College of Arts and Humanities

In memoriam: Remembering H. Roger Grant


H. Roger Grant, the Kathryn and Calhoun Lemon Professor in Clemson’s Department of History and Geography for 27 years, passed away unexpectedly in November 2023. He remained at the top of his field until the very end.

A scholar who published 40 books – and counting – on American history, transportation and railroads, Grant died on November 17, 2023, exactly 11 days before he was to turn 80 years old. He planned to retire at the end of the Fall 2023 semester.

“Roger was one of the leading historians of American railroads with an amazing record of publications, but what his colleagues will remember is his kindness and generosity, especially to new faculty,” Department of History and Geography chair Stephanie Barczewski said. “Beyond his academic accomplishments, Roger was instrumental in building community within the department and University. He will be greatly missed.”

Julia Grant pictured with her father. H. Roger Grant died November 17, 2023.

An eager to talk Grant spent nearly two hours in interviews with Clemson News in November for an article reflecting on his career. He planned to continue visiting his wife, Martha, in a nearby care facility after she developed Lewy body dementia with a more relaxed schedule. Martha read everything her husband wrote and was his best critic, daughter Julia Grant said.

“She learned more about railroads than she ever wanted to!” Julia said. “My dad loved teaching at Clemson. It kept him going.”

He seamlessly bounced from narrating adventures on hometown rail yards before kindergarten to writing about the Spirit Fruit Society. The gentle utopia fizzled out in California in the late 1920s, Grant shared.

The early and intense fascination with trains, as Grant said in his own words, stemmed from a belief that “children like things that are big and move.”

“As a child, I liked trains and dinosaurs,” he said.

He saw plenty pass through his hometown of Albia, Iowa, on the Burlington Railroad’s mainline.

Coming to Clemson

The initial hunch was to retire at 65, then 70. Before long, it turned into 75, Grant said. However, he couldn’t shake the internal pull to remain connected to students and fellow faculty.

“I need the socialization and I was on a roll with doing various books,” Grant said. “I think students should see faculty members of different ages and approaches. What they’re seeing from me is how history was taught in the 1970s. You should have young people, middle-aged people and different teaching approaches. I think teaching is a function of your personality.”

Roger and Martha Grant on summer vacation.

He was recognized as the University’s Centennial Professor and received numerous other honors like being named in “Trains Magazine” as one of 75 people worthy of praise in its 75th-anniversary edition.

“Roger’s vast knowledge of railroad and transportation history was extraordinary,” Indiana Rail Road founder and former colleague Thomas Hoback told “Trains.” “His years of research also gave him an uncanny perception of what defined exceptional railroad leaders.”

Grant arrived in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1996 after spending 26 years teaching at the University of Akron. Clemson was brought up in conversation while co-editing a book series on railroads for the Northern Illinois University Press.

“I hope my dad will be remembered for his kindness, his passion for the past and as a friend to many.”


He had been working with Rich Saunders, now a professor emeritus and alumni master teacher in the Department of History. Grant asked Saunders what the weather was like after he peered out his office window in January and couldn’t see the building next door because of heavy snowfall.

“‘Well, it’s sunny and 60 degrees,’” Grant recalled. “It was a good time to leave.”

‘Sunset Cluster,’ and a final book to come

In Grant’s final days, he was celebrating two milestones: impending retirement and the publication of his 40th book. Released this summer by Indiana University Press, “Sunset Cluster: A Shortline Railroad Saga” walks readers through the five Iowa “sunset cluster” railroads that lasted less than a decade.

“I’m an Iowan and I’ve fallen in love with southwest Iowa for various reasons. These were little railroads that came and went very quickly,” Grant said. “It’s a human story and that’s what I like about railroad history. It’s kind of fun to look at losers, but in some ways, they weren’t losers because, for a few years, they really did have a positive impact. There was some town development.”

None of the 39 previous books authored by Grant hold the informal label of a “fun book,” which he referred to as “Sunset Cluster.” It is available online for $28.

His final work will be published posthumously in 2024, according to his family, and focus on the history of midwestern railroads.

Want to Discuss?

Get in touch and we will connect you with the author or another expert.

Or email us at

    This form is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.