Southern Railway Steam Feature for December 2022

Bill Purdie, Jr, 1915-2010

Bill Purdie, Master Mechanic – Steam Engines, – RETIRED – A True Steam Driving Man
by Donald Purdie

Bill Purdie, former Master Mechanic – Steam Engines for Southern Railway, and later Norfolk Southern Railway, had a career which afforded him the opportunity to bring smiles to thousands of people, both young and old. Beginning in 1968 with a call from then Southern Railway President, W. Graham Claytor, Jr. the adventure began. Claytor’s vision was to operate steam locomotives over Southern rails to let another generation know what a steam locomotive was. The program was so successful that it evolved into nearly year round train excursions throughout the Southeast and beyond. Purdie professionalized the rebirth of Southern Steam and in consequence, made its sight and sound self-supporting and available system-wide.

Purdie began his career with Southern Railway in February 1936, as a machinist’s helper in Pegram Shops in Atlanta; he then served as machinist’s apprentice and later roundhouse foreman. Purdie preferred the shop to the road stating “The shop restores; the road debilitates.” His theory being that “The exhaust, smoke, whistling, bright headlight, and flailing rods of a photo run-by were glamorous; but the lathe, forge, drop pit, rivet furnace, crane, and hammer made the dramatics possible.”

After graduation from Russell High School in East Point, Georgia, during the depression, Purdie enlisted in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). After his time with the CCC, he was able to secure a job with Southern Railway as a machinist’s helper. During WW II, he offered his service to the Army and Navy; being turned down by both because his work for the railroad was deemed as important. Determined to serve his country, he enlisted with the Merchant Marines in 1945 and served as Junior Engineer.

A strong belief and deep conviction in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, led Purdie to be actively involved in the East Point Presbyterian Church for many years. He was Building Committee Chairman during the church’s expansion and served in several other capacities through the years.

Purdie belonged to several organizations, mostly railroad oriented. He was a charter member of the Atlanta Chapter, National Railway Historical Society (NRHS) and Southeastern Railway Museum; recently receiving 50-year membership recognition. He devoted many hours working with the museum to preserve and restore railroad equipment. Bill was an honorary member of several other NRHS chapters throughout the Southeast. Additionally, he was a member of the Southern Railway Historical Society, American Legion Post 51, the National Rifle Association, National Model Railroad Association, and was a Kentucky Colonel.

During the 70’s and 80’s, the steam locomotives under Purdie’s supervision made appearances in several Hollywood productions including “Fools Parade,” “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “Minstrel Man,” and a Johnny Cash film.

Bill Purdie was married to the former Sara Elizabeth Fries of East Point for 52 years until her death in 1993. He is also preceded in death by his parents William James Purdie, Sr. and Charlotte Taylor Purdie, both from Scotland; son John Davis Purdie; brothers Douglas, Alexander, and Kenneth; sisters, Hazel Purdie and Charlotte Boggus. He is survived by sons William James Purdie, III and wife Ruby of Milton, Georgia, and Donald Kenneth Purdie and wife Sharon of Wise, Virginia; Grandchildren Deanna Purdie, Dr. Brian Purdie, Matthew Purdie, and Jeff Roark; and one great grandchild, Juliet Rose Purdie, as well as several nieces and nephews. He also leaves behind a very dear and close friend, Joyce Harris of Atlanta.

Article courtesy of Historic Transport Preservation, Inc. (Steam Specials). Video courtesy of Lathan Luu via YouTube.

Rock on Trains © 2022, Tom Rock + T.D.R. Productions. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Tom Rock is strictly prohibited.

Depot Doings: Athens, TN / Bryson City, NC / Charleston, TN / Danville, KY / Lexington, KY / Niota, TN / Oliver Springs, TN / Sweetwater, TN

Featured Southern Railway depots on the blog this month are those in Kentucky, North Carolina & Tennessee:

All photos courtesy of Tom Rock.

Rock on Trains © 2022, Tom Rock + T.D.R. Productions. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Tom Rock is strictly prohibited.

Looking Back: “Crew Change”

The title of my painting, “Crew Change,” was chosen to reflect on the time old honored tradition of the Tennessee train crews changing with the Georgia crews. Being that Cleveland was the last stop for Knoxville Division trains going through Cohutta, Georgia, on their way to Atlanta, the crews had to change at Cleveland.

In 1990 when I decided to paint the station in Cleveland, I headed for the library hoping to find a photo I could use for the layout. After spending several days searching through the library archives for that ideal photo, I finally came to the conclusion that I was going to have to take my own. This option makes painting an historical scene much more difficult because of the fact that the area has changed considerably over the years.

I first took a photo of the station looking south from the Inman Street overpass, which was then enlarged to the size it had to be for the painting. Next, I had to turn this view from 1990 back to 1940 using onion skin overlays, triangles, air brush, old photos, acrylic paint, local area citizens memories and a little help from the Almighty to produce what you are viewing.  I also received priceless historical information from a number of retired Southern operators and agents that worked out of the station — if it were not for the assistance of the following gentlemen, I do not believe I could have put this scene together:

  • Bill Robinson
  • Ronny Phillips
  • Mitchell Lyle
  • Paul Leach
  • Danny Centers

The Cleveland station was officially opened in the spring of 1911 and closed in 1998. It has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of Interior and is currently being restored. When the restoration is complete, the station should reflect the image shown in my painting. Included here are several photos that were taken throughout the 385 hours it took to complete the work; I’m also including a couple photos of the station that were taken in 1978 and 2010. Hopefully this 100 year old diamond in the rough will be shining again in the not too distant future for all to see.

With the assistance of Dr. William Snell of Lee College and the Cleveland Public Library’s Historical Branch I was able to obtain the following notable information pertaining to the construction of the Cleveland station:

In 1852, the Chattanooga, Harrison, Georgetown and Charleston Railroad Company was given permission to extend its connection from Chattanooga to Charleston in Bradley County. In 1854, the charter of this line was added to the East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad, and by 1858 the line was completed and in operation through Cleveland. Bradley County’s economic fortunes were heightened considerably with the completion of this line, and the line from Dalton, Georgia, to Knoxville.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, the fact that Cleveland was important to the national war effort was made evident by the telegram sent by President Lincoln to General Henry W. Halleck on June 30, 1862: “To take and hold the railroad at or east of Cleveland, Tennessee, I think is as fully as important as the taking and holding of Richmond.”

The fall of 1869 saw the East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad merging with the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad until July 7, 1894, when these two railroads were absorbed by the Southern Railway System. With passenger and freight traffic through Cleveland and Bradley County on the rise, the decision was made that a larger depot at Cleveland would definitely have to be constructed.

On September 8, 1910, Division Superintendent R.E. Simpson made the announcement in Knoxville to Agent H.L. Davis, that the Southern Railway would be building a fine passenger station in the city within the next 6 months. In the spring of 1911, the depot in Cleveland was officially opened.

Click here to view/purchase this print at T.D.R. Productions.

“Crew Change” Preliminary Layout

“Crew Change” at 80 hrs development

“Crew Change” at 170 hrs development

“Crew Change” at 240 hrs development

“Crew Change” at 302 hrs development

“Crew Change” at 385 hrs development

Click here to view/purchase this print at T.D.R. Productions.

Artist Tom Rock working on “Crew Change” (1990)

The Cleveland Depot in November 1978 (Credit: Tom Rock)

The Cleveland Depot in December 2010 (Credit: Tom Rock)

Crew Change,” was featured in the January/February 2012 issue of Cleveland Life, a Special Section published by the Cleveland Daily Banner. Click here to download a PDF of the article, “Traveling the Rails.”

Click here to view/purchase this print at T.D.R. Productions.

Rock on Trains © 2021, Tom Rock + T.D.R. Productions.  All rights reserved.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Tom Rock is strictly prohibited.

The Missing Bell

When the Southern Railway retired its steam power on June 17, 1953, the bell from locomotive #6330 by some means disappeared. Upon completion of my painting, “Steam’s Final Hour,” I was quizzed by a number of people regarding the location of the bell, which I had no knowledge of until this summer. The last Southern steam powered train departed Oakdale, TN, so this is where I began my research. After perusing the Oakdale, TN Facebook page, there was the bell! There were also copies of the correspondence between the City of Oakdale and Southern Railway President, Harry DeButts, requesting the bell for the city. Included with this description are photos of the referenced articles and photo of the bell.

Rock on Trains © 2021, Tom Rock + T.D.R. Productions. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Tom Rock is strictly prohibited.

Southern Railway Steam Feature for July 2021

Featured Southern Railway steam subjects for this July post include various locations in Alabama, Virginia & Georgia:

All photos courtesy of SOUTHERN Railfan.

Rock on Trains © 2021, Tom Rock + T.D.R. Productions. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Tom Rock is strictly prohibited.