Eckel’s railroad paintings have great track record

January 10, 2017 / by / 3 Comments

Bob Eckel shows off one of his many paintings, which are on display all over the world. (Photo by Darryl Webb)

Bob Eckel shows off one of his many paintings, which are on display all over the world. (Photo by Darryl Webb)

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

About the Author
3 Responses
  1. Ada German

    So nice to have read this article about you, Bob. You and Noreda were such an encouragement when I lived in Arizona and was endeavoring to start a Christian Artist Fellowship.
    Your work is so excellent and beautiful.
    I still paint. I, too, am 82 (June 23, 1934), pushing 83. I live in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho, near my two daughters. Clyde passed away from Alzheimer’s in 2014. He was one of your fans and admired your trains — always asking if you painted the Rock Island that came thru his hometown i Iowa. As I remember, you did.
    God bless you and Noreda.

    Apr.27.2017 at 6:37 pm
  2. Ron Erickson

    I have several metal etchings with the name Eckel inscribed.are they yours ?

    Sep.11.2017 at 10:20 am
  3. Lynn Turner

    Hello Bob. Just sitting here looking at our beautiful painting of the (Blue Comet)! It’s been a very long time. Would love to hear from you. I can still be reached at Turner Machine.
    A friend
    Lynn Turner

    Feb.22.2018 at 7:41 pm
Leave a Comment