Marcel "Mots" Kitlinski would set thousands of horsepower throbbing under his throttle as a railroad locomotive engineer.

But after hours, he preferred quieter fare. Mozart and Beethoven were his favorites. His daughter, Roberta, recalled learning opera arias from hearing her father play them over and over again. Indeed, she was named after soprano Roberta Peters, one of his favorite operatic artists.

Kitlinski, 81, of Coon Rapids, died last Friday after battling congestive heart failure.

The last of eight children born to Polish immigrants in northeast Minneapolis, Kitlinski was a man of diverse talents and interests. In high school baseball, he tossed a no-hitter. He attended the Minnesota Opera. He went to community college as an adult to earn a two-year degree. He built his own house. He tinkered with cars.

"He was a 100-percent straight shooter. He was a hard worker, he was proud to be an engine man and he did his work very well," said Val Engelmeier, who worked for more than 30 years in the same job as Kitlinski. "You had to know your business when you were on the front end and running these trains. To me he was top-notch."

Kitlinski went to Edison High School before joining the Army during the Korean War. After the war, he married Cynthia Aspholm, who lived across the street, and went to work for the Great Northern railroad, later the Burlington Northern.

Starting as a fireman when steam locomotives were still used, he rose in seniority, becoming an engineer.

He dug in on one issue in the 1990s, forcing a controversial change that banned smoking in locomotive cabs.

"He was a very strong, very outspoken, very forthright man," his daughter said. "He sometimes could come across as blunt or gruff, but it was completely a facade."

His wife and a son, Gregory, died before him. He is survived by his daughter. A memorial service will feature a selection from a favorite opera, Mozart's "The Abduction from the Seraglio." It is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at Washburn-McReavy Seman Chapel, 1827 Coon Rapids Blvd., Coon Rapids.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438