Newell Winford Derryberry

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Friday, January 1, 2016

When I came of age in the 1960s, his was a name on the cover of Missouri Pacific timetables, that railroad’s superintendent of transportation. In the mid 1950s (preteen for me), I think we met while he was chief dispatcher of Texas & Pacific’s Western Division. Only much later in our lives, when I wrote a feature story in Trains about the revival of the Texas & Pacific route across West Texas (“Union Pacific’s Desert Bloom,” August 2002), did we finally get to know each other.

What a fascinating life he led. At age 17, just out of telegrapher school, T&P sent him to Pyote, Texas, as night operator. Pyote is as about as remote a place as you could ever think to land in West Texas, except that then it was a U.S. Air Force bomber training base. Newell shared the two bathrooms of Pyote’s 19-room hotel with the wives of trainees at the base.

At first, it was all too much for this teenager. The first time he tried to copy a train order, he got so flustered interpreting the dots and dashes that the dispatcher had to call him on the message phone and dictate it. Then when it came to delivering the order using a big wooden fork, young Mr. Derryberry became so spooked at the 2-10-4 rushing toward him at 60 mph with an eastbound Fruit Block that the brakeman couldn’t snatch the string holding the order and the train had to stop to retrieve it.

But get this: The lad was a fast learner. Eleven months later he was himself dispatching trains out of Big Spring and became the Western Division’s chief dispatcher at age 27. He would climb the corporate ladder at Missouri Pacific, which owned T&P, and mentor generations of management trainees, including several friends of mine.

A couple of years ago, I asked Newell if he would attend a convention of the Cotton Belt Historical Society and appear on a panel with me and Rollin Bredenberg to talk about the MP-Cotton Belt rivalry. He thought that was a fine idea but demurred, saying that age had restricted his ability to travel.

Newell Derryberry died this week at age 89. He leaves behind a wife of 67 years, two children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He was a link to railroading’s past, and will be missed.—Fred W. Frailey

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