PERSONNEL: Central's Boss

In Midland Park, N.J., 17 miles from Manhattan, most residents along the railroad tracks hated the smoke and soot. But William White, who was born in Midland Park in 1897, was an exception; he liked the smell of train smoke. As he grew up, he spent his Sundays sneaking along the Erie tracks, hopping rides. The neighbors were scandalized, but Billy thought of himself as a dedicated railroader. At 16, fresh out of high school, he got a job clerking for the Erie.

At 30, he became superintendent of the Erie's rough, tough ore-and steel-hauling Youngstown district. He was tough...

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