By Charles Cooper
Hello everyone, hope you’re having a good week. With the completion of the Mississippi Central Railroad in 1859, the stage was being set for Water Valley to become a major railroad center.
In the early 1880s the Illinois Central, a young Chicago based company, planned to expand their operation south, first by acquiring the Mississippi Central, and then establishing their shops in Water Valley.
The shops were on roughly 20 acres going north from Wood Street. A new depot was built where the museum is today and housed the division office and on the south end the Railway Express. The shops consisted of the carpenters who literally built a box car from the ground up and mechanics who serviced the locomotive engines.
A steam engine required regular maintenance and after its “shopping,” an employee called a hostler tested it around the yards similar to a mechanic today road testing a car. When he signed off it went back in service on the road.
The Master Mechanic’s office was in a separate building and usually consisted of about 20 people who were responsible for the payrolls. The railroad paid twice a month in cash, which was brought in with armed guards.
Many railroad employees ran accounts with the grocery stores and settled up on pay day, and from old records, there were very few bad debts. You must remember it was a simpler time, if you wanted to eat, you paid your grocery bill.
The train crews usually consisted of five men, a fireman, engineer, head brakeman, conductor, rear brakeman, and on passenger runs he was also flagman. The trainmaster monitored the train crews looking for rule infractions such as taking a curve too fast. He could also ask to see a watch at any time and make a comparison and see if the inspection was up to date.
Road maintenance was divided into sections with a section foreman and a crew who replaced old cross ties or damaged rails. A section foreman was given a residence simply referred to as a section house. The division superintendent had a car, usually a Packard, fitted with wheels that could only run on the rails. Today they use trucks with wheels that can be lowered for the rails or raised to run on the road.
With all this you can see why Water Valley–for over 60 years–was the place to come for a job. In the beginning running men were required to live within a mile of the depot, and a call boy would come to their house to call them for a run.
With the advent of phones they were required to have a phone and the call boy would call them. Of course the most famous railroader to come out of Water Valley was Casey Jones who actually lived for a time here and that is why the museum bears his name today. Several Water Valley men were killed on the job, among them Jim Thomas White, Bill Hadaway, Skinny Hartwell and George Bumgardner and are buried in Oak HiIl.
We have a proud heritage and I’m proud that my dad, Norman Cooper, was a part of it for 47 years.
Let me hear from you at my email address firstname.lastname@example.org or write me at P.O. Box 613189 Memphis, TN 38101 and have a great week.