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Published: Sunday, 2/13/2005

Railroad engineer formed rights group for grandparents

Earl Zimmerman, 77, a railroad engineer who with his wife, Patricia, helped found a grandparents' rights group, died of an apparent heart attack Friday in his Oregon home.

A heart attack 13 years ago caused him to retire from CSX.

Mr. Zimmerman was 17 and living in his native Punxsutawney, Pa., when he was hired as a fireman on the Baltimore & Ohio during World War II.

He moved his family in 1950 to northwest Ohio, away from the uncertain economy of coal country. He became an engineer by the mid-1950s. During his career, his railroad merged with the Chesapeake & Ohio, and he found himself later working for the Chessie System and, eventually, CSX.

For several years Mr. Zimmerman was an engineer aboard the RoadRailer, which carried truck trailers from Romulus, Mich., to Cincinnati, an assignment that kept him from home for at least two days at a time. He worked at the Walbridge yard and at the Lakefront docks and on passenger trains.

"He was a working man, and he wanted to see that the kids had a roof over their heads and food in their mouths," his wife said.

He started on steam engines, and he lamented that they'd been removed from rail service.

"He just loved the steam trains," his wife said. "When we would go on vacation, we would go hundreds of miles out of the way to ride on a steam train. I've had cinders in my hair for 59 years."

He was a member of the Railroad Camping Association. The family camped at the three-times-a-year events in Ohio for railroaders and the annual national gathering, which he last attended in 2003. He was also a member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.

Mr. Zimmerman and his wife became active in the grandparents' rights movement when they lost access to a grandson after a divorce.

The couple helped found Ohio Grandparents-Grandchildren's Rights Inc., and he and his wife visited Columbus frequently to lobby the General Assembly for changes in the law.

The grandson, now 30, re-established ties with his grandparents when he became 18.

Mr. Zimmerman was a Mason and belonged to the Paragon Lodge, O-Ton-Ta-La Grotto, and Eastern Star.

Surviving are his wife, Patricia, whom he married Feb. 19, 1946; daughters, Ann Lawrence, Judy Zimmerman, and Cindy Snow; five grandchildren, and a great-grandson.

Funeral services will be held at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow in the Eggleston-Meinert-Pavley Mortuary, Coy Road Chapel, where the body will be after 4 p.m. tomorrow. Paragon Masonic Lodge services will be held at 7 p.m. tomorrow in the mortuary. Additional visitation will begin at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Pifer Mortuary, Punxsutawney, where funeral services will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday.

The family suggests tributes to the First Baptist Church of Oregon, of which he and his wife were charter members.



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