CHAPTER XIXRETIREMENT; TRIBUTE TO BROTHER ENGINEERS
JUST two weeks before the celebration of our golden wedding,
on October 3d, I made my last run, though not conscious of the
fact at the time. On that trip I got a cinder in one of my eyes
which caused me a great deal of trouble, and finally made me decide
to give up my life work, as I was unwilling to endanger the lives
of the travelling public through a defective eyesight. All my
life I have enjoyed excellent health, but time is relentless,
and I was not so well able to cope with the "iron horse"
as in days gone by, so that it was just as well that so small
a thing as a cinder brought about my retirement, which could not
have been long postponed. We "railroad boys" love our
engines, our life of movement and responsibility, and it comes
hard to give it all up.
I feel that I have been successful as an engineer. Duty has
been my watchword, and if I have fallen short in any respect,
it was not for lack of giving my best effort to accomplish what
was required of me. I was called to the Superintendent's office
once for running a railroad crossing, but explained it satisfactorily.
On the other hand, I have received commendation from railroad
officials upon different occasions, one of which I will mention.
In the days of the E. T. V. & G. R. R., as I was at the
rear of the train examining the brakes before leaving Selma one
evening, the General Superintendent of the road approached and
asked if I was not going out that night. Upon my reply in the
affirmative, he said, "Then your place is on the engine.
We have our inspectors to attend to the brakes." "But,"
said I, "they don't always do it, and I make it a point to
see for myself if they are in condition to handle the train."
So, as usual I did not go forward until I saw the brakes applied
and properly adjusted, though the Superintendent kept on insisting
that he only held me responsible for taking care of the engine.
A few months later the General Manager of the E. T. V. &
G. and the Q. & C. railroads took a trip of inspection over
the entire system, starting from Knoxville, Tenn. Between that
point and Selma, via Atlanta and Macon, six engines were disabled,
and the special delayed. After leaving Rome, they wired Selma
to have an engine ready. Our Master Mechanic sent for me, and
said he wanted the 159 with me on it, to start for Meridian with
the special upon its arrival. It reached here at four o'clock,
and a few minutes later, we were off. From Meridian we went over
the Mobile & Ohio to Corinth, Miss., thence over the Memphis
& Charleston to Memphis, arriving at seven P.m. My engine
was giving satisfaction.
The Superintendent had made a schedule for this special from
Memphis to Tuscumbia, a distance of 140 miles at 48 miles per
hour. The Engineer who was to make the trip said that no train
had ever been run over that road at such a rate of speed, and
it couldn't be done. I told him that better time could be made
with the 159, as all he had to do was to hold her open, adding
that my first run was done on that piece of track, and I knew
I could make the schedule time. "Well," he replied,
"being much better acquainted with the road, I can do it
too." He did; pulling into Tuscumbia on time, after being
delayed ten minutes at one point. He told me that my engine "was
the fastest thing he was ever on." The Tuscumbia paper contained
an article the next morning about engine 159 on the M. & C.,
making the best time by thirty minutes that had been done since
the road was built. I told the editor that the engine belonged
to the E. T. V. & G. Railroad and that I wanted his statement
We went to Sheffield and back, then to Chattanooga and Cleveland.
The same Superintendent who got after me about overseeing the
adjusting of the brakes on the coaches was aboard the whole trip,
and at Cleveland he came to me and said " Mr. Thomas, I want
to congratulate you. We had six engines coupled to this train
before getting yours, and all failed. You've handled this special
over seven hundred miles, having no delay of any kind. This is
very gratifying to me, and I want to say that I have learned that
a man who will examine the air-brakes on the coaches he pulls
will look after his engine. Accept my compliments. I am perfectly
satisfied that should I ever call on you to make the run from
Selma, Ala., to New York City, we would arrive without a delay."
Just such little precautions have saved not only valuable time
but human lives, and prevented the loss of thousands of dollars'
worth of the railroad company's property.
My rule of action has always been to treat others as I would
be treated. Doing this saves us from having trouble in our business
With my retirement, the family has lost a long-standing occupation,
that of waving good-bye as my train started on each run. From
Frances down to our eleven-year-old shepherd dog, Jackwho
at an early age took up the custom (he being a highly educated
canine)they have been on hand at the side door and waved
until the houses at North Selma hid me from sight. At one time
my youngest daughter even had a pet gander which she trained to
take part in the group, while Frances has defaced her own property
and cut down other people's trees in order to have the coast clear.
In December of 1910 I spent two weeks at Healing Springs, accompanied
by one of my daughters, and we were both greatly benefited. I
would have liked to have remained longer, but we all had rather
be at home during the blessed Christmas time. Healing Springs
is in Washington County of this State, and is a restful and health-giving
resort. It was while I was there that a communication was received
to the effect that the brothers of Division 223 had sent a petition
to the Manager of the Southern Railway requesting a pension for
me. The reply was sent, and this was the first intimation I had
of the matter. The sum decided upon was not a great one, but it
was altogether unexpected, and highly appreciated by me. During
all the years I have been in the service of the Southern Railway,
I have been treated fairly and have been the recipient of many
courtesies. I do not know of any railroad system that is more
considerate of its employees. In the Division a number of the
members wanted me to fill my offices until their legitimate expiration,
almost a year later, but I declined, though I attend the meetings
regularly, and am as interested as ever in all business of the
At the time of my retirement, there was not a man occupying
a position on the road in any capacity who was here when I began
running out of Selma. For forty years, I headed the seniority
list of engineers on the Mobile Division, and but one of our older
men remains in active service. One by one they have entered the
Terminal of life's journey.
Mike Fitzgerald was the first to go, early in the seventies.
He was a member of Division No. 26, and leaving the railroad on
account of his health, ere long died of consumption. Jack Sitton
followed, stricken by the same dreaded disease ten years later.
Burr Warner lost his hearing, and worked in the shop seven or
eight years before his death. Jack Howdon, who had run a passenger
for many years, and represented Division 223 at the San Francisco
Convention, died of pneumonia in 1897. Bailey Green, after fifteen
years' service, passed away with consumption. Charlie Vining was
killed in a collision on the A. G. S. R. R., which occurred between
York and Meridian. Bony Cisco spent most of his life on this road,
giving out at the age of seventy-two after about forty years'
service. John Smith entered Meridian on his regular run March
2, 1906, and was killed there in a cyclone that night, being in
a boarding-house that was blown down. He had run here close on
to twenty-five years. Frank Little was killed the following year
over on the Akron Branch, on account of the engine being derailed
and turning over. Frank Donnor, who came next to me for ten years,
died of paralysis in 1908, after a service of fully forty years.
These were all good men who gave of their best to the railroad
company, and to their travelling fellowmen.
These days, my Frances and I are living quietly at home the
greater portion of the time. The tracks have multiplied with the
passing years, and are now on both sides of us. I enjoy seeing
the trains pass and watching the switching, though the members
of my family sometimes complain of the noise of the engines. We
still take little trips occasionally for recreation, having had
a delightful outing the past summer at Coden, a popular resort
on the Gulf coast, thirty miles from Mobile. This pleasure was
given us by our boy, J. J. Thomas, Jr., who is now Superintendent
of Motive Power of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad. Hotel Joullian
is an ideal place for spending the heated term, and one meets
with splendid hospitality there.
Lately, we have made a most enjoyable visit to one of my brothers
in Durant, Miss., who is also a locomotive engineer, and whom
I had not seen for twenty years. Just one other brothera
Methodist preacherand two sisters remain to me out of a
family of eleven children, all of whom lived to be grown.
Frances and I must be getting old, but she maintains that she
doesn't feel it, and everybody tells me I don't look it.
However, our fifty-first anniversary has just passed, and another
Christmas season is almost at hand, when I shall be seventy three,
and Frances is only six years younger. But, perhaps, we are both
good for something yet, and while life and health are given us,
we will try to use what energy and talents we possess for the
benefit of those around us, and so gliding down life's stream,
enter at last the blessed Haven of Rest.
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