John H. Fraling, 70, whistling driver of the No. 23 bus

March 06, 2003|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

John H. Fraling, the whistling bus driver and troubadour of the No. 23 line whose friendliness and musical renditions kept passengers content for nearly 40 years, died of heart failure Friday at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He was 70 and lived in Edmondson Village.

Mr. Fraling, who was born in Baltimore and raised on South Sharp Street, graduated from George Washington Carver Vocational High School in 1951.

After working for several years as a laborer at Davidson Chemical Co. in Curtis Bay, Mr. Fraling went to work in 1956 for the old Baltimore Transit Co. as a streetcar motorman.

He was later assigned to the Bush Street terminal, where he began driving No. 23 line buses, which connected Middle River with the Woodlawn area. And even though his seniority entitled him to select any route he desired, he stayed on his old line.

"Even though it could get rough at times, he said, `I started on the 23 line and I'll stay on it until I retire.' And that's what he did," said a daughter, Sherri R. Robinson of Randallstown.

Mr. Fraling proved to be an exceptional ambassador for the transit company and later the Maryland Transit Administration, which took over the BTC operations.

"He got accustomed to the route and the people and looked forward to it," said Willie J. Nix, a 40-year bus driver who retired from the MTA in 1995. "He was an individual that no one disliked. He was a friendly, outgoing and a joyous fellow."

Mr. Fraling patiently waited for passengers to exit or board his bus. He would lend a hand to the elderly or help someone burdened by shopping bags or packages.

"He was also very good at his job," Mr. Nix said. "In those days, we had to make change and issue transfers. And he was always looking or waiting for his regular riders who looked forward to seeing him. And if he missed one of them, he'd inquire as to what had happened."

Mr. Nix also credited him with being able to make the most disgruntled and angry rider into a friend.

"When you're waiting 10 minutes in the cold for a bus, it feels like 20," Mr. Nix said. "He was able to turn their madness into pleasure."

And as Mr. Fraling drove his bus to or from the city, he entertained his riders with a number of whistled tunes from his vast musical repertoire.

Except for six weeks off after suffering a heart attack, Mr. Fraling never missed a day's work in 39 years. And when he retired in 1995, many of his former passengers attended his farewell party.

During his career, he also had earned many safe-driving awards and citations.

After a few months of retirement, he began missing his old buddies at the bus barn.

"He was a great practical joker," Mrs. Robinson said of her father. "One day he put on his uniform and went back to Bush Street and told the guys he was coming back to work. He was a great cut-up who just couldn't take retirement."

Mr. Fraling was an active member of Leadenhall Baptist Church, where he drove the church bus and served on many committees including the Transportation Committee, the Brotherhood and the Care Ministry, which gathered and distributed food to the needy.

Recently, he was digging the bus out of snow to make the Sunday run to pick up members who relied on the bus to attend services.

"He was a man who never stopped," said the Rev. Eddie R. Wilson Jr., who has been pastor of Leadenhall Baptist Church since 1970. "If there was anything that needed to be done, he'd do it. He was a part of everything that happened here."

A bass, Mr. Fraling was a member of the church's male chorus. He also sang gospel and spiritual music at church banquets, anniversary parties and funerals.

"One of his favorite hymns was `One Day at a Time,' which he sang at funerals and in funeral homes," Mr. Wilson said.

On Father's Day in 1999, Mr. Fraling was honored by the church's congregation as Father of the Year for his dedication to the church and its congregation.

Mr. Fraling was active in the Edmondson Village Neighborhood Association. He also used his car to drive elderly neighbors who needed a way to their doctor's appointments, the bank or grocery store.

"If you have ever needed a friend, a smile, laugh or help and did not get it, it is because you never asked him," said a niece, Carlene Dixon of Baltimore.

Services will be at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Leadenhall Baptist Church, 1021 Leadenhall St.

Mr. Fraling is survived by his wife of 50 years, the former Earline Fleet; three sons, John H. Fraling Jr. of Baltimore, Earl D. Fraling of Jessup and Andre J. Fraling of Randallstown; two other daughters, Machaella V. Freeland and Shernella E. Fraling, both of Baltimore; two brothers, Robert C. Clarke of Red Lion, Pa., and Thomas Fraling of Philadelphia; two sisters, Marie Singleton of Baltimore and Ethel Gordon of Woodlawn; 15 grandchildren; and 18 great-grandchildren. Another son, Herchal Fraling, died in 1997.

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