Eric Lee Wolf, MARC conductor, dies

Lifelong railroader and free spirit enjoyed bringing smiles to passengers' faces with his jokes, windup toys and other humorous antics

  • MARC conductor Eric Wolf (right), who died May 3, and his colleague, conductor Ronnie Queen
MARC conductor Eric Wolf (right), who died May 3, and his colleague,…
May 12, 2011|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Eric Lee Wolf, a colorful and lighthearted MARC conductor who was an institution on Camden Line trains where he entertained passengers with various jokes and windup toys, died May 3 of a massive heart attack at Washington's Union Station.

The Arbutus resident was 57.

Mr. Wolf's commuter train, No. 849, the 7:20 a.m. from Camden Station, had just arrived at Union Station.

"Eric was in the process of opening the doors up when he was stricken," said David Johnson, who is chief customer communications officer for MARC. "He died on the platform."

Mr. Wolf was taken to Washington Hospital Center, where he was pronounced dead, said his wife of 29 years, the former Mary Jo Dolan.

So popular was Mr. Wolf, that, according to Mr. Johnson, passengers saddened by his death quickly sent pages and pages of emailed tributes to MARC.

One veteran passenger wrote, "The Camden Line will never be the same again."

The son of a Goddard Space Flight Center welder and a homemaker, Mr. Wolf was born in Baltimore and raised in Arbutus. He was a 1972 graduate of Lansdowne High School.

Mr. Wolf was 19 when he began his railroad career as a brakeman with Penn-Central; he was laid off after a year.

"He went into the Chessie System offices [now CSX], filled out an application and was working as a brakeman within a week," said Mrs. Wolf, a former CSX clerk and Jessup tower operator.

Mr. Wolf worked as a freight conductor and since 2003 had been a MARC conductor, working trains on the Camden route.

"I was working the tower at the Jessup yard. My brother, a railroad carman, introduced me to Eric," recalled Mrs. Wolf, now a registered nurse in the neurological critical care unit at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

"He was always shooting rubber bands at me and playing jokes. He loved to tease and tell jokes. He was always so good-natured," she said.

"We had our first kiss in a caboose. Some railroaders who knew we were in there deliberately sent a car down that coupled onto the caboose with a bang," said Mrs. Wolf. "I said, 'Did you feel that?' and he said, 'Wow, I sure did!' I'm not sure whether he was talking about the kiss or the noise from the car."

The couple married in 1982, and after the birth of their son, Mrs. Wolf gave up railroading, returned to college and earned her nursing degree.

When Mr. Wolf entered passenger service, his behavior quickly endeared him to the daily commuters who rode with him on the 7:20 a.m., 4:39 p.m. and 7:35 p.m. trains from Union Station for Baltimore.

Colleagues said he treated his passengers not as mere customers but as close friends.

Riders recalled Mr. Wolf's truly distinctive Baltimore accent.

Elizabeth "Beth" Green, an attorney-adviser in the Department of Homeland Security, wrote in an email, "Eric was truly a fixture on the Camden line.

"He was dependably there, wearing his safety glasses and his conductor's cap. One of my favorite things about Eric was his thick Baltimore accent — something that is becoming rarer and rarer these days. He would announce on the microphone, 'Now arriveeeng — Bawdeemore Camden Station — now arriveeng,'" she said.

After several passengers taught him to rap and dance, it wasn't uncommon to hear Mr. Wolf singing out, "Riverdale's next, Riverdale's next … exit from the front 'cause Riverdale's next."

Elaine S. Bentley, who works for a nonprofit health association in Washington and has been a regular rider for 10 years, said he was "personable and easygoing, and the train was his playground. Eric just loved having fun, and that's what we all loved about him."

Ms. Bentley recalled how sometimes Mr. Wolf would call out the names of Penn Line stations just to keep his passengers on their toes.

"One day Eric accidently forgot we were an express and did not stop at Greenbelt. As we approached, he made his announcement as usual, 'Now arriving Greenbelt,' and realizing his mistake as we sped through, he came back on the PA to announce, 'Now leaving Greenbelt.' Everyone burst out laughing," said Ms. Bentley.

"He never got bored or burned out. He was never resentful or fatigued toward his passengers. Everyone was special to him," said Ms. Bentley. "There was nothing put on about him and he never put on airs."

Even though Mr. Wolf worked the rear cars of the train while his partner, Ronnie Queen, handled the cars up front, he'd go up front to visit and tease the other passengers.

Mr. Johnson, who traveled daily with Mr. Wolf for a decade before going to work for MARC, said he was a "jovial, humorous guy who made it a priority to make his passengers smile every day. I can honestly say that I never left a train that Eric worked without a smile on my face and a new 'Eric story.'"

Mr. Wolf could coax a smile out of the grouchiest commuter and was good at defusing annoyed passengers with humor whenever someone violated the sanctity of the quiet car, Mr. Johnson said.

He often employed windup toys, which would follow him up the aisle to amuse passengers.

"He loved his work and never took a day off or called in sick. He had perfect attendance," said Mrs. Wolf.

Mr. Wolf and his wife were animal advocates and were active in a greyhound rescue program. He was also a model railroader.

"When we got married, I moved clothes and furniture into our house, and he moved in boxes and boxes of model trains," said Mrs. Wolf. "You know, he never told anyone he was a model train fan, but rather than going to church on Sundays, played with his trains all day."

Services were held May 7.

Mrs. Wolf said that at the conclusion of the service at the Ambrose Funeral Home in Lansdowne, suddenly, as if on cue, a CSX train roared by.

"I thought it was an airplane at first, it was so loud," she said, "but it was a train, and it came by giving Eric a nice sendoff."

Also surviving are a son, John A. Wolf of Linthicum; a daughter, Rebecca Leigh Wolf of Arbutus; and his mother, Audrey Mae Wolf of Arbutus.

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