Out of the Depot
By J. K. Gurner
Now that we have found Casey Jones, I want to tell you about the real man, John Luther “Casey” Jones, not the fictional charter of the famous song. Casey’s first job with the railroad was as a cub telegraph operator with the M & O Railroad at Columbus, Kentucky. With his mind set on being a railroad engineer, a few months later he transferred to the Columbus and Jackson, Tennessee railroad as a brakeman on the line between Columbus and Jackson, Tennessee.
A short time later Casey transferred back to the M & O line between Jackson, Tennessee and Mobile, Alabama and took a job firing. In March 1888, he made his last move, this time to the Illinois Central Railroad’s Mississippi Division as a fireman on the Water Valley and Jackson, Tennessee Districts, working out of Water Valley. Casey, with his seniority, was soon promoted to engineer.
As a young engineer, Casey took his job seriously and worked hard at it. The people he worked with liked and respected him. The men in the shops liked Casey because he took good care of his engine. After every run Casey would bring his engine into the shop, tell the shop Forman what needed to be fixed and stay to help fix it.
In the summer of 1893, the Chicago world’s fair needed more trains to transport the people to and from the fairgrounds. The company put out a call for men to run those trains. Casey re-sponded and spent the summer of 1893 in suburban ser-vice in Chicago. This is where Casey first saw en-gine number 638. The Illinois Central had this big new freight engine on display and Casey liked what he saw. At the close of the fair, the 638 was due to be sent to Water Valley for service on the Jackson district. When Casey learned about this he asked for permission to run the engine back to Water Valley. His request was approved, and the 638 ran its first 589 miles with Casey Jones at the throttle all the way to Water Valley. Casey had to be a well-respected engineer to have been allowed to make this run.
Casey was now back on the Jackson to Water Valley run. In those days the company assigned the regular engineer a specific engine, and it was the engineer’s responsibility to see that his engine was always in good running condition. Casey was assigned the 638, the fine new engine that he had brought from Chicago and fallen in love with. Casey ran the 638 until he transferred to the passenger run in Memphis.
Casey had finally reached the goal he had worked so hard to get. He now had the fast passenger run from Mem-phis to Canton and a fine little fast passenger engine that would get him over his run in the allotted time. Casey was making plans to move his family to Memphis and finish up his working days doing what he always wanted to do.