Riding The Cannonball

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Casey Jones, he died at the throttle,
With the whistle in his hand.
Casey Jones, he died at the throttlle,
But we'll all see Casey in the promised land.

His wife and three children were left to mourn
The tragic death of Casey on that April morn.
May God through His goodness keep them by His grace
Till they all meet together in that heavenly place.
(The Ballad of Casey Jones)

On this date in 1900, John Luther "Casey" Jones died at the controls of the Illinois Central Railroad's Cannonball near the town of Vaughan, Mississippi. Legend has it that when his body was pulled from the wreck of the engine, he was still clutching the whistle and the brake. He was the only fatality in the collision and it is believed his decision to stay at the controls saved the lives of the passengers riding the train that night.

At 11 o'clock that rainy Sunday night Casey and Sim Webb clambered aboard the big engine and eased her out of the station and through the South Memphis yards.

Four o'clock of the 30th of April. The little town of Vaughn, Miss. A long winding curve just above the town, and a long sidetrack beginning about where the curve ended.

"There's a freight train on the siding," Casey yelled across to Sim Webb.

Knowing the siding there was a long one, and having passed many other freights on it, Casey figured he would do the same this night.

But there was two seperate sections of a very long train on the sidetrack this night. And the rear one was a little too long to get all its length off the main track onto the siding. The freight train crews figured on "sawing by"; that is as soon as the passenger train passed the front part of the first train, it would move forward and the rear freight would move up, thus clearing the main track.

But Casey's speed-about fifty miles an hour-was more than the freight crews bargained for.

But when old 638 was within a hundred feet of the end of the siding the horrified eyes of Casey Jones and Sim Webb beheld through the gloom the looming shape of several boxcars in motion, swinging across from the main line to the side-track. In a flash both knew there way no earthly way of preventing a smashup.

"Jump, Sim, and save yourself!," was Casey's last order to his fireman. As for himself, Casey through his engine in reverse and applied the air-brakes-all any engineer could do, and rode roaring 638 into a holocaust of crashing wood that splintered like match boxes. Sim Webb jumped, fell into some bushes and was not injured.

When they took Casey's body from the wreckage (old 638 had plowed through the cars and caboose and turned over on her side a short distance beyond) they found one hand on the whistle cord, the other on the air-brake lever.

The original form of the Ballad of Casey Jones was penned by Wallace Saunders, a black engine wiper on the Illinois Central railroad who had been a friend of Jones.

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