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Kenneth R. Olson, railroad switchman June 6, 1921 -- Feb. 17, 2006

Kenneth R. "Bobo" Olson, a retired railroad switchman, died Friday in his Buffalo home after a brief illness. He was 84.

Born in Minneapolis, he moved to Buffalo as a young boy and attended Boys Vocational High School.

Mr. Olson served as a seaman second class in the Coast Guard during World War II, from August 1941 until being discharged in September 1946.

He worked 30 years for the Erie Lackawanna Railroad, which later became part of Conrail, mostly as a switchman, retiring in the early 1980s. After retirement, he enjoyed watching the trains as they passed behind his house. He would shine a light out his bedroom window as a greeting to the passing trains, and the engineers would blow the whistle in return, said his son Richard.

A long train passed down the track last week as Mr. Olson lay in bed. "They blew the whistle for him. It was a real moment there, that it should happen at that moment," Richard Olson said. "I think his spirit kind of hopped on that train."

Mr. Olson shared his interest in ceramics as a volunteer at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center's ceramics department in the 1980s. He was also a talented woodworker, building lighthouses with moving lights, windmills, wishing wells and yard figures in his garage workshop.

Friends and family knew him for his creative and humorous answering machine messages.

"He had great ones," said Richard. "One of them used to be: 'I can't answer the phone now. I'm considering making a few changes in my life. If you don't hear from me, you're one of the changes.' Just little funny things. Sometimes he'd put the whistles from the trains on there."

His wife, Dorothy M. Kenefick Olson, died in September 2001.

Survivors include a daughter, Christine M. of Buffalo; five sons, Richard K., Ronald F., Kevin W. and Randy J., all of Buffalo, and Lawrence L., of Riverside, Calif.; 10 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

Services will be at 10 a.m. Saturday in St. Matthew's Cemetery Chapel, 180 Old French Road, West Seneca. Burial will be in St. Matthew's Cemetery.


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