Alger-Sullivan Historical Society
P.O. Box 1002
Century FL 32535
Jerry Fischer, President
ASHS column in Tri-City Ledger March 12, 2004
FORMER ENGINEER STILL GOING STRONG
Trip to assess "Old 100"
by Jerry Simmons
J.R. Phillips, Bob Callaway, and I began our adventure early morning a couple of Sundays ago. The mission: assess and report back the actual condition of a certain steam locomotive, a Baldwin 2-6-2, # 100, once owned by the Alger-Sullivan Lumber Company. Rumor was that the engine was disassembled and its parts strewn around a railroad yard in southeastern Indiana. Pictures of the locomotive showed it had only the boiler sitting on the frame with the various parts who knows where.
Bob is a retired Solutia/Monsanto mechanical engineer and supervisor, whom I have known for nearly 40 years. He is a member of the society and lives in Pensacola, off Mobile Highway. His family has a long history of railroading and trains as well as anything mechanical have fascinated him. He was delighted to take part in this trip.
J.R. Phillips is also retired, yet is very active. An unfortunate auto accident seriously injured his spouse some time ago leaving her needing much home care, so he hasn’t had the opportunity to travel like he once did. His wife encouraged him to go on this trip, so his family stepped in and stayed with Mrs. Phillips while he was gone. By the way, his instructions to his home in 8-mile near Mobile, included "Look for the caboose in the back yard." When I turned the corner, sure ‘nuff, a brightly colored railroad caboose stood proudly out in his yard!
As we climbed into the car after getting our suitcases arranged in the trunk, the some 900 miles loomed ahead. It wasn’t until we got onto I-65 that J.R., age 84, broke out his audio cassette player. Bob and I were treated to the nostalgic sounds of one of the last – if not the last – steam engines to ply the tracks out of Flomaton. In the mid-1970s, excitement built to a fever pitch as the bicentennial celebration of the Declaration of Independence drew near. One of the highlights for much of this area was a steam excursion train that went through Century and Flomaton, and not until this day did I find that J.R. Phillips was the engineer!
The "chuff-chuff-chuff" of the engine beginning its efforts to pull the standing room only passenger cars was a definite journey into the past for me. It made me recall lying in bed as a youngster with the windows open and listening to the whistles and the puff of the steam engines running up and down the tracks not a quarter mile away. I heard that mournful whooo whoooooo as the train approached the crossing at the Jay Highway, then those in Century proper. Many days as a child playing with Leon Bingham, who lived right next to the tracks across the street from the L&N depot, we’d hear the train coming and stop what we were doing. Then we’d both run to the edge of the tracks and look for the train coming –
we’d see the white puff of steam from the whistle
, and then count the seconds until we heard the whistle!
Mr. Phillips’ tape demonstrated how he "worked" the whistle. Listening to it led to a conversation about engineers’ ability to craft a "signature" by the way his whistle sounded. Phillips took his own specially built whistle with him and installed it on each engine on which he was engineer. That way, the distinctive sound went with him wherever he went.
We arrived in Connersville, Indiana, shortly after noon on Monday, and right away we found the Whitewater Valley Railroad yard. For those who may not know, the Whitewater Valley Railroad is an operating railroad museum dedicated to the preservation of a historic branch line railroad, to the restoration of railroad equipment, and to the conduct of educational railroad programs. It’s celebrating 30 years of operations and hopes to have a long, prosperous future.
No one was at the yard or its office building, but the yard gate was open, so J.R. took us right in and we located # 100.
To me, it looked far worse than the pictures showed. The cab was missing from the engine, the tender’s tank was gone. Rusty all over, except for the new boiler that had so far resisted falling victim to iron’s worst enemy, it was crammed onto an unused section of track surrounded by decrepit old passenger cars and other rusty hulks of engines, steam and diesel. It looked like it was sadly wasting away. I thought – "This is a formidable task!"
Well, Phillips was in his glory. He went right to work, crawling over the array of steam pipes and control rods, old rails and spikes and other not-so-assorted railroad paraphernalia. He got right up to the old engine frame and began describing what goes where, how this worked, "Wonder where this item got off to?" and more. With his cane he pointed out where the boiler had been fabricated incorrectly, where this pipe should be, where the injectors are normally placed, and how the sand dome was attached.
Anything Bob and I ever wanted to know about steam engines but were afraid to ask, we heard that afternoon. At one point Mr. Phillips backed up onto the frame, since his legs weren’t sturdy enough to support his climbing. When he made it up there on the front end, right above where the homemade cowcatcher was mounted, he then climbed into the boiler’s front end, into the exhaust chamber, and stuck his head through the hole where the smoke stack would be mounted!
I must say J.R. Phillips is a delightful, remarkable man. His 62 years of railroading has imparted to him a vast knowledge and understanding of steam locomotion – he also has experience with diesels, but steam is his first love – his passion, if you will. The few days we spent with him was a terrific learning experience for us. I doubt I will retain much of what he taught us, but the memory of being with such a delightful
and charming man for those few days will stay with me.
As Phillips talked more, and as we met and discussed our tentative plans with the folks at WVRR the next day, that "formidable" task I mentioned above seemed much more manageable. John Hillman, the organization’s president, was very helpful and friendly, as were the rest of the members we met: David Farlow, Chief Mechanical Officer; William Gray, Railroad Curator and Superintendent; and Larry Shiplett, Yard Manager. Larry had a special bond with J.R., since he had been J.R.’s fireman and fellow engineer some 20 years back when they both ran steam engines for the WVRR.
Trip to Whitrewater Valley Railroad in 2005
Click on picture for larger image
This page last modified on Saturday, March 03, 2012