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Dexter C. Wright - 1914-2001
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About a month ago I had the honor to acquire an amazing, well-filled binder containing the Austria section of the Railway Philately collection of Dexter C. Wright, a former member of the CJRRU. What impressed me about it was that Dexter had actually accomplished what I, and I think many other collectors have always intended, but never get around to doing - he had researched, mounted, and written up his collection with loving care, and transformed it from an accumulation of stamps and related ephemera into a fascinating and beautiful work of historical and philatelic significance.
As I told his son Burt when I asked him for more information about the man who created
this amazing artifact, "I feel privileged to own what your dad created - it is just the
sort of thing I have always wanted to do with my own collection, but never find time to
do, so I am really pleased to own part of his, and now feel inspired to continue and
expand it, as well as use it as a model for other parts of my own."
Here is what I have learned about Dexter C. Wright from his wife and sons and our CJRRU member records:
Dexter C. Wright was born in Nashua, New Hampshire in June of 1914. His father worked as a Conductor on the Boston/Maine RR and his maternal grandfather was an Engineer for the same RR. It is not surprising then, that trains were Dexter's first love. His wife Carolyn recalls that when they bought their first house, the main selling point to her husband was that it was close to the Grand Trunk railroad tracks into Detroit. It had to be within hearing distance. His son Burt has vivid recollections of the train whistles at night putting him to sleep.
The career Dexter chose was Mechanical Design Engineer. He worked at Chrysler Corp. for 15 years and for the Ford Motor Company for 27 years, living for over 50 years near Detroit, Michigan, where he and his wife raised their three sons.
Dexter's wife thinks he must have started collecting stamps around 1965, but his son Burt thinks it started well before that. He was an active stamp collector until he passed away in 2001. (His CJRRU member number was 107, which he acquired when he joined us in 1958.)
On his yearly CJRRU membership renewal form Dexter listed his collecting interests as Trains, Bridges, Engines, Post cards, Covers, and RPO postmarks. He had nearly 100 volumes of railroad related stamps, covers, and related material.
Dexter was a member of the Ferndale Stamp club for many years, and would occasionally take small portions of his collection to local (Ferndale, Michigan) stamp shows. He did receive awards from the local showings, but showing his collection was not his primary interest. He derived the most enjoyment from doing the research into each stamp he collected. He would painstakingly stencil letter the pages with history blurbs he would uncover doing the research.
Stamps were not Dexter's only rail interest - he was a member of the South Oakland County Model RR Club, a division of the NMRA, and was serving as president of the club when they approached the Grand Trunk Western RR about obtaining use of the attic of the GTRR Railroad Station in Birmingham, Michigan. The club was successful in that effort and they built a beautiful layout in that attic. Dexter's son Burt can remember going to the club with his father for work nights and operating nights:
"The most fun was walking out onto the platform of the station to watch the steam trains inbound and outbound. The noise, smell, and feeling still permeates my memory. My father built an HO layout in the basement from scratch - I mean from scratch. He hand cut and stained the individual ties. He hand laid the rail with tiny spikes individually set. He hand built the turnouts. He scratch built the rolling stock, several engines, buildings and scenery. He named his line the Alburchuck RR, after his three sons Allen, Burt, & Chuck. While he was working on his railroad, he found the time to get me started as well. Together, we built an American Flyer layout under the stairs. I would play endlessly with my trains while he worked endlessly on his. He never quite finished that railroad when he moved to Arizona. Railroads should never quite be finished anyway. The railroading went outdoors and it got bigger. We did a garden layout in the backyard. My father's new role became watching the grandkids playing with the trains in the backyard while he would take in the natural beauty of the desert and enjoy a cigar."
Dexter's wife had only this to add "I could compete with the blondes, but I had no chance with the trains."
Two of Dexter's three sons enjoy railroading now. Burt was serving the local division of the Toy Train Operating Society in Tucson in the rank of Superintendent when they negotiated a deal with a local shopping mall to open a 2,000 sq. ft. retail space for the purpose of building an operating "O" scale layout that could be open to the public. The layout had many remotely controlled operating features and multiple trains operating at the push of a button. The club stayed at the mall for over 5 years rent free before being asked to pull up stakes for a rent paying tenant. The club then bought their own 6,000 sq. ft. building and they now have it filled with N, HO, S, O, & G gauge operating layouts. It's open to the public on scheduled weekends, and is a dream come true for all that have been involved.
Burt observes "Oddly, no one in the family has taken up stamp collecting. My mother is extremely pleased to know that the collection will be enjoyed for years to come by people who will appreciate the hard work that went into it. I did some significant soul searching before making the decision to let the collection go, but you simply can't do it all."
In hopes that it will inspire other CJRRU members as it has me, I am providing images of all the pages of Dexter's Austria collection on our CJRRU web site. Click HERE to enter the exhibit.
Bill Senkus, editor, The Dispatcher
June 14, 2002
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Revised -- 6/15/2002