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Railroaders' Nostalgia > Gary the boomer
Date: 10/28/19 17:32
Gary the boomer
In the summer of 1975 I dropped into the local Model RR hobby shop down in Wichita, KS. I had recently purchased Joe McMillan’s new book: “Santa Fe’s Diesel Fleet”. I was not yet a photographer, but I remember youthful excitement at knowing I was now expanding personal knowledge of my beloved Santa Fe in tremendous leaps & bounds. Also by 1975 the Bicentennial engine paint scheme movement in America’s railroad industry, initiated in 1971, was hi-balling full speed ahead.
This particular day upon entering the hobby shop its proprietor, Mr Don Eberhardt motioned me over to the counter. Knowing I was an incurable Santa Fe fan he showed me a short stack of color 8x10 prints of a Santa Fe Bicentennial unit leading 3 other units on a piggy-back train. I immediately bought one, and treated it like I had just won the ultimate grand prize. I would later learn the shot was taken from the outside steps of the still-in-service AG Tower over in near-by Augusta, KS. And pictured was train #891, the eastbound Super C. It was an incredibly exciting image for this future photographer! The photo was so alluring it burned itself into my memory banks. Funny thing though, I never learned who the photographer was.
Back in Manhattan, on my way home I stopped by my parents’ house and proudly showed the print to my mother. Later, when it came time press onward to my just-outta-the nest living quarters I clumsily left the print at my parents’ house. I called Mom right away and, *bless her heart* she promised she would put it somewhere it wouldn’t get lost. Of course, that was the last I ever saw of it. And by the time I made it back down to Wichita the hobby shop had long since sold out. The fleeting, but burned-in memory of the photo has haunted me all these years.
In the late 1960s a young man by the name of Gary Rich, who I had no way of knowing yet, hired on with the Santa Fe’s Middle Division. But his employment tenure ended there about 2 years before mine began (in 1978). Gary became a modern-day “boomer”, heading for Colorado and train service employment with the Rio Grande. Through mutual Santa Fe men who were friendly to railfans we had learned about each other. With so many mutual Santa Fe & Kansas railfan friends in common Gary & I were on a “can’t miss” fast track to friendship. We finally met in 1979 in Denver, and felt like we’d known each other for years. We started right up with slide trading until the early 80s when the reaganomics recession put the skids to any such extravagant excess on my part.
Fast forward to 2013. Gary called me out of the blue and asked if I was going to attend the Santa Fe Middle Division reunion picnic in September. Yes indeed I was. I was now looking forward to a long awaited reunion. By 2013 Gary & I had been good friends for almost 35 years, but had still only met that one time face to face. We met up a day early and went railfanning all over my current & his former home turf. During our session of railfan rambling I got a sudden inspiration. I asked Gary if he was the photographer of my long-lost print. He was! I told him my sad tale of the lost-picture and he promised he would look for the original when he got back home.
I’m sorry, but this railroader's story does not have a happy ending. Gary did look around for that picture, a negative as it turns out. But he couldn’t find it anywhere. He said he would keep looking. I just downplayed any disappointment, and told him truthfully I would always look forward to seeing him at the SFe reunion picnics. Starting in 2014 Gary never made it back to a single picnic. It was only in the last couple of years or so Gary let it be known he had cancer, and was undergoing chemo. He was brave, and didn’t seem to dwell on it. He even made plans with his wife Sandy to go see The Eagles in concert this past summer. I knew the hammer was about to fall when he PM-ed me that he was too weak to attend the concert. And the final hammer blow came just a few days ago when fellow retired SFe man & current fellow TO member ‘atsfer’ texted me that Gary had passed.
I saw Gary Rich face to face only twice, but knew him well for 4 decades. My good friend passed away October 24. And I will miss him badly…
1. My friend Gary Rich @ Matfield Green, KS on September 20, 2013.
One of the last of the great boomers is now in his home terminal…
Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 11/05/19 16:30 by santafe199.
Date: 10/28/19 18:32
Re: Gary the boomer
I first met Gary when I was still a switchman at Newton, (Sand creek), Kansas. He was always friendly and easy to work with, was always being teased about being a "foamer" and was running out to Colorado to take pictures of the DRGW and the mountains every chance he had. He took ribbing about that too, but, he had the last laugh, he walked away from good seniority there in Kansas and chased his dream, to live in Colorado and work on a railroad he loved, that took guts. He was happy there, anyone who is in a job they like, is way ahead of the crowd. He married a wonderful gal named Sandy, who he always quickly said was a huge part of his life and happiness, they had 35 years together.
He always kept his interest in railroads and photography, shooting old wooden grain elevators especially along the Canadian border but all over the midwest too. He leaves behind a huge collection of slides and he collected lots of other RR items as well. I last saw him in July this year when I took Sandy and him to dinner there in Denver. He was upbeat about his ordeal with his illness, and did not complain or bemoan his situation. Like Lance, I will miss him, closest guy to boomer I ever met.
Date: 10/29/19 06:51
Re: Gary the boomer
Nice and well written tribute to a good friend.Thanks for posting.Bill Webb
Date: 10/29/19 08:24
Re: Gary the boomer
Thanks for posting this Lance! We will make sure his memory burns bright here on TO!
Date: 10/29/19 18:53
Re: Gary the boomer
May he rest in peace, Gary sounded like a great guy! Sorry for the loss of your friend Lance.