Musician, Mathematician E.C. Loflin enjoys playing the horn, performing engineering feats

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 10, 2011

Pointing to a trombone resting across the arms of a chair, E.C. Loflin Jr. commented, “I’ve been playing that horn over there — well, not that particular one — since 1938.”

That’s even longer than the years he worked for the R.G. LeTourneau Co. here. He spent 41 years with that business in full-time salaried service and 18 years as a consultant. That’s about 60 years.

Loflin, who is 85, has a lifetime of longtime commitments. He and his wife, Sue, will soon have been married 65 years, and they’ve lived in the same house on Rifle Range Road for 49 years. For 30 years, he sang in the choir at Crawford Street United Methodist Church and still helps out, “when they invite me to sing when they perform ‘The Hallelujah Chorus.’”

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His two-pronged interest, music and engineering, began when he was in high school, for “early on I decided I wanted to be an engineer.” His love of music started to develop about the same time, and it was in the Carr Central band that he learned to read music and began playing trombone.

Born in Vicksburg, he grew up in the old part of the city, went to school at Clay Street and Carr Central and spent a year Batesville and another in Meridian where his father was employed. He finished high school in Meridian and enrolled in the city’s junior college, all preliminary to World War II. A friend at church who went to Mississippi State told him he thought he’d love studying engineering there.

Loflin was good at math, latched on to it easily and was in the upper part of his class. When World War II came along, he applied for officer’s training, was accepted and, as Mississippi State did not offer a program, he went to his second choice, Georgia Tech, and with a year at Meridian Junior College behind him, he finished Tech in two years. That was in the spring of 1945, when the war in Europe was winding down. He was mustered out of service in May 1946 at New Orleans.

While at home in Vicksburg he had picked up a pamphlet about LeTourneau, so on the day after he left the service he applied for a job at the plant south of Vicksburg. His uncle, Gorman Griffin, worked there, and he told E.C. that with his degree he would fit right in. Besides, E.C. recalled, he knew the right person — his uncle!

“I went to work right away and was there 16 1/2 years and never missed a day,” he said. He left LeTourneau for a while, working two years at the District and two at WES.

Then one day he got a phone call from someone at the plant telling him that Mr. LeTourneau, owner of the company, had retired and they needed good engineers, “So I went back in June 1967.”

Loflin had worked in the same office with Mr. LeTourneau for 14 years. He recalls his former boss as hardworking. He was born in Vermont, moved to Minnesota and eventually to many other places. He was a man with almost no schooling — he finished only the third grade — but he had a diploma from the International Correspondence School.

“He was an idea person, an innovator,” Loflin said. “He’d come up with some idea that wasn’t going to work, so we’d have to smooth out the kinks and all that.”

Loflin remembers him as very accessible and down-to-earth despite his immense wealth. He and his wife, Evelyn, (she was 16, he was 29 when they eloped) moved to Warren County and built a home on top of the hill once owned by the pioneer Glass family. Their children went to Jett and attended Redbone Church. Mrs. LeTourneau established a dairy, Wilma Farms, and he built an airstrip.

In addition to the plant here, LeTourneau owned three others in this country and had dealings overseas. He started a college in Longview, Texas, in an old hospital building he bought for a dollar.

Loflin was involved in the development of virtually every piece of equipment LeTourneau dreamed up — the large dirt-moving machines, vessels for the petroleum industry, fabricating steel for bridges, offshore oil rigs and more.

“He was the engineer,” Loflin said. “We just put his idea on paper. We used our training to fine-tune his designs.’’

The company was approached about fabricating some bridge girders to be made of steel for the second bridge over the Mississippi River at Natchez, which is now the eastbound span. LeTourneau was a pioneer in welding, making his own rules for a challenging job with challenging qualifications. Loflin wrote the manual and, he said, “We did all the building on the river bank, along with the assembly work, then shipped it to Natchez on barges.”

Loflin had several overseas assignments, which were trouble-shooting trips, to Scotland, Hong Kong, Singapore and Italy, and he was also present for the christening of the first mobile oil rig — the first one ever built — when future President George H.W. Bush and R.G. LeTourneau both spoke — and George W. Bush was there, too. Work on the rig began Nov. 11, 1954, and was completed in early 1956. The ceremony was at Galveston, Texas.

Loflin might not have been at any of those events were it not for a quirk of fate. LeTourneau had designed a gear box with interchangeable motors sizes — a good idea, perhaps, if it had worked. Loflin proved to him the fallacy of the concept, winning his first argument with the boss. Later, during a slump in production and layoffs were made, Loflin still had a job because “Mr. LeTourneau had put his finger on me,” which would also mean more responsibility.

If there’s one event in his years with LeTourneau that Loflin is particularly proud of, it was the part he played when he was asked to be a technical expert in recovering an offshore oil rig that had fallen. He was the engineer sent to Italy in 1960 to oversee the building of the rig, which was erected in the Indian Ocean, off Madagascar in East Africa.

In the 1970s, he got a call that an accident had occurred and he and another man were sent to make a survey of the situation. They itemized everything it would take to put it back together. Loflin felt it was a total construction loss.

A company on the West Coast had bought the rig and planned to send a huge barge to lift it, then put it on a supertanker and take it somewhere for repairs, “but while they were mobilizing their efforts, a typhoon came along and finished it off. It fell to the bottom of the ocean.”

Loflin was asked to help with the insurance claims. He made a trip to New Orleans for depositions and went twice to Los Angeles to testify. He directed making an underwater movie of the damage, brought the film home, took it to a Jackson TV station where he edited it, then used it in his testimony — “and we won.”

During those years, he sometimes turned to music. He had been in school bands not only here, but also in Meridian and at Georgia Tech. At Carr Central, he and friends had a dance band called The Southerners. By the time he came home from World War II, the Deltonians were playing Saturday nights at the Rainbow Club at Bovina, but when times got hard they cut the size and called themselves the Deltettes. Loflin not only played, but was also a vocalist.

From 1956 until 1972, he said, he quit playing. He had worn out his old trombone at juke joints, but when Edley Jones offered to sell him another, he “picked it up again,” despite all those year when he hadn’t played.

There was a community band in Vicksburg for a few years, and he played with them and then with one at Columbia, La.

When the St. Joseph orchestra was organized in the 1990s, he played with them for 12 years.

His favorite tunes are “Danny Boy” and “Stardust,” and his musical hero is Glen Miller. He has composed a few airs but never has written them down, and his only gigs now are with the Vicksburg Orchestra twice a year. There isn’t much time for music — “between trips to the doctor and scrounging for lunch and supper.”

His last job with LeTourneau was last year, he said, “So I’m ready to practice. I’m anticipating playing again this fall.”

Gordon Cotton is an author and historian who lives in Vicksburg.