Richard C. Nickels Sr.
He began his career in railroading as a B&O messenger and rose to hold a CSX marketing executive post
Richard C. Nickels Sr., a retired CSX marketing executive whose railroad career spanned more than four decades, died Monday from respiratory failure at Pickersgill Retirement Community in West Towson. He was 91. “Dick had a strong love and allegiance to railroads,” said Ralph L. Felter, a former CSX colleague and retired railroad consultant who lives in York, Pa. “He was a very quiet analyst and a behind-the-scenes guy. He never had a harsh word for anyone or complained.”
“I first met him back in 1965 when I joined the B&O Railroad. He was a dear man and everyone who knew Dick liked him. Henever had a rough or bad thought in his mind,” said John Tierney, a former CSX planning department colleague who retired in 1980 from Burlington Northern Railroad as a senior vice president.
The son of Richard Harry Nickels, a Pope & Talbot Steamship Co. purser, and Ruth Christine Nickels, a homemaker, Richard Carroll Nickels was born at home on Avalon Avenue and raised in Govans.
He graduated in 1943 from City College, then began working at age 17 as a messenger for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.
During World War II, he served three years in the Navy as an aviation machinist mate.
After being discharged, he returned to the B&O. He also went back to school and in 1951received a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Maryland, College Park. He then received a master’s degree in 1973 from what is now Loyola University Maryland.
Mr. Nickels worked in the B&O’s commercial department before joining its marketing department.
He worked at the railroad during transformative times. Jervis Langdon Jr., who had joined the B&O in 1956 as general counsel, succeeded Howard E. Simpson as president in 1961. Attempting to stanch the erosion of rail traffic to trucks and barge lines, Mr. Langdon initiated rate-making and marketing research to see what customers required, and overhauled the company’s marketing department.
Mr. Nickels “joined the revolutionary marketing transformation that took place after Jervis arrived,” said E. Ray Lichty, a retired CSX vice president and Glen Arm resident. “Dick was an original member of the product development department, where he worked in equipment utilization and planning.”
“He bounced around a little as we shifted functions in marketing until we became a fairly unified group,” recalled Herbert H. Harwood Jr., a Cross Keys resident who is also a retired CSX executive, as well as a railroad historian and author. “He was a very nice guy and very easy to work with.”
“Dick was considered very knowledgeable on the customer’s needs,” Mr. Lichty said. “He was a rare breed in those early days when the marketing revolution took place, as one with a solid railroad background and a great education tailored to fit his work assignments.
“Hewas a manahead of his time,” he said. “He continued to work through the difficult period when the railroads were deregulated and had to adapt to new ways of doing business.”
Mr. Nickels worked in the railroad’s Charles Center building.
“I joined the railroad in 1968 and worked with Dick in product development,” Mr. Felter said. “We were developing new freight cars and doing fleet surveys to see how many cars we needed to serve customers.”
At the time of his 1987 retirement from successor company CSX, Mr. Nickels was manager of equipment in the marketing department.
A longtime resident of the Springdale neighborhood in Cockeysville, he was an active member and past president of RABO — the Retired Administrators of the B&O Railroad, and its successors — and CHEERS, another railroad retirement organization.
His wife of 68 years, the former Sara Jayne Shank, said the two met on a blind date at Holy Comforter Lutheran Church in Govans.
“It was love at sight,” she said. An avid Baltimore Colts fan, Mr. Nickels was close friends with Art Donovan, the team’s legendary defensive tackle. Mr. Donovan called him “Mr. Five Pennies,” recalled Mrs. Nickels.
He had volunteered for 15 years at Greater Baltimore Medical Center, mostly in the radiation therapy department.
He was a resident of Pickersgill since last year, and would often reach out to comfort residents whowere in distress, his wife said.
Mr. Nickels also had been active in the Boy Scouts where he was troop chairman, and was an accomplished ballroom dancer and ice skater.
He and his wife vacationed at Cape Cod, Mass., for 55 years, and also traveled to Europe and Bermuda. They enjoyed taking Caribbean cruises.
He also liked crossword puzzles — at Pickersgill he was known as a “crossword whiz,” his wife said.
He was a member of American Legion Post 22 in Towson.
Mr. Nickels was an active member of Ascension Lutheran Church, 7601 York Road, Towson, where a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Nov. 19.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Nickels is survived by his son, Richard Carroll Nickels Jr. of Hampstead; a daughter, Jody Ann Woodward of Reisterstown; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. “He was a man ahead of his time,” a former colleague said about Richard C. Nickels Sr. first