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Casey Jones rode his train to his death
Vaughan, Mississippii (1900)


Illinois Central Railroad Vaughan, Missippi, Illinois Central Railroad (1900). It was just before 4.00am when the passenger train driven by engineer "Casey" Jones approached Vaughan at high speed. Two freight trains were being sidetracked to allow the express to pass. One of them developed a fault which prevented it from moving further and clearing the main line of its long train of freight cars. Unaware of this, and seemingly oblivious to the warning of signals of a flagman, the engineer drove his train into the freight.

Engine No. 382 driven by "Casey Jones on the fateful night
Picture by Jim Jordan
Train No 1, standing at Poplar Street Station, Memphis was without an engineer on the night of 30 April 1900. The man who was due to take the train to Canton had been taken ill and "Casey" Jones and his fireman Simon "Sim" Webb answered the call for volunteers to handle this train. It was about 10.00pm and they had already worked a shift bringing a train the 188 miles up from Canton.
Shortly after 11.00pm on a wet and foggy night Jones opened the regulator of 4-6-0 No. 382 and slowly drew his train out of the station onto the mainline. The fog made for bad visibility and sighting lineside signals was difficult.
Train No.1 arrived at on time Goodman Station where it was due to pass train No.2. The late arrival of this train meant that train No.1 was five minutes late starting off again. Despite the poor conditions Jones was clearly determined to make up time and by the time of the accident was only two minutes behind time.
That night, at Vaughan station, no fewer than four trains, all freights had arrived and were being held to await the passing of Train No 1. These trains were the first part of Train 72, Train 83 and the first and second parts of Train 26. Trains 72 and 83 were not booked to pass No.1 here. They were in fact running late following an incident when shunting to allow train No. 25 to pass. As the shunting operation was in progress, two drawbars broke on train No. 83 preventing its movement until repairs had been effected.
Some complicated shunting maneuvres had to be performed in order to clear the main running line to ensure that there was a clear passage for the express. Both parts of train 26 were put onto the "house track" and 1st 72 and 83 were shunted onto a passing loop. Train No. 72 headed onto the passing track with No.83 following. While this procedure was in progress, an air hose between two of the cars of train No. 72 broke bringing the train to a halt. No.83 close behind had to stop also, but before its last two cars had cleared the mainline.
Correctly, the flagman from No.83 went back on the mainline to place torpedoes (detonators) on the line and with red and white lights to signal the approaching express that the way ahead was obstructed. The approach to Vaughan station was a long curve and train No.1 rounded this at a speed of approximately 75 mph. Although it was estimated that Engineer Jones would have had an unobstructed view of the flagman from a distance of 1 1/2 miles, the train did not begin to slow. According to the fireman, he was attending to the fire when he heard the explosion of the torpedoes. He crossed to the engineer's side of the cab and looking out, he saw the warning lights of the flagman. He crossed to the fireman's position from where he could see the markers of the caboose of train No. 83. He called to the engineer that there was a train ahead. Jones immediately applied the air brakes. At a distance of about 100 yards from No. 83, the train had slowed to about 50 mph. Webb considered that the train was not going to stop in time and jumped from the engine.
The express struck the boxcars of the freight train demolishing them. Engine 382 was derailed but continued on for some distance before turning over onto its side. Although "Casey" Jones was killed, there were no other deaths. There may have been more loss of life had Jones followed his fireman and left the engine, but by remaining at his post and continuing to apply the brake, he lessened to potential impact.
The cost of the accident to the railroad amounted to $3,323.75. In addition varying amounts were paid out to comapny employees for injuries sustained:
  • Fireman of Train No.1 - body bruises jumping off engine - $5.00
  • Express Messenger - Slight injuries - $10.00
  • 2 Postal Clerks - jarred - $1.00 each
In the company's enquiry into the accident, Casey Jones was found to be "wholly to blame for the collision by reason of having disregarded the signals given by Flagman Newman".
Although this was quite a minor mishap both in terms of loss of life and cost to the railroad, the incident has passed into American railroad folklore. At the hands of Wallace Saunders, an engine wiper who made up a song about the incident, Casey Jones emerges as a hero.


Casey Jones
1863 - 1900

Born of Irish stock on 14 March 1863 in Missouri as John Luther Jones, his family moved
Casey Jones Pic
John Luther "Casey" Jones
to Cayce, Kentucky while he was still a boy. It was from here that he received his nickname "Casey".
He married Janie Bradey in 1887 and began to raise a family. The couple had three children - Charles Helen and John.
He got his first railroad job in 1878 on the Mobile & Ohio Railway working in the yard at Columbus, Kentucky. He rapidly gained promotion, first to brakeman then fireman riding the M & O trains between Jackson and Mobile.
In March 1888 he joined the Illinois Central Railroad as a fireman and became an engineer in February 1890 taking freight and passenger trains between Jackson and Water Valley. It is by no means certain that his employers were as fond of Casey as he is in the hearts of those who have heard the legend. Damned by faint praise, the regard in which he was held by the railroad company is evidenced in the company's report on the accident
Engineer Jones ... had a reasonably good record, not having been disciplined for the past three years ... Jones' work upto the the time of the accident had been satisfactory.
He received further promotion in February 1900 to drive trains between Memphis and Canton including the crack Cannonball.
He is buried in Mount Calvery Cemetery on Hardee Street in East Jackson.
Casey Jones Links
The Water Valley Casey Jones Railroad Museum
Water Valley Casey Jones Railroad Museum Home Page. Featuring stories about the Illinois Central Railroad, Mississippi Division, Water Valley District
Written by Jack Gurner, the site contains The Real Casey Jones Story
This article looks beyond the popular legend.
Tribute to Casey Jones
Jim Jordan who painted the superb picture at the top of this page also provides a pen-picture of Casey and the accident
Jordan Art Works
Jim also has a number of other excellent paintings of past North American railroad scenes. Prints of each are available from his web site.
Facts about Casey Jones
Facts compiled by the First Grade class at Andrew Jackson Memorial School
Casey Jones Railroad Museum
The museum is located near the site of the accident

Illinois Central Railroad (Corporate Site)
Illinois Central Railroad Historical Society

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Copyright David Fry 1998
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