Growing up next to the main line of the Norfolk & Western Railroad in Portsmouth, Ohio, Pfizer retiree Larry Burkholder has always been fascinated by trains. That fascination turned to a specific interest in model railroading when he was in high school.
But it would be many years later before he would be able to get into his hobby in a big way. In the meantime, he would embark on an interesting 19-year career with Pfizer that would take him all over the world.
Larry joined Pfizer in 1974 as a market development manager for the Special Chemicals group in Groton, CT. When he retired in 1993, he was general manager of Pfizer’s Chemical Division’s Oil Field Products Group in Houston.
Looking back over those years, Larry says his proudest moments were his involvement in the formation of the Oil Field Products Group (OFPG), then a new business venture for Pfizer, and the market introduction of Pfizer’s xanthan gum technology, which is used as a thickening agent in foods, pharmaceuticals and oil drilling products.
“There was a shared excitement among my co-workers during the development of the OFPG,” he remembers. “And there was also the chance to travel the world and enjoy the many different cultures.”
When Pfizer sold the OFPG to a French company, SNF Floerger in 1993, Larry retired from Pfizer and went to work for the French company for a short time. Later Pfizer sold its Food Science Group to the Finnish company, Cultor, and in 1996 Larry was asked to join that company as a contractor to build and staff a specialty additives pilot plant in Guangzhou and manage sales throughout China.
When that assignment ended after two years, Larry’s real retirement began and his love of trains and model railroading came to the forefront – big time.
A testament to his enthusiasm for the hobby and his energy is the fact that he currently is the superintendent of the National Model Railroader Association’s Smokey Mountain Division, president of the Knoxville Area Model Railroaders Club, and president of the board of directors for the Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge, Tenn., which houses the Railroaders Club headquarters.
And he’s building a large N scale model railroad in the lower level of his home. The model is based on an Appalachian theme of the railroad near his boyhood home in Ohio.
“Model railroading allows me to maintain my interest in trains as well as to tinker with all the skills required to do the modeling. It also offers a social connection with other people with similar interests.”
That social connection has benefited many. Larry’s club helped build a large HO scale railroad layout for the World of Trains exhibit at Children’s Museum’s. The club also hosts tours of its own railroad layouts.
“It is fun seeing the joy people get when they see highly-detailed, operating railroad layouts,” Larry said.
Larry guesses that there are more than a few Pfizer retirees among the thousands of model railroading enthusiasts. He offers sage advice for any retirees who are just getting into the hobby: “Start small. Read the trade magazines to get ideas and join a local club to have a chance to learn different skills from talented members before you jump in too big. No one’s good at everything, but anyone can learn how to do everything they need to do, with a little advice and practice.”
It took 40 years for Larry to get to a point where he could focus his energies full time on his hobby. But, if you asked him, he’d probably say it was worth the wait.
“I’m almost as busy now as I was when I was working, but for the most part it is on my own schedule and interests of my own choosing. I have very few days facing an alarm clock.”