Warren Russell McGeeSeptember 7, 1914 ~ June 7, 2017 (age 102)
Warren Russell McGee, 102, of Livingston, Montana passed away on Wednesday, June 7th, 2017. A celebration of Warren’s 102 ¾ years of life will be held on Saturday, June 17th, 2:00 P.M. at the Holbrook United Methodist Church (424 West Lewis Street, Livingston). A reception will follow the service and a graveside committal and burial will follow at Parkview Memorial Gardens in Paradise Valley with veteran’s honors.
Warren was born in Livingston, Montana, at 222 South D Street, September 7, 1914; he was the second child of Howard E. and Mildred Ruth Reeves McGee, the parents of three sons and two daughters: Harold E., Warren R., Louise, Lorraine C. and Wallace E.
Conductor McGee worked as a third-generation railroader for forty years from July 1936 to October 1975. He had been fascinated by trains from the age of four.
Warren attended the North Side, West Side, and Central Schools. Upon graduation from Park County High School in 1933, in the middle of the Great Depression, he worked at any job he could find, from the Ideal Bakery, to washing dishes for two hundred fifty construction men on the Red Lodge-Cooke City highway project, to seasonal work in Yellowstone Park, to Fort Peck Dam, and building the Dunraven Pass Road.
In 1936, his application for Brakeman on the Northern Pacific Railway was accepted by Dan Healy, Assistant Superintendent in Livingston. He began student trips on the Fourth of July weekend and made his first pay trip July 11, 1936.
On March 1, 1942, Warren was drafted into the Army Air Force and attended Airplane Mechanics, Refrigeration, and Welding Schools. He served in Photo Reconnaissance Squadrons for thirty-three months during the Solomon and Marianas Campaigns: New Hebrides, Guadalcanal, and New Georgia in the 18th Photo Mapping Squadron from January 1943 until May 1944; regrouping for the Marianas invasion, then Saipan on D-Day plus 4, and re-equipping and getting set for the invasion of Japan until August 1945.
He landed back in Seattle on September 21, 1945, as a Tech Sergeant and returned to train service on the Northern Pacific Railway at Livingston. He worked both east to Laurel and west to Helena in freight and passenger service.
Warren married Bernice Lavold of Big Timber on September 21, 1946. They had one child, Howard Knute, born on April 22, 1949. On Nov. 6, 1971, Howard was killed in an auto accident. His beloved Bernice died unexpectedly in 2001.
Warren served eleven years, 1960 thru 1970, as Chairman of the Livingston Anti-Merger Committee, opposing the merger of the Northern Pacific-Great Northern-Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railroads. The battle was lost in the Supreme Court, where Warren testified.
Warren retired from the Burlington Northern Railroad in October of 1975 after regaling Amtrak passengers about Montana’s beauty and history and serving on the special "Freedom Train" between Billings and Butte.
Warren was an avid preserver of railroad history through photography, which he began in the 1930’s, and active research pursued throughout his life. He was known to railroad presidents and public relations departments. His work gained national renown and made him in demand for slide shows from St. Paul to Portland and Tacoma and in California before interested railroad and history fans. Bernice supported his photography and historical work and fed and gave lodging to many railroad fans making the pilgrimage to Livingston and the McGee home. Warren made 32,000 negatives that are preserved at the Montana Historical Society. His photographs were in demand for Trains magazine where he was known personally to famous editor David Morgan, trade publications like Railway Age, books, The Mainstreeter magazine of the Northern Pacific Historical Association, and other labor and hobby periodicals. Two books by Richard Green feature his photographs showing Northern Pacific, Great Northern, and Milwaukee trains in the scenic Northwest and showing the work of everyday railroaders. His photographs and recollections are highlights in the five-volume history of the Northern Pacific written by Dr. Lorenz P. Schrenk and Dr. Robert Frey, a book on the Vista Dome North Coast Limited passenger train by William Kuebler, and many other illustrated books.
He was active in the Democratic Party and ran for the Montana State Legislature in 1965.
After retirement Warren was even busier, continuing his love of photography and telling his train stories to varied groups near and far. Warren also believed deeply that Livingston was the best and only place to live and served on the Park Board where he was instrumental in the restoration of Sacajawea Park, planting and watering over 196 trees, revitalizing the Lagoon and stream area, along with nurturing the duck and geese populations, to make this park the showplace it is today.
Warren's passion for Western history also became a reality when he became an authority on the 1864-1868 Bozeman Trail and traced it through the state of Montana. He was one of the founders in converting the North Side School into the Park County Museum, now the Yellowstone Gateway Museum, where you will find many of his pictures and artifacts. In January 1980, Warren and Bernice were named “Livingston’s Citizens of the Year.” Warren and Bernice were both active in the Livingston Depot Center. He received the South Central Montana Heritage Pioneer Railroad Award – Railroad Hall of Fame in 2008 sponsored by the Livingston Area Chamber of Commerce and Montana Rail Link, Washington Corporation. He was President of the Billings Region Burlington Northern Veterans in 1982. There were many other accolades too numerous to mention but having the street at Sacajawea Park named after him as McGee Drive was certainly a highlight of his later years.
The dates of his birth and death are now written in stone, however the dash between them is what really matters because Warren always hoped that he would leave this world a better place than he found it. He certainly proved that true.
Warren is survived by his sister, Louise, and several nieces and nephews and a litany of friends spanning the nation.
In lieu of flowers Warren would prefer that you donate to Park County Senior Citizens, Livingston Depot Center, Park County Museum, Montana Historical Society, and the Northern Pacific Railroad Historical Association (NPRHA, PO Box 2937, Kirkland, WA 98083-2937, marked McGee Donation).
Arrangements are under the care of Franzen-Davis Funeral Home and Crematory.