Daniel Willard - Historically Speaking

150 years ago, on Jan 28, 1861, one of Hartland’s most famous sons, Daniel Willard was born in North Hartland. His ancestors were here at the very birth of this town.

He went to the church still standing in No. Hartland and attended school in a building on the green. At fifteen he taught in a one room school where he met Mrs. Samuel Taylor, who was to influence his entire life. She taught him to love books and he was ever after an ardent reader. Daniel attended a term and a half at Windsor High School and wanted terribly to attend Dartmouth College, but couldn’t afford it. He did attend 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 shiny, wood-burning engines, especially the old Governor Smith which he never ceased to love.

At eighteen, Daniel got his first job on the railroad on a section gang at 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 managed to feed the old engine the 10 to 12 cords of wood she consumed in a long day. At nineteen, 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 Erie, then operating V.P. of the Burlington and Quincy then back to the B&O as President, a job he kept from then on.
Willard understood the problems of workers and fought for their interests. Against the desires of many another President he helped to get an 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 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 WW1. It was made of distinguished men such as Bernard Baruch and others and the War Industries Board.

Daniel 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 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 the great depression. He was no longer a young man, but took on such jobs as member of the board of Johns 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 speaking at the Hartland celebration of the sesquicentennial of Vermont but he had not forgotten Hartland. In his last years he visited his old home and asked to see the old steep back stairs he had remembered from early boyhood.

Taken from unknown source… Maybe a speech. C.Y.M.

Reprinted from the Vermont Standard, 2012, “Historically Speaking” by Carol Mowry.

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