Craig Wander works on the electric railway at his Marion home in 1997. Wander, whose train layout encompassed his entire yard, died Aug. 17 at age 59. (The Gazette)
MARION — The designer, builder and conductor of a model railway in Marion may have died Aug. 17, but the trains still run on schedule. And his wife, Lauralea Wander, plans to keep that tradition moving full steam ahead.
“We ran the Halloween Train in tribute to Craig,” she says. “We’re going to try to do that every year.”
Craig “Motorcat” Wander was 59 when renal cancer took him away from the G-gauge garden train layout that winds past a waterfall and rivers in his Marion yard, beneath his front porch and over a symbolic trestle.
Trains fascinated Wander as he grew up near Castalia where a Milwaukee line trestle crossed Highway 52. His family slept with flashlights to signal engineers with a friendly “hello” from a bedroom window. One Christmas, while the rest of his family was concerned about helping at an actual train wreck, he opened his brother’s present and began playing with the model train.
As an adult he became a manager at Radio Shack in Cedar Rapids, where he worked 35 years and pursued his two passions — snowmobiles and model railroads.
“When he was younger and through college, he was an avid snowmobiler,” says Lauralea Wander, a middle school and high school math teacher at Alburnett who married Craig in 1978 after they’d met while students at Upper Iowa University in Fayette. “Arctic Cat was his favorite brand.”
Wander wore hats and coats with the Artic Cat logo, acquiring Motorcat as a nickname that fit equally well with his model trains.
He began with HO-gauge trains, switched to smaller N-gauge for a while and then to the larger garden size with 18-inch long locomotives.
For Christmas, he’d set up an N-gauge to run around the top of the tree and a G-gauge to circle its base. But his claim to fame became the layout that encompassed his entire yard, front and back.
“He could build that sort of thing in no time at all,” says Joe Hall, a fellow garden model railroad aficionado when they became acquainted a couple of decades ago.
“I decided to make the power supply from scratch,” Hall recalls. “They were expensive. I started talking to the manager at Radio Shack …”
That manager was Wander, who helped Hall out. And he became the first official member of the Cedar Valley Garden Railroad Train Club when Hall formed it soon thereafter.
“He had a very, very friendly manner,” Hall says. “He never had a harsh word to say about anyone. Whenever there was anything that needed to be done in the club, he pitched right in.”
Wander’s own layout constantly garnered attention from the neighborhood as well as the model train community. People loved to watch the trains run, sometimes three at once, and especially as Wander changed their appearance and landscape for the seasons.
“He was really looking forward to retiring so he could work with his trains,” Hall says. “It was really heartbreaking when he got the diagnosis of cancer.”
That came in February, says Lauralea Wander. By then, he had semiretired, trading in his 60-hour per week job at Radio Shack for a 40-hour per week job as a Sprint technician at Lindale Mall. He had surgery in March.
“We thought we had it,” she says. “Up until three weeks before he died, we thought he was going to be one of those people who’d beat it.”
Just before he died in August, a new mural had been painted on a wall of his basement workshop. The mural, and the trains, constantly remind Lauralea Wander of her husband’s love for model trains that soon became her passion, too.
“We tend to have a lot of fun,” she says. “We hope to get the winter train out. We’ll probably be thinking about that in January.”
NOTABLE IOWA DEATHS IN 2012
- Lumir Dostal, 76, of Marion, died Dec. 26. He was a Linn County supervisor from 1995 through 2002, and was the first Republican voted to the county board in 22 years when he won election in November 1994.
- Larry Lawrence, 63, of Galveston, Texas, died Dec. 4, of swelling of the brain. Lawrence, one of the greatest athletes in Cedar Rapids Jefferson High School history, was the starting quarterback for Iowa in 1968 and 1969 before transferring to Miami. He played with the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League as well as the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers before ending his professional career with Montreal of the CFL in 1978.
- Robert “Bob” Carpenter, 70, of Coralville, died Dec. 2. He amassed nearly 40 years of service to Johnson County through the Sheriff’s Office, including 15 years at the helm.
- Andrew Douglas Wall, 16, of Cedar Rapids, died Nov. 26, of cancer. After being diagnosed at age 11, he had his leg amputated. He was a member of the Cedar Rapids Kennedy Golf team.
- Allie Dane, 85, of Iowa City, died Nov. 19. She was known as “Mrs. Dairy,” because for 56 years she led children on tours of Haldane Farm, and gave them ice cream cones from Dane’s Dairy.
- Sgt. Joseph Richardson, 23, formerly of Algona, died Nov. 16, during a patrol in the Paktika province of Afghanistan. The Iowa National Guard said enemy insurgents attacked his unit with small-arms fire and an roadside bomb.
- Louis Blair, 103, of Iowa City, died Nov. 15. He became CEO at St. Luke’s Hospital in 1948, and worked there until 1975.
- Pfc. Brandon Buttry, 19, of Shenandoah died Nov. 5 while serving in Kandahar province, Afghanistan. He was the nephew of Steve Buttry, former editor of The Gazette.
- Samuel Becker, 89, of Iowa City, died Nov. 8. Becker, a longtime University of Iowa faculty member, earned three UI degrees and the Communications Studies Building is named for him.
- Ted Rogers, 65, of Center Point, died Nov. 4, of cancer. Rogers coached 31 seasons on the Center Point-Urbana football field that now bears his name.
- James Douglas Gibbs, 64, of Cedar Rapids, died Oct. 27, at Mercy Medical Center. He taught physics at Cedar Rapids Jefferson High School from 1972 to 2006, when he retired.
- Msgr. Alexander Nicholas George, 75, of Cedar Rapids, died Oct. 23. He served St. John’s Eastern Orthodox Church in Cedar Rapids for more than 25 years.
- Ron Farber, 76, of Iowa City, died Sept. 27. He served as president and board member of both the Iowa City/Coralville Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Iowa City Public Library Board of Directors.
- Perry Walton, 69, of Marion, died Sept. 29. After purchasing the Marion Airport, he and his wife developed it to the only full service, privately owned, public use airport with asphalt runways in the state.
- Allen Koepke, 73, of Cedar Rapids, died Sept. 23. More than 70 of Koepke’s musical compositions have been published, and his music is consistently chosen for high school All-State music contests and performed in colleges across the nation.
- Joshua Casteel, 23, of New York, died Aug. 25 of lung cancer his family believes was caused by toxins from the burn pit at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, where Casteel served as an interrogator in 2004. Casteel later enrolled in the Iowa Playwrights Workshop, where he wrote an award-winning play about his experience as an interrogator. He also was part of the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program.
- John Robertson, 86, of Cedar Rapids died Aug. 18. He retired as executive editor of The Gazette in 1991 after 41 years at the newspaper.
- Clarence “Buzz” D. Zieser, 82, of Cedar Rapids, died July 28. He was a major league baseball player from 1947 until 1956 and pitched for the Cincinnati Reds in 1952 and 1953.
- Army Sgt. Michael Ristau, 25, of Cascade, died July 13 in Afghanistan’s Qalat Zabul province when a roadside bomb blasted the vehicle in which he was riding.
- Alfred “Al” Smith, 80, of Cedar Rapids, died July 5. He signed a contract with the Cleveland Indians out of high school, and after he retired from professional baseball in 1957, he moved to Cedar Rapids and took a job as sports director with the Cedar Rapids Recreation Commission.
- George Wine, 81, of Iowa City, died July 5. He was the University of Iowa’s sports information director from 1968 to 1993.
- Doris Peick, 78, of Cedar Rapids, died July 4. “Mother” Peick, as she commonly referred to herself, managed numerous campaigns, served in the Iowa House and was active in the Democratic Party.
- Tom Wegman, 81, of Iowa City, died June 8. He owned Things & Things & Things, and was known for his beaded masterpieces.
- Katie Beckett, 34, of Cedar Rapids, died May 18. Her case inspired then-Rep. Tom Tauke to sponsor legislation creating what became known as the “Katie Beckett waiver.” The law made it possible for people to live at home while receiving treatment under Medicaid.
- Dr. Earl Rose, 85, of Iowa City, died May 1. He was the county medical examiner in Dallas when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. Rose conducted the autopsies of Lee Harvey Oswald, the man accused of killing Kennedy, and Jack Ruby, the man who shot Oswald. He later became a respected professor at the University of Iowa.
- Robert Worley, 78, of Cedar Rapids died April 22. He and his wife founded Worley Warehousing Inc. in 1977.
- Dr. Alfred Healy, 77, of Grand Marais, Minn., died April 19. He was the director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and a clinic there was named after him.
- Bob Aldridge, 71, of Cedar Rapids, died Jan. 27. He was on the Arts and Humanities faculty at Kirkwood Community College from 1973 to 2001 and is remembered by many as the driving force behind Ballantyne Auditorium.
- Frank Bosh, 88, of Prescott, Ariz., died Jan. 22. He served as Cedar Rapids mayor in 1968 and part of 1969.
- Sgt. John F. Baker Jr., 66, of Columbia, S.C., died Jan. 20 from a heart attack. A native Iowan, he received the Medal of Honor in 1968, for saving several soldiers while taking enemy fire on Nov. 5, 1966.
- Al Streb, 79, of Iowa City, died Jan. 13. He developed numerous commercial properties and residential subdivisions including Scott Six Industrial Park and Coral Industrial Park. With his brother, Thomas, he developed Golfview Mobile Home Park.
- Kevin Olish, 53, of Iowa City, died Jan. 8. He spent 16 years behind register No. 1 in the New Pioneer Food Co-op’s downtown Iowa City store, making local shoppers feel special by memorizing their member numbers, names and preferences for paper or plastic.
- Richard “Dick” Hoppin, 90, of Iowa City, died Jan. 6. students. He served as chairman of the University of Iowa Geology Department from 1974-1983 and taught in the department from 1952 until his retirement in 1991.