David Nicoletti, 1949-2014
I don't remember when, exactly, I first met Dave Nicoletti, but I can pretty well guess the location: in the parking lot at the depot in Vancouver, Washington.
That'd be a pretty good bet. Dave spent many of his Saturdays watching trains from inside the iron triangle formed by the BNSF lines going south into Portland and east up the Columbia River Gorge. In later years, he'd forsake sitting in his car and would put down a folding lawn chair, where he's preside over the happenings like some sort of unelected Mayor of The Wye. For a guy like Dave, the location was a natural: in the middle of the action, where nothing could get by him.
But that fit Dave's personality, of course. For he always knew what was going on. He was "connected" to the railfan grapevine back before there was an internet. Dave seemed to know everybody. And somehow, whenever anyone visited the Portland area for the first time to watch trains, they ended up coming across the big short guy with the mop head of hair and long sideburns. And after a few minutes in conversation with Dave, they invariably discovered that somewhere in the family tree of acquaintences in the rail hobby, Dave knew someone they knew. It was sorta like "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," only with Dave at the center of it all.
Dave died suddenly March 2nd in Portland, just past his 65th birthday, and hearing of his death brought back once more that we're all getting older and those acquaintances from the past we'd taken for granted were slipping away, one by one.
As I write this, Dave is being eulogized in Beaverton, Oregon, his birthplace, in a Baptist church. I'm not sure if this surprises me, nor if it matters at all, but I'd always though of Dave as a Mormon. Or at least that's the impression I got from our discussions of life outside of railfanning. Of course, that mention at all of religion was brought on by looking at photographs he'd taken in southern Idaho of Union Pacific branchlines in the winter: "Yeaaah", Dave'd say in that slow drawl he's inflict from time to time, "I was living down in Mormon country." I think Dave's wife was LDS, and though he might not have converted, he adopted the religion as his own.
After that first meeting with Dave, I'd made several trips to Portland, and he several trips up to my home base in the Seattle area. Dave was the one who called me about a BN RS-3 repainted in NP paint for BN's defense in a grade-crossing accident. I rushed right on down to take a shot, and scooped the locals by getting the photo in TRAINS. I was a carpetbagger, but if Dave minded, he never said anything. Dave hosted a great evening of slides one weekend I spent in Portland, introducing me to several other talented Portland rail photoraphers. And what a great host! I'm not sure where I stayed that weekend, but it was probably at Dave's house--not that Dave had a lot of room, mind you, for he was a father of six. Yeah, that Mormon thing. I can almost hear his voice in that sentence.
I found this photo of Dave the other day--just before his death, actually. This will be how I remember him. In the parking lot at the Vancouver depot. He wasn't a grumpy type, and this grumpy face was just for show, like he was pondering a question to ask. He was a good soul, gentle and always fun to be around.
Others can eulogize Dave far better than I can. I hadn't seen the man in probably 20 years. I'll admit dropping the ball on many of my friendships and letting relationships wither and then die from neglect--this was one of many. And now hearing of his death, well, pity on me for not being the kind of guy, like Dave was, who kept his friends close, no matter their physical distance. A look at his facebook page revealed the love his children and seven grandchildren had for the man, and added the dimension of Life Outside Railfanning to my knowledge of Dave.
One comment from a friend particularly made me smile: "We can chase the good stuff in the next life."
Indeed, he probably is doing it already!