ONE OF THE MORE popular student pursuits at West Babylon High School is
guessing which one of his nine off-the-wall Crosley automobiles social
studies teacher Jak's Phamley Phillips is driving to work.
They are strange variations of a tiny post World War II vehicle that
enjoyed brief popularity into the early '50s. All different, the
restored collectible cars - like the way he spells his name - are
as offbeat as their owner.
One has a huge rotating wind-up key making it look like an oversized
toy while another is decked out like a mini-fire engine. Another has a
surfboard protruding from the rear. Each whimsical vanity license plate
on the fleet is a hoot, just like Phillips quirky penchant for changing
"f" sounds to "ph" in some of his writings.
How far has he taken his elaborate goof? Well, his 21-year-old
daughter's real name is Phaeryn J'lin and his 19-year-old son was named
Phinley Jon. Somehow his wife, Linda, a kindergarten teacher in North
Babylon, was able to escape with her own monicker. However, Linda often
takes one of the Crosleys to her school as well. "Phire prevention week
makes miniature phire phighters out of her students when they board the
miniature Crosley mock phire truck," Phillips, 55, wrote in a note about
his life and times.
Phillips weaves his hobby, which now includes several more wacky
vehicles in addition to the Crosley fleet, into his teaching. In a study
unit, for example, Phillips explained that he teaches his classes how
Powel Crosley Jr. was a pioneer in ingenuity from the 1920s onward,
ultimately manufacturing not just the tiny cars that got 50-miles to the
gallon, but refrigerators as well. "Crosley also was famous for owning a
powerful radio station and owning the Cincinnati Red Legs baseball
team," added Phillips.
Students in the hallways often greet their teacher with, "Hey Phil,
what car did you drive today?" Recently, a typical retort came from Al
Sessa, a 11th-grader in Phillips first period class: "He drove the
yellow pickup." Phillips said he seldom drives the same car two days in
a row. During Christmas, Phillips found a greeting card left by
10th-grader Jennifer Giblin. "To the coolest teacher with the coolest
cars," it read.
Born John Finley Phillips, the educator graduated from California
Maritime Academy and sailed globally during the Vietnam era. After being
involved in an automobile accident and suffering a three-week coma and
lengthy hospitalization, he ended up with a disability that terminated
his seagoing career. Phillips ultimately came East and earned his
Phillips said his favorite car out the dozen he owns is "Little
Phoot," a 1947 pickup mounted on a Jeep chasis, with a mannequin head
sticking out of the roof, an outboard motor on the tailgate and an
anchor on the front bumper. During Halloween, it carries a coffin in its
cargo area with a bloody hand reaching out holding a yo-yo. "That has
brought more than one call to the superintendent's office," said
These days the spelling goof Phillips enjoys is mainly reserved for
casual correspondence to friends. School administrators have asked that
it not be used during his teaching because it might confuse the
students. "I never heard any complaints," writes Phillips. "In phact,
some students like Phred Delaney would turn in their papers smiling with
the spelling as shown. I just don't want any students to dread coming to
my class. Maybe dread leaving it, but not coming to it."