On the night of April 29, 1900, Casey Jones took over the run normally assigned to Samuel W. Tate, who was ill. At that time, an engineer “held” a particular engine much like a fighter pilot is assigned an aircraft. It has always been assumed since Casey used engine 382 that night, it was assigned to him. However, the book History of the Illinois Central Railroad, which was published in 1900, shows that engine 382 was assigned to Sam Tate. Apparently Tate held the regular run of trains No. 1 (south) and No. 4 (north).
In February of 1900, Willard W. Hatfield transferred to Water Valley leaving open his job out of Memphis, the run of the No. 3 (south) and the No. 2 (north). According to the book, he had charge of engine 384. This is the job that Casey bid on and won. The day of the wreck, Casey had apparently returned on No. 2 with engine 384 and was asked to “double back south” on Tate’s run on No. 1 with engine 382.
Over the years, there has always been some question as to what the train was called. All
official reports about the wreck refer to the train as the No. 1, which was the ICRR
designation. Newspaper reports from the time called the train the New Orleans Express or
the New Orleans Fast Mail. There have also been some references to the Southbound Fast
Mail. However, there is no mention of the Cannonball.
So, where did the Cannonball designation come from? Very little seems to be know about that. While the name isn't found in any of the reports or articles from 1900, a newspaper report from 1903 is headlined, "I.C. Cannon Ball Wrecked Near City." The article describes the wreck of #1 near the Florence Pump works in south Memphis. Apparently the public referred to any fast train as a "cannonball" and it is believed that is where the name came from.
It would be many years later before the #1 train was given it's final - and many believe its most impressive name, "The City of New Orleans."
Copyright © 2002 Jack Gurner