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The Glengarry McDonalds of Virginia
Chapter 28 - Hunter McDonald


Hunter McDonald, the seventh son of Angus %V. McDonald and Cornelia Peake (his wife) , was born at Winchester, Virginia, June 12th, 1860, and was named after a favorite cousin of his father's, Dr. Hunter McGuire, who afterwards became Medical Director of Jackson's Division of the Army of Northern Virginia.

He was at quite a tender age when the family were forced to leave their home at Winchester and take refuge in Lexington, Virginia, and among his earliest recollections is the bombardment of the place by the guns under command of General Hunter, and the burning of the Virginia Military Institute, with all the buildings connected with it. The family remained in Lexington for sometime after the close of the war, and Hunter's youth was passed in constant association with the students of Washington and Lee University and the cadets of the Virginia Military Institute. Some of his older brothers attended each of these institutions and he was often a spectator and sometimes a participant in their engineering field practice. He attended a private school taught by his mother until 1871 and after that, other schools in Lexington, until the summer of 1873.

Several of his older brothers having settled in Louisville, Kentucky, it was decided at this time that Mrs. McDonald and her younger children should also remove to that city. Accordingly, one of the brothers, Allan, came on from Louisville for the purpose of taking the family back with him, bringing the necessary funds and tickets, but before leaving Virginia he decided to visit the Natural Bridge, taking with him young Hunter, who was then about thirteen years old. In leaning down and looking over the precipice, near the famous Cedar Stump, the pocket-book, containing the transportation and funds needed for emigration, dropped from Allan's pocket and lodged on a ledge of rock about one hundred and twenty feet below. This created considerable consternation, for even if the book could be dislodged from its resting place, the swollen creek below threatened destruction to its contents. A consultation ensued and Hunter consented to be lowered with a rope and make an effort to secure the lost treasure.
Accordingly, he was seated on a stick tied to the end of a rope and lowered over the precipice, but the rope unfortunately proved to be inadequate, and he, with remarkable fortitude, agreed to remain suspended until more rope could be procured. An hour probably was spent in this hazardous position, when the arrival of additional rope enabled him to reach the pocket-book, after crawling along the ledge for a distance of about sixty feet.

On his arrival at Louisville, Hunter was entered in the Louisville Rugby School, taught by two of his older brothers, where he graduated in 1878. He then returned to Virginia to study engineering at Washington and Lee University.

He came again to Louisville in 1879 and being compelled to find employment, he applied to the Louisville and Nashville R. R., and more to try his mettle than anything else (for it was not at that time considered an important matter) , he was sent to re-locate the mile-posts on the road. The work consisted in measuring the distance of each milepost from the initial point at Louisville, and also, that of all stations, switches, State and county lines and bridges, and it soon developed that the work was highly important. Measurements of record, at that time, were inaccurate on account of having been secured from original surveys of short sections of the road, the L. and N. Co. having absorbed and consolidated a number of shorter lines, so their correct measurements from a given point were very necessary.

Hunter started out with two of his young companions and a negro cook to help him, walking and carrying his camping outfit on a hand-car and camping wherever night overtook him. The weather was hot and the work became exceedingly disagreeable, and one of his assistants dropped out, his place was soon filled, however, and the work went steadily forward, lasting through a very hot summer, and extending over one thousand miles of road. Their only means of baggage transportation was a hand-car, which had to be lifted hastily from the track whenever a train was heard approaching, but one unlucky day this was not done quickly enough and the hand-car was smashed beyond repair.

With no way now of transporting the tent, it had to be abandoned and the rest of the trip was made sleeping on the ground wherever the day's work ended and procuring food as best they could. The work was finally completed at Memphis while the yellow fever was at its height, on November 1st, 1879, and was well and faithfully performed. On December 1st, 1879, Hunter was made Assistant Engineer of the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway under Col. R. C. Morris, M. Am. Chief Engineer, being the only assistant on the system at that time, and his service with the railway has been continuous since then. He has also filled various positions in the Maintenance of Way and Construction Departments, having had direct charge, or responsible supervision of the surveys and construction of all new Iines, and the re-construction of those lines acquired by purchase or lease; the mileage having been increased from 453 in 1880 to 1,230 miles in 1911, and the train mileage from 1,500,000 to more than 7.000,000 in the same period.

In 1884, Hunter had charge of the rebuilding of the Running Water Viaduct and in 1887-1888 he was engineer in charge of the construction of the Huntsville Branch and changing the gauge of the Duck River Valley, narrow gauge branch. On the completion of this work, he was appointed Division Superintendent of the Huntsville Division, and at the same time had charge of the surveys and construction of the Tennessee and Coosa Railroad and the extension of the Sequatchie Valley Branch to Pikeville. In 1891, he was appointed Resident Engineer of the Western and Atlantic P. R., which his company had leased from the State of Georgia. He was stationed in Atlanta at the time, and had charge of the complete re-construction of the track, bridges and most of the other structures.

On the death of Col. Morris, in November, 1892, Hunter was appointed Chief Engineer, and still occupies that position.

His first work after being promoted to the office of Chief Engineer, was the re-construction of the drawbridge over the Tennessee River at Johnsonville, Tenn., which required the sinking of pneumatic foundations to a depth of fort'-four feet below low water. Shortly after its completion he presented a paper to the American Society of Civil Engineers, with a detailed description of this work.

In 1882, he was elected a junior, and in 1887, a full member of the American Society of Civil Engineers. In 1889, he assisted in the organization of the Engineering Association of the South, and became its President in 1895.

He was the eleventh member enrolled in the American Railways Engineering and Maintenance of Way Association, and was made a director upon its organization, and President in 1904, serving two years. In 1900, he was employed by the Southern Railway to examine into and report on the cause of the disaster at Camp Creek, south of Atlanta, by which thirty-four persons lost their lives, due to the washing out of a large culvert. His report was made the basis of defense by the attorneys, and the first damage suit resulted in favor of the defendant, while the others were compromised.

In 1903, he was elected director for District No. 6 in the American Society of Civil Engineers, and in 1910, Vice-President. He is also a member of the National Geographic Society.

The above details of Hunter's activities in the pursuit of his chosen work, have been largely gathered from the pages of the Railway Age and Engineering News. And in view of the fact that his health has never been very robust, it seems wonderful that he should have accomplished so much.

In addition to all this, he is also responsible for the handsome structure known as Cummin's Station in Nashville, which cost half a million dollars, and is General Manager of the corporation which owns and operates it.

In 1893, he was married to Miss Mary Eloise Gordon, of Columbia. Tenn., a great granddaughter of Colonel John Gordon. one of Andrew Jackson's most trusted scouts. They have one son, Hunter, named for his father.

Two children of Angus W. McDonald and Cornelia Peake (his wife) died in infancy. Humphrey, the third son, born December 31st, 1850, died July 30th, 1851, and Elizabeth, born 29th October, 1861, died August 23rd, 1862.


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