Breedloves's Folk Songs


    The “Ballad of Casey Jones” is a traditional song about railroad engineer Casey Jones
    and his death at the controls of the train he was driving. It tells of how Jones and his
    fireman Sim Webb raced their locomotive to make up for lost time, but discovered
    another train ahead of them on the line, and how Jones remained on board to try to stop
    the train as Webb jumped to safety. The song helped preserve the memory of Jones’ feat
    down through the years in its 40+ versions and enhanced Casey’s legendary status to the
    extent that he has even become something of a mythological figure like Pecos Bill or
    Paul Bunyan to the uninformed. Books and pulp magazines about the railroad and its
    heroes helped to perpetuate his memory as well.
    Soon after Casey’s death, the song it was first sung by an engine wiper and friend of
    Casey’s known as Wallace Saunders to the tune of a popular song of the time known as
    Jimmie Jones“. He was known to sing and whistle as he went about his work cleaning
    the steam engines. In the words of Casey’s wife: “Wallace’s admiration of Casey was
    little short of idolatry. He used to brag mightily about Mr. Jones even when Casey was
    only a freight engineer.” As railroaders stopped in Canton, Mississippi they would pick
    up the song and pass it along. Soon it was a hit up and down the I.C. line. But it was up to
    others with a profit motive to take it and rework it for a nationwide audience. Illinois
    Central Engineer William Leighton appreciated the song’s potential enough to tell his
    brothers Frank Leighton and Bert Leighton, who were vaudeville performers, about it.
    They took it and sang it in theaters around the country with a chorus they added. But
    apparently even they neglected to get it copyrighted. Reportedly Saunders received a
    bottle of gin for the use of the song. Nothing more was heard from him after this time and
    he passed into history as the man who helped to make Casey Jones an integral part of
    American folklore.
    By World War I, dozens of versions had been published and millions of copies were sold,
    securing the memory of a new American folk hero. Poet Carl Sandburg called the song
    “Casey Jones, the Brave Engineer” as the “greatest ballad ever written”.
    Come all you rounders if you want to hear
    Astory ’bout a brave engineer,
    Casey Jones was the rounder’s name
    “Twas on the Illinois Central that he won his fame.
    Casey Jones, he loved a locomotive.
    Casey Jones, a mighty man was he.
    Casey Jones run his final locomotive
    With the Cannonball Special on the old I.C.
    Casey pulled into memphis on Number Four,
    The engine foreman met him at the roundhouse door;
    Said, “Joe Lewis won’t be able to make his run
    So you’ll have to double out on Number One.”
     If I can have Sim Webb, my fireman, my engine 382,
    Although I’m tired and weary, I’ll take her through.
    Put on my whistle that come in today
    Cause I mean to keep her wailing as we ride and pray.
    Casey Jones, mounted the cabin,
    Casey Jones, with the orders in his hand.
    Casey Jones, he mounted the cabin,
    Started on his farewell Journey to the promised land.
    They pulled out of Memphis nearly two hours late,
    Soon they were speeding at a terrible rate.
    And the people knew by the whistle’s moan.
    That the man at the throttle was Casey Jones.
    Need more coal there, fireman Sim,
    Open that door and heave it in.
    Give that shovel all you got
    And we’ll reach Canton on the dot
    On April 30, 1900, that rainy morn,
    Down in Mississippi near the town of Vaughan,
    Sped the Cannonball Special only two minutes late
    Traveling 70 miles an hour when they saw a freight.
    The caboose number 83 was on the main line,
    Casey’s last words were “Jump, Sim, while you have the time.
    “At 3:52 that morning came the fareful end,
    Casey took his farewell trip to the promised land.
    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.
    Casey’s body lies buried in Jackson, Tennessee
    Close beside the tracks of the old I.C.
    May his spirit live forever throughout the land
    As the greatest of all heroes of a railroad man.
    Casey Jones, he died at the throttle,
    Casey Jones, with the whistle in his hand.
    Casey Jones, he died at the throttle,
    But we’ll all see Casey in the promised land.

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