John Arbuckle, passenger train historian, dies at 63

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John Arbuckle
HUTCHINSON, Kan. — John A. Arbuckle, 63, a retired Amtrak station agent and an expert on railroad passenger cars, trains, and schedules, died April 15 in his hometown of Hutchinson after a short illness, from complications stemming from a lung infection.

He was well known nationwide throughout the community of passenger railroading, including Amtrak employees, owners of private railcars, and frequent train-riders. A kind and quiet individual, he was a valuable reference source for editors at Trains and sister magazine, Classic Trains.

He was a fan of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, and of riding mainline steam-locomotive-powered excursions on any railroad. He collected rare mileage — that is riding special trains on normally freight-only routes — as often as he could. For several years Arbuckle authored the column “PVs on the Main Line” for “Private Varnish” the publication of “AAPRCO,” the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners.

Arbuckle’s early rail interests included photographing diesel locomotives as well as passenger cars and trains, and trading color slides of them, making several trips to Mexico in the 1970s before his interests concentrated on American passenger trains and their cars, and he hired on with Amtrak. He also was interested in other forms of transportation, including ocean liners, aircraft, automobiles and trucks.

Arbuckle worked as the station agent at points across Kansas, the last several years before retiring being spent at Newton, 30 miles from his home and the station serving Wichita for the Southwest Chief. He was well known as a proponent of Amtrak. The late John Mills, an Amtrak supervisor for many years, said the service Arbuckle offered in the ticket office was first rate, and he always had the best interest of the paying customer at heart. He truly hurt when Amtrak struggled, and rejoiced when Amtrak did well.

Arbuckle also was involved in preserving a passenger car, when in 1978 he and a friend, Mark Bucol, purchased the former Milwaukee Road Skytop sleeper-observation car Coffee Creek from VIA Rail Canada. Iowa Pacific Holdings now owns the car and it is the sole remaining intact Milwaukee Road Skytop sleeper built for the Olympian Hiawatha. John was a member of the National Railway Historical Society and several railroad-specific historical groups including the one for the Santa Fe, as well as organizations supporting passenger rail.

Two older brothers and their families, and other distant relatives, survive Arbuckle. Per Arbuckle’s request, there will be no funeral service, although plans may be made for a gathering in Hutchinson later for a celebration of his life.

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