James C. Robertson Jr., streetcar museum member, dies

The city police officer served in the Army during World War II

  • James Robertson at Baltimore Streetcar Museum
James Robertson at Baltimore Streetcar Museum
May 11, 2011|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

James C. Robertson Jr., a retired Baltimore police officer and a streetcar buff who was a longtime active member of the Baltimore Streetcar Museum, died Saturday of respiratory failure at the Oak Crest Village retirement community.

He was 100.

The son of a physician and a homemaker, Mr. Robertson was born in Baltimore and raised at the foot of Broadway and later in a rowhouse near Patterson Park.

He was a 1929 graduate of City College and earned a bachelor's degree in history and political science in 1935 from the University of Maryland, College Park, where he also played varsity football.

He also studied at the University of Maryland College of Special Studies and the Institute for Maryland Law Enforcement Officers.

In 1936, Mr. Robertson was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army and from 1937 to 1938 was an assistant camp commander for the Civilian Conservation Corps.

He was an assistant manager and investigator from 1938 to 1939 for Lincoln Service Finance Corp., and then worked for a year as a patrolman for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.

Mr. Robertson joined the Baltimore Police Department in 1940 and eventually was promoted to lieutenant and shift commander. He retired in 1965.

He went on active military duty in 1941, serving with the Signal Corps and later the military police, where he was a commanding officer with a military government detachment in Germany. He was discharged with the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1947.

Mr. Robertson remained an active reservist until 1963.

After retiring from the city Police Department, Mr. Robertson was a communicable diseases investigator for the state health department. He retired a second time in 1972.

The former longtime Bel Air resident, who moved to the Parkville retirement community in 1999, was a lifelong streetcar enthusiast.

Mr. Robertson, who joined the streetcar museum in 1973 and wore membership badge No. 506, quickly became a qualified streetcar motorman, conductor and operator.

Popular with other museum members, Mr. Robertson was no stranger to hard work.

In 1973, Clyde Gerald, an early member, began working with a shovel and pick at the Falls Road museum, hand-digging the right-of-way for a second set of northbound tracks.

He was joined in this effort by Mr. Robertson, who had grown tired of running up and down the original single line and challenged the organization's board to support the construction of the second set of tracks.

"When I became a board member, he literally hounded me for years about the second track. He told me that he had lots of money and wanted to see it put to use while he could see what we did with it," said Ed Amrhein, who is the museum's superintendent of transportation.

And Mr. Robertson made good on his promise.

He donated the funds that enabled the museum to purchase a front loader, making the grading easier and faster. And in honor of its benefactor, the museum numbered the tractor No. 506 after Mr. Robertson's membership number and named it "Big Jim."

He also donated all the stone ballast that was needed during track construction.

"Jim was in his 90s, and he'd come down to the museum to work on the track. He'd carry spikes or tie plates and was there every Saturday," said Mr. Amrhein. "He was very dedicated to the museum."

When the second track opened for service in September 2008, the honors of running the first car over went to Mr. Robertson, who was then 98. He handled the car from the museum to the 28th Street loop and back with his usual aplomb.

"Jim operated Peter Witt car No. 6119 on the new track for the occasion," said Andy Blumberg, the museum's director of public relations.

"He had been a member of the 'WOWs,' a group of senior BSM members who met at the museum on Wednesdays to do chores, work in the library and operate charters for schoolchildren," said Jim Genthner, a museum member.

"He was always a very careful motorman. Some guys have to be coached to give up the job but not Jim. He came to me one day and said, 'I realize I can't do it anymore. I hope you don't mind,'" Mr. Amrhein said.

John O'Neill Jr., the current museum president, is an old friend of Mr. Robertson's.

"Jim was one of the most unique and interesting individuals I've ever met. He had always been a streetcar aficionado, and when he gave up running cars about four years ago, he went to work with the track crew," said Mr. O'Neill. "One of his great expressions was 'fine and dandy.'"

"He was a great guy," recalled Mr. Blumberg. "Always upbeat, enthusiastic — would greet one with 'Hello, young man!' Perhaps we were young to him, yet he seemed to have the energy of any of us, almost all of whom were decades younger."

Mr. Robertson was also a member of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Military Officers Association, Military Order of the World Wars and the Civil War Preservation Trust.

He was a member of the Highland Society of Harford County; First Thursday Club, a lunch-discussion group; and the National Rifle Association.

He was a communicant of Christ Episcopal Church in Forest Hill.

His wife of 39 years, the former Rosiland O'Rourke, died in 1995.

Mr. Robertson's son-in-law, Walter Geffert, attributed Mr. Robertson's longevity to exercising and not smoking.

"He also liked happy hour, where he enjoyed a bourbon and ginger ale, and ate everything except liver and onions and mushrooms," Mr. Geffert said with a laugh.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday in the chapel at Oak Crest Village, 8820 Walther Blvd., Parkville.

Also surviving is his daughter, Elizabeth Ann Geffert of Ellicott City; and several nieces and nephews.


Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.