Mr. Wilkes’s Jacksonville Terminal
John Love Wilkes obtained a job as a water boy on a railroad at the age of 12, a year later became a porter, he learned telegraphy and became an operator, followed by his promotion to Station Agent, then to dispatcher, trainmaster, and finally Superintendent. He rose to the position of President and general manager of the Jacksonville Terminal Co and was in direct control of all Passenger and freight interchange in Jacksonville.
Mr. Wilkes was born in Culleoka Tennessee in 1880 and educated in Maury County until age 12 when he went to work in the railroad industry, during WWI he was appointed a job with the Federal Railroad Administration in Atlanta and Philadelphia. In 1919 he was assigned to take charge of the railroad facilities in the District of Columbia (Washington Terminal). He came to Jacksonville Terminal Co as General Manager in 1920 and President in 1921.
Wilkes took a personal interest in all operations of railroading, and the Jacksonville Terminal was no exception. His views were both from a company and public aspect. He ran a tight ship while having a “family” of employee’s that ran the second largest work force in Jacksonville (2000 in peak winter & 1200 in summer) and was known all over the United States as the most efficient terminal while switching occupied passenger trains. He took the impressive task of making a railroad yard look as much like a “Tropical Gateway” with his landscape of palms, shrubs, and Australian Pines to block the mechanical areas as much as possible while entering by rail. Many operating improvements were made under his direction, JTCo had its own deionizing water plant for steam generator boiler water with the capacity to distill 60,000 gallons of water every 24 hours. Three interlocking towers were equipped with electro-pneumatic and electro-mechanical switches and signal appliances with 2 way radios between 0-6-0 switchers and the towers. He had an alligator exhibit in the concourse for passengers to view while making connections or layovers as 80% of all passengers passed through Jacksonville and did not originate or terminate here. One of his last improvements was the purchase of 3 EMD NW2 diesel switchers.
Wilkes was Jacksonville Terminals second President after J. C. Blanton who was the first when the new terminal opened in 1919. Wilkes built the extension of “New Town” section during the Florida Boom, and saw the lean years of the great depression. His personal pride is though to have been the all-new “Silver Meteor” which started operation in February 1939 were he oversaw its operation on a daily basis. He was also known to be of the highest regards in his journey as a Master Mason of the 32nd Degree, Scottish Rite and York Rite bodies, he was a member of the Kiwanis Club, Florida Children’s Society, Boys home association, Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, Florida State Chamber of Commerce, Jacksonville Traffic Club, Jacksonville Passenger Club, and Associated Industries of Florida. Wilkes was an avid baseball fan and sponsored the Terminal entry in the City League. He frequently arranged for groups of children to tour the Terminal and the different types of passenger equipment followed with a short ride. Everybody in Jacksonville knew of John Wilkes, he was truly a well-respected citizen.
John Love Wilkes, love for People, Jacksonville, and Railroads ended on August 23rd, 1949 at the age of 68 after a long illness from a heart ailment. He is buried in his birth town of Culleoka Tennessee.