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HE WAS A JOURNALIST who relished his role as a "highly interested observer of the railroad industry." He shared what he knew — in print, in presentations and in everyday conversation — with fellow interested observers, and was a mentor to many. And he was a friend we'll miss dearly. Frank J. Richter, who wrote about rail for more than 60 years, including 36 with Progressive Railroading, died July 25. He was 97.
In 1945, Richter left the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as an editor in its Publications Section to co-found Modern Railroads magazine with Dave Watson. Richter served as Modern Railroads' editor from 1945 to 1958; and then as publisher from 1958 through 1971. During that time, Richter helped launched two other publications: Appliance Manufacture and Transportation Management (later known as Transportation Management & Logistics).
In 1972, Richter was named publisher of Progressive Railroading, where Murphy-Richter Publishing Co. launched two more publications: The Car & Locomotive Yearbook and The Track Yearbook. In 1989, Richter sold Murphy-Richter Publishing to Ron Mitchell and Rich Zemencik; Richter stayed on as a consultant, contributing articles and a monthly "Comment" to Progressive Railroading. In 1994, Mitchell and Zemencik sold the magazine and yearbooks to Trade Press Publishing Corp. (now Trade Press Media Group Inc.), with Richter continuing to write his monthly commentary. In 2005, Richter authored a book titled, "The Renaissance of the Railroad: A Chronicle of the Transformation of The Century." He was a contributor to Progressive Railroading through 2008.
Richter earned his share of recognition during his long career. He received the Intermodal Association of North America's Silver Kingpin award for excellence in intermodalism in 1994. He also was named an honorary fellow of the Intermodal Transportation Institute at the University of Denver in 1999. And in what Richter considered to be one of the highlights of his career, the American Railway Bridge and Building Association elected him an honorary member; he subsequently became an honorary member of the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association (AREMA) when the associations merged in 1997.
In 2001, the American Association of Railroad Superintendents named a scholarship competition — the Frank J. Richter Scholarship — in recognition of his longtime dedication to the association and its ongoing activities. And this summer, AREMA created the Frank Richter Memorial Scholarship.
Richter is survived by his wife, Teresita. Frank and Teresita had been living in Buenos Aires for the past several years.
News of Frank's passing prompted an outpouring of condolences, comments and remembrances from longtime friends and casual acquaintances alike. Here's a sampling of that outpouring, collected via emails and interviews.
— Pat Foran, Editor
WE LOST A GIANT in our industry. I've learned so much from Frank. He and Teresita were so kind to me during my administration. I just wanted to put my feelings in print [for] how much I will miss him and what an important contributor he was to the industry.
He kind of adopted me back in 1989 when I became federal railroad administrator. I learned so much about the intermodal business from him. In 1989, the railroad industry was busy downsizing, and some people were saying railroads were going out of business. Frank helped me to see that this wasn't true, and that the intermodal thing was just coming into play. I have to give Frank credit for helping me to see the intermodal science that was developing. I've got a lot of his papers at the University of Denver. His work is there for the students to read.
— Gil Carmichael, federal railroad administrator under George H.W. Bush and founding chairman of the Intermodal Transportation Institute at the University of Denver
HE WAS ABSOLUTELY HONEST, sincere — every time you got in his presence, you felt like you were with somebody special. He was just wonderful. And he was the doggoned-est guy in a foreign city that you ever saw. You'd think he'd been there before, even if he hadn't — he'd just take off. You'd say, "Any idea where you are going, Frank?" He'd say, "No, but ain't it fun?"
If you traveled with Frank, he firmly believed that if you said something enough, if you repeated it enough times — might even be 1,000 times — that people would understand it in English. Whatever country you were in. We were in China one time, and Frank was trying to talk with someone who only spoke Chinese. And people, including [the host], were laughing. "Frank, he doesn't understand you," we said. Frank said, "Well, he will." He had such tenacity. I loved traveling with him.
Frank was so doggone honest, and he just believed everybody. You almost envied the way he just went around doing his job. I don't think I ever saw him mad. He just loved his work. He'd get so excited at [rail industry] meetings — for him, it was like going to Christmas. And he could take all that [information] in one room and filter it down to something readable that seemed to please everybody.
— Howard Croft, former president of the American Shortline Railroad Association
I FIRST MET Frank and Teresita Richter in Rosario, Argentina, in late 1992. They were visiting the headquarters of Nuevo Central Argentino (NCA), the new international company formed to privatize and operate the 5,000-kilometer broad (5' 6") gauge freight lines of the former Mitre Line of the large Argentine railway network Ferrocarriles Argentinos. I was there as part of the U.S. contingent of the project start-up team. NCA assumed control of operations in late 1992 and has become a strong, successful freight railroad. Frank was there covering the story as it happened.
At the time, Frank was working with Progressive Railroading. He was doing what he loved and did best — traveling the world and writing articles to keep his readers abreast of key developments in railroading. That day in Rosario, a city of over 1 million residents, Frank had been meeting NCA's new managers and team members, taking photographs in the field, gathering information and understanding key issues about the project.
Frank was from Wilmette, Ill., and Teresita is from Casilda, a city west of Rosario in Argentina. The two had met years before through the Pan American Railway Congress and were later married. They were the ultimate "snow birds," living in Wilmette for our summer and in Buenos Aires from November to June, always following the sun. My wife Jo and I visited them several times in Buenos Aires and we would get together when they came back to the states. We had many lively discussions over 20 years about the pros and cons of events happening in the railroad business. Frank was always on top of things and knew who to call to get answers or opinions. Like a good newspaper man, he was good with the typewriter and telephone. (Computers were another story, however!)
Frank was one of the first to chronicle the early developments of containerization. He recognized its potential to completely change the rail industry and he conveyed those ideas and predictions to his readers. He sure had it "figured right" — more than anyone could ever have imagined back then!
Frank and Teresita built and maintained relationships throughout the world. They made it a point to put people in touch with each other, always in a spirit of supporting the railroad industry. Frank will be missed, but his life's work lives on. Teresita carries on the tradition of keeping in touch with friends here in the states and around the world.
— William Otter, senior rail operations planner, Quandel Consultants L.L.C.
FRANK WAS ONE OF THE FIRST people I met when I went to work for Rexnord in 1978. At the time, I didn't know a lot about railroads, and Frank came to visit me in Milwaukee. Me being a neophyte in the industry, I wanted to learn as much as I could. And he was always enthusiastic and knowledgeable.
As time went along, we would see each other at industry meetings. He always seemed to have a bundle of energy. And he knew a lot about different facets of the business, not just what we were involved in, which was MOW. Meanwhile, I was always wondering how we could do things better. He was always a good sounding board for new product ideas. If one of our engineers would come up with an idea, I might bounce it off Frank.
We would have annual sales conferences, and I would always invite Frank; he would put on a presentation for all our guys. He would do that every year. He was a good motivator — again, he would be very enthusiastic in talking to our guys. He would plant seeds, things they might look for in the field. He was out there all the time, so he knew.
As time went on, I became president at Nordco, and then ended up owning the company. We continued to get together. We ended up being close friends. If we had a new product out, I'd still invite him up to take a look, to get his impression. He always had a sense for where the industry was headed.
— Don Himes, former president and owner of Nordco Inc.
I HAD BEEN in the railroad business for 10 or 11 years — in the operating department, mostly. Then I got a job in marketing for the Boston & Maine. Construction and metal products. After that, I was asked to come to intermodal operations. Then I took over all of intermodal [for the Boston & Maine], and I became secretary of the National Railroad Intermodal Association.
At a meeting in San Diego, I met Frank. He had Teresita with him. We got to talking. I told him what we were working on. He asked, "Can you write the cover story for our November issue?" I said, "Yeah, sure, sounds terrific." [Editor's note: The article is titled "Profitability in Piggyback," Progressive Railroading, November 1980] So I got to know Frank pretty well.
He was such an intellectually stimulating guy to be around, in part because he knew the business so well; and in part because he traveled all over the place, and had perspective that was so much more global than the rest of us had.
He had a great demeanor. For a guy like me who was a new, 20-something-year-old railroader, Frank wasn't standoffish; he was accessible. He wasn't arrogant; he was pleasant to be around. He wasn't condescending; he was interesting. And he was helpful when he didn't have to be.
— Brooks Bentz, managing director, Accenture L.L.P.
DURING FRANK'S active years at Progressive Railroading, and my time at the Association of American Railroads, we sparred on some public policy issues, agreed on others, perpetually forced each other to dig more deeply for truths, and continually sharpened each other's arguments in the process. Few taught me more, corrected me more and encouraged me more than Frank Richter, and the meals we shared trading thoughts at his beloved Union League Club in Chicago were among my most enjoyable.
— Frank N. Wilner, former AVP for policy, Association of American Railroads
I HAD READ FRANK'S COLUMNS many times prior to when I first met him at the REMSA Exhibit in Dallas in 1985. I remember we were scheduled to meet at 11 a.m. to talk about coming to work for him at Progressive Railroading and leaving the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad. He was late, and when we finally got to chat for a couple of minutes, he apologized for being late — he had been listening to and talking with the many suppliers on the exhibit floor. He'd also been taking notes.
That is what he did and he did it well. Everyone wanted his ear, and he was there to listen and help in any way he could.
Frank developed many friendships, both on the railroad and supply sides. He knew every Class I president and CEO on a first-name basis. He often said that these shows and meetings were just too short, that there was just not enough time to make it around the exhibit halls and meeting rooms to see and talk to everyone.
For all the young people now in our industry, you missed a great railroader and friend of this industry. For those older folks — you had the pleasure!
— Rich Zemencik, former co-owner and associate publisher of Progressive Railroading