Ellis Wyatt (born 1983), in Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged, was an entrepreneur specializing in obtaining petroleum from shale. He worked in the mountains of Colorado, part of the Rocky Mountains chain. He figured prominently in the building of the "John Galt Line" of the Taggart Transcontinental Railroad. When the United States government promulgated a series of directives that effectively killed the economy of Colorado, Wyatt joined John Galt's strike of the men of the mind and set fire to his oil fields, a fire that continued to burn until the strike was "settled."
The novel says little about Ellis Wyatt's background, other than a description of his experience in oil exploration and a hint about his process for oil-shale extraction.
Rise to prominence
Ellis Wyatt began his rise in 2008, one year after John Galt had called his famous strike. He had developed a process to extract oil from shale, and inexpensively. Accordingly, he bought vast tracts of land in the Colorado mountains (near Winston, Colorado, the eastern portal of the Taggart Tunnel) and set to work to produce oil from that land.
Eventually he encountered a problem that was slightly beyond his ability to control. The Taggart Transcontinental Railroad's Rio Norte Line began to fall into disrepair. Wrecks were frequent, and Wyatt rapidly concluded that the line was unreliable. So when Dan Conway started his Phoenix-Durango Railroad in the region, Wyatt started to ship his oil by that line.
The Anti-dog-eat-dog Rule
On October 25, 2016, came an announcement that made Wyatt angry clear through: the Phoenix-Durango Railroad would have to cease operations within nine months. James Taggart, President of the TTRR, had lobbied the National Alliance of Railroads to promulgate a new "Anti-dog-eat-dog Rule," by which no railroad was allowed to offer what would be regarded as "cutthroat competition" in any territory where another railroad had been operating for a long-enough period of time. This rule was billed as an effort to prevent a recurrence of the rate wars that were a regular feature of railroading in the United States in the nineteenth century. Ellis Wyatt saw it for what it really was: a "snide stunt" by which the TTRR would "save [them]selves the necessity of effort."
|“||I came to see you because you are the only one left who has any brains in this rotten outfit.||”|
He then proceeded to give her an ultimatum: if Taggart Transcontinental, nine months from that time, did not "run trains in Colorado as [Wyatt's] business require[d] them to be run," then Wyatt would make sure that the TTRR would collapse as they appeared to be sentencing him to collapse.
To his shock and surprise, Dagny Taggart did not take any exception to his remarks. Instead, she said, "You will get the transportation you need." Not having anything more to argue about, he bid her good day and returned to Colorado.
The John Galt Line
In the next months Dagny Taggart surprised him even more, by making good on her promise. She was a frequent visitor to Colorado, often taking personal charge of the project to rebuild the Rio Norte Line from one end of it to the other. Her plans called for laying rail made from Rearden Metal, not ordinary steel. Her most audacious decision was to build an entire bridge of Rearden Metal, after Henry Rearden evidently assured her that he could design one that would be less expensive than shoring up the present bridge with Rearden Metal members.
Wyatt actually thanked Dagny for "the best slap in the face that I ever got and deserved."
When the Rearden Metal Controversy broke out, Wyatt defiantly sent Rearden a proposal to build a pipeline of Rearden Metal from Colorado to the East. Then came another surprise: Dagny Taggart organized her own company, "John Galt, Incorporated," to build the line and take the heat off the TTRR. Wyatt very enthusiastically bought some of that company's commercial paper.
On July 22, 2017, the line opened. Wyatt invited Dagny Taggart and Henry Rearden to stay at his house. He did not learn directly, but he probably guessed, that his two guests began an affair while under his roof. Whether he ever inquired fully into the particulars, the novel never says.
Then in November of 2017, the government changed the rules, seemingly overnight. Wyatt had laid plans for expansion of his facilities, using Rearden Metal to accomplish this, and, as mentioned, for a pipeline. But thanks to a series of directives affecting Rearden Steel, he saw that that would never happen, because his "fair share" would never be sufficient. Furthermore, Washington issued at least two directives that made rail shipment ridiculously inefficient, mainly by imposing unnecessary limits on their speed (60 mph) and consists (60 cars max).
While he was wondering what to do, the namesake of the John Galt line came to see him. Ellis Wyatt received a young man (age about 37) who obviously had a mission. John Galt told him that he had a right to exist, and that he ought to decide now whether to put up with such interferences any longer.
Ellis Wyatt decided that he would not. As it happened, neither would any of many other businessmen who had relocated to Colorado after the John Galt Line had opened, and who now saw Colorado's favorable business conditions utterly destroyed.
Wyatt rigged his oil fields with high explosives and set them off all at once. The resulting fire, thereafter known as "Wyatt's Torch," would prove impossible to extinguish. Shortly before he walked away from his property for the last time, he erected a sign near its front gate:
|“||I am leaving it as I found it. Take over. It's yours.||”|
Wyatt then converted all the cash he had on hand to gold or machinery, and cargo planes to carry it. John Galt gave him a very special chart to a place he recognized at once: it was the old mining town of Ouray, Colorado, that years ago had dried up for a second time after even the tourist trade had failed it. He knew that Midas Mulligan had bought the land many years ago, and also knew that Mulligan's holdings included part of a key basin that Wyatt knew was laden with oil-rich shale. And now John Galt was offering him a special pass into the vast portion of the Uncompaghre River Valley that Mulligan owned.
Ellis Wyatt cheerfully flew to Ouray, now called Mulligan's Valley, but which he would come to know as Galt's Gulch. This place became his home. Later Wyatt was surprised to see that the fire at his oil fields was visible even from the secluded valley to which he and so many other leading businessmen had now retreated.
Development of Galt's Gulch
When Ellis Wyatt landed in Galt's Gulch, he found a valley consisting mostly of farmland and a handful of small cottages. One of them was John Galt's own house. Wyatt spent his first night in the Gulch as a guest of Mr. Galt, in a room that he quickly realized that many other men had occupied before him. All had left their signatures, each with a brief message, on one of the walls of the room. Wyatt left his own signature the next morning, with this message:
|“||You'll get over it.||”|
Then Ellis Wyatt took stock of his new home. The Gulch was not well developed, and the old Victorian-era buildings that had formed the nucleus of the old town were long-since gone. But the valley was resource-rich. Wyatt easily found the shale slopes from which he could extract oil, just as he had done on the outside. Somehow, he knew that if he could assure the valley of an abundant supply of motor fuel, he would solve a problem that would allow other men, including the automaker Lawrence Hammond, to duplicate their own businesses and turn this mountain hideaway into a thriving community.
His experiments succeeded, and men like Lawrence Hammond and Dwight Sanders, a builder of monoplanes, restarted their own businesses, though only inside the Gulch. Soon many participants in John Galt's movement relocated permanently to the Gulch when Wyatt, Hammond, Sanders, and the others could offer them permanent employment.
Ellis Wyatt would see Dagny Taggart briefly, in June of the last year of the strike, when she made an unannounced visit to the valley (and almost got herself killed).
The Rescue of John Galt
The last year of the strike was Wyatt's busiest, but not for business reasons. On the morning of November 5, Henry Rearden's aircraft landed in the valley, with Rearden on board, and John Galt at the controls. Wyatt was very glad to see him, for a host of reasons. At the "welcome home dinner" at Midas Mulligan's house, Rearden came straight to the point: he was taking orders for Rearden Metal, and fully intended to rebuild Rearden Steel in the valley. Wyatt gladly told Rearden that he would place an order, and followed up the next day with a written letter of intent.
Over the next two and a half weeks, Wyatt was pleased to have Rearden as a classmate in a special edition of the John Galt Lecture Series in Physics. Galt ran this program every other evening for ten days. Then Ragnar Danneskjöld flew in, with an interesting piece of intelligence: Mr. Thompson was going to make a speech "on the world crisis" on November 22.
When Galt abruptly accelerated the lecture schedule to one lecture every evening (and for longer hours), and announced that he would give "final examinations" on November 21, Wyatt was not surprised. Nor was he surprised when, on November 22, Mr. Thompson found himself unable to deliver any speeches. The reason: John Galt jammed the airwaves and delivered his own speech: a three-hour manifesto to the outside world.
To the chagrin of Wyatt and nearly every other resident of Galt's Gulch, John Galt departed for New York City the next day. Ragnar Danneskjöld and Francisco d'Anconia stayed behind, and Wyatt could read in their faces that they knew why Galt had gone back, but out of courtesy to him, wouldn't tell. Wyatt would learn Galt's reasons only later.
On February 22, 2020, John Galt was arrested. The news shocked the Gulch to the core. Wyatt and the others turned at once to Francisco, Ragnar, and Hank Rearden, who now constituted the informal Committee of Safety that were the acknowledged ideological leaders of the Gulch. Danneskjöld organized a vast air and land militia, consisting of half the male population of the valley, including every qualified pilot, to go and rescue John Galt.
Ellis Wyatt was a qualified pilot, so Ragnar assigned him John Galt's aircraft and made him his forward-area commander. But then Ragnar saddled Wyatt with Hugh Akston, assigning the older man to Wyatt as a supernumerary. Wyatt gathered that the old man would not stay home and wait. But at least he was willing to cooperate with Wyatt and obey his orders.
Wyatt led a force to infiltrate Manhattan Island and take up various hidden stations around the Wayne-Falkland Hotel, where the authorities held Galt. Wyatt drew up plans to storm the Wayne-Falkland, but couldn't shake the feeling that the authorities would simply kill Galt before he, Wyatt, could get close.
Then Francisco reported that Dagny Taggart had called in, saying that the authorities were going to fly Galt off Manhattan, to the campus of the State Science Institute in Lyme, New Hampshire. Not long after that, Wyatt received a briefing from Danneskjöld that hit him like a thunderclap: the Taggart Bridge was out, and the people of New York City were beginning to panic already.
Wyatt, on Danneskjöld's orders, decamped from Manhattan. Then he moved his forces to New Hampshire, to invest the State Science Institute campus along the Lyme Road. He was prepared to assault the "Project F" building, containing the torture chamber where the authorities now prepared to examine Galt, but had the same misgivings as before.
Danneskjöld ordered him to wait for his signal. Then he, Rearden, Francisco, and Dagny went in alone, four against sixteen guards. But those guards were capable of little else than instant obedience, and their leader was not a leader in any honest sense. The four succeeded in liberating Galt and getting him, and themselves, clear of the facility.
Wyatt was relieved not to give the order for an operation that everyone knew might end in Galt's death. He ordered a full evacuation once he knew that the rescue party were in the air. Later he cheerfully took Danneskjöld's report that the rescue operation had gone well, with only one casualty—Henry Rearden suffered a minor flesh wound.
Hugh Akston insisted on talking to Galt. Wyatt let him have the microphone. It was worth it, if only so that Wyatt could hear John Galt's voice himself.
The novel does not mention what Ellis Wyatt did after the strike was settled. The best assumption is that he returned to his old oil fields, put out the fires, and rebuilt his operation.
Spoilers end here.
Ellis Wyatt is a type of any businessman who wants to make things work, but has little patience for anyone who, though not targeting him directly, interferes with his business indirectly though his effects on those with whom he does business. He will continue to have a minimum amount of patience, so long as he senses that he is dealing with someone who can still think. But when even that option is closed to him, he not only withdraws from the world, but also ensures that the world will not even benefit from the efforts he has made before his break with it. Hence Wyatt's Torch and his sign reminding everyone that he is leaving things as he found them.