Artist, designer Bob Lorenz dies at 95

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Bea and Bob Lorenz visit Nickel Plate Road No. 765 in New Haven, Ind. Bob grew up and lived in Fremont, Ohio, on the Nickel Plate.
Ellen Gatrell
FREMONT, Ohio – It’s not a brash claim to say that no railroad artist or designer has ever reached as large an audience as Robert “Bob” H. Lorenz, thanks to his memorable paint scheme for the American Freedom Train of 1975-76. Millions of people witnessed his patriotic flourish as the Freedom Train rolled through hundreds of towns and cities across the U.S.

That's quite a legacy for Lorenz, who died peacefully on Tuesday in Fremont, the place he called home since childhood. He was 95.

Lorenz was a prolific railroad artist, with dozens of paintings in private collections, on the covers of publications, and even in the Washington, D.C., offices of Amtrak. But it was as a graphic designer that he really made his mark, thanks to his early association with steam impresario Ross Rowland and the High Iron Co.

The association with Rowland dates back to 1966 when Lorenz became the virtual in-house designer for High Iron and its various steam projects. Lorenz is most famous for the Freedom Train, of course, but he also designed the powder blue livery for the Golden Spike Centennial Limited of 1969; the red, white, and blue Preamble Express of 1974; the yellow-and-vermillion Chessie Steam Special; as well as other trains.

Rowland reflected on the impact of his friend and collaborator. “I met Bob at the home of a mutual New Jersey railfan, Bob Hess, and we bonded immediately,” Rowland recalls. “I needed a graphic artist to help me create a logo and other designs for High Iron and Bob did that quickly and effectively. As I came to know him better, I was taken by his deep knowledge of American railroad history in general and all things B&O and NKP in particular.”

Lorenz came by that love of the Nickel Plate as a kid. He was born in the Nickel Plate town of Fremont on Sept. 29, 1924, the son of Robert C. and Hallie Lorenz. He graduated from Fremont Ross High School in 1944 and went on to study art and design at the Ringling School of Art in Sarasota, Fla., and the Toledo Museum of Art. He later settled in for a 15-year career in commercial art before setting off on his long freelance career.

Located just 39 miles southeast of Toledo, Fremont was a crossroads of the New York Central, the Wheeling & Lake Erie, and Nickel Plate. The latter became a favorite of the artist, and he painted Nickel Plate’s famous 2-8-4 Berkshires on many occasions. A favorite muse was High Iron’s celebrated excursion queen and Golden Spike star Nickel Plate No. 759, which resides in the Steamtown collection.

Lorenz’s love of steam was apparent one day in 1997 when Rowland arranged for him to ride in the cab of another engine, Chesapeake & Ohio 4-8-4 No. 614, on a trip over NJ Transit.

“Bob rode eastbound when I served as hogger with that 24-car train, and when we pulled into Hoboken 16 minutes early I looked over and saw he was in tears,” says Rowland. “My first thought was that he must be in some sort of pain, but no, it turned out that even with all those decades around the railroad he had never been afforded a mainline steam cab ride. I’ll never forget the hug he gave me and said, ‘that’s what I’ve been dreaming of all my life. And it was better than I dreamed it would be.’”

Lorenz is also described by friends as deeply patriotic, a trait that became apparent during the run-up to the Freedom Train and the work done on Reading 4-8-4 No. 2101, one of the two Freedom Train locomotives and temporarily renumbered as AFT No. 1. Again, Rowland recalls:

“As one indication of his dedication to his craft, he hand-painted the Great Seal of the United States in large scale on both sides of the No. 1’s tender in full color, which took him a full week on each side. When I asked him if there wasn't a way to get it printed out and glued on to save all that physical effort, he immediately replied ‘yes, I could do that, but this will be seen by millions of Americans and they deserve the real thing.’”

Bob Lorenz is survived by his wife of 71 years, Beatrice, whom he married in 1948. Other survivors include three daughters: Linda Gonya of Fremont; Luann Shawberry of Republic, Ohio; and Laura Eberly of Fremont; as well as six grand children and nine great-grandchildren.

A visitation is planned for 2-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. Thursday at the Wonderly Horvath Hanes Funeral Home in Fremont, with a funeral mass planned for 10 a.m. Friday at St. Ann Catholic Church in Fremont.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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