Richard was one of a handful who profoundly shaped the evolution of Cass Scenic Railroad State Park in Pocahontas County, W.Va. He first visited Cass in June 1968, and was so smitten that he returned with friends in October. Kyle “Catty” Neighbors, Cass crewman and founder of the Cass Historical Museum, recognized Richard as a kindred spirit, and the two began a friendship that lasted until Kyle’s death in 1975. Most important, these first visits motivated Richard to begin painting and photographing Cass subjects. He brought two paintings to the first Railfan Weekend in May 1969, and Kyle found space for them in his museum. During this first of many railfan weekends, onetime Cass Superintendent John P. Killoran invited Richard to join his group of Cass aficionados, unofficially known as the “Johnny Pulp Club” (the community nickname for West Virginia Pulp & Paper Company employees). In 1982, Killoran invited Richard to become a founding member of Mountain State Railroad & Logging Historical Association (MSR&LHA), the Cass nonprofit support organization, and over the next 30 years Sparks would serve in almost every office. Perhaps his most visible contribution was editing and publishing the MSR&LHA journal, The Log Train for 20 years, from 1993 until he retired from the organization in 2013. For many years Richard also organized special charters on the Cass Scenic Railroad, most notably for the Chesapeake & Allegheny Live Steam group from Baltimore.
More than anything else, Richard was willing to share: information, photographs, sage advice, and his time. On May 1, 2019 I reached out to Richard, asking for a period photograph of camp cars in use by Cass Scenic predecessor Mower Lumber Co., for a Trains Magazine article; he responded the next day with exactly what I needed, though he admitted that he had cancer and was feeling lousy. Just 10 days later, I learned from a mutual friend that Richard had succumbed. Richard Sparks was a remarkable man, in so many ways, and we’re not likely to see his kind again.