Nostalgia of steam passenger trains seems to attract those of all ages
Nostalgia of steam passenger trains seems to attract those of all ages
Nothing seems more exciting than the massive, moving steam passenger train. Even for the generations who are seeing their first one while on a short-run tourist attraction, it is fascinating. There is something about that steam which makes the massive giants of steel appear to be alive and exciting to be around.
Today many of the recollections are of train wrecks, a subject which is so interesting Classic Trains magazine recently published a separate issue on train wrecks. Cause of the wrecks often takes time to determine but the experts say if you don’t have an idea of the cause within 48 hours it is time to start worrying. Often it is pretty simple if, as has occurred, a vehicle slides 320 feet before crashing through the cross gates into a moving train on a clear day with good visibility. And that could happen at about 219,000 grade-level rail crossings in the United States.
Though it is a West Tennessee story, the most widely known railroad wreck in the nation is probably that of John Luther “Casey” Jones, mainly because of the ballad about his death. While some 2,550 railroad men died in the line of duty in 1900, only Casey became a legend. The 6-foot-4-inch native of Cayce, Ky., origin of his nickname, was in his mid-30s and a dependable engineer who could get the train through on time, faster than any. He had gained an hour of lost time within 101 miles. His engine, going 70 mph before he slowed it to 35 mph with emergency procedures, and it plowed into the rear of another train at Vaughn, Miss., killing only one: Casey Jones. It was 3:52 a.m. April 30, 1900.
Jones is memorialized in a small museum in the West Tennessee city of Jackson where he resided much of the time he was an engineer. He was in his mid-30s when the 4-6-0 No. 382 Illinois Central crashed.
Gordon A. ‘Daddy’ Bryson was similar ballad subject of fatal Little River crash
As recorded in Volume II of The Daily Times’ “Snapshots of Blount County History,” a somewhat similar local situation followed the death of engineer Gordon A. “Daddy” Bryson, 54. He was at the throttle on Little River Railroad’s No. 3 Shay engine with a load of logs when the train failed to make the curve at Jakes Creek, just above Elkmont, on Little River.
The June 30, 1909, accident, killed both Bryson and brakeman Marion Jenkins. Brakeman Robert P. “Bob” Headrick, fireman “Hoot” Foster and conductor Aaron Jones jumped and were not hurt. However, Jenkins and Bryson were crushed by enormous logs falling from the loaded cars behind the engine.
Bryson was killed instantly. He is buried in New Gray Cemetery in Knoxville. Efforts were made to save the dying Jenkins. Whisky was brought as they awaited the arrival of a rescue train but his jaws were so tightly clenched from the pain that none could reach his throat. He died four hours later.
Cause of the wreck is uncertain. The box from which sand could be added to the rails to increase traction by pulling a lever may have been clogged or empty.
But there was more to the story. The engine was pulling five cars, two more than allowed, but the Shay engines are powered to pull heavy loads so not much was thought about the extra cars of logs.
A side issue: Club Town was having a dance that night at Elkmont and the train crew wanted to get there for the party.
“Daddy” Bryson was remembered as fat and popular with his fellow loggers. He was an “outsider” hired by Little River and aware natives considered “outsiders” as rowdies. Hired in 1904, he had done much to overcome the “outsider” tag, buying needy children ice cream, waving from the cab of his Shay engine and winning local favor. In all probability that is how he earned the nickname “Daddy,” a common term in those days for respected people, a fatherly figure in the community.
He was a veteran former engineer with Southern Railway and its forerunner, the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railroad. Bryson and one of his sons, Bose, began work for Little River Lumber Co. almost at the start of operations on Laurel Creek and West Prong. Both were engineers for the company in 1904 and perhaps earlier.
Mountain ballads were popular way to remember outstanding events
In earlier days, it was common in this East Tennessee area for ballads to be written about significant events. Nearly every mountain family had one or more individuals who had a good voice and had learned (self-taught) to play a fiddle or pick a guitar. Of course, many songs today would have been ballads in older days but they now originate in studios.
The “Daddy” Bryson wreck became more widely known because it occurred just prior to the July 5 start of popular Little River Railroad weekend excursions from Knoxville to Elkmont. The holiday crowds arrived to find the wreckage still strewn about.
The Bryson story is told in several places, including Katie Letcher Lyle’s book “Scalded to Death by the Steam.” Published originally in 1983 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, N.C., it has been reprinted at least twice. In regard to mountain ballads, the book also makes reference to Geneva Anderson who taught English at Porter High, Everett High and Knoxville Young High. I vividly recall her English class lectures about the literary significance of mountain ballads while a student at Everett in the early 1940s. We grew up in the same Sevierville Road neighborhood. Her father, Charles E. Anderson, a postman, served on the Blount County Board of Education and her brother, better known as “Wild” Bill, was superintendent of Maryville city schools.
That was the first I had heard of the ballad about “Daddy” Bryson. Bill Abbott wrote the ballad which was sung to the tune of “Redwing:”
The Wreck of No. 3
On the thirteenth day of June,
In the year nineteen hundred nine,
Daddy Bryson climbed in his engine
And pulled her out on line,
He left his home and loved ones,
His fatal run to make,
But little was he thinking,
His own life would he take.
How the cinders from the stack are flying,
The brakeman trying the train to stop;
Still Daddy stood bravely at the post of duty,
Till his soul was called to meet his God.
The morning run was finished,
The logs were tied on well;
And that which was to happen,
No one could tell.
Fireman Foster stood at the window,
And the highball did obey,
Daddy blew the whistle,
And the train was on its way.
The air it had been tested,
And the handbrake was all right;
The trainmen they were anxious,
To get home soon that night.
Poor brakeman Charles Jenkins,
The last word did relate,
“I hope nothing happens
On the last run that I make.”
Down the hill on Jake’s Creek,
This wicked train did run;
Conductor and the brakeman
Saw something must be done,
But one thing was lacking,
The most important one,
When Daddy pulled the lever,
The sand refused to run.
The lightning speed increasing,
Foster picked his place and jumped;
Then came an awful crashing
As he landed in the stumps;
Old 3 spot she turned over,
The tank by Daddy passed,
The logs they fell on him,
Then poor Daddy breathed his last.
Dean Stone is editor of The Daily Times.