Wreck of the Old 97 - chords, tab and comments
On September 27th 1903, the "Fast Mail" train #97 derailed at the head of Stillhouse Trestle, Danville, Virginia, in a fatal attempt to get back on scedule after being 1 hour delayed at Monroe. The staff was changed, and aboard climbed engineer Joseph "Steve" Broady (33) with a desire to make it to Spencer, North Caroline on time. The engine (internal #1102) was an almost new 10-wheeler, and among the sharpest at that time. Four leading wheels on 2 axels bogie, and six wheels on three axels powered and coupled by rods.
The crash caused 11 victims, Broady among them, and 7 injured who made it by jumping off the train in time. The company put the blame on Broady for running at excess speed, hiding the fact that he was pushed: Southern Railway had a contract with U.S. mail including a clause that caused a penalty for each minute delay. And most probably Steve Broady *lost* his airbrakes down that grade.
The accident never appeared at any court, but the ballad about it did. Fred Jackson Lewey claimed to have written the lyrics the day after the accident, and to have been among the first ones at the scene (he was a cousin of fireman Albion Clapp). Henry Whitter altered the tune and lyrics. David Graves George was a local brakeman *and* singer, and filed a claim for ownership in 1924. He won two times, and lost the third time in 1933 to recording company Victor, as the ballad had become famous by several artists. That's why I call it "traditional".
The most important is that Johnny Cash DID NOT write it. He recorded it in 1957 for Sun, and they put his name on the label. Columbia corrected this, when a new (and exellent) take came with the famous 1965 LP "I Walk the Line": "arranged" by Cash, Norman Blake and producer Bob Johnston.
[Appendix]: A spin-off of the ballad, "The Wreck of the Number 9" written by hillbilly artist Carson Robison in 1927, became a hit for Jim Reeves and Hank Snow. It doesn't refer to a real railroad accident, like this one and "Casey Jones"
. And the locomotive #1102 was saved, restored and served until 1935, when it was dismantled.