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Marty Fitzhenry - A Life Well Lived

Barry Lewis
Mon, 01/06/2020 - 10:19

When I first met Marty, more than a quarter-century ago, I had recently written Myron Biggar about possibly writing product reviews for O Gauge Railroading magazine — and was surprised to find my name on the masthead in the next issue as Product Review Editor. Things were pretty loose back then, and that was how Myron did things.

Problem was, I had no layout on which to test things. But I had heard about this guy who lived a couple towns over and had a layout that folks referred to as Passenger Train Heaven. So I showed up at Marty Fitzhenry’s door and for almost a decade, his was the unofficial test layout for OGR product reviews. We had our high points – helping discover the “light bulb trick” in the initial review of the DCS command control system – and our LOL moments – like the time I ran Lionel’s Commodore Vanderbilt through an open bridge into a nose-dive to the floor. To our surprise, there wasn’t a scratch on it. (Whew!) Through it all, I was one of the hundreds of folks who benefited from Marty’s open-door policy: If you loved trains, you were always welcome in his house.

Marty was typical of most boys who grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s: he loved planes, trains and automobiles. In his military years, he’d served as a helicopter, prop plane and jet engine mechanic on the aircraft carriers Intrepid and Randolph, and he had more than a passing familiarity with the WWII aircraft that many of us loved. At one point, he carried on an email correspondence with Paul Tibbets, pilot of the Enola Gay, which dropped the first atomic bomb. It seemed like Marty knew everybody – and could talk shop with anybody. Doyle McCormick, engineer of Daylight 4449, was in his cell phone contacts, along with almost everybody in the O Gauge modeling community.

He was a talented gearhead – as were several of his friends in the train community, including the late Lou Caponi, who was an enthusiastic hot rodder. While he drove modest cars for everyday use, Marty always had a vintage Corvette in his garage — usually accompanied by another car he was working on, for the used-car business he used to support his train hobby.

He could fix anything, from cars to virtually any Lionel or M.T.H. train — or practically anything else. When I needed help installing a storm door, Marty showed up with his toolbox, for both advice and moral support. He was the most talented train technician I ever met. It always amazed me how those big hands of his could handle the most impossibly delicate repairs on a circuit board or other components.

His friendship with Mike Wolf began in the earliest days of Mike’s career, when Marty approached Mike’s table at York and, noticing Mike’s youth, asked to speak to his father. Mike quickly corrected Marty that he was the proprietor of the business, and thus began a four-decade friendship — highlighted by an ongoing rivalry between Mike’s beloved Miami Dolphins and Marty’s equally beloved New England Patriots. Each of them lost many a game-day bet to the other.

In his day job, Marty was a policeman and a detective his entire career. More than anyone else I know, Marty embodied the perennial police motto “To Protect and Serve.” In the O Gauge community, of course, he was known as the guy you could contact anytime with a question or problem. But in his home town, he was also the “go to” guy for myriad friends and children of friends when they found themselves in a jam, or their car broke down, or they needed help in some other way. Marty had an uncanny talent for making friends in all walks of life and putting those people together when they could help each other out.

He loved new technology. When Lionel and M.T.H. introduced command control, Marty was at the forefront of exploring its possibilities, solving problems, acting as a DCS Beta tester, and sharing solutions with others. He was an early adopter of internet communication. In a world where online communication often became a way for folks to avoid personal contact, Marty went the other way. Along with other members of the OGR Forum, he built a huge community of personal support, group problem solving, and genuine empathy. What the internet was supposed to be, became a reality in the Forum community.

Finally, no appreciation of Marty’s life would be complete without Dotty Perry. Those of us who knew Marty for a long time, knew him through a succession of girlfriends, all of them nice, but none of whom really understood his love of trains and the friendships they brought him — until he met Dotty. For the past 14 years, she became one of the gang and deepened his friendships with everyone around him. If you loved Marty, you loved him even more when Dotty was around. It came to him late, but Marty found the love of his life.

Moreover, Dotty became the most selfless caregiver for Marty one could ever imagine. This was particularly so during the last few years that Marty was with us. She quietly tended to all Marty's trials and tribulations without any expectation of rewards or praise. She made it possible for his enjoyment of life to be both sustained and extended.

They say you’re not really gone until people stop talking about you. If that’s the case, Marty will be with us for a long time yet, as his friends retell stories of his kindness, generosity, talent, and sense of fun.

Last edited by Rich Melvin
Original Post

A very accurate and appropriate tribute to Marty. Thanks Barry for writing it and thanks Alan for putting it here. I continue to miss my very good friend and expect that I will do so for a very long time, to the point of having problems concentrating on the things I am doing. 

What is amusing is that Marty's photo on the MTH Web site has him wearing a Patriots shirt. MTH's Mike Wolf is a big Dolphins fan. Then again, I think 80% of the shirts Marty owned were Patriots related.

Erol Gurcan   

Barry, what a wonderful tribute to a man we all loved and respected.  Also, a great tribute to Dotty, who is equally loved.  Alan, thank you so much for posting for us.  I learned a lot more about Marty since I only came on the OGR scene 8 years ago.  Marty invited me to sit at his table at the OGR breakfast my first trip to York.  He gave me pointers, and checked up on how I was doing as we ran into each other several times during the meet!  

 I always saw him with his beloved Patriots shirt or jacket.  He had great reason to be proud. That is coming from someone in Steelers Country. 

We will all miss Marty, but savor our memories of him.

I just saw this post about Marty passing away. I had some wonderful conversations with him at trainstock. He invited my kids and I to come see his layout and sign the wall, but we never had the chance to get up to Boston. He helped me a few times with DCS problems, we made a few wagers on his Patriots vs my Cowboys and we broke even. Rest in peace Marty, you and Owen are probably together by now building something. 

Dotty, may you find the strength to carry on.  


Well done Barry and thank you Alan for sharing with all of us on the forum. A class act MTH posting it on their web site. I never met Marty but had several emails back and forth over issues I have with several MTH GGI's. Never did get to send them to him for repair but just the way he greeted me and commutated with me showed his love for the hobby and his desire to help others in the hobby. Funny the piece about Marty meeting Mike Wolf as i have also met him and I am 6'2" and 300 Pds so yes Mike is vertically challanged but a very nice guy. May you Rest in Peace Marty.

I'm very saddened to hear of Marty's passing, may he rest in peace and I wish Dotty all the best and hope that she will always know that he is in a much better place now.  Barry thank you so much for your terrific post about Marty and Alan thank you also for posting it here on the OGR Forum.  Marty was a terrific guy and I enjoyed his posts and he answered a few questions I had about some locomotives and the DCS system on which he gave me some pointers on it also.  He was just a terrific person, I wish I would have been able to meet him in person and it would have been great to have been able to visit his layout and meet his better half.  May he always live on here on the forum.  Take care Marty and know that we all will always miss you.

Last edited by J. Motts

A very nice write-up on Marty. It was refreshing and touching to read that Marty found his true love, Dotty, later in life, and how she cared for him during his illness.

I think its accurate to say that without Marty and a few others as dedicated, some of us would've given up on some of these high-tech trains and command systems a long-time ago. I remember those early days of DCS well - that period happened to correspond with the OGR forum community coming of age, so to speak. Most of those early pioneers have left the forum, for one reason or another, but Marty stayed around and took the time to diagnose problems and offer specific solutions for many years on the forum, both for MTH and Lionel items. That level of enthusiasm and dedication kind of enabled the age of electronically-enhanced electric toy trains to grow, and I don't think that's an overstatement. These guys knew the products as good, if not better, in some cases, than the companies selling them, and shared their wisdom with others, not for profit, but for the simple reason because they loved the hobby.

I often wondered what happened to Barry Lewis, and it's nice to see he's still around. His product reviews were the best: strait-forward and to the point without the superfluous fluff, and were actually enjoyable to read.

Last edited by Paul Kallus

If OGR and the people spending money on this forum ever question why they do it, all they have to do is read this. Marty is part of the legacy of the hobby now, no less than Linn Westcott and John Armstrong. How do we stay in touch with that legacy if not though the writings on this forum? Thank you Alan and thank you OGR for preserving that which MUST be preserved.

Don Merz

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