L. Byrne Waterman, a retired Chessie System railroad executive and maritime historian whose philanthropy and documentation of Chesapeake Bay-built whaling vessels earned him a national reputation, died of cancer Friday at St. Agnes Hospital. The longtime Catonsville resident was 85.
Mr. Waterman was born in Elyria, Ohio, and was raised in Wheeling, W.Va. After graduating from high school in 1938, he was a junior bank bookkeeper, messenger and traveling steel company auditor.
Drafted into the Army in 1942, he served as a radio operator with the 9th Armored Division in Europe and participated in the capture of the historic Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen from German forces on March 7, 1945.
Days after his 1945 discharge as a sergeant, he enrolled at Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, Pa., where he earned a bachelor's degree. In 1950, he earned a second bachelor's degree, in civil engineering, from Carnegie Institute of Technology and went to work for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.
"As a teenager, Byrne had a girlfriend whose father worked for the B&O and he used hang around the railroad. There were other railroads in Wheeling, but he was a big fan of the B&O," said E. Ray Lichty, a longtime friend and retired vice president with successor company CSX.
After graduating in 1953 from the railroad's engineering technical training program, Mr. Waterman was named assistant to the B&O's division engineer at Akron, Ohio. He later was transferred to Baltimore as supervisor of mechanization of track work.
He held several other key positions during his 31-year B&O career, and car utilization was one of his specialties, "making sure that the railroad's cars were being efficiently utilized and allocated to shippers," Mr. Lichty said. Mr. Waterman retired in 1981 from what became the Chessie System.
Mr. Waterman began a three-decade tenure as a volunteer and member of the maritime committee of the Maryland Historical Society in 1975, and since 1981 had been a maritime manuscript researcher there.
"He came every Tuesday to work and was very devoted to the collection. He was also very dedicated to the Chesapeake whaling vessels in both understanding and documenting them," said Nancy E. Davis, deputy director of the historical society.
In 1973, Mr. Waterman began a relationship with the Kendall Whaling Museum in Sharon, Mass., which merged with the New Bedford Whaling Museum in 2001. He became a life member and was elected to the museum's board of overseers in 1997.
In 1985, he established the L. Byrne Waterman Endowment Fund for curatorial and internship positions at the museum and endowed the L. Byrne Waterman Award. It is presented each October at the museum's annual Whaling History Symposium in "recognition of outstanding contributions to research and pedagogy in the arts, humanities and sciences."
"First of all, Byrne was one of the most popular figures at the museum and beloved in New Bedford. His awards are very prestigious and the only one of their kind. They attract scholars from all over the world, and we're dedicating our 2006 Whaling History Symposium to him," said Stewart Frank, senior curator at the New Bedford Whaling Museum.
"He made a substantial contribution to our knowledge and did a prodigious amount of research in helping us to understand the Baltimore shipbuilders who built the big clunky ships that made up a part of the whaling fleet from 1818 to the Civil War," Mr. Frank said.
"Originally there were three known documented Chesapeake Bay-built whaling vessels, and he documented 50 more," said his son, Lyman Byrne Waterman Jr. of Imperial Beach, Calif.
Mr. Waterman's research took him to Bequia Island, in the Leeward Islands, where he observed inhabitants hunting humpback whales in the traditional way, and nearly to the Arctic to see beluga whales at the mouth of the Churchill River at Hudson Bay.
He was also active in the American Wine Society and a volunteer judge at the Maryland Wine Festival.
Mr. Waterman had been an active member of Emmarts United Methodist Church in Woodlawn.
His wife of 29 years, the former Helen Schupbach, a registered nurse, died in 1975.
His memberships included the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum, Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Historical Society and Friends of President Street Station.
A memorial service will be held at 9 a.m. March 25 at Halethorpe-Relay United Methodist Church, 4513 Ridge Ave., Halethorpe.
Also surviving are a daughter, Robin K. Waterman of Baltimore; a brother, David Waterman of Modesto, Calif; and two sisters, Mary Miller of Knoxville, Tenn., and Jane Anderson of La Jolla, Calif.