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John Brandt was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, July 4, 1828, and is of German descent, his great-grand parents having emigrated from Germany, and settled in Pennsylvania, in the early history of that State. His father, John Brandt, for several years was engaged in the manufacture of rifles for the United States Government at Lancaster, and was a man of great natural mechanical ability. When the first railroad in Pennsylvania, known as the Old State road, running from Philadelphia to Columbia, and now a part of the Pennsylvania railroad system, was completed, the managers secured a locomotive of English manufacture. This was in the infancy of railroad operations in America, and after repeated failures in putting this primitive locomotive in working order, Mr. Brandt was sent for and speedily accomplished the task. His quick perception of the mechanical principles involved, although. in an entirely new field of work, attracted considerable attention and he was soon after appointed master mechanic of the road, which at that time was operated by the State. He remained in this position some eight or ten years, and was then appointed to a similar position on the Cumberland Valley Railroad, and later as superintendent of the motor power and machinery of the New York & Erie Railroad. In 1851 was made superintendent of the New Jersey Locomotive Works, at Paterson, New Jersey, and in 1853 assisted in founding the Lancaster Locomotive Works, at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, becoming superintendent of the works. He served in this latter position for two rears, when he retired from active life. He was connected with railroading during the incipient stages of its development in America, and it opened for him a field in which his natural talents for mechanics became valuable and were highly appreciated. He died at an advanced age in 1880.
John Brandt, the subject of this sketch, began his railroad career at the age of fourteen as fireman on the old State Road of Pennsylvania. In 1843 he was promoted to locomotive engineer, and so continued until 1846, when he changed to the New York & Erie in the same capacity. In 1847 he was promoted to the position of assistant superintendent of the motor power on the latter road, and stationed at Susquehanna, Pennsylvania. He located, put up and furnished with machinery the first shops at that point to operate the Delaware and Susquehanna division. In 1853 he was appointed assistant superintendent of the New Jersey Locomotive Works at Paterson, New Jersey, to build locomotives for the Erie and other roads. In 1855 he was appointed superintendent of the Lancaster Locomotive Works, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he built a large number of locomotives for the Pennsylvania and other lines. Two years later he was appointed general superintendent of the Cincinnati & Chicago Air Line Railroad. He afterwards filled a similar position on the Chicago & Great Eastern Railroad, now a part of the Pennsylvania system. In 1872, on the resignation of Mr. Joseph Hildreth, as general superintendent of the Oregon and California road, he came to Portland to assume that position which he has filled ever since with signal ability and to the perfect satisfaction of his employers and the traveling public.
Mr. Brandt’s education as a railroad man has been of logical growth, and from early boyhood until the present no other work has interfered with his progress in his chosen field. He is a master of every detail pertaining to his position and its requirements. So thorough is his discipline and so carefully does he watch details that on no line of railroad over which he has had charge has a single passenger been killed owing to mismanagement of those under his supervision. Since his connection with the Oregon and California road he has been hampered by the fact that the road has been heavily in debt, and with an increase in traffic so slow that no expenditure has been justifiable to promote its growth. Under these circumstances his duties have been doubly difficult, and often of the most perplexing nature, but he has never failed to meet every emergency with promptness and wisdom. He has rare executive ability and when he set a line of policy in operation he makes it his business to see that it is carried out, even to the most trivial detail. He is exacting in his requirements of those under him, but is fair and just to the humblest employee. During his long railroad experience no strike has ever occurred among the workmen under him, and if he is exacting and a strict disciplinarian, that he is also kind and considerate is evident from the fact that he numbers among his employees men who have worked under him from twenty to thirty-five years.
Mr. Brandt is large of frame, with a pleasant face, well set off by thick grey hair and expressive brown eyes. Forty odd years of very hard work have left but few marks upon his features, and he looks young enough for many years of usefulness. He is conservative in his views, and carefully weighs and considers every railway question. Hence it is that his judgment is deferred to by many of the ablest men in the railroad business, while his finely balanced sense of justice renders him invaluable as a referee in disputed cases. Few men have had a more valuable experience in railroad management, and none have stronger or more influential friends.