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Walton White Evans

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Walton White Evans (1817-1886)

1886 Obituary[1]

"NOTES. Walton White Evans. We record with much regret the death of the well-known and widely respected American engineer Mr. Walton White Evans, which took place in New York on the 28th November last, on the eve of a projected visit to Europe. We propose to refer to Mr. Evans’s long and varied professional career on a later occasion, and therefore now confine ourselves to only a few general remarks on his work. Mr. Evans having graduated at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institution, worked for seven years as assistant engineer on the Erie Canal; subsequently he had charge of the Harlem Railway extension to Albany. The occasion offered itself to Mr. Evans to transfer his energies to South America, where he was first engineer in charge of the Copiapo Railway in Chili, and successively chief engineer of the Arica and Tacna Railway, Peru, the Southern Railway, of Chili, and the Arioa and Tacna Extension Railway. During the war between North and South, Mr. Evans had charge of the defence of New York. Of late years he confined himself almost solely to consulting practice."

1887 Obituary [2]

WALTON WHITE EVANS died on the 28th of November, 1886, in his seventieth year.

Apart from his having been one of the best known engineers in the United States, his career is of interest as being that of a typical American of the highest class - cultured, chivalrous, and refined, plentifully endowed with shrewdness and mother-wit, while of a most generous and honourable character. He was a grandson, on the maternal side, of General Anthony White, of revolutionary fame, and through his mother was connected with the Van Rensselaer family of New York.

He was born at New Brunswick, in the State of New Jersey, on the 31st of October, 1817 ; and was educated at the Polytechnic Institute of Troy, New York, of which celebrated institution he was with one exception, at his death, the oldest graduate. He took his degree in 1836, and having chosen engineering as a profession, immediately became Assistant Engineer on the enlargement of the Erie Canal, which was being carried out as a State enterprise. On the completion of this work in 1843, he travelled for some months, examining different public works and so enlarging his experience. Shortly afterwards his association began with a series of railroad works, which have made his name well known, not only all over the American continent, but also in Australia and in New Zealand. He was first engaged as Resident Engineer on the extension of the Harlem railway to Albany, remaining in that service till 1849.

The following year he accompanied Mr. Allan Campbell to Chili as an Assistant, to take charge of the surveys and construction of the Copiapo Railway, and on the return of Mr. Campbell to the United States a year later, he became Chief Engineer. This visit to Chili was the beginning of a connection with the South American republics, which lasted through Mr. Evans's life. He was engaged on the Copiapo line until 1853, when he left in order to make an extensive tour in Europe.

He visited in succession England, France, and Germany, and was engaged for the better part of a year in visiting the public works of those countries. He had, in May, 1853, while in Chili, accepted the position of Chief Engineer of the Arica and Tacna Railway in Peru, and a year later he started for the site of the proposed line. In constructing this railway, the first in Peru, Mr. Evans had to contend with difficulties of no ordinary character, chief among them, as he pithily describes it, being " fever and revolution." But he managed to surmount them all, and the line was successfully completed in 1856. He also during this time acted as Engineer and "umpire" for the first extension of the Copiapo Railway, from Copiapo to Pabellon, being at the same time offered the position of Chief Engineer of the Santiago and Valparaiso Railway, which he, however, declined.

Leaving Peru in 1856, Mr. Evans visited many of the public works in the United States, but returned to South America in November of the same year to take charge as Engineer of the surveys and construction of the Southern Railway of Chili, a work chiefly owned by the State. He remained on this line until its completion to Rancagua, in 1859. During this time he was also the Chief Engineer and umpire in the construction of the Copiapo Extension Railway from Pabellon to Chanarcillo, which passed over a summit of 4,467 feet above tide, at that time far the highest railway summit in the world. Returning to the United States, in 1860, he spent a year in recruiting his health, which had become impaired by yellow fever, by the anxiety for the works occasioned by three revolutions, and by the taking of the town he lived in three times by storm, to say nothing of the effects of labour and exposure in a. tropical climate and the deadening influences of life in a desert. In 1862 he was appointed Engineer to the Commission for the Harbour and Frontier Defences of the State of New York. This position he occupied until the Commission was dissolved in 1865.

In 1866 he was appointed by the Secretary of the Interior to assist in establishing a system of standards for railways to the Pacific, in which the United States had an interest. For the last twenty years of his life Mr. Evans resided near New York, acting as Advising and Inspecting Engineer on the Arequipa Railway, the Lima and Huatcho Railway, the Eten Railway, the Pisco and Yca Railway, and the Grim and Tacna Railway in Peru ; and now, for the Peruvian Government, in the construction of the two Transandine Railways - one running from Lima to Oroya, the other from Arequipa to Pisco, both passing over summits nearly 15,000 feet high. He also acted for the Chilian Government in the construction of the Chillan Concepcion and Talcahuana Railway; also for the Southern Railway and the Tongoi Railway of Chili; for the Boca Railway in Buenos Ayres ; and for the Central Argentine Railway.

Besides his railway enterprises, Mr. Evans designed and superintended the erection of many of the Public edifices and private mansions which adorn the capitals of the South American republics. In connection with building, it may be mentioned that he was an enthusiastic admirer of the masonry of the ancient Egyptians. He also devoted much of his time to the consideration of canal construction, and mote a series of articles on interoceanic communication, which attracted great attention both in the States and in Europe. He favoured the San Blas route for a ship canal through central America, and was of opinion that the Panama route, chosen by Sir F. de Lesseps, is not feasible. He was an indefatigable student, never wearying in the study of the problems which presented themselves in the carrying out of novel and previously untried enterprises, and elucidating with the accuracy of a draughtsman and the clearness of an apt writer the difficulties presented, and overcome in his experiments. He was a consistent and persistent advocate of American ideas and methods in engineering matters, and to him the introduction and use of American rolling stock and machinery in South America and in Australia was largely due. He wrote several pamphlets under the signature of Quid rides,’’ in most of which may be traced his conviction that the United States as a country is fast achieving commercial, agricultural, and manufacturing supremacy ; and though there is much to which an Englishman might take exception, there is no trace of unfairness, or of a disposition to hit below the belt.”

Mr. Evans was elected a Member of the Institution on the 6th of December, 1870. When in Europe he always made a point of calling at Great George Street, and if his visits occurred during the Society’s session, he was an assiduous attendant at the meetings. The association was one of mutual advantage, and by the officers of the Institution Mr. Evans will be long remembered as a thorough gentleman and one of the most charming of men.

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