Ahead of the Torch?

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Hello, I hope you can help me by explaining the phrase "Ahead of the torch". I'm interested in learning what it means and when it came into use. My greatgrandfather was JG Sullivan who was a civil engineer with CPR during the expansion west. He was involved in the Connaught tunnel project, the Panama Canal and was the CPRs chief engineer for the western lines. I recently inherited a bone handled bottle opener with his initials on one side and A.O.T.T. on the other. When I searched AOTT I noticed a couple of definitions but only one that had the connection to railways. Perhaps you can shed some light on this for me.

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