WNC History Timeline

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www.childers-shepherd.org, 29 Dec 2008
                                    The Runaway Flatcar

This is true, not fiction. I’ll commence just like it was. I don’t remember the date it happened, but — I’d
say (I was) twenty-five or -six years old, about that time. I commenced when I was about thirteen years
old, workin’. I went from Canton to Smokemont to work on the log train for the Champion Fiber
Company, the same company that I had been workin’ for. They bought out the Smoky Mountains, and
they was goin’ to log it, cut the timber and take it all out. They brought in a big mill, built the railroad
from Ravens Ford up to Smokemont. I went in there about that time to get the job. I left Canton. The
war was on. They placed me in Class 4. The reason I do not know. I had married three months before
that. I decided by some means to go to get a job on the log train, help get out balsam timber, to make
airplanes with. That’s what they was makin’ ‘em out of then.

Well, I got a job workin’ on the track with a feller Chambers, track foreman, a little while, then I saw this
feller Bill Craig was the trainmaster under Jack Smith, Superintendent. And he liked me and he gave
me a job a — firing a little ol’ engine. That [wudn] much work.

So we follered the track up, where it was a-buildin’ and helped get the ties and haul ‘em in where they
wanted ‘em. And me and the engineer ‘as all they was. Ol’ Guthrie, Tom Guthrie. I was firin’, ‘n’ ol’
Tom Guthrie, we got along fine. Went up to the first camp, Camp One, I think the number of it was,
right above the Jim Dowdle place . . . .

And we was settin’ there, waitin’ on somethin’, an’ this feller come out. Oh, boy, he was a muscle-
lookin’ man. Great big fellow. Good-lookin’ man. Just dark-skinned enough to look good. What women
liked. (God almighty, I wonder where he come from, Buddy), He looked at me and says, “You don’t
have to stay up here no longer. We’ll go back. You can get with your wife, the rest of the day.” He had
a car right behind that engine. He’d brought it up o’ purpose to go back on. Flat car. Turn it loose and
it’d run all the way down. Trick, huh? Well, I studied a minute and I seen he ‘as drunk. I knowed
enough about ’im not to fool with ‘im much.

Somehow — I guess it happened o’ purpose. I don’t know nothin’ else, but I decided to go. Got up on
the flat car — now I’d been railroadin’: I knowed what the thing was all about pretty much -- and I didn’t
know if he was goin’ to make it or not. He set down by the wheel; he wouldn’ let me there. He was goin’
to handle the brake. Well, I kept lookin’ out. We ’as goin’ down, down about a five-per-cent grade,
pretty steep, all the way that way. Curves hittin’ [Uncle Francis was clapping his hands as he told this
part] (got right in the middle of the thing. I knowed if it wrecked I could slide over that thing and [wudn]
get killed. I saw the track man. Charlie Harkin, had her up, way down below us. I said, “Bill, you better
tighten up a little on the brake.” That scared him. He ’as about half asleep and drunk, you know. And
he grabbed that wheel and broke the chain.

Boy if you ever done some thinkin’, then you got to do it. I started. Harkin saw us, heard the racket
comin’. and he jerked the jacks out from under the tracks, and it went back, just like normal. Had
about a half mile run, all the’ was to it. The’as one place I remember, a mud hole, where we could
have got off without breakin’ ever bone we had, an’ I knowed if it went on, we left the track line for the
steam shovel. It ain’t nothin’ to laugh about, wasn’t then. I didn’ have time to laugh then.

Well, I said, Before we got to that — now it didn’t take me this long, as I’m tellin’ this story, to think
what to do — I thought right then what to do, before that track let us by, a straight shoot to that mud
hole. I said, “You get on that side, Bill, over there, hang your legs off. I’ll get on this side. When I
holler, you jump!” Now he was a big important man, but he jumped when I hollered that time. Saved
his life, too. Went up in the mud that deep, but it didn’ hurt. The rest of it was rock and cliffs and
canyons and everything else. When it hit the steam shovel, the car went all into pieces and flew all up
in the air, steam shovel too.