By J. K. Gurner
One night in the summer of 1955 Bruce Gurner got a call from engineer Taylor Howard. Mr. Howard had just returned home from downtown where they were tearing down the old depot.
Knowing that Bruce was interested in the history of the railroad, Mr., Howard told Bruce about all of the old records that were scattered on the ground around the old depot site. When the top of the depot was removed, all of the old records that were stored on the top floor and in the attic were being loaded into a truck and hauled to the dump.
Bruce grabbed his flashlight, got in his truck and headed for the depot.
When he got there he found bundles of train sheets rolled up and tied with old rags, boxes of train orders and telegrams pertaining to the day to day operation of the railroad in the Mississippi division. Bruce loaded as many boxes and bundles as his truck would hold and carried them home.
He spent many hours at night reading through these files and soon realized that what he had was a 24-hour a day record of the operation of the Illinois Central Railroad from Jackson, Tenn. to Canton, Miss. from 1890 to 1950. On these train sheets was the record of every train that ran in the Mississippi division for a period of over 50 years; the names of the conductor, the engineer, the number of the engine and the number of the train. Here was the complete history of the railroad traffic through Water Valley and the people who were part of that history.
It was at this point that Bruce realized that in his lap lay the historical record of the most famous railroad engineer that ever lived. Bruce had found Casey Jones. Over the years Bruce continued to search for the real Casey Jones.
The real John Luther “Casey” Jones was a young man who above all else, wanted to be a railroad engineer, and when he reached his goal he was one of the best. The men who worked with him liked him and said he was a good engineer in spite of the fact that he was young, ran too fast and took too many chances. Casey was going to keep his train on scheduled time and the old men warned him not to push it too hard or one day the train would take his life, and it did.
Over the years Bruce continued to search for this mystical hero of a man of whom so many stories were told and who even had a song written about his life.
In the end, Casey Jones turned out to be an ordinary hard working man with a family and a love of life and the railroad.