Archive for April 30th, 2009

©Water Valley Casey Jones
Railroad Museum

I’m guessing that many of us remember bits of stories we heard as kids.  I certainly do, and I’ve spent a little keyboard time telling you about them.  I’ve mentioned Dad’s reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to us and the old Uncle Remus stories that grew up in the deep South.  But there are others.  They are ones we hear and then pretty much forget…until we catch a tagline or piece of a conversation that somehow jogs our memory and takes us back.

Every once in a while that happens to me.  It did a several months ago when I heard an oblique reference somewhere to Daniel Boone.  Immediately, I was taken back to grade school days when we learned about the famous huntsman and explorer.  I remembered watching that TV series about Daniel Boone early Saturday mornings and singing with the intro…

Daniel Boone was a man
Yes a big man
With an eye like an eagle
And as tall as a mountain was he

…or something like that…it’s been a bundle of years.  So now I’ve purchased a biography of the man and, if I hurry, I’ll get to read it this year.  I wonder if the same thing will happen with Casey Jones.

Ring a bell?  He was the legendary train engineer who sacrificed himself to save his passengers when his train collided with another.  Remember?  It’s coming back…and maybe it’s taking you back to the time you first heard the story.  Casey Jones was conducting the Cannonball Express from Memphis to Canton, a journey of about 200 miles.  The train was scheduled to leave at 11:15pm on April 29th, but didn’t leave until nearly 1am the next morning.

Casey, who had developed a bit of a reputation as a risk-taker, wanted to get the passengers to Canton for their scheduled arrival at 4:05am.  So off he went, flying down the line.  Over the course of the journey, Jones used his experience and familiarity with the route to shave minute after minute off the journey.  In fact, he was within a couple of minutes of being on time when disaster struck. 

Rounding a big curve at nearly 75mph, the red light of a caboose shown out ahead.  Knowing a crash was imminent, he told his fireman to jump (which he did), and Jones went into damage control, laying on the train whistle (to warn people ahead), reversing the engines and slamming hard on the brakes.  Amazingly, Jones’ actions reduced the train’s speed to about 35mph, which was enough to prevent any serious injuries to the passengers.

But it wasn’t enough to save Casey Jones who, at the front of the train and refusing to jump to safety, took the full brunt of the impact and died on April 30, 1900…less than 20 minutes from his destination.  His selfless actions (with a little help from eyewitnesss accounts) made him an instant hero.  It was fueled by those times as well, when train engineers were somewhat romanticized and made larger than life.

Regardless, the legend of Casey Jones (which is more than legend and almost completely based in reality) is another one of those “take you back to your younger days” stories that nostalgic people just need.

Recommended Reading: Casey Jones – Another one for the kids…pass the legend on to them.

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