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John Findley Wallace


John Findley Wallace was born at Fall River, Massachusetts, September 10, 1852. His parents were the Rev. David A. Wallace and Martha J. Wallace. When but a child he was taken on the then difficult journey from Fall River to Monmouth, Illinois, where his father had been sent to found a college under the auspices of the United Presbyterian Church.

It was in this environment of college culture-surrounded by the rawness and the bigness of the struggle of the early settler for conquest over the virgin prairie—that the young man received the training which has been manifest throughout his career.

While ever a leader in the technique of his chosen profession, he was held in affectionate remembrance by the laborer, the mechanic, the foreman or the superintendent, with whom he came in contact as builder or operator. He put into his work a wealth of enthusiasm and energy-often to the discomfort of his subordinate-for his basic motto was to pay no attention to the clock, and the word "cannot” never appealed to him.

His work in American railroading has been fundamental. It was his good fortune to be identified with some of the early railroad enterprises in the Middle West, when it was possible to be in touch with all phases of the industry. Thus he was, alternately surveyor, engineer, constructor and operator on the same railroad, and this at a time when the prime consideration was to make the dollar go as far as possible. It was accomplishments such as his that made possible the development of our Middle West.

In 1869, Mr. Wallace entered the service of the Carthage & Quincy Railroad as rodman. In 1870 he was Assistant Engineer of Surveys of the Quincy, Alton & St. Louis Railroad. From 1871 to 1876 he was Assistant Engineer in United States Engineering Corps at Rock Island, Ill. During that time he was also engaged in private surveys and other important work, one of which was excavation of a channel through the St. Louis chain of rocks by machinery of his own design and construction and by day labor, personally supervised by him. It is interesting to note that a previous attempt had been made to excavate the channel through this particular chain of rocks by the United States Government earlier in the century, but submarine blasting carried on at that time was unsuccessful. He also removed the foundation of the original Rock Island bridge, the first bridge constructed across the Mississippi River.

In 1879 Mr. Wallace was appointed Chief Engineer of the Peoria & Farmington Railway, of which he had charge of location, construction and operation from Peoria to Keithsburg. Later this road was consolidated with the Iowa Central, and Mr. Wallace had charge as Master of Trains. At the same time he was Engineer in charge of construction and improvements on this line, one interesting piece of work being the construction of a transfer over the Mississippi River at Keithsburg.

During the fall and winter of 1886 he was Assistant Engineer of surveys and other work on the Union Pacific Railroad in the Rocky Mountains.

His next effort was in the field of bridge engineering, where he made a reputation for himself in technical skill and construction resourcefulness in the construction of the Sibley bridge across the Missouri River, and a bridge across the Mississippi River near Fort Madison. He also had charge of a system of river abutments and improvement work on the Missouri River above the Sibley bridge. Subsequently he was connected with E. L. Corthell in general engineering work, with headquarters at Chicago, his principal work at that time being the construction of the joint entrance of the Santa Fe and Illinois Central into Chicago from the West, together with improvements of the Chicago & Alton terminal entrance. Mr. Wallace also made examinations and plans of various railroad projects and reported on plans and estimates for a bridge at New Orleans over the Mississippi River. Before this work was completed, Chicago was giving thought to the World's Fair. The Illinois Central had a serious problem in how to handle the traffic that would result from the Fair, and Mr. Wallace's suggestion to the management of the Illinois Central resulted in his being retained by that railroad as Chief Engineer to plan and put into execution the suburban service which so successfully handled the World's Fair crowds and has ever since been an important factor of transportation in Chicago. The elevation of tracks in the City of Chicago and the Lake Front improvement were not only under Mr. Wallace's general supervision, but he also assisted in the negotiations with the City which made this work possible. He also constructed extensive terminals in the City of New Orleans, planned and constructed the Stuyvesant Docks at New Orleans and extensive terminals at Harahan Yards, near New Orleans; also the improvement of terminals at East St. Louis, Louisville and Memphis.

In the fall of 1897 Mr. Wallace resigned as Chief Engineer of the Illinois Central Railroad to accept the position of Vice President and General Manager of the Mathison Alkali Works, of Saltville, Virginia, and while in that capacity was President of a proposed railroad known as the Saltville and Virginia Railroad.

He returned to the Illinois Central Railroad January 1st, 1898, as Assistant Second Vice President, with general supervision over the Engineering Department and of matters connected with the operation of the System. During this time he had personal charge of the construction of the Fort Dodge & Omaha Railroad, 132 miles in length, which gave the Illinois Central an entrance into Omaha and Council Bluffs. This road, which by its efficient and economical operation has proved its good location and construction, was located and constructed and was in full and successful operation within a single year. He also had charge of negotiations and construction of the St. Charles Air Line from Chicago. The knitting together of the different lines which go to make up the Illinois Central System into one homogeneous transportation machine, was one of Mr. Wallace's great accomplishments. January 1, 1901, Mr. Wallace was appointed Assistant General Manager in charge of operation, having in charge the Engineering, Roadway, Transportation, Machinery and other departments, classified under the head of operation.

September, 1902, he was appointed General Manager of the Illinois Central Railroad.

In 1904 Mr. Wallace left the service of the Illinois Central to become the first Chief Engineer of the Panama Canal. He found there an obsolete, inadequate plant which had to be scrapped and the work started anew from the very beginning. He had to gather together a complete organization in the face of great difficulties, and he laid foundations which those who followed him unhesitatingly acknowledge were largely responsible for the successful accomplishment of the project. Mr. Wallace returned from the Isthmus in 1906, and after a short period of rest was retained by the Chicago & Northwestern and conceived and designed the new passenger terminals for that railway in Chicago. Shortly thereafter he went to New York to become Chairman and later President of Westinghouse, Church, Kerr & Company, one of the large engineering organizations in the country.

For over ten years he directed the activities of that Company, which covered the entire field of engineering and extended all over the country.

Mr. Wallace's residence in New York brought him in direct contact with the great financial problems of the country, and his counsel was frequently sought on many matters outside the realm of engineering.

For the last five years Mr. Wallace has been a member of the Committee on Harbors and Shipping of the Chamber of Commerce, State of New York.

During the late war Mr. Wallace served as a member of the Transportation Committee of the National Petroleum Advisory Board.

In 1913 he was retained by the City of Chicago in an advisory capacity in connection with the west side Union Station. The work done in this connection laid the foundation for the establishment in 1914 of the Chicago Railway Terminal Commission, with Mr. Wallace as Chairman, in which capacity he continued until a few months ago.

During this time, in addition to working out the Union Station ordinance, he was successful in bringing to a final conclusion, through his great ability to harmonize conflicting human interests, the Illinois Central Lake Front ordinance, after thirty years of discussion of the Lake Front problem of Chicago.

It is worthy of notice that the final plans for the solution of the railway terminal problem at Chicago contemplate a consolidation of all passenger traffic in three stations, with all three of which Mr. Wallace was prominently identified.

At the time of his death, Mr. Wallace was in Washington attending hearings of the Senate Committee on Interstate Commerce in connection with the Board of Economics and Engineering recently formed by the National Association of railroad security holders.

Mr. Wallace had undertaken, as a member of this board, to present the economies possible to the unified or co-operative operation of railroad terminals. With his customary vision he saw the possibilities of great accomplishments through this board of economics and engineering. His last words before the Senate Committee voiced the earnest desire that he and the board with which he was associated might be helpful in the bringing together of apparently conflicting interest for the betterment of our transportation system. It would be difficult to imagine a more fitting closing chapter of a life so crowded with action-with achievement. Surely the soul of the man shines through these sentiments.

One who served under Mr. Wallace for many years says: "As I look back over his career I am impressed with the outstanding virtues for which the profession may be thankful-

1. His interest in and helpfulness to young engineers.
2. His wonderful initiative and energy.
3. His unblemished character in every phase of life.”

If Mr. Wallace were asked how he would prefer to be remembered, he would say—“As a friend."

Not as the man who made possible perhaps the greatest piece of engineering the world has known--the building of the Panama Canal; not as the engineer whose vision was prophetic, and who builded not for the day but for generations to come; not for any of the splendid works which it was his privilege to perform-but rather as a friend.

Witness his advice to the 1916 Graduating Class of Monmouth College:

“My first advice to you would be to cultivate friends. Begin with your own family circle and let your friendships extend to include your neighbor, your city, your state, your country-and finally broaden it out to include and embrace humanity. Other things being equal, the measure of your success will depend upon your friendships."

And surely as he lived the above, he lived also this advice: “Cultivate a willingness to serve others, regardless of time, place or circumstances, not measuring your services pound for pound, as for compensation, but let the measure of what you give be overflowing."

The greatest writers of the world have given us volumes on the value of friendship-on its beauty, its ennobling qualitiesJohn Findley Wallace gave his whole life in the practice of this virtue.

In 1898 Mr. Wallace became interested in the American Railway Engineering Association (at that time called "American Railway Engineering and Maintenance of Way Association") by reason of his appointment as Chairman of a committee, composed of representative railway officials, to draft a constitution for the proposed new organization. With characteristic energy, he carried out the assignment—with what thoroughness is attested by the fact that the organic law of the Association has remained unaltered, except in a few minor particulars, to the present day.

One of the principal factors in the remarkable record of the American Railway Engineering Association is the keynote on which Mr. Wallace placed especial emphasis in explaining the provisions of the Constitution to the preliminary organization meeting—"continuity of purpose.” The Association has consistently adhered to that feature, the results of which are evident throughout the permanent printed record of the Association.

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