Fred Waibel went to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Forces in 1943 as a senior in high school. The Peoria, Ill., native passed his physical and expected to return at a later date to begin his service, but was in for a surprise when a sergeant put him on a train and shipped him out that day.
"He was 18 and the next thing he knew he was in basic training," said his son, Rick Waibel of Mount Arlington, N.J. "It was a couple days before he was able to call home and say 'I didn't run away, I made it into the Army.' "
Mr. Waibel, a pilot during World War II and a mechanical engineer who used his craft to travel the world, died last Friday. He was 88.
His son said it wasn't long before the Army realized he hadn't finished high school and interrupted his aviation training in Marfa, Texas, for a quick trip home to graduate with his class.
But Mr. Waibel's initiation into the service wasn't the last time his life would be altered by a train ride.
When he finished aviation training he was sent to catch a boat in California bound for India, where he would fly in supplies. The train unexpectedly stopped somewhere along the way because the Army needed the engines to move cars full of ammunition, Rick Waibel said.
"They got left there for a week," he said. "When they finally found out where they were, he had missed his boat."
So Mr. Waibel's tour remained domestic and he performed cargo runs as a flight officer on C-47 and DC-4 aircraft.
He met his wife of more than 52 years, Clara E. Daniszewski, at a USO party in Syracuse, N.Y., in 1944 and married later that year.
He was discharged in December 1945 and the couple moved back to Peoria, where he used the GI Bill to graduate from Bradley University with a B.S. in mechanical engineering in 1949.
A few years later Mr. Waibel was asked to help the company he worked for start a division in Pittsburgh and the family moved here, eventually settling in McCandless.
Mr. Waibel worked in mechanical and chemical engineering for more than 50 years. He holds a patent for a nickel deposition recovery system and was a member of American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
Rick Waibel said mechanical engineering came natural to his father, who made his own powered bicycle with a lawn mower engine in junior high.
"He always tinkered with things when he was growing up," he said.
He helped design and oversee the development of sugar refineries in Brazil and Venezuela, chemical refineries in Italy and a nickel refinery Canada. His wife accompanied him on his trips to South America.
"He was fairly level-headed, Most engineers are," said Rick Waibel. "But there was a lot of pride in doing his own work, in developing and creating things."
His professional traits sometimes surfaced in household projects, like when he tore out a deck and replaced it with a steel reinforced concrete porch,
"When dad decided to build a shed in the back yard, the wood sheds weren't good enough," Rick Waibel said. "He dug a hole in the hillside and then poured concrete with steel reinforcement rods."
Mr. Waibel met many different people from all around the world through his work and welcomed them into his home.
"The fact that they were of a different color didn't make a difference," he said. "They were people first and all the rest was secondary."
Mr. Waibel was a member of a sportsmen's club, enjoyed making wine and square dancing with his wife.
Helen Magerl, a neighbor of 40 years, said Mr. Waibel tended to his vegetable garden and his climbing roses. She said she tried to make weekly visits to see him at Cumberland Crossing Manor, an assisted living facility, because he was the type to do anything for anyone.
"He was such an easygoing person," she said. "You could sit down and talk to him about anything. He took everything in stride."
In addition to his son, Mr. Waibel is survived by another son, Dale A. of Tucson, Ariz., a brother, Joseph of Peoria, and one grandson.
Funeral arrangements were handled by George A. Thoma Funeral Home in McCandless.
The family suggests donations to St. Alexis Church, 10090 Old Perry Highway, Wexford, PA 15090 and the Good Samaritan Hospice House, 3500 Brooktree Road, Wexford, PA 15090.
Taryn Luna: email@example.com or 412-263-1985. First Published February 1, 2013 12:00 AM