Bruce Gurner believes of all the men who ran engines out of Water Valley in Casey Jones's time, the most colorful was "Whistle and Run" Charlie Dunn.
"He was a proud man of boundless courage and self-confidence. He was on excellent terms with the Lord, the railroad management and the government. In fact, Mr. Dunn often declared that the three most important institutions in the world were the Methodist Church, the United States Government and the Illinois Central Railroad. And he belonged to all three."
Dunn was a very devout Christian and Gurner remembers his father, B. G., saying Dunn would bow his head over the reverse lever of his engine and say a little prayer.
"When he got to Canton he'd do the same thing. He'd thank the Lord for a safe trip."
"He would always pray before they left the garage in their big old car. The family agreed that was what he should do because he was a terrible driver."
Around 1910 the Dunn family went to Annapolis to see son Lucius graduate from the Navel Academy. "As the ceremonies were beginning, Mrs. Dunn noticed her husband was not with them. Looking about the huge auditorium, she and her daughter, Ella Clyde, discovered he was on the stage with the Vice President, Secretary of the Navy and other honored guests."
What happened, Gurner says, was that Dunn, in his ever-prevailing spirit of good fellowship, had gone up to shake hands with the dignitaries. An alert attendant brought another chair thinking this fine-looking gentleman must certainly be one of the dignitaries who was to sit on the stage.
"The beautiful part of the story is that the family was not in the least embarrassed. Why should they be. After all, who was an Admiral when compared to the best passenger engineer on the Illinois Central Railroad?"
Dunn worked as an engineer from 1884 until 1931. One day he was coming into Water Valley on #23 and "just about the time he blew for the north crossing, Mrs. Dunn, who had been in the hospital for several days, turned to Ella Clyde and said, 'There comes Papa.' She died before he got to the depot."
He never worked another day. After the funeral he went down to the superintendent's office and asked for his pension. He turned in his switch key and rule book. That's all they had ever given him."
Charlie Dunn's engine, the 1089.
Fourteen years later, moments before his death, he comforted his daughter and the doctor, asked for his watch and said, "It's time to go."
Charlie Dunn died as he had lived...by railroad time.
Copyright © 1998 Jack Gurner