A Lesson from the “Wreck of the Old 97”

   Written by on July 6, 2017 at 9:41 am

logo-hevenerWe don’t have to be persuaded that the only moment we have in life is now; tomorrow is uncertain!  Knowing the evanescence of life, what kind of lives should we live from moment to moment?  God has much to say about taking life seriously and never taking for granted the next week, the next day, the next hour, or the next moment.

In a world of constant change, we need a reliable compass which will guide us to a harbor of safety in a world of political, financial, social, and moral storms.

The wreck of Old 97 occurred when the engineer, 33-year-old Joseph A. (“Steve”) Broady, was pushing the train to a higher speed in order to stay on schedule. The so-called Fast Mail had a reputation for never being late.  The train was en route from Monroe, Virginia to Spencer, North Carolina; the date was September 27, 1903.  Because of its high speed, it jumped the tracks at Stillhouse Trestle near Danville, Virginia, where it lost traction and shot over the side of the bridge, killing eleven on board and injuring seven others.  The wreck inspired a famous country/bluegrass song that Mac Wiseman, a Virginian, helped make famous. In 1927, it was claimed that the author of “Wreck of the Old 97” was local resident, David Graves George, who was one of the first on the scene; however, this information is uncertain. The ballad is one that I often play on my mandolin.   The words of the song are:

They gave him his orders at Monroe, Virginia
Sayin’, “Steve, you’re way behind time
This is not 38 but it’s old 97
You must put her into Spencer on time”

He looked round and said to his black, greasy fireman
Shovel on a little more coal
And when we cross that White Oak Mountain
You can watch old 97 roll

It’s a mighty rough road from Lynchburg to Danville
With a line on a three mile grade
It was on that grade that he lost his air brakes
And see what a jump we made

He was goin’ down the grade making ninety miles an hour
When his whistle began to a scream
He was found in the wreck with his hand on the throttle
And scalded to death by the steam

So now, fair ladies, you must take warning
From this time now on learn
Never speak harsh words to your true loving husband
He may leave you and never return.

(Lyrics from the ToneWay Project.)

In the last stanza, the writer turns didactic by reminding wives that life is uncertain and that they, therefore, should show love to their husbands daily because those husbands may “never return.”  Just so, husbands should also treasure their wives, daily.

The same lesson is presented in the Bible.  Solomon tells us that because life is uncertain, like vapor, we should not boast about what we shall do in the future.  He writes, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth” (Proverbs 27:1).*

The apostle James reminds us of the same uncertainty of life: Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins (James 4:13-17). Let’s leave all boasting to God!

Until next week, may God richly bless you and yours.

*All scriptural passages are from the ESV version.

Contact: fhevener@oilart.com; (434) 392-6255; www.guthriememorial.org.

©2017 by Fillmer Hevener

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