By Jared Ritz
A group of traveling historians rode through Havre Thursday, stopping briefly to see a statue of the man whose path they are following and reliving, James J. Hill.
The trip, sponsored by the James J. Hill Reference Library in St. Paul, Minn., is a seven-day outing attempting to, as the old railroad slogan goes, "See America First."
"One of the best ways to bring back the legacy of one of the best American businessmen is to live it," said Sam Richter, president of the library.
Followed by a TV crew from ABC 5 in St. Paul, the group of 24, many Hill's direct descendants, is traveling from St. Paul, where Hill resided, all the way to the eastern part of Glacier National Park on the Amtrak train that bears one of Hill's nicknames, the Empire Builder. The train goes through the plains of North Dakota, riding on the rails that Hill built more than 100 years ago. The stop in Havre was a part of usual Amtrak business, but also of special interest to the tour goers because of the commemorative Hill statue in front of the train station and the Great Northern S-2 steam locomotive displayed nearby.
East Glacier is of special interest to the group because Hill's son, Louis Hill, was instrumental in building many of the park's gigantic, and now historic, wooden lodges.
Richter thinks that James Hill's story is an important one not only because of his success, but also because of the odds his success was won against.
Richter said Hill came to the West with nothing more than $200 and a physical disability.
"He had everything going against him, yet he built this empire," he said.
The reason why Richter thinks he made it was because of Hill's thirst, and passion, for knowledge.
"The reason he was successful is he studied an incredible amount of information," he said.
To help other beginning businessmen in today's market, the James J. Hill Reference Library specializes in not only history, but also business information.
Richter said the library's mission is to let today's business person "have access to information that normally goes to Fortune 500 companies."
The library also runs two Web sites, www.jjhill.org and www.hillsearch.org, that try to make that mission a reality.
Richter said he hopes the trip will be an annual event put on by the library each summer.