Out of the Depot
By J. K. Gurner
Bruce Gurner tells this story and would swear to the truth of it.
Bruce said that one morning back in the 1960s he was deadheading to Canton on passenger train #3 for a run on a passenger extra north out of Canton.
After #3 left Grenada, Conductor “Slim” Burch finished working the train and came back for a chat. Mr. Burch had a good memory and liked to talk about his early days with the railroad. Bruce asked him if he remembered an old black fireman who fired a long time for engineer “Dad” Norton. Sure, he said. George Warf was firing a stationary boiler at Cantom and engineer John D’Marchi got him on the road firing. George wasn’t exactly young but he wanted to fire on the big passenger train. So, as soon as he got enough seniority, he rolled on to the Memphis to Canton run with Dad Norton.
The trains got longer, the schedules faster and the engines bigger, but George stayed with Dad. George stayed with Dad so long that when he finally got off the job he was blind in his left eye caused by the intense light from the fire box. And, the years of hoisting that scoop caused him to walk bent over for the rest of his life.
Then conductor Burch continued, “Let me tell a good one on me. I hadn’t been working long, it was about 1910, I guess, and I was braking ahead on the Grenada local. We had gone into the pass track at Hardy to meet Dad Norton on #4.”
Burch said that they eased the train down to the south switch and stopped. “I got down, walked back to the switch and stood well back from the track because I knew Dad would come by like a low storm.”
Soon, Burch said, Dad was coming around the curve, blowing for the crossing with much vigor. “All of the noise of the coming train and the whistle confused an ole sow that was grazing on the other sidetrack with her litter. At the last minute she decided to cross to the other side of the track.”
“She started across with her litter of pigs and Dad centered her with that 1103,” he said with a grimace. “When all of the chitterlings settled out of the air most of them was hung on the switch stand and the rest were wrapped around my neck.”
Burch said it took several pounds of waste to clean him up enough to where they would let him on the engine. “It was a long time before I could eat pork in any form.”