Joseph J. McKelvie, 99, of Philadelphia, a well-known conductor on the Reading Railroad for many years, died Friday, April 19, of congestive heart failure at his home in Las Vegas. He had gone there last year to be near family.
From 1939 to 1975, when he retired, Mr. McKelvie was a familiar figure on the Hatboro and Lansdale lines of the Reading Co. and on the "Crusader" and "Wall Street" express trains to North Jersey, from which commuters took a ferry to Manhattan, said his son, John Joseph.
Mr. McKelvie would walk the aisles of the cars, making sure the train was safe and on time.
"He was the boss of the train, like the captain on a ship," said his son. "He loved working for the railroad. I've been surprised in going through his papers to see notes from people saying, 'Sorry you're not on the Hatboro route now.' "
As he worked the cars, Mr. McKelvie would hand a comic book to each child. The comics, provided by the American Association of Railroads, were filled with illustrations on how to stay safe around trains.
"The message was not to play near the trains," his son said.
Mr. McKelvie was born in Coleraine, Northern Ireland, in 1914, and came to the United States with his family that year.
He attended Germantown High School until quitting to help support his family during the Depression. Later, he earned his GED and attended Temple University to study electronics, his son said.
He enlisted in the Army in January 1942 and trained at Camp Tyson, Tenn., to fly barrage balloons tethered to the ground by steel cables. Mr. McKelvie participated in the invasions of North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and southern France, where his unit's balloons denied low-altitude airspace needed for accurate targeting to German dive bombers.
During the Army's advance through France and into Germany, he served with the military police in road patrols. He received five battle stars for these campaigns and an honorable discharge with the rank of technician fourth grade in 1945.
He worked for Provident Trust Co. in the late 1930s and for the Reading Co. from 1940 to 1975, except for his time in the Army.
His first railroad job was as a crossing watchman in Fox Chase, where he would sit in a shack until the train approached. Then he would go out with a stop sign to halt auto traffic until the train passed.
By mid-career, when the family lived in Warminster, most of his runs were on the Hatboro line, but later he used his seniority to claim once-a-day runs up and back to North Jersey, his son said.
One some occasions, his son went along, and the two would use down time to explore Manhattan's museums and take a ferry ride, his son said.
In private life, Mr. McKelvie loved to tease his friends and family.
"Dad would make jokes about things and kid people a lot. In a large group of people, everyone would know him by name. He was outgoing and enjoyed being around people," his son said.
After retiring, he missed his old comrades, so he helped found the Reading Retired Veteran Employees Association and served as its trustee until just before his death.
He enjoyed raising azaleas in shades of pink, white, and deep red in front of the family home. At the Jersey Shore, he fished for weakfish and flounder. He always kept a well-mannered shelter dog.
He is survived by his son. His first wife, Alverta Gomeringer, died in 1987. His second wife, Beatrice Stalker, died in 2005.
A funeral service will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday, June 11, at St. Anne's Episcopal Church, 2119 Old Welsh Rd., Abington. Interment is in the church cemetery.
Contributions may be made to the Pennsylvania SPCA, 350 E. Erie Ave., Philadelphia 19134, or to a local animal shelter.
Condolences to the family may be offered at www.palmmortuary.com.