By J. K. Gurner
“Mark me off,” said Joe Buchanan as he walked into the depot on his last working day 50 years ago in 1964. The station agent took down the tag with his name, dates and phone number. It was the end of 47 years of service on the Illinois Central Railroad for “Joe Buck,” as his friends and co-workers knew him.
His son-in-law, Oscar Parsons, wrote a story about Joe Buck’s last run for the July 8 Herald. He noted that the local freight pulled into town at 4:20 p.m., the same as it does six days a week. Although, he added, the time may vary as much as ten to 12 hours.
His crew members on the last run were Lee Edwards, A. G. McCullar, Pete Baddley, Conductor Tommy Dalton and Alton Blaker. James Larson met the train and took over from there.
Joe Buck fired his first run for engineer Harry Williams on engine #652 heading south to Canton on Nov. 14, 1917. “I guess I bailed lots of coal during the next seven or eight years,” he said. “Mountains of it.”
He had come to Water Valley after getting a letter from his brother, George, who told him the master mechanic, S. R. Mauldin, said he could get a job firing here. He put his scoop down and was promoted to engineer in 1925. He spent most of his time moving freight between Water Valley and Canton. “I did run on the Panama a while out of Memphis,” he added.
Among his memories was an incident at Michigan City when they were taking water. They couldn’t get the tank turned off. “It was colder’n the dickens and we had to let that whole tank run dry. We got wet. Our overalls froze to us, but we couldn’t keep from laughing,” he recalled.
Then there was the sadness. His voice quavered when he talked about loosing conductor Lloyd Howard in an accident at Durant. That was all he could say. Lloyd was like a brother.
Then he remembered another incident that made him happy. There was a little boy two or three years old (Jimmy Melton) who lived north of Coffeeville. He had to have a leg amputated. “That little fellow still waved to us each time we passed.” Joe Buck said. “One of the crewmen gave him a flashlight so he could wave it if we passed late at night. At Christmas the whole crew took up money for him. He always waved.”
Over the 47 years of Joe Buck’s career, Water Valley saw scores of old-timers come and go. Each one was a milestone in the history of this railroad town. And now it was Joseph James Buchanan’s turn. He had served his time, and served it well.