August W. Schell Jr.

The career Air Force officer was an avid collector of B&O dining car china and railroad passes

March 31, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Maj. August William Schell Jr., a retired career Air Force officer and avid collector of Baltimore & Ohio Railroad dining car china and rail passes, died of a heart attack March 24 at his Aberdeen home. He was 79.

Major Schell, whose father, August W. "Gus" Schell Sr., was a longtime secretary to several B&O presidents, was born in Baltimore and raised in Towson.

He was a 1950 graduate of St. Paul's School and, after earning a bachelor's degree in history from the University of Miami, received his commission through Air Force ROTC.

He was assigned to the Air Force Missile Test Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla., during the early days of the missile program and was an eyewitness to many of the historic launchings of the developing Space Age.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, Major Schell was serving as a nuclear weapons consultant at Cigli Air Base in Turkey, where he performed the final act that brought the nuclear standoff between the U.S. and Russia to a close.

"President Kennedy's secret promise to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to remove the American Jupiter missiles from Turkey, resulted in Khrushchev's removal of Soviet missiles from Cuba," Major Schell wrote in an autobiographical sketch.

The next April, Major Schell "supervised the removal of the warheads from the U.S. missiles and their return to the United States," where he had them transported to a base where "they were cut up into scrap."

In his role as a public affairs officer, Major Schell was present at the nation's first manned space launches and was acquainted with all of the pioneering Mercury astronauts.

He was later reassigned to the Air Force Western Test Range at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, where he was responsible for the provisioning of the range instrumentation ships for the Apollo Space Program. Later, he was present for the Apollo 11 space launch at Cape Canaveral.

During his Air Force career, Major Schell had been a member of the Armed Forces Courier Service; a launch controller at a Jupiter ballistic missile site in Turkey; and he served as a mortuary officer in Thailand during the Vietnam War.

He was also a member of the "Operation Homecoming" cadre that welcomed home returning Vietnam prisoners of war from Hanoi at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines in early 1973.

"He witnessed the POWs taking their first steps to freedom," said his daughter, Connie Anderson of Aberdeen.

During his 24-year career, he also edited award-winning Air Force newspapers at air bases in the Philippines, Offutt in Nebraska and Thule in Greenland.

After retiring in 1978 as a major, he worked for 13 years at the National Security Agency until retiring a second time in 1993.

His decorations included the U.S. Meritorious Award, the Air Force Commendation Medal, the U.S. Expeditionary Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry and the Vietnam Campaign Medal.

He also held the rank of lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Civil Air Patrol, which he joined in 1944. He was curator of the organization's national archive in Richmond, Va.

A longtime railroad fan, Major Schell enjoyed collecting dining car china and railroad passes, and riding and photographing trains.

He expanded the collection of B&O china and passes that had been started by his father, who had been corporate secretary to B&O presidents Col. Roy B. White and Howard E. Simpson.

Courtney Wilson, executive director of the B&O Museum, recalled Monday that Major Schell's largesse in donating his extensive collection of B&O china, flatware, silverware, glassware, menus and railroad passes was stimulated by the collapse of the museum's roundhouse roof after a snowstorm in 2003.

"His inspiration came from seeing a picture in The Sun at the time of a broken piece of blue B&O china, which inspired him to give us his father's collection," Mr. Wilson said.

"Major Schell was one of the museum's major patrons, and he wanted his father's collection to ... be in a public place where it could be seen and enjoyed," he said.

Mr. Wilson described him as a "very affable man," whose china collection included more than 300 pieces. The railroad passes in Major Schell's collection, which he also donated to the museum, were issued by railroads to holders allowing free carriage on passenger trains. The passes spanned the pre-Civil War period to the 1960s.

Jim Hutzler, an authority on railroad and steamship memorabilia, is writing a book on the history of the B&O's china to be published by the Johns Hopkins University Press.

"It is an outstanding collection and covers a broad spectrum from the railroad's early black-and-gold china to the blue. He also had many serving plates and other odd pieces and executive passes that you never see," Mr. Hutzler said.

"It's a great benefit to the museum, and he will be remembered for what he donated and for also being a spirited patron," he said.

Major Schell was a member of Central Presbyterian Church in Towson, where a memorial service was held Monday.

Also surviving are two sons, August W. Schell III of Tallahassee, Fla., and James T. Schell of Perry, Fla.; two grandchildren; and longtime friend Amanda B. Anderson of Lexington County, S.C.

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