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).

Train in Kempton

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).

Just a peek at model railroading

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.

Can you guess what this is? It's a snow plow!

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.

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Posted on February 17, 2010, in Public Infrastructure, Regions, Transportation and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Wow I love the story of your Dad!

    I am a die-hard model train enthusiast too and I find this noble hobby a rewarding one.

  2. nice tribute to your father, thanks for sharing these memories.

  3. What a great story. Thanks for sharing your father’s passion with others. It’s easy to see that his passion and social awareness has been passed down to his daughter.

  4. We need to move the discussion about rail from the nostalgic to the practical. Unfortunately, people with first hand experience riding passenger rail in the U.S. are dwindling. We need people to understand that rail is the ultimate smart growth answer. It will revitalize cities, save farm land, improve our air, our water and our quality of life. We need to work together to help make it happen as soon as possible. When gas prices skyrocket, suburbia will be obsolete. As James Howard Kunstler says, we should be making other arrangements.

  5. Alesia Milmine

    Obviously there were thoughts here that were totally misconstrued. It was meant to state that donations are important, rather, thinking that it was another example of reminiscing about the good old days of rail in the Lehigh Valley. Personally, I believe that if we don’t reinforce how “once upon a time” that rail was so much a factor to ALL in the LV some of the younger generation will not understand as to how important it is today! I support rail just like once, my father did. I have a younger daughter who will be going to Temple in the fall and can only take rail a small distance to come and go to school. I will have to be inconvenienced the rest of the way to pick her up at a NOT-local train station which will cost me additional money, put more CO2 into the air, and add mileage to my vehicle. Through “reminiscing” I’m telling people how important rail is, and asking others to keep supporting this all-important subject. thank you for your time.

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