In the early morning hours of April 30, 1900, Sim Webb, a 26-year-old Water
In 1931, Sim wrote that he and Casey were working out of Water Valley when they were chosen for the run between Memphis and Canton. "We temporarily were assigned separately due to the fact that neither of us were familiar with road conditions on the Memphis District."
Sim was born May 12, 1874 in McComb, Mississippi. He died July 13, 1957 in Memphis, Tennessee, only a few blocks from where he and Casey began their fateful run.
SIM WEBB sits in the warm sunshine on the porch of his little shotgun house, sniffs the coal smoke drifting from the railroads to the west, and goes back in memory to that tragic night 36 years ago when death rode the Cannonball with Casey Jones and, him- self—the Casey of the famous song;
Sim was Casey's colored fireman. He was the man who kept No. 382 hot as they roared through the dark, ominous night, hitting 80 miles an hour at times while making up an hour and a half.
Sim is no longer a railroad man. In 1919 he asked for a leave of absence because of ill health—and he never went back. “ But I see now I made a mistake,” he says. He loved the life, and there are times when he gets mighty homesick,
But now, of course, it is too late. Sim is still tall and straight and trim, but the years are beginning to creep up—he is 61— and there are little fingers of frost in his kinky hair. He is a brown man. with a rather sad smile, and he does not talk at all like the traditional Southern Negro.
Sim Webb grew up among the railroad shops and shanties at McComb, Miss. His father, John Webb, was with the Illinois Central Railroad for 48 continuous years as a carpenter.
John Webb was able to provide well for his children, and Sim was sent to school in New Orleans. There he learned a trade— bricklaying—as well as reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic. But young Sim was too crazy about locomotives to think, about laying brick or doing something else equally as unromantic. He just couldn't leave the railroad yards, and in time he got a job as a call boy. He held it down for more than a year, and then he started firing a switch engine.
Sim smilingly explains that he wasn't supposed to get a job like that till he was 21, of course, but on account of his father's fine record it was “all fixed for him.”
He fired there in the yards two years, and then came the big day when he was transferred to road service. For the next six years Sim fired freights on the 'Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee Divisions of the I.C.
Jan. 1, 1900, 'John Luther (Casey) Jones and Sim were transferred from Water Valley to Memphis to go into passenger service. Up to-that time Casey had
The reason we were transferred, Sim explained, was that Engineer William Hatfield and his colored fireman, George Lee, were giving up their run. Bill Hatfield was in poor health, and Lee was getting along in years. Firing a passenger in those days was considered hard and dangerous. Railroading wasn't as safe as it now.
“We were assigned to Number One out of Memphis, known as the Chicago and New Orleans Fast Mail. Some folks called it the Cannonball, just like they called almost any fast train a cannonball. The run was to Canton, Miss., 188 miles. Then coming back we pulled Number Four.
“On, the night Mr. Casey made his last run, we were called at Memphis at ten p.m. That was Sunday, April 30th, 1900. Number One was reported to be thirty minutes late. We had doubled over on Mr. Sam Tate's run on Number Three and Number Two, and had came into Memphis that morning at 6.25. But that gave us time to get a good rest and get ready for our regular run, and we were both feeling good when we answered the call that night.
“We reported at the McLemore Avenue roundhouse and found old 382 hot and ready to go. The 382 was known as a Ten-wheeler engine, with six drivers and four track wheels. Well, we looked her over good, saw that we had tools, plenty of oil and everything, and got ready.
“The regular time for us to leave the Poplar Street depot, which was the main station in those days, was 11.35 p.m., and thirty minutes late would have put us out at 12.05. But it finally turned out that Number One was an hour and. 30 minutes late.
“We got going, ran down the tracks along the river, over the Beale Street trestle, and on in to the Central Station where we had to stop five minutes. We held-a late order saying that we were running 90 minutes late from Memphis to Sardis. There was a freight train coming north, and that was the only thing in front of us.
“We had been having rainy, foggy weather for two weeks, and the clouds were mighty dark and low that night. But Mr. Casey's spirits were high. He seemed to be in an extra good mood. As we pulled out of Central Station hg opened her up.
“‘We're going to have a pretty tough time going into Canton on-time,' he said, 'but I believe we can do it, barring accidents.’
“And I replied: 'You can depend on me. I'll sure keep her hot.'
“Sardis was our first stop. That's about 50 miles. It took us one hour and two minutes from the Poplar Street Station in Memphis to Sardis, which included the stop at Central Station, Memphis. Our actual running time was between 43 and 47 minutes.
“On south we roared, with everything working just fine. At some places we got to clipping off a mile every 50 seconds. Old 383 was steaming exceptionally well that night—and using very little fuel. I hadn't even taken down the top coal gate. We made Grenada—50 miles from Sardis— in what seemed like no time.
“Then came Winona, 23 miles from Grenada, and next Durant, 33 miles from Winona. Everything was still going fine. We were whittling that lost time away to nothing, and Mr. Casey was still in high spirits. As we left Durant, he stood up and hollered to me over the boiler head. He said: 'Oh, Sim! The old girl's got her high-heeled slippers on tonight. We ought to pass Way on time.'
“Way was just six miles north of Canton, and he had it figured out that we'd be back on time when we hit there and could coast on in. We hadn't received any more orders.
“Well, what Mr. Casey hollered to me— that joke about the high-heeled slippers— was the last thing he ever said.
“Down the track we went, approaching Vaughan, which is 12 miles above Canton. Vaughan was at the lower end of a double 'S' curve. The north switch was just about the middle of the first 'S,' and as we roared down on it I looked ahead and saw two big red lights. They appeared as big as houses to me, and I knew it was a train not in the clear.
“I could see the lights and Mr. Casey couldn't, because it was a deep curve to the fireman's side. I hollered to Mr. Casey, 'Lookout! We're gonna hit something!'
“He was sitting down at the time. I heard him kick the seat out from under him and apply the brakes and emergency. About that time I swung down as low off the engine as I could and hit the dirt. When I came to 35 minutes later I was on the floor of the station, Mr. Casey was dead—broken all to pieces.
“Our engine had plowed through the caboose of the freight and two other cars—a a car of corn and a car of hay. But the, engine didn't leave the track. It was just stripped. They found Mr. Casey down by the back driving wheel of the engine—out in the clear. Our coal tender was turned at right angles across our boiler head, and one end of our mail car had climbed up on our water tank.
“Mr. Casey was the only one killed. Nobody else was even hurt very bad. I was just badly shaken up and bruised.
“What had happened was this: The freight had sawed No. 25 by just a little while before. No. 25 was a New Orleans- bound train, too, running from Jackson, Tenn., to New Orleans by way of Water Valley. Well, the freight had pulled out some drawheads in sawing No. 25 by, and they hadn't got in the clear for our train. The caboose and two cars were out on the main line. The crew was chaining up the drawheads, and apparently had forgot to put out a flagman.
“There were two freights at Vaughan—one northbound and one southbound. The northbound was at the south switch.
“It was all too bad. Mr. Casey was a fine man—a good man to fire for. If you kept 'em hot for him, you got along. Running on time was his hobby. Like he said when we pulled out, ' We'll go into Canton on time.' We hit that caboose at 3.52 a.m., and we were due at Vaughan at 3.50. We would have passed Way on the dot. “I was out of service about three months, and then I went back on that same run. Mr. Harry A. Norton took Mr. Casey's place.”
Sim looked westward from his house at 246 Iowa Ave. toward the railroad yards and gazed at the smoke plumes.
“Since 1919 I've been laying brick, but work in the past few years has been mighty scarce. Yes, sir, I can see now, I should never have left the road.”
Sim Webb Obituaries
Born May 12th 1874, McComb Mississippi
Departed this life Saturday, July 13, 1957 at 6:10 P.M.
Mr. Simeon Taylor Webb was born in McComb, Mississippi, on May 12th, 1874 to John and Jane Webb.
In his early youth he was converted and joined the Flowery Mount Baptist Church at McComb, Reverend Wilford Washington, Pastor. He was married in the same church to Pearl D. McGee, a beautiful young woman who he had known all of her life.
For this wedlock were born three daughters and if could have lived until August 4th he would have celebrated his 59th wedding anniversary.
Throughout the years his wife remained loyal and devoted to him and in later years stood as a bulwark between him and the many persons who sought him because of his fame as the fireman on the Casey Jones train.
Mr. Webb attended Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, and at the age of 14 he was serving his community as a county school teacher.
He was a man who was destined for a life of varying excitements. At McComb he filled the unexpired term of a teacher, Frank Hood, who dared to ask for a raise in salary. This man shot it out with the mob who came for him killing and was finally killed himself. Mr. Webb was the accepted teacher and received the raise which had caused the former teacher’s death.
Mr. Webb became a celebrity as a result of being the Fireman on the train which was wrecked by John Luther Jones from Casey (sic), Kentucky. They were a team, Casey and Sim...Casey, so called because of his birthplace. Casey became a legend as one of the forerunners of the present day speed demons. He blew a special whistle which sounded like a whippoorwill. The fast rolling train and the whippoorwill whistle announced to the communities through which they passed that Casey Jones was coming through. And Sim Webb was the equally fast fireman who made it possible to travel at a high rate of speed. As they approached the wreck and Casey realized that death would surely come to both of them if they remained on the train, he gave the order to Sim to jump to his safety. Thus, he survived this wreck.
God’s hand seemed to be always here when danger lurked for Mr. Webb. He survived another wreck where an engine turned over on him. He survived when an artesian well caved in, injuring his foot on one side and his leg on another. And, later God protected and watched over him in a serious automobile wreck.
Whenever Casey Jones was commemorated it was Sim Webb who was sought to be on the scene. He traveled extensively and appeared on radio, television and at various towns where monuments were erected, memorial stamps were issued, or anywhere the name of Casey Jones meant anything to the people.
His last years were spent with his devoted wife whose single thought was concern for Mr. Webb’s health over and above any claim to fame he might have received. She watched his strength slowly ebb away and courteously declined invitations for him when she found that “just talking” exhausted him.
Her daughter, Agnes, an artist in her own right as one of the city’s leading dressmakers shared her mother’s burden and grief. No hours were too long, no work to heavy. The long and frequent trips to the doctor were a part of the routine, “if it just made it easier for Dad.”
Mr. Webb, himself passive and non-complaining during his illness, was a joy to his family. His wife and children will have many pleasant memories of him as a wonderful husband and a loving, tender and kind father. He had fun with his grandchildren and was beloved by his many friends.
God in his infinite wisdom saw fit to write FINIS to this chapter in his life. - Author unknown
Sim Webb Takes 'Farewell Trip
DEATH came to Simeon T. Webb, 83, on July 13 in a Memphis hospital 57 years after he
obeyed the last words ever spoken by
the legendary engineer, Casey Jones. Casey shouted "Jump, Sim,
jump!" seconds before the Illinois Central's Cannonball Express
plowed into the rear of a freight train near Vaughn, Miss., the night
of April 30, 1900. Fireman Webb leaped from the steam engine,
locked brakes screaming in his ears. Casey Jones rode the locomotive
and was killed, but not before he managed to slow the Cannonball
enough to save all the passengers. When Sim Webb regained consciousness in a hospital
he learned that Casey was the only person
killed in the wreck.
Copyright © 2001 Jack Gurner