Reflections

Anniversary Of Casey Jones Crash Observed May 30

By Charles Cooper

Hello everyone, hope you’re having a good week.  Someone asked me if I only listened to gospel music, so I thought I’d answer that in this column.  I love jazz both traditional and modern.  I was never a Beatles fan but I thought Creedence did the greatest rock music of the sixties and seventies.  I still watch John Fogerty every time he appears on some program.  

My favorite pop song of all time, “Take It To The Limit”, by the Eagles with Don Henley on vocals. I quit listening to country when Ernest Tubb died, and Ray Price retired, although I liked early George Strait.  The greatest western swing band of all time, “Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys” with Hank Thompson’s “Brazos Valley Boys” and Leon McAuliffe’s “Cimarron Valley Boys” runners up.

When Gene Meggs, the Horton Brothers and I had our band in the late forties we were trying to get the western swing sound by mixing pop and country but we didn’t have enough musicians and not enough money to hire any more.  I have always regretted we had to break up as I believed we had real potential.

I laid down my steel guitar until the early seventies when I agreed to sit in with a group playing a small honky tonk near Anthony, N. M., and I realized it just wasn’t my thing any more.  Since then I’ve only sung gospel and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  

I only sing Southern Gospel and I refuse to do contemporary  or use a track.  I made many friends in that field but resisted the desire to do it full time although we did have a good quartet in the eighties.  As I told my good friend, London Paris, “I wouldn’t mind doing concerts if I didn’t have to ride a bus and could go home and sleep in my own bed every night.”  

Since this week’s edition will be dated April 30, I’d like to take you back to another April 30–1900.  It was a cool foggy night of April 29 when engineer John Luther Jones came in to Memphis from his regular run from Canton. He learned that the regular engineer had called in sick and since he could use the extra money to move his family from Jackson, he volunteered to take the run back to Canton.

According to the record, he left at 12:50 p.m. with six passenger cars on engine 382 with  conductor J.C. Turner and fireman Sim Webb, an hour and fifty minutes late.  Casey, his nickname came from the town of Cayce, Ky., where he was  born, was known to be a risk taker and had been reprimanded before.  

He knew how to make up time by  taking curves faster than prescribed and speeding through Coldwater bottom.  As they sped through Senatobia, Casey thought about how the previous November engineer Dowling and Fireman Barnett had overturned, killing them both.  Sim said that Casey told him at one point, “Sim, she’s got her high heel slippers on tonight.”  

Sim had fired for Casey before and he liked him because unlike many engineers, Casey wouldn’t try to “burn out” a fireman. Sim thought to himself how they would make a record tonight.  

When he stopped for water at Memphis Junction one mile out of Grenada, they were a hundred miles out and only forty minutes late.  Casey sometimes reached speeds of Sixty-five miles an hour. Northbound #2 had orders to meet at Goodman instead of Durant.  George Barnett, engineer on #2 remarked, “That Jones boy is showing off again and they don’t pay a dime more for a fast run than a good one.”  

Thirty-seven years later Barnett and fireman Jim Thomas White were killed at Sardis when the Panama derailed.  

There was a jam at Vaughn.  Casey was six miles north of Vaughn at Pickens and he had made up nearly all of the time. There was a saw by at Vaughn. Several cars were still on the track when an air hose broke and fireman Ed Kennedy was rushing to change it when Casey on #1 crashed through the caboose and several cars and was turned almost north.  

Casey was wounded by a piece of splintered lumber through his neck and was taken to the depot where he died. The inquiry found Casey responsible for not responding to flag signals.  Sim Webb disputed this as he said he shouted at Casey when he spotted the caboose and Casey  put the brakes in emergency, reversed the engine and opened the sanders and yelled at Sim to jump.

Casey was the only fatality and none of the passengers were injured. Sim was injured but lived for many years and told the story many times. When Casey’s funeral was held in Jackson, Tenn., fifteen enginemen laid off to attend which showed their respect for him.

I know many of you already know this story but for those of you who don’t I hope you enjoyed it.  Casey had a Water Valley connection as he lived and worked out of there in the eighteen nineties.  Engine #382 was repaired and put back into service.  

My email address is charlescooper3616@sbcglobal,net or write me at P.O. Box 613189 Memphis, Tenn. so let me hear from you and have a great week.

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