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The Dash Between: Retired conductor never tired of trains

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Warren Edwin Powelson enjoyed waving to children and young-at-heart adults who waited near the railroad tracks for the thrill of watching the freight train pass by and seeing the little red caboose behind it.

The Elyria resident, who died Oct. 11, 2010, at age 94, worked on the railroad for more than 30 years before retiring in 1976.

He worked on a section gang in Dillonvale, not far from Wheeling, W.Va., where he cleared tracks and repaired switches before joining the engine crew on a freight train out of Minerva.

More photos below.

“He worked with steam engines till diesel took over,” said fellow railroader Charlie Hardway. “He started out as a brakeman. After a few years, he became a conductor (in 1950).”

Warren’s role as conductor on a freight train differed from the stereotypical conductor portrayed in movies, someone who walks through train cars taking care of passengers.

“As conductor, he was boss of a five-man crew,” Hardway said. “He was a conductor on the New York Central.”

The Dash Between: About this feature

The dates of birth and death that appear like bookends on a tombstone do not matter as much as the dash between those dates. Award-winning writer Alana Baranick has made her living writing about the dash between. She’s focusing on Lorain and Medina counties and those who have made our area the unique and interesting place it is. Look for her stories on alternating Sundays and visit

www.chroniclet.com to find additional photographs.

The Dash Between is scheduled to appear twice a month in The Chronicle-Telegram. To suggest a story or make a comment, contact Baranick at abaranick@chroniclet.com or (440) 731-8340.

Today, Alana Baranick examines The Dash Between June 11, 1916, when Warren Powelson was born in Amsterdam, Ohio, and Oct. 11, 2010, when the retired railroad conductor died at age 94.

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Beginning in 1948, Warren rode the rails for eight hours from Elyria to Youngstown, with an eight-hour layover and an eight-hour return trip. His wife, Margaret, packed lunches and baked cakes, pies and bread for his 24 hours away from home. He considered the caboose his home away from home.

New York Central merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1968 to form Penn Central, and subsequent mergers, which took place as many railroads went into bankruptcy, resulted in the formation of Conrail in 1976. Warren retired that same year from the railroad yards at the Lorain Ford Assembly Plant. Still a conductor, he was responsible for loading cars, automotive parts and tires onto trains.

Powelson was born June 11, 1916, in Amsterdam, Ohio, a tiny village between Carrollton and Steubenville. He was the eldest of seven siblings.

His father, too, hauled freight, but on a smaller scale, with a wagon pulled by horses or mules.

Warren started working as a farmhand at age 13. At one point, he left his family to live in another community on the farm where he worked, and he completed ninth grade at Amsterdam High School.

As a teenager, he became reacquainted with and began dating Margaret Williamson, whom he originally met in grade school. They drove to Moundsville, W.Va., to get married on May 2, 1934, because Margaret, then 15, was too young to get a marriage license in Ohio.

Warren liked to tell the story of how the minister who married them took him to a window with a view of the Moundsville Penitentiary and said, “I never want to see you around here again.”

The Powelsons moved to Minerva with the railroad in 1945 and that same year, Warren served in the Navy for three months. He was drafted near the end of World War II and went to the Great Lakes training center in the Chicago area.

“After he got through basic, they were going to put him on the Big Mo, the Missouri, the big battleship,” his son, Warren D., said. “As they were leaving, they grouped them together, they called Dad’s name (and said), ‘Get all your gear. You’re going to go home.’ ”

After moving to Elyria in 1948, his wife and kids started attending what was then Vincent Methodist Church. Because he worked most Sundays, Warren did not initially accompany them, but by 1954, his work schedule changed, and all the Powelsons had been baptized, and church became a major part of their lives.

Warren chaired the church trustees, helped mow the lawn and handled repairs and remodeling at Vincent, which later merged with Lorain United Methodist to form Cornerstone UM. He also used his woodworking skills to create assorted items to sell at church fundraisers.

“If Dad was working on something and didn’t have the right tool, he made it,” his son Dave said.

Warren built an addition onto the back of his garage, which served as his workshop, family picnic pavilion and daily devotional space, where he read his well-worn, note-filled Bible and prayed.

“He loved his church, and he read his Bible all the time,” said Warren’s sister, Margery Berardinelli.

Once, when Margery and her family went on a trip, they came home to find the floor covered with popcorn balls, which Warren had made for her kids. “He was a very loving brother,” his sister said.

Warren endeared himself to his neighbors, too. He used his snowblower to clear neighbors’ driveways and helped them however he could. “I’ve seen him repipe whole houses for neighbors,” his son, Dave, said.

Warren and Margaret, who died March 8, 2009, raised five children, Warren D., Dave, Willard, Sharen Cheesman and Karen Wahl.

When his kids were younger, Warren noted from his caboose window perspective places where he could take his kids to pick wild berries, which Margaret then canned or turned into jam.

Warren, who is survived by 24 grandchildren and numerous great- and great-great-grandkids, played with model railroad sets to teach younger generations of his family about trains and his railroading career.

He also shared his philosophy on aging with his family: “There’s no disgrace in getting old. It’s just mighty unhandy.”

Contact Alana Baranick at (440) 731-8340 or abaranick@chroniclet.com.

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