A number of years ago, I was involved on local BBS. One of the members asked about the TV show CASEY JONES (c.1950's). The question was about the firemen that worked with Casey. While we never did find out the actor who played the fireman, (Alan Hale, Jr. played Casey), I did find out some of the facts behind Casey's wreck of the Cannonball and posted it. Here for your enjoyment is the story of Casey Jones as told in a 'Treasury of Railroad Folk Lore'.

John Luther (Casey) Jones was associated with at least two regular firemen. (for you post diesel locomotive era members of the WWW, a train fireman was responsible for keeping the fire in a steam engine hot enough to heat the water into steam, which actually propelled the engine. In Casey's day most steamers were coal fired with the fireman putting the coal into the firebox with a hand shovel). The first, was Perry Walker who was assigned to Casey's run when Casey was first promoted to engineer. The second fireman mentioned in the book was Sim Webb, who was on the CANNONBALL the night of the wreck. Here are the details of the wreck, in which Casey was the only fatality:

It was April 29, 1900, Casey and Fireman Webb had just completed an on time run on the north bound CANNONBALL. The engineer who was to take the southbound CANNONBALL was sick and the train was 95 minutes late from Chicago to Memphis, where Casey was waiting. Casey was to run through to Canton. The CANNONBALL was to be taken by other crews to New Orleans. Casey left Memphis some 95 minutes late with train orders giving him the rights over all other trains to arrive in Canton on time. The first 100 miles to Grenada was fairly straight track and the CANNONBALL had made up all but 15 minutes. Casey expected to make Canton on time!

Meanwhile, at Vaughan, a number of freights were switching out of Casey's way. BUT something went wrong. Four cars of one of the freights was fouling the mainline. The rear brakeman of the train had placed the required torpedos (LOUD firecrackers used by the railroads in the days before automatic signals they are detonated by the wheels of the following train running over them) and waited about 3200 feet behind the freight as he was required. Casey saw the brakeman, heard the torpedos and tried to stop the train.

Fireman Webb told Casey to jump, but Casey applied the emergency brakes and said, "You jump; I'll stay!" He was able to get the train from 70 MPH down to 50 when fireman Webb jumped. He was able to slow the train more, but not enough to avoid the wreck. He was found dead in the cab of his engine, #382, with his hand still on the air brake valve.

If he had jumped to save himself, many more would have died. His record of never being involved in an accident in which either an employee or passenger was killed stayed entact.

To this day, know one knows why Casey, with all of his experience, had the wreck at all. But because of his experience, once he knew he had a potential disaster ahead, he did everything he could to stop the CANNONBALL and save the lives of all on the train.

Got an e-mail from Baymd5@ isp.con in March 1997.

Told me 'The actor who played the fireman on the show was character actor Dub Taylor who has since appeared in what must be hundreds of movies and TV shows usually playing a "coot" or "town rummy" His trademark wardrobe item is currently a battered derby which looks like its old as the hills.'

If you have patience, you'll learn every thing. Thanks Baymd5@ isp.con

Return to Casey's story

Adapted from "A Treasury of RAILROAD FOLKLORE" - 1953
2004 by Joseph D. Korman