Ralph Evans Wells

M, #11137, b. 24 September 1866, d. 20 September 1936
Father*Arthur Wells b. 13 Oct 1824, d. 31 Aug 1900
Mother*Georgina Dora Ridout b. 21 Jun 1824, d. 3 Feb 1906
Birth*24 September 1866 Ralph Evans Wells was born on 24 September 1866 at Guelph, Ontario, Canada.1 
Marriage*3 December 1889 He married Frances Grace Kent Hawley on 3 December 1889 at Pueblo Co., Colorado; Marriage Index Pueblo CO 3 Dec 1896 #4-496 (Newton) R929.3788E.2 
Death*20 September 1936 Ralph Evans Wells died on 20 September 1936 at Topeka, Shawnee Co., Kansas, at age 69. 
Background23 March 2007 He and Arthur Wells have the following backgound information available Local man managed major rail line to California by Stephen Thorning - copyright, used by permission of the author
     Patience has its rewards in the realm of historical work. More than a quarter century ago I looked at a railway map of the southwestern United States. On the Union Pacific line from Salt Lake City to Southern California were two interesting station names: Guelph and Elora.
     Obviously, I suspected that someone from Wellington County was responsible for these names. I wrote to a couple of authors who had researched and written about that line. They both agreed that my suspicion was probably correct, but they could offer no clue to the identity of the person who did the naming.
     Over the years I was never able to find any definite information. Even the Union Pacific Railroad, which maintains a full-time archivist and extensive files at its Omaha head office, could offer no further help.
     A few weeks ago, while working on another project, I stumbled on the key to the puzzle in a Guelph Evening Mercury dated September 4, 1907. Railway Magnate Visiting City, read the headline. Two sub-headlines reported, R.E. Wells Once of Guelph Now Gen. Manager In West," and "Arrives in State in his Special Car.
     The story reported that Wells was the general manager of the San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake, as the line was originally known. The route, connecting Salt Lake City with southern California, had been completed only 18 months prior to Wells’s return to Guelph. It was owned jointly by E.H. Harriman, president of the Union Pacific, and Sen. William Clark, who had extensive mining interests. Union Pacific took over completely in 1929.
     I had run across the name of Ralph Wells before, but had no idea he was from Guelph. Wells worked for several railroads over the years. He spent considerable time with the Santa Fe as a surveyor and manager before joining the Harriman interests about 1902.
     The Wells family is an interesting one. Ralph’s father, Arthur Wells, was born in Toronto in 1824, to a colonel in the militia. As a young man he studied engineering in France. At 21 he married Georgina Ridout, a granddaughter of Thomas Ridout, a leading member of Upper Canada’s old Family Compact.
     In the 1850s Arthur Wells worked as a surveyor and project manager for Gzowski & Co., the contractor for the Grand Trunk Railway line from Toronto to Sarnia.
     Arthur Wells supervised the construction of the two railway bridges immediately east of Rockwood, and Allan’s Bridge, the viaduct that carries the rail line high above the Speed River in Guelph. He seemed to like Guelph: he remained in town at the conclusion of the contract, and built a substantial house, named "Manor Park," at 25 Manor Park Crescent, east of Edinburgh Road and south of the Speed River, in 1857. The property was then a considerable distance from the settled part of the town.
     Arthur and Georgina Wells had 13 children, 11 of whom survived into adulthood. Ralph, born in 1866, was the youngest of them. Three of his brothers also had successful careers on American Railways. Albert later worked on several construction projects, but spent most of his time at Guelph’s post office, where he was the senior clerk and deputy postmaster.
     In 1882, at the age of 58, Arthur Wells had a serious case of mid-life crisis. He abandoned his wife, and took flight to the United States with the housekeeper, Martha Glover. He soon secured a divorce and remarried. He and Martha raised a second family of eight children.
     Ralph was 16 at the time of his father’s move. He and several of his brothers eventually followed Arthur to Colorado, which was then in the midst of a mining boom. Arthur and his sons easily found work there.
     Ralph Wells immediately showed a natural ability for railway work. At the age of 30 he was manager of a Santa Fe branch linking Phoenix with the railway’s main line. Later, the Harriman interests lured him to the San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake as the general manager during its construction.
     Ralph Wells was a brilliant and efficient manager, completing, between 1902 and 1905, a difficult mainline project that crossed hundreds of miles of uninhabited desert. There were very few towns. The line had passing sidings every five miles or so, and those were originally numbered.
     In 1904 Wells came up with the idea of naming 62 of them with names suggested by the men who actually built the line. It proved to be a good way to build enthusiasm in the construction crews. Wells himself suggested two of the names: Elora and Guelph.
     The last spike on the route was hammered into a tie on Jan. 30, 1905. Members of the press were there, but the railway did not make a big celebration of the event. A reporter for the Los Angeles Times filed a story that noted the role played by Ralph’s wife: "Had it not been for the wife of General Manager Wells, it all would have been as devoid of sentiment as buying stale bread. She sent on a tiny spike of gold, not larger than a man's thumb nail. After a workman had the last rail whacked into place, Mr. Tilton (the chief engineer) guiltily fished the gold trinket out of his vest pocket, and punched it into the last tie."
     The route quickly became, and remains, a major freight route to and from Southern California. Ralph Wells continued as general manager of what became known as "The Salt Lake Route" until he resigned in 1911. In 1917 he took on the management of a special railway project in Cuba. He died in Los Angeles in 1936. His mother, Georgina, moved to California in 1898; she died there in 1906. Ralph’s father, Arthur, died in Pueblo, Colorado, in1900.
     Ralph’s brother, Arthur Jr., served for a time as president of the Santa Fe Railway. Another brother, William, rose to be a vice president of the Southern Pacific, and was appointed manager of west coast lines when the Wilson administration briefly nationalized the American Railroads in 1917.
     A third brother, John Wells, joined the staff of Phillip Armour & Co., the largest meat packing firm in the United States. That firm pioneered the use of refrigerated freight cars. John Wells became manager of the Armour fleet of privately owned cars, which numbered 12,000 cars in 1900.
     On Jan. 30, 1975, exactly 70 years after the driving of the last spike on that day early in 1905, the State of Nevada repeated the ceremony and erected a commemorative plaque. The little gold spike donated by Mrs Ralph Wells was on view that day.
     Today, Guelph, Nevada still exists as a small town, but it is no longer on the railway map. The siding there has been removed.
     Elora, California fared slightly better. It is still appears on railway maps, with its siding, but the population is zero unless scorpions and rattlesnakes are counted. The switches are now remotely controlled by the dispatcher in Omaha.
     The most important point on the line turned out to be Las Vegas, Nevada. Ralph Wells accepted the assessments of the engineers that the location, then part of the Las Vegas Ranch, would make a suitable division point. It was one of the few places with water suitable for locomotives. A surveyor purchased 80 acres from the ranch for a townsite there. Of course, no one in 1904 could envisage that small railway town becoming a tourist mecca.
     Ralph Wells’s 1907 visit to his hometown was a unique event. He told reporters calling at his private car that "I am just here on a brief visit for the purpose of letting my boys see the old place."
     He had not been back since leaving for the west 25 years earlier, and was amazed that the city had changed so much in that time that he hardly recognized it. As well as his wife, three sons and a daughter, Ralph’s older brother John was on the car.
     They took a tour of the city, and quite a few childhood friends dropped by for a brief reunion when they heard he was in town.
     Ralph Wells’s car went out that evening on the 6pm train to Toronto. I have no idea if he, or his three railroading brothers, ever returned again. on 23 March 2007 at Wellington Advertiser, Ontario, Canada.3 


Frances Grace Kent Hawley b. 1873, d. 1938
Last Edited7 Jul 2009


  1. [S248] Hand printed desc chart of Joseph Wells by John Barnard Wells.
  2. [S113] Correspondence from cousin Anne Graves Gahn, My Evd # 113.
  3. [S247] Wellington Advertiser (newspaper Ontario Canada) 23 Mar 2007 "Local man managed major rail line to California" by Stephen Thorning.