Michael A. Flaharty, Railroad Enthusiast.
By GLEN ICANBERRY.
August 22, 2006.
Michael A. Flaharty, "Oatmeal Flaharty," life member of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, died of cancer July 14, 2006, Oxnard, CA, at age 67. Mike was born October 20, 1938, in Chicago, IL. He referred to Chicago and its railroads as "Mecca," and claimed that many interurban and Chicago EL cars carried etched glass front windows, at "nose height," left by him as a small boy. Mike was fascinated with Chicago's electric railroads, and the EL in particular.
In the late 1940's Mike and his Mother, Virginia Flaharty, moved to Oxnard, CA, where Virginia Flaharty pursued a civil service career with the U.S. Navy. In the early 1960's, Virginia purchased a home in what Mike called "Elegant El Rio," a suburb of Oxnard. Mike inherited that house shortly before he retired, and lived there until July. While around high school age, Mike peddled his bike alongside slow moving SP cab forwards, pacing them along parallel Oxnard Blvd and Fifth Street. He said that about all the other SP trains quickly outdistanced him.
Mike Flaharty was a talented musician, and when drafted into the U.S. Army, he was immediately assigned to the U.S. Army Band, where he served his tour of duty, based primarily at Fort McArthur. The Army also sent him to the Naval School of Music, thereafter Mike performed and marched with the Army Band in the Rose Parade and other events.
Mike's musical career, extended to playing in various bands, teaching music, and he was heavily involved in drum and bugle corps with the American Legion. Once when Mike was spending a few weeks at Orange Empire Railway Museum, (OERM), in Perris, he learned that the local American Legion, or VFW, did not have a bugler, but was instead playing a record for veterans funerals etc. Mike immediately volunteered his services, and played the bugle for them.
Mike joined the Santa Clarita River Valley Railroad Historical Society, as a life member, shortly after it was formed in 1993. He worked as a SCRVRHS car host on several of the Ventura County Fair/Metrolink Specials, and served briefly as a car host with SCRVRHS on the Fillmore & Western. On occasion he played the piano on the Fillmore & Western dinner trains and other excursions.
In 1958, Mike became a psychiatric technician at Camarillo State Hospital, retiring in the late 1980's. He was remembered for his working with autistic and retarded children, whom he was particularly good with. While Camarillo State Hospital was his regular employment, Mike's continued his musical career, and later went into the Navy Reserves to learn surveying and machine shop. Mike later taught math and machine shop at high school and junior college level. It was through his pursuit of surveying that Mike and the Navy became involved with the Museum at Campo, which led to his joining OERM. Although a few of OERM's stuffed shirts chose to ignore, or belittle his knowledge and talents. So instead Mike pursued an interest in becoming a brakeman, then motorman at OERM, along with serving as a volunteer guide of the property primarily on weekdays, when few knowledgeable members were not around to do it. OERM received many complementary letters from groups, who Mike had patiently led around the Museum's property on impromptu tours. At least once Mike Flaharty brought our mutual friend, retired Ventura County Ry Locomotive Engineer Ted Valentine, to OERM, in order to witness Ventura County Ry 2-6-2 No. 2, under steam.
Mike had life memberships with the Orange Empire Railway Museum at Perris, Pacific Southwest Railroad Museum at Campo, the San Diego Model Railroad Museum, the Southern California Scenic Railway Association, formerly at Travel Town, and the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society at Saugus. When he retired he enjoyed circulating between the various organizations, volunteering as his musical obligations and health allowed. For several years he spent alternate Sundays helping with restoration of SP 2-6-0 No. 1629, until group politics forced an end to active restoration of the locomotive to steam operation.
While still a high school student, I met Mike Flaharty, at the Ventura County Model Railroad Club, about 1972. Mike drove myself, and other young fans, around in his beat up, black Volkswagen "Sludge Bug," to explore various railroad facilities in Los Angeles, and along the SP Coast Line. This was before some of us were old enough to drive. Over the next thirty plus years we made many extended and short trips together. Mike's somewhat erratic schedule with Camarillo State Hospital, and my odd hours at Santa Fe Ry, sometimes coincided to where we could travel together. Although Mike was not a photographer, he was extremely patient in waiting around for the right shots, which I was pursuing. Mike just enjoyed being out and just watching the world of railroading. In 1984, when the "World's Fair Daylight" ran through California, behind SP 4449, Mike rode several segments. One of his more memorable stunts was whenever a truly weird, obnoxious railfan would approach him, Mike would jingle his large State Hospital keys and slur, "I liiive at Camarillo State Hoshhhpital!"
Some of Mike's O gauge tinplate, and HO model railroad items are on display in the Middleton Museum at Orange Empire Railway Museum. OERM's Richard Radford will be working in some of Mike's HO Southwest Transfer equipment, which represents a heavyweight, steam powered passenger train, to the Middleton Museum displays. This crack name train often ran behind double and triple headed, articulated, steam locomotives and was referred to as "The Procrastinator," by Mike Flaharty and his friends.