Leo T. Vogelsang, 75, worked for railroad

April 23, 2003|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Leo T. Vogelsang, a retired railroader and volunteer who helped restore the SS John W. Brown, died of brain cancer Monday at Westminster Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. The Winfield resident was 75.

Mr. Vogelsang was born and raised in Southwest Baltimore and attended city public schools. He was 17 when he joined the merchant marine during World War II, and became a fireman, oiler and water tender aboard the Liberty ship SS John S. Mosby and the tanker Gulfgem.

Returning to Baltimore after the war, he was employed as a dock worker for the Western Maryland Railway from 1947 until enlisting in the Marine Corps in 1950. He attained the rank of corporal and received decorations including the Korean Service Medal before returning to civilian life.

Until retiring in 1990 from CSX, which had bought Western Maryland Railway, Mr. Vogel- sang worked at the railroad's Port Covington coal and ore pier, where he oversaw the loading of hopper cars.

According to family members, Mr. Vogelsang had two lifelong passions: ships and trains.

When he learned that the John W. Brown, a 4,700-ton Liberty ship built at Bethlehem Steel's Fairfield Yard in 1942, had been brought to Baltimore for restoration by Project Liberty Ship in 1988, he signed on as an early member of the volunteer organization.

"And since those early days, he has been a dedicated and hard worker," said Capt. Brian H. Hope, a Chesapeake Bay pilot and former chairman of Project Liberty Ship.

Mr. Vogelsang, a steadfast volunteer in the ship's engine room, worked on such major projects as asbestos containment.

"Because there was asbestos-encased piping in the engine room, we asked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration what was the best way to deal with the problem," said Captain Hope.

"They suggested we paint all the piping with a special water-based paint, and then wrap it with a fiberglass mesh, and paint it again. This encapsulated and held the asbestos in place," he said. "This was one of Leo's jobs, and he worked on it for a couple of years. He was one of those guys who did whatever was asked of him."

When the ship was on cruises, Mr. Vogelsang, a slight man who always wore his cap at a jaunty angle, was part of the crew staffing the hot, noisy engine room. He stood four-hour watches as an oiler, making sure the moving parts of the reciprocating steam engine were thoroughly lubricated.

"Leo was a quiet man but a darned good worker. Not only did he work as an oiler, he also did maintenance work on the engine," said Joseph J. Carbo, the ship's first assistant engineer.

"On the Brown, there are no automatic oil devices, so the engine must be oiled by hand. He was an enthusiastic oiler, and when he was working, sometimes oil would fly all over the place," he said, laughing.

"If someone were sick, Leo would go out and buy a get-well card, which he left by the sign-in book for the crew to sign. He always thought of others. That was his nature," Mr. Carbo said.

A memorial service will be held at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the Burrier-Queen Funeral Home, 1212 W. Old Liberty Road in Winfield.

Mr. Vogelsang is survived by his wife of 42 years, the former Joyce M. Pruett; two stepsons, Thomas Warner and Robert Warner, both of Winfield; three stepdaughters, Joyce Ann Vogelsang of Littlestown, Pa., Rebecca Jennings of Delaware and Sandra Currence of Winfield; three brothers, Eugene Vogelsang of Littlestown, Pa., and Ronald Vogelsang and Joseph Vogelsang, both of Baltimore; a sister, Evelyn Frank of Randallstown; 12 step-grandchildren; and eight step-great-grandchildren.

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