George MacMillan Beischer, 90, longtime railroad official


George MacMillan Beischer, a noted railroad photographer and retired Amtrak official whose career spanned more than three decades, died of a stroke Tuesday at Sinai Hospital. The longtime Cross Keys resident was 90.

He was born in Dunmore, Pa., and raised in Clifton, N.J. His father, a career railroader, had been supervisor of electrical engineering for the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad at its Hoboken, N.J., terminal.

He earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in 1939 from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y.

"During the Depression, he worked in the engine room of a ship that sailed from New York to San Francisco by way of the Panama Canal, shoveling coal in order to make money to pay for his tuition," said his daughter, Sharon A. Beischer, a retired Montgomery County public school educator.

In 1941, Mr. Beischer began his career on the New York Central Railroad as a special apprentice at Selkirk, N.Y.

He enlisted in the Army Air Forces in 1942, and was stationed in Denver, where he worked in aviation engineering. He attained the rank of captain and, after being discharged in 1946, returned to the New York Central. His assignments there included working as shop superintendent on the Boston & Albany Railroad, a subsidiary line; master mechanic in Indianapolis; and assistant superintendent in Cleveland.

"When he was on the New York Central, he participated in the field trials for the Niagara-class steam engines. Steam's days were numbered and they were the last steam engines built by the railroad," said Harry C. Eck, retired B&O superintendent of locomotive operations.

"He had some pet items, and one was clean locomotives and high standards for shop safety. In fact, our shop safety record was one of the highest in the country," he said.

In 1958, Arthur W. Grotz Sr., president of the Western Maryland Railway, hired Mr. Beischer as assistant superintendent of motive power and soon named him the line's chief mechanical officer.

Mr. Beischer left the WM in 1962 to become assistant chief mechanical officer for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and a year later, was promoted to chief mechanical officer.

After the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway and B&O merger in the early 1960s, Mr. Beischer oversaw the combining of the two railroad's mechanical departments, while retaining responsibility as chief mechanical officer for the system's locomotives.

"He did it without any fanfare," said Arch W. McElvany, retired general manager of operations. "He was a quiet, no-nonsense and hard-working railroad man, and I was proud that I had been able to work with him."

Mr. Beischer joined Amtrak in 1972 as its first chief mechanical officer.

"He got in on the ground floor of Amtrak and was one of the guys who struggled to make it work," said Herbert H. Harwood Jr., a retired CSX executive and nationally known railroad historian and author.

"He was faced with the double-whammy of creating a stable organization out of nothing and trying to deal with the cast-off locomotives and cars inherited from railroads that had just dumped the passenger business on Amtrak," Mr. Harwood said. "And he dealt with all of this quietly but very effectively."

Mr. Beischer initiated the purchase of modern diesel locomotives and spearheaded the conversion of Amtrak's passenger cars from steam to electric heat.

"George had a highly developed sense of respect for working railroaders at all levels," said Jim Warsher, a retired Amtrak colleague and retired Vermont Railway train dispatcher.

Mr. Beischer began photographing trains in his youth, amassing a chronicle of Northeastern railroading from the age of steam to the present that included thousands of photos, family members said.

"And we went everywhere by train," his daughter said.

He was a collector of railroad pocket watches. He was a member of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors and was active in the organization's Baltimore chapter.

Services were Thursday.

Mr. Beischer, who had lived at Cross Keys for 41 years, is survived by his wife of 63 years, the former Louise Werdrich. In addition to his daughter, other survivors include a brother, Robert Beischer of Lakewood, N.J.

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