The following article appeared in The Patriot Ledger on August 5, 1996

For Herbie Clark, the last whistle

Herbie Clark, 74, of Braintree hops aboard a train at the Hyannis Depot for his last ride as an [Amtrak] engineer.

By Lyndsey Layton
The Patriot Ledger

   Herbie Clark hoisted himself up the steel steps of Locomotive 206 with the same vigor as when he started driving trains 55 years ago. He settled into the worn engineer's seat, released the brake, tooted the whistle and steered down the tracks.
    At 74, the Braintree man is Amtrak's oldest engineer and a rail legend from Boston to New York. At the Hyannis depot yesterday, he took his last ride.
    "He's the last of the old guard," said Richard Prone, an Amtrak engineer from Duxbury. "The railroad is in his blood."
    Clark, the son of a railroad engineer, began his career when steam engines chugged and railroads were America's lifeblood. He drove the summer trains that carried the Kennedys and movie actor James Cagney to Hyannis and working men and women to beach shacks.
   He logged thousands and thousands of trips but says each ride is unique.
   And along the way, he inspired a following of men, women and children who come to train platforms just to greet him, who showed up at rail crossings with signs that said "Go, Herbie, Go" and lifted bags of cookies and cinnamon rolls to him through train windows.
   Clark stopped working for Amtrak in April. But since the Cape Codder is a summer-only train, he came back yesterday for one final ride on his favorite route.
   And they all showed up at the Hyannis Depot for Herb's Last Ride on the 4:15 from Hyannis to Providence: young engineers who learned much of the job from Clark, children who sneaked rides in the cab with him, rail buffs who give him the kind of adoration usually reserved for a rock star.
   As with Madonna or Cher, no surname is necessary. To his fans, he's simply Herbie.
   "He's known from New York to Boston," said son Gary, 27, a Weymouth resident who is an assistant , conductor on Amtrak's commuter line from Boston to Rockport.
   "Herbie taught me how to be an engineer," said Bradford Howard, a Quincy resident who works for Amtrak. "He's very specific, smooth; he's fast. He's
    Buddy Clark, another son, said his father genuinely enjoyed his job. "He's always been excited about going to work. After 55 years, that's something."
   About 50 admirers presented a clock, a baseball cap and a plaque to Clark. There were flowers for his wife, Alice, banners for the train and cake and soda for all.
   Polaroids popped and video cameras hummed, and everyone wanted to pose with Herbie.
   The fan club developed in the mid-1980s, when Amtrak decided to restore the Cape Codder line after more than a decade-long absence.
   "Everyone liked the idea of this train coming back, and people came to see it," Clark said. "They gradually came every week."
   The Cape Codder is a summer-only service from Hyannis to Providence and Boston. In Providence, it connects with a line that runs to New Haven, New York and Washington. The train arrives in Hyannis on Friday nights and departs on Sunday afternoon.
   One of Clark's biggest fans is Andrew Eldredge, a 13 year-old Barnstable resident devoted to trains.   Last summer, Andrew learned that Clark would be late arriving at Hyannis Depot one Friday night. He set his alarm for 1:30 a.m. and persuaded his mother to drive him to the station so he could meet Clark when he pulled in. The waving teenager was the only person on the platform when Clark's train glided in at 2 a.m.
   "We're great friends," said Andrew, who said he could always tell Clark was driving the train from the way he blew the whistle. "He's the best."
   Clark grew up in East Braintree, a five-minute walk from the railroad station. "We never had an automobile because there were so many trains," he said.
   He would take the local train to South Station to meet his father, an engineer for the New Haven Railroad. Father and son would ride around South Station together in the engineer's cab.
   Clark's sister got a job as a hostess in the dining car on the train between Boston and Portland, Maine. When Clark turned 18, he claimed his own place on the railroad, working first as a laborer and then as an engineer.
"I didn't really plan on it" Herbie Clark says of his lifelong dedication to railroading.
   "I didn't really plan on it," he said about his lifelong dedication to railroading. "I never really gave it any thought, I'd been around it all the time. I just went along with it, more or less."
   His job path followed the fortunes of the major Eastern railroads: first the New Haven Railroad, then the Penn Central, then Conrail and finally Amtrak. He drove both freight and passenger trains.
   "Freight was OK but always away from home and always at night," said Clark, who preferred passenger trains.
   For most of the 1950s, Clark drove commuter trains on the Old Colony railroad connecting Boston to the South Shore. The railroad was abandoned in 1959 but is being restored for service next year.
   "It never should have been allowed to go down as it did," Clark said about the Old Colony trains to Plymouth, Middleboro and Scituate.
   Every train trip is different from the last, no matter how many times it covers the same track, Clark said. And some stand out more than others.
   Like the heavy rainstorm on Sept. 27, 1985, that turned into Hurricane Gloria in the middle of Clark's run from New Haven to Boston.  The trip, which typically lasts about four hours, took 24 hours.
    "Trees were down everywhere on the tracks," Clark said. "We had to go from tree to tree, some we'd push away with the engine, other times the local fire department would be out cutting them down."
   He let his passengers out in New London and pushed on north with the train crew because he couldn't abandon his train on the tracks.
   "We couldn't back up, we had to keep going," said Clark, who lost radio communication in the middle of the hurricane and drove through the ordeal without food or sleep.
   Dave Mellen, a Cape Codder conductor who lives in Hyde Park, says Clark knows every twist and turn in the rails.
   "He could run these trains with his eyes closed," he said. "His station stops are just perfect. He can go through fog, especially on the Cape, and he knows exactly where he is."
   Another co-worker says Clark is a master at compensating for delays.
   "Herbie can make up time like no one else," he said, adding that he is always on schedule.
    Yesterday was an exception. The 4:15 was slightly delayed leaving the station, due to cake.

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