Walter J. Sparks

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Walter J. Sparks

Postby shlustig » Mon Sep 28, 2015 7:23 am

Walter J. Sparks longtime Supt. on the Mohawk-Hudson Division HQ'd at Utica passed away this past week.

He was 91 years old.
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Re: Walter J. Sparks

Postby urrengr2003 » Sat Oct 03, 2015 11:17 am

Sorry to hear of his passing. He followed another great man in that position ED Joslin. WJS was 1st PRR supervisior we encountered as Asst. Supt. when when he arrived in summer 1969. At the time I was an Asst TM @ Utica and had restored a Fairbanks- Morse motor car which was used for running around the division. Auto business was at a low ebb and we were directed to accept and store 150 TTX auto racks at Utica. Instead of plugging the yard it made sense to shove them down the West Shore at Harbor to keep them out of the way, cutting road xings as required. To this end on a Saturday morning the first week WJS was at Utica, the Track Supervisior & I were going to use the motor car to inspect the West Shore. We got an early start and pulled up to "The Box Car" (CP-27) to copy a Form-M to go east. Instead of running us down the North Controlled Siding, Bill Schuyler the Train Dispatcher that morning, sent us down #2 on #70's time account he was running late. We roared thru the station as hard as that little car would run, past a platform full of curious patrons. What we didn't know was WJS was standing at the east end of the platform waiting to catch the head end of #70. He bent down to look into the motor car to see who was operating it but gave no motion to alter our move. Nothing was ever said, Monday morning came and went with no mention from the new Asst. Supt. Finally later in the week a letter came out from that office to all staff that the CT-400 (new P-C Rule Book) had no mention of Track Cars whatsoever; the rules only covered HRC (high rail, cars). The letter closed with the initials in capital letters BGA which none of us had ever encountered before. Not wanting to ask Mr. Sparks we got the Adim. Asst. Lucy Altz to inquire. We found this was PRR lingo for Be Governed Accordingly. Thus the M-4272 was banished to the M&M for weekend activities only.
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Re: Walter J. Sparks

Postby Cactus Jack » Thu Oct 08, 2015 2:32 pm

Sorry to hear the news, but sounds like he had a long life.

I remember him well and his Asst. in Conrail days but I can't recall his name now. Was it Vince Cardinal ?

WJS' daughter Ginny married Amtrak clerk Francis LaColla whose old man Frank worked Rome ticket. The Old Man was a real piece of work.

WJS was always good to me as a young college student who frequented the station train watching and always had a few minutes to say "hello" or answer questions.

Pretty good group there in those days including Mr. Lustig.

Another person I recall from then was the lady in personnel Mrs. Rychowski (sp?) a real sweet lady who I think was the last CR person out of the building.
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Re: Walter J. Sparks

Postby shlustig » Sat Oct 10, 2015 7:39 am

Thanks for the kind words, CJ.

Yes, Vince was the Asst. Supt. when Walter was the Div. Supt., one of the best operating people I had the good fortune to work with.

Both Vince and Walter were victims of the so-called "DOT" scandal at Tarrytown along with Norm LeBlanc (Term. Supt., Oak Point) and the two TM's at Croton, Jim Timmons and Cappy Dahlquist. Walter was demoted to Terminal Supt. at Cincinnati and Vince to Term. Supt. at Dewitt. Whenever L. Stanley Crane was in the neighborhood, he always seemed to make a point of seeing Vince.

Utica was a great place to work, and the Dispatchers were top-flight!
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Re: Walter J. Sparks

Postby Jim Kaufman » Mon Oct 12, 2015 7:22 pm

I remember Mr. Sparks as a "Ghost Supt" ....not seen, but heard thru his operating people, good railroader ( I didn't know he was "Red Team" in "Green Territory"!)
I remember one time in Rensselaer, Ron Berben was the Trainmaster in West Albany yard,( Ron would come down some times to ride to Amsterdam or Hudson ), he came down to oversee a special move from old TK 4 siding (off Main Tk in the station). Now the back story was, one of West Albany Bridge jobs (WAB #1, WAB #2 or "Grade Job"---a traveling switcher that ran to Castleton, Rensselaer, Troy for various industrties) brought down from West Albany (probaly from a TS job that served the GE plant in Schenectady), a "high and wide" load (a transformer) and put it on TK4. Now the crew that brought down the wide/high load, put that load on the north end of TK 4, just north of the Herrick St bridge which at the time carried only foot traffic over the station/yard tracks.
I was working the 359PM-1159PM, Depot Job, Ron showed up and met the Selkirk crew who really weren't qualified in Rensselaer yard to oversee the move...Ron's 1st words on seeing me, "I hope "Walter" (meaning Mr. Sparks) is home and tucked in bed"! The Herrick St bridge had a very low clearance over the rails on the Station Tks (at the time TK 1/TK2/Main TK). The crew tied onto the load, and very gently (with an audience of the Depot crew, Staionmaster John Kircher and a few of the Car Dept guys), with Ron guiding the load under the bridge...it was done with a lot of "wishing" and squeezed under the girders, with about a 1/4 inch to spare!
I saw Ron about a week later, he said he got a call from Utica about a week later, Mr. Sparks was on the phone and said "job well done". Ron just about fainted on that one!
Oh yes, no more "high and wides" were routed again down from West Albany to Rensselaer Staion!
Vince Cardinale was also a good railroader who served Mr. Sparks well as Asst Supt of the old Mohawk-Hudson Div.
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Re: Walter J. Sparks

Postby Noel Weaver » Mon Oct 12, 2015 8:44 pm

Letters or even words in the railroad industry saying a job well done or words to that effect at least in the past were not too common at least not in the 70's or early 80's. Later on maybe a bit more common but still the exception than the rule. I got a few of them over the years but not too many and I got a couple of the other kind as well.
I remember one that I got from a Superintendent who especially did not like me and it must have eaten his heart out to sign that letter, I still have it too. He once told somebody that "Noel Weaver couldn't run a Lionel Train around a Christmas Tree", I never ever forgot that one and it came around to hurt him in time. More stories!!!
Most of the officials over a long period of time I was on very good terms with and some of them were big helps in expanding my collection, they used to find interesting stuff for me and every year I gave them a railroad calendar. I remember another Assistant Superintendent who was pretty much disliked by a lot of the operating folks but I never had any problems with him, he was responsible for my receiving a nice letter of commendation from the old New Haven Railroad way back in the 60's. YA NEVER KNOW
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Re: Walter J. Sparks

Postby shlustig » Tue Oct 13, 2015 7:51 am

One of my favorite episodes with WJS involved the time he caught me in the office at about 6PM and had me drive him down to Albany with no explanation being offered. Shortly before, he had received as his new company car (along with Vince) a new Ford Fairmount, a truly miserable piece of automitive creation. Semi-trucks were passing me on the upgrade at Little Falls on the Thruway!

At any rate, I made it to Rensselaer Stn. in time to make #49 back to Utica, and WJS came back the next afternoon.

I found out from Vince that in order to get rid of the Fords, Walter had driven down to the GM Tarrytown plant, stopped at the guard shack, and had the GM traffic manager Don Keegan come down to see his new company car. Keegan took one look, stormed into the guard office and called a certain Senior VP-Ops and -- without a "Good Morning" or "Hello" -- opened the conversation with words to the effect of WTF were you thinking Dick, how many F'n Ford plants do you have on this Division (answer: none), and what is your traffic revenue from this plant (answer: $20,000,000 plus), and you give them F'n Fords?????

The new Chevy's came the next week!
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Re: Walter J. Sparks

Postby Noel Weaver » Tue Oct 13, 2015 1:10 pm

shlustig wrote:One of my favorite episodes with WJS involved the time he caught me in the office at about 6PM and had me drive him down to Albany with no explanation being offered. Shortly before, he had received as his new company car (along with Vince) a new Ford Fairmount, a truly miserable piece of automitive creation. Semi-trucks were passing me on the upgrade at Little Falls on the Thruway!

At any rate, I made it to Rensselaer Stn. in time to make #49 back to Utica, and WJS came back the next afternoon.

I found out from Vince that in order to get rid of the Fords, Walter had driven down to the GM Tarrytown plant, stopped at the guard shack, and had the GM traffic manager Don Keegan come down to see his new company car. Keegan took one look, stormed into the guard office and called a certain Senior VP-Ops and -- without a "Good Morning" or "Hello" -- opened the conversation with words to the effect of WTF were you thinking Dick, how many F'n Ford plants do you have on this Division (answer: none), and what is your traffic revenue from this plant (answer: $20,000,000 plus), and you give them F'n Fords?????

The new Chevy's came the next week!


Good one!!
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Re: Walter J. Sparks

Postby Jim Kaufman » Tue Oct 13, 2015 1:52 pm

That is a good one Shelly. That Tarryrown plant put a lot of "steak and potatos" on the table for everyone who worked the Hudson Div.!
Took the train to NYP last Wed, and I pointed out where the old plant was (along with a very empty, rusty rails, Croton West Yard): now just flat concrete where you would never know 8,000 people worked there (along with 3 round the clock switchers, Tarrytown Town Turns (SETT-TTSE), special "shut down cars", etc.).
Oh well, good story about the "Ford". You know what they say about Fords: F ix O r R epair D aily or F ound O n R oad D ead!
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Re: Walter J. Sparks

Postby BR&P » Sun Nov 29, 2015 8:31 pm

Some great stories there, guys! Those were the days!

I never dealt with Sparks, being Buffalo Division, but recognize the name. I never heard the amount of stories on him that were told about AJC, and in later years I worked with a guy who had a ton of Cross stories as well. Sounds like WJS was a bit less irascible than those other two!
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