Thomas Arnold, 83, B&O freight conductor

December 12, 1998|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

As a small boy growing up in Waverly, Thomas H. Arnold watched and listened to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad steam trains as they chugged through the neighborhood. He listened as their throaty whistles seemed to call to his soul and vowed to become a railroader one day.

Mr. Arnold, who fulfilled his dream by spending almost 40 years ** in train service as a B&O Railroad freight conductor and later restored and operated historic locomotives at the B&O Railroad Museum, died Tuesday of a heart attack at the Charlestown Retirement Community. The former longtime Woodlawn resident was 83.

After graduating from City College in 1933 and working for a plumber for a year, he began his railroad career in 1936 as a mechanic in the Maryland & Pennsylvania Railroad's roundhouse Falls Road.

Two years later, he joined the B&O as a head brakeman riding locomotives. During World War II, he served in Europe with the 9th Traffic Regulation Group of the Army Transportation Corps. He was discharged at war's end and returned to the B&O, where he was promoted to freight conductor. He retired in 1975.

Mr. Arnold's work attire consisted of a denim or jean chore coat, gray work pants with safety garters and a pair of heavy boots. In a satchel he carried aboard No. 2890, his assigned caboose, were the tools of his trade, fuses, a hammer and a wrench.

Harry Eck, a longtime friend who retired as superintendent of locomotive operations for the railroad, recalled the enormous respect that Mr. Arnold engendered among his fellow railroaders.

"He knew the yardmasters and the operators from Baltimore to )) Brunswick and developed a reputation for being able to put a train together real fast and get out of town," Mr. Eck said, laughing.

John Hankey, former B&O Museum curator and now a consultant to railroad museums, said, "He was a highly skilled railroader who cared for the company and its history. He felt deeply connected to the company and what it represented. He was B&O to his very core and he understood within his heart what the B&O meant to Baltimore and its people."

Mr. Arnold was able to combine the practical life as a working railroad man with that of historian and restorer. According to Mr. Hankey, he was one of the founders of the B&O Museum in the mid-1950s and remained a devoted volunteer until his death.

In 1949 and 1950, he took a leave of absence from the railroad to operate the B&O's historic locomotives at the Chicago Railroad Fair. In 1991, he operated the museum's replica of the 1837 Lafayette, his favorite locomotive.

Last year, he traveled to Connecticut to operate the Lafayette, which director Steven Spielberg used in his film "Amistad."

"He had lots of steam experience and was a patient teacher to younger people like me," said George Harwood, supervisor of restoration at the museum who assisted Mr. Arnold in the engine's operation for the film.

"He had an absolutely amazing mind and sharp intellect plus an awesome eye for detail and understanding of technical matters," said Herbert H. Harwood, a nationally recognized rail historian and retired CSX executive. "And [he was] extremely generous when it came time to sharing information and pictures."

Through the years, Mr. Arnold assembled an extensive library of railroad-related materials, photographs and books.

Services will be held at 10 a.m. today at the Loring-Byers Funeral Home, 8728 Liberty Road, Randallstown.

In 1944, Mr. Arnold married Clara L. Jameson, who died in 1977. He is survived by a son, James T. Arnold of Eldersburg; a daughter, Louise A. Berlin of South Freeport, Maine; and a sister, Eugenia Reiner of Baltimore.

Pub Date: 12/12/98

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