Mike Yuhas is a great teammate

Posted by Kevin Keefe
on Thursday, March 19, 2020

Mike Yuhas stands near Santa Fe's Media trestle west of Galesburg, Ill., in August 1993. Mike will soon retire from Kalmbach Media after more than 30 years of selling ads for Trains and Classic Trains. Kevin P. Keefe
One of the great things about working in Kalmbach’s old headquarters in downtown Milwaukee was the tendency for visitors to show up, unannounced, at any time. Most companies would discourage that, but not Al Kalmbach’s. When a Trains reader showed up at 1027 N. Seventh Street, someone on the staff would be expected to drop everything and — with a smile on their face — show the visitor around.

Thus it was on a hot, humid weekday in August 1987 when the phone rang. “Hi Kevin, this is reception. We have a reader visiting from Philadelphia. He’d like a tour and you’re next on the list.” My boss, Editor J. David Ingles, was busy, so I was happy to oblige.

I headed out the door to the hallway, got in the tiny elevator (everyone called it Lurch), and descended to the lobby for what turned out to be a fortuitous encounter.

The guy I met was Mike Yuhas, in town as a sales rep for micro-electronics production equipment. He had some time off before meeting a client and we ended up spending at least an hour looking around the building and chatting. It turned out he was not only a knowledgeable railfan, but also a very good photographer. He told me he’d been contributing to CTC Board magazine and, sure enough, after he left, I tracked down a recent issue in the library and found some of his images in its news pages. 

I liked Mike from the start. He had a quick, dry sense of humor, and I sensed we took the same pleasures from the occasional absurdities of life. You can learn a lot about a person in an hour.

More than a year later, when we had an opening for an ad sales rep for Trains, I found out Mike was looking for a new job and I recommended him to our ad manager, Fred Hamilton. Here was a guy who was obviously a skilled sales professional, highly articulate, and he knew railroading cold. The guys in Ad Sales soon made the right decision and Mike started in May 1989. 

An active railfan, Mike Yuhas has embraced drone photography. In this March 15, 2020, photo, an empty Union Pacific coal train from Sheboygan, Wis., crosses the Milwaukee River at Kletzsch Park in Glendale, Wis. Mike Yuhas
Now Mike is on the eve of retiring after more than 30 years at Kalmbach, all of them selling advertising for Trains and Classic Trains. It’s been a great run. It’s also an occasion for me to look back on one of the best partnerships of my career. Mike and I functioned like a tag team, and we had a ball doing it, most often on trips to visit advertisers.

There was the time we rode Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, heading out to Los Angeles and then Sacramento for the California State Railroad Museum’s Railfair 1991. The trip on the Chief was a treat, with a good crew and good food. That is, until the last night’s dinner, when, as I wrote in my January 1992 cover story in Trains, “I’m lucky enough to get the very last entrée on the train — a terrific stuffed rainbow trout — but Mike, who arrives a few minutes late, has to settle for a plate of green beans.” He hasn’t let me forget.

We saw so much else together. A sales trip to Boston netted us that short burst of 150 mph across Rhode Island on Amtrak’s Acela, followed by a memorable lunch at Boston’s classic Locke-Ober restaurant, where, as we observed, all the customers looked like Tip O’Neill impersonators. We chased trains across western Illinois and spent part of an afternoon watching Santa Fe trains sail over the majestic Media trestle southwest of Galesburg. We shot a lot of CSX on Sand Patch and along the Potomac near Paw Paw, W.Va. And we had a favorite train-watching spot, the ex-PRR suburban depot at Prospect Park, Pa., where we’d eat cheesesteaks and watch the action on the Northeast Corridor.

Then there were the conventions and the trade shows, seemingly endless affairs that would tax the normal person’s ability to remain civil. You’d spend a good 10 hours on your feet. But Mike never flagged. Plus, he can talk shop with anyone, whether it’s the hogger of a tourist-railway 2-8-0 or a bigwig from GE Transportation.

Over the years, Mike has had to negotiate some big changes in the Trains advertising base. In the early years, the challenge was to manage a veritable flood of railfan advertising, thanks to video producers who, we were happy to see, spent their money rather freely. Some of them could be difficult to work with, but Mike was endlessly diplomatic. On occasion he was obliged to smooth over relationships for which I had less patience. 

When the bottom fell out of the railfan video business, Mike responded brilliantly to a new plan we hatched to bring railroad industry trade advertising back to Trains, something that pretty much disappeared after the 1970s. His management of this program over the last 20 years has played a big role in sustaining the magazine. Throughout this same period, he has hustled to make the most of Classic Trains’ smaller ad base. 

So now, as of April 10, Mike will have a lot of time to pursue something else he’s become increasingly good at: railroad photography. He’s always been an first-rate shooter, but he’s dialed up his game in recent years, as you can see if you check out his website. There you’ll see evidence of his mastery of drone photography, including one of my favorites, a shot of a westbound Union Pacific train rumbling over the big steel truss bridge over the Milwaukee River at Kletzsch Park, a place I love to walk my dog, from an angle I’d never dreamed I’d see.

Mike avidly supports other photographers, too. He currently serves as president of the Wisconsin Chapter, NRHS, and a hallmark of his tenure so far has been to bring in the best photographers he can find. He also frequently hosts a lot of his camera pals from the upper Midwest at his house on Lake Winnebago. 

Mike and I have had a lot of things in common, one of which is seeing our names in the tiny type at the bottom of the Trains and Classic Trains mastheads for so many years. It was an honor sharing that space with him.  

 

 

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