Railroad companies used various means with which to name their roads. Early railroad names included the important terminal points so the rider would know for sure where he or she was going. However, soon after the first major geographic barrier to the railroad -- the Appalachian Mountains -- were conquered, railroads wanted names that would reflect their ability to take passengers to far-away places, or to impress investors with a name that led them to believe that the railroad was much larger than it actually was. One of the first to do this was a small railroad in Maryland, i.e., the Baltimore and Ohio, who had the effrontery to claim it was going all the way to Ohio. Other railroads simply added the word "Western" to their names to indicate that they were “going places” – e.g., New York, Lake Erie & Western; Delaware, Lackawanna & Western; New York, Ontario & Western, etc. Others added "Pacific" to their names, trying to convince people that they were going all the way to the Pacific Ocean. A few actually did make it to the Pacific Ocean – Atlantic & Pacific; Southern Pacific, Northern Pacific, and Central Pacific. Others didn’t even get close: Denver, South Park & Pacific; Acme, Quanah & Pacific; Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific; Wabash, St. Louis & Pacific; Texas & Pacific. Some names were just plain incorrect. The Mobile and Gulf was an eleven mile line that was near neither Mobile nor the Gulf. The Memphis, El Paso and Pacific never made it to any of the places mentioned in it's corporate title.
Naming railroads was rarely a simple matter. Politics undoubtedly played a role, particularly in cases like the Cincinnati, New Orleans & Texas Pacific
, or the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton
, or the New York, New Haven & Hartford
. It seemed to be a logical extension of these long and tortured names to start identifying railroads by their initials. Unfortunately, this led to duplications in some cases so eventually a system of unique “reporting marks” was used and is still in use today.
The American sense of humor, coupled with the natural adversarial relationship between railroad management and labor, saw initials that begged for some creative interpretation. Nobody was immune. These creative names, or nicknames if you will, took on a mostly negative connotation, with the point of most nicknames being that the railroad was slow, never on time, had poor track and motive power, or was just mismanaged to some degree. Therein lies the rationale behind the birth of the informal railroad nickname. Some railroads took on nicknames and slogans to further their brand identity, or to try to offset the damage done by the informal nicknames. The Bellefontaine & Indiana
, for example, called itself the "B" line, later extended to "Bee Line" to indicate that it traveled the shortest route to the desired destination.
One of the more interesting advertising campaigns was pulled off by the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad which went by the nickname
, “The Route of the Phoebe Snow”. This road was the first to use anthracite coal that burned soot free (hence it was also dubbed “The Road of Anthracite”). Phoebe Snow was a cartoon character – a very beautiful woman all dressed in white including white dress, long white gloves, white hat, and white purse. The point of the advertising campaign was that ladies could ride the “Phoebe Snow” without getting their clothes dirty as they did on competitor railroads. In fact, several verses were written about Phoebe Snow of which the following is an example:
Says Phoebe Snow
About to go
Upon a trip to Buffalo:
“My gown stays white
From morn till night
Upon the road of Anthracite”
Some railroads even adopted their nickname as their official corporate name. The Chicago, Indianapolis and Louisville
, for example, adopted its nickname from the name of a small junction town -- Monon, Indiana – to became the Monon Railroad
. The Carolina, Clinchfield and Ohio Railroad
was called The Clinchfield so often that management finally gave up and changed the name to Clinchfield Railroad
. Nicknames were also often based on nearby place names, mountains, rivers, or freight hauled.
The history of most nicknames is, unfortunately, lost. Many, however, are traceable to some local phenomenon or event that has survived history. Here are a few of the later:
The Alaska Railroad was known as the "Moose Gooser" because accidents involving trains and moose in Alaska were common.
The Alexander Railroad
acquired its nickname in the North Carolina legislature. Romulus Linney and Cy Watson debated where to locate the road to be built with the money from the sale of the state’s interest in the Cape Fear & Yadkin Valley Railroad
. Linney wanted the money put into an extension of the Atlantic, Tennessee, and Ohio Railroad
to Taylorsville. Watson wanted to use the money to extend the Cape Fear & Yadkin Valley Railroad
to Danbury. Watson argued his option would open up coal fields and deposits of iron ore while Linney’s route was practically without any mineral wealth. Linney countered that coal and iron were quite common in the area of his proposed route, and furthermore, this area had what no other spot on earth could boast of – the Hiddenite stone. He added that “A well-wintered June Bug could carry away $1,000 worth of this valuable gem, which rivals the diamond in sparkling beauty, tied to its hind leg!” Linney’s proposal won the day and thereafter the Alexander Railroad
was known as “The June Bug Line”.6
For some time, railroad engineers had dreamed of building a “low grade” line with which to navigate the Allegheny Mountains in western Pennsylvania. The Allegheny Valley Railroad
attempted to build such a line, but it went bankrupt in the process. Nevertheless, during its lifetime it was known as the “Low Grade” railroad.
Atlanta & St. Andrews Bay
officially changed it's name to “The Bay Line” in 1994.
The Atlanta, Knoxville and Northern Railroad
was nicknamed “The Hiwassee Route” after the winding, scenic portion of the line that followed along the Hiwassee River.
The Atlantic and North Carolina Railroad
was known as “The Old Mullet Road” because of the huge quantities of Mullet fish shipped on this road.
The Atlantic, Valdosta & Western Railway
was known as “The Jacksonville Short Line” since it was constructed to connect the cities of Valdosta, Georgia and Jacksonville, Florida.
Maine is a potato producing state. The Bangor and Aroostock
hauled lots of potatoes and it was a slow, local freight. Hence “Spud Drag” became its nickname.
in Texas was nicknamed the “Route of the Apostles” because four of its stations were named St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke and St. John, respectively.
Several railroads were known as the “Bee Line”. A “Bee Line” is an old expression meaning to take the shortest route. If someone were to make a "bee line" for something, then that person would take the shortest route. This particular name, "Bee Line," actually started out as the "B Line," the "B" being short for Bellefontaine
, the first road to use that nickname. The Reading in Pennsylvania and the Atlanta, Birmingham & Atlantic
apparently had no relation to the others or each other. All the other railroads merged at one time or another, and the nickname "Bee Line" followed these mergers. In 1868, the Bellefontaine
merged with the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati
to form the Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Indianapolis
, also known as the "Bee Line." Also merged into the CCC & I
in the 1860s were the Dayton & Union
and the Indianapolis & St. Louis
. In 1889, the CCC & I became the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis
, also known as the "Bee Line." This lasted until 1930, when it became part of the New York Central
System. The Dayton & Union
split off from the CCC & I
in 1917 and was independent until 1936 when it became part of the Baltimore & Ohio
. During this time, the Dayton & Union
was also known as the "Bee Line," apparently having kept the nickname from it's prior association.
The Burlington & Missouri
was known as “The Alphabet Line” because its station names followed the alphabet. These stations were, in order, Arlington, Berks, Crete, Dorchester, Exeter, Fairmount, Grafton, Harvard, Inland, Juniata, Kenesaw, Lowell, Mindon and Oxford.
The California Western Railroad
was known as “The Skunk Train”. In 1925, the railroad began using a self-propelled Mac railbus
, numbered M-80. This motorcar (as those of its kind are known in western railroading) was gasoline powered, and had in it a pot-bellied stove that kept the loggers it transported warm. The fumes exhausted from the gasoline engine mixed with the smoke from the stove, which was carried inland by ocean breezes faster than the motorcar could travel. Residents claimed that "you could smell it before you could see it coming," and nicknamed the railbus “The Skunk”.
The Carolina & Northwestern
was known by the nickname, “Can’t & Never Will”. The origin of this nickname was in the corporate fantasy that the line would eventually extend to Tennessee.
The Carolina, Clinchfield & Ohio
was popularly known "The Clinchfield." In 1925, management gave up and just changed the formal name to it's nickname, "Clinchfield," until it was taken over by the Seaboard System in 1983.
The Central of Georgia Railroad
adopted the slogan, “Route of the Nancy Hanks”, after a famous bay mare trotter herself named after President Lincoln’s mother.
The Cincinnati, New Orleans and Texas Pacific Railway
had 15 tunnels. Hence it was known as “The Rathole”.
Crandic is a contraction of Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. Hence the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Railway
was known as “The Crandic”.
The Coeur d’Alene Railway & Navigation
Company was known as the “Chippy Line” because of the proliferation of houses of ill-repute along the line.
The nickname "Southpaw" originated from the Chicago and North Western Railway
’s habit of running on the left hand track in double track territory.
The Chicago Great Western Railroad
and its successor, the Chicago, St. Paul and Kansas City Railroad
, was known as “The Maple Leaf Route” nodoubt because its route map through MN, IL, IA, MO, and NE was formed in the shape of the veins of a maple leaf.
Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific
-- “America's Resourceful Railroad” -- was originally the slogan of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad
. In 1927, the name was changed to Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific
, but the railroad kept the slogan.
The Crystal River and San Juan Railroad
was known as “The Marble Road”. It was a narrow gauge road running between Marble
, CO and Carbondale, CO to transport marble mined at Marble to the Denver and Rio Grande Western
or to the Colorado Midland
at Carbondale. This marble was used in various monuments in Washington D.C. including the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The Davenport, Rock Island and Northwestern Railroad
was incorporated in 1900. At that time the “Tri-Cities” of Ill-Iowa were Davenport, IA, Rock Island, IL, and Moline, IL. Undoubtedly, this is the source of this railroad’s “Tri-City Route” nickname. The “Quad-Cities” did not come into existence until after 1903 when Bettendorf, IA was incorporated. But the old nickname stuck until the road was purchased by the Burlington Northern.
The Denver, Northwestern and Pacific Railroad
was known as “The Moffat Road” because it was constructed in 1903 by David Moffat.
The Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railroad
was once owned by Henry Ford, thus it was known as “The Model T”.
The “Expulsion of the Acadians” from the Grand Pre area in Nova Scotia is immortalized by Longfellow’s epic poem “Evangeline”. Hence the Dominion Atlantic Railway
was known as the “Land of Evangeline Route”.
In the area of operation of the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad
, locals became accustomed to the “tweet”, “tweet” of the train whistle that echoed through the hills of North Carolina and Tennessee. Thereafter the train became known as “The Tweetsie”.
There were many small towns along the line of the old Findlay, Fort Wayne and Western Railroad
which was just about the straightest railroad ever built in the United States. It became known as the "Tangent Line" because of its straight-line characteristic. It was in 1888 that the road was constructed between Findlay and Fort Wayne, Ind.
The Florida East Coast
was known as the “Flagler System” after its founder, Henry Flagler. Flagler first started developing hotels in 1885, but soon realized that Florida needed a good transportation system if his hotels were to succeed. He first purchased the Jacksonville, St. Augustine & Halifax River Railway
, and the rest is history.
The Frankfort and Cincinnati Railroad
was known as the “Whiskey Road” because of the number of distilleries it served along its path from Frankfort to Paris, KY.
The track on the Frankfort and Kokomo Railroad
was in generally poor condition and made the trains take a side-to-side jog resembling the movements of a rabbit. Hence the nickname “The Rabbit Track Line”.
The Georgia, Florida and Alabama Railroad
was named “The Sumatra Leaf Route” in recognition of major type of tobacco grown in the area.
The Hooppole, Yorktown and Tampico
was known as “The Dummy” because, lacking a rail spur, it could not turn around and had to run a portion of its route backward.
Louis Houck was a railroad building pioneer in Southeast Missouri. Several roads in the area are named after him: Cape Girardeau and Chester
, Cape Girardeau and Thebes Bridge Terminal
, Chester, Perryville and St. Genevieve
, Saline Valley
, and St. Louis, Memphis and Southeastern
The Houston and Texas Central
got its nickname, “Hell on Texas Contractors” because contractors building the line had a lot of trouble collecting money for their work. The nickname, “Hen and Ten Chicks” came from the fact that in the early days of railroads, one locomotive hauled 10 cars.
The Houston, East and West Texas Railroad
got its nickname, “The Rabbit”, because of the hopping, rabbit-like disposition of this railroad.
The Jupiter & Lake Worth
was known as “The Celestial Line” because it went through Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Juno, Florida.
The Kansas City Southern Railway
was founded by Arthur E. Stillwell. Hence it was known as “Stillwell’s Road”.
A successful commercial operation at Deepwater, KS, which was served by the Kansas City, Clinton and Springfield Railroad,
was a clay tile factory. This plant was leased and later purchased by the Kansas City based W. S. Dickey Clay Company, and became their main production plant, turning out over 1,000 carloads of clay products a year. In 1896 the Dickey plant in Deepwater burned down, but it was replaced by a new, much larger plant in 1897, which would be further expanded later to a capacity of over 3,500 car loads per year of clay products. Dickey also took over a second clay plant located to the south of Deepwater, operating it for years as the Deepwater #2 factory. It was the clay tiles from the Dickey plant that gave the Kansas City, Clinton & Springfield Railroad
its enduring nickname, the "Leaky Roof". The clay tiles required no protection from the rain and so the KCC&S and its parent the Fort Scott
tended to dispatch any old car that would roll down to Deepwater to handle the tiles. As the story goes, one rainy day the superintendent of the White Swan Flour Mill at Clinton, which shipped a considerable amount of its finished flour south on the KCC&S line, looked out over the KCC&S yards and saw that the road had brought down another batch of decrepit old cars. Since the mill’s
flour output would be ruined if it got wet, the superintendent called out to his general manager "Don't send out any flour today, they've got another bunch of those ‘leaky roofs’ in the yards."
The Kansas City, Fort Smith and Southern Railroad
was known as the “Split Log” because it was owned and built by Mathias Splitlog, a wealthy Indian Chief.
The Kentucky and Indiana Terminal Railroad
was called the “Daisy Line” because its passenger cars were painted yellow with brown trim, resembling the Black-Eyed Susan.
The "Ol’Hook & Eye" as a nickname for the Kishacoquillas Valley Railroad
actually referred to the engineman, John Ross, who, historian for this railroad Hartzler explained, always wore a pair of hooks and eyes on his overalls, similar to those worn by the Amish who lived in the valley of the Kishacoquillas area.
In 1971, the La Salle & Bureau County Railroad
was caught stealing hundreds of Penn Central
box cars. The La Salle
repainted reporting numbers on these cars and used them as their own. The interesting thing was that the Penn Central never missed them. Thereafter the La Salle & Bureau County
was dubbed “Let’s Steal Box Cars”.
The Lehigh Valley
was a major Pennsylvania coal hauler, and was known by the nickname of "Route of the Black Diamonds." Black Diamonds is a slang term for coal.
The Marianna and Blountstown Railroad
was called the “Rich Uncle Railroad” because it was supposed to have rich relatives in the local Cellophane and Pulpwood industries it served.
The owner of the Minneapolis, St. Paul, Rochester and Dubuque Electric Traction Railroad
and the Minneapolis, Northfield and Southern Railway
, Col. M. W. Savage, also owned the famous race horse, Dan Patch, so his railroads became known as “The Dan Patch Line”.
The Mohawk and Malone Railroad
was known as “Dr. Webb’s Railroad” because Dr. Webb was its founder.
The owner of the Montana Railway
, Mr. Harlow, negotiated several agreements with companies to build his road and to make it pay. Thus it became known as “The Jawbone Line”.
The Morris & Essex Railroad
was known as "Methodist & Episcopal" because it did not run on Sundays.
Some argued that the Newfoundland Railway
traveled so slow you could hop off a forward car and pick a cupful of blueberries before the caboose came into sight, and that 25 mph was good going on the flat. Hence it came to be named, ironically, “The Newfie Bullet”.
The New York, Chicago and St. Louis
Railroad was built to compete with the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern
. It was then sold to the New York Central
for a very high price. Hence the nickname, “Nickel Plate”, as if the tracks and equipment were nickel plated.
Photographer and historian, Donald R. Hensley, Jr., indicates that the Orange Belt Railroad
was known as the Tarpon Route because of the tarpon fish present in the Gulf of Mexico and at Tarpon Springs, where sportsmen came to do battle with this sport fish after disembarking from the train.
In 1879 Henry B. Plant acquired the Atlantic and Gulf Railroad
which he reorganized as the Savannah, Florida and Western Railway
. This was the original and largest of the roads of the “Plant System”. Other independent “Plant System” roads absorbed by the Savannah, Florida and Western
were: Charleston & Savannah
, Brunswick & Western
, Alabama Midland
, Silver Springs, Ocala & Gulf
, Abbeville Southern
, and Green Pond, Walterboro and Branchville
. Other roads of the “Plant System” included: South Florida Railroad
, Sanford and St. Petersburg Railway
, Jacksonville, Tampa, and Key West Railway
, Florida Southern Railway
, and Silver Springs, Ocala and Gulf Railroad
The Queen and Crescent Route
represented a railroad system involving joint operation of five separate railroad companies extending from Cincinnati, OH to New Orleans, LA and Shreveport, LA: the Cincinnati, New Orleans and Texas Pacific Railway
, the Alabama Great Southern Railroad
, the New Orleans and Northeastern
Railroad, the Alabama and Vicksburg Railway
, and the Vicksburg, Shreveport and Pacific Railway
. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow dubbed Cincinnati the “Queen City of the West” because he thought it so beautiful. New Orleans is known as the “Crescent City” because the Mississippi River carved out a croissant-shaped land mass upon which New Orleans sits.
The Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa and Occidental Railway was known as the "Ice Railway" because during the winters of 1880-83 it placed track on large timbers laid on the ice to cross the St. Lawrence River. During the summer months the train was ferried across the River.
There are many legendary stories regarding the Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg Railroad
(translated in time to "Rotten Wood and Old Rusty Rails”.) Many people fondly called the R.W.& O. the "Hojack." It seems that in the early days of the railroad, a farmer in his buckboard drawn by a bulky mule was caught on a crossing at train time. When the mule was halfway across the tracks, he simply stopped. The train was fast approaching and the farmer naturally got excited and began shouting, "Ho Jack, Ho Jack." Amused by the incident, the trainmen began calling their line the "Ho Jack."
The Salt Lake, Garfield & Western
, the “Saltair Route”, was a 17 mile road founded in 1906 to take people from Salt Lake City to a resort and amusement park on the Great Salt Lake. The name of the resort was "Saltair.
The San Francisco-Oakland Terminal Railway
was known as “The Key System” because the map of the railroad looked something like a key.
The South Florida Railroad
was part of the system of railroads built by Henry B. Plant after the Civil War. Others in this system included the Savannah, Florida and Western
and the Brunswick and Western
The Southern New York
was called the “Leatherstocking Route” because it was located in the Leatherstocking region of New York State.
The St. Louis, Alton & Springfield
adopted the nickname "Bluff Line" in reference to the massive bluffs that followed along the Mississippi River in the area. The St. Louis, Chicago & St. Paul
adopted the nickname of its predecessor, the St. Louis, Alton & Springfield
, in 1893.
The Strasburg Railroad
was known as “The Road to Paradise” because the road went through the nearby town of Paradise in southeastern Pennsylvania. Paradise is in an area with such other interesting named villages like Bird-In-Hand, Intercourse, and Blue Ball.
The Sumpter Valley
was known as “Polygamy Central” because the territory through which it ran was mainly populated by Mormons who, at one time, practiced polygamy.
The Toledo, St. Louis and Western Railroad adopted the white clover as its emblem and thereafter it came to be know as “The Clover Leaf”.
The Washburn, Bayfield and Iron River Railroad
was believed to be named “The Battleax” after a brand of tobacco used by its employees.
The Western Pacific’s
main crossing of the Sierra Nevada Mountains is up the Feather River Canyon. Hence, the Western Pacific
was known as "The Feather River Route."
The Waco, Beaumont, Trinity and Sabine Railroad
was known as “The Orphan Line of the MKT” because it was not connected directly to the rest of the MKT system.
The Weatherford, Mineral Wells and Northwestern Railroad
got its nickname, “Watermelons, Mineral Water and Nowhere Whisky” because Weatherford, Texas called itself "The Watermelon Capitol of the World”, Mineral Wells was a spa for mineral baths in the 1920s and 1930s, and the strict Christian fundamentalist thought of the area banned whiskey.
The Wellsville, Addison and Galeton Railroad
was known as “The Sole Leather Line” because most of its business came from tanneries located at Elkland and Westfield.
The Western & Atlantic
was called “Grandpa's Railroad” because to get a job there, you practically had to be related to an employee. A lot of people worked for that railroad whose ‘grandpas’ had worked there previously.
The Yazoo Delta
is a small line in Mississippi that is steeped in history and in Mississippi Delta Blues. According to the story, W.C. Handy heard an unnamed Blues artist sing a song "Where the Southern Crosses the Dawg." So where does the Southern
cross the Yazoo Delta
– i.e., the “Dawg” or the “Dog” or the “Yellow Dog”? In Moorhead Mississippi.
The Merced Canyon and river flows out of Yosemite Valley into the Central Valley of California. Hence the Yosemite Valley Railroad
is known as “The Merced Canyon Route”.
THE CASEY JONES STORY
Once in a great while an individual attains a degree of fame that is tantamount to legend. Such a man was Engineer John Luther ("Casey") Jones (1864 1900), who died at his post on an Illinois Central Railroad
Express train on April 30, 1900. Although he had been born in southern Missouri, he was called "Casey" in reference to his boyhood home of Cayce, Kentucky. At age 15, he went to work for the Mobile & Ohio Railroad
as a telegrapher, and three years later he became a fireman. In 1888 Casey moved to the larger Illinois Central
, and within two years he achieved his goal of becoming a steam locomotive engineer. The then 26 year old, 6' 4" engineer ran fast freights for the IC, first out of Jackson, Mississippi, and later out of Centralia, Illinois. In 1892 he was assigned to a local express taking fairgoers from downtown Chicago to the World's Columbian Exposition. For the next seven years he was back on freights
, with his home base at Water Valley, Mississippi. He was known up and down his division for his six tone calliope whistle and the "whippoorwill call" he played upon it, and among co workers for his dashing good looks and high spirits. As the new century began, Casey Jones was promoted to as prestigious a job as the Illinois Central
could offer. He was to pilot the company's premier Chicago New Orleans passenger train, the "New Orleans Special," also known as the "Cannonball." His division covered the 188 miles south of Memphis. On the night of April 29,1900 the 36 year old Casey and his fireman, Sim Web, brought the northbound "Cannonball" (officially, the "Chicago Fast Mail") into Memphis on time. There they learned that the engineer scheduled to take the southbound "Cannonball" when it arrived from Chicago was out sick, and they were asked to turn around and retrace the miles they had just logged. They agreed, with Jones insisting that he be able to use his regular engine the 4 6 0, Number 382, that he had just brought in from Canton, Mississippi at the head of the northbound. The 10 wheeler was readied, but Jones and Sim Webb had to cool their heels: the southbound "Cannonball" was late and they would be leaving Memphis 95 minutes behind schedule. The train orders Casey received that night specified that the southbound "Cannonball" be on time at Canton, which meant that those 95 minutes would have to be made up in 188 miles. That was not any problem for Casey Jones, as Sim Webb recalled some years later that "running on time was his hobby." By the time the train left Granada, 100 miles into the run, one hour had already been erased from the deficit; after another 23 miles, the "Cannonball" was only 15 minutes late. Casey Jones approached the little depot at Vaughan almost on time. "The old girl's got her high heeled slippers on tonight," he shouted to his fireman over the thunder of his roaring locomotive. Jones hoped Vaughan wouldn't cost him any time. His orders told him to "saw" through two freights that were sided at the station. This was a common enough procedure when the total length of the sided trains exceeded the length of the siding: the far train extended off the siding through the switch at the far end, and out on the main track. Once the incoming train had cleared the first switch it would back up and clear the far switch. That synchronized maneuver would clear the main track ahead and the through train could continue on its way. It would all have gone smoothly if an air hose hadn't broken on the first of the two sided freights, delaying its southbound maneuver. There were no automatic signals in those days, so a flagman was sent to warn the "Cannonball" to stop well short of the four cars of the freight that blocked the track at the north switch. For whatever reason, Jones did not heed the flagman's lantern signal and approached the curve leading into the north switch at 70 mph. He only began to brake when his wheels exploded a warning "torpedo" the flagman had placed on the track. Within seconds, Fireman Webb saw the lights of the freight's caboose around the bend up ahead and shouted "Look out! We're gonna hit something." Jones told Webb to jump, and hit the emergency brakes. The "Cannonball" was doing considerably less than 50 mph when it struck the freight, but the big 10 wheeler tore through the caboose and one boxcar, the impact killing Casey Jones. He was the only casualty of the wreck. A song about Casey Jones
, in its dozens of variations, put the doomed engineer into the realm of folklore, and cast him into so much of an example of reckless bravery that now a full century later people ask, "Was there REALLY a Casey Jones? There was! …………………….
The first train robbery in the U.S. occurred on October 6, 1866 when the Reno Brothers jumped onto an Ohio and Mississippi Railway train in Indiana. The robbers emptied one safe while on the train and tossed a second safe out the window so they could take it with them. This event started a trend – during the next two seeks two more trains were robbed. A passenger who testified that he saw the faces of two of the Reno brother robbers was subsequently shot and killed. This quieted any further identifications. After their fifth robbery a couple of years later, however, the Pinkertons finally caught up with the Reno brothers. Some members of the gang were hanged, but a lynch mob got to others before official justice could be served.
The first Jesse James
train robbery occurred on July 21, 1873 when Jesse James and the James-Younger Gang
robbed the Rock Island train in Adair, Iowa. The train was derailed and turned on its side, killing the engineer and injuring several passengers. The James-Younger Gang, clad in Ku Klux Klan outfits, went up and down the length of the overturned train demanding passengers’ watches and other valuables, throwing them in bags along with the money stolen from the train’s safe. The Gang ended up getting about $3,000 for their effort. Citizens of Adair, Iowa reenact the robbery every July and celebrate Jesse James Days with a parade and other festivities.
The so-called Wild Bunch Outlaws
were active train robbers from 1896 through 1901. This gang, usually a group of ten or so outlaws, banded together and worked out of the “Hole in the Wall” located in the southern Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming and/or “Brown’s Hole” located in a desolate valley near the Wyoming, Colorado and Utah border. In the winter months they worked out of “Robber’s Roost” located in the desert of southeastern Utah – a famous outlaw winter resort. The members of the Wild Bunch
varied considerably from time to time. The leadership was controlled by Robert Leroy Parker, known as “Butch Cassidy”, and his sidekick, Harry Longbaugh, known as “Sundance Kid”. The Wild Bunch
focused much of their attention on Union Pacific trains. The movie The Great Train Robbery
portrayed a robbery that occurred in June 2, 1899 near Wilcox, Wyoming. The Wild Bunch flagged down the UP’s Overland Limited, detached the express car and dynamited it wide open. When the guard surviving the dynamite blast declined to open the safe, the Wild Bunch
dynamited the safe which resulted in money being blown all over the landscape. The Wild Bunch
made off with $30,000 but had a terrible time scrambling all over the landscape for the greenbacks.
The Wild Bunch
pulled off three more train robberies the last one of which occurred near Malta, Montana netting $40,500. After the Malta holdup, the UP RR employed a high speed train and professional gunmen to get the Wild Bunch dead or alive. In consequence the Wild Bunch
dispersed with Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid leaving for South America.
The Dalton Gang
was an infamous outlaw group in the American West during 1890-1892. They specialized in bank and train robberies. They were related to the Younger though they acted later and independently of the James-Younger Gang. The Dalton family came from Jackson County, Missouri
. Lewis Dalton
was a saloon
keeper in Kansas City
when he married Adeline Younger, the aunt of Cole
and Jim Younger
. In 1886 they moved to Coffeyville
in southeast Kansas. Thirteen of the couple's 15 children survived to maturity. The Daltons were "agrarian farmers". It is suspected that when the railroad "took" the family farm, the event marked the beginning of the Dalton Brothers life of crime, along with other family tragedies, particularly the death of Frank.
On February 6, 1891, after Jack Dalton had joined his brothers in California, a Southern Pacific Railroad passenger train was held up. The Daltons were accused of the robbery, based on little evidence. Jack escaped and Bill was acquitted, but Grant was arrested, convicted, and given a 20-year prison sentence. According to one account, Grant was handcuffed to one deputy and accompanied by another while being transferred by train. After the train had gone some distance, one deputy fell asleep and the other busied himself talking to other passengers. It was a hot day, and all the windows were open. Suddenly, Grant jumped up and dived head first out of the train window. He landed in the San Joaquin River, disappeared under water, and was carried downstream by the current. The deputies were astounded. Grant must have taken the key to the handcuffs from the first deputy's pocket as he slept and then timed his escape to take place when he knew the train would be on a bridge. If he had landed on the ground, he would almost certainly have been killed. Grant found his brothers, and they made their way back to Oklahoma Territory.
Between May 1891 and July 1892, the Dalton brothers robbed four trains in the Indian Territory. Four months later they robbed a train of $10,000 at Lillietta, Indian Territory. In June 1892, they stopped another Santa Fe train, this time at Red Rock. Blackfaced Charley Bryant and Dick Broadwell held the engineer and fireman in the locomotive. Bob and Emmett Dalton and Bill Powers walked through the passenger cars, robbing the passengers as they went. Bill Doolin and Grant Dalton took on the express car. They threw the safe out of the train. They gained little for their efforts—a few hundred dollars and some watches and jewelry from the passengers. The gang scattered after the Red Rock robbery, but soon Blackfaced Charley was captured.
The gang struck again in July at Adair, Oklahoma. They went directly to the train station and took what they could find in the express and baggage rooms. Then they sat down on a bench on the platform, talking and smoking, with their Winchester rifles across their knees. When the train came in at 9:45 p.m., they backed a wagon up to the express car and unloaded all the contents. There were several armed guards on the train, but for some reason all 11 men were at the back of the train. The guards fired at the bandits through the car windows and from behind the train. In the gun fight, 200 shots were fired. None of the Dalton gang was hit. Three guards were wounded, and a town doctor was killed by a stray bullet. The robbers dropped out of sight, probably hiding out in one of several caves near Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Source: Database prepared by author. Roads acquired include roads sold, roads
acquired by another road, and roads merged into another road.
Source: Database prepared by author. Excluded from this chart are 699 switching
and terminal roads, tourist roads, street roads, and private roads.
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Brown, Robert R. Pioneer Locomotives of North America. Railway & Locomotive Historical Society. Bulletin 101. October 1959.
Bryant, Keith L., Jr. (ed.). Railroads in the Age of Regulation, 1900-1980. New York: Facts on File. 1988.
Currie, A. W. The Grand Trunk Railway of Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 1957.
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Gross, Joseph. Railroads of North America: A Complete Listing of All North American Railroads. Spencerport, NY. 1977.
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Meints, Graydon M. Michigan Railroads and Railroad Companies. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press. 1992.
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Simons, Richard S. and Francis H. Parker. Railroads of Indiana. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. 1997.
Stover, John F. A History of American Railroads. Chicago: Rand McNally & Company. 1967.
Stover, John F. American Railroads. University of Chicago Press. 1997. (A good source of references on railroads in America.)
Stover, John F. Iron Road to The West: American Railroads in the 1850s. NY: Columbia University Press. 1978.
Stover, John F. History of the Illinois Central Railroad. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. 1975.
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Taylor, George Rogers. The Transportation Revolution, 1815 1860. The Economic History of the United States. Vol. IV. Harper and Row. New York. 1968.
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Withuhn, William L. ed. Rails Across America. New York: Smithmark. 1993.
Some Additional Titles Consulted
Adams, Charles Frances. Railroads, Their Origin and Problems.
Bogen, Jules. The Anthracite Railroads. New York: The Ronald Press Company. 1927.
Brigham, A. P. From Trail to Railway Through the Appalachians.