James J. “Choo-Choo” Whetsler, 77, of Rome, IA, died Thursday, November 19, 2020 at the Henry County Health Center in Mt. Pleasant.
A memorial celebration of life service will be held at a later date. Inurnment will be in the Grant Cemetery, rural Rome, IA. Memorials may be directed to the family for organizations to be decided upon later. There will be no visitation at the Kimzey Funeral Home in Mt. Pleasant, which is assisting the family with the arrangements. Online condolences may be left at www.kimzeyfuneralhome.com.
James J. Whetsler was born November 1, 1943 in Newport, Washington. He was the son of William A. and Marguerite (Van Valkenburg) Whetsler. Jim grew up in the community of Priest River, Idaho, where he attended school. Jim entered the United States Navy on November 18, 1960 in Spokane, WA. He served on the USS Helena and was discharged on March 18, 1963 at the US Naval Command, Portsmouth, NH. On May 29, 1979 in Mt. Pleasant, Jim was united in marriage to Maria J. Harrison.
Jim was nick-named “Choo-Choo” as his vocation and hobbies involved the railroad. He started as a C&NW locomotive fireman on the Wisconsin Division and was certified as a locomotive engineer with the C&NW Railway on April 22, 1968. Later he moved to Nebraska. Jim worked for the Great Plains Railroad for the relocation of 2 diesel locomotives and operated them as locomotive engineer. As a locomotive engineer, he ran engines at the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant in Middletown. Jim worked for the Building and Leasing International, Inc. in Kansas City for the delivery and restoration of the Mark Twain Zephyr for the Saudi Arabia Railways. In his later years, Jim was a nightwatchman for Amtrak at the Mt. Pleasant Depot.
Throughout his life, “Choo-Choo’s” love of steam power and trains remained a constant, even when he held jobs at Sheets Motors where he inspected new Ford Blue Bird Buses, the Mt. Pleasant Utilities in the Generating Plant, as a Security Guard at the Wal-Mart Distribution Center, and as a Summer Caretaker at Forest Home Cemetery.
Choo-Choo was involved with the relocation and operations of stationary steam engines for the Midwest Old Threshers (MOSTA) museums, the Midwest Central Railway, and the Midwest Electric Railway on the MOSTA grounds. He helped out at the Sears Sawmill. On August 29, 2008, Choo-Choo was recognized with the MOSTA Volunteer Award for the many hours of dedicated volunteer support of the association’s projects and programs. He loved history and when he heard “volunteer”, he was off to help, participating with the smaller railroads and steam/gas engine shows during the year. Jim was a member of the local volunteer community’s Rome Skunk River Navy. He spent his last years watching and photographing train engines.
Those thankful for sharing in Jim’s life include his wife of over 40 years, Maria of Rome; several nieces and nephews and their families and a host of surrogate “kids” who began their longtime friendships as they participated with Choo-Choo in his many interests.
Jim’s parents and 2 brothers – Dell and William Whetsler precede him in death.
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