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George Herbert Webb
Director, American Railway Engineering Association
Died November 3, 1921
George Herbert Webb, the son of Colonel George Webb and Emma (Alder) Webb, was born in Dubuque, Iowa, on March 5, 1860. Both his father and mother came from Muncy, Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, where his grandfather had acquired a considerable estate in the early part of the last century. His father went west in 1850, but after the Civil War returned to the east and was prominently identified with the construction and operation of various railroads and with the steel industry. The family made their home in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and in 1876 moved to Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
Mr. Webb was educated at the Pennsylvania Military College, Chester, Pennsylvania. He entered the sophomore class in engineering in September of 1877 and was graduated from this institution, then known as the Pennsylvania Military Academy, as a Civil Engineer (C. E.), June 10, 1880.
After graduation he entered railroad work as rodman with the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. In 1881 he tested steel for the Brooklyn Bridge and in 1883 was appointed City Engineer of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. He was later Assistant Engineer of the Cambria Iron and Steel Company.
From the fall of 1885 to the spring of 1888 Mr. Webb was with the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad as transitman, Locating Engineer, and Division Engineer on construction, and in 1888 was Division Engineer in charge of the construction of portions of the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern (now a part of the Northern Pacific System).
In the spring of 1889 he went to Chile, South America, with the North and South American Construction Company. This company had a contract with the Chilean Government for building and equipping between six hundred and seven hundred miles of railroad, and Mr. Webb was in charge of the construction of one of the branch lines in the southern part of the Republic. The entire work was later stopped by the outbreak of the Balmaceda Revolution.
Upon leaving Chile he went to Peru, and in 1891 was appointed Division Engineer and Superintendent of construction of the Summit Division of the Central Railway of Peru, formerly the Aroya Road. The construction of this division was a notable piece of work. It crosses the main range of the Cordilleras de los Andes at an altitude of 15,657 feet above the sea level, with heavy grades and high curvature and many tunnels.
In 1893 Mr. Webb returned to the United States and engaged in private engineering practice until 1897, when he was appointed Chief Engineer of the Cincinnati, Georgetown & Portsmouth Railroad. This road was a small property in charge of Ralph Peters. While Mr. Webb's associations as Chief Engineer of this road were pleasant, he wished to study maintenance on larger roads, and at the end of two years resigned to enter the service of the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railway.
During 1899 and 1900 he was supervisor of track on the latter road and on the Chicago & Alton Railroad, and in 1901 and 1902 Engineer in charge of construction of the Missouri Pacific shops at Baring Cross, Arkansas.
Mr. Webb entered the service of the Michigan Central Railroad in 1903 and had charge of relocating the main line betwen Kalamazoo and Lawton, Michigan, a work of considerable magnitude. He was successively promoted to the positions of Division Engineer and Assistant Chief Engineer, and in 1905 was appointed Chief Engineer. He occupied the latter position until his death with the exception of about two years, from 1917 to 1919, when he was in military service in France.
The Detroit passenger terminal of the Michigan Central is probably the most prominent monument to Mr. Webb's engineering ability. It may be included with such structures as the Grand Central and the Pennsylvania Terminals at New York, and the Kansas City Union Depot, as among the four or five most noted projects of this character which have been completed within the last decade.
Mr. Webb served in various important military positions in the American Army during the World War, attaining the rank of Colonel. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal,* also the French Ordre de l'Etoile Noire (Officer) by Presidential decree of September 24, 1919.
*General Orders, No. 59, War Department, Washington, 1919. p. 3.
On July 6, 1917, he was appointed 'Lieutenant-Colonel in the Sixteenth (Railway) Engineers. The regiment landed in France on August 29th of the same year and took charge of the construction of the Advance Depot at Is-sur-Tille.
About April 1, 1818, Colonel Webb was placed in charge of a number of railway and camp projects in the vicinity of Nevers. This position soon developed into that of section engineer of the east half of the Intermediate Section. In this capacity Colonel Webb had charge of the American engineering projects in about one-seventh of the area of France, and extending from the city of Bourges to the Swiss and Italian borders. Among the projects carried on under his direction were the large hospital plants which were constructed at Mesves-Bulcy, Mars-sur-Allier, and Allerey, with a combined maximum capacity of 72,000 patients.
The Nevers Cutoff from an engineering point of view was the most difficult piece of railway construction in the A.E.F. It required a large yardage of embankment and the construction of a pile and steel truss bridge 2200 feet long over the Loire River. Other railway projects were the engine terminal at Marcy and the car repair shops at Nevers. Warehouses, camps, camp hospitals and laundries were constructed and re-organized at various centers, and at Vichy, Clermont-Ferrand, Chatel Guyon, Royat and Pougues-les-Eaux, groups of resort hotels were taken over and adapted to hospital purposes. At the center of Vichy alone over 75,000 patients were treated.
All this work was carried on subject to continuous wartime interference with the supply of men, materials, equipment and transportation. Colonel Webb's inspiring and compelling personality and genius for organization stirred the officers and men in the organizations under him to exceptional efficiency. By his resourcefulness, initiative and skill, he overcame all obstacles and completed these difficult projects with marked success.
On September 27, 1918, he was promoted to Colonel and in April, 1919, returned to this country and resumed his duties as Chief Engineer of the Michigan Central.
In the fall of 1920 Colonel Webb's health showed signs of failing and in the following spring an operation was performed, without, however, obtaining the hoped-for relief. He died on November 3, 1921, at the home of his sister, Mrs. G. L. Osgood, Jr., near Boston.
Colonel Webb was a man of strong personality and sterling qualities. He was a thorough student and possessed keen insight, and his work showed in a high degree evidence of original, selfreliant thought and a keen sense of justice. His interesting experiences and unusual personal charm made him a delightful companion, and his death will be long felt by the many who enjoyed the privilege of knowing him.
In January, 1905, he was married to Jessie Lawrence, who lived a short time only after their marriage and died in May, 1907. They had many congenial tastes, and his home life afforded pleasant relief from the close application he was in the habit of giving to the duties of his profession. Her untimely death was much to be regretted.
The Board of Trustees of the Pennsylvania Military College on June 17, 1914, conferred upon Colonel Webb the honorary degree of Master of Civil Engineering, in recognition of his high professional attainments and his worth as a man and citizen.
At the time of his death he was a Director of the American Railway Engineering Association, having previously served the Association as chairman of the Committee on Rules and Organization. He was for many years a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, as well as the first Commander of the Detroit Chapter of the Military Order of the World War, a member of the Sixteenth Engineers Post Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, and of the American Legion.
Prepared by J. F. Deimling, George H. Harris, E. R. Lewis, William H. Sellew.