Thomas H. Lantry was born in 1867 at McGregor, Iowa. At the age of 21 he joined the Milwaukee Road as a telegraph operator. In 1889 he became a dispatcher for the Soo Line, a position he would also hold on the Santa Fe, Great Northern, Burlington and finally in the fair year of 1900, the Northern Pacific Railway. Lantry became a Trainmaster for the NP in 1907, Yellowstone Division Superintendent in 1911, Assistant to the Vice-President in 1917, Montana Division Superintendent in 1920, General Superintendent Lines West of Paradise in 1924, General Manager Lines East of Paradise in 1929 and was finally General Manager Lines West by 1931. From the turn-of-the-century on he spent his working life on the Northern Pacific, save for a period of just over two years from late 1917 until 1920, when he was given a leave of absence from the Railway to join the Russian Railway Service Corps.
His short biography in Who's Who In Railroading (New York: Simmons-Boardman Publishing Company 1930 p. 298) lists no parents, no family, no formal education, no religious, political or social affiliations, not even a home address. But one thing is sure: T.H. Lantry started at the very bottom and worked his way to the very top in a working life that was centered first and foremost on railroading.
''There is very little freight moving, the principal traffic being military trains. There is one exclusive passenger train a day between here and Harbin which runs through to Manchulia station, which is the western Manchuria boundary line, and one mixed train. The average speed of the straight passenger train is about 22 miles per hour and station stops are very long and very frequent. These delays are not for station work, as there is none to do, but seem to be mostly for people to get off, exercise, supply themselves with hot water for making tea; purchase food from Russian peasant women, who are at every station with an abundance of the most excellent food, including bread, roast chicken, all kinds of fresh vegetables and fruit; and it is all very cheap. There are no dining cars on the passenger trains and the people provide themselves with food at these lunch rooms or buy from the peasant peddlers. To give you an idea of the way passenger trains are scheduled, their through trains from here to Manchulia, 1608 versts, approximately 1,000 miles, is shown on the time card schedule to stand still at stations 19 hours and 40 minutes. These station stops vary from five to 40 minutes. The power is in excellent condition and lots of it.''
''They have three men on all locomotives-the engineer, who simply runs the engine, and an assistant engineer, who does the oiling around, etc. These two men are Russians, and they have a Chinese fireman who does all the work.''
''On a great many of the districts wood is used for fuel on locomotives. They have immense wood yards all along the line, with a large supply of wood. The passenger cars are of first, second and third class, the third class having three decks in them and passengers are crowded into them like sheep. Fourth class passengers, who are all Chinese and Koreans, are handled in boxcars on mixed trains and are packed in like sardines. I have not the slightest idea how transportation is collected, and from observation cannot see why anyone should buy a ticket, as it is impossible for the conductor to collect transportation. Passenger train crews consist of a conductor and five assistant conductors. When a train is ready to leave a station the stationmaster rings a small bell which is hung on the side of the station building, one tap indicating he is going to ask for the staff; later rings two taps indicating the staff has been procured; he later rings three taps, the conductor the blows a small dog whistle, the engineer blows the locomotive whistle, and the train departs. Only passenger cars are equipped with air brakes. Locomotives have no air brakes except on the tender. I understand they were taken off on account so many slipped tires. It is the rule that every fifth car in the train must be equipped with a hand brake.''
''This would indicate that about 20 percent of the freight equipment has hand brakes, and the balance of the 80 percent no brakes at all. No such things as cabooses, and trainmen ride in the brake cars, which are ordinary boxcars with a small platform on one end where the brake staff is located. They have all kinds and sizes of locomotives from the small saddle-back tank switch engine to the large Baldwin decapods with a tractive effort of about 61,000 pounds. Their roundhouses, shops buildings, etc., are large and well built, the walls averaging over three feet thick, all solid brick or stone. Some roundhouses are our style and others are of the straight shed patterns, where two or three locomotives can be put in one stall lengthwise.''
''Steel rails are used for fence posts, mile posts, guide posts for semaphore wires, and, in fact, for almost everything in the post line, indicating there must have been an awful lot of steel that had to be used up in one way or another. They have wonderful shops at several locations, but very little work is being done on account of unsettled labor conditions.'' ---T.H. Lantry
Lantry was a group of railroad officials, dispatchers, shop foremen and laborers from the northern transcontinentals who were sent to Russia during World War One to increase the efficiency of the Trans-Siberian Railway. His letter was originally published in the Auburn (Washington) Globe-Republican.
Author: John A. Phillips, III. Title: Thomas H. Lantry on the
© March 20, 2002