He is a railroad man.