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Wreck Of The Old 97

"On September 27, 1903, Number 97, the Southern Railway's fast mail train between Washington and Atlanta, reached Monroe, Virginia, about an hour late. There, a change of crew put engineer Joseph A. Broady at the throttle. Known as something of a daredevil, Broadway was trying to make up lost time when he hit Stillhouse Trestle, a wooden bridge across Cherrystone Creek, too fast to make the descending curve, and locomotive and five cars flew off the rails into the ravine below. Several local musicians put together ballads about the accident, modelling their compositions after Henry Clay Work's popular 1865 song, 'The Ship That Never Return'd.' In 1923, it was recorded by one of country music's first recording artists, Henry Whitter. Vernon Dalhart copied Whitter's recording for the Victor Talking Machine Company. 'Old 97,' having made musical history, went on to make legal history, as the battle over the composer's royalties for the million-seller occupied the courts off and on until 1940. Folklorist Robert W. Gordon proved that Fred Lewey and Charles W. Noell of North Carolina had a hand in writing the ballad; who else did, we are still uncertain."
óNorman Cohen,
Secretary John Edwards Memorial Foundation

Wreck Of The Old 97

On one cloudless morning, I stood on the mountain
Just watching the smoke from below
It was coming from a tall, slim smokestack
'Way down on the Southern Railroad.

It was Ninety-Seven, the fastest train
Ever run on the Southern Line
All the freight trains and pass'gers take the side for Ninety-Seven
For she's bound to be at stations on time.

They gave him his orders at Monroe, Virginia
Saying "Stevie, you're away behind time
This is not Thirty-Eight, but it's Old Ninety-Seven
You must put her into Spencer on time."

He looked around and said to his black, greasy fireman
"Just shovel in a little more coal
And when I cross that ole White Oak Mountain
You can just watch Old Ninety-Seven roll."

It's a mighty rough road from Lynchburg to Danville
And the line is on a three-mile grade
It was on that grade that he lost his average
And you see what a jump that he made.

He was going down the grade, making ninety miles an hour
When his whistle began to scream
He was found in the wreck with his hand on the throttle
He was scalded to death with the steam.

Did she ever pull in? No, she never pulled in.
And that poor boy, he must be dead
Oh, yonder he lays on that railroad track
With the car wheels over his head.

Ninety-Seven, she was the fastest train
That the South had ever seen
But she run so fast on that Sunday morning
That the death score was number fourteen.

Now ladies, you must take warning
From this time now and on
Never speak hard words to your true, loving husband
He may leave you and never return.

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