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PC: Jervis Langdon Jr., 99, dies

He sure lasted a good long time!


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Jervis Langdon Jr., 99, B&O Railroad president known for innovations
By Frederick N. Rasmussen
Sun Staff
Originally published February 17, 2004

Jervis Langdon Jr., one of the nation's foremost railroad executives, who had
served as president of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in its last year as an
independent company, died of congestive heart failure yesterday at his home in
Elmira, N.Y. He was 99. 
"You could say that Jervis Langdon's administration of the B&O in the postwar
years ranks with that of Daniel Willard, an earlier B&O president, when the
railroad was a caldron of innovation," said Herbert H. Harwood Jr., a retired
CSX rail executive and railroad historian and author. 

"He never really got his due on the B&O because he was president for such a
short time, relatively speaking. He was in a class of Young Turks who were
railroad presidents at the time, and obviously the high point of his career
was his years on the B&O," Mr. Harwood said. 

"He was absolutely ahead of his time and a visionary. He brought total honesty
to the marketplace when he said that trucks were taking freight away from the
railroads by undermining their rates. He brought operating efficiencies to the
B&O that took it from a $31 million loss in 1961 to a $1.5 million profit in
1962," said Paul Reistrup, Amtrak's second president and former director of
C&O-B&O passenger service. 

Mr. Langdon was born and raised in Elmira, where from his boyhood home he
could listen to the sounds of locomotives and steam whistles as trains of the
Delaware, Lackawanna & Western and Erie railroads made their way through the
valley far below. 

His father was an executive of the Lackawanna Coal Co., which had been a part
of the Lackawanna Railroad, and an uncle, Edward E. Loomis, was president of
the Lehigh Valley Railroad. His interest in railroading began as a youth,
riding aboard freight engines pulling trains between Elmira and Sayre, Pa. 

"My uncle advised me to be either an engineer or a lawyer if I wanted to
succeed in railroading," he told The Sun in 1974. 

He earned his bachelor's degree in 1927 from Cornell University and a law
degree from the Cornell law school in 1930. 

Mr. Langdon began his railroad career in 1931 with the Lehigh Valley in New
York City, in the office of the foreign freight agent, and advanced to the
railroad's legal department. He later served as counsel for the New York
Central Railroad until 1941, when he was named assistant vice president of the
Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. 

During World War II, Mr. Langdon was a colonel with the Army Air Forces in
China, Burma and India. He was assigned to the Air Transport Command,
overseeing operations of the C-47s that flew over the Himalayas. 

After the war, he moved to Washington and served as special counsel for the
major Southern railroads before the Interstate Commerce Commission on setting
rail freight rates. 

After a few years as chairman of the Association of Southeastern Railroads, he
joined the B&O as general counsel in 1956. 

He succeeded Howard E. Simpson as president of the railroad in 1961 at a time
when it was falling under domination by the C&O and seeing loss of traffic and
increased competition from trucks and barge lines. 

Described as a "Lincolnish" figure whose physical and intellectual presence
could fill a room, he brought in new methods and younger people. 

"He tried to do three things, including innovative rate making, marketing
research to see what the customer wanted and then providing the necessary
service," Mr. Harwood said. 

Mr. Langdon stopped the erosion of rail traffic while initiating detailed
cost-accounting procedures long common in other industries. He expanded
piggyback service -- rail flatcars carrying truck trailers -- and implemented
specialized, single-commodity trains to haul coal. He brought other
technological advances such as early computers to the railroad. 

He was an unpretentious person who almost daily walked between his Guilford
home and the B&O Building at Charles and Baltimore streets. He also walked to
Camden Station and gently waved away anxious redcaps offering to carry his
battered suitcase. When traveling on company business, he preferred a regular
Pullman roomette over the railroad's luxurious private business cars. 

"We had always treated presidents of the B&O with an air of reverence, and
then Jervis came along. He was a practical railroad man who was passionate
about the people who worked for him," said E. Ray Lichty, a retired CSX vice

By 1963, the C&O had obtained control of the B&O, and Mr. Langdon felt
frustration as projects he envisioned were vetoed by C&O management. 

"He argued frequently and strenuously for the B&O approach to projects such as
his marketing philosophy, which C&O management discounted," said William F.
Howes, a retired CSX executive. 

In 1964, Mr. Langdon left to become president of the Rock Island Railroad. He
was appointed trustee of the bankrupt Penn Central Railroad in 1970, and later
was its president. He retired in 1976 after Penn Central became a major
component of the newly created Conrail. 

"He was always a very humane person whose love for the B&O was never
diminished. He always felt badly that the B&O had been literally shoved aside
by the C&O. And when Conrail came along, he was very concerned what the
outcome would be for Baltimore," said Helen Delich Bentley, a former Baltimore
County congresswoman. 

Mr. Langdon -- who had also served on Amtrak's board -- maintained an interest
in railroading to the end of his life. 

For years, he lived at Quarry Farm in Elmira, where Mark Twain, who was
married to Mr. Langdon's great-aunt Olivia Langdon, spent summers and
reportedly wrote Huckleberry Finn. Mr. Langdon always kept a picture of Twain
relaxing with a cigar on the paneled wall of his office. 

Several years ago, he donated the home to Elmira College, which uses it to
house visiting Twain scholars. 

Mr. Langdon also maintained a home on Gibson Island until 1989, and was a
pilot who enjoyed flying his twin-engine Piper Aztec until his late 80s. 

Plans for services were incomplete yesterday. 

Surviving are his wife of 54 years, the former Irene Fortner; three sons,
Jervis Langdon III of Potomac, Charles J. Langdon of Pasadena and Halsey W.
Langdon of Linthicum; a daughter, Lee Kiesling of Elmira; two grandchildren;
and a great-grandson. His marriage to the former Jean Bancroft ended in

Copyright  2004, The Baltimore Sun

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