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Charles C. Neal Jr., transit administrator and bus enthusiast, dies

Charles Clifton “Charlie” Neal Jr., a retired Maryland Transit Administration manager who owned vintage buses that were used in movies, died of a brain tumor May 29 at his Essex home. He was 70.

“Charlie knew everything there was to know about buses in Baltimore,” said Kevin Quinn, the transit agency’s administrator. “He just loved them.”

Mr. Quinn said that Mr. Neal had such a specialized knowledge of bus routes that he was put in charge of figuring how to route them on days of planned disruptions, such as the Saturday in October when the Baltimore Marathon is run.

“He was one of those people you meet once in a lifetime, a person totally dedicated to their job, ” Mr. Quinn said.

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, he was the son of Charles C. Neal Sr., a Navy veteran who later served in the Merchant Marine, and his wife, Margaret Haney, a Baltimore County cab owner and driver.

He moved to Essex as a child and was a 1966 graduate of Kenwood High School, where he played the French horn in the school band. He enlisted in the Air Force in 1966 and was trained as a firefighter.

In 1970 he returned to Baltimore and fulfilled an ambition to become a bus driver. He initially drove for the old McMahon Transportation Co. on its routes through Baltimore City and Baltimore and Harford counties. He joined the MTA later that year as a driver. He gave up the gray uniform for a sport coat, tie and supervisor’s pin in 1972.

In a 1975 Sun article, he referred to himself as a “bus buff” who, as a child, became fascinated as the vehicles passed his parents’ home.

In the article he said he missed driving a bus. “He fondly remembers the enjoyment of bantering with passengers, many of whom rode with him every day,” the story said.

The article said he also recalled a man who boarded his bus with a live chicken in a paper bag: “ ‘You can’t bring a live chicken on here,’ he told the man. ‘Why not?’ the passenger replied. ‘City ordinance,’ Mr. Neal shot back. The passenger countered, ‘I only want to ride a few blocks.’ ”

The Sun article noted that when the man dropped 15 cents into the farebox and started for a seat, Mr. Neal reminded him that the fare was 30 cents.

But the man figured a discount for the chicken’s age: “ ‘I’ll put in the other 15 cents if you can prove the chicken is more than 11 years old,’ chortled the man as sat down amid the guffaws of his fellow passengers.”

As a supervisor in the field, Mr. Neal drove a blue state car and took complains about service over a radio. In the 1970s he tailed buses on the then-heavily traveled Sparrows Point and Dundalk lines and tried to correct overcrowding and lateness. In The Sun article, he stated that his biggest headache was buses that ran late, causing the ones behind it to try and catch up. He said that when the vehicles arrived downtown, there could be three or more buses trailing each other.

The article noted that while he rode with a loose-leaf binder of master schedules, he had already memorized them.

“I look upon switching buses around as something like a game,” he said. “But unlike most games, circumstances are constantly changing the rules.”

Mr. Neal had worked on the creation of the MTA’s specialized Mobility service for the elderly and disabled.

When he retired in 2016 as the MTA’s special events coordinator, he was given a meritorious service award. In a video made at his going-away party, he said he liked his job “because no two days have ever been the same.”

“Charlie was well-known in special interest circles for having a broad knowledge of mass transit and for having an amazing collection of bus and other transit memorabilia, including a couple of 1950s buses,” said his sister, Marge Neal of Edgemere. “One of my most prized possessions is an old steel-and-glass bus fare box that he gave me for my 19th birthday. It holds an honored spot in my living room.”

Friends said that his restored buses were used in the films “Hairspray,” “Diner” and “Liberty Heights.” He once joked that the bus made more money in film prop fees than he did at the MTA. He also drove his buses in parades and displayed them at the Baltimore Streetcar Museum.

His daughter, Kathy Tallon of Middle River, said that when she was a child, her father took her to junk yards to hunt for salvageable bus parts.

“He was dedicated to his work and well liked,” she said. “But he had a thing about school buses. He did not consider them to be in the same class as an actual transit bus. He called school buses ‘trucks.’ ”

A prayer service will be held at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Connelly Funeral Home of Essex, 300 Mace Ave.

In addition to his daughter and sister, survivors include his life partner of more than 20 years, Jeanne Altman, a retired MTA personnel worker; two sons, Charles Neal III of Aberdeen and Matthew Neal of Essex; a brother, Robert Neal of West Virginia; two other sisters, Penny Neal of Middle River and Donna Gearhart of Street; and three grandchildren.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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