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Octogenarian lived on the rails during his youth

Marion man lived most of his life moving from place to place, whether on rails or in the water

Staff writer

The three years Buddy Dick has lived at Marion Assisted Living is about as long as he has ever stayed in one place.

Dick was born in 1924 in Texas, but he said he was born on the railroad. The Santa Fe Railroad is in Dick’s blood. His father worked on the railroad as an engineer while Dick was growing up; the family slept in train cars — either a passenger car or a regular car modified for families.

“I used to wonder what it was like to live in a house,” Dick said. “We were on cars all the time. It was all I knew. It was real comfortable; I felt more protected.”

Dick lived in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas through high school. It was the height of World War II when Dick graduated from school at 18-years-old in 1942; he knew he would be drafted. To avoid going into the army and stay out of the trenches he enlisted with the Navy.

“Those dog-faced guys would always get shot at,” Dick said. “(The Navy) was a good outfit. We didn’t serve on the ground, we had a good place to sleep, and we had food.”

Dick became a gunner’s mate, second class. He mostly worked on 5-inch .38-caliber guns. Because of his expertise with guns, Dick served in Europe and the Pacific theaters of the war.

“It was always a one-man draft,” he said. “They’d need someone and I’d get picked.”

In his two and half years in the Navy, he saw a lot of water and spent a lot of time on a cramped ship. He did not entirely avoid danger, either. At one point, his ship was hit. In battles, enemy rounds would zing past his ears.

After his tour was complete, Dick was in the Navy reserves, but settled in Wellington, and then later Belle Plaine.

Because he had spent his early life around trains, he was naturally drawn back to the railyard.

The Santa Fe Railroad company hired Dick. He worked as a fireman for six months until he was promoted to engineer. He was a train engineer for 30 years.

“It was a real good job,” Dick said. “I made good money.”

Dick started a family in Belle Plaine. He married his wife Virginia and they had two children, Dana and Terry. Dana lives in Marion and Terry lives in Belle Plaine. Virginia died before Dick moved to Marion Assisted Living.

In Dick’s case, absence did make the heart grow fonder. Although he would be gone for extended periods working as an engineer, he was gone long enough for Virginia to miss him.

Without as much work in the winter, Dick was also employed as a police department and sheriff’s office reserve. Although he had gone into the Navy to avoid it, Dick had gotten a taste for danger and excitement.

He was never tempted to try police work full time because of how much it worried his family.

“People respect you when you’re in the police department; people expect you to help them,” Dick said. “With the police force, you have a lot of snap decisions that can make a big difference in your life or someone else’s life.”

Although much of Dick’s life was transient in nature, he does not regret any of it.

“I’ve lived a good life,” he said.

Last modified April 27, 2011

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