20 questions for advisors of the John Emery Rail Heritage Trust

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Tuesday, February 26, 2019

On Tuesday, the John Emery Trust announced its 2019 grant recipients. The trust made its largest grant amount to date, $500,000, to 29 organizations. [See the item here:] Before the choices were announced, I asked the trust's advisors to tell us more about this increasingly important mission, how it is working, and how others can get involved.

1. What is the trust’s mission?

The trust was established by John Emery and is the largest trust in the US that donates exclusively to railroad projects, with the following mission: To help re-create and preserve, to the extent possible, the rail passenger travel experience as it was in the U. S. from approximately 1920 through 1960. To preserve and restore to working order rolling stock and other working artifacts from the “Golden Age” of the U. S. rail passenger service. The emphasis shall be on organizations that offer the general public an opportunity to ride historically significant equipment over historic rail lines. The trust may, however, support organizations that would use modern equipment to restore passenger service over historic rails, or to build new rails on which to operate historic equipment in passenger service. Trust funds may be used, if appropriate, to restore or rebuild ancillary facilities essential to the operation of, or extension of, a working passenger operation. Rebuilding a trestle or grade crossing or electrical facility would qualify. Restoring a historic depot to its original appearance should be considered only if it was to be used to support ticket sales, souvenir sales, or other functions directly related to passenger operations. I do not care to support cosmetic restoration of structures or equipment, no matter how historic, for static display only. Nor do I wish to donate toward buildings, or other structures unless they are to be part of, or used to support, a working demonstration passenger railroad.

 2. Who was John Emery?

John Henckel Emery was born was born April 1, 1937, in Chicago, Ill. As a boy John grew up in Chicago, but he spent many summer days in Miami County, Kansas, visiting his aunt in Paola. John graduated from New Trier Township High School in Winnetka, Ill., and from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich. He was a leader of the drum and bugle corps and was interested in ham radio. One of John’s greatest pleasures was travel. He was a world traveler, visiting more than 125 nations. An avid train and railway buff, abroad and in the United States, John rode the rails as often as possible.

Living in Chicago, John became a successful businessman, investor, and an accomplished writer. He became a great philanthropist, sharing his success by creating the Paola Free Library Foundation, the John Emery Youth Pageantry Fund, and the John Emery Rail Heritage Trust. John Henckel Emery died peacefully on March 15, 2012 at the age of 75. His happy, successful life and his philanthropic legacy has made a notable difference in the future of the Paola Free Library, the patriotic sense of his country’s youth, and the preservation of America’s railway history.

 3. What were his railroad interests?

John was a mileage collector. He rode streetcars and trains in Chicago from a very early age. One of his favorite lines was the North Shore Line, which he rode regularly. From there he went on to travel railroads all over the globe.

 4. How did he come up with so much money?

John was a lawyer and investor.

 5. How long as this trust been around?

The Trust made its first grants in 2015, but was created many years earlier as John was planning for his future and the future once he was gone.

 6. Was it difficult to establish?

Establishing a trust such as this requires a knowledgeable trust lawyer and a trust bank to help create and perfect any trust. This trust went through many rewrites and revisions over the years so that John could fine tune exactly what he wanted. Thankfully, John planned for the future well in advance of the day when it would be activated. Because he did an excellent job in creating the trust, activating and carrying out his will is fairly straight forward.

 7. Can others add to the trust’s holdings?

 Yes, the trust can receive donations and see that they are managed and awarded to groups that fulfill the its rules. It is easier for someone to donate to an existing historic trust then to create a new trust from scratch.

 8. How much money is given annually?

The amount can vary, but it has averaged about $200,000 per year. (The 2019 figure was $500,000.)

 9. How much has been granted since inception?

$1,078,000 including 2019.

10.For every granting period is there a set number of recipients?

Grants are awarded once per year with the deadline being Feb. 1 of each year. All grants are awarded by the end of April. There is no minimum or maximum number of applications that can be accepted or awarded.

11.  How has the trust made a difference?

The trust has helped fund projects to restore many passenger cars and locomotives, repair/restore electrical overhead at two large museums, rebuild trackage, and help develop PTC systems for mainline steam locomotives.

 12. Who decides on the grants?

 John Emery selected three of his close friends to be advisors to the trustee in regard to deciding the grants every year. The advisors are the sole decision makers in the process of awarding grants. The advisors are Naurine Lennox, Tom Sharratt, and Jim Fetchero.

 13.What are the important factors the advisors look for?

First and foremost, each group must be a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization. The requesting group must own outright each piece of equipment for which they are seeking funds. Once these qualifications are met, then each application is reviewed to see how well each project fits within the established goals of the trust. Each member brings a different perspective and interpretation of John’s goals. We try to help museums bring to life the experience of passenger railroading during the “Golden Age” of railroad passenger travel (1920 – 1960) to include facilities to maintain the equipment, ancillary equipment to service the locomotives, etc.

14. Are there any projects the trust will not fund?

Due to the number of applications and projects each year, as well as the limitation on the amount the trust has to donate each year, the trust does not fund streetcars, elevated lines, and subway equipment, nor does the trust normally fund money for office cars due to their low ridership factors.

15. Are there controls/reporting in place to make sure the money gets spent as it was requested?

 All groups are required to submit a final report once the funds are spent. The advisors are also able to make inspections of projects as needed.

 16. What are some significant projects the trust has funded that I would recognize?

We have funded a number of projects involving steam locomotives, including N&W 611, AT&SF 2926, C&NW 1385, Alaska 557, NP 924, NKP 765, Milwaukee Road 261, CNJ 113, B&M 470, and others. We have funded many other projects including passenger cars and infrastructure for groups such as Michigan State Trust for Railway Preservation, Bay Area Electric, N.C. Transportation Museum, Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, Colebrookdale, Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, Railways to Yesterday, Watauga Valley, Stewartstown, and many more.

 17. What’s the most frustrating thing about being an advisor?

Getting applications that fall outside of our requirements can be frustrating, as is wishing we had more money to give! As with any organization, there can be technical issues with the application process, website upkeep, etc.

 18. What’s the most rewarding?

We know that we are making a difference in the railway preservation field by being faithful guardians of John’s legacy.

 19. If you could talk to railway preservation groups and give them one piece of advice, what would it be?

If you are going to write a grant request, be specific and direct. More information is not always better! Please read the instructions, we always get some requests that are not within the clearly stated goals of the trust.

 20. What’s ahead?

The trust will continue awarding grants to qualified groups and projects and hopefully, be able to donate more in the coming years.

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