It was my pleasure to meet J.R. through the Southeastern Railway Museum. Though we were both employees of the Southern Railway and Norfolk Southern for years, our paths never crossed until the museum gave us the opportunity.
J.R., shown here with his lovely wife Sarah, circa 1943 per J.R., was very proud of his World War II service with the US Navy. I understand he was a sailor aboard an ammunition ship, certainly a very dangerous duty.
J.R. started working for the Southern Passenger Department during the 40’s, if memory serves. He and Sarah worked the Atlanta area excursions for the Atlanta Chapter and I’m guessing the New Georgia Railroad, the State owned excursion operation. My feeling is that this was the best time of his life. Good health and doing what he loved with the one he loved.
I now wish I had written down some of his shared stories, but sometimes it is best to drop the reporter guise and just enjoy the company, which is what I did. I got several tours of his huge railroad artifact collection at their Mableton home. The highlight was the actual caboose on a piece of actual track. He had it moved by rail to a Mableton siding and then trucked in to his property. That must have been a big and expensive undertaking. But he also had model trains, signals, switch stands, signs, you name it. And it was well taken care of by J.R. until his health started restricting his activity.
At J.R.’s invitation, I went with him to several railroad retiree meals in different parts of Georgia. I was impressed with how many folks knew J.R., whether in Rome, Cedartown, Smyrna, Lula or wherever. How in a seniority-based craft he worked on different Divisions of the railroad, I never understood. But I believe he pulled it off. There were many that testified they worked with J.R. Sometimes Sarah and my wife would accompany us to these meals, but mostly it was just J.R. and me. And he seemed to always enjoy himself “cutting up” with his friends.
The railroad historically identified you by your first initials and last name, and he stuck with that. His actual name was Joseph Romaine Shipp. Sarah called him Romaine. No one called him Joseph or Joe to my knowledge.
J.R. loved the museum, and has donated many things from his collection and many hours of his time. He had come out at least a couple times this year, I believe. We are fortunate to have these things he left us and the pictures of him in his conductor uniform. I’m proud to be a co-charter recipient along with J.R. of a place on the museum’s wall of honor. Mostly I am proud to have personally known and spent time with this legend.
Rest in peace, my friend.
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