It’s been a weekend filled with fond memories and regrets as I learned Sunday afternoon of my friend Thom’s passing. It’s Thom, not Tom, as he was quick to note when we first met over thirty years ago. It was early in 1981 and we had just moved from Colorado to Grand Rapids, which, as I knew from my model railroading connections, was a hotbed of model railroading activity and the location of a nationally published author and modeler, Dr. Bruce Chubb and his Sunset Valley Railroad.
As I worked my way into the local division of the National Model Railroad Association I eventually connected with Bruce and Thom and was invited to work on the railroad Bruce was always writing about. Thom was a long time associate of Bruce’s and a respected operator on the SV as well as an accomplished model railroader in his own right. He along with several of the other operators and builders of the SV, showed this young thirty-something lone wolf of a railroader the ropes, and welcomed me into the operators group which would become known as the Kenowa Valley Switching and Sipping Society.
Thom encouraged me to be more active in the hobby and in the local organization; and eventually promised to serve as my Vice Chair when our local division hosted a successful regional convention in 1988. He taught me more about railroad operations including dispatching and modeling and we collaborated on programming software on a new at the time TRS 80 PC to help with simulating the scheduling and car forwarding that would occur on a real railroad.
Over the years our little band of railroading brothers worked on and operated on each other’s railroads and had some great fun together including hazing and teasing, and the Christmas Parties and tongue-in-cheek annual Golden Spike award for not so distinguished events; well, you had to be there.
As my interest in model railroading waned and family events took priority I regretfully let my relationship with those guys slide and eventually stopped operating and building with the boys. It had been the better part of 15 years since I was actively involved with the KVS&SS when I ran into one of the group while blogging in my normal hangout one Tuesday morning a few months ago.
During our chat I told Stu I’d really be interested in seeing the group and operating with them once again. He put me in touch with Thom who promised me he’d add me on the Extra Board when he needed operators, and proceeded to do that just a few weeks later. Unfortunately, I was sick on the appointed day, and with Thom suffering from pulmonary fibrosis I passed on the opportunity to avoid infecting him. Shortly thereafter Thom came down with complications, went to the hospital, was placed in a drug-induced coma, and passed away.
I had waited too long…and life caught up with Thom and me. He was a good and trusted ally, a loyal convention companion and co-worker, and a steady coach and mentor. And I lost the chance to tell him that one last time.
He was my friend, and I will miss him more than he will know…Pops