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Jones Was Risk Taker, But Respected

By Charles Cooper

Hello everyone, hope you’re having a good week.  Three times a year I repeat parts or most of a previous column and this is the week for one of them.  

I’m dedicating this in memory of my Dad, Norman B. Cooper, who retired in 1964 after 46 years service, the last few years as engineer on “The City of New Orleans” making Memphis to Canton run.  He died eight months after retiring.  

I am also including the names of other railroad men I knew personally.  They are: James Baddley, Pete Baddley, B.G. Gurner, Bruce Gurner, Jim and Spud Boydston, James and Roy Larson, M. M. Turner, Allen Ramey, Taylor and Lloyd Howard, Cleve Peacock, J. P. Sr., J. P., Jr. and Buddy Hart, Ben Barrett, Tom Myers, Frank Roberts, Floyd Poteete, and Ray Tyler.  I’m only including the “running men”.  

It is April 29, not 2010, but 1900 around 11 p.m. and the #1 is late because engineer Sam Tate has called in sick and no one else was available.  John Luther “Casey” Jones just came in from his regular Canton run and was asked to take the  #1 back to Canton.  

He agreed as he had just moved his family to Jackson and he needed the extra money.  He was to have six cars with Sim Webb, fireman, J. C. Turner, conductor and engine #382 – one of the fast engines at that time.  

Casey had brought that engine from Chicago on its first run and he knew it was capable of speeds to catch up the one hour and a half he was behind. A good fireman, fast engine, and a light train made him believe he could catch up the lost time.  

They pulled out of Poplar Street Station in Memphis at approximately 12:50 p.m. with 188 miles to go to Canton. A skilled engineer like Casey knew how to make up time by “pushing the envelope” as we say today.  He could take the curves faster than the recommended speed and, on the straight away, travel faster than the usual speed.  

Sim Webb was glad to be firing for Casey, as he told in an interview later, as Casey expected the best he had but didn’t try to burn him out like some engineers would.  

Sim recalled thinking that “we’re gonna make history tonight,” never dreaming how prophetic his thoughts were.  It was uphill and fast 20 miles out until he topped Hernando Hill and then across Coldwater bottom with the “pedal to the metal” as we say today.  

They passed a slow curve south of Coldwater and then went through Senatobia  at a fast clip while Casey commented to Sim about how, the previous November engineer Dave Dowling and fireman Jack Barnett had turned over at the south crossing, killing them both.  

The newspaper account said the mail train was delayed due to accident and, as an afterthought, reported the engineer and fireman  killed.

Casey said that those fellows deserved more recognition than  that.  As he made the last miles into Grenada, Casey made up some more time across the bottoms.  They had a red alert at Durant, which would cause the #1 and #2 northbound to meet at Goodman instead of Durant.

Casey was only four minutes late in the first 100 miles. Engineer George Barnett, traveling on the  #2 commented, “That Jones boy is showing off again, and they don’t pay a dime more for a fast run that they do for a good one.”

Meanwhile the stage was being set for a wreck as southbound freight #83 had pulled out two drawbars and delayed #25 and, while tying to clear the track, #72 broke an air hose on the fourth car from the engine. Fireman Ed Kennedy was rushing to repair the air hose when the crash came.

Jones’ beloved #382 crashed through the caboose and several cars were actually turned around. Casey was hit in the throat with a piece of wood and while being carried to the depot died on the baggage wagon. Sim said he saw the flagman and the torpedoes, so they first said Casey must have been a sleep.  

Sim disputed this because he said that Casey kicked his seat away, threw the engine in reverse, and opened the sanders and yelled, “Jump Sim jump.” The emergency application was enough as no other crew member or passenger was injured. The railroad said that engineer was solely responsible as he had ignored a flag signal.  

A black friend of Casey, Wallace Saunders, penned a poem in memory of Jones and later a song writer polished it and put it to music – thus the legend of Casey Jones was born.

At one time there were three museums, one at Jackson, Tenn., one in Water Valley and one in Vaughan.     

Later the one at Vaughan was closed, with some of memorabilia moving to Water Valley. The railroad might have considered Casey a risk taker and responsible for the wreck, but 15 engine and trainmen made the 118-mile trip to Jackson for Casey’s funeral at St. Mary’s Church and burial in Calvary Cemetery.  

I hope you have enjoyed this column which has been a labor of love for me.  My email address is or write me at P.O.Box 613189 Memphis, TN 38101 and have a great week.  

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