Howard N. Barr Sr., 82, train engineer, B&O historian

September 03, 1997|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

For Howard N. Barr Sr., there was nothing more intrinsically compelling or fascinating than the steam locomotives and equipment of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Co. Mr. Barr, who spent his spare time for 35 years compiling a 36-volume mechanical and photographic history of the B&O, died Monday in his sleep at the Hamilton Center Genesis Eldercare. He was 82 and lived in Overlea.

Mr. Barr, a locomotive engineer, retired in 1976 after 41 years with the Canton Railroad.

Asked why he didn't bother to research the history of the little East Baltimore switching line, he replied, "Why assemble the history of a small railroad when you can research the granddaddy of them all, the B&O?"

Beginning in the early 1940s and working steadily for the next 35 years, he filled volumes with locomotive blueprints, specifications, year and place of construction, mechanical data, modifications and date of retirement of the 5,087 steam engines that chugged over the railroad system during its history.

His research covered the period from the appearance of the Tom Thumb in 1830 to the last steam engine built for the railroad in 1948.

"Railroad history has lost a great man," said retired CSX executive and railroad historian William F. Howes of Jacksonville, Fla.

Herbert H. Harwood, a retired CSX executive and nationally recognized railroad historian, author and photographer, said Barr was a B&O steam locomotive specialist, and was he a specialist. It was his life's consuming work."

Describing Mr. Barr as "methodical," Mr. Harwood recalled submitting several questions for a book he was writing on the B&O's Royal Blue Route to Mr. Barr and being astonished at his response.

"It was 50 pages long, all single-spaced, and it included material on every locomotive that ever traveled the route plus anecdotes," said Mr. Harwood.

"His research was world-class," said Harry C. Eck, retired B&O superintendent of locomotive operation. "His detail was tremendous. It was awe-inspiring."

Barr's research took him into roundhouses, engineering offices, railroad yards and far corners all over the B&O system.

His work brought him into contact with engineers, shop workers, foremen and superintendents whose reminiscences he eagerly recorded.

A shy and retiring man with a single, driving ambition to record it all, he filled cabinets with his research and wore out several Royal portable typewriters.

His work ended in the early 1960s as steam faded, diesels came on line and his beloved B&O became affiliated with the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad.

He was known for his generosity and his willingness to share his files and photographs.

Never having a driver's license or a car, Mr. Barr traveled by train to remote points on the B&O, where he took pictures of engines and trains.

It wasn't uncommon for Mr. Barr to leave a train at some tiny depot or rail junction, then hike miles for a picture.

The result of these journeys was a photographic record of 1,200 of the B&O's engines.

It was while riding back from a photo excursion that he met Ann Durst, a registered nurse who was riding the train to Baltimore. They were married in 1949. She died in 1995.

"She knew his interest from the start, and she put up with it. She actually encouraged him," said his son, Howard N. Barr Jr. of Overlea, a CSX locomotive engineer.

Charles Swann Roberts of Baltimore published "The 50 Best of B&O," a compilation of some of Mr. Barr's pictures, in 1978. He later published "The Baltimore and Ohio Q," a history of the railroad's Mikado class of engines.

Born and raised in East Baltimore, Mr. Barr was a graduate of city schools and began his railroading career in 1935.

He was a member of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Historical Society, the Railway and Locomotive Historical Society and the National Railroad Historical Society.

He was a member of Epiphany Lutheran Church and a former member of St. Mark's Lutheran Church.

Services will be at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Schimunek Funeral Home, 3331 Brehms Lane, Baltimore. In addition to his son, he is survived by three grandchildren.

Pub Date: 9/03/97

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