By J. K. Gurner
The old engineers liked to tell the young boys of Water Valley stories about how exciting it was to run one of those big, fire-breathing monsters during the golden age of steam. When a favorite engineer was switching through town making up the train he would be taking north to Jackson, Tennessee, or south to Canton, the boys would run down and stand beside the track to watch.
They hoped the engineer would stop and just maybe he would wave you over and let you climb into the cab with him. If you were lucky, he might let you sit in his seat by the cab window and ring the bell or even blow the whistle at the street crossings. Best of all, you might get to wave to your friends as you rolled by.
Arthur “Coot” Harris of Water Valley used to tell of being a young boy growing up in Abbeville. He said that like most young boys in that day, he spent a lot of time at the depot watching the trains come and go. There was usually plenty of time to talk when a train had to take the side track to wait for a passenger train or fast freight to pass.
The boys got to know most of the train crews and one of the favorites was Casey Jones. They all knew Casey’s whistle and he would always give them an extra blow when he had to take the side track. The boys would gather at the depot and Casey would tell them stories about working for the railroad and running steam engines. Most of the old railroaders in Water Valley who knew Casey said he had lots of friends and always had time for young people.
One of the things that Casey would do for the boys was give them cufflinks made from dimes. He would remove the grease stick from the main rod of the engine drivers, place a dime on the end of the grease stick and put it on the rod. The next time he stopped he would remove the dime, turn it over and replace it on the rod.
The result was a brightly polished dime that he would take to a jeweler and have made into a cuff link. When he had a set he would give them to one of his young friends. Mr. Harris said that he and several other Abbeville boys had cuff link sets, favors from Casey.