Remembering Warren Scholl

Posted by Kevin Keefe
on Thursday, August 22, 2019

Warren Scholl helped keep BNSF's Employee Appreciation Specials rolling for years. Displaying the sunny disposition that endeared him to so many, he waves during an EAS stop at Oklahoma City in June 2018. Mike Martin
If you go to railroad events often enough you already know that trains aren’t the real priority — it’s the people. My schedule is fairly full of these kinds of things, and to be honest I don’t always remember the speeches I heard, the PowerPoint presentations I endured, or the images I saw up on the screen. But I definitely recall seeing old friends. One of my favorites has always been Warren Scholl.

Alas, I got the terribly sad news a couple of weeks ago while on a two-week trip through England: Warren died July 28 at home in Lenexa, Kans., after a battle with cancer. He was 77. I understand from people who were there that his August 8 funeral was standing-room only. I wasn’t surprised. Anyone who ever met Warren instantly bonded with him. 

The basic details of Warren’s life are this: born in Chicago in 1942, he graduated from Lane Tech in 1960, served in an Army artillery battery in Germany for two years, went into the hobby shop business for a while, then hired out as a switchman at Santa Fe’s Corwith Yard in Chicago in 1978. He had a successful career on the railroad, with a variety of assignments before retiring from BNSF in 2011. He was a mainstay on the crews of Frisco 4-8-2 No. 1522 and Santa Fe 4-8-4 No. 3751. Along the way he married his wife Susan and had two sons, all of whom survive him. By all accounts, it was a full life.  

The thing I’ll remember about Warren is that he was always glad to see you, and he’d say so in the most enthusiastic terms. Seeing Warren on a steam trip, or at a Lexington Group meeting, or at the Center for Railroad Photography & Art’s 
“Conversations” conference in Lake Forest, always brought a smile. He loved railroading, to be sure, but I think most of all he loved the friendships. 

That extended to the way he worked on the railroad. After his death, I read a social media post in which another BNSF railroader, a manager, praised Scholl’s efforts for the work he did years ago as a union rep in the Chicago area. Warren had a reputation for trying to reach solutions rather than fall back on the old confrontational stance so common to the business. 

One of Scholl’s pals from Chicago remembers him fondly. Mike Croy got his start on the Santa Fe at Corwith Yard, which is where he encountered Warren early in their careers. Croy retired in 2003 as terminal superintendent in San Bernardino. 

Warren Scholl shows school kids around the cab of a diesel locomotive during Fullerton Railroad Days in 2012. Photo by Ana P. Gutierrez for the Orange County Register
“Warren and I go back many, many years to Corwith,” recalls Croy. “I was the third-trick yardmaster and Warren was a newly hired yard switchman. Whenever his crew would go to beans, Warren would wander up to the tower to watch and learn the overall operation.”

In Scholl, Croy found a kindred spirit. “I was impressed by his thirst for learning. It was during those visits that we shared our love of railroading, and especially the Santa Fe. And this was at a time when being a railfan was not cool.”

That love of the Santa Fe was a huge theme in Warren’s life. Another person who saw that firsthand is Mike Martin, a former AT&SF public relations manager who went on to senior p.r. positions in the food and agribusiness sectors. Mike got to know Warren as he transitioned from locomotive engineer to training instructor in the Kansas City area.

“I am firmly convinced Warren Scholl's blood matched the hue of Santa Fe passenger and Super Fleet locomotive paint,” says Martin. “Warren could work effectively with anyone at the railroad, and everyone liked working with him. He was well respected for his knowledge and insights related to safe train operations, and he was interested in all things Santa Fe. Warren would often engage in lengthy casual discussions on just about any railroad topic.”

Martin recalls that Warren was a go-to option in 1997 when he and Jim Schwinkendorf in the Operating Department were tasked with finding people to oversee the railroad’s first Employee Appreciation Special (EAS), a train that became a tradition on BNSF. “Warren was an obvious choice and he became a fixture on these annual trips, his last being in 2018,” says Martin. “Warren achieved his childhood dream of being a locomotive engineer and working for Santa Fe.”

Those EAS trains provided a special bond between Warren and another BNSF engineer and 1522 veteran, Jeff Schmid. 

“We worked together literally 14 to 16 hours a day on the Employee Appreciation Special,” Schmid remembers. “Our duties overlapped, and eventually we always knew where the other would be and what they would be doing. Dressed the same, with orange vest, radio belt, and EAS ball cap, people regarded us as almost interchangeable. Frequently we were addressed with the other’s name.” 

Schmid says Warren was someone you could always count on. “He was the same reliable person at 0730 crew breakfast as he was at the next morning's 0730 breakfast, even though he had been up all night nursing a sick locomotive.” 

I met Warren in 1988 when I headed down to St. Louis to do a cover story for Trainson the resurrection of the 1522. Over the years I had several encounters with the 1522 — one of my favorite steam locomotives — and Warren was usually around, including for a couple of memorable cab rides in Wisconsin and Missouri. I saw a lot of him in 2001 when the 1522 hauled the EAS train through Missouri and Oklahoma.

One of the great things about the 1522 crew was how positive they all were — about their engine, of course, but also about each other, as well as the crews on other mainline steam locomotives. There was none of the bad-mouthing I’ve encountered on some other engines. 

Instead, the overriding vibe on the 1522 was, “Gee, aren’t we lucky to be alive and doing this!” And no one personified that as much as Warren Scholl, who always had a smile on his face. I’m really going to miss him. 

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