George F. Nixon, led creation of trolley museum

September 20, 1994|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Sun Staff Writer

George F. Nixon Sr., whose love of streetcars led him to head the effort that culminated in the creation of the nationally recognized Baltimore Streetcar Museum, died Saturday of heart failure at St. Joseph Hospital. The Edenwald resident was 88.

His efforts to save the historic cars, which had been collected by the old United Railways and later the Baltimore Transit Co., began in 1953 when he learned that Baltimore Transit viewed them as a fire hazard and wanted to destroy them.

The cars -- the oldest dates back to 1880 -- had been assembled in 1928 for Baltimore's Fair of the Electric Pony, a miniversion of the B&O's Fair of the Iron Horse in Halethorpe in 1927.

The effort to save the streetcars was marked by an odyssey from car house to car house, moving when the storage space was sold or slated to be razed.

"It was an uphill battle," he told The Evening Sun in 1970, "We were just one jump ahead of the junkman all the time."

In 1954, Mr. Nixon and a small group of volunteers got the collection transferred to the custodianship of the Maryland Historical Society. The cars were stored on a railroad siding at Robert E. Lee Park.

In 1962, the Baltimore Streetcar Museum was established and eventually became sole owner of the collection. In 1965, after intervention by Mayor Theodore R. McKeldin, the museum moved to its present location on Falls Road and opened in 1970.

"Anybody who has any interest in Baltimore's transit history owes him an enormous debt," said Herbert H. Harwood Jr., retired CSX executive and prominent railroad historian and author.

Andrew S. Blumberg, BSM board member and public affairs director and historian, said, "He used to say about the founding of the museum, 'This is a dream. I couldn't believe it would ever happen.' We owe this museum to George Nixon."

Mr. Nixon was born in West Baltimore within two blocks of four streetcar lines and the mainline of the Pennsylvania Railroad. He took his first streetcar ride in 1913 with his mother on the No. 4 Edmondson Avenue line.

For the youngster, it was entry into a world filled with squealing flanges as the streetcars navigated tight downtown streets, and clanging bells.

The Pennsy and the B&O also became a lifelong passion.

"He and his dad built steam locomotives out of tin cans for their Christmas garden, which led him into becoming a lifelong O-gauge modeler of Pennsy and B&O equipment," said a son, Bud Nixon of Lutherville.

Mr. Nixon was a 1923 graduate of Polytechnic Institute and that same year went to work for Baltimore Gas & Electric, retiring in 1970 as a power distribution manager.

He often contributed "I Remember" features about streetcars to the Sunday Sun Magazine. In one, he told the story of a woman who decided to walk along the catwalk of the Guilford Avenue elevated line and ignored the trolleys that whizzed by and the pleas of passing motormen to come down:

"She didn't wait

For the No. 8

Or with noonday traffic to wrestle.

But without any talk

Proceeded to walk

From Centre to Pleasant by trestle."

The streetcar museum thanked him for his service by naming its electric substation on Falls Road after him, probably the only Baltimorean to be so honored. He often expressed the desire to be buried there so he could "keep an eye on things."

Mr. Nixon was known for his tight smile, elegantly trimmed mustache and gold rimless glasses. He was the first member of the streetcar museum; the first member of the Baltimore Society of Model Engineers, founded in 1932; and the first member of the Baltimore Chapter of the National Railroad Historical Society, the second oldest in the nation, dating back to 1936. He was also known as "Mister Pennsy" or "Big G Nixon" for his efforts to save one of the Pennsy's classic GG-1 locomotives, a 238-ton electric-powered engine that could pull a 20-car passenger train at 90 mph. He led the successful effort to restore the behemoth, which was purchased from Amtrak for $5,000 and donated to the B&O Museum in 1981.

Services are planned for 10 a.m. tomorrow at Ruck Towson Funeral Home, 1050 York Road.

Other survivors include his wife of 61 years, the former Dorothy Rukert; another son, Nick Nixon of Houston; and three grandchildren.

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