June 8, 2016 – We arrived at the parking lot of the Casey Jones Village in Jackson, TN, where we had permission to stay in the “extra lot” across the street.
We had dinner at the buffet in the Old Country Store Restaurant. A bus pulled up and what appeared to be at least 50 seniors with badges on cords around their necks wandered single-file into a room apparently set aside for them.
The museum had lots of memorabilia from Casey’s life and history of trains during that time.
I thought I knew the story of the crash from the song, but realized how little I really knew. First, the original Ballad of Casey Jones was written and first sung on the train lines by Wallace Saunders, an African-American engine wiper who greatly admired Casey. As people began to pick up on the song, one of the engineers gave it to his brothers who were Vaudeville performers. They began to perform it in theaters with a chorus. Later, the Grateful Dead wrote another version on the song … these later versions insinuated that Casey’s wife had another lover, and that he was “high on cocaine” during his run. The sheet music first published in 1909 hailed it as the “greatest comedy hit in years.” COMEDY?????
Casey Jones had a history of bravery; once – long before he was an engineer – as the train approached and there were children on the track, one little girl froze. He managed to grab her to safety at risk of his own life.
As an engineer, Casey was famous for always being on time, so when that fatal night’s ride began late, he intended to make up the time by going as fast as possible. Some news articles in the museum bring up the question whether that was careless of him. When he realized that there was another train on the track, he knew he did not have time to stop. He told his fireman to jump, while he himself stayed on board to slow the train as much as possible. He managed to get its speed down to 35 mph so that when it hit the other train, his was the only life lost and all his passengers were saved. At the time, he was only 37. Perhaps he should not have been trying to make up the time, but unquestionably he was heroic since he made the choice to sacrifice his own life for the lives of his passengers.
These are some of the old train cars and cabooses parked on the site.
Here is Tom wearing an “engineer’s hat” next to the caboose (left) and ready to drive our own rig on to the next stop – in Little Rock, AR.
FYI on CABOOSES:
Cabooses were originally used beginning in the middle 1700’s as boxes on the decks of ships for housing the crew and monitoring boat operations. They were adapted for the railway system in the early 19th century, but have been largely eliminated from freight train systems today because of improvements in train monitoring technology.
What happened to these cabooses? They have been refitted as vacation cottages,
garden offices, private residences, and as portions of restaurants. Also, caboose motels
have appeared with the old cabooses being used as cabins. Tom looked them up and found several for sale on Craigslist. You can get a really nice 42-foot caboose including the tracks for about $15,000. But moving approximately 22 tons of steel? Well, that’s a problem you’ll have to solve yourself. But, you’re often given suggestions about who to call from the current owner.