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By A.B.W. 

The many friends of Mr. A. A. Robinson, of 
Topeka, Kansas, will miss his New Year's greeting. 
He had an instinct for friendship, and his friends 
were his treasures. It was characteristic of the 
delicacy of his friendliness, that in whatever 
stress of fatigue or anxiety the holiday season 
found him, he insisted upon writing our names 
with his own hand. Alone he went through his 
book of addresses, and thought of each of us as 
his pen traced the name. Today all of us are re- 
calling him : his masterful and blameless character; 
his constructive and eventful life; and we are 
making grateful appraisal of his many ways of 
enriching us. The world has had many men of 
genius whose ambition and self-emphasis helped 
them to a great fame. It has had but few men of 
complete self-effacement coupled with colossal 
ability. The latter would elude us but for their 
achievements. Albert Robinson is in this silent class. 
When death comes, instantly we feel the impact 
and weight of a character. Letters of condolence 
always show unanimity of impression. In this 
instance, phrases like these were repeated over 

[ I ] 

416425 ' 


and over: "I named my son for him." "He 
moulded my character and my career." "From 
childhood I carried him in a niche of my heart 
because his personality was unique." "I worked 
with him thirty years. The most conscientious 
man in his personal life, the most capable man in 
his official character, I have ever seen." "He 
was always the model for us in the ' Old Control. ' 
He was always the ideal." 

The great war has changed us, even our vocabu- 
lary is different. He suffered with the rest of the 
world, and when the last German drive hurled its 
torments upon us, he was greatly agitated. The woe 
followed him into his intermittent delirium. Once 
he waved his wasted hand, and his voice rang 
out strong once more: ^^ That thing is wrong, and 
it must he righted /^^ Through the letters of his 
friends to Mrs. Robinson we find reiterated 
the phrase, "How glad we are that he lived to see 
the victory of the Allies." During the last sad 
weeks, his beautiful little grand-daughter Ellen 
Catherine was the light of his eyes. Each day 
she laid her baby self beside him, crooning her 
joy and loving his face. 

Albert Alonzo Robinson was born at South 
Reading, Vermont, of New England ancestry, 
October 21, 1844. The name of Robinson 
is a proud one. He was the son of Ebenezer 
Robinson, Jr., and Adeline Williams. His father 
was schoolmaster, carpenter, farmer, and his 



hands were subtle and cunning. When Albert 
was three years old his father died of typhoid 
fever. The little son always remembered being 
carried to see his dead father. His mother v/as 
capable, handsome, and greatly beloved. Her 
family of four children were a lifelong joy, and 
the children kept their serious and industrious 
home life a treasured memory. As a child Albert 
was extremely shy and sensitive. He was a silent 
boy, an ambitious student, and a tireless worker. 
Like his two gifted brothers, when the time came 
for college, he assumed his own expenses — he 
worked his way through. All three brothers 
became civil engineers, and the two older ones 
college professors. The second son, Stillman 
Robinson (a gay and mischievous lad), in addi- 
tion to his classroom labors became a distin- 
guished inventor.^ 

These Robinson brothers were a brilliant trio. 
Tradition says their personal gentleness was al- 

*A certain shoe machine company holds forty-eight of Stillman 
Robinson's patents. His whole life is a tale of steady drudgery and 
achievement. Files of class-room and examination papers corrected 
by his own hand; Sabbaths devoted to coaching his "lame ducks," 
for he would not have his daily recitations spoiled by intellectual 
slovens, so to save his best students he drilled his worst ones. 
Often his nights were spent in solving intricate engineering problems 
constantly submitted to his department, also in disentangling 
railroad responsibilities for the safety of the public. His practised 
technical knowledge foretold the Ashtabula disaster, and he warned 
the railroad against it. From his home in Columbus, Ohio, he 
planned the mountings and foundation of the Lick Observatory. 
Freely he served his city, his university, and the public. 

[3 ] 


ways more astonishing than their genius. Certain 
it is that young Albert Robinson immediately 
attracted the personal interest of his college 
president, who secured for him a position as 
assistant in the United States Surveys. He was 
employed about five months of the year in astrono- 
mical field work, and in triangulation of the Great 
Lakes. By acquiring telegraphy he earned the 
salary of an operator, and also became expert 
with the heliograph. Work was terrific. The route 
lay through a primeval jungle of curious juniper, 
along the northern shores of Lake Superior, 
where no human foot had penetrated. (Indians 
find easier trails.) The matted tangle of juniper 
was shoulder high, often above their heads, 
through which every inch of the way must be 
cut. Packhorses stumbled over the gnarled surface 
roots, and the hoary tangle resisted their axes like 
teak-wood, while myriads of sand-flies and great 
"green-bottles" drove the beasts to frenzy. They 
kicked all the time. They kicked each other. 
They kicked their masters. The men worked and 
slept with gloves and veils, but were always stung, 
and their throats kept swollen even with their 
chins. But the government survey pushed through 
on schedule time. Another assistant wrote home, 
"This living wire juniper stuff, centuries old, is 
tough enough to tear us all limb from limb, men 
and beasts alike." It was Robinson's habit to 
have books on botany in his pack. In that fantas- 

[ 4] 


tic wilderness he found queer mosses, and weird, 
orchid-like plants uncatalogued. He preserved 
specimens and sent them to Asa Gray. It is 
remembered that he spent his evenings slapping 
venomous insects with his pocket handkerchief, 
and with the other hand making herbaria and 
fastidious memoranda for the Harvard botani- 
cal laboratories. There is a fellowship between 
men of genius, and in good time their friendships, 
which bind the earth, are worth all they cost. These 
groups of unclassified flora from the waste regions 
of the Great Lakes introduced our young scientist 
to a choice company; and throughout a long life 
he was associated with great specialists at home 
and in Europe. 

When Mr. Robinson won his graduation degree 
at Ann Arbor, he was alarmingly thin, and those 
who loved him best cried out, "Oh, you weigh 
less than your bones!" So heavy was the toll 
of burdens and honors! Happily his body was 
always a magnificent instrument, and life with 
chain and compass, in open tents, with the taste 
of success, gradually restored his health. A spell 
was in the air. The civil war was finished, and 
days of expansion had come. A period of empire 
building was just beginning. There were dreams, 
and they were charged with dynamic energy. 
Great sums of money were pledged. Railroads 
were to cross the Great American Desert, and 
ardent young spirits snuffed the future from afar, 

[ 5 ] 


and out to the skyline went the workers, — men of 
the severest training; men with skill and daring; 
achieving men. "But we had such a splendid 
time; and these plains, how I love them, they are 
a part of my life," so once spoke Robinson as he 
gazed out of his car window. You longed to ask 
questions, but the currents of his life were always 
deep and silent, like his own canyons, so you 
contented yourself in watching his face grow 
tender and reminiscent. Was he thinking of 
galloping with his friends at nightfall back 
to camp, merry and black as minstrels with 
cinders from the fire-swept prairies; or was it 
freshets, quicksands, whirling dust storms, that 
he remembered ^ Perhaps he was thinking of the 
buffaloes — the unbelievable hordes of rollicking, 
snorting, pounding, thirst-driven creatures, rush- 
ing from wallow to wallow, or was climbing to 
mountain tops searching for the telltale signs 
of the watersheds. New cities and terminals 
must not be on the wrong side, else they will be 
exterminated by the first cloud-burst or cyclone. 
Was he outwitting vagabond rivers, those that 
lie on the top of the ground without any banks ? 
They are east of the camp at night, and flow west 
of the camp in the morning, spoiling square 
miles of fair pasturage. ^ 

There were many discouragements. Indian and 
outlaw lurked near isolated encampments, and men 
were armed to the teeth, but horses and supplies 

[ 6] 


sometimes disappeared. Capitalists were com- 
plaining of delays. There was constant exaspera- 
tion. Once it was over the obliteration of prelimi- 
nary surveys. As camps shifted, the line of stakes 
waving their red flannel flags to outline the cryptic 
maps of exploration, would be found prostrate. 
Not a single stake could keep its position, and the 
toil of weeks must be repeated. No one could 
trace the culprits. Robinson found that the mis- 
chief was always wrought in moonlight. Some 
localities would be constantly robbed. He selected 
the worst place and watched. From the hot 
hills came a procession of antelopes in single 
file, silent and ceremonious as nuns, and daintily 
nipped away each fragment of flannel and worried 
every stake to the ground. They were at play. 

The rainless days were too short for these gal- 
lant horsemen. Early they were out scouring the 
horizon, selecting the loveliest valleys for the 
railroad patji. They knew how to find them. Gay 
hearts had escorted wayward rivers to their 
sources, and discovered the breaks and gaps among 
piled up peaks, where water has performed her 
sublime miracles and opened shadowy vistas 
for the world's traffic. Fearing no evil, they 
welcomed jokes and dangers. Scouts they were; 
scholars, and gentlemen. Their youth accepted 
the challenge to subdue a continent, and they 
toiled like soldiers under arms. Quivering, blistering 
heat must bleach the color from their eyes. Horses 

[ 7 ] 


must ford streams foaming with a succession of 
rapids, and they must not stumble over burrows 
and tussocks of the prairie. Neither must they 
sHp on snow-powdered barrens. The sound of 
crackling, settling ice, or the wash of whirlpools 
must not bring panic to faithful brutes. Together 
man and beast often must sleep in the open, 
perhaps near mines, or coal beds, or oil fields. 
When tempests like Genii beat them down, again 
they were off and away, ransacking the West 
for its secrets and treasure. What are frosts or 
thirst or hunger to men like these? It is the epic 
life of empire builders. The excitement of ex- 
ploration was better borne than the monotony of 
track laying, and galling drudgery broke the courage 
of stout men. One of his company remembers the 
awakening of the camp each morning, by the 
hoofs of the Robinson horse taking the chief down 
the tent line to the tracks, where he inspected the 
previous day's work. Every unlucky tie had to 
be "fixed." After breakfast he was ahead of the 
advance parties, always cheerful and more at- 
tentive to the comfort of the men than to his own. 
Many incidents are related of those early days. 

One summer, in the hot lands of Arizona, a vine 
climbed his tent pole and unfurled a great disk of 
color like a morning-glory. It was thrilling, because 
not a dot of green trembled in the sun from 
camp to mirage. Nothing moved but whirlpools 
of dust in puffs of heat. Every morning a new 

[ 8 ] 


blossom appeared like a comedian to lord it over 
the alkali desert. Through the breathless forenoon 
and high midday it burned from rose to royal 
purple. Its bodyguard of polished leaves glistened 
with dew. At five in the afternoon it folded itself. 
Our botanists traced this witch-plant into the 
sweet-potato family, and could take it no further. 
Mr. Robinson began to dig nights to look at the 
roots, but apparently there was only a slender 
stem leading into the bowels of the earth. Finally 
he came to a huge wooden bulk, like an over- 
turned tree stump, and when it was split open, out 
gushed pure water. The bonnie goblin had 
secreted for itself a cistern below the line of evapo- 
ration. It went to Asa Gray and got a long bio- 
graphical, unpronounceable name. But the im- 
portant point was the intimacy established between 
the two men. Those were not Burbank days. 
Government experiment stations were scarcely 
begun, but at Harvard, Science had patient slaves, 
and to them, too, the West was a flaming prophecy. 
They knew the buffalo was doomed. Those 
giddy, restless freebooters must relinquish their 
grazing grounds to corn and wheat. How long 
had their sharp hoofs kept the soil loose and sterile 
as they stampeded from east to west, from north 
to south, like the indefatigable tides of the sea. 
Grass must be found strong enough to hold down 
the tossing sand in spite of scorching, tormenting 
wind; grass persistent and vital to undermine sage- 



brush and cacti, to supplant the wild herds and make 
the earth ready for harvest. Was it to be the coarse, 
heavy variety that saved the sand dunes of Holland, 
or must it be the more fragile species from arid 
Syria? Was it the old tufted pampas grass from 
South America? Asa Gray sent Mr. Robinson 
specimens to plant and observe. You can see him 
on his knees with his magnifying glass examining 
the roots to see which kind kept the strongest fibers 
under the novel conditions of the American Desert. 
When found, the sturdiest root had to come from 
South Africa. The railroad builders scattered 
the seed from their saddles when they went to 
toil, to hunt, to reconnoitre. It was dropped 
wherever they passed. It was with the wheat 
from these vast reclaimed deserts that the Allies 
were fed during the great war.^ 

A dreary winter was spent in the basin of the 
Red River. The survey was almost complete 
when an instrument gave out. The question 
arose whether time could be saved by repairing 

*Just this side of the "bad lands" Mr. Robinson pointed to a 
violet-tinted mesa, and asked, "Can you see those streaks of green 
along the cracks in those cliffs?" I was just able to discern them. 
"The soil is very thin out there," he said, "but the grass is getting 
ahead. It grows hardy as it gets up. It advances about a foot in a 
year. But sometime it will manage to go over the top and down 
the other side until it reaches the black lava beds." Instinctively 
my eye measured the distance between the railroad bed this man 
had laid and the dim margin of the mesa and realized that a genera- 
tion ago he had found time to plant that "gift-bearing grass" in the 
volcanic sand. And there it is getting on. 

[ lO] 


the damage, or whether a duplicate must be sent 
from a distant city. Mr. Robinson decided to 
undertake the restoration. He remembered a 
forge a day's gallop away where there was steel 
and a clever blacksmith. The crust would not 
hold up a horse through the day, but at night a 
rider was safe enough. The moon was full, and 
he started, with a loaded revolver of small caliber, 
but without extra bullets. With the blacksmith's 
assistance he forged a new cylinder with ease, 
and struck the homeward trail in high spirits. 
A couple of hours sped away, when he began to 
hear the musical sound of wolves. The call of 
the leading wolves for their packs is high falsetto 
— they are answered in lower key. It is their 
habit to 'hunt in small packs of from five to twelve, 
and he became aware that they were coming from 
every direction and that soon they would appear 
on the horizon in numbers that could not be 
computed. His horse shuddered and stopped. 
He would back and plunge, but he would not 
go forward. The rider was without a whip; 
his right hand steadying his instrument from too 
heavy jarring. He dismounted and eased the bit, 
braided the forelocks out of eyes that would never 
need to see so clearly again. He tightened the 
girths, screwed his spurs, and mounted. Could 
he start that horse? It was his own mount, 
and he spoke the word, and off they went! Now 
the wolves were facing him. They seemed like 

[ II ] 


a moving fog coming to envelop him. When 
they came so near that he saw their frosted breath, 
the horse stopped. Then the wolves stopped. 
They were the gray timber wolves. The snow 
was white; the horse was white; the moon was 
white. There was a deep blue shadow of horse 
and rider. The wolves began to examine the 
shadow in groups; and then went back to rejoin 
their fellows. Gradually the mass divided, most 
of them going on the right side in company with 
the shadow, leaving a path which the horse was 
quick to see. On they went — the horse and rider 
with the shadow, and the wolves racing on the 
shadow side. As the horse began to stumble 
and quiver, the rider stopped. And the wolves 
stopped. When the horse had rested they went 
onward together, the creatures intoning and 
howling. They never crowded nearer than the 
shadow. With the instinct of the hunter the 
rider began to realize that the wolves were at 
play like the antelopes, and his danger would 
be in the fall of his horse. After reaching camp, 
it was ascertained that higher up the Red River 
herds of wild cattle had drifted with the terrible 
storm and were held on its banks by the surging 
current. There they were followed by the wolves 
and the wolves had gorged themselves. Now they 
were out with the glee of exercise and adventure. 

In the pestilential marshes of the lower Missouri 
River, where the climate is well nigh insupport- 

[ 12 ] 


able, a levee was to be built. Marshes were to be 
drained and a roadbed laid. When Mr. Robinson 
went to take the contract, he found himself 
supported by gangs of Poles, underfed, under- 
sized, tubercular, fit only for quarantine. The 
government inspection of immigration was slack 
in those days. He was apprehensive, and his 
impulse was to throw up the contract. But 
time is urgent with a great builder. The men 
were quarrelsome, insubordinate, and homesick. 
When a paymaster disappeared with many 
thousands of dollars due them for wages, they 
imagined themselves defrauded. Fevered with 
malaria, bewildered with misery, they attacked 
the tents of their overseers at night. Robinson, 
with a revolver in each hand, in nightclothes, 
went out to the yelling mob of madmen. They 
had come for him with ropes and gibbet. He 
spoke a few syllables of their patois and they 
were induced to disperse. What is there in a 
man's soul that thus quells a mutiny? Often 
he was to be in riots and mobs. 

From the power to crush mutiny up to one 
that conquers nature, is but an ascending step. 
Nature is a hard master. Her splendors and her 
obstacles give different moods to different minds. 
Some they will depress; others they will inspire. 
Grandeur and unchartered solitudes may produce 
dejection and irritation among the weakUngs in 
a camp outfit. Nostalgia appears even in men of 

[ 13 ] 


full vitality. To other souls there comes In- 
tellectual stimulus — a consciousness of power 
almost ecstatic. Humboldt tells about it as 
he faced world wonders everywhere. Agasslz 
out among the Ice masses of Switzerland, tolled 
In a transport of delight, and the work under 
his hands flew as with wings. Darwin was like 
a magnet drawing everything that grew every- 
where into the science In which his soul reveled. 
Albert Robinson had the quality of that high 
company. Nature's wonders and obstacles so 
kindled his great nature, so released his rich 
native endowment, that he worked with the 
ease of a magician. He was heard to say: "I 
loved it. We were all of us opening up our own 
country; every man doing his utmost; each one 
serving, to the last boy in the pack trains. I 
could not help seeing the right way for things to 
be done. I seemed to work with my heart instead 
of with my head. I ought never to be praised." 
The cup of life to him was not a drug nor a fatality: 
it was elixir, a daily restorer, that kept him 
immune while other men around him burnt out. 
Through arduous years he maintained his pro- 
digious labors. It is thus that we account for his 
name being associated with the great engineering 
feats of his generation. 

He built more miles of railroad than any other 
man. The speed with which he constructed his 
road when It was extended to the Chicago Termi- 

[ 14] 


nal, without mistake or loss of harmony among his 
army of workmen, has never been duplicated. 
He bridged the Des Moines, Illinois, and Grand 
Rivers, also many considerable streams; the Mis- 
souri, with its shifting bottom, and the mighty 
Mississippi, all in less than a year. But among 
engineers, the bridge that opened the Royal 
Gorge of the Arkansas best shows the originality 
and power of his genius. 

Where the walls of the precipice are sheer for 
three thousand feet, and the menacing cut is 
a narrow rock gate filled by the torrential river, 
there he swung his bridge. Not a footpath was 
possible through the jaws of that gorge; but he 
thrust a bridge and its railroad between them. 
It hangs twenty-five hundred feet from the top 
of the cliff, held by great steel girders mortised 
into the rock wall. There it is suspended, five 
hundred feet above the flood! A magical link 
it is, two hundred feet long, between the roadbeds 
east and west of the chasm. It opens to commerce 
a vast country of surpassing richness, and to 
throngs of wondering tourists exhibits a marvel 
of engineering. No railroad in the world runs 
through so deep a canyon. His bridge is the delight 
of every consummate engineer. The principle 
of its construction has been seized upon to meet 
lesser emergent difficulties in Peace and in War^ 

*In recent Balkan warfare arms of oak were substituted for the 
steel levers in bridging the many gorges, chasms, and fissures. 

[ IS ] 


as well as to compass vast engineering enterprises 
everywhere. The heavy shadows of the Gorge 
make photographic representation inadequate; 
but some day Joseph Pennell will etch the wonder 
of that bridge. At any rate, Robinson solved 
the marvel and mystery of the Royal Gorge. It 
is like romance to hear of the triumphant survey 
made upon the ice after the baffled engineers of 
rival roads had abandoned the Gorge as hopeless; 
of the strenuous warfare and protracted litigation 
which accompanied and followed the creation of 
that bridge, and the final mad midnight race of 
Robinson's engineers to hold it. Thus they won 
the "Celebrated Case." 

When the steel track had been carried from 
Chicago to the Gulf of Mexico, and on again 
to the Pacific Coast, Robinson began his career 
as a railroad manager. 

The task of an administrator is spent under 
grilling care. Also life on the great plains is 
heavy with responsibility; but sleep **Out There" 
becomes delicious and potent. In the open air, it 
is thin and light, and the sun-baked earth acts like 
a sounding board for the soft-footed night sounds. 
But the nights restore a man's buoyancy for the 
bright days. There is game, and migration of 
birds. In the springtime there are flowers and 
nests; but men who manage the business of rail- 
roads wear an iron yoke. The sense of human 
life at the mercy of steel and timber is ever with 

[ i6 ] 


them, like an added faculty. The hiss of competi- 
tion; the swirl and noise of traffic, in all its com- 
plexity and detail, eat like acid. Capital expects 
dividends. Labor must be paid, and every day is 
a grapple. Lucky is a great corporation like the 
Santa Fe when its general manager is beloved 
all down the ranks. He deals with men at their 
best and worst, and he must rule with irresistible 
discipline. It was good to hear of Mr. Robinson 
when some one winced under him, "Yes, but 
he is such a splendid gentleman — what man 
was ever better set up?" He was always the 
Chief, never the "Boss." The ability successfully 
to deal with men was instinctive. He controlled 
men in masses, in committees, offices, and boards; 
in repair shops, power plants, stockyards, and 
mines. He knew all kinds of men; juggling 
financiers, ponderous capitalists, corrupt freight 
agents, venal contractors, lobbyists. A railroad 
system must have hospitals, banks, oil wells, 
rolling stock, refrigerator trains, mail cars, city 
properties, rich timber lands, and elemental re- 
sources which would baffle all but the initiated. 
Everywhere there must be loyalty and efficiency. 
For years he swung from altitude to altitude, 
buying, selling, commanding, investigating, keep- 
ing ahead of his own success, searching always 
and everywhere for men, — the men who could 
be trusted with public safety. So litigations 
claimed him, and accidents. There were heart- 

[ 17] 


breaking mistakes among directors and officials. 
There was corruption, but he was incorruptible. 
His own learned and laborious life flowed on. 
No secret bloodhound guilt ever tracked down 
his spirit. Crime is shy, and he was a man to 

Mr. Robinson had been married in 1869 after 
an engagement of eight years to Julia Caroline 
Burdick, in Edgerton, Wisconsin. She was a 
teacher, and their intimacy began when they were 
schoolmates. She lived until August, 1881, leaving 
an only child, Metta Burdick Robinson, a delicate 
little girl, who has become Mrs. Glenwood E. Jones. 
In 1885 Mr. Robinson was married to Mrs. 
Ellen Burdick Williams, a sister of the first wife, 
who still survives him. The hospitality of their 
home in Topeka is well known, and through the 
years Mr. Robinson operated the roads he had 
built, there passed through his doors many social 
types. Because of his fame as a civil engineer 
he was summoned to sit in the councils of the 
European Cabinets, and twice a year he went 
over the seas. What compensations reached him 
from those continental discussions upon Conser- 
vation, Restoration, Construction! 

When from success, and assured position in 
his own country, he turned his face to Mexico, 
his friends were surprised that he chose to spend 
the rich years of his maturity among that turbulent 
people, yet no one better knew the vast resources 

[ i8 ] 


of that country. He had confidence in himself, 
and confidence that the distraught and tragic 
nation would not always be false to its own 
physical geography and its own future. The man 
of granite, Diaz, implacable, unapproachable, 
severe, and Robinson, patient, with suppressed 
passion and conviction, became excellent friends. 
Together they worked for thirteen years for im- 
proved sanitation and reforms, until the railroad 
was taken over by the government. There was 
always the landlord, the Spanish grandee. Peon 
and patriot alike were exasperated to the point 
of insurrection, and every class suffered from the 
menace of chronic disorder. However, among 
many responsibilities, he was able to serve the 
native industries. They needed protection from 
exploitation by European capitalists. His trans- 
atlantic friendships were invaluable during that 
agitation. Lord Curzon, with Sir Ernest Castle, 
and other English stockholders of his road, became 
interested to correct injustice and abuse and the 
ubiquitous robbery of mines and exports. Ann 
Arbor, his beloved Alma Mater, in recognition of 
his successful service during that critical period, 
honored him with its highest tribute — the degree 
of LL.D. He always loved Mexico and believed 
in her ultimate destiny. Her patriots trusted him. 
Banks and embassies eagerly assisted his projects. 
Popularizing disputed reforms among ignorant, re- 
luctant populations is costly, but he was generous. 

[ 19 ] 


His private car was the vehicle of an abound- 
ing hospitality throughout his railroad life. The 
guests on his trains hardly suspected the power 
of his energy. He was still, imperturbable, 
absorbed with his enthusiasms. A Spanish 
grammar was his vade mecum. Yet a road super- 
intendent insisted that "he eyed every rail of the 
track. We all believe he would like nothing better 
than to feel of every spike. His eyes discover 
every pick and shovel we leave out, and they find 
the man who forgot them." With characteristic 
thrift and self-devotion he corrected an inaccurate 
survey with his own hand, a matter of laborious 
months, to save his company $40,000, the price 
of a new survey. He had developed two principal 
harbors, one at Tampico, on the Gulf of Mexico, 
and Manzanillo, on the Pacific coast. He con- 
nected them by a line over a mountain range 
said to be impassable to railroads. He was older 
and heavier, though again he must be in the 
saddle. This pitiless labor in the high, tropical 
altitudes, over uneroded precipices, together with 
the blunders of subordinates, brought the first 
symptoms of serious illness. But he had found the 
great pass over the range, the Sierra Madre ! 

Mr. Robinson was a man of military type — 
laconic, reserved, accustomed to a self-discipline 
of monastic austerity. Underneath his distin- 
guished bearing were hidden sympathy and tender- 
ness beyond telling. Every one knew it. When 

[ 20] 


sunstroke or pneumonia or nervous prostration 
invaded his staff, he took their burdens in addition 
to his own, to save them their salaries. When there 
was protest he laughed and said, "I have always 
been able to do the work of any four men." In 
emergencies he worked holidays, Sundays, and 
evenings. "Railroads and newspapers never rest," 
he would say. The Robinson brothers could suifer 
and keep their secret. They could work pallid 
and faint, and give no sign. When time had 
turned his curls to silver, and softly uncovered 
the massive and delicate modelling of his forehead, 
and sickness had come to abide, behind his brown 
eyes the spirit of his youth still sang: 

"Nothing is too bitter for my high heart." 

During his retirement from active business 
he kept absorbed with scientific interests at 
home and abroad through learned societies to 
which he was attached, and they had the benefit 
of his correspondence. University Clubs in our 
great cities cherished his membership. He much 
enjoyed his association with the civic organizations 
of his own State and city where he met intimate 
and lifelong friends. Travel and books refreshed 
him, as his strength slowly ebbed away. A guest 
saw him with one of the classics open upon his 
knee, then Mr. Robinson, so shy and incurably 
modest to the end, ventured the remark: "The 
poets take too much time. I presume railroad men 

[ 21 ] 


are almost spoiled for literature. We get trained 
to think and speak with telegraphic precision, still 
I am sure most poets take too long to tell it. 
Poetry to justify its escape from prose ought to 
bite and sing all the way, like a steel drill." 

Through his decline his household was sustained 
by his own strength and poise. When the final 
peace came to him, he looked as beautiful as he 
was, — a majestic soul received into radiant 
immortality. In the Cathedral Church, beneath 
the velvet pall with his own orchids above him, 
he was statuesque. Twenty years after he had 
left their road, the gentlemen from the Santa Fe 
offices in Topeka had given him a memorable 
banquet, at which he was overwhelmed with 
aifection. Now the army of men all down the 
railway lines whom he had trained and promoted 
mourned for him. Always to them he was " Robin- 
son the Superb." He was carried in a private 
car to his own mausoleum at Edgerton, Wisconsin. 
One of his old friends was thinking of a favorite 
marble youth in the Vatican, from an antique 
altar. It is described by Professor Huxley — 
"Fit for a Temple, because it proves how much 
finer our humanity is than all we have dreamed 
or imagined." 

Hail, beloved, hail! Farewell, never! 

"Time hath no lance to wound thee." 

[ 22 ] 


Once in making a hurried Atlantic passage, unex- 
pectedly he found that Mark Twain occupied the 
stateroom opposite his own. In the early morning 
before the decks were washed, Robinson, wrapped in 
his ulster and carrying his favorite instruments, met 
Mark, with his fluffy hair and spotless white flannels, 
looking like a puif out of a box. Mark's hand was out 
with a "How do you do," as if they had always known 
each other. "I am on my way to the bridge with these 
old-fashioned instruments," said Robinson, "to see if 
I can make with the captain an accurate nautical obser- 
vation; he doubts if I can do it." "Would you be 
willing to take me along," said Mark. "Yes," said 
Robinson jokingly, "if you will get on something warm 
over those night duds of yours." Robinson satisfied 
himself, also the captain. During the rest of the voyage 
he and Mark entertained themselves "over the rail" 
estimating the distance to passing vessels. Mr. Robin- 
son remarked that he never saw a mind work with 
such lightning rapidity as Mark Twain's, adding, "Had 
I ever found an assistant half as quick, he would have 
gotten ahead of me and taken all my jobs." 

Forty years ago, when New Orleans struggled under 
its war debts, he gave drawings, specifications, and esti- 
mates to the city, for a series of double crescent levees 

[ 23 ] 


which would reinforce the natural and artificial em- 
bankments. Thus would be saved the richest silt of 
the Continent that is every year being lost in the Gulf. 
This restored soil would furnish a perfect habitat for 
hemp and fruit. But the city was too embarrassed or 
too short-sighted to avail itself of his generosity. 

At one of the dinners in England, which was a royal 
function, a lady asked Mrs. Robinson if her husband 
was not embarrassed by so many honors and ceremonies, 
and she received the reply: "I do not know why my 
husband should feel embarrassment. He looks as well 
and knows as much as any of them; and I am sure he 
behaves as well." 

This from a foreign hotel. "We found his mineral 
water on our dressers. He built and lighted our fires 
before we knew we needed them. When we were off 
on an excursion and he did not always accompany 
us, he was up before us, out in the cold, examining the 
buckles and leather, making sure that all was safe." 

From a promoted train hand: "No man ever got 
him, but he sometimes got us. I remember the worst 
blizzard of the Northwest. I got to be station master. 
The heavy express had a new engineer. 'Twas late. 
The storm was thick. There was a heavy grade ahead 

[ 24] 


— the worst on the line. Mr. Robinson comes down 
my platform brisk, looking the wheels over like his way 
was, jaunty-like. Then he squinted the engine over. 
Quick as a wink he tosses up a hand, and shouts into the 
cab, "You throw out that half bottle of whiskey to me 

— you've got it there under your cushion." But the 
critter fumbled with his levers, and began oiling, 
clever-like. The general manager shouted up again, 
" Send out that whiskey," and out it came, and Mr. 
Robinson caught it like a toy. "Now send out that 
full bottle behind your flange." Quick and hard, out it 
came. I thought it was going to smash his head, but he 
caught it on the fly, and trudged into my place. It 
wasn't my business, but I heard- myself say, "You 
knew he was a drinking man." "No, but I had to find 
out. It is a bad night." All civil, but his eyes flashed 
into my* coal hod. There was peelin's and paper in it. 
Then he traipsed out into my telegraph office, hugging 
the bottles unnatural like. My two stoves were not 
blacked up very smart; but nobody ever twitted me 
over it again. I thought my station would blow down 
the gulch before morning got there." 

Every heart that cherishes him is tender with 
reminiscence. His bounty was scattered from Boston 
to Vera Cruz; from Chicago to San Francisco. 

A cousin writes: "Do you remember the grapes 
that were spilled and forgotten when we took 
dinner in the kitchen of the little wood-colored house 
on the hill.^ We went out to enjoy the view. He stayed 
behind, and picked up every grape under the table 
and chairs. They rolled behind the flounce of the 

[ 25 ] 


home-made lounge. They were under the stove, but not 
one remained to stain the spotless floor our feeble 
hostess has scrubbed white all her life long." 

From "Jack," a porter: "None ob de beasts out on 
de prairie ever dast tech him. Soon as dey see his 
cap, dey takes to dair heels mighty quick." Grafters 
and imposters must have had a similar experience. 

This is from a minister: "His scientific, sympathetic 
care of men was even more remarkable than his own 
endurance. Men idolized him because they could trust 
him, and he never failed them." 

This was overheard from him concerning another 
profession. "Ministers do the most difficult thing in 
the world, and each year they contrive to live, it grows 
harder for them." 



From the Lynn ///m, Massachusetts: 

. . . He became President of the Mexican Central 
Railroad in May, 1893, and resigned in 1906. During 
that time the track grew from 1,800 to 3,400 miles and 
its condition was vastly improved. Mr. Robinson was 
identified with many interests in Mexico, being a 
director in banks and an investor in many enterprises. 
Many of these were promoted as feeders to the Mexican 
Central. Development of the port of Tampico was one 
of his great achievements. As an expert in railroad 
affairs his advice was often sought. . . . 

From the Galveston News: 

Our Island City has lost a valued and old time 
friend in the death of Albert Robinson, the brilliant 
authority in railroad and harbor engineering. . . . 
We were a "feeble folk" when he selected us for his 
port city. He chose us for the terminus of the Southern 
branch of the road he represented against an abusive 
opposition. Our bankers have grown rich with the 
traffic of the Southwest which he brought to our gates. 
During his long service with the Santa Fe, he warned 
our city against its indifference to danger from tidal 
disturbance. He reminded us that we were two miles 
out from the mainland and were in the tropical and 
volcanic zone of danger. He taught us that Venice 
would not have survived the middle ages without her 
Lido, but would have been pounded to wreckage by the 
Adriatic. But we built no new breakwater, and we 
suffered our disaster. 

[ 27 ] 


From the Canon City Daily Record^ Colorado: 

He was at one time chief engineer, vice president, 
and general manager of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa 
Fe Railroad Company, and was supervisor of the 
construction of the main lines of that great transporta- 
tion system. By reason of his thoroughness and effi- 
ciency as an engineer, the Santa Fe road was built in 
the most substantial manner and at a minimum ex- 
penditure. . . . His skill and ability as a financier 
were of signal service to the Santa Fe company, and 
was of inestimable value in the development of the 
West. . . . The people of Canon City hold him in 
kindly remembrance for his marked discretion in the 
management of the Santa Fe company's interest, and 
in the avoidance of bloodshed at the time of the con- 
troversy for the right of way through the Royal Gorge 
known as the "Grand Canon War," when 1,700 men 
were employed by a rival company for patrol duty 
along its course. Mr. Robinson played a distinguished 
and conspicuous part in the "Winning of the West." 

From the Railroad Review j Chicago, Ills. : 

Mr. Robinson was educated at Milton, Wisconsin, 
Academy, and the University of Michigan, receiving 
the degree of civil engineer in 1869; the degree of 
Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in 1870 and 
1871 ; the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws in 1900. 
In his phenomenal record as builder and administrator, 
this official item is reported: "On the Pueblo and 
Denver line, 116 miles in 216 days were constructed; 
and in the Kansas City and Chicago line, 360 miles 
in 276 days were finished. The latter achievement 
embraced permanent bridges across the Missouri, 
Mississippi, Des Moines, and Illinois Rivers." 

r 28 1 


From the Engineering Record^ New York City: 

Mr. Robinson was prodigal of his energy and atten- 
tion. Every town and city on the Santa Fe System, 
from intricate terminals to the least insignificant village 
yards, bears his personal impress. He was a member 
of many learned societies. . . . When Mr. Robinson 
was first employed by the Santa Fe, that line consisted 
of a mere hundred miles of rails. When he left the road 
as General Manager and Vice-President, twenty-two 
years later, it had grown into a system of more than 
nine thousand miles. 

From Boy Scout Items: 

He was a "lightning calculator" in astronomical field 
work; in the knack .of making instantaneous pre- 
liminary estimates he was ranked with minds like 
Napoleon. . . . Through a long life he never indulged 
in tobacco or alcohol in any form. He was a faultless 
listener, always fair and open to complaints. His 
equanimity was proof against harrowing excitements 
and distressing delays. The art of giving directions 
was his and each command was clear, comprehensive, 
consecutive, and complete. His personal polish in the 
far West was a protection among prospectors, pro- 
moters, land-grabbers, and temporizing legislators. 
Brawls over disputed claims among squatters and 
human scavengers furnish materials for dangerous 
vicissitudes; but he lived a charmed life. . . . His 
technical library is given to Washburn College. He 
was an ideal captain for boys and men; a master scout 
on a great "hike" in a heroic period; a nobleman from 
every angle; a true knight, without fear and without 



From the Kansas City Journal: 

With at times more than fifty thousand men under 
his command, and spending millions upon millions of 
dollars for the men he represented, he never failed to be 
fair, and no man ever questioned the absolute integrity 
of any act. Every mile of road he ever built — whether 
for the Santa Fe or the Mexican Central, of which he 
became president — was built according to his prefer- 
ence, without his bond and subject to his option as to 
change and modification, and with the understanding 
on both sides that whatever he thought was fair should 
prevail. The history of such men — powerful, far- 
sighted, rigidly honest, modest, kindly, and gentle — 
is the best history to which the youth of the land can 
be directed. ... 

From the London Lancet: 

When Sir Ernest Castle made official financial 
estimates for the Nile Dam in Egypt, he sent for Mr. 
A. A. Robinson, the greatest living authority on 
Desert Topography and Water Ways, and together 
they accomplished that stupendous engineering feat 
which restored to arable land the Southern African 

[ 30]