By By Frederick N. Rasmussen and The Baltimore Sun
May 21, 2014 at 5:26 PM
Charles N. "Norm" Murphy, a retired CSX executive and a collector of Baltimore & Ohio Railroad memorabilia, died Monday of lymphoma at Howard County General Hospital. He was 87.
Charles Norman Murphy was born in Baltimore into a B&O family. His father, Norman Murphy, had been in the railroad's operating and labor relations departments. Two uncles each had 40 years' service in the purchasing and passenger traffic departments. His mother, Bertha Murphy, was a homemaker.
He was raised on Augusta Avenue, and while a junior at City College, began his railroad career in 1943 as a part-time messenger in the "GO" central telegraph office in the B&O's headquarters building at North Charles and Baltimore streets.
"It was full of old telegraph equipment. Operators would listen to the sounders and take down the telegrams for the entire building," said E. Ray Lichty, a retired CSX vice president.
"Norm would deliver the printed copy of the telegrams to the various offices through the building. 'GO' was the telegraph call letters for that office. GO stood for 'General Office,'" said Mr. Lichty.
One of Mr. Murphy's tasks was to travel by streetcar to deliver mail and telegrams to the agent at the Union Stock Yards in Southwest Baltimore.
While at City College, Mr. Murphy, who never used his first name, studied shorthand and typing. After graduating from high school in 1944, he returned to the B&O, working full time as a stenographer for the manager of GO.
Drafted into the Army in 1944, he entered the service at Fort Meade and completed basic training at what was then Camp Gordon in Augusta, Ga., and advanced infantry training at Camp Maxey near Paris, Texas.
Mr. Murphy was en route from Vancouver, Wash., to New Guinea, when the end of the war caused his ship to be diverted to the Philippines.
Discharged with the rank of master sergeant in 1946, Mr. Murphy returned to his former job, where he remained until 1947, when he joined the railroad's real estate department.
Mr. Murphy took real estate courses at the Johns Hopkins University and in industrial development at the University of North Carolina. He also studied real estate appraisal at the Appraisal Institute of Chicago.
"He worked his way up in the organization, took college courses and professional courses, and became a very knowledgeable manager," recalled Mr. Lichty.
"The B&O was a very extensive real estate holder. Some properties related to ongoing operations. Others were left over from former rail lines and operations. Norm's job was to sell or lease, making the best deal for the railroad," he said.
Perhaps one of Mr. Murphy's greatest achievements was persuading then-B&O president Jervis Langdon to sell the closed Mount Royal Station to the Maryland Institute College of Art for $250,000, instead of to developers.
The recycling of unused railroad terminals was a novel idea at the time, and the sale of Mount Royal Station convinced other railroads and cities that they could be preserved and adapted for other use.
"It was also the civically responsible thing to do," said Mr. Lichty.
"Whenever there were real estate problems, they always called on Norman. Even the lawyers said that he knew more about real estate than anyone else," said his wife of 64 years, the former Mildred H. Jones.
Mr. Murphy was promoted to assistant vice president in the real estate department, a position he retained until retiring from what became sales and leasing in 1991.
Mr. Murphy was a longtime resident of Ellicott City's Dunloggin neighborhood, where he lived until moving last year to the Fairhaven retirement community in Sykesville.
He had an extensive collection of B&O memorabilia, with an emphasis on dining car china, both the Royal Blue pattern and the earlier gold and black, flatware, holloware and glassware.
Mr. Murphy filled his basement rec room with file cabinets of B&O timetables, photographs, and advertisements. Lanterns and model trains lined various shelves.
He was a familiar presence at area paper and railroad memorabilia shows, where he acquired items for his collection. He also constructed and operated an extensive HO-gauge model railroad based on the B&O.
The Morning Sun Newsletter
Get your morning news in your e-mail inbox. Get all the top news and sports from the baltimoresun.com.
He had been an active member for more than 20 years of RABO, a B&O retirement organization, where he had been vice president, president and a member of the membership committee. He also served as the organization's librarian.
Mr. Murphy enjoyed spending summers at an Ocean City condominium, where he was president of the condominium association. He was also a member of the Engineering Society, the railroad retirement group CHEERS, American Legion Post 109 in Arbutus, and the Sharon Masonic Lodge.
He attended Covenant Fellowship Church in Ellicott City.