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Mountain Home Magazine

Come Along and Ride This Train

Dec 01, 2022 09:00AM ● By Carol Myers Cacchione

A dapper gentleman in a New York Central Railroad conductor’s uniform and black patent leather-brimmed hat with gold braid trim sat just inside the doors of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Fellowship Hall. It was December 3, 2016, the thirty-third annual Dickens of a Christmas in Wellsboro. (How serendipitous that this year’s Dickens celebration is also December 3.) Bespectacled, with a crisply ironed white shirt and black tie knotted just so, ninety-three-year-old Ned Marrow greeted visitors at the Twin Tiers N-Trak Model Railroad Club’s exhibit. Tiny freight trains whirred along tracks past miniature houses with white picket fences, thumbnail-sized shrubbery, and tidy little lawns. Kids and grownups alike pressed up to the ropes separating them from the trains to watch the action. Ned relaxed in a chair, his arms on his walker in front of him, while he reminisced about his years spent on the railroad.

“I started working on the New York Central in 1946,” he said. “It was right after the war. I started as a brakeman and was promoted to conductor in 1955.” He made runs between Corning and Syracuse, and sometimes all the way up to Niagara Falls. But it was the runs between Corning and Williamsport, traveling the tracks through the Pine Creek Gorge, better known as the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, that he loved best. “I used to wave a lantern out the back of the caboose as the train wound its way through the canyon at night,” he said. “If you saw the light shining, that was me.”

Ned always loved trains. “I got my first model train set when I was a boy,” he said. “It was a Christmas present—a Lionel. The first trains I worked on were steam powered. I used to have to help the fireman shovel soft coal to keep them going.” In the 1950s, trains switched to diesel. The obvious advantage was that Ned didn’t need to shovel coal anymore. “Diesel engines were more powerful, so we could haul more cars and more freight,” he explained. Still, he was sentimental about the old steam-powered coal trains. “There’s just something about them that will always be in my blood.”

Born in 1923, Ned grew up in Galeton and lived there until 1941, when he enlisted in the Navy. He served in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters during Word War II. He was aboard the USS Barr, a destroyer escort ship, when it was torpedoed by a German U-boat off the coast of northern Africa in 1944. Seventeen sailors lost their lives that day, twelve of whose remains were never recovered. Ned was at midship and survived the blast. He showed me a laminated picture he carried in his wallet of the Barr tied up at drydock in Casablanca, its stern blown to bits. Inset in the upper right corner was a photo of Ned in his service dress blues, a white sailor’s cap perched atop his head at a jaunty angle.

Ned married his wife, Evelyn, in 1948. They bought a house in Big Flats, and their daughter, Christine, was born five years later.

“Evelyn was on her own a lot while I was working,” he said. “I was always at least a day or two away from home each time I had to make a run.” Despite the interruptions of his job, the couple had a long and happy marriage. Ned stayed with the railroad until, in his words, “they pulled the cabooses off the trains in 1986.” He retired after forty years. Evelyn died in 2006. Several years later, Ned experienced health issues and moved into an assisted living facility in Painted Post. His daughter and her family lived close by.

When I spoke with him that December day in 2016, he told me one of his joys in life was being a member of the Twin Tiers N-Trak Model Railroad Club, and being able to travel with them to shows whenever he could. He’d been to Dickens of a Christmas five years running. He did make it back the following year, but that was his last. Ned died June 6, 2018. It was D-Day. Fitting for a WWII veteran, and one of the last of the Greatest Generation.

Here’s what Ned didn’t tell me. Christine Frost said that after her father retired, he served as a volunteer conductor on the Tioga Central Railroad, a heritage railroad operating excursion trains between Wellsboro and Tioga. During those years, he almost single-handedly restored one of the train’s eighty-foot passenger coaches, removing age-damaged seats one at a time, taking them to Elmira to be reupholstered, and then reinstalling them once completed. The Tioga Central named the coach Ned Marrow in his honor at a dedication ceremony Ned attended with family members in 2008.

Rich Stoving, train enthusiast and past president of the Tioga Central Railroad, remembers that his friend Ned wore a carnation in the buttonhole of his uniform when he conducted the Tioga Central, and spent time talking with the passengers. He recalls Ned being a bit of a showman.

“Nobody could jump on a moving train like Ned,” he says. “The train would be pulling out of the station, picking up speed. He’d take one last look around the platform to make sure everyone had boarded, and at the last possible second, he’d grab the railing and swing onto the bottom step of the caboose as it rolled by. It’s not easy to do. Ned made it look effortless.”

The Twin Tiers N-Trak Model Railroad Club will be returning to Wellsboro on December 3, 2022, after a two-year hiatus due to covid. Once again, they’ll be setting up their display in the Episcopal Church Fellowship Hall. Judy Thomas, secretary/treasurer for the group, says there will be two layouts this year. One will be their usual long line display, always a favorite with the crowds. The other will be a memorial. Each car of this train will be specially painted and will bear the name of a deceased member of the club. Judy’s husband Ed, a former club president who passed away in 2021, will have a car with his name on it. As will Ned Marrow. I plan to be there to pay tribute to them.

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