Wreck of Old 97, The [Laws G2]
DESCRIPTION: "Steve" Broady is told that, due to a mix-up in numbering, his train is "way behind time." He is driving as fast as he can to make up the time when, on a long downgrade, his brakes fail. The train goes off the track; Broady dies at the controls
AUTHOR: disputed (tune by Henry Clay Work)
EARLIEST DATE: 1923 (recording, Henry Whitter); a 1922 variant form appears in Brown
KEYWORDS: crash wreck train death derivative
Sept 27, 1903 - "Old 97" goes off the track near Danville, killing engineer Joseph A. "Steve" Broady and at least ten others
FOUND IN: US(Ap,MA,Ro,SE,So)
REFERENCES (19 citations):
Laws G2, "The Wreck of Old 97"
Cohen-LSRail, pp. 197-226, "The Wreck of the Old 97" (6 texts plus excerpts, 1 tune, plus a sheet music cover and sundry excerpts from related songs including a text of "The Ship That Never Returned")
Cohen-AFS1, pp. 201-203 "The Wreck of the Old 97" (1 text plus a copy of the sheet music cover)
Carey-MarylandFolkloreLife, p. 57, "The Wreck of Old 97" (1 text)
Randolph 683, "The Wreck of the Southern Old 97" (1 text, 1 tune)
Randolph/Cohen, pp. 449-451, "The Wreck of the Southern Old 97" (1 text, 1 tune -- Randolph's 683)
BrownII 217, "The Wreck of the Old 97" (6 field texts plus 3 more in the headnotes)
JHCoxIIB, #2A-B, pp. 118-121, "The Wreck of the Southern Ninety-Seven," "The Wreck of the Old 97" (2 texts, 2 tunes; both appear from their texts to have been learned from the Dalhart recording)
Robert, #28, "Wreck of the Old Ninety-Seven" (1 text, 1 tune)
Cambiaire, p. 97, "The Wreck of Old Ninety-Seven" (1 text, another version probably derived from Dalhart)
MHenry-Appalachians, pp. 79-80, "Old Ninety-Seven" (1 text, with a little bit of "The Train That Never Returned" at the end)
Lyle-Scalded, pp. 14-33, "The Wreck of the Old 97" (2 texts, 1 tune, plus several other texts more or less related)
Friedman, p. 318, "The Wreck of the Old 97" (1 text)
Botkin-RailFolklr, p. 449, "The Wreck of the Old 97" (1 text, 1 tune)
Shay-Barroom, p. 131, "The Wreck of the Old 97" (1 text)
Darling-NAS, pp. 214-215, "The Wreck of the Old 97" (1 text plus "The Rarden Wreck of 1893")
Silber-FSWB, p. 104 "The Wreck Of The Old 97" (1 text)
DT 634, WRECK97*
ADDITIONAL: Wanda T. Wallace & David C. Rubin, "''The Wreck of the Old 97': A real Event Remembered in Song,'" article published 1988 in _Remembering Reconsidered: Ecological and Traditional Approaches to the Study of Memory_; republished on pp. 281-308 of Norm Cohen, editor, _All This for a Song_, Southern Folklife Collection, 2009
Vernon Dalhart, "The Wreck of the Southern Old 97" (Edison 51361-R, 1924) (CYL: Edison [BA] 4898, prob. 1924) ; "Wreck of the Old 97" (Victor 19427-A, 1924) (Radiex 4131 [as Jeff Calhoun], 1927); "Wreck of the 97" (Bell 340, 1925) (Regal 8929, 1925/Apex [Can.] 8428, 1926); "Wreck of the Southern Old 97" (Champion 15121, 1926/Supertone 9241, 1928); "The Wreck of the Old 97" (Bluebird B-5335, 1934); "Wreck of the Southern No. 97" (Pathe 032068 [as Sid Turner], 1924) [this is a partial list; Dalhart is thought to have recorded "Wreck" several dozen times]
Kelly Harrell, "The Wreck on the Southern Old 97" (OKeh 7010, 1925; on KHarrell01)
Clayton McMichen & his Georgia Wildcats, "Wreck of the 97" (Varsity 5029, 1942)
John D. Mounce et al, "Wreck of Old 97" (on MusOzarks01)
George Reneau, "Wreck of The Southern Old 97" (Vocalion 5029, c. 1926)
Pete Seeger, "The Wreck of the Old 97" (on PeteSeeger17)
Hank Snow, "The Wreck of the Old 97" (RCA Victor 20-4095, 1951)
Ernest V. Stoneman Trio, "The Wreck of the Old 97" (OKeh, unissued, 1927)
Ernest Stoneman & Kahle Brewer, "Wreck of the Old 97" (OKeh unissued mx. 80344-A, rec. 1927; on ConstSor1)
Stoneman Family, "The Wreck of the Old Ninety-Seven" (on Stonemans01, ClassRR [as Pop Stoneman])
Gid Tanner & His Skillet Lickers, "The Wreck on the Southern Old 97" (Columbia 15142-D, 1927)
Ernest Thompson, "Wreck of the Southern Old 97" (Columbia 130-D, 1924)
Sid Turner, "Wreck of the Southern No. 97" (Perfect 12147, 1924)
Virginia Ramblers, "Wreck of Old 97" (OKeh, unissued, 1929)
Henry Whitter, "Wreck of the Southern Old 97" (Okeh 40015, 1924; rec. 1923)
cf. "The Ship That Never Returned" [Laws D27] (tune & meter) and references there
cf. "The Train that Never Returned" (tune & meter)
cf. "The Rarden Wreck of 1893" (tune & metre, theme)
cf. "The Wreck on the Somerset Road" (partial tune, metre, theme)
cf. "The Flying Colonel" (tune)
cf. "The Ballad of Fireman Dodge" (subject: The Wreck of Old 97)
The Speakers Didn't Mind (Greenway-AFP, pp. 136-137)
On a Summer Eve (Greenway-AFP, pp. 138-139)
NOTES [464 words]: Authorship claimed by, among others, David Graves George; the legal battles over the song were extended. Brown has extensive notes which summarize the situation well. If anyone deserves credit for the pop version, it is probably Henry Whitter, who took a seemingly-traditional version and worked it into the form of the Dalhart recording.
Cohen has even more extensive documentation on this process (summarizing several full-length monographs on the subject); he is surprisingly sympathetic to George (not claiming that he wrote the song but that he did make original contributions).
The song is, in any case, derivative. The tune is taken from Henry Clay Work's "The Ship that Never Returned," and "The Ship" gave rise to at least two train wreck songs: "The Train that Never Returned" and "The Rarden Wreck of 1893." I've seen both listed as the source for "Old 97" -- though neither looks much like the latter song in the Whitter rendition (which, to be sure, is much worn down from texts Cohen regards as earlier sources).
I would note, though, that several of Brown's texts (including "D" from 1922) fall between "Train" and "Old 97."
Lyle notes that the song contains a number of accurate details of the wreck. The Old 97 mail run had been inaugurated in November 1902, and it ran on a mountain route. It ran from Washington to Danville, The train could sometimes make ninety miles an hour on parts of the route, but on the 167 mile stretch from Monroe, Virginia to Spencer, North Carolina, the typical average speed was 37.5 miles per hour.
There were few stops on the route (even the mail was picked up without stopping the train); after leaving Monroe, the next stop was at Lynchburg, then Danville, 64 miles away. On the fateful day, Old 97 was due at Danville at 1:40, and pulled out after 1:00. So she was indeed "way behind time."
And engineer Joseph Broady, who was 33 years old, had only run the route once before. He had little experience with the Stillhouse Trestle, built in 1874 before the fast mail trains ran. And we know that the engine he drove was somewhat erratic. We don't know if that mattered, because there were no survivors from the cab. But it is clear that the train took the trestle too fast. It seems a wheel broke and the train went off the curve. Broady and his fireman were indeed scalded to death. All these details imply that the author of the song had studied accurate accounts of the wreck, or even that he had been in the vicinity when it happened.
That most traditional versions derive from the Dalhart recording is shown by the fact that they have five versions, corresponding to Dalhart's, and especially by the fact that most contain Dalhart's error "lost his average" in the third verse rather than the correct "lost his airbreaks." - RBW
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