Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Wreck of the Dry Fork #4

The Wreck of the Dry Fork #4, as found in Don Teter's book, "Goin' Up Gandy".

I was recently reading the absolutely fabulous book, Goin' Up Gandy by Don Teter. the book discusses the History of the Dry Fork region of Randolph County, WV. I had many ancestors who worked and lived in these logging camps and I am intimately familiar with all of the places mentioned in this book. However, it was Teter's brief mention of the wreck of the Dry Fork #4 train that really stuck with me. I remember my Granddad telling stories about this wreck, which were told to him by his father, which were in turn told to him by his father, who lived in the area around Jenningston, WV, the site of the train wreck.

People in the area still talk about this wreck, and many will point you to the exact location, even though it has been many decades since the last logging train departed from these mountains. So I was inspired to write down the story of The Wreck of the Dry Fork #4, incorporating some of the information provided by Don Teter but mostly based on the stories given to me by my Grandfather. It was a story that evidently needed to be told.

I'm still not sure if it is a poem or the beginnings of a ballad, but this is the way this story was given to me. I hope you enjoy it. After reading it, you may wonder what happened to the widow Booker? I surely do, but that part of the story was not given to me. For me to write something, I have to be given the story out of the blue and if I force it, it just seems to come out all wrong. Oh well, perhaps her story is best saved for a later date.

The Wreck of the Dry Fork #4
by Matthew Burns, 16 March 2009

Come gather around and I’ll tell you
Of the logging days of yore,
And of the day of that dreadful wreck
Of the Dry Fork #4.

The engine was brought in from the flatlands,
Where it pulled the passenger trains.
But it was no match for the twists and turns
Of the mountainous Dry Fork grade.

On the evening of the 20th of June,
In the year of 19 and aught one.
The time was nigh and the signal given,
For the Dry Fork #4’s final run.

Tales of the wreck became legend,
Up and down the Dry Fork line
Of Superintendent Booker’s orders
And his obsession with making up time.

He was running late for supper,
Or so the story is told,
Many miles yet to travel and
He’d be damned if he’d eat it cold.

Ordering Engineer Cromwell
To make all due haste
The Dry Fork #4 did hug the tracks
And was well upon its way.

Halfway home to supper,
They came to Jenningston grade,
Up and over the mountain they went
But the bridge they could not make.

They weight of the rushing engine
Snapped the railroad bridge.
The engine rested in the river,
The cars stayed on the ridge.

Three were killed in the madness,
That came from hunger and greed,
Booker, Cromwell and a man named Spillman,
Were all trapped underneath.

The work crew on the ridge above,
Riding in the cars that escaped
Shook their heads in dismay
At the wreckage and the watery grave.

They talked of Booker’s reckless ways,
And how he laid to waste,
The Dry Fork #4 and two good men,
At the foot of Jenningston grade.

The bodies were freed of the wreckage,
And taken to “the gateway of Hell”
Where the families of the three men
Began to weep and wail.

Except for one well-dressed woman
Who was Booker’s widowed wife,
Not a tear for her fallen husband and
On her face an almost smile.

Tales were told thereafter,
About her deceitful plans,
Of how she had plotted for many months
To be shed of her beastly man.

They told of how he came home every evening,
Full of hunger, anger and rage,
And took his frustrations out on her,
That read on her bruised up face.

She played the part of a loving wife,
Doing what she was told.
She cooked him his favorite meals,
Knowing it would rush him home.

It wasn’t just Booker nor his reckless ways,
That laid waste to the Dry Fork line.
It was deception, greed and a love turned cold,
That ruined so many good lives.

So, what did you think of the story? Is it a poem or a ballad? Any idea's on what happened to the widow? I want to know the rest of the story.


Shirley Stewart Burns, Ph.D. said...

To my ear, it is surely a ballad. I like it.

Vera said...

Whatever it is, I enjoyed it.

Jo Ann said...

Hi Matthew,
"The Wreck" reminds me of "The Cremation of Sam McGee" by Robert W. Service, which folks call a poem. I do see lots of ballad potential here---how about a refrain?
Wish you could come to the Fairmont State University Storytelling Institute in early April. Might get inspired to publish!

Granny Sue said...

It doesn't scan like a poem, the meter (or whatever it is that gives poems rhythm) seems off to me. The syllable count isn't even, but then I know little about how sometthing is classified as a ballad. It tells a story, which is what a ballad does.

Good story, whatever it is.

I agree with Jo Ann. You should come to the Institute!

Ladyfromthewoods said...

One thought came to my mind (besides ballad.)

It was also common among Appalachian folks to expect a grieving person to make a big fuss - screaming and crying and "taking it awful hard." It makes me wonder if some did not judge the widow's manner of grief(possible shock or restraint) as being happy instead of sad. I just bet she suffered from a lot of judgment afterwards, poor thing.

Jason Burns said...

It being Dry Fork, I would say that the Widow Booker was probably related in some way to our baby doctor. He did live and work in Harman, which is just down the road from Dry Fork. Remember, his name was Doc Booker? I wonder if this lady was his mother or grandmother? He's probably still alive (although I'm sure nearing 100) and you could try and ask him.

tipper said...

Loved it what ever you call it!