Melvin G. Trimble Sr.

Melvin G. Trimble Sr. (Baltimore Sun / July 19, 2012)

Melvin G. "Mel" Trimble Sr., a colorful and loquacious character I got to know some years ago, had one of the more interesting and necessary jobs with the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and with its successor company, Chessie System. It relied upon his powers of persuasion and absolute patience.

Mel, who was 89 and lived at the Charlestown retirement community in Catonsville, died late last month.

After graduating from City College in 1941, the South Baltimore native began his B&O career as a stenographer in its real estate department.

After serving in the Army during World War II, Mel returned to the B&O in 1946 and eventually was promoted to railroad real estate field agent. The work required him to travel throughout the system handling a wide variety of complicated property issues.

It was his job to handle sales, leases, title searches, and property purchases. At times, he was forced to walk the right of way to make sure there were no encroachments on railroad property.

He also oversaw property acquisitions needed for expansions of existing yards or building new ones, track extensions, or adding sidings to new industries that had located along the line.

Adding to the complicated nature of his work was the fact that it often didn't come with a long deadline attached to it.

"Even though they may have had common traits, no two were ever alike," he often said of his deals.

And only as a last resort, when negotiations stalled, did Mel bring up the dreaded word "condemnation."

He did this only to prime the pump when a less-than-willing, suspicious or greedy property owner saw only dollar signs when Mel arrived with the B&O's checkbook.

After retiring in 1982 from the Chessie System, he began writing his memoirs at the urging of Ray Lichty, a retired CSX vice president who edits "News & Notes," a publication of RABO, a B&O retirement organization.

Lichty and fellow editor Norm Murphy, who also worked in the real estate department with Mel, later combined the pieces and published a book, "Sites Insight: Stories of a Railroad Real Estate Agent," in 2009.

The job was not without professional liabilities, such as dogs who did not hesitate to display their large white teeth and follow up with a steady basso profundo growl designed to scare off the B&O man from Baltimore.

After losing a piece of a new overcoat to an angry dog, Mel perfected a technique when it came to dealing with agitated canines: sitting in his car and steadily blowing his horn until an owner showed up.

Occasionally, he'd find himself staring into the barrel of a shotgun, as happened at Volcano, W.Va., during a tunnel clearance project. Workers had acquired more land than had been contracted and paid for, and the owner took exception.

"As I approached the nearby dwelling, a large burly man appeared on his front porch and, with shotgun in hand, leveled it at me and shouted, 'Hold it right there, Buddy,'" wrote Mel, who added that such occurrences were not covered in the railroad real estate field representatives' manual.

Trying not to appear nervous, even though he was quivering in his shoes and dreaming of the family in Baltimore he might never see again, Mel shouted his name.

"Oh, yah, you are the guy who started this whole damn mess," the man responded.

The landowner was named Valentine, and Mel, summing up his last ounce of courage, said, "Come on, Mr. Valentine, have a heart and let me come in."