Louis Thornton Klauder had a life-changing decision to make.
On May 23, 1945, his father, Louis Tobias Klauder, asked if he would quit his job at Day & Zimmerman to come work at LTK & Associates. Two days later – before Louis Thornton could even answer – his father died of a cerebral hemorrhage.
Many firms would not have survived the death of its founder, but Louis Tobias – a self-made man who was an orphan at 14 – had prepared his son to succeed him in the family business. Louis Thornton attended the prestigious Hill School, graduated from Princeton in 1930, and did post-graduate work at Harvard. He married Elizabeth Margaret Robertson in 1934 and had four children: Louis Jr., James, John, and Nancy. His education, coupled with a work ethic he inherited from his father, served him well in life.
On his first day as the new head of LTK, he was greeted by the firm’s only employee, a young woman who had been hired two weeks earlier. World War II had taken a toll on many businesses, including LTK. At the time, Klauder was still unsure whether he wanted to leave Day & Zimmerman (D&Z) and commit to running his father’s business full-time. He had, after all, a secure career at D&Z, which had asked him to complete sizeable generating plant projects in Pennsylvania. Ironically, it was Clarence D. Gibbs, D&Z’s senior power plant engineer, who encouraged Klauder to leave and take over LTK. Gibbs even helped Klauder with generating plant designs, which resulted in Klauder convincing those two Pennsylvania companies to hire LTK to finish their projects.
No job was too small or insignificant for Klauder. It’s said he never passed a smokestack without going inside to see if there was any engineering work that needed to be done. He was also a tireless “networker” before that term was even coined. He joined all types of clubs and organizations. He was president of the Union League in Philadelphia in the late 1980s and also served on numerous boards. The relationships he developed would serve him well over the years. For example, while president of the South Jersey Chapter of the Society of Professional Engineers, Klauder made the acquaintance of Tom Stewart, who worked for the New Jersey Highway Department. Stewart recommended LTK to the Department’s right-of-way group to appraise buildings and other facilities. That single project led to 28 appraisal assignments and paved the way for similar work in other states.
Ever the astute businessman, Klauder completed generating plant projects that had been delayed under his father’s leadership due to World War II. This led to design assignments for additional power plants, the first of which Klauder labeled as Project 501 because he didn’t want clients to think the firm was inexperienced.
Klauder was good at seeing the big picture and was a savvy talent scout. And, he had a knack for recruiting partners who helped secure design and supervision work for various municipal and industrial power plants, electrical facilities, and eventually rail projects.
Of course, he is best remembered for spearheading the PATCO High Speed Line, which crosses the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, which connects Philadelphia and Camden, NJ. The PATCO line extended the Bridge Line, which under the leadership of Klauder’s father, Louis Tobias, was completed in 1936 and was LTK’s first-ever rail project.
Louis Thornton began promoting the PATCO line almost from the minute he took over the firm. The project didn’t start until 1963 and was completed in 1968. LTK worked up the construction specifications for the cars, and for the automated toll collection system.
“It’s the best rapid transit system in the world,” Louis Thornton told the Philadelphia Inquirer at the time. Klauder himself was a daily passenger, commuting from his Moorestown, NJ, home to LTK’s office in Center City Philadelphia – no doubt “networking” each way.
Klauder, who died on August 19, 1999 at age 91, received many accolades and awards, and had a variety of interests. He was named the Delaware Valley Engineer of the Year in 1973 and received the Franklin Institute’s Henderson medal for outstanding contributions to rail transit. In 1987, three years after he retired as President of LTK, he was named Engineer of the Year by the South Jersey branch of the American Society of Civil Engineers. He was a Burlington County (NJ) Freeholder from 1944-46 and was active in local politics. He served on the boards of many area businesses and even published a local newspaper, the Moorestown News Chronicle.
Several current LTK employees had the opportunity to work with Klauder and were happy to share memories and anecdotes.
Norm Vutz, a Senior Engineer with almost 50 years at LTK, remembers Klauder as a serious businessman who also had a fun side.
“He hired me,” recalled Vutz. “I ended up sharing an office with his son, Lou Jr. I remember one day it was approaching Christmas – we were down at the PNB Building – and Junior went to Wanamaker’s and bought an electric train set for his son. He brought it back to the office and we opened it up and said, ‘Gee, let’s have a look at this.’ We pieced the track together underneath a conference table and were trying the trains out when I heard Senior’s voice coming down the hall. As he entered the room he said, ‘Here we have our two Ph.D.s.’ – Junior and I both had our doctorates. At the time, he was chaperoning two bigwigs from the New York City Transit Authority and telling them how wonderful LTK was. What they saw were two guys with Ph.D.s on the floor playing with trains. To Senior’s credit, he got down on his knees and said, ‘What do we have here?’ And pretty soon, the other two guys were on the floor too and we were all playing with the electric trains. So, what could have been a disaster, through Senior’s magic, became a success.”
Vutz said that Klauder expected his employees to work hard, and to be ready for anything at any time.
“One of the directives he would give to new hires was to always be prepared to leave [for business] at the drop of a hat,” said Vutz. “I once asked him what he meant by that. At the time the dress code was suit and tie, and he opened his briefcase to show me that he had a freshly pressed shirt in it. And, he said, ‘If I have to go someplace that [shirt] takes care of the next day, and then I use the hotel laundry service for the rest of the trip.’ He was always thinking ahead.”
It was that kind of thinking that gained the respect and admiration of his peers and associates, including former LTK President George Dorshimer, who recalled that Klauder truly appreciated his staff.
“Every December, in our sole office at the PNB Building at Broad and Chestnut Streets in Philadelphia, there would be an LTK Christmas party, which consisted of every single employee – all 75 of us – gathering in the Accounting Department on a Friday afternoon,” said Dorshimer. “Lou Klauder would give a brief speech about how great the firm was doing, how great we were as employees, and how much he appreciated our efforts. At its conclusion, Lou would walk around the room and greet each employee by name, while handing him/her a Christmas bonus check in an envelope. The checks were normally $50.”
Senior Director Tom Furmaniak said he learned a lot about business and life from Klauder.
“I have two particularly fond memories of Lou Klauder,” he said. “First, fresh out of Drexel, I worked at a drafting table just outside the open doorway to Lou’s office. Listening to his conversations was unavoidable, and doing so allowed me to observe his extreme professionalism in dealing with staff and clients in running the business. I’d like to think that this unintended exposure was a life lesson for my own career development.
“Second, about two years later, LTK was called on by the National Arbitration Panel to help them address a dispute between Amtrak and the Southern Pacific Railroad regarding betterments to the railroad needed to support the insertion of a roundtrip a day in the heart of SP’s freight operation between Dallas and Houston. Lou was the Project Manager. He brought in a former Chief Engineer of the Reading Railroad, former VP of Operations of the Penn Central, and former Senior VP of General Railway Signal to help examine the various operating and infrastructure aspects at issue. Another still-green engineer and I served this dream team. While we joked that we were there to ‘carry their bags,’ we learned so much about track, signals and how to dispatch a train order railroad from them and the senior SP railroaders we were exposed to. More importantly, we observed how magnificently Lou managed this assignment in a very contentious environment. Needless to say, I was walking on air knowing that Lou had the confidence in us young engineers to conduct the work that we did.”
Senior Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer Chris Lawlor said he met Klauder on the first day he arrived at LTK in May of 1986.
“Back then, we were at 15th and Chestnut Streets [in the Pennsylvania Building] and we were small enough that somebody would take you around to meet everybody,” said Lawlor. “When I met Lou, he said, ‘Welcome aboard, this is a great place to work and I really hope that you have a long career here like I did.’ ”
Lawlor broke out in a wistful smile at the thought, noting that he has indeed had a long career at LTK. As have Vutz, Dorshimer, and Furmaniak.
And, they each have Louis Thornton Klauder to thank.
His gutsy decision to follow in his father’s footsteps was indeed life-changing. Not only for him, but for the countless employees that have been fortunate to become members of the LTK family throughout the years.