Reflections

Railroad Stories – And Scotch – Hold Reporters Attention

By Charles Cooper

Hello everyone I hope you are having a good week. Last week in writing about Casey Jones there was a related story I’d like to share with you.  

In April 1960 The Commer-cial Appeal sent two reporters to make the same route that Casey took on that fateful night.  Cleve Peacock was the engineer and Baxter Jones was the fireman.  

Railroad men back then loved to spin yarns and pull practical jokes.  That night was no exception. Of course in 1900, Casey left from the old Poplar street station which was long gone by 1960. The two reporters had brought along a bottle of Scotch to ward off the night air and by the time #1 was out of the Memphis yards they had already had a taste to fortify themselves for the 188 mile ride to Canton. They had politely offered the two enginemen a drink that was just as politely refused.

Just as in Casey’s day, #1 was made up of sleepers–no day coaches.  Cleve Peacock knew how to put drama into a story and as they passed through Senatobia he related how in November of 1899 engineer Dowling and fireman Barnett were both killed near there on the same run.

When they went through Sardis he told the reporters how #1 hit a cow, throwing it into the switch, causing a derail killing engineer Barnett and fireman White.  He had the reporters’ full attention. Later in a straightaway he told them, “Casey had the top passenger engine of that day and he was only making about sixty-five miles an hour. In those days an engineer used his watch and mileposts to tell his speed.  

“These diesels have a speedometer. Take a look and you can tell your children that you rode in the cab of the Panama Limited doing a hundred miles an hour.”  When they were crossing the bottom north of Vaughan, Cleve said, “Just think when old Casey came across here he didn’t realize that he only had a few minutes to live.”  In the article in the Commercial they related the entire trip only leaving out the part about the Scotch.  

I was stopped at a crossing recently by a CN train and I thought about how the Canadian National had taken over what was once the proud Illinois Central.  It was a prosperous line established in the eighteen fifties and acquired the Mississippi Central about 1885 giving it the Chicago to New Orleans route along with the shops at Water Valley.  

I remember during WWII when a special train with the private car of IC official Clint Christy, who had begun his career in Water Valley, was on the siding just north of the depot and his body lay in state for several hours.  He is buried in Oak Hill.  

The last passenger train to come through Water Valley was in 1946 when the City Of New Orleans was rerouted due to a washout on the main line.  Today Amtrak offers passenger service but it doesn’t have the appeal of The Twentieth Century Limited, The Panama Limited, The City of New Orleans, or The City of Miami because no one has the time to take two or three days to go from Coast to Coast. They have gone into history and by another generation will be forgotten.  Fortunately rail freight service is making a strong comeback.  

I hope all of you will enjoy this trip down memory lane.  As usual your input will be greatly appreciated.  My email address is charlescooper3616@sbcglobal.net or write me at P.O. Box 613189 Memphis, Tenn. 38101 and have a great week.

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