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.
Family will receive friends at Northside Chapel, 12040 Crabapple Road, Roswell, Georgia, Between 4:00 and 7:00 p.m., Saturday July 24. Funeral services, officiated by Dr. Allan Purdie, will be held Sunday July 25 at East Point Presbyterian Church at 2:00 p.m., followed by graveside services and interment at Hillcrest Cemetery.
Family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Southeastern Railway Museum, Duluth, Georgia.