Clyde W. 'C.W.' Phillips, a Vietnam War veteran and seasoned Amtrak locomotive engineer, dies

Clyde W. “C.W.” Phillips, a Vietnam War veteran who later became a seasoned Amtrak locomotive engineer, died Sept. 30 from a heart attack at his home in Selbyville, Del. The former Catonsville resident was 67.

“Clyde had a flawless career and never had a rule violation or a personal injury. He was a model employee who was known and respected for getting his trains over the road without any problems, and ran them safely and on time, no matter what the circumstances,” said Steve Strachan, a retired former Amtrak vice president and chief transportation officer.

He added: “He was knowledgeable, affable and reliable.”

“We’ve had a friendship for 40 years, and Clyde was the most loyal person I’ve ever known. Loyalty meant a lot to him,” said Jim Wieman, a locomotive engineer who retired from Amtrak in 2012 after a 39-year career.

“Clyde had an unblemished record in a nearly 40-year career, and that’s almost unheard of,” said Mr. Wieman, a Chesapeake City resident. “He was a perfectionist, took pride in his job, and never let his guard down.”

Clyde Wright Phillips was born in Salisbury into a railroad family. His father, Grover Phillips, had been a Pennsylvania Railroad conductor and later a trainmaster, and his grandfather had been a Pennsy engineer and supervisor. His mother, Emma Phillips, worked at the Social Security Administration in Woodlawn.

After his father was transferred to the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Bay View Yard in Baltimore, the family settled in Woodlawn, where Mr. Phillips graduated in 1969 from Woodlawn High School.

He attended Calhoun MEBA Engineering School in Baltimore, where he studied marine engine operations and maintenance, and later earned his Coast Guard license, which allowed him to work aboard vessels of 100 gross tons.

“He worked on tugboats between Norfolk, Va., and Philly, and sailed up and down the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal right by my front door,” Mr. Wieman said.

In 1970, Mr. Phillips joined the Army and served in the Army Transportation Corps, and from 1970 to 1971, was assigned to patrol boats operating on rivers in Vietnam. He was discharged in 1973 with the rank of sergeant.

Mr. Phillips joined the old Penn-Central Railroad in 1974 as a locomotive fireman, and a decade later, was promoted to engineer.

“Clyde liked transportation. Period,” Mr. Wieman said.

For the first 12 years of his career, he ran freight trains from Potomac Yard in Alexandria, Va., first for Penn-Central, and later for successor Conrail starting in 1976.

“He was highly respected as an engineer and had excellent train-handling skills. He could easily handle long freights and was so good at it, he got the nickname of ‘Clyde the Slide.’ What he was operating was like a million-ton Slinky,” Mr. Wieman said, with a laugh.

After leaving freight service, he began operating Amtrak passenger trains between Washington’s Union Station and Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan.

“When you’re in freight service, the hours are long and you’re away from home a lot, and you’re always waiting in Harrisburg to bring a train back,” Mr. Wieman said. “On Amtrak, Clyde would take a train from Washington to New York and back, and call it a day.”

“He was a very talented guy,” said Mr. Strachan, a Wilmington, Del., resident. “In my world, you dealt with a lot of exceptions when things didn’t go as planned, but Clyde had a nearly 40-year career without a glitch. He was a professional when it came to his craft.”

Mr. Phillips was also a popular mentor to new engineers with their on-the-job training.

“He was always a gentleman to me and others of our Amtrak family,” Richard Del of Davenport, Fla., a retired engineer who had been a student of Mr. Phillips, wrote n a sympathy note to his wife.

“He was one of the nicest engineers with never a nasty word about anyone. He was always upbeat and smiling and was never too busy to talk to anyone,” he wrote.

The railroad also brought Mr. Phillips the love of his life, the former Kathleen Ann “Kathy” Mattiucci, formerly of Boston, who was working as an Amtrak passenger car attendant when she met and fell in love with her future husband.

“We met during a layover at Union Station in 1977, and married two years later,” Mrs. Phillips said.

In addition to handling passenger trains of Amtrak’s Northeast Direct service, Mr. Phillips also operated the high-speed Acela.

“There was nothing he couldn’t run,” his wife said.

The former Catonsville resident, who lived on Kent Island for a decade, had been living in Shelbyville since 2011.

Mr. Phillips was an avid fisherman and an accomplished woodworker who enjoyed working on home-improvement projects, but was not a railroad buff, even though he had electric trains as a kid.

“When you ride the engine, you have a panoramic view of the world and sitting back in a passenger car is not too exciting,” his wife of 39 years said.

Mrs. Phillips will host an open house from noon to 6 p.m. Nov. 10 to celebrate her husband’s life at their home, 38231 Rock Elm Drive, Shelbyville.

She is his only survivor.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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