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Hank C. Burnette - "Hank's '97"

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Published on May 1, 2012

Comin' up...my instru version of the very famous country ballad, "Wreck Of The Old 97", originally the first million-selling country music release in the American record industry. Composed by one David Graves George in 1927, it has since then been recorded by numerous artists, including The Statler Brothers (feat. Johnny Cash), Charlie Louvin of The Louvin Brothers, Pink Anderson, David Holt, Flatt and Scruggs, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Johnny Cash, Chuck Ragan, Hank Williams III, Patrick Sky, Nine Pound Hammer, Boxcar Willie, Lonnie Donegan, The Seekers, Bert Southwood, Ernest Stoneman & Kahle Brewer, and Hank Snow, as well as Portland, Maine Celtic punk band The Pubcrawlers. My own up-tempo version (what did you expect?!) was included on my first Sonet album, "Don't Mess With My Ducktail" (SNTF-693), from late '76. The only guitar I use on it is my old 1960 Hagström 'plank' and it's a real oldie, cut in my parents living room sometime in the mid-'60s!!
TRIVIA:
Old 97 was a Southern Railway train officially known as the Fast Mail. It ran from Washington DC to Atlanta, Georgia. On September 27, 1903 while en route from Monroe, Virginia, to Spencer, North Carolina, the train derailed at Stillhouse Trestle near Danville, Virginia. The wreck inspired a famous railroad ballad and became seminal in the genre of country music.
The wreck of Old 97 occurred when the engineer, 33 year old Joseph A. ("Steve") Broady, at the controls of engine number 1102, was operating the train at high speed in order to stay on schedule and arrive at Spencer on time (Fast Mail had a reputation for never being late). Locomotive 1102, a ten wheeler (4-6-0) engine built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia, had rolled out of the factory in early 1903, less than a year before the wreck. After the wreck the engine was rebuilt and served for slightly over 32 years before being scrapped on July 9, 1935.
On the day of the accident, Old 97 was behind schedule when it left Washington, DC and was one hour late when it arrived in Monroe, Virginia. It switched train crews and when it left Monroe there were 17 people on board. The train personnel were Joseph Broady (the engineer), John Blair (the conductor), A.C. Clapp (a fireman), John Hodge, (a fireman), and J.S. Moody (the flagman). Also on board were various mail clerks including J.L. Thompson, Scott Chambers, Daniel Flory, Paul Argenbright, Lewis Spies, Frank Brooks, Percival Indermauer, Charles Reames, Jennings Dunlap, Napoleon Maupin, J. H. Thompson, and W. R. Pinckney, an express messenger. When the train pulled into Lynchburg, VA, Wentworth Armistead (a safe locker) boarded the train so at the time of the wreck, there were 18 men on board. Eleven of them died and seven were injured.
At Monroe, Broady was instructed to get the Fast Mail to Spencer, 166 miles distant, on time. The scheduled running time from Monroe to Spencer was four hours, fifteen minutes, an average speed of approximately 39 mph (62.4 km/h). In order to make up the one hour delay, the train's average speed would have to be at least 51 mph (82 km/h). Broady was ordered to maintain speed through Franklin Junction, an intermediate stop normally made during the run.
The route between Monroe and Spencer was rolling terrain and there were numerous danger points due to the combination of grades and tight radius curves. Signs were posted to warn engineers to watch their speed. However, in his quest to stay on time, engineer Broady rapidly descended a heavy grade that ended at the 45-foot high Stillhouse Trestle, which spanned Cherrystone Creek. He was unable to sufficiently reduce speed as he approached the curve leading into the trestle, causing the entire train to derail and plunge into the ravine below. Nine people were killed, including the locomotive crew and a number of clerks in the mail car coupled between the tender and the rest of the train.
The Southern Railway placed blame for the wreck on engineer Broady, disavowing that he had been ordered to run as fast as possible to maintain the schedule. The railroad also claimed he descended the grade leading to Stillhouse Trestle at a speed of more than 70 mph (112 km/h). Several eyewitnesses to the wreck, however, stated that the speed was probably around 50 mph (80 km/h). In all likelihood, the railroad was at least partially to blame, as they had a lucrative contract with the U.S. Post Office to haul mail (hence the train's name), the contract including a penalty clause for each minute the train was late into Spencer. It is probably safe to conclude that the engineers piloting the Fast Mail were always under pressure to stay on time so the railroad would not be penalized for late mail delivery.

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