Jonathan Luther “John” “Casey” Jones was born on March 14, 1863. As a boy, he lived near Cayce, Kentucky, which is where his nickname of “Cayce” came from, but he chose to spell it “Casey”. Jones went to work for the Mobile & Ohio Railroad and performed well and was promoted to brakeman on the Columbus, Kentucky to Jackson, Tennessee route, and then to fireman on the Jackson, Tennessee to Mobile, Alabama route. That caught my attention, because my grandfathers and other family members worked for the railroad too, but it was not working on the railroad that made Casey famous…at least not totally anyway. Casey always dreamed of being an engineer. He worked hard, but did receive nine citations for rule violations, and 145 total days suspended. In the year prior to his death, Jones had not been cited for any rules infractions. His dreams came true, but not in the way he expected. In the summer 1887, a yellow fever epidemic struck many train crews on the neighboring Illinois Central Railroad, providing an unexpected opportunity for faster promotion of firemen on that line. On March 1, 1888, Jones switched to the Illinois Central Railroad, taking a freight locomotive between Jackson, Tennessee and Water Valley, Mississippi.
Jones was a bit of a risk taker, but I doubt if some of the people who knew about some of his “risks” would hold that against him. A little-known example of Jones’ heroic act saved the life of a little girl. As Jones’ train approached Michigan City, Mississippi, he had walked out on the running board to oil the relief valves. He had finished well before they arrived at the station, as planned, and was returning to the cab when he noticed a group of small children dart in front of the train some 60 yards ahead. They all cleared the rails easily except for a little girl who suddenly froze in fear at the sight of the oncoming iron horse. Jones shouted to Stevenson to reverse the train and yelled to the girl to get off the tracks in almost the same breath. Then he realize that she was frozen in fear. He raced to the tip of the cowcatcher and braced himself on it, reaching out as far as he could to pull the frightened but unharmed girl from the rails.
On April 30, 1900, while Casey was running the Cannonball Express, and trying to make up for a late start, it would be his heroics that would cost him his life. As Casey was coming into Vaughan, Mississippi, he did not know that three separate trains were in the station at Vaughan…double-header freight train No. 83 and long freight train No. 72 were both in the passing track to the east of the main line. As the combined length of the trains was ten cars longer than the length of the east passing track, some of the cars were stopped on the main line. The two sections of northbound local passenger train No. 26 had arrived from Canton earlier, and required a “saw by” for them to get to the “house track” west of the main line. The “saw by” maneuver required that No. 83 back up (onto the main line) to allow No. 72 to move northward and pull its overlapping cars off the main line and onto the east side track from the south switch, thus allowing the two sections of No. 26 to gain access to the west house track. The “saw by”, however, left the rear cars of No. 83 overlapping above the north switch and on the main line…right in Jones’ path. As workers prepared a second “saw by” to let Jones pass, an air hose broke on No. 72, locking its brakes and leaving the last four cars of No. 83 on the main line.
Jones was almost back on schedule, running at about 75 miles per hour toward Vaughan, and traveling through a 1.5 mile left-hand curve that blocked his view. Webb’s view from the left side of the train was better, and he was first to see the red lights of the caboose on the main line. “Oh my Lord, there’s something on the main line!” he yelled to Jones. Jones quickly yelled back “Jump Sim, jump!” to Webb, who crouched down and jumped from the train, about 300 feet before impact, and knocked unconscious by his fall. The last thing Webb heard as he jumped was the long, piercing scream of the whistle as Jones warned anyone still in the freight train looming ahead. He was only two minutes behind schedule. Jones reversed the throttle and slammed the airbrakes into emergency stop, but “Ole 382” quickly plowed through a wooden caboose, a car load of hay, another of corn, and halfway through a car of timber before leaving the track. He had reduced his speed from about 75 miles per hour to about 35 miles per hour when he hit. Because Jones stayed on board to slow the train, he saved the passengers from serious injury and death. He was the only fatality of the collision. His watch stopped at the time of impact…3:52 am on April 30, 1900. Legend holds that when his body was pulled from the wreckage, his hands still clutched the whistle cord and brake. A stretcher was brought from the baggage car on No. 1, and crewmen of the other trains carried his body to the depot, a half-mile away.
My husband, Bob’s great grandfather, Chester Leary worked for the railroad for most of his adult life. As a railroad worker, I’m sure he saw his share of close calls and accidents over the many years he worked there. Many railroad accidents make the national news, of course, but it’s possible they didn’t so often many years ago, because communication wasn’t quite as good. Nevertheless, if you lived near the train wreck, I’m sure you heard about it. I’m also sure that railroad yard accidents were a somewhat common occurrence. There is so much that goes on in a railroad yard, that sometimes things get missed, and an accident happens, but in my research for this story, I couldn’t find the accident in question here, or in fact, much information about very many railroad yard accidents at all. Maybe they just weren’t a news worthy event, unless someone was killed in the accident.
In fact, I wouldn’t have known about this train wreck at all, except that Bob’s cousin, Joe Brown sent me the picture of the wreck, with Chester Leary in the picture. The picture had the date of the accident listed on the picture, so I know that the date is correct…May 2, 1919. Nevertheless, when I looked for information on that train wreck in Forsyth, Montana in the railroad yard, I found absolutely nothing. To me that is such an odd thing. My curious mind wants to know more about how this accident happened. Was someone not paying attention to the trains coming in and out of the yard? Was anyone hurt? When did electronic tracking of the trains come into being, and would that have made a difference, since it all happened in the yard?
Unfortunately, Bob’s great grandfather is no longer with us, and in fact he passed away in 1950, before either of us were born, so we couldn’t have possibly asked such a question, and wouldn’t have know to had we been born earlier. I’m sure his grandmother, Vina Hein knew what happened, because she was probably told all about it by her dad, Chester Leary. I don’t know if her dad was involved, or not, but I’m sure that would have been a story told around the dinner table that night. I really wish I could have had the opportunity to ask Bob’s great grandfather or my grandfather about all of their railroad experiences, because I have to think that it would have been very interesting to hear about it all. Especially about when things went very wrong.
People always seem to be in a hurry. We encounter cars that fly past us trying to get to their destination on time, when they really didn’t allow enough time for the trip. We are all guilty of running late, and even of speeding to make it on time, and as we all know, sometimes our habit of running late and being in such a hurry, can have bad consequences. Sometimes the consequences of running late can be devastating. Such was the case with Old 97, a mail train for Southern Railways. While it’s number was simply number 97, and it was officially known as the Fast Mail, its nickname was Old 97. The train ran from Washington DC to Atlanta, Georgia. On September 27, 1903 it was en route from Monroe, Virginia, to Spencer, North Carolina when disaster struck…or rather was forced upon the ill fated train.
When the train arrived in Monroe, it switched train crews and when it left Monroe there were 17 people on board. The train personnel included Joseph A Broady who was the engineer, nicknamed “Steve” by his friends, John Blair was the conductor, A C Clapp was the fireman, John Hodge was a student fireman, and James Robert Moody was the flagman. Also aboard were mail clerks, including J L Thompson, Scott Chambers, Daniel Flory, Paul Argenbright, Lewis Spies, Frank Brooks, Percival Indermauer, Charles Reames, Jennings Dunlap, Napoleon Maupin, J H Thompson, and W R Pinckney, who was an express messenger.
As they left Monroe, Old 97’s engineer, 33 year old Broady found himself running late, and in a hurry to get the train back on schedule. When the train pulled into Lynchburg, VA, Wentworth Armistead, who was a safe locker boarded the train so at that time there were 18 men aboard. The train consisted of four cars, and Broady was operating the train at high speed in order to stay on schedule and arrive at Spencer on time. You see, Fast Mail had a reputation for never being late…and a contract that included a fine if they were. Old 97 was behind schedule when it left Washington, DC and was one hour late when it arrived in Monroe, Virginia. All that was unacceptable, but Southern Railways and Engineer Broady were about to discover two things. The first is that it is always best to stay on schedule, when a schedule is an important part of your job. The second is that there are far worse things than being late.
By the time Old 97 reached the Stillhouse Trestle near Danville, Virginia, Broady realized, with a horrible sense of dread and impending doom, that he did not have enough air pressure to slow the train for Stillhouse’s upcoming curved trestle. He tried, in vain to slow the train down by reversing the engine to lock the wheels, but Old 97 vaulted off the trestle, and 11 people were killed. Nine men of the eleven who died, were killed instantly. Seven men were injured. Among the deceased were the engineer Broady, conductor Blair, and flagman Moody. The bodies of both firemen were recovered, but they were mangled so badly they were unrecognizable. There were several survivors to the wreck who believed they survived because they jumped from the train just before the fatal plunge. Among the three survivors was an individual named J Harris Thompson of Lexington. Harris was a mail-clerk who served on the Southern Railroad. He later retired on May 1, 1941. W R Pinckney, the express messenger who also survived went home, located in Charlotte, North Carolina, and immediately resigned after the experience. Two other survivors included Jennings J Dunlap, and M C Maupin. These two men did not resign and continued their work, but started in new departments. Dunlap went to work on a train that ran between Washington and Charlotte, while Maupin worked at the Charlotte union station. The horrible pictures of the aftermath of the crash taken from above the scene ran in newspapers across the country.
At Monroe, Broady was instructed to get the Fast Mail to Spencer, 166 miles away…on time. The scheduled running time from Monroe to Spencer was four hours and fifteen minutes at an average speed of approximately 39 miles per hour. In order to make up the one hour delay, the train’s average speed would have to be at least 51 miles per hour. Broady was ordered to maintain speed through Franklin Junction, an intermediate stop normally made during the run. This was a time when train wrecks were not uncommon, but the day after the wreck, Southern Railway’s Vice President stated that “The train consisted of two postal cars, one express and one baggage car for the storage of mail… Eyewitnesses said the train was approaching the trestle at speeds of 30 to 35 miles an hour.” The Southern Railway placed blame for the wreck on engineer Broady, denying that he had been ordered to run as fast as possible to maintain the schedule. The railroad also claimed he descended the grade leading to Stillhouse Trestle at a speed of more than 70 miles per hour. Several eyewitnesses to the wreck, however, stated that the speed was probably around 50 miles per hour. In all likelihood, the railroad was at least partially to blame, as they had a lucrative contract with the US Post Office to haul mail…a contract that did include a penalty clause for each minute the train was late into Spencer. It is probably safe to conclude that the engineers piloting the Fast Mail were always under pressure to stay on time so the railroad would not be penalized for late mail delivery. And being under pressure can be deadly.
I’m sure many people can recall a friend or two who had those silver teeth in grade school. Of course, they were really a spacer to keep the teeth from getting crooked when they were knocked out long before they should have been, and the permanent teeth were still years away. They were also used when the permanent teeth were somehow knocked out, and rather than have a big gap, the dentist replaced the missing tooth with the silver version. This was before they came up with implants for teeth, and of course, these days no one has silver teeth any more. Dentists have learned so much now, and they can even put the original teeth back in and they do just fine. Nevertheless, when my brother-in-law, Mike Stevens was a young boy, he was riding his bicycle, when the front wheel of his bike came off. Losing the front wheel of your bicycle does make it impossible to do much except have a wreck. When he fell, he knocked out his two front teeth. The dentist replaced them with those old silver teeth, and he was called “Chipper” for years. In the nearly thirty years since my sister, Alena and Mike have been married, I never knew that he ever had silver teeth. At some point, the dentist must have fixed them for him, so I never knew he was called “Chipper”…until a little birdie told me about it.
Mike has had a couple of little…situations where he ended up on the ground in an unexpected way. As a teenager, he was in his room sleeping, when the house next door to them was blown sky high in a gas explosion. A sleeping Mike found himself thrown literally against the wall. Now, if that isn’t a rude awakening, I don’t know what is. I mean, with the bicycle, at least he knew he was about to take a face plant into the pavement, but when you are sound asleep, and suddenly you are flying across the room…well, all you could possibly think is…”What in the world is going on??” I don’t believe Mike was hurt badly in that explosion, but I would have to imagine that he ached for a few days…along with that very thankful feeling you would have that you are still alive. I remember that explosion. It was only a few blocks from my parents house. There was literally nothing left of that house, but I’m very thankful that my brother-in-law, Mike and his family were not hurt.
When you think about all the times a person that you love could have been seriously hurt, or even killed, you find yourself very thankful that God’s angels were standing guard over their lives…whether they knew it or not. Mike has been a wonderful asset to our family, and I simply can’t imagine our family without him. He is always willing to help when he is needed, and he has some very innovative ideas. His sense of humor is one that has made all of us smile or better yet, have a great chuckle over for years. Today is Mike’s birthday. Happy birthday Mike!! Our family is very blessed to have you in it. Have a great day!! We love you!!
I know many of you think this story is about a stock market crash, but this is a story about a different kind of crash. Bicycle helmets are a relatively new item, that was unheard of when I was a kid. They first began making them in about 1975, but weren’t very protective, They began improving them in the mid 80’s, but were rarely used. That said, it is safe to say that my girls grew up, just like their parents, not using a helmet when riding a bike. We weren’t considered negligent at that time. That was the way everyone rode their bicycle.
It was the summer of 1986, and almost the end of June. My daughter, Corrie would turn 11 on June 30th, a birthday she shared with her great grandmother. Like most kids, in the summertime, Corrie’s mode of transportation was her bicycle. We lived out in the country, and the road in front of our house was not a busy street, so my girls and their friends rode their bicycles there for hours each day. A few days before Corrie’s birthday, I was in the house while the kids played outside. Suddenly, I heard a blood curdling scream, and then another smaller scream. I ran outside, to find Corrie’s friend running to get me, tears streaming down her face, yelling, “Corrie wrecked her bike!!”
I ran out to Corrie, to find her bleeding from her face, and I don’t mean her nose. The scrape looked really bad, but I could tell that it would not need stitches. I did think there was a definite possibility that she would have a scar on her face. My heart sank. I hated to think of her having a scar for life. I prayed inwardly, so I wouldn’t scare her, and asked God to please heal her face without a scar. Since she hit her face, I watched for all the usual signs of concussion, but nothing ever came of that. Nevertheless, she was very upset. She was horrified that she would look awful on her birthday and in the pictures that would be taken…typical of a soon to be 11 year old girl.
She survived the horror of having her picture taked with a scab on her face, and her face healed with no scarring, for which I praise God. The birthday party went on, in spite of the scab, and this story has a happy ending, but the moral of the story is this: To avoid your own crash story like this one, I recommend that you and your kids wear a bicycle helmet. While it won’t necessarily save you from the crash, it might save your face from the scabs and scars.