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Charles L. Amos, a retired railroader who became a noted painter of iconic railroad scenes, dies

Charles L. Amos, a former locomotive engineer who later became a Western Maryland Railway superintendent, an official with the Federal Railway Administration and the Association of American Railroads, and also a noted painter of railroad scenes, died Nov. 11 in his sleep at Sterling Care at Frostburg Village in Frostburg. The Swanton resident was 90.

“Charlie was a solid railroader who knew the business and was one of the last around that was qualified to run steam engines,” said E. Ray Lichty, a Glen Arm resident, and retired CSX executive, writer and editor. “He was outgoing and always willing to talk railroading, and his paintings really captured classic railroad operations.”

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Charles Lewis Amos, son of Charles Whitridge Amos, owner of the I.R. Amos Co., a bindery, and his wife, Frances Crawford Lewis Amos, a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised in Lutherville.

A 1949 graduate of Towson High School, Mr. Amos earned a bachelor’s degree in 1955 from the University of Baltimore. In 1947, he joined the Maryland National Guard’s 29th Division where he remained until 1959 when he was discharged with the rank of sergeant.

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A talented artist in his youth, he had studied from 1941 to 1949 under the tutelage of Marjorie Dorsey Martinet, a Baltimore painter, who was best known for her plein air landscapes, and owner of the Martinet School of Fine and Commercial Art.

Charles L. Amos moved to Cumberland in 1987 and established an art studio on Pershing Street.
Charles L. Amos moved to Cumberland in 1987 and established an art studio on Pershing Street.

Mr. Amos grew up in a house that sat alongside the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Northern Central Division’s tracks in Lutherville, whose commuter trains his father rode daily to work, and whose spell he fell under.

He also had railroading in his blood as his mother had worked before her marriage for the old Cumberland & Pennsylvania Railroad that operated between Cumberland and Piedmont, West Virginia, and was later merged into the Western Maryland Railway for which the young boy would one day work.

When he was 8 years old, his father had arranged for him to ride in the cab of a Pennsy class E3sd Atlantic steam locomotive from Lutherville to Cockeysville, igniting his lifelong devotion and fascination with railroading.

When he was 11, he was riding the Northern Central on Saturdays and during summers to Baltimore to attend art school, and as a frequent rider, naturally struck up friendships with the Pennsy crews who allowed him to ride in the cabs of their noisy but elegant steam engines.

While attending UB at night, he spent his days driving Bayville Bus Co. buses, and in 1952 he began working as a clerk in the Western Maryland Railway’s agent’s office at Port Covington. He then began filling in during vacation periods for clerks who were away in the vice president and general manager’s office in the line’s headquarters that was located in the Standard Oil Co. building on St. Paul Place.

Charles L. Amos tosses a shovel full of coal into the firebox of Engine No. 734, a 1916 Baldwin steam engine, during a trip on the scenic Western Maryland Railroad in Cumberland in August 2005. Steam train buffs were rallying to save the tourist train, pulled by a 1916 Baldwin locomotive on some of its 32-mile, round-trip runs between Cumberland and Frostburg on the old Western Maryland Railway line.
Charles L. Amos tosses a shovel full of coal into the firebox of Engine No. 734, a 1916 Baldwin steam engine, during a trip on the scenic Western Maryland Railroad in Cumberland in August 2005. Steam train buffs were rallying to save the tourist train, pulled by a 1916 Baldwin locomotive on some of its 32-mile, round-trip runs between Cumberland and Frostburg on the old Western Maryland Railway line. (CHRIS GARDNER / AP)

Mr. Amos was torn between a career as a professional artist or that of a railroader, and chose the latter.

In his career, he was mentored by George M. Leilich, who was the Western Maryland’s general superintendent at the time he joined the railroad, and later became vice president and assistant to the president of the carrier.

Eager to leave being a clerk and getting into actual railroad operations, Mr. Amos went to work as a brakeman and after being furloughed became a fireman shoveling coal into the fireboxes of steam engines.

“It was quite a challenge on steam locomotives for someone who weighed only 122 pounds,” wrote William F. Howes Jr., a Jacksonville, Florida, resident and railroad historian and author who retired from CSX in 1988 as vice president of research and analysis, in a profile of Mr. Amos. “Fortunately, it was the waning days for steam as the Western Maryland was rapidly dieselizing and Charlie took every opportunity to run, whether it was steam or diesel.”

In the late 1950s, he left engine service and became chief clerk to the assistant superintendent in Baltimore, then was promoted to special yardmaster and then supervisor of marine operations at the railroad’s Port Covington yards.

Mr. Amos moved to Hagerstown in 1960 when he was named assistant trainmaster, and the following year, to a similar position in Hanover, Pennsylvania. “Charlie recalls his four years at Hanover being his most enjoyable railroading assignment, thanks in large measure to the strong work ethic of the road’s Pennsylvania Dutch employees,” Mr. Howes wrote.

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A large oil painting by Charles Amos shows a Western Maryland Railroad steam engine pulling up next to the Union Bridge depot.
A large oil painting by Charles Amos shows a Western Maryland Railroad steam engine pulling up next to the Union Bridge depot. (Phil Grout / Patuxent Publishing)

He returned to Port Covington in 1965 when he was appointed assistant superintendent. “I had been a big fish in a small pond in Hanover,” he told Mr. Howes. “Now, I would be a small fish in a big pond.”

In 1970, he left the Western Maryland and went to work in Washington as special assistant to the deputy administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration in the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“He brought some badly needed practical railroading operating management experience to an organization that had recently assumed many functions, including railroad safety that had previously been the domain of the Interstate Commerce Commission,” Mr. Howes said.

Four years later, he was appointed congressional relations officer for railroad affairs at the Department of Transportation, and worked with John W. Snow, a lawyer, who later would head CSX and become U.S. secretary of the treasury, who at the time was writing legislation that partially deregulated the railroad industry.

It was Mr. Amos' task to get the legislation approved by Congress, legislation that ultimately led to the Staggers Rail Act of 1980 that deregulated the railroad business.

In 1978, Mr. Amos became executive director of the American Association of Railroads' State Rail Programs Division, a position he held until retiring in 1984, when he returned to the art world as a working portrait artist.

Charles Amos drives Engine No. 734, a 1916 Baldwin steam engine, out of Cumberland in August 2005.
Charles Amos drives Engine No. 734, a 1916 Baldwin steam engine, out of Cumberland in August 2005. (CHRIS GARDNER / Associated Press)

In recognition of his efforts preserving CSX operations in Cumberland, CSX named its locomotive maintenance facility there the Charles L. Amos Service Center.

In 1987, he and his wife, the former Mary Virginia Judefind, whom he had married in 1955, moved to Cumberland and established a studio on Pershing Street, and received many commissions. From 1988 to 1991, he served as executive director of the Chamber of Commerce of Allegany County.

He became involved in the county’s efforts to turn the abandoned Western Maryland line from Cumberland to Frostburg, which became the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad and continues to operate to this day, and because he was still qualified to operate steam, often could be found at the throttle of steam engine No. 704.

Herbert H. Harwood Jr., a retired CSX executive and noted railroad historian and author, is an old friend of Mr. Amos’.

“I was a great admirer of his art and I think he caught railroading very accurately and he was able to transport his feeling for it. It wasn’t draftsman-like as so much railroad art can be, Charlie’s was real art,” said Mr. Harwood, a Cross Keys resident.

“While he viewed himself a portrait artist, he really is known for his railroading pictures,” Mr. Lichty said. “It’s solid because he knew the railroad business.”

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Mr. Amos' book, “Iron Horses & Paintbrushes: My Life as a Railroad Man & Artist,” was published last year.

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When he wasn’t operating locomotives or at his easel, Mr. Amos enjoyed boating at Deep Creek Lake.

He was a member of Zion Lutheran Church in Accident, and the Rotary Club.

His wife died in 2012.

Services for Mr. Amos were held Tuesday in Cumberland.

He is survived by three sons, James Whitridge Amos of Woodlawn, Charles William “Bill” Amos of North Port, Florida, and Brook Todd Amos of Parrish, Florida; a daughter, Mary Belle “Molly” Smutny Stewartstown, Pennsylvania; 13 grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

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