The following was published in the Thursday, February 8, 1979 issue of the
North Vernon Plain Dealer
Vol. 107 - No. 8
HE'S 95 YEARS OLD
It's been a long and happy life
By Steve McDonald
"I eat good and sleep good, take time out in the morning to pray...don't run any races, but..."
That's the key to a long and happy life according to James M. Callahan, Route 7, North Vernon. Not that a man who is 95 years old should run any foot races, but Callahan could probably turn in a good time for the mile considering his age.
Celebrating his 95th birthday on January 31, he is still a very active member of the Church of the Nazarene and has been retired from the B&O Railroad for 25 years, both the church and the railroad being important parts of his life.
He was born in 1884 in Jackson County, Indiana, about five miles west of Brownstown and is the oldest known native of that county.
"I have the equivalent of about a third grade education," he said. "I started school at age ten and went three years at three months of school a year. The reason I started so late was that school was ten miles away and my folks thought I was too young to walk through the hills. School in those days weren't really grades though. The students went through stages - when you learned one thing, like your alphabet for instance, you were sent to another section, like math." He added that attending school had a really low priority in those days and if a man could read, write, and knew a little math it was enough to get by.
His education, he says, was getting books and matching the pictures with words.
One would wonder what a man of 95 would talk of. He was a little late for the Civil War or the nation's 100th birthday. No, the things Jim Callahan talked of was three jobs during his lifetime, all of which, he says, he mastered.
Jim was married in 1907 to the former Grace May Green of Brownstown. He and his wife enjoyed 64 years of marriage until her death in 1972 and they had two children, Opal EuDaly, who is 69 and lives in Bloomington, and Gladys Othella Dean, living in North Vernon. She is 59.
Having three jobs in his lifetime, Jim worked all his life with steam engines in one way or the other. Since there were no "trade schools" or anywhere Jim could go to learn of steam engines, he self-educated himself in the trade. "Whenever I wanted to know how an engine worked," he said, "I just took a piece off the engine and seen how it worked. I learned all about them in this way."
His first job was working with his uncle running a threshing machine, threshing wheat and shredding corn. According to Jim, he and his uncle soon had a monopoly on the threshing business in Jackson County because they did such good work.
His second job was operating a steam powered saw, cutting logs into boards for house building.
"I'll bet I cut enough wood to build North Vernon" he exclaimed. "The thing of it was, the carpenters could always tell if it was my wood when they went to build a house...the wood was cut straight. That was something that was pretty hard to do in those days."
Although he talked extensively about his first two jobs, he couldn't talk enough about railroading and the "fever," and his 41 years with the B&O as an engine machinist and inspector. What is the "fever?" No, not scarlet or yellow, but the railroading fever. It's a "malady" that even Callahan couldn't explain. "It's just something you experience," he said.
Through the help of old photographs and certificates of merit, he reminisced.
His railroading career started with the help of a natural disaster, the Flood of 1913. According to the North Vernon Plain Dealer and the North Vernon Sun, then two separately published newspapers, the flood had knocked out telegraph and telephone lines, shut down factories and the pump station on the Muscatatuck River was completely submerged, leaving the county with no water. The papers also said, "It is rumored that the town of Medora is completely wiped out." In addition, the flood left an estimated 100,000 people in the state homeless.
Before the floods Jim had gone to the roundhouse in Seymour and applied for a job. "I told the foreman that I wanted to work here as soon as they had an opening," remembers Jim. "He asked me what I could do and I told him, 'I can work.'"
At the time of the flood, Jim's brother-in-law's wife took sick and his brother-in-law stayed home to care for her. Jim took his place for one day as a substitute, but worked hard and was hired, never missing a day after that. One of Jim's first jobs was helping repair the washed-out bridge, ties and track between Medora and Vallonia that was destroyed by the flood.
All his life, Jim has been a hard worker. This is evident through his manner and ways of explaining things and more so through his work record.
After only a few weeks with the company, Jim's foreman offered him a better job as a machinist's helper. According to Jim, his foreman told him, "We don't need men like you around here (the roundhouse). You deserve a better job."
As a machinist's helper, Jim worked for 18 months, at that time being promoted to machinist. This promotion usually took the average worker four years to accomplish.
After his transfer from the roundhouse, this veteran was told that, "they couldn't get anything done around here anymore because Jim Callahan wasn't around here anymore." As soon as they found out he could handle men, he was promoted to general foreman.
"Handling men was something not everyone could do then," he explained.
One of his closest friends and co-workers, Carl F. Smith of North Vernon, speaks highly of him. Carl worked with Callahan from 1941 until Jim's retirement in 1954, doing the same job (machinist and inspector). He says, "I have a high respect for Jim, both as a foreman and a friend, a Christian and a man of the community. He was my first and best friend, upon my transfer here from Washington, Indiana." He continued, "He's a good Christian, a gentleman and an A-1 mechanic."
All of Jim's life hasn't been on an upward soar, though. In his early years, Jim admits to nursing a whiskey bottle and smoking cigarettes. With tears in his eyes, he talks of how he accepted God into his life.
"The thing that interests me the most," he says, "is that when I went to the confession alter at the church and God forgave me and I had decided to lead a Christian life, the very night of my confessions, I never wanted a drink or smoke after that." He added, "The Lord had ridden me of all my desire to sin."
"The Lord's presence in me is a fact," he continued. "If one has the desire to reform himself and he earnestly talks to God, then He will help you. This God we talk of can do things."
His belief in God has probably had something to do with his long life. According to Reverend Ralph Lee, Pastor of the Church of the Nazarene, Jim is extremely loved by the teenagers at the church and as long as weather permitting, Callahan is in attendance at church.
"During the depression years," says the Reverend, "Jim was the only man who really had a steady job. Financially, he kept the church alive by matching the offerings of others dollar for dollar." The Reverend continued, "Some of the old-timers say that if it wasn't for Jim Callahan there wouldn't have been a church. I'd like to have a whole church full of Jim Callahans." He added, "He's a very sacrificial giver."
Although he doesn't know for sure, Jim estimates he's been a member of the church for 50 to 60 years. But he says that whenever there's a function, he makes it a point to attend. "I want to know what's going on," he says.
Happy Birthday, Jim Callahan!