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Out of the Depot

Joke Message Turns Into Serious Incident

By J. K. Gurner

Back in 1886, Casey Jones had a running mate on the south end named Charley Seiber. The “south end” was the run from Water Valley to Canton, known as the Water Valley District of the Mississippi Division of the Illinois Central Railroad.
Seiber was a proud engineer who shared a good opinion of himself not only as a engineer but also as a man of his word. He would later become the Traveling Engineer on the Mississippi Division, which also included the Jackson District, the stretch between Water Valley and Jackson, Tenn.
One day while in the passing track at West to meet a couple of northbound banana trains, Seiber had his fireman shake the grates clean on the fire to save a little time when they put in at Durant to take coal and water.
Conductor Johnson, of Seiber’s train, decided things were getting a bit dull so he would liven the party up a little. He somehow persuaded the telegraph operator at West to write out a message to Seiber, which the head brakeman delivered to the engineer. He messaged: “Engineer Seiber, extra 714 south at West. If you are going to clean in every passing track I will have to tie you up at Durant.” The message was signed, W. J. Murphy, Trainmaster.
This of course made Seiber furious. When he got to Durant he demanded that the operator there send off Murphy the following message: “Sir, if you will explain your insulting message when I arrive at Water Valley, I will explain my delay.” Signed C. Seiber, Engineer.
You can imagine how a message of this sort set with a hot-tempered Irishman who knew nothing of the delays or any messages. Murphy had just recently been promoted to trainmaster having worked as a conductor.
Johnson knew Seiber would get mad, but never dreamed he would do battle with the trainmaster. The joke ended up with an investigation in which all parties made written statements to Superintendent W. S. King.
The Durant operator pled innocence and Murphy threatened to resign if he was going to have to take insults from arrogant engineers.
When the smoke cleared, Conductor Johnson and the telegraph operator at West were severely reprimanded, with loss of time, and Seiber got a scolding.
Bruce Gurner retrieved all of the correspondence and messages involved in this joke and the investigation and it’s amusing to read them and imagine the heated confrontation that took place. At that moment, though, you can be sure it was serious business.
Seiber ran engine 712 on the south end to Canton in the years , 1893 – 1895, when Casey was running engine 710 and doing extra passenger work.
Seiber was promoted to Traveling Engineer and was still Traveling Engineer in 1918.
Traveling Engineer W. J. Murphy went back to his job as passenger conductor on the Jackson District and was killed in a train wreck in 1905. This was the same bill Murphy who as Trainmaster had to reprimand Casey for running through the mainline switch at Water Valley Junction, just north of Grenada, only a couple of weeks before the fatal wreck at Vaughn.

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