Carl L. Amrein, 93, telegrapher, `Ma & Pa' Railroad president

July 23, 1999|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Carl Lewis Amrein, who began his Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad career as a telegrapher and retired as the line's president, died Monday of a heart ailment at St. Joseph Medical Center. He was 93 and lived in Satyr Hill.

He started working in 1923 as an office boy in a Bel Air canning company and taught himself Morse code, a communication system that employed copper wires, batteries, clicks and pauses.

Morse code was used by the railroads.

On Oct. 6, 1924, Mr. Amrein was hired as station agent in the Harford County village of Fallston, where the coal-fired, smoke-belching freight and passenger trains passed on their way to Baltimore and York, Pa., the southern and northern ends of the small line known affectionately as the "Ma & Pa." His family's Fallston home sat alongside the tracks.

"Carl soon rose to chief dispatcher," said Elwood L. Amrein of Parkville, who worked alongside his late brother. "He took care of the day-to-day operating of the railroad, giving the orders as to which trains should pass each other. But with the M & P, the trains were never too long."

The single-track railroad was not controlled by electric signals. Station agents, who sent orders and reports via Morse code, governed the morning milk trains and afternoon mail runs that meandered along a picturesque route -- along Falls Road, through Roland Park, Towson and Baldwin to Bel Air and southern Pennsylvania.

"Many a time I talked with Carl using Morse code," said his brother. "I notified that our grandmother had died, using the telegrapher's key."

Carl Amrein held most every job on the railroad except that of engineer. He even sold tickets on Sundays at the Baltimore terminal, a small station once located at North Avenue and what is now Howard Street.

He was named president of the line in 1970 -- 12 years after its Maryland trackage had been ripped up after freight began moving by truck. The line survives today in southern Pennsylvania, and a section of track has been preserved in Harford County.

"He was an affable man with the courteous manner of a Southern gentleman," said George W. Hilton, a historian who lives in Columbia. "When he became president, he was outwardly surprised that he received letters of congratulations from the big-time railroad presidents."

Mr. Amrein, who retired in 1973, never relinquished his love for the telegrapher's key and was a charter member of the Morse Telegraph Club.

Funeral services will be conducted at 11 a.m. today at Hamilton Presbyterian Church, 5532 Harford Road.

He is survived by his wife, the former Bertha Marie Reynolds, whom he married in 1934; a son, Carl J. Amrein of Lady Lake, Fla.; a daughter, Barbara Lee Barzyk of Parkville; three other brothers, George Amrein of Clearwater, Fla., Willard Amrein of Bel Air and Mervin Amrein of Joppa; three sisters, Mabel Scarborough of Bel Air, Ruth Smith of Parkville and Frances Smith of Norrisville; six grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.

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