Wallace E. J. Collins II (1923-2016)

by Dick Karnes, with assistance from:
David S. Bulkin
Anne Marie Collins
William J. Fraley

Reproduced by permission of the NASG Inc.

Wallace E. J. Collins II was born in Huntington, Suffolk County, New York on May 16, 1923.  He graduated Fordham Prep (1940), Fordham College (1944), and Fordham Law School (1946).  Wally soon landed a position in a Manhattan law firm.  He married Aldona Barr on May 1, 1954, after which the couple moved into a Brooklyn NY apartment.  Aldona knew that Wally wanted a model railroad, so for their first Christmas together, Aldona bought him an American Flyer Atlantic freight set with a loop of track.  After their two sons Kevin and Wallace III came along, Wally and Aldona decided to move out of the city.  They found a development in Oradell NJ, bought a homesite, built a ranch house with a large basement, and moved into it in 1959.

I first met Wally in 1960 at a gathering of S gauge model railroaders in the basement of a Manhattan synagogue.  This first “North East S Gaugers Association” (NESGA) mini-convention was pulled together from the small list of subscribers to the brand new “S Gauge Herald” by editor/publisher David S. Bulkin.  It was the beginning of a gradual rebirth of S scale model railroading.  At the time, Wally seemed like just another model railroad enthusiast.

David, a college freshman, had been producing monthly issues of the Herald on the synagogue’s mimeograph machine.  When in 1961 his father, the synagogue’s custodian, discovered what David was doing with his employer’s property, he had a fit.  That’s when David appealed for help and Wally stepped in.  Wally invited David over to his Lower Manhattan law office to discuss the Herald situation.  Wally saw the S Gauge Herald as the glue that kept the S gauge community alive. The result of that meeting was that Wally would take over as Herald publisher, leaving the editing to David.  Wally volunteered his secretary Evelyn to do the typing, paste-up, printing, and mailing.

When David’s college studies made it impossible for him to keep going with the Herald, he and Wally leaned hard on an initially unwilling Frank Titman to become Herald editor.  Frank, Wally, and Evelyn kept up publication until the last Herald issue in 1978.

During this time, Frank designed Wally’s Midland Pacific layout.  But then along came daughter Anne Marie, so building the layout had to wait a while more.  In 1964 Wally left his law firm to become Vice President, Secretary, and Chief Counsel of North American Philips Corp., a subsidiary of Dutch Philips. In 1964, North American Philips’ annual sales were around $5 million; when Wally retired in 1988, sales had passed $5 billion!

Coincidentally, the National Association of S Gaugers was founded in Chicago in 1960; the Herald reserved a couple of pages in each issue for NASG news.  Meanwhile, the NESGA continued to hold yearly S conventions.  Wally appeared at every one of these along with Frank Titman and other S scale activists.  As time went on, the NASG took over the convention role on a national basis, and the NASG’s newsletter, the Dispatch, became robust enough for the Herald to cease independent publication.  As it turns out, the Herald never made a dime; it had been subsidized for 17 years by none other than Wally himself.

I visited Wally many times in Oradell NJ during holidays and vacations while I attended Cornell University.  I continued to touch base with him both by mail (yes, before the Internet) and at NASG conventions.  After Wally’s beloved Aldona died in May 1985, his life began to change.  Wally retired in 1988, he was elected to the Oradell Borough Council and was also named Police Commissioner, positions he held for the next nine years.  Wally said this explains why he made such slow progress on his model railroad.  He continued to come to several NASG conventions, including the one in Baltimore in 2007 – his last one.  Unfortunately, Wally’s eyesight began to fail.  He eventually dismantled his layout, sold the Oradell house, and moved in with his daughter Anne Marie in Deer Park IL.

Per Anne Marie:  “It was Thanksgiving of 2004 when he came to visit us and on the Sunday after, Pop was wanting to help my husband hang Christmas lights up on a ladder (which was freaking my husband out, since Pop was already 80 at the time) and then asked if he could go along on a trail ride with me and my oldest daughter Erin, who was 8 years old at the time. Unfortunately while out on the trail ride, his heart slowed and he passed out.  That was when they determined he needed a pacemaker. He later told me he had been feeling “fuzzy” that day and thought keeping active would help.

“Pop sold our Oradell home in 2009 and moved in with us in Deer Park, IL. He lived with us about 18 months before deciding to move into assisted living, at the Garlands in Barrington, IL. His eyesight was failing badly, and our house had many levels of stairs, etc. One of the greatest joys for him in his new home was a really cool model railroad table that someone had made for him – he showed it off to everyone in the complex!

“Pop had a stroke on March 16, 2012.  He somewhat recovered from that in the first 6 to 12 months, but apparently had a series of additional, smaller strokes that gradually took the rest of his sight and most of his hearing. The past few years he still enjoyed listening to music, especially classical music, and his favorite foods were still mashed potatoes and ice cream – truly comfort foods!

Wallace E. J. Collins II died peacefully on Wednesday March 23, 2016 at the age of 92.

“In my mind, I imagine Pop’s version of heaven: When that last train pulled out of its earthly station with my dad on board (and knowing my dad, he asked the conductor to let him blow the horn and he had a big grin on his face as he did it…), as that train disappeared over the horizon, we, his family and friends, here, still on earth, thought, “there he goes,” but on the other side, as that train comes over the horizon to that big terminal in the sky, there are crowds of many dear and wonderful friends and family waiting there, saying “here he comes.” He is at peace, now, and in great company!”
– Anne Marie Collins

Photo Credit: William J. Fraley