“W. A.”. . .“Beck”. . . “Warren.” W. A. Bechtel responded to a number of nicknames over the years. But the one that really stuck was “Dad.” His wife, Clara, bestowed the name on him when their first child, Warren Jr., was born in 1898. Soon fellow workers at construction sites began calling him Dad, too. The name was appropriate. Dad was a natural leader, a reliable father figure who was known even in construction camps as a good provider.
Warren was born on September 12, 1872, the first of Elizabeth and John Moyer Bechtel’s six children. He was raised on the edge of the frontier in Freeport, Illinois, on a farm 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of the Mississippi River. When he was 12, the family moved to Peabody, Kansas, where they ran another farm as well as a grocery store. He was a restless, energetic teenager who found time for school, farm and store chores, and the slide trombone. After graduation, he had a brief fling as a traveling musician, but realized that he couldn’t make a living with his trombone.