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NRC chairman's column: My railroad story is all about family — yours can be, too

Steve Bolte, NRC Chairman
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My railroad story is all about family: The family I was born into and those who have become like family along the way.

Like many others in our industry, railroading was passed down through my family. My grandfather and father were my earliest mentors.

After returning home from World War II, my grandfather JR Wilson combined his engineering smarts and experience as an Army Air Corps pilot to grow Hanlon & Wilson Co. into an industry-leading manufacturer of plug-style signal bonds and small aircraft exhaust systems. A true entrepreneur, my grandfather kept a finger on the pulse of the market and developed patents to address evolving business needs.

When my dad Robert Bolte came on board, the business grew in the railroad market. He formed a sister company called Dwight & Wilson Co. to manufacture the existing line of plug signal bonds and develop new products, such as thermite signal bonds and bond strand. Hanlon & Wilson also developed a stainless-steel diesel locomotive exhaust system for GE and EMD locomotives and entered the marine exhaust industry.

My dad was a consummate relationship-builder. He invested in developing valuable contacts and discovered how they could, in turn, help grow his business and his career. By example, he taught me to confront problems head on. Rather than sticking his head in the sand, he focused on finding solutions and was always straightforward with customers.

These lessons and others — about working hard and teamwork — modeled by my grandfather and dad are fundamental to my railroad story.

As a teenager, I learned the ins and outs of the family business from the ground up, beginning in the foundry and shipping department and then production control. After graduating from the University of North Carolina, I joined Dwight & Wilson as a production control clerk and from there went into sales. I eventually served as vice president of sales and as president.

After the sale of Dwight & Wilson, I stayed on until Rich Zemencik, assistant publisher with Progressive Railroading, recruited me to serve as the magazine’s eastern regional sales manager. Rich invested in me and took my sales abilities to a different level. He taught me about building genuine relationships. I don’t know anyone who had more contacts in the railroad industry, yet he treated each one like they were family. Instead of always selling, he took the time to understand his contact’s business challenges and to know what was going on in their lives, too.

Coming from a family business, Progressive Railroading resonated with me from the start. In addition to Rich, I was fortunate to work with a strong team, the industry’s best, with Pat Foran as editor and Jeff Stagl as managing editor, and a talented advertising sales team. We eagerly delved into the industry together and quickly gained traction. After two years, I became the publisher.

In 2014, I jumped back to the supply side and found my way to my current role as vice president of business development North America with Danella Cos. Working for Jim Danella, Tom Walsh and the team at Danella Rental Systems has been a career dream come true.

About the same time, I was elected to the NRC Board of Directors. The board presented the unique opportunity to work closely with contractors and suppliers — sometimes with those I competed against — to make railway construction safer and stronger.

Two colleagues — Mike Choat (retired Wabtec Corp./CSX) and Jim Hansen (Herzog) — preceded me as NRC chairman and demonstrated how to be a positive force in turbulent times. Joe Daloisio (Railroad Construction Co.) will take over as chairman in January. It’s fulfilling to work alongside these veteran railroaders and experience the good things that flow from their leadership.

Railroading is big business, for sure, but it’s also a family business. My railroad mentors, colleagues and connections are a key reason why I highly recommend the industry to young professionals. It’s also a reason why my family’s railroading heritage continues through my son Matthew Bolte, chief operating officer with Railway Equipment Co.

If you’re looking to grow your industry contacts, I recommend you join us at the 2024 Annual NRC Conference and NRC-REMSA Exhibition in Scottsdale, Arizona on Jan. 3-6. It’s a smart way to build valuable connections and realize the blessings of being part of a family industry.

“Building a Safer and Stronger Railway Construction Industry Together!”

Steve Bolte, NRC chairman
The National Railroad Construction & Maintenance Association Inc.
80 M Street, S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20003

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 12/18/2023