IN MEMORY OF KENNETH WARD
Ken posing in front of AE&FRE 304 on its first run, November 27, 2009
On December 24th, 2021 the museum lost a member when Kenneth M. Ward passed away in his sleep at his home on Woodcliff Drive in South Elgin. Ken was the son of Clarence and Margaret Ward, born on December 3rd, 1936. As his father was a police officer employed by the Elgin State Mental Hospital, he and his family resided on or near the hospital grounds where he was introduced to the Aurora Elgin & Fox River Electric Company railroad while it was still being operated electrically and as a child observed the conversion to diesel operation in 1946 with locomotive #5 and the later purchase of the railroad by former milkman Robert DeYoung. By 1952 Bob had trained the 15-year-old Ken to not only run locomotive #5 but also operate the railroad and trusted him enough to make trips by himself to and from Coleman to interchange the empty and loaded hopper cars, when Bob had to take time off. When the Village Board got wind of this “boy” running trains through downtown South Elgin, Bob was summoned before them where he exclaimed that Ken “operated the railroad safer than he did.” According to Ken, after that appearance before the board, nothing more was said. Careful, safe operation was key as the first major move on a southbound trip to Coleman was pushing a cut of empty hoppers out into the middle of State Street (Highway 31) as the interurban track was still in the center of the roadway. Next, one had to throw the streetcar switch so the train could continue south without the engineer getting hit by passing motorists.
His experience of operating on the AE&FR led the teenager to another more complicated job as an engineer running steam locomotives at the Chicago Gravel Company pit. One of the engines he ran, No.18 is on display in Veterans Park in Bensenville.
Ken enlisted in the United States Marines and after returning from active duty, he served as a South Elgin Police officer. He became a licensed plumber, worked for a plumbing equipment company and advanced to office manager of Baumgartner Plumbing in St. Charles before transitioning as a partner in the Holtz and Ward Construction Company and finally retired from Harper College’s Physical Plant Department in 2012 after 20 years of service.
He also participated in sports, playing on and managing several 12” softball teams including founding the St. Charles Merchants 12” Softball Team which won several Illinois State Tournaments. Ken was also an Elgin Peewee Football League coach for twenty-plus years. Ken participated in his parish’s “Light of the World” retreat program and “That Man is You” men’s support activities.
Back on the railroad front, he was an active member of the North American Railcar Operators Association (NARCOA) along with museum member Fred Lonnes and former South Elgin resident Mike Mitzel. He rescued the Illinois Central’s Coleman motorcar and then completely restored it. At the museum he and his business partner Cecil Holtz completed the back interior of the car barn and rebuilt the roof of Soo Line caboose 130 during a slow period for their construction company. He was also part of the effort to repatriate #5 to the museum from the gravel pit after it closed in 2001.
Ever since this author’s association with the museum back in the mid 1970’s, we have always called our steel deck bridge, “Wards Bridge” as it is close to his home on Woodcliff Drive. This is a most fitting memorial to a man who was a link from our line’s historic past to the present educational museum operation. Our condolences to Ken’s wife Carolyn, his children and their families.
Link to Ken's obituary