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By Rich Zemencik
When I started my job with Progressive Railroading in December 1985, it was, in my opinion, the start of a different era in the railroad industry. There were many Class Is, maybe 30 or 31, and they were at the top of their game in terms of spending for capital improvement programs and rolling stock acquisitions.
But not many years after that, the rumors started breaking out that many Class Is would be purchased or merged with other roads. The financial analysts all felt that railroads needed to consolidate. And so it would come about. Railroads merged, and while this was good for them and their stockholders, it would have a trickle-down effect on the supply side, which went from many hundreds of companies to a much smaller core of suppliers.
True, it weeded out suppliers that could not survive much longer, but it also made for some strange bedfellows. Another thing that occurred was the long-term contracts the railroads were looking to from the supply side — three-, four- or even five-year exclusive contracts. This was great for some, but a disaster for many others.
I had been at the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad since 1964, so I had been a subscriber and avid reader of Progressive Railroading, which meant I was familiar with the writings of Frank Richter. Frank definitely had his “ear to the ground” and “his hand on the pulse” when it came to gathering information on railroads, as well as the technology that was evolving from the supply side.
After going to all the technical conferences and exhibits with Frank, I began to see what his presence in the industry really meant. This guy knew everyone — on the railroad and transit sides, as well as the supply side. If you walked the show with him, you never made it down a row of exhibitors without many, many attendees stopping him just to say “Hello” or to ask him to stop by their booths so they could show him their newest products. Pad in hand, Frank would take down notes and quotes. He always listened.
And it was always a great sales trip when Frank came with you on the road — he brought that same enthusiasm and energy. We’d make six or eight calls a day, driving 100 miles or so. Frank inspired people through his everyday work habits, his energy, his industry knowledge and the relationships he developed over the years.
Then there were the editors I worked with — Carl Wesselmann, Mike Wujcik, Frank Malone, Tom Judge, and the current staff of Jeff Stagl, Angela Cotey and Pat Foran, just to name a few. They were all part of a team over the years that helped shape this magazine through their observations, interviews and reporting.
Rich Zemencik joined Progressive Railroading as eastern sales manager in 1985. In 1989, he and Ron Mitchell purchased the magazine from Frank Richter; in 1994, Zemencik and Mitchell sold it to Trade Press Publishing Corp., and Rich stayed on as associate publisher. He retired in January 2008 after 43-plus years in the railroad industry.