Speed Killed Casey Jones; Speed Will Win the Kentucky Derby
April 30, 2010

John Luther Jones: Man, Myth, Legend

Casey Jones' Legend Etched in Stone

On This Date in History:   John Luther Jones was born on March 14, 1863 in Missouri while the  Civil War was in full swing.  In 1876, the family moved to Cayce, Kentucky.   John Luther  was over 6’4″ tall and had gray eyes and dark hair.  He loved trains since he was a young boy and his fascination with the iron horse only increased as he watched them come and go from the Cayce depot.  He was born during the Civil War and in 1878, at the age of 15, he took a job with the Mobile and Ohio Railroad as a telegrapher and six years later moved to Jackson, TN where he continued with the Mobile and Ohio as a flagman.   

John Luther "Casey" Jones

 

When he moved to Jackson, the men with whom he worked asked where he was from.  Locally, Cayce was pronounced with two syllables so the men started calling him “Casey” Jones.  In 1884, he married Miss Mary Joanna “Janie” Brady who was the daughter of the woman who ran the boarding house in which he resided in Jackson.  The couple settled down in Jackson and had three children together.  Casey was not a drinking man and was thought to have been devoted to his family.  He certainly was devoted to railroading because in fairly short order, he was promoted first to brakeman by the Mobile and Ohio and then to firemen.  His big break came through the misfortune of others.  A yellow fever epidemic struck and the illness took its toll on the crews of the Illinois Central Railroad.  With a shortage of experienced people, the Illinois Central provided a unique opportunity for rapid advancement of firemen to engineers.   So,  Jones left the only company for which he had ever worked and went to the greener pastures of the Illinois Central.  

Sim Webb lived to tell the tale

 

In March 1888 he started work for his new employer and on February 23, 1891 Casey Jones became an engineer for the Illinois Central Railroad.  He developed a reputation for his fierce desire to always be on time.  His reputation for punctuality was so well known it is said that people could set their watch by the passage of his train.  He also developed a distinct style of operating the steam whistle.  Janie Jones said, “he established a sort of trade mark for himself by his inimitable method of blowing a whistle. It was a kind of long-drawn-out note that he created, beginning softly, then rising, then dying away almost to a whisper. People living along the Illinois Central right of way between Jackson and Water Valley would turn over in their beds late at night and say: ‘There goes Casey Jones,’ as he roared by.”   

The Skipper (Alan Hale, Jr) Was Casey Jones in Short Lived 1958 TV Show

 

Now, the Illinois Central had a passenger run from Chicago to New Orleans which involved 4 different trains.  Jones was given engine number 638 for the Memphis to Canton, MS link.  This service came to be known as a “Cannonball Run,” which was a generic term for fast or express passenger and freight trains.  Keep in mind that Jones did not like to be behind schedule and he had already been deemed a hero for his 1895 rescue of a little girl.  Jones had been doing maintenance work on the engine when he saw some kids dart in front of the locomotive.  All crossed the track except the one girl who froze on the tracks as the train approached.  Jones supposedly perched himself atop the cowcatcher and snatched the child from the tracks as the train approached.   

Casey Jones' Illinois Central Engine 638

 

At 10 PM on April 29, 1900, Casey Jones’ pulled his train behind engine 638 into the Canton station and, when he was ready to go home, he heard someone say that engineer Joe Lewis was ill and could not take out the engine 382 for the return trip to Memphis.   Jones volunteered to take on the duty.  By the time they left at 12:50 AM,  he was already more than an hour and a half behind schedule so he had his fireman, Sim Webb, “open it up.”   Casey had a reputation for going too fast and  I suppose that’s how he made sure that he kept his schedule.   This night was no different.   At times that night,  John D’Angelo of virtual railroader says it’s entirely possible that the “Cannonball” reached speeds close to 100 mph.  Jones came upon a freight train on a side track and so Jones reduced his speed to a still rapid 50 mph as he intended to pass.  This particular freight train was long.  So long, in fact, that the rear cars were on the main track.  Casey figured that they would do as normal and that is “sawing.”  As Jones train passed, the freight train would move forward so as to clear the rear cars from the main line prior to Jones’ engine 382 arriving.  The trouble was that the engineer of the freight train did not realize just how fast Casey Jones was moving and they did not move their freight train forward fast enough.   

Casey Jones Wreck Site 1900

 

As they came around a curve, Jones saw the freight cars on the track ahead and he shouted for Webb to jump.  As Webb lept to safety, Jones tooted his whistle and applied the brakes in vain.   Engine 382 of the Illinois Central Railroad plowed into the caboose of the freight train.  It is said that he had managed to slow his train down to 35 mph, thus saving all of the passengers but he was killed.  Sim Webb had landed in some bushes and was not injured.  Later ,he told Janie Jones, “that as I jumped Casey held down the whistle in a long, piercing scream. I think he must have had in mind to warn the freight conductor in the caboose so he could jump.”   The legend is that he was found with one hand clutching the whistle and the other the brake.   Casey Jones’ watch stopped at 3:52 AM  on this date in 1900 and his action is credited with saving the lives of all of the passengers.   In spite of the heroic lore that has followed his name, an investigation concluded that he was largely to blame for driving too fast.  

Saturday (Derby Day) Severe Weather Probability

 

HPC Rain total forecast estimate for Saturday (Derby Day)

 

Weather Bottom Line:  The Lentucky Oaks weather forecast and Kentucky Derby weather forecast could not be more different.  A frontal boundary is slowly plodding its way across the nation.  It will not arrive in Louisville in time to really affect that 136th Kentucky Oaks.  There is a very slight chance for a late afternoon isolated t’storm Friday afternoon but for the most part, it will be warm and breezy.  I think that it will be dry with partly cloudy skies and highs in the low to perhaps the mid 80’s.  The data also suggests that conditions will still be favorable for all of the Kentucky Derby events for Friday night including the Brownstable-Brown Gala.  Previously, the data suggested rain chances increasing around midnight but the last few runs, all models have been holding off the rain until the 5AM to 7AM timeframe.  So, aside from late departures from the parties, it should be a fine night.  An unofficial Derby tradiition is cruising and the police have had issues over the years trying to control that activity.  This year should the cops should get some help from mother nature.  

HPC Sunday Forecast Rainfall Estimate

 

For Derby Day, rain will begin in the morning.  There is some disagreement on how much.  The 6Z NAM only throws out a half inch of rain into Saturday evening with most of that coming in the first half of the day.  The 6Z GFS though has about 2 inches of rain for the daylight hours of Saturday.  The Hydrometeorlogical Prediction Center seems to split the difference and comes up with rain totals of 1.25 to 1.5 inches of rain for Saturday.   There is also a slight risk of severe thunderstorms for Saturday.  My biggest concern with this is that I think the best chance for tornadic activity will be in the same region of Arkansas and Mississippi that got hit with those brutal tornadoes last weekend.  What is going on is that there will be a shortwave moving up along the front through the Ohio Valley on Saturday morning.  Sensible weather wise, that should mean that after it passes, then rain chances diminish Saturday afternoon in Louisville.  While the jet streak moves to the northeast with the shortwave, there may still be sufficient jet stream venting to work with some afternoon heating to the mid to upper 70’s Saturday afternoon to trigger scattered rain and t’storms.  Obviously, the GFS is more bullish on this scenario.  I would not be surprised to see a wet track on Saturday but times of actual rain falling will be sporadic.  

SPC Sunday Severe Weather Outlook

 

Late Saturday, there will be another shortwave with the associated jet stream energy developing in the lower Mississippi Valley.  It should develop in such  a manner that a surface low will probably emerge.  It is in this developing area that the risk of tornadic activity will be its greatest.  As that low moves up along the front Saturday evening toward the Ohio Valley, a tremendous amount of moisture will be drawn up from the Gulf.  This entire system, in fact, is what is also drawing the oil in the Gulf of Mexico onto the Louisiana coast.  Rain chances will increase markedly on Saturday night with the risk of severe weather back in the picture.  My guess is that we would be talking about strong winds as the most likely threat for Sunday morning.  But, it’s the rain that has the attention of officials.  A Flood Watch is in effect for Saturday and Sunday in Louisville and I would not be surprised to see it extended through Monday morning as the NAM takes rain totals to nearly 5 inches by 7AM Monday and the GFS is closer to 4.5 inches.  The HPC is in line with these numbers as it adds another 3 to 3.5 inches for the Sunday AM to Monday AM timeframe.

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