My Dad, the Rail Enthusiast
You could say that my father, Bob Dietrich, was born with a love for rail. Originally hailing from Omaha, NE, he relocated to the New Tripoli-Kempton area with his parents at a young age. He traveled to his Slatington-based school by train, and when it came time for him to serve in the army, he arrived at his departure “stop” by train as well.
He made sure to spend his vacations on a passenger railcar, taking trips in the coal region and up the White Mountains in New England. But he always returned to the Berks-Lehigh Valley area to make sure that the local trains were running and alive.
At times, this involved a great deal of work and advocacy on his part. He organized dinners and fundraisers, and assisted in track work (which was in dire need of repair). But his determination and focus on local rail often paid off, and he was able to witness the arrival of the diesel electric Whitcomb locomotive in Kempton during his lifetime (the same kind that was used in Europe during World War II, and then worked in two Gulf Oil refineries).
His love for trains flooded over to his home life, where he had an affinity for model railroading. He collected all sorts of model railways, too many to list all here (just to name a few: HO scale, N Scale, double-door boxcars, and steam generator, among others).
Every Christmas included his model railroads running underneath the tree, and he continued this tradition even until he was 83 years old. The entire basement was turned into a wonderland of trains running through the alps and cities in Europe, with a intricate network of tunnels, multiple rails, turn-tables and the like. And, of course, the bookshelves held multiple books on the topic of rail.
Politically and socially aware, he was disappointed when his beloved President (and Army-Chief) Eisenhower chose to fund a nationwide network of roads and highways instead of rail. He really saw this moment as the catalyst for America’s love affair with driving. Moreover, he was very put off by the strong lobbying of the rubber industry that pushed rubber for tires of cars, and thought that rail was placed at a disadvantage within national politics. His support for rail was unyielding.
Bob loved all rail, from the trains in the mid-west to the high-speed rail in Germany and Austria. It was this passion that made him adamant about keeping rail in the Lehigh Valley alive! It is for this reason that I have made a donation to RenewLV in honor of my Dad’s memory, as a way of continuing his dream that passenger rail would remain within the region. If he were still here today, he would applaud the work RenewLV is doing and would proudly encourage them to continue working on bringing rail back to the Valley.