Wreck on the C & O, The [Laws G3]
DESCRIPTION: George Alley, a railroad engineer, is warned by his mother not to drive too fast. But George wants to set a speed record. As his train speeds, it runs into a rock from a landslide and is wrecked. George is killed; his mother gets to say "I told you so"
EARLIEST DATE: 1913 (Railroad Man's Magazine, according to Cohen)
KEYWORDS: wreck train death mother railroading worker warning crash
Oct 23, 1890 - Death of engineer George Alley when the FFV train on the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad was wrecked by a landslide near Hinton, West Virginia
FOUND IN: US(Ap,SE,So)
REFERENCES (18 citations):
Laws G3, "The Wreck on the C & O"
Cohen-LSRail, pp. 183-196, "The Wreck on the C & O/Engine 143" (3 texts plus a reproduction of a broadside, 2 tunes; also an item, "There's Many a Man Been Murdered in Luzon," which appears related and may influence the date of this song)
Cohen-AFS1, pp. 200-201, "The Wreck on the C & O" (1 text)
Randolph 682, "The Wreck on the C. & O." (2 texts, 2 tunes)
BrownSchinhanIV 339, "The F. F. V. The Wreck of No. 4" (1 short text, 1 tune)
Moore-Southwest 160, "Georgie Allen" (1 text, 1 tune)
Warner 179, "The Wreck on the C & O" (1 text, 1 tune)
Shellans, pp. 60-61, "The F. F. V." (1 text, 1 tune)
Thomas-Makin', pp. 115-116, (no title) (1 fragmented text)
Asch/Dunson/Raim, p. 62 "Engine 143" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax-AFSB, pp. 31-34, "The Wreck on the C. & O. (The Death of Jack Hinton)" (1 text, 1 tune)
JHCox 47, "The Wreck on the C. & O." (6 texts plus mention of 5 more; 2 tunes)
Lyle-Scalded, pp. 34-49, "The Wreck on the C & O" (2 texts, 1 tune, plus semi-related poetry)
Botkin-SoFolklr, p. 725, "The Wreck on the C. & O." (1 text, 1 tune)
Botkin-RailFolklr, p. 451, "The Wreck on the C&O" (1 text, 1 tune)
Sandburg, p. 371, "There's Many a Man Killed on the Railroad" (1 text, 1 tune, a fragment with only the "There's man been killed on the railroad" stanza, which could be from this, or "Talmadge Osborne," or others)
Silber-FSWB, p. 100 "Engine 143" (1 text)
DT 635, ENGIN143*
Carter Family, "Engine 143" (Victor V-40089, 1929; Montgomery Ward M-4743, 1935; Bluebird B-6223, 1937; on AAFM1, RRinFS)
Duke Clark, "The Wreck of the F. F. & V." (Superior 2687, 1931)
Vernon Dalhart, "Wreck of the C & O #5" (OKeh 45102, 1927)
Austin Harmon, "George Allen" (AFS 2916 A, 1939; on LC61)
Bradley Kincaid, "Wreck on the C & O Road" (Gennett 6823/Champion 15710 [as Dan Hughey]/Supertone 9350, 1929; Champion 45098/Melotone [Canada] 45057, 1935)
George Reneau, "The C & O" (Vocalion 14897, 1924) (Vocalion 5050, 1927)
Charles Lewis Stine, "The Wreck of the C & O" (Columbia 15027-D, 1925; Harmony 5145-H, c. 1930)
Ernest V. Stoneman, "Wreck of the C & O" (Edison 51823, 1926) (CYL: Edison [BA] 5198, prob. 1926), "The Wreck on the C & O" (OKeh 7011, 1925)
Annie Watson, "The F. F. V." (on ClassRR)
cf. "The Brave Engineer" (subject)
cf. "The Death of Talmadge Osborn" (floating lyrics)
cf. "The Fatal Run" (lyrics)
NOTES: Of the two songs about wrecks on the C & O (the other is "The C. & O. Wreck"), this one is the better known and probably older. Many versions have a chorus (not found in the Digital Tradition version), "Many's a man's been murdered by the railroad / And laid in his lonesome grave" (e.g. this chorus occurs in five of Cox's six texts). - RBW
Oh dear, this gets confusing. "Many a man's been murdered by the railroad" is an ending bridge from "The Fate of Talmadge Osborne." And it shows up here too.... - PJS
Just to add to the fun, Roy Harvey recorded a song, "The Brave Engineer," probably about the same accident. Roud lumps them, probably because Lyle lists them in the same entry. But I would say that they are clearly different songs.
Cox supplies many further details about this song. According to his report, George Alley was thirty when he died, and already had four children. He lived for five hours after the wreck. Reportedly the fireman did jump from the engine, and survived.
Cohen has an extensive discussion of the song, noting that it has many errors in the text (e.g. he shows a photo of Alley, who had straight dark hair, not golden and not curly). He theorizes that the song was composed some years after the event, when memories were fading. It strikes me as at least as likely that the song is a modification of an older item, with the errors being holdovers from that piece.
In many versions of the song, the engineer is not George Alley but George Allen. I would suspect this is simply an error of hearing, "Allen" being a more common name than "Alley," but Lyle (who, like Cohen, has extensive notes about the song, including a photo of Alley and several of the wreck) thinks it may have floated in from a 1933 wreck in which an engineer named George Allen was killed. - RBW
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