Was The 382 Really Casey Jones’ Engine?
By Jack Gurner
With only about a month before we observe the 115th anniversary of the Casey Jones wreck at Vaughan, it is time to reflect one of the interesting twists in the story.
On the night of April 29, 1900, Casey Jones took over the run normally assigned to Samuel W. Tate, who was ill. At that time, an engineer “held” a particular engine, much like a fighter pilot is assigned an aircraft. It has always been assumed since Casey used engine 382 that night, it was assigned to him.
However, the book “History of the Illinois Central Railroad,” which was published in 1900, shows that engine 382 was assigned to Sam Tate. So, it would have been logical that the 382 would have already been in place to take the passenger train No. 1 from Memphis to Canton.
So, what engine was assigned to Casey? The book tells us that an engineer originally from Water Valley had charge of engine 384. In February of 1900, that engineer, Willard W. Hatfield, transferred home to Water Valley leaving open his job out of Memphis.
Casey had been wanting one of the fast passenger runs, so he bid on the job and won it. And with the job would have come engine 384. The day of the wreck, Casey had returned on train No. 2 with engine 384 and was asked to “double back south” on Tate’s run. That put him on train No. 1 with engine 382.
Over the years, there has always been some question as to what the train was called. All official reports about the wreck refer to the train as the No. 1, which was the Illinois Central designation. Newspaper reports from the time called the train the New Orleans Express. There have also been some references to the South-bound Fast Mail. The timetable referred to it as the New Orleans Fast Mail. However, there is no mention of the Cannon Ball.
So, where did the Cannon Ball designation come from? Very little seems to be known about that. While the name isn’t found in any of the reports or articles from 1900, a newspaper report from 1903 is headlined, “I.C. Cannon Ball Wrecked Near City.” The article describes wreck of train No. 1 near the Florence Pump works in south Memphis.
Maybe historians from later years found this story and thought Cannon Ball was the name of Casey’s train since it was the same run that he was making when the wreck occurred. But, we do know on many railroad lines, any fast train is often called a cannon ball.
But, no matter what it was called in 1900, it would be many years later before the No. 1 train was given it’s final and – many believe – its most impressive name, “The City of New Orleans.”