RyPN Briefs March 22, 2008
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Veteran Railroad Engineer And Steam Engine Expert J.R. Phillips Dead At Age 88
Mr. James Richard "J.R." Phillips, a long time resident of Eight Mile, Alabama, died Sunday, February 24, 2008, in a local hospital from complications of a stroke. Born May 16, 1919 at Forest, Mississippi, Mr. Phillips was age 88. He was a veteran railroad man.
Mr. Phillips was introduced to railroading as an infant by his father Huey Adolph Phillips who was a locomotive engineer for the Mengel Hardwood Lumber Co. in Mississippi. At age four, Mr. Phillips had learned to blow a steam whistle while standing on a seatbox in the cab of his father's logging engine. Thus began a lifelong love affair with trains.
At age 14, Mr. Phillips was tending sawmill boilers and at age 21 became his father's fireman on log trains operating over Gulf, Mobile & Northern tracks between Merrill and Laurel, MS. Mr. Phillips also learned how to operate, maintain and repair steam engines during his formative years.
In the early 1940s, Mr. Phillips became a brakeman on the Michigan Central. Then, in January 1943, Mr. Phillips went to work as a fireman for the Alabama, Tennessee & Northern Railway. Four months later, he joined the Louisville & Nashville as a fireman and worked on the Mobile Division up until being laid off in 1946.
For the next nine years, Mr. Phillips fired and ran steam engines for the Southern Pacific, Texas & Pacific, Kansas City Southern, Gulf Mobile & Ohio and Southern during times he was laid off by the L&N. Finally, by 1955 Mr. Phillips had enough seniority to hold a regular run over the L&N. He was promoted to engineer in 1958 and joined the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers Division 140, Mobile, AL, holding continuous membership up until his death.
Mr. Phillips operated both freight and passenger trains between Mobile and New Orleans, Los Angeles, including the famous Pan American and Humming Bird streamliners. He also ran Amtrak's Gulf Coast Limited during the 1984 World's Fair. At the time of his retirement on August 31, 1985 from the Seaboard System, now CSX, Mr. Phillips was number one in seniority and the last steam qualified engineer on the Mobile Division.
In the 1970s, Mr. Phillips ran several SR passenger excursion trains over L&N tracks with steam engines 4501, 722, 750 and 2839. During his 52 year railroad career, Mr. Phillips was involved in only one minor derailment and was never injured.
Following his retirement, Mr. Phillips was a consultant to railroad museums across the US in operating and repairing steam engines. At the time of his death Mr. Phillips was consulting with the Alger-Sullivan Historical Society, Century, Florida, in restoring their steam engine No. 100 to operation. Mr. Phillips and two partners had originally purchased this historic logging engine in 1974 to save it from being scrapped. He overhauled the No. 100 in Mobile and it participated in the Alabama Bicentennial Celebration in 1976. Mr. Phillips and his partners later sold the engine to a tourist railroad in Indiana where Mr. Phillips then operated it on many vacations. He had been looking forward to running his beloved No. 100 again.
Mr. Phillips was a Mason and a long time member of the National Railway Historical Society. He will be long remembered for his vast knowledge of steam engines and railroading. Mr. Phillips is survived by his wife Helen Mae Phillips of Satsuma, AL, children and grandchildren.
Services are by Valhalla Memorial Funeral Home and Gardens, Inc., 8730 Sims Road, Eight Mile, AL 36613, phone (251) 649-1111. Visitation will be Wednesday, February 27, 2008 from 5 to 8 p.m. The funeral will be Thursday, February 28, 2008 at 11 a.m. Interment follows in the Gardens. Memorials may be made in Mr. Phillips' name to the Alger-Sullivan Historical Society, P.O. Box 1002, Century, FL 32535 for restoring his No. 100 to operation.
Cards and Emailed condolences can be sent to the Phillips Family care/of J.R.'s son Rick Phillips, 8550 Lott Road, Wilmer, AL 36587, Email address < firstname.lastname@example.org >. The following verse adapted years ago by Mr. Phillips from an early 1900s railroad poem of the same name is a fitting testament to his long and fruitful life on the rails:
AN OLD HOGHEAD'S LAST REQUEST
When I depart from the initial terminal,
And when I get this this train on it's way,
There is no need to rush,
A hoghead of his deathbed lay,
He said, "Before you lay me down to rest,
Just hook me on to ninety cars,
Oh, let me pull a drawbar out,
Oh, just once more before I'm dead,
And you dear friends, I'll have to thank,
Oh, let the train with drawbar down,
And when at last in the grave I'm laid,
Then fainter drew the hogger's tone,
Perhaps his mind was wandering back,
Then his face lit-up in joyful light,
- - - -
J.R. will be deeply missed by everyone who loves steam engines and railroading. J.R.'s stroke was the only obstacle in his long life that he finally wasn't able to work around on either side, under or over through his sheer will power, focus and hard labor. He was the most determined man I've ever known.
With most sincere condolences, his friend of many years and partner in the No. 100,
Louis Zadnichek II
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