For 20 years, Paul Bridge, a resident of Fairhaven in Sykesville, has volunteered at the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, researching and leading tours, all while getting a secondhand look at the people, technology and transportation during the Civil War era.

Now, thanks to the efforts of friends and strangers, he's getting the ride of a lifetime.


Wish of a Lifetime, a nonprofit based in Denver, sent Bridge, 75, on a tour of the railroad system that runs from Washington, D.C., to Chattanooga, Tennessee. TAD Relocation, a business that specializes in transitioning and relocating seniors to assisted living homes in the greater Baltimore/Washington area, sponsored the wish.

When Wish of a Lifetime asked him what he wanted, Bridge said he wanted to do research in the field he's been volunteering.

"History has always been a passion," he said.

His wish mirrors the Chattanooga Campaign that took place in October and November of 1863, during which 22,000 Union troops were transported from Washington, D.C., to Chattanooga. It was during the Civil War that trains were first used to transport troops and supplies, Bridge said.

Bridge departed from the Amtrak station at BWI Airport Thursday afternoon with his friend Dan Toomey, a guest curator at the museum and historian. He will spend the next week visiting museums and battlefields with connections to the campaign.

Bridge's volunteer work at the museum was not the only reason he was selected to be a recipient of a wish, said Sally Webster, director of community outreach at the organization. The selection process takes into account all the ways the individual has given back to the community, as well as what obstacles they had to overcome in order to give back, she said.

Stacey Young, director of activities and volunteer services at Copper Ridge, a residential and outpatient care facility for the memory impaired, said she nominated Bridge because of his volunteer work at Copper Ridge.

Young first met him while he was caring for his longtime partner Sally, who was suffering from Alzheimer's. After she passed away in 2007, he continued to volunteer at Copper Ridge, helping staff transport patients, organizing and setting up for events, and escorting small groups of residents to lunch.

Bridge said he also began volunteering at the Alzheimer's Association, mostly acting as a liaison for the organization in its public outreach efforts.

When Young heard of Wish of a Lifetime, she said she couldn't think of anyone more deserving than Bridge.

"Paul is just an amazing person," Young said. "He understands our passion and commitment here. He has an amazing spirit and is always helping others."

The nomination and selection process and wish planning for Bridge has taken about a year, Young said. A lot of the difficulty in planning the event is due to his schedule. He is almost always doing something, she said, whether it's volunteer work at Copper Ridge or archival research at the museum.

During this time, the organization also had to find a sponsor for the event.

Susie Danick, owner and founder of TAD Relocation, said she first heard of Wish of a Lifetime from a friend of her son, who worked for the nonprofit. She called the organization and offered to sponsor someone. Since her business is so senior-centered, Danick said, it seemed fitting for them to get involved. They were able to raise $5,000 for Bridge's wish through fundraisers and donations, she said.


"These [seniors] have given so much to the community; it's now our turn to grant a wish to deserving seniors who never were able to do what they wanted to do," Danick said.

In a way, Bridge said, all of his volunteer work has been the fulfillment of a different wish, another passion of his which he never really experienced professionally.

All of his career was spent with the Department of Defense, where he'd done little work with the public. He dealt with groundbreaking technological projects at the DOD, he said, and now he gets to work with antiquated telegraph equipment and interact with very diverse groups of people at the museum and Copper Ridge.

Being able to help those who are in need, and at the same time teach others about his interests, has been wonderful, he said.

"All of this has been a passion," Bridge said. "It's much more than a hobby. A hobby is self-satisfying; passion goes beyond that, to give something to others."

Reach staff writer Wiley Hayes at 410-857-3315 or email him at