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Obituary for Wendell Joy Dillinger

December 15, 2023 2:11 PM | Jacob Goldberg (Administrator)

One of the founding members of our museum, Wendell was born in Orange, NJ on March 22, 1930, to Joy Franklin Dillinger and Gladys Grabow Dillinger and lived in New Jersey until 1937 when his father was transferred from Bell Laboratories to Western Electric in Cicero, IL, both AT&T entities.  Growing up in Riverside, IL he became fascinated with the Chicago and West Towns streetcar line near his home.  By the time he was old enough to apply to West Towns to be an operator they had converted to bus, so he went to the CB&Q depot near his home and eventually landed a succession of jobs from janitor to station agent.  He attended Otterbein College obtaining a BA in 1952.  In 1954 he was drafted into the Army for two years and then went onto the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce receiving a master’s degree in 1958 having written a history of the Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Company as his thesis.  Wendell then went to work for the CA&E in 1958 as their Director of Research & Development, developing a timetable for the resumption of passenger service which as we know never happened.  He worked for several transportation companies and accepted a job with the Chicago and North Western Railway in their finance department.  During this time, he became involved in the Fox River & Eastern Electric Railway (FREE), an effort to take over the freight operation of the CA&E from Elgin to Wayne as well as Railway Equipment Leasing & investment Company (RELIC) which was obtaining CA&E and North Shore cars for use in a museum setting.  The freight short line never came to be, but RELIC was able to obtain property along Bob DeYoung’s Aurora Elgin & Fox River line along with operating rights.  Wendell also invested in two open type streetcars imported from Rio De Janeiro, Brazil which arrived on the RELIC property.  Four-wheel car 441 was restored to operating condition and repainted in red and white colors to reflect Fox River Line open air cars.  In 1968 he left the area to become the president of the Iowa Terminal Railway which had two electric divisions, the former Mason City & Clear Lake and the Charles City Western which were owned by the Boyer family of Detroit.  He still had a dream of owing his own short line railway and to that end obtained the Mason City & Clear Lake corporate shell and finally landed on a Reading Company branch line which he renamed the Middletown & Hummelstown Railroad (which had been its original name before being folded into the Reading) and along with Samuel Holmes began operating the line as a short line freight operation in April 1976.  By 1986 he had enough infrastructure in place to allow him to start tourist passenger operations over the short line with diesel hauled former Delaware Lackawanna & Western commuter coaches.  During this period of time, he ended his agreement with RELIC and moved his Rio open cars to his shop facilities in Middletown and eventually operated 441 on occasion with a used generator car in tow to provide power.  Wendell passed away Sunday December 10th, 2023, at age 93 after running his own short line railroad for forty-seven years.  While he was never involved with the not-for-profit Fox River Trolley Museum, his efforts and investment were a very important part of establishing our predecessor RELIC, and for this we are grateful and mourn with the current M&H employees and volunteers in their loss.  May he rest in peace.

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