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Reflections

Railroad Heritage Also Include Famous Wreck

Hello everyone, hope you’re having a good week.  The railroad columns are so popular that I hope you can stand one more.      

It’s April 29, not 2007 but 1900, and Engineer John Luther Jones has just pulled into the Poplar street station from his regular run from Canton.  

There he learned that the south bound Engineer has called in sick, and he was asked if he could take the south bound to Canton.  Casey (his nickname came from the town of Cayce, Kentucky where he was born) was tired but he could use the overtime as he had just moved his family so he agreed.  

He learned that he was about an hour and fifteen minutes late and they hoped he could make up some of the time.  He also learned that he would have a black fireman named Sim Webb.  Casey was glad to get Sim as he had been on runs with him before and knew him to be a first class fireman.

“Sim, it‚s good to work with you again, we’re going to make up some time tonight,” Casey said.  Sim liked to work with Casey because he was a fair man.  

Some engineers tried their best to “burn out” a fireman, but Casey only asked for the best they could give.  

“I’ll put in a hard night,” Sim thought, “Because Mr. Casey is going to try to make up that time and I’ll earn my money tonight.”  

Engine #382 was one of the new fast locomotives with drivers almost six feet tall and built for the speed that Casey would need tonight.  He didn’t have to tell Sim what he wanted, because Sim knew what was expected of him.  

The conductor was J.C. Turner and with only six cars they were set for a record run.  Once they passed the switch at East Junction, Sim got ready because it was uphill and fast for several miles.  There were some slow curves at intervals for several miles, until they topped Hernando hill twenty-one miles out then down hill past Love station and across Coldwater bottom.  Casey spoke for the first time to Sim.

“She’s got her high heel slippers on tonight, Sim.”

Sim thought to himself, we’re going to make a record tonight that they’ll talk about for years.  

Sim didn’t realize how prophetic his thoughts would be.  They had one more slow curve at Coldwater and a gentle curve at Senatobia and Como.  As they passed through Senatobia, Casey thought about how the previous November Engineer Dave Dowling and fireman Jack Barnett turned over at the south crossing killing them both.     

Casey thought how the newspaper account headlined the story “Mail train delayed by accident” and went on about passengers being delayed. In the last paragraph the paper stated “engineer and fireman killed instantly”.  No names given.  A fellow deserved to at least get his name mentioned for that day’s work.      

A water stop at Sardis and they were fifty miles out and some of the time made up.  Casey knew how to make more time on the curves between there and Grenada. He hoped that the train master wouldn’t be out tonight.  He went by too fast at Hardy two weeks earlier and recalled the “chewing out” he had received from train master, Bill Murphy.  

When he stopped for water at Penstock at Grenada he was about forty minutes late and a hundred miles out – he had made up 35 miles from Memphis to Grenada.  

The way he was going he could make up the rest in the 88 miles to Canton.  A fast track and brief stop at Winona and Durant and he was looking at 30 miles of speedway and no restricted curves.  Casey had received orders annulling a Durant meet and #2 Northbound was sided at Goodman.  

Engineer George Barnett told his fireman, “That Jones boy is showing off again and he hasn’t learned that they don’t pay a dime more for a fast run than they do for a good one.”

 (A sidebar here, 37 years later, Barnett and fireman Jim Thomas White were killed near Sardis running the Panama.)  

Casey was tired as he had come into Memphis on his regular run on #4 expecting a good night’s sleep and finding out Sam Tate was off and no one else available.  

Casey passed Pickens and was only five minutes late and six miles out from Vaughan.  However, the stage was already set for his wreck as southbound freight #83 had pulled into the passing track  with two drawbars; south bound passenger #25 was delayed several minutes; and Northbound freight #72 could go no further than Vaughan.

With #72 and #83 both in the passing track there was simply more cars than the track would hold.  Meanwhile northbound local #26 arrived from Canton and had to be sawed in on the house track.  

As # 83 and #72 were hurrying to clear the main line for Casey, an air hose broke on the fourth car.  Fireman Kennedy on #72 was nearer and he rushed to change it but before he could #382 crashed through the caboose and several cars and came to rest on engineer’s side pointed back to where they had come.  

Casey was hit by a piece of timber that pierced his throat and he died as they were carrying him on a baggage wagon to the depot.  

The railroad’s formal investigation stated that Engineer Jones was solely responsible, as he had not properly responded to flag signals.  Sim said that he saw the flagman and heard the torpedoes. They implied that Casey might have been asleep, but Sim refuted this because he said that Casey kicked his seat out of the way, applied the sanders and threw the engine in reverse. His actions slowed the train enough so that no passengers or crew, other than Casey, were injured.  The railroad barely mentioned the fatality saying, “engineer killed in wreck.”

A black friend of Casey, Wallace Saunders. wrote a poem in honor of his friend and with some help from a publisher a legend was born.  I know this a longer column than usual but I had to complete it in one column to keep the story in context.  

Let me hear form you. My email address is charlescooper3616@sbcglobal.net or write me at P.O. Box 613189 Memphis, Tn 38101. Have a great week.

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