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Renowned Railroad Historian H. Roger Grant, 79

Written by David C. Lester, Engineering Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Railway Track & Structures
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H. Roger Grant. Clemson University photo

Clemson history professor and prolific railroad historian H. Roger Grant has died.

Any readers who study railroad history are likely familiar with the work of H. Roger Grant. One of the most prolific railroad historians and the author of over 40 books, Grant died on Friday, Nov. 17. He was 79, and was in his final semester of teaching history at Clemson, planning to retire at the end of it.

Clemson University released a statement about Grant’s passing:

“Clemson University mourns the death of H. ‘Roger’ Grant, Professor, History. The University was notified on Nov. 17 that Dr. Grant had passed away. He was hired at Clemson on August 15, 1996, and was in his 27th year at the University.

“Roger was one of the leading historians of American railroads with an amazing record of having published more than 40 books, but what his colleagues will remember is his kindness and generosity, especially to new faculty,” said Stephanie Barczewski, Acting Chair, Department of History and Geography. “Beyond his academic accomplishments, Roger was instrumental in building community within the department and university, and he will be greatly missed.”

“Grant, who intended to retire at the end of the semester, was continuing his research, with two more books in development when he died. He was recognized as the University’s Centennial Professor in 2004. He was also honored as one of 75 people worthy of praise in the 75th anniversary of Trains magazine.”

Grant is survived by his wife, Martha, and by his daughter, Julia.

I had the opportunity to meet and talk with Dr. Grant on several occasions, usually during meetings of the Lexington Group in Transportation History. He was always kind, friendly, and helpful. The railroad history community lost another giant on Friday.

“It is with profound sadness that I announce the passing of H. Roger Grant, historian, board member, and past president of the Lexington Group,” said Lexington Group President Al Churella. “An Iowa native, Roger was born in Ottumwa on Nov. 28, 1943, and spent his formative years in Albia.  His appreciation for the region’s railroads and people is reflected in many of his works, most recently Sunset Cluster: A Shortline Railroad Saga.  It was one of more than forty books that Roger authored during a stellar career, covering such diverse topics as electric interurbans, the development of railway technology, and the life of station agents.  His biographies of John W. Barriger III and Jervis Langdon Jr. provide extraordinary insights into individuals who have shaped the railroad industry.  Studies of the Wabash and the declining years of the Erie Lackawanna have become classics, and attest to the thoroughness of his research and his skill as a storyteller.  His scholarship has resulted in widespread recognition, including the George W. and Constance M. Hilton Book Award and the Gerald M. Best Senior Achievement Award from the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society.

“During his time at the University of Akron, between 1970 and 1996, and since then as the Kathryn and Calhoun Lemon Professor of History at Clemson University, Roger displayed skill and dedication as a teacher.  He won widespread praise from his colleagues, who noted his warmth, sense of humor and commitment to mentoring emerging scholars.

“Roger was a dedicated supporter of the Lexington Group and served for many years on the board.  He was my predecessor as president, during a period he jokingly referred to as “the Grant Administration.”  I last saw him a few weeks ago, during our excursion on the East Broad Top.  He was in his element, delighted at the opportunity to spend time with trains, and with his friends.  I will cherish the memory of sitting with him at lunch that day, discussing a wide range of topics, and I wish that I could have another such opportunity.

“Roger’s support for railroad history extended far beyond the Lexington Group and included membership on the boards of directors of the Center for Railroad Photography & Art and the John W. Barriger III National Railroad Library.  He was also co-editor of the Railroads Past and Present series at Indiana University Press.  His fellow editor, Tom Hoback, informed me of Roger’s passing, noting that ‘we’ve lost a giant.’  No matter how many words I write, I can think of no better way to describe Roger’s extraordinary life and career, and how much we will miss him.”

Here are just some of the books Grant authored during his career:

  • Sunset Cluster: A Shortline Railroad Saga, Indiana University Press (2023)
  • The Station Agent and the American Railroad Experience, Indiana University Press (2022).
  • A Mighty Fine Road: A History of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad Company, Indiana University Press (2020).
  • Transportation and the American People. Indiana University Press (2019).
  • John W. Barringer III: Railroad Legend. Indiana University Press (2018).
  • Rails to the Front: The Role of Railroads in Wartime (with A. J. Veenendaal, Jr.) , Karwansaray Publishers (2017).
  • Electric Interurbans and the American People, Indiana University Press (2016).
  • Railroaders without Borders: A History of the Railroad Development Corporation, Indiana University Press (2015).
  • The Louisville, Cincinnati, & Charleston Railroad: Dreams of Linking North and South, Indiana University Press (2014).
  • Railroads and the American People, Indiana University Press (2012).
  • Twilight Rails: The Final Era of Railroad Building in the Midwest , University of Minnesota Press (2010).
  • Visionary Railroader: Jervis Langdon Jr. and the Transportation Revolution, Indiana University Press (2008).
  • Rails Through the Wiregrass: A History of the Georgia and Florida Railroad. Northern Illinois University Press, (2006).
  • The Railroad: The Life Story of a Technology, Greenwood Publishing (2005).
  • Follow the Flag: A History of the Wabash Railroad Company. Northern Illinois University Press, (2004).
  • Getting Around: Exploring Transportation History, Krieger Publishing (2003).
  • Iowa Railroads: The Essays of Frank P. Donovan, Jr. University of Iowa Press (2000).
  • Ohio on the Move: Transportation in the Buckeye State, Ohio University Press (2000).
  • The North Western: A History of the Chicago & North Western Railway. Northern Illinois University Press, (1996).
  • Erie Lackawanna: Death of An American Railroad, Stanford University Press (1994).
  • Living in the Depot: The Two-Story Railroad Station, University of Iowa Press (1993).
  • Brownie the Boomer: The Life of Charles P. Brown, An American Railroader, Northern Illinois University Press (1991).
  • Spirit Fruit: A Gentle Utopia, Northern Illinois University Press (1988).
  • The Corn Belt Route: A History of the Chicago Great Western Railroad Company, Northern Illinois University Press (1984).
  • Self-Help in the 1890s Depression, Iowa State University Press (1983).
  • Insurance Reform: Consumer Action in the Progressive Era, Iowa State University Press (1979).