By J. K. Gurner
Illinois Central Railroad engineer Charley Dunn probably had as many spare time pursuits as the next fellow, but in his leisure moments he never put the railroad entirely out of his mind.
Dunn was one of the more colorful characters who ran engines out of Water Valley, according to railroad historian Bruce Gurner, who described him as a proud man of boundless courage and self-confidence.
An article about Dunn appeared in the November 1923 issue of the ICRR magazine and described a visit he made to his old hometown of Middleton, Tenn., just a few miles east of the line between Water Valley and Jackson, Tenn. Some of his friends had made arrangements for him to speak at a summer get-together picnic where several thousand people were in attendance.
For half an hour, Dunn entertained the crowd with his rollicking, humorous reminiscences. And at the end, he gave a lecture on his favorite topic, prevention of grade crossing accidents.
“We fellows who run the locomotives,” he said, “probably have a way of looking at this thing that some of you do not. We see the horrible side of it.”
Dunn’s tone increased in seriousness as he told the audience of an experience that you can never forget…the sight of some half-crazed man driving his car across a grade crossing just ahead of your train.
“Not just risking his own life, but the lives of the women and children in his car just to save a few seconds of time,” he said.
According to Dunn, there is one sure way to stop accidents at road crossings and that is for every person that drives an automobile to stop, look and listen before they cross the track. “It is not reasonable for the railroad to stop its trains at every grade crossing. It is much more reasonable for the automobile driver to stop look and listen and only lose a few minutes of time.”
Returning home after his visit to Middleton, Dunn stopped at Grand Junction, Tenn., and went to the Methodist Church for Sunday services. He was a faithful member of the First Methodist Church in Water Valley and wasn’t going to make it home in time to attend.
At the close of the service, the superintendent of the Sunday School called upon Dunn to make a talk, which he did. The topic of his stirring speech was “Good Citizenship: Man’s Personal Responsibility to God.”
He took the opportunity to again deliver a warning about grade crossings and appeal to the congregation to observe caution.
He finished his talk by singing his favorite “hymn,” the railroad song, “Mountain Railroad.”