Remembering Dick Hulbert: Friend and Mentor (1931-2018)
By Eric Olds
On November 20th, 2018, FEDSHRA and P&SVRR lost a long-time friend and mentor Richard “Dick” Hulbert when he passed away due to complications from pneumonia. Dick was a founding member of both organizations.
Born December 29th, 1931, in Marshall, CA, he developed an early fascination and love of all things electrical. With an inquisitive mind, he spent much of his childhood learning how to harness electricity for practical use. Under the direction of his father, he became well versed in the intricacies of storing electricity in and maintaining batteries, born out of necessity to supply his family’s rural home with power from a small generator.
In addition, Dick learned at an early age a “can do” attitude as a result of growing up in a family that owned saw mills where workers met daily challenges with creativity and resourcefulness. Both of these traits would serve Dick well through his life including his time in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. Upon learning of the unreliability of the electrical grid where he was stationed and finding there was a generator and battery bank available with no one to run and maintain it, Dick told his superior officer “I can do that” and henceforth was given only one task… “to keep the lights on.”
After the war Dick worked at the family’s sawmill in Cloverdale, CA just after they transitioned from steam powered donkey engines to diesel ones. Experience operating the diesel yarder would again prove helpful when Dick later moved to Roseville and hired on with Southern Pacific Railroad (SP) as a Diesel Electric Locomotive Electrician.
With extensive experience maintaining and repairing locomotives at the Roseville Shops and occasional work out on the line as a troubleshooter on malfunctioning units, Dick developed a skill set that ultimately led to his involvement on definitive diesel train restoration projects in California in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Dick was instrumental in assisting with the procurement of the Napa Valley Wine Train locomotives and cars from Canada as well as spearheading the restoration to operation of multiple historic diesels for the California State Railroad Museum (CSRM) that have for decades hauled millions of passengers on joyful rides into yesteryear.
After retiring from SP in 1993, Dick continued his volunteer work at CSRM until he was invited by Terry Stefani to have a look at the then dormant Placerville Branch as a possible candidate for excursion operations. Dick soon became a primary advocate for its restoration and he invited long-time friends and partners who he had worked with over the years like Frank Fuson, Hank Stiles, Robert Miller and others to join him in Folsom to make a go of it.
As the volunteer lead for FEDSHRA, Dick guided the restoration of the Skagit and other motorcars as well as the work opening up the dormant tracks removing brush, weeds, mud and debris that had begun to swallow up the line. When I joined FEDSHRA in 2004 and subsequently requested the opportunity to start weekend workdays for volunteers like myself who were not retired, Dick was quick to offer to mentor me and assist in over site until established.
In 2008, the inaugural year of the P&SVRR, Dick continued to mentor me in assessing and procuring the railroad’s first locomotive for donation, the PACTIV 25 tonner. By then, Dick was slowing down physically and not long after that he graciously passed on leadership to capable others who could continue the work but remained as engaged as health and life circumstances allowed, physically assisting when able and always available to share wisdom and insight and his creative “can do attitude” with those of us carrying on the work.
All of us who had the privilege of knowing Dick personally and working with him are blessed to have known a great man who embodied a rare humility and wisdom and loved inviting others to work with him and to guide them. FEDSHRA and P&SVRR are forever indebted to men like Dick upon whose work we have and are building a community treasure for new generations to enjoy.
Thanks for your friendship and your guidance Dick!