John E. Merriken Jr., 82, wrote railroad book

September 29, 1996|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

John E. Merriken Jr.: An obituary published in Sunday's editions of The Sun erroneously listed the date of a memorial service for John E. Merriken Jr. of Simpsonville, 82, a retired Army officer and railroad historian, who died Sept. 11. The service will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday at St. Mark's Episcopal Church, 12700 Hall Shop Road in Howard County.

John E. Merriken Jr., whose interest in the Washington, Baltimore & Annapolis Electric Railroad resulted in a critically acclaimed study of the railroad, died Sept. 11 after a fall in his Simpsonville residence. He was 82.

Mr. Merriken's book, "Every Hour on the Hour," which took its name from the frequency of the railroad's speedy interurban trains that once linked the three cities in its name, was published in 1993.


He had spent nearly seven decades walking its long abandoned and largely forgotten right of way, poring over ancient corporate records and interviewing those who had memories or worked for the railroad that was affectionately called the Weary, Bruised and Aching or the Wobble, Bounce & Agony.

Chartered in 1838 as the Annapolis & Elkridge Railroad, it was electrified in 1908. Its route took it from the foot of Howard Street to Baltimore Highlands, English Consul and Linthicum Heights and Naval Academy Junction. There its line diverged, with one branch going to Annapolis and the other to Washington.

It had a profound influence on suburbanization of Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties. It was known for its big green and tuscon red high speed cars that once whisked passengers from the ferry wharf in Annapolis to Camden Station or downtown Washington at dizzying speeds of over 70 mph.

Competition from the automobile and a deepening financial crisis forced the road to run its last train in 1935. The North Shore or Short Line segment was later resurrected and operated by bondholders under the name of the Baltimore & Annapolis Railroad until it, too, abandoned passenger service in 1950.

"What impressed me was his complete grasp of the company from the broadest view down to the minutest detail," said Herbert H. Harwood, a prominent railroad historian and retired railroad executive.

"He was compulsive about accuracy, yet, unlike so many technical historians he didn't just get mired in one aspect of the story. He was able to combine them all in a very professional way," he said.

Mr. Harwood credits him with bringing back interest in a railroad that was important in its day but was "barely remembered by anyone today."

"He became the authority. His book was a tremendous contribution to railroad, local and regional history," said Mr. Harwood, who lives in Baltimore.

It was, however, Mr. Merriken's insistence on every detail being exactly correct and documented that led his friends to despair that he would live long enough to write the book.

"He was stubborn, and so was I," said LeRoy King of Dallas, a friend for 55 years who edited and published the book.

"There are two kinds of railroad historians. One type interviews one employee and takes what he says as gospel and writes a book, and then there is John, who researches and researches. But when it was done, you could count on it."

Mr. King explained that when Mr. Merriken was riding the WB & A trains as a little boy, he couldn't get over the excitement of one of those high speed runs from Scott Street to Naval Academy Junction.

"It was an infatuation he never got over," said Mr. King.

Born and raised in Washington, Mr. Merriken graduated in 1932 from McKinley Technical High School and enlisted in the Army. He received his commission as a lieutenant colonel during World War II and served as a military hospital administrator in the United States, Europe and Central America. He was discharged in 1961 and settled in Simpsonville in Howard County.

A scholarly man of a decidedly military bearing and courtly manners, Mr. Merriken favored dark suits, crisp white shirts and carefully tied bow ties.

He eschewed such modern conveniences, according to friends and family, as credit cards, answering machines and microwave ovens, and he never observed or accepted the invention of the ballpoint pen. Rather, he insisted on using a fountain pen to write letters and take notes.

His manuscripts were carefully typed on a 1946 Adler typewriter he had acquired in Germany and kept in a highly polished box. His study was as meticulous as the man himself.

"He was a character. He was the only person in Maryland who didn't have air conditioning in his car and tried to tell me people who live there don't need it. I'm from Maryland, and he couldn't put that one over on me," said Mr. King.

He also was the author of "Old Dominion Trolley Too: A History of the Mount Vernon Line," and numerous articles to the National Railway Historical Society Bulletin and the Capital Transit Quarterly.

He was a member of the Tractioneers, the Baltimore Streetcar Museum, the Washington Electric Railway Historical Society and the National Capital Historical Museum of Transportation.

He also was interested in steam shovels and bridges, and participated in the annual Chesapeake Bay Bridge Walk each year. He was proud of the fact that he walked across the Brooklyn Bridge during its centenary year, said a niece, Gail Hobbs of Silver Spring.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday at St. Mark's Episcopal Church, 12700 Hall Shop Road in Howard lTC County.

In addition to his niece, he is survived by a brother, George Tuerke Merriken Sr. of Silver Spring; a nephew, George Tuerke Merriken Jr. of Silver Spring; and two other nieces, Lorraine Merriken of Germantown, and Lynne Tuerke Barb of Silver Spring.

Pub Date: 9/29/96

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.