Eckel’s railroad paintings have great track record
Editor’s note: This story is reprinted from the December issue of GCU Magazine. To view the digital version of the magazine, click here.
By Mark Heller
GCU News Bureau
Bob Eckel’s life is a work of art.
His retirement after more than 30 years in engineering was a nod to his lifelong love of trains and railroads. At age 82, he’s still oil painting railroad scenes from coast to coast, including ones presented to United States presidents and country music legends.
And, judging by his dozens of stories, each of those scenes is worth a thousand words.
“It takes a lot of work,” he said. “Painting railroad tracks alone is a full-time job.”
Born in Connecticut in 1934, Eckel moved to Pennsylvania with his family after his father “lost our house on a poker bet.” It was there that the famous Reading Railroad became part of his future passion.
More than 20 years into his engineering career, he earned his bachelor’s degree in art from what was then Grand Canyon College in 1977.
By that point, he already had been commissioned to do an oil painting for former president Richard Nixon that hung in the White House (Nixon’s father was in the railroad business), one for Arizona governor and presidential hopeful Barry Goldwater, and another for Johnny Cash when “The Man in Black” rode West to Arizona by train during a 1976 tour.
“Two days before Watergate I get a letter of thanks,” he said of Nixon. “You’d have never known there was a problem.”
After 34 years in the steel and aircraft industries, he retired in 1989 to pursue painting (and reading). These days he paints out of his Peoria, Ariz., home for a couple of hours each morning and has artworks that hang in six continents.
Since becoming one of the first GCU graduates of an evening degree program, he’s been a survivor — his doctor gave him 90 seconds to live seven years ago when Eckel had a stroke, and he was struck by lightning five years ago.
“I let go of the metal door handle (on his car), and lightning hit the neighbor’s house and traveled into me,” he said. “Sparks flying out of my hand. I was numb, didn’t feel a thing.”
Perhaps lightning can strike twice. It already has in his career.
“Guys (on the railroad) taught me right and wrong and about life,” he said. “They were very good. I love railroad people.”
Contact Mark Heller at (602) 639-7516 or firstname.lastname@example.org