what, after all, can fire the imagination as much as a look at
trains? What else is so alluring, so epic, so evocative of the
land near and far as the thought of those great Iron Horses, thundering
through the night with banshee cries as they pass us by, heading
to places we ourselves may never see...
has not stood by a railroad track at least once and pondered its
significance, wondering exactly where it was going, and more specifically
just how far one could get if one were to simply hop on?
dare say no one simply “hops on” anymore. The days
of Bulls and Bums, of Sleepers and Diners and Private Cars are
seemingly all behind us now – ghosts of a time now lost
of course makes this stuff absolutely perfect for a folklore column!
the case of – well, let’s just call him “John”
for the time being. John was born in Missouri during the Civil
War, and, growing up there and later in Cayce, Kentucky, developed
two life long obsessions: baseball and railroading.
in those days a talent for one of those could be helpful in pursuit
of the other. In those happy times, before sports had become so
dreadfully over-organized, each rail yard had its own baseball
team, and it is said that it was not uncommon for a young man
to obtain gainful railroading employment based solely on their
abilities with bat and mitt.
any rate, we are not sure whether John’s 6 foot 4 stature
had anything to do with anything, but he became both a player,
as well as a very accomplished railroad man. The story is told
of the time that he was on the outside running board of a moving
engine doing some maintenance when a small girl suddenly appeared
upon the tracks ahead! As the girl seemed paralyzed with fear,
John shouted a warning to a fellow engineer, then perilously made
his way out to the very edge of the “cow catcher”,
unbelievably scooping the child to safety!
Of course we might never have heard about that one if it weren’t
for one other little tale.
seems our John was doing double duty one foggy, rainy night, doing
his best to get a passenger train in on time, when without warning
his fireman yelled out that some freight cars were stalled on
the track ahead. John shouted for the fireman to jump, and calmly
set about simultaneously reversing the throttle, hitting the airbrakes,
and sounding a whistle of warning. As a result, the train was
slowed sufficiently by the time of impact that there was only
far as passenger injuries, two people reported bruises, one suffered
some back pain and two more reported being “jarred”.
sole fatality was, of course, our friend John, also known as John
Luther Jones, better known to millions as “Casey”
Jones. (That fatal express route was eventually given a new name,
which it famously retains to this day: the “City of New
long overdue column is for the rail enthusiasts in the family:
Sheryl and Clara (and I suppose I had better not leave out Uncle