The March ElderScholars meeting will be held on Tuesday, March 11, but it will not be held in the Lookout Mountain Room. It will be held in the Tennessee Room. The Tennessee Room is across the hall from the Cafeteria, behind the table the ElderScholars reserve for lunch.
The speaker for March is Steve Freer, who was born June 1964 in Paterson, New Jersey. He relocated to Chattanooga (Signal Mountain) in June 1968, and joined the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum in 1971 (with family). His current position has been operations coordinator for TVRM since February, 1999.
Because of its strategic location near New York City and its use of water powered manufacturing plants, Paterson, N.J., was the most productive area for steam locomotive assembly factories in the United States during the mid- to late- eighteen hundreds. In an unusual twist of fate, this is where Mr. Freer was born in 1964. Steve’s family was centered in the area around New York City and his grandfather commuted to “the city” for over 40 years, by train. Besides riding commuter trains daily, “Grandpa” also had a love for toy trains, which he embraced by displaying various sized model locomotives throughout his house. After Thanksgiving each year, he would also set up Lionel trains around the Christmas tree for holiday enjoyment. In actuality, Mr. Freer’s railroad roots go a little deeper. His mother worked for the Erie Railroad in New York City for several years and, before that, his great-grandfather was a conductor on the regional railway New York, Susquehanna & Western Railway.
Upon moving to Chattanooga in 1968, the Freer family became familiar with the railroad scene and realized there was an organization actively working towards preservation by offering passenger rail trips to develop funding. Membership was secured and the family enjoyed its first TVRM excursion trip when riding a Rails To Rockets trip during the Spring of 1972. Mr. Freer and his younger brother Kenny spent many weekends thereafter at TVRM “helping” Dad with restoration projects and riding the annual Spring and Fall weekend rail outings to Huntsville and Crossville. It was many years before the boys could be full-fledged volunteers, but they served as gophers running errands or as butchers selling souvenirs on board the train as it rolled through Tennessee and Alabama countryside.
After graduating from high school and while attending college, Mr. Freer became more active as a volunteer at TVRM working on weekend Downtown Arrow trains as a commissary agent, or on bi-annual mainline excursion trips with his girlfriend along for the ride. Always carrying his camera, Mr. Freer constantly reverted to his love of steam trains and photography. The two aspects seemed to work together successfully as his photos have been published in top railroad magazines and in several books. The fact that he worked in the photofinishing industry for 17 years helped to ease some costs of photographic printing. In 1994, Mr. Freer became editor for the organization’s membership newsletter Smoke & Cinders and continues as such today.
Mr. Freer’s girlfriend, Cindy, became his wife in June 1992 during a traditional church wedding. However, the focus turned to a railroad-themed reception. The couple organized a chartered train at TVRM called The Freer Flyer, which featured a coach, dining car, and a business car with an observation porch, all pulled by a steam locomotive. Afterward the two traveled to a Rocky Mountain honeymoon, which included a ride aboard the world-famous Silverton Train running through breathtaking scenery along the Animas River between Durango and Silverton, Co.
Serving as a volunteer until early 1999 by assisting with public relations, press release writing, and providing photos, TVRM hired Mr. Freer as a full-time employee to devote more time to promote its cause and to help with day-to-day operations. Mr. and Mrs. Freer reside in the Falling Water area with their nine-year old son Matthew. By default, Matthew has become a train enthusiast like his Dad and enjoys playing with trains, either small-scale variety or the real thing. Mrs. Freer has remained active as a volunteer at TVRM through the years and many family vacations have been spent traveling across the country either riding or photographing steam trains.
The ElderScholars will meet at the University Center Cafeteria for lunch around noon. The official meeting starts at 1 p.m. Parking is free in any UTC lot with a letter on the dashboard indicating attending the ElderScholars meeting.