It was the summer of 1921 when NO&NE locomotive #6977 was at the head of Train #42 when there was a tragic derailment caused by someone tampering with the track. The location was right at the top of Richburg Hill which ascends southward from the Hattiesburg depot all the way to the present overpass at the abandoned sawmill town of Richburg, five and one-half miles southwest of the station. Train #42 was slowed by the ascent of the hill from the South and under control for the sharp curve just beyond the summit as it proceeded North towards Hattiesburg from New Orleans. The slackened pace was not enough to avoid serious derailment which left engine #6977 on it's side and the passenger cars piled in jigsaw manner behind the locomotive.
Mr. Harold H. Hargin wrote a poem to immortalize the event and the tragic death of the Engineer, Mr. Jim Jackson on #6977.
On June 14th and Twenty-One
At the gentle speed it had always run
A train widely known as "42"
Always here when it was due.
Was purposely derailed on Richburg Hill
By unknown persons with evil will
As the engine turned over the coaches crashed
And out of the doors the passengers dashed.
Out of the woods and houses nearby
To bring aid to the people they thought would die
The engineer scalded and the fireman killed
The steam boiler bursted which had just been filled.
The criminals escaped leaving one slight clue
Why they had wrecked the train nobody knew.
They left a claw bar lying nearby
And also their victims alone to die.
The engineer died half past four,
And his beautiful quill we hear no more.
His famous engine, the '77'
Has sent four men, we hope, to heaven.
The fowl on land and up in the sky
Will never again hear him dot the eye
In the years that have past in which he won his fame
As a quill-puller from Meridian, Jim Jackson's his name.
-Mr. Harold H. Hargin
In this poem, the term "quill" refers to the whistle on the #6977 locomotive. The name comes from the unique manner in which locomotive engineers could make mournful tones and add a unique touch of musical art to what would otherwise be a mundane road crossing signal of two long - one short - one long blast of the whistle signal. The New Orleans & Northeastern, and later Southern Railway, was notable for allowing senior locomotive engineers to fit their assigned locomotives with a whistle of their choosing. Somewhere early in the career of Pacific #6977, the engineer chose the Hancock Chime Whistle. The whistle can be seen in the photograph shown below (taken circa 1920 in New Orleans) with the engineer's name emblazoned on the acb of the engine. We are happy to say that due to one generous man who knew the value of preserving history, this whistle is still around our organization. Thank you to the late Harold Freeman for helping us to keep Mr. Jackson's story alive. Who knows -- maybe this whistle can be heard once more atop of the 116. #KeepTheirStoriesAlive
Source: Summer 2010, Vol. 8 Issue 2 Newsletter of the Queen & Crescent Chapter of the NRHS - written by Mr. David Price