author J. PARKER LAMBpublisher The Boston Mills Press, Ontario, Canada pages 176review by Dr. William Scaggs
Like many Mississippians, Sally and I like to keep our four children supplied with reminders of home. From the first time all four Sunday evening telephone calls went to numbers in Alabama, North Carolina, Florida and Texas, we've fed their need to be connected to this place with books, art and music. Gifting books has become a favored opportunity to "remark" on the occasions and milestones of their life paths. For example, Willie Morris' “My Mississippi,” Robert St. John and Wyatt Water's “A Southern Palate,” and Patti Carr Black's “Art in Mississippi” found a path to their bookshelves and coffee tables.
Thus the occasion which spurs this review is the 30th anniversary of the Meridian High School class of 1981. Our firstborn is a member of that class. His family's work schedule requires that he miss the class reunion. He's a mechanical engineer working in the aerospace/defense world. So we needed to find an appropriate reminder that Mississippi is home. And there it was, on our bookshelf!
J. Parker Lamb's personal journey of railroad photography, “Steel Wheels Rolling,” was published in 2001 by the Boston Mills Press. It fits the occasion, the recipient and our intention perfectly. It's a beautiful work. The graphics and the story are metaphorically powerful. And they are very close to home. How many coffee table books have a front cover photograph of a GM & O diesel moving through Marion, Miss.?
A bit about the photographer. His fascination with railroading and his Mississippi roots run deep. In 1938 when his father's business, Lamb's Garage, relocated from Boligee, Ala., to Meridian, young Parker quickly bonded with this "railroad town." A model train builder as a youth, he picked up a circa-1930 Kodak and began taking photographs. Yes, photos of yards, rails, and trains. He's been at this since 1949. However, it's not his "day job."
J. Parker Lamb, Ph.D., served on the engineering faculty at the University of Texas in Austin from 1962 until 2001, retiring as Professor Emeritus of mechanical engineering. Following his undergraduate studies at Auburn, he earned a doctorate from the University of Illinois, completed his service as a U.S. Air Force officer and began a distinguished career as an academic leader in aerospace and mechanical engineering. Among his special gifts as a scholastic leader was nurturing and supporting emerging engineering talent.
Lamb's first photographic credit was in Trains magazine in August 1954. One suspects this was a few years before his first fluid dynamic research work was published. Nevertheless both interests were nurtured by a father who took time to share with his son an interest in machines. And how do trains run? How do rail systems work?
“Steel Wheels Rolling” moves the reader from the age of steam to diesel. Each chapter includes personalized comment from the artist/author. And while the spotlight always is on photographs of trains and railroads, the story of Lamb's "personal journey" illuminates both the photos and the author's love for railroading. In many ways Meridian was the crossroads of the author's personal and professional journeys. The rail-fan engineer was nurtured at this crossroads some of us call home.
Next May, Indiana University Press is scheduled to release “Railroads of Meridian.” The author, you guessed it: J. Parker Lamb. Yes, you can
And why did I choose to review of book about railroads by a mechanical engineer? Arts and science are not incompatiable. Take a look at his photography. Lamb is an artist with a camera. He is a wonderful example of the crossroads of cultural heritage, creative arts and high level technical competence. If you make the Mississippi Industrial Museum's Soule' Live Steam Festival on Nov. 4-5, take time to look for additional examples of heritage, arts and technical competence. They'll be there in abundance.