By J. K. Gurner
Claude M. Starke was a successful businessman in Chicago and had been connected for many years to the Illinois Central Railroad. He started around 1893 as a clerk in the master mechanic’s office here. Starke, according to his own testimony, was a devoted admirer of Casey Jones.
Writing about his experience in 1931, Starke said that like most boys in Water Valley, he had often watched Casey pull out of town on train #52 northbound for Jackson, Tenn.
“Our baseball ground was located near the yard and whenever Casey passed the ball game would be called until his caboose disappeared going over the hill,” he wrote and added that you could hear him whistling as he went through Cathey’s cut and into Springdale bottom.
One of Starke’s many duties was to make copies of all stock reports. “If one of the engineers who arrived on my shift had killed an animal, they had to come over to my office and make out a report.”
It was several weeks after Starke was employed before Casey had to come to his office. “I shall never forget when he walked into the office and said: ‘Bud, lets make out a stock report. I killed a heifer coming down Waterford tonight.’ He sat down and I handed him the blank to fill out,” he wrote.
“The office was equipped with a board to which all of the through telegraph wires could be plugged in, and it was customary for the day force to receive and send all messages pertaining to the mechanical department, direct. There were no telephones in those days. The first night or two I looked at the board and wondered what it was all about.”
Starke wrote that Casey would often come to his office after a run because it was a more comfortable place to wait until it was time to go to breakfast than the roundhouse office. Casey would unplug and then replace the telegraph wires so he could listen to the messages.
”Then he would tell me about when he was an operator. One morning when he was visiting me he asked if I would like to learn telegraphy,” continued Starke.
Casey helped him set up two instruments; one in his office and one in the roundhouse office. Starke’s call was SO and he would laboriously pick out messages to Casey. “It was only about two hundred yards from one office to the other, and when he sent me a massage and I didn’t answer promptly, he would stick his head out the window and shout to ask me what was the matter. Then he would come over and give me a lesson.”
“This went on for several months, in which time I got to know Casey very well indeed, and when not busy I would go down to the cinder pit and wait for him to come over from the yards,” wrote Starke.
“After a while I was put in the machine shops to learn a trade. I missed Casey dreadfully for a while and use to wonder if he didn’t me. Pretty soon I was interested in building locomotives instead of watching them go by.”
As time went on, Casey’s seniority gave his rights to the Memphis to Canton fast passenger run and he left Water Valley. “ That’s where he met his death,” Starke wrote.