A Long Life of Railroad Memories Started in Paoli

Ralph Gingrich, at the far left in the right photo, spent 3.5 years in a German POW camp during World War II. Images via the York Daily Record.

From watching railroad workers remove hobos from the tops of railcars to watching fellow World War II prisoners scare up rabbits for German hunts to watching Cassius Clay, Cybill Shepherd, and the Baltimore Orioles board his train, Ralph Gingrich has seen a lot over his 98 years.

The region’s oldest living railroad engineer has outlived his union’s anniversary pins, but not his fond memories of life on the tracks, according to a York Daily Record column by Mike Argento.

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And his first fond memories harken back to his stepdad’s place between the Pennsylvania Railroad mainline and Paoli’s rail yard. Railroading ran in his veins, as his dad, stepdad, an uncle, and four cousins all worked for the legendary Pennsylvania Railroad.

Yet Gingrich’s journey didn’t always stick to the tracks; the 1942 military draft sent him overseas as a reconnaissance driver who would be captured in Tunisia with 1,000 others in his unit. He spent 3.5 years in German prison camps before being liberated.

Back home, he rejoined the railroad and became an engineer — including one of the last to drive a steam locomotive — who was often found traversing the corridor between Washington, D.C., and New York City.

Read more of Gingrich’s eventful life in the York Daily Record here.

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