The stories of two Pullman porters

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Ann M. Simmons wrote a moving article July 5 about Lee Wesley Gibson, who at 100 was believed to be the oldest living Pullman porter -- one of the uniformed railway men who served first-class passengers in a train’s luxurious sleeping cars.

Gibson, of Los Angeles, was listed as the oldest surviving former porter by the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum, named for the creator of the first labor organization for employees of the Pullman Co.

The article, which chronicled Gibson’s move to Los Angeles in 1935 in search of a better life and the introduction that landed him a job with Union Pacific Railroad in 1936, touched readers.

In a comment on the article, Cynthia Vanaria wrote, “Wonderful story. … God bless you, Mr. Gibson and thank you. It was a pleasure to meet you here in the LA Times.”


And mrsc5inla commented, “What a story this man has to tell, and all should listen.”

After the article was published, Simmons received a voicemail message from Andrew Isaacs. Isaacs, 88, “called to say that he loved the story on Lee Wesley Gibson, but he had one better,” Simmons said. When she called back, Isaacs told her about his brother Ben, who is 105 and was also a Pullman porter.

Ben Isaacs of Victorville began his railroad career in April 1936, according to the Chicago-based Newberry Library, which keeps data on Pullman employees, and retired in December 1968, records from the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board show.

Simmons dutifully wrote a correction to her original article, which was published Monday. But she went one step better: She interviewed Ben Isaacs and shared his experiences and memories with Times readers in an article published Thursday:

Isaacs, who is now blind, spoke fondly about his 32 years as a porter, although he acknowledged that ‘it got quite hard sometimes. ... Sometimes I would have a full car, and the car had 30 or 50 berths.’ His favorite celebrity was cowboy singer and actor Roy Rogers. ‘I had a chance to talk to him,’ Isaacs said. ‘He had a car all by himself, for him and his friends, from Los Angeles to Chicago.’

Isaacs appears to have struck a chord with readers as well. Richard Raddatz of Northridge left this comment on the article: “I would love to have you tell him that he was and is appreciated for who he was when he was working, and who he is now.”

Rafachavez wrote, “It’s great to have these two men still around to tell us about those days. We should recognize the hard work that they did to make train travel such an exciting and comfortable mode of transportation in that era. History does not remember everything. The oral history that they give is, without a doubt, magnificent.”

And normbc9, who commented on the Gibson story as well, wrote: “Both of these former Pullman employees have every reason to be proud of their careers and the high quality of service they and their fellow employees offered. I traveled by train for 24 years and much of it in Pullman cars. I never had anything but high praise for the Pullman porters. Their service and dedication was legendary.”

Simmons said Isaacs’ family wasn’t looking for attention. “Andrew Isaacs didn’t ask for a correction, or a story on his brother. He said he just wanted me to know,” she said.

But Simmons wanted readers to know as well.

--Deirdre Edgar


Top: Lee Wesley Gibson, 100, of Los Angeles with a 1937 Pullman dormitory/club car. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times

Bottom: Ben Isaacs, 105, of Victorville gets a hug from daughter Dolores White. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times