William J. “Bill” Purdie, Jr. 1915 – 2010

William J. “Bill” Purdie Jr. passed away on the evening of Thursday, July 22, 2010.

Bill Purdie was born in New Jersey in 1915, and moved to East Point, Georgia, with his family while a child. At the age of 20 he joined the Southern Railway as a Machinist’s Helper at South Shops (later Pegram Shops). In 1952 he was promoted from Machinist to Roundhouse Foreman, where he presided over the final days of steam in Atlanta on the Southern.

The steam locomotive re-entered Bill’s life in 1962, in the form of Savannah & Atlanta no. 750. Donated by the railroad to the Atlanta Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society (of which Bill was a member), Bill became one of the locomotive’s caretakers and crewmen on her occasional operations in the Atlanta area. It was on one of these outings (a July 1965 “Georgia Peach Special” on the Southern Railway) that Bill met Graham Claytor, then Vice President – Law for the Southern.

In 1967 Claytor became President of the Southern Railway, and Bill Purdie soon became his handpicked “Master Mechanic – Steam.” From 1968 until 1982, Bill presided over the repair and operation of nearly a dozen steam locomotives, including three originally built for the Southern Railway, and became mentor, hero and friend to a generation of steam fans. Bill retired in 1982 and, with wife Sara, traveled the world to see steam locomotives in Europe and Australia.

He is survived by sons Donald and William. We offer them our condolences and thanks for having shared their father with us.

UPDATE: Trains’ obituary, and a memorial page of photos and tributes.

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