" It's a mighty rough road 'tween Lynchburg & Danville and lined on a three-mile grade; It was on that hill that he lost his airbrakes, you see what a jump he made ...." So says the song "The Wreck of Ol' 97", a  ballad that is considered the first modern country-western song by music historians. The lore itself is one of the cornerstones that make up the history of the famed Southern Railway.  The photo above was taken on Monday, September 28, 1903, one day after the famed mail train leaped off Stillhouse Trestle and into immortality.  Eleven men were killed that fateful day.

     Engineer Joseph Andrew "Steve" Broady (right) was the engineer on what various songwriters have characterized as the "fastest mail train that ever run on the Southern Railroad."  Broady  was a 33-year old "boomer" who had previously worked for the Seaboard Air Line and the Norfolk & Western . Such experience was necessary for his job, as Mail Train 97 was indeed the pride of the railroad, with service inaugurated between Washington, DC, and Atlanta.
      Service for the train was inaugurated on November 2, 1902 and was not quite a year old when the tragedy occurred. Train number 97 was paid handsomely by Congress, to the tune of a $140,000 annual contract; however, the railroad was penalized a substantial sum of money for each minute that the mail arrived into Atlanta late.
       The train averaged 40 miles an hour, including stops, along its southern route, which is all the more impressive considering the mainline at the time was still a single-track route comprised of fairly light 85-pound rail.

     Engine #1102 (left) , a 4-6-0 Ten Wheeler, was on the point of the doomed train. She was a Class F-14 locomotive, bought new from Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1903. After the wreck, she was rebuilt and served on the line for over 30 more years.  The engine was scrapped on July 9, 1935, at the Princeton shop.

    The above photo depicts the wreckage several days into the cleanup. Much of the debris has been removed and the engine is now upright. Engineer Broady's body was found in the creek bed between the locomotive and retaining wall, while the firemen were found between the engine and trestle.  Of the eleven men killed, five were railroad men and six were postal workers. Note the smashed Railway Post Office Cars at right.

    For the definitive study of this famed wreck and ballad, be sure to check out Howard Gregory's booklet "The History of the Wreck of the Old 97." Dozens of rare photographs and impeccable research make this publication a must-have for railroad buffs and historians alike.

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