In Bob Redmond’s World it Was Always the Twilight of Steam and the Dawn of Diesels

Bob Redmond (center) listens to Dennis Sautter (right) talk about the layout of the Sebring Model Railroad Club in August 2014 during an Akron Railroad Club outing.

Bob Redmond (center) listens to Dennis Sautter (right) talk about the layout of the Sebring Model Railroad Club in August 2014 during an Akron Railroad Club outing.

As I was writing the obituary for 66-year Akron Railroad Club member Gene Robert “Bob” Redmond, numerous memories flashed through my mind. What anecdote would I want to use to lead off this tribute?

Would it be the times that I sat at the kitchen table of his home looking through his photo albums as I selected images that Bob had made that I wanted to use in my books about the railroads of Akron and Canton?

Would it be the awe that I felt when we went down to his basement and I got my first glimpse of his elaborate model railroad layout? On that layout it was forever the 1950s and diesels didn’t exist.

Would it be the memory of how everyone in the ARRC came away from a 2004 member’s night feeling blown away by the color photos that he showed of Norfolk & Western steam locomotives going about their duties in Roanoke, Virginia?

Would it be the time that I was hanging out on a Sunday morning with another ARRC member on the Main Street bridge in Kent and Bob showed up? He had been driving past and seen us so he circled the block and joined us for awhile.

Speaking of member’s nights, the 2005 event had the theme of “working on the railroad.” Bob prefaced his presentation by saying he didn’t know if he would be showing people working on the railroad but he would show times when there was “plenty of work to be done.” With that he showed a series of photos of derailments on the railroads that passed through Kent.

Or maybe it would be the memory of him sitting in a lawn chair in the shade of AC Tower in Marion during an ARRC longest day outing while watching Norfolk Southern and CSX trains roll past. Was he thinking about what Marion had been like six decades earlier when steam still ruled?

It is remarkable that I have so many memories of Bob considering that he was a quiet man who often sat by himself off to the side at ARRC meetings and December banquets. I imagine there are some ARRC members today who never had a conversation with Bob.

I tried to make it a point to say hello to him at meetings and maybe chat for a minute or two.

Along with one of his sons, Bob showed up for the ARRC outing in Alliance and Sebring in August 2014. He probably made another meeting after that, but I don’t know.

That he was still driving himself to ARRC longest day outings during his 80s and spending time trackside is heartening.

Bob did make a few photographs in the 1960s and 1970s. Aside from train wrecks, he photographed the steam locomotives of the Chessie Steam Special and the Safety Express trains.

He showed the latter photos once, leading off his program with them. Then he promptly jumped back into the 1950s and stayed there for the rest of his program. This is not to say that Bob didn’t enjoy seeing the contemporary railroad scene or watching programs about it.

I don’t know if Bob had a favorite railroad, but in his mind it was always the twilight of steam and the dawn of the diesel era.

That was the theme of the programs that he presented to the ARRC, the last of which he gave on June 26, 2009. He liked to present in the summer even though he came to ARRC meetings year ’round.

His last show was a vintage Bob Redmond program with images of steam and first generation diesels on the Grand Trunk Western mixed in with railroad operations in Northeast Ohio. He showed us the last steam-powered scheduled passenger train in the United States, a Grand Trunk commuter train between Detroit and Durand, Michigan.

Like many of his contemporaries, Bob began photographing with black and white film and moved on to making color slides in the middle to late 1950s.

He did some traveling to watch and photograph trains, but it was confined to the Eastern United States.

Bob had a great institutional knowledge of the history of railroad operations in the Akron-Kent area following World War II, yet was not one to show it off.

If you wanted to know something about how the railroads did things in those days you had to ask him. He would tell you, saying no more than needed to answer your question.

Occasionally, he would volunteer a story or two, but Bob was simply a man of few words. Oh how those photographs of his could speak loudly, though.

I always found him cooperative when I needed photographs for one of my books. You will find his photographs in various other books, including the Wheeling & Lake Erie book written by John B. Corns and Bruce Dzeda’s book on the Erie Railroad in Kent.

Bob’s passing leaves just one ARRC member who joined the club before 1960, that being J. Gary Dillon.

Bob had been second in seniority on the ARRC membership roster for several years and was one of two members in their 90s when 2015 began. Both have since died.

Even though he said little during meetings, Bob’s passing is going to leave a void in the club.

Many ARRC members relish seeing images made in the transition era when railroads were switching from steam to diesel power.

Bob was the last ARRC member who could show images that he made in that era and talk about what it was like to live in it. His legacy will be all of those smiles that he put on our faces when he took us back to that time.

Commentary by Craig Sanders

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One Response to “In Bob Redmond’s World it Was Always the Twilight of Steam and the Dawn of Diesels”

  1. R j Williams Says:

    I only met Bob several times but he was really pleasant and even informed me of his pic in Ed Beckwith’s book of him riding Ed’s live steamer… Memories of 2 great railroaders..

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