Kind Words for Zack and Jim

Carl Fowler wrote an eloquent comment on my recent post about the Amtrak Cascades 510 Derailment. These words he wrote about his great friends Jim Hamre & Zack Willhoite that lost their lives that day. I’ve reprinted them here in honor of those friends we lost.

Jim Hamre (age 61) and Zack Willhoite (age 35) were each others best friends and mine as well. I can’t begin to process the grief. I talked to both as recently as the Saturday before their ill-fated ride, as they were so happily driving from Tacoma to Leavenworth, WA to photograph the Amtrak Seattle–Leavenworth Christmas train. On Sunday they rode the last runs via the Point Defiance Line. Zack was thrilled to have bought the last ticket at the “old” 1984 Tacoma Amtrak station–a one way from Tacoma to Tukwilla that, of course, he never would have used–a true piece of history. And for rail advocacy their loss is incalculable.

Jim was a long-time member of the NARP/RPA Board. He was quiet, effective, wrote with such fluency and beyond all else was kind and deeply caring. Zack was beyond a computer whiz, a man who could plan bus schedules, fix computers, analyze complex problems and then have such fun driving his preserved historic Pierce Transit bus. And did Zack ever love pepperoni pizza, the Rocky Horror Picture Show and Star Wars!

Both were perfect symbols of what advocacy for balance in transportation should be. Jim was a highway engineer who deeply supported multi-modalism. Zack took the same perspective from his work in the bus side of public transport.

Through my career running tours by train all over the world I got to travel with them to places that really “got” public transport. Jim went with me all over Europe, joined by Zack in Switzerland. Together with their friend Malcolm Kenton they went last year to Inno-Trans, the great passenger rail industry biennial trade show in Berlin. Jim went with me to New Zealand, Australia, Canada and virtually everywhere in the United States.

Jim helped me as a co-tour manager on countless tours from the 1980s to my retirement in 2015, starting on BC Rail trips over the whole thousand mile line from Vancouver to Fort Nelson, B.C. He served meals, carried bags, helped set up photo lines, talked trains, history and culture with fellow riders and once assisted in finding two confused elderly passengers who got lost on a Skytrain in Vancouver. He spent hours searching station after station until they were finally located. Zack amazingly did the same thing once in Switzerland, finding a couple who had gone the wrong way on a Swiss trip, because the trains run on the left there and they got confused by boarding a train going for them the wrong way on the right-hand platform. Jim and Zack were the best in so many ways!

And that was barely the start. For NARP Jim went where-ever needed, criss-crossing the country to Board and Council meetings typically four timers or more each year. He gave over 35 years of similar effort to the Washington Association of Railroad Pasengers/All Aboard Washington For his family he could not do enough. He helped run a Thrift Store for the poor in Puyallup, WA through his church. He cared for his mother, his family and his friends. I never knew a finer person and could always count on him.

Zack had gotten married only a year ago, and like Jim helped care for his mom. His internet “handle” was Busdude1 He knew so much about not only busses, but also light rail, trams, streetcars and of course passenger trains. He had a rapier wit, but was never mean.

You could count on them both. Both men were funny, smart, effective and that they are gone as it was is not so much ironic as cruel. But they did so much and it was all good!

They had worked for over 20 years to improve rail passenger service in the Pacific Northwest–indeed Jim was already active when I met him in 1981 at a Washington Association of Railroad Passengers meeting. The vastly improved Cascades Corridor is their memorial and legacy. In 1981 there were only two daily round-trips and one tri-weekly train between Seattle and Portland. Because of advocacy, positive support from both the state and Federal governments and a truly responsive Amtrak and BNSF in the northwest, there are now 14 daily Amtrak trains (7 round-trips) between Seattle and Portland, 2 more round-trips to Vancouver, the Empire Builder to Chicago and over 20 commuter trains every day on the Seattle-Tacoma-Lakewood part of the line–the greatest volume of passenger service in history to Seattle, and Tacoma.

May I also re share my Facebook tribute to them:

As we all knew they would be, Jim Hamre (of All Aboard Washington/WASHARP and a Board member of NARP) and his great friend Zack Willhoite (also an AAW/NARP activist) were on Amtrak Train 501 on the first run over the new route yesterday and they were, unbelievably, two of the three killed in the horrible derailment of that train.

I can’t even begin to express my grief! Zack was the kindest, smartest, most decent guy, and even more an extraordinarily insightful friend. Jim Hamre was quite simply the brother I never had, my best friend and a far better person than me.

I met Jim in 1981. Even then he was working on citizen advocacy for public transport. We leafleted, went to public meetings, mutually joined the NARP Board, but mostly had fun together. I met Zack through Jim. They were soul-mates. They went with me on tours I led to Europe and the world. We ate pizza together, laughed together, saw glorious scenery and wonderful places. The last time we were all three together was with Taylor (Zack’s wife) and Jim’s so beautiful mom Carolyn at his house for a steak barbecue last July.

I spent a week then with Jim to visit Hells Canyon, the Columbia Gorge, the Sumpter Valley RR, ride rental bikes over the Bitteroots on the Hiawatha Trail (ex-Milewaukee Road mainline grade) and to talk trains, politics, history, friends and simply to share with someone who could finish my thoughts and keep me sane. And I saw Jim again (thank God) for five days in Chicago last month at the NARP 50th Birthday Conference, but sadly not Zack. Our mutual friend Warren Yee was there, and that is a comfort.

I’m going to have to be unusually quiet for me to take this in, but oh God what a bloody waste. Three fatalities too many and so many of us knew two of them and they were so fine.

Carl Fowler
President (Retired)
Rail Travel Center/Rail Travel Adventures

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