In memoriam: Larry Helscher

Larry Helscher, PMRRC Member #150, 1921-2016
Larry Helscher, PMRRC Member #150, 1921-2016

The members of the Pasadena Model Railroad Club are saddened to announce the passing of Larry Helscher, Member #150.

Larry was born in San Jose, California, on May 7th, 1921, the only child of Larry and Beatrice Helscher. He was raised in San Francisco, and remembers looking out the windows of his high school and seeing the Golden Gate Bridge being built.

Larry was drafted into the military in October, 1942, and served with the Army Air Forces in Hawaii, the Philippines, Okinawa, and Japan. Larry was a radio operator in a variety of airplanes during WWII. In January 1946 he reenlisted and was stationed near San Francisco flying in RB-29s that patrolled the Russian border, ostensibly performing “weather observation”. Larry described one mission as chasing a cloud clear across Canada and all the way to Great Britain. Whether or not that cloud strongly resembled a Russian aircraft is a matter on which he would not comment.

After being honorably discharged in 1952, Larry studied television technology at the RCA Institute in New York City. He worked briefly in the Midwest before moving to Hollywood to work for the CBS network.

A childhood summer spent in San Rafael led Larry to fall in love with the Sacramento Northern Railway. He also enjoyed watching the Southern Pacific and Western Pacific railroads, and as a young man he worked as a clerk at the SP’s Bay Shore Shops.

Larry joined the Pasadena Model Raiload Club in November 1984 and remained a member for over thirty years, primarily serving on the electrical crew. When the club first began experimenting with Digital Command Control for our McSweeny branch line, Larry eagerly dived in and took an active role.

“Even in his 80s, he embraced new technology,” remembers PMRRC member Don Phillpott. “He was like that guy in the commercials, the Most Interesting Man in the World. He was very enthusiastic about working with Digital Command Control. And he was always a gentleman.”

Don recalled a time when Larry was in a wheelchair after a fall in which he fractured his wrist and hip. The electrical crew was discussing an issue on our Port branch, and Larry insisted on being wheeled over to one of the openings, crawling under the layout, and having his wheelchair pushed in after him so he could take an active role in the discussion.

Along with his interest in railroading and model trains, Larry was an avid sailor. He owned his own sailboat and was a member of the Cabrillo Beach Yacht Club for 50 years.

Larry died of natural causes on October 2, 2016, at the age of 95. He was interred with full military honors at the Riverside National Cemetery, and we are privileged to have his flag of honor at the club.

Larry had no children, and regarded the Pasadena Model Railroad Club as his family. He provided generously for the club in his will, leaving a substantial endowment that will allow the club to perform much-needed repairs to the building, complete our DCC conversion, and make financial investments that will ensure the club’s future. For this, as well as his friendship and devoted service, we are exceptionally grateful. Highball, Larry!