WARREN BUFFETT, JAMES J. HILL, AND MY BROTHER TIM
Tim Lynch is my brother and has been for sixty-nine of my seventy-one years. Of the three Lynch boys, he was the only one to have been drafted and to have served in Vietnam, for him a life changing experience in many ways. He has never married, worked at one job for only a limited time after returning from the War, and seems to have existed for some time on the margins of society or life which I have lived or so it seems. He loves his Catholic faith which came to us from our parents and attempts to attend Sunday Mass as often as possible at Little Flower parish in Hollywood, Florida, where he lives. He does not always agree with the leadership of his Church, including his brother, and has never met a Republican he trusted or liked (slight exaggeration, but not much of one). His working life consisted of being a clerk on the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad as well as a freight agent, the same railroad onto which our father hired after graduating from Holy Cross College in 1921 and Harvard Business in 1922 with an M.B.A. When Tim returned from the war, however, our dad had already retired and with our mother, had moved from Ohio to his family home in Massachusetts where he died in 1970 and where he is buried with our mother who died in November of 1995. Tim has an artificial heart valve which seems to be leaking (it was a pig’s valve inserted about twelve years ago) and has chronic COPD. Last Spring (2011) he was diagnosed with a cancer of the lower left lobe of his lung. Because of his precarious heart and lung conditions, for a time there was a question as to whether any cancer protocol could be attempted on him, but eventually a decision was made in favor of three massive chemo injections and thirty-five successive (save week-ends) radiation treatments. The first post treatment PET scan showed that there was no longer any presence of the tumor in Tim’s lung and he remains cancer free though mightily physically challenged. It was on learning that the cancer was history that I made an offer to Tim, noting that the two of us as brothers had not done anything as brothers, since childhood. I told him I would take him any place in the world where he might wish to go as long as it was someplace he could physically handle (that ruled out Macchu Picchu). He chose an adventure that evokes the memory of James J. Hill and the reality of Warren Buffett.
James Hill was born in Ontario but wound up in St. Paul, Minnesota. He quickly became a successful business man in the Twin Cities whose personal mantra was “Work, hard work, intelligent work, and then more work.” Seeing an opportunity to purchase a struggling railroad in 1873 and ten years later he began to build a railroad which would stretch eventually from the Mississippi to the Pacific, a transcontinental railroad. “What we want, “Hill said, “is the best possible line, shortest distance, lowest grades, and least curvature we can build.” He succeeded and in January 1893, his Great Northern Railroad was completed spanning 1,700 miles. He became known as “The Empire Builder.” Hill died on May 29, 1916 in his adopted St. Paul, a true railroad “baron.”
Warren Buffett, as people may or may not know, is the head of a giant investment firm called Berkshire-Hathaway and lives and works in Omaha, Nebraska. In his time as an investor, he has owned many things, but recently, he has developed an interest in railroads as well. In 2004, Buffett’s Berkshire-Hathaway bought Hill’s railroad (now named the Burlington Northern following many buy-outs and mergers) and the Atcheson, Topeka and Santa Fe giving him effective control over both the northern and southern transcontinental routes from the midwest to the Pacific and all points in-between. Only the mighty Union Pacific, amazingly also headquartered in Omaha, stand between them.
Tim called me back and first said that he would like to take one last trip on what was the original Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, for which he worked for a number of years, on which I had worked while in college, and our Dad had retired from as an operating officer. Such a trip would necessitate our flying to Chicago from either Fort Lauderdale or Miami and taking AMTRAK’s “The Cardinal” which runs three times a week between Chicago and New York over the old C&O line through the towns of Covington, Kentucky; Montgomery, West Virginia; and Clifton Forge, Virginia where we had lived as young boys with our younger sibling, Jim. We would connect with AMTRAK’s “Silver Meteor” in Richmond and disembark from the train two days and two nights later in Hollywood, Florida. Easy enough I said, but not long enough. My good brother then said, “Well, I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but when I went to and from Vietnam I took the train from Route 128 station just south of Boston to Chicago and on to Seattle” (where he shipped out on a ship and returned on a charter airplane). I said, fine, we will fly to Seattle and train it transcontinentally (is there such a word?) from Seattle to Hollywood, Florida via Chicago, Cincinnati, Charleston, W.Va., Charlottesville, Richmond, Charleston, SC, Savannah, Jacksonville, Orlando and Okeechobee. We are on our way and my brother is so excited and so happy.
Life has not been a bowl of cherries for Tim and death is coming inexorably and slowly. This was the first thing on Tim’s “bucket list” and we are on our way west, no longer the young men of Horace Greeley’s prompting. Two brothers, sharing six special days. With Tim’s permission, I will share the highlights of the trip with all of you. He will have editorial control of the text because it will be more about him than me. If you find it boring, come back to this thread on June 29th for more Fortnight for Freedom. The travelogue begins tomorrow, June 22nd with the flights to Seattle by way of Chicago. The two of us have a lot of time to be made up which cannot be completed in six days but I suspect the memories of this time together will last the rest of our lifetime. While we don’t exactly command the stature of Buffett and Hill, we are something of railroad “barons” ourselves.