John Barriger IV, railroad executive and co-founder of rail library, dies at 93

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John (Jack) Barriger IV in 2019

If anyone could demolish the aphorism that talent skips a generation, it was Jack Barriger. A third-generation railroader, he built a distinguished career as a Santa Fe Railway executive, only to make as big a mark in retirement as a leader in preserving the industry’s heritage.

He also embraced his status as the son of John W. Barriger III, the celebrated mid-century railroad executive and author of the influential 1956 book “Super-Railroads for a Dynamic American Economy.” If he never did anything else, Jack Barriger will be remembered for co-founding the national library named for his father.

John W. “Jack” Barriger IV died Friday at his home in Kenilworth, Ill. He was 93.

Jack Barriger was born Aug. 3, 1927, in St. Louis, where his father was working in railroad finance. The younger Barriger went on to graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and later the Yale Graduate School of Transportation. In 1975, the MIT Alumni Association gave him its highest honor, the Bronze Beaver Award.

The bulk of Barriger’s career was spent on the Santa Fe, where he hired on in 1950 as a traveling car agent. He retired 38 years later as vice president and assistant to the chairman.

During his first 18 years on the railroad, he worked as a trainmaster in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, as well as superintendent of transportation at the Chicago headquarters. He split his time at Santa Fe with a two-year role managing the Transportation Control Systems Division of Sylvania Electric Products in Waltham, Mass.

Barriger drew on his Santa Fe experience in an article he wrote for the Summer 2011 issue of Classic Trains, called “Disbanding the Tribe,” a study of how postwar Santa Fe management worked to sustain the quality of the company’s passenger trains. In the article, Barriger revealed that his work as head of Staff Studies & Planning led to the railroad’s decision to join Amtrak in 1971 and convey its passenger trains to the new carrier — a difficult decision for a Santa Fe man.

After retiring from Santa Fe, Barriger consulted for R.L. Banks & Associates as well as several railroads. He was a member of numerous professional transportation clubs and was an active participant in the Lexington Group in Transportation History and an advisor to the National Railroad Hall of Fame in Galesburg, Ill.

Barriger was dedicated to preserving his father’s memory. In 1984, he and his late brother Stanley H. Barriger, himself a career railroader, co-founded the John W. Barriger III National Railroad Library, part of the St. Louis Mercantile Library, now at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. A key asset of the library are 15,000 books and tens of thousands of photographs from the senior Barriger’s lifetime collection.

In 2003, UM-St. Louis awarded Jack Barriger an honorary doctorate. Barriger served as a trustee for the library since its founding.

Historian H. Roger Grant, author of the 2018 biography “John W. Barriger III” for Indiana University Press, remembers Jack Barriger for his expansive grasp of history.

“Jack was a remarkable individual,” says Grant. “He was smart, personable, and a talented railroader. He made it possible for me to write a balanced biography of his famous father, and he possessed a vivid memory of his family, industry leaders, and others. He guided me through a host of topics, ranging from the defects of Fairbanks-Morse locomotives to how his father promoted the Monon, Pittsburgh & Lake Erie, and Katy.”

Sharing his own appreciation for Barriger is Ed Burkhardt, chairman of Rail World Inc. and former chairman, president, and CEO of Wisconsin Central Ltd. Burkhardt credits Barriger for memorializing his father even as he made his own mark.

“Following in the wake of John W. Barriger III would be a formidable undertaking in any circumstances, and as JWB’s eldest son, the mantle fell to Jack,” Burkhardt recalls. “He had a noteworthy career on his own, primarily with the Santa Fe, but also with industry associations as diverse as AAPRCO and the National Railroad Hall of Fame.” 

Barriger’s wife of 58 years, Evelyn Dobson Barriger, died in 2014. Barriger is survived by a son, John Barriger V, of Kenilworth; a daughter Catherine (Adam) Dunsby, of Easton, Conn.; and seven grandchildren.

A private funeral mass will be held Friday in Winnetka, Ill. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the John W. Barriger III National Railroad Library, University of Missouri, St. Louis: http://www.umsl.edu/mercantile/barriger/

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