Railroad fans gather to celebrate Wehlitz turning 99 years old

BY TINA L. SCOTT
EDITOR

Two retired circuit judges with an interest in railroads–Gary Carlson of Taylor County (on left) and Jay Tlusty of Lincoln County (on right)–all railroad buffs, were just a couple of those who came to celebrate the 99th birthday of Ralph Wehlitz of Merrill (center) at the Polka Dotted Pie on June 8.

Many students who graduated from Merrill High School will remember the name and face of Ralph Wehlitz, who taught for many years in the Merrill Area Public Schools. In addition to being an educator, students will remember he was a disabled veteran wounded in WWII which left him functioning with a metal prosthetic hook in lieu of a hand.
But not many will know Wehlitz is also a huge fan of all things railroad related and that he is considered a master model railroader by fellow rail fans and rail buffs. Or that he meets regularly with other railroad fans, aficionados, and industry professionals to celebrate their mutual interest. Or that he recently celebrated his 99th birthday!
On Thursday, June 8, 2023, 23 rail buffs from throughout Wisconsin came together at Polka Dotted Pie in Merrill to celebrate both their common interest in all things railroad and a milestone birthday for Wehlitz.
Coffee, pie, cake, railroad conversation, laughter, and congratulations all combined to make it a special day for Wehlitz, as the group celebrated him turning 99 years old. The gathered group included three retired judges, four college professors (retired and active), four magazine article authors, two model railroad supply manufacturers, two professional railroad archivists, two real railroaders, a railroad history book author, numerous members of the Wisconsin Valley Model Railroad Club, and others bound together by their common passion for railroad and their friendship with Wehlitz.
“After a fabulous morning of networking, the group broke up agreeing to meet again next year to celebrate Ralph’s 100th birthday,” one attendee said.
Happy 99th birthday, Ralph!

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