Early Railroad Men Come Alive In Book
By J. K. Gurner
In 1900, the Railroad Historical Company of Chicago published the book “History of the Illinois Central Railroad Company and Representative Employ-ees.” The 800-plus page volume contained not just the railroad company’s history, but also a number of biographies, including some for the men who worked out of the Water Valley depot.
One of those was Edward F. Crisp, who was ranking engineer at Water Valley at the time. Crisp began his career in 1870 in the humble position of water boy on the section at Durant. He later worked around the depot there, at the same time studying telegraphy and the duties of station master. During the next two years he mastered the art of telegraphy and became assistant station master.
During the following six months he was employed by a private telegraph company, and then returned to the employ of the railroad as locomotive fireman on the Kosciusko branch near the close of the construction period, remaining on that branch some eighteen months.
Desiring to fit himself more fully for the calling of an engineer, Crisp entered the shops at Water Valley as an apprenticed machinist, and continued in that capacity three and a half years under Master Mechanic J. E. Becton. Feeling better fitted for the road, he reentered the operative department and was fireman on a bridge train working between Water Valley and Canton, under Engineer John Dunn, on engine No. 86 of the Louisiana division.
After a few months on the left side of the engine, he was promoted August 7, 1877. (The term “left side” refers to the position of fireman because that is where the fireman was stationed on the engine, while the engineer was on the right side.) He was given a run in the freight service between Canton and Water Valley and in 1882 was promoted to the passenger service in which he continued until 1894.
Crisp was also given a run on the construction train and later on the local freight, on which he was engaged until 1896, when he was given his present assignment, a preferred freight on the south end of the division.
Crisp has had several severe injuries during the thirty years of his railroad experience. July 3, 1888, he was involved in a wreck on a trestle at Winona, Miss., and went down with his engine, and in consequence was off from duty some six months.
Perhaps the most thrilling experience that has occurred in his career happened around 4 a.m. on April 11, 1900, about three miles north of Canton along the banks of Tilda Bogue creek after one of the heaviest rain and hail storms that ever visited that region. The creek had risen to an unprecedented height, flooding the tracks to a depth of four feet and washing out the grade. This never having been a danger point, the train came thundering along and without warning rushed into the flood, leaving the tracks and burying some of the crew beneath the wreck. Although he stuck with his engine, Crisp was rescued in a dazed condition, having sustained a severe cut on the head.
It is incidents like this that makes it the wonder that men of sufficient courage can carry their loads of freight and precious lives.
Crisp was born in Madison County, Tenn. He was married at Water Valley to Miss Henrietta Lawshea, to whom six children have been born, four of whom are now living: Clark, aged 14; Xina, aged 11, and Claude and Edwin, twins, aged 8. (Edwin “Ed” Crisp went on to work for the ICRR at Water Valley and lived in the Trusty Hotel.)
As a successful railroad man Crisp can feel proud of his record, having never suffered a suspension nor censure. He was a member of the Masonic order and the Knights of Honor at Water Valley and the local Division, No. 99, Brother-hood of Locomotive Engine-ers. He was a man of sterling integrity and one of the most reliable operatives on the southern division. No one who mentions him fails to have a good word to say for Ed Crisp.