Death of an Engineer

February 19, 2014

Dear family and friends:

A famous American ballad, "The Wreck of Old 97", is about a train wreck near Danville VA on September 27, 1903.

You can read about the wreck, see a photo, and read the lyrics of the song, here:

Here's the original recording, by Henry Whittier, 1923:

You can hear Hank Snow sing the song here:

or - my favorite - you can hear Johnny Cash sing it here. It has lyrics, too:

So, listen to it!

The Southern R.R. stopped in Spencer, NC, which is named as "Old '97"'s destination in "The Wreck of Old '97". The town was named for the Spencer family. Samuel Spencer was the first president of the Southern R.R. He himself was killed in a train wreck in 1906.

(You might wonder why the engineer of "Old '97" is called "Steve" in the song when his name was Joseph A. Broady. The reason seems to be that any man whose last name was "Brodie" was nicknamed "Steve" after the Steve Brodie who claimed to have jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge and survived on July 23, 1886.)

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OK, now that you have heard it, and / or read the lyrics on the Wikipedia page, you will notice that in the third line the song tells us:

                    "This is not 38, this is old 97"

But what was "38"? I'll tell you!

The wreck of No 38 took place on April 23, 1903, less than six months before the wreck of "old 97" and on the same line -- the Southern Railroad, near Lynchburg, VA.

The engineer was killed. His name was Charles R. Kinney. He left one son -- Will Hoover Kinney.

Will Hoover Kinney was my grandfather. Grandfather was born on February 19, 1894 - 120 years ago today!

Little Will was only 9 years old when his Dad was killed. His mother, Emma Lee Hoover Kinney, had already died in childbirth in 1900 together with the infant who would have been Will's younger brother. So at age 9 little Will had lost both his parents.

It was hard for Grandfather to grow up as an orphan. But he turned out fine! He was raised by some kindly aunts and cousins.

He went on to marry Josephine Devine, of Poughkeepsie, NY, in 1916. They were married for 49 years until Grandfather died on July 18, 1965. He was only 71 years old.

Will and Josephine had one child, a little girl named Jacqueline. Everybody called her "Jackie".

"Jackie" was my mother -- mine and my sister's.

* * * * *

When Grandfather died a few of his things passed down to me. One of them is his father's cup. It's an engineer's cup, with a picture of an engine on it. It is a "moustache cup", with a little bridge to keep a man's big, bushy moustache from getting soaked in the coffee or tea, and a little hole in the bridge to allow the beverage to go into his mouth.

* * * * *

No famous song was written about the wreck in which great-grandfather Charles was killed. But his train is mentioned in "the wreck of the old 97".

I found an article from the Washington Evening Star of April 25, 1903, documenting the accident and great-grandfather's death. You can read it here:

Happy Birthday, Grandfather! You were born 120 years ago today.

And warm regards to all of you, my friends!

Grover Furr