Updated: Apr 12
In the May/June 2003 newsletter of the Queen & Crescent Chapter of The NRHS, then current acting President, Mr. Mick Nussbaum re-shares a popular story from two Meridian (and railroad) legend makers -- Charles Lewis & Tuck Gilmore. Written by the late Casper Phillips in an edition of 'Roundhouse Rounds'. The original story is written below:
TROOP TRAIN -- 1898 A.D.
The date was February 15, 1898; time- 8:30pm.; place- Meridian, Mississippi. A. & V. engine 401 was standing at the depot. The engineer, the late Charles Lewis, had just finished oiling around. Tuck Gilmore, fireman, had trimmed the wick of the oil headlight and had poured in a fresh supply of signal oil.
"Tuck," said Mr. Lewis, "the dispatcher has given us a clear track tonight. "We've got troop train for Vicksburg and I'm going to beat Bud Hopson's record of 3 hours and 30 minutes."
"Hunky-Dory with me," said Tuck which, in those days, meant O.K. "you run her and i'll keep her hot."
Now engine 401 was a little high 8-wheeler passenger; 4 driving wheels, 4 pony truck wheels, American Type, built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia. She was considered fast but not as fast as Bud's engine 414.
The A. G. S. was blowing for the crossing by the pump station. She came clanking into the station and stopped. The 401 was coupled onto the train. A soldier stuck his head out of the coach and hollered, "Slow train through Arkansas." Mr. Lewis was waiting for the high-ball. A switchman waived his lantern as the train rushed down through the yards. The tracks were clear. The 401 hollered for the fertilizer factory and made for open country. The soldier settled back in his seat and the lights of Meridian faded in the distance as the stead clickity-clack of the rails grew faster. A long stream of smoke curled back over the. coaches and hung along the track for miles.
The 401 was now flinging driving rods faster than she had ever flung 'em before. Charlie Lewis had his head out of the cab window despite the bitter cold. Tuck was flinging scoopful after scoopful into the hungry maw of the flaming fire-box. The engine moaned and cried like a baby. The station agent at Newton barely had time to run to the door -- the train was gone.
The coaches swayed madly in the wake of the flying engine. The marker lights on the end of the train would disappear around a curve and then fling into view again.The soldier rolled uneasily in his seat, tried to look out of the window, the landscape was a flying blur. Through Lake sped the train; Pelahatchie loomed in the distance. A cow was on the track in front of the depot. Too late even to blow the whistle. "Wham!" the cow was picked up by the pilot and thrown high in the air. The 401 was on her way.
Vicksburg 1:44 a.m. Charlie Lewis looked at his watch, then looked at Tuck. "We've beaten Bud Hopson's record by 16 minutes," he announced.
Next morning, Mr. Lewis and Mr. Gilmore were on the carpet in the Super's office. "What have I done now?" inquired Charlie.
"Nothing much," said the Super. "You broke Bud Hopson's record between Meridian and Vicksburg; you frightened a train load of soldiers so badly, I doubt if they'll ever be able to fight the Spaniards; and when you hit that cow at Pelahatchie, she went right through the depot, landed in the colored waiting-room, turned over a red hot stove and burned down the depot. That's all!"
From the Vertical files Meridian Public Library.
Newspaper clipping from The Meridian Star 21 August 1952.
Source: The Meridian Star
Source: Mississippi Rails, Tony Howe Collection; www.msrailroads.com