Millet, An Authority on Trains

Blog entry for May 2011 - “Trains” in Francis Davis Millet: A Titanic Life

Francis Davis Millet led such a titanic life as an American Renaissance man that his experiences made him an authority on trains around the world.

The basis of his knowledge began during the spring of 1885 when Millet accompanied Charles Francis Adams, Jr., the newly elected President of the Union Pacific Railroad, on a thee-month, cross-country inspection of the line. Millet and Adams traveled in Car 010, an especially appointed private car that could be hitched to various trains in all parts of the United States and Mexico. Millet had his own private bedroom in the sumptuous seventy-foot long car that he described as a land yacht. A cook and a steward took care of the needs of the guests aboard. The World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition in New Orleans was the first major stop to promote the railroad. From there, Millet and Adams took a seventy-six mile side trip to make an unannounced visit on Jefferson Davis. Car 010 then headed west to Texas and south into Mexico. When the car finally reached California, Leland Stanford, the former governor and then president of the Southern Pacific Company, entertained Millet and Adams. Car 010 then traveled to Salt Lake City, through the Northwest and up to Victoria, British Columbia. In Montana, Adams negotiated with James Ben Ali Haggins, the owner of vast mining properties, on the best price to ship copper over the tracks of the Union Pacific. Millet spent several days in Omaha, Nebraska, the eastern terminus and home of the General Officers of the U.P., listening to Adams give testimony to a Congressional committee on interstate commerce. Frank later went back to Denver to witness one of Adams’ meetings with the Executive Committee of the Knights of Labor.

Millet’s next major transcontinental railroad journey was a trip in 1905 with his son Laurence on a Northern Pacific Railroad train to the Northwest. They made the return ride from Vancouver to Montreal aboard the Canadian Pacific Railroad. The 1900-mile journey ended when Sir William Cornelius Van Horne entertained father and son for several days. Van Horne was the President of the Canadian Pacific Railroad and largely responsible for building some of the large company hotels that the Millets had stayed in as they made their journey across southern Canada.

Frank Millet’s next long railroad trip was an Oriental carpet ride across Eurasia. He boarded the Trans-Siberian Railroad during the fall of 1908 in Moscow as a Commissioner-General to the International Exposition in Tokyo, Japan, with the diplomatic rank of Minister Plenipotentiary and Envoy Extraordinary. Frank’s train consisted of a diesel engine; a baggage car, with a petroleum driven electric producing dynamo; a dining car, with a kitchen, pantry and compartments for either smokers or non-smokers; four coaches and the private car of a railroad official. The newly completed 5,500-mile line was only a few years old and Millet went into great detail about the accommodations, the food and the sights on the eleven-day trip to Vladivostok.

Transcontinental journeys were not the only trips that made Millet such an authority on trains. He made two short journeys of note. The first was after covering the fall of Manila during the Spanish-American War of 1898 as a war correspondent for London and New York newspapers. On two occasions Millet was the guest of Horace L. Higgins, the manager of the English-controlled Manila-Dagupan Railway Company, aboard his private railway car. The first trip took Frank into the countryside where Millet studied colonization and did informal anthropologic investigations. The second journey took Millet to Malolos to witness the ceremony of inauguration for the new revolutionary government under Emilio Aguinaldo. Another short train trip of significance was during 1911 when Millet watched how railroads were used to build the Panama Canal. Colonel George W. Goethals, Chairman and Chief Engineer of the Isthmian Canal Commission, personally conducted tours for Millet and Charles Francis Adams, Jr., of the three geographic sections of the construction. Millet marveled at the track-shifters that moved rails and ties at the same time.


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