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CHAPTER V—PECULIAR ACCIDENTS; JOINS THE B. OF L. E.

I RETURNED to the Memphis and Charleston road and went into passenger service again. This was in April, 1868. The following January I had an accident on account of a misplaced switch. The bolt connecting the switch-stand to the rails had worked out. There was a trestle just beyond the switch, and the engine went into it, and then turned over. I was caught underneath the wreck, and besides being badly scalded had a bolt run in my right leg. I might have been scalded to death had I not put my hands over my mouth, and thus prevented some of the steam from going into my lungs. When the engine turned over, the cab was broken off, and that broke the scales, when the safety valve blew out, and I was at the mercy of hot water and steam. The accident took place at Glendale, four miles west of Burnsville, Mississippi, where we then lived. I was carried back to Burnsville, where my wife had been waiting for three or four hours in the greatest anxiety. She told me afterwards that I was a pitiful sight when I was taken from the car. They had wrapped me up the best they could, and put me in a large chair. I was bareheaded, in my sock feet, and the flour they had used on my burns showed in streaks. She said she thought she would be brave, and not cry and disturb me, but the sight was too much, and she broke down. I said to her, "Don't cry, Girlie, I am worth two dead pigs now." The doctor was present, who, to get her mind off, advised her to go on to the house, and have a fire ready. She ran most of the way—about a quarter of a mile—and had a good fire and the bed drawn up to the fireplace when they got there with me. We were so fortunate as to be boarding with a doctor, who gave me every attention, and his kind-hearted wife took almost the whole care of our two little children, our family circle being now enlarged by the addition of a baby girl. The third day after my accident my head swelled to about twice its natural size, and I was delirious for six days. My friends had been allowed to go in to see me, until one day one of them disputed my word about something. He didn't consider that I wasn't responsible then. I sprang out of bed so quickly that no one could stop me, snatched up a large pitcher full of water, and if the man hadn't hurried to "make himself scarce," I would have knocked him down. My wife then had a talk with Dr. Crossland, and it was decided that everybody, but those taking care of me, would have to be excluded from the room. The great kindness that we received from that good Christian doctor and his wife will be remembered by us as long as we live. They have a daughter—their only child—living still at Burnsville, Mississippi, and she is considered by us both as one of our dearest friends.

The railroad company paid me two months' wages, and settled the doctor's bill and nurse's hire. It was several months before I fully recovered, and as my wife's health was completely broken down, we went on a visit to Mother's in Adairsville, Georgia, and I left her and the children there when I returned to work. A brother engineer, S. H. McCollie, wrote to me saying that the Master Mechanic in Selma, with whom I had had the fracas, had been relieved, and that there was an opening here for me whenever I cared to return. So I came back in October, 1869, and again began running between Selma and Calera. The road had changed hands, and was known as the Selma, Rome, and Dalton Railroad, and A. D. Breed had leased it to build the line as far as Dalton. In December, I was sent up on the extension to haul building material. When the road was completed as far as the Oostenaula River, we went over the Rome road to Kingston, thence over the Western & Atlantic to Dalton, and commenced building the other end from Dalton to the Oostenaula River. The work was completed the 22d of May, 1870, and the through line opened for traffic. Seven months longer I remained up there ditching out the road, then made a few trips on a freight, and on January 5, 1871, returned to Selma, where we have made our home ever since. I was given the mail train between Selma and Patona, the run being in the night, both ways. Shortly after we got settled, I bought my first lamp. It was of glass, having a large reservoir, and with a handle for convenient carrying. Filled with kerosene it cost me $1.25. I proudly carried it home, thinking how Frances would enjoy the bright light. But she was afraid it would burn the house down, and would have nothing whatever to do with it. So it was never used unless I was about, and lighted it myself. Frances kept on with her candles fully three years longer.

On February 25th, I joined the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. This was the original Division No. 26, which then had a good membership. At this time, the lessee of our road was in arrears with the wages of all the employees, never paying the men all that was due them and owing some for two full months. Finally he agreed to settle by paying fifty per cent., and a good many agreed to it, but I refused to sell, and held on to mine until there was due me between eight and nine hundred dollars. I then brought suit against him personally, and collected all my money with interest, in June, 1873. With that amount, I at once made a payment on the house in which we still live, and we moved into it. Up to this time our life had been a continual packing and unpacking, moving and removing, but for thirty-eight years we have contentedly remained here, until now it seems we could never quite call another place home. The house had been built by an engineer and fronted the railroad, then a single track. After this end of the town built up, and Florence Street became the more convenient frontage, I built a gallery on that side, too, so during the warmest days of summer, we are never at a loss to find a cool place, as the lot is large and sufficiently shaded by oaks and cedars.

Just a short time before we made this last move, I happened to meet with a painful accident, of which I bear the scar to-day. One night when bringing a special into Selma, a rock was thrown through the cab window, and cut a deep gash in my forehead. Had I been wearing the straw engine cap I adopted in later years, I have no doubt the blow would have killed me, but the felt hat pulled low over my brow broke the force of the impact. We were still eleven miles from Selma, but I brought the train in, though weak from loss of blood. The chief stockholders of the road were aboard and telegraphed from Burnsville to have a doctor awaiting the arrival of the train, so my wound received attention as soon as possible. An attempt was made to locate the perpetrator of the deed, but nothing definite was ever learned. It was a common thing in those days for negroes to throw rocks at the trains, sometimes breaking the windows of the coaches, and from no other motive than pure meanness.

In December of this year (1873), a strike was organized by the engineers, on account of the trouble of non-payment being repeated this time by the Selma, Rome & Dalton Railroad Company, and the road was tied up for ten days. The company then agreed to pay off, and we returned to work, but there was not much doing then, as the business had been diverted over other lines. When the strike closed down, there were six scheduled trains on the road; but afterwards, we started up with only a mixed train each way, every twenty-four hours, over two hundred and thirty-six miles of track. This was supplemented nine months later by a local freight. Our road was in a bad condition at the time of the strike. We still had the old chair rail, about twenty feet in length, and no ballast under the track, but strange to say, there was rarely a derailment of any kind, unless a bridge fell down and caught a train. An accident of this kind occurred five times in as many years. I went down with one, but was fortunate enough not to get hurt, though my fireman was badly injured.

Another peculiar experience occurred during the spring of 1875. I was running the mail train one dark night, when a high wind had been blowing for hours. About two o'clock I saw an uprooted tree lying across the track, not more than forty feet ahead. We used hand brakes then, so all I could do was to shut the engine off. The next instant she had picked the tree up bodily, and thrown it clear off the track. Upon going back to examine into the state of things, we found six feet of track gone, but that train, which consisted of a baggage car and three coaches, had not a wheel derailed!

It was shortly after this that the Master Mechanic tried putting negroes on to run the engines. The switch-engineer here and at Calera, as well as the hostlers at the relay points, were replaced by black men. Then the engineers arose in a body, and requested an audience with the Master Mechanic, and told him that he was free to associate with negroes, and to vote for them for city offices, Legislature, and Congress, if he chose, but that they could not run engines on this road. For if they were not taken off at once, we would quit to a man. The negroes were removed, and we had no more trouble along that line. A few weeks later, this Master Mechanic was asked to resign, and, returned to Ohio.

Just at this time another Ohio man asked for the hand of my youngest sister, who was then living with us. Though far from being prepossessed in his favor, after passing through such an experience with a native of that State, still he seemed honorable and upright, and was a great favorite among his brother engineers. So, having no reason to withhold my consent, I gave it, and the marriage took place that summer. It was a home wedding followed by an eight o'clock breakfast, after which the regular train stopped at our gate for the bridal couple and their trunk and they were off for their trip to the North. In recalling this event, Frances says, "Yes, that was in the good old accommodating days, which are long past."


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