John Becker’s career with the Michigan Central and later New York Central Railroad, is typical of how someone, raised in a railroad family in a small railroad community, rose in the corporation and relocated to several communities in the course of his career. Like many of his generation, rail service was interrupted by World War 1. Although wounded in the war, he survived to, at the end of hostilities, return to his former career.
In 1908 John Harold Becker, age 14[i] was living at home with his parents, Walter (44) and Cynthia (43) in West Lorne, Ontario. Walter was employed by the Michigan Central Railroad as a station agent in West Lorne (then known as Bismarck). John and his brother Wilfred attended high school in Dutton, a village to the east, taking the train to school. By 1912, following in his father’s footsteps, he was employed by the Michigan Central as a clerk-stenographer to the trainmaster in St. Thomas. Trains were a way of life for such families.
John decided to undertake some military training in London, and became a sergeant in the reserves, or “Home Guard.” On September 3, 1915, he took the train to West Lorne to seek his parents’ consent to enlist, having written them a prior letter. He wrote in his memoirs:
That letter was one of the hardest I ever wrote and I was never more sincere. My attitude, in the light of subsequent experiences, has changed somewhat. I actually believe I could brave the jeers of the multitudes of self-appointed recruiting assistants now that I know how stupid and absolutely useless war is.[ii]
Following the war, he returned to employment with the Michigan Central. He was married in 1921 and the MCRR moved him to Windsor for four years. Returning after that to St. Thomas, he moved to Detroit, Michigan in 1929, the year that the new Michigan Central Station was completed. He was an assistant manager with the Traffic Department, rising steadily in the ranks of what became in 1930, the New York Central Railroad.
He was active in several Detroit organizations – a founding member of both the Canadian Legion of the United States and the American Society of Traffic and Transportation. He was also active in the Traffic Club of Detroit, where he served as president in 1947.
[i] John Harold was born Nov 2, 1894.
[ii] John Harold Becker, Memoir of John Harold Becker 1894-1956. Minneapolis, 1998