Book Review. The Day the Whistles Cried

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Book Review. The Day the Whistles Cried
Posted by greyhounds on Thursday, July 12, 2018 5:28 PM

"The Day the Whistles Cried" by Betsy Thorpe is available through Amazon.  It's $7.99 as an eBook.


This was a good book for me to read.  Ms. Thorpe terms her book as "Creative Nonfiction."  I take that to mean she's embellished and dramatized some things.  Such as a black porter, who had been read the train orders, frantically trying to get through a crowded train to to reach the conductor in a desperate effort to stop his train.  The porter was killed in the wreck, so who knows?

The book covers a head on between Nashville, Chatanooga and St. Louis passenger trains #1 and #4 near Nashville.  The wreck was on July 9, 1918 and killed over 100 people.  Many of the dead were African-Americans headed to work at a new munitions plant.  Using the ongoing WWI as an excuse the government had seized the railroads and the NC&St.L was under government control when the wreck happened.

The book focuses on the engineer of #4, one David Kennedy, aged 72.  Although southern born and living near Nashville, Kennedy had fought for the Union in the Civil War with an Ohio regiment.  He clearly, at least by my reading, failed to follow explicit train orders and ran head on in to another passenger train.  He died in the wreck. Much of the book consists of the transcript of the trial in which his widow sued the railroad for $25,000.  She got $8,000 from the jury and failed to clear her deceased husband's name.   She didn't collect the $8,000 because the US Supreme Cout reversed the finding.  The learned men of the Supreme Court reasoned that Kennedy had caused the wreck and his family shouldn't gain from that.

I liked it, even if it was "Creative Nonfiction."  The author, Betsy Thorpe, took the time and made the effort to understand the functions and duties of each train crew member.  (i.e., the conductor was occupied with a frantic ticket lift and did nothing to stop the train.  I'll question her assertion that the black porter had no authority to stop the train when he realized it was in danger.  But what she wrote may well have been true.  I've just got a question.)

Particular scorn goes to the flagman on the rear end.  He was the last chance.  A tower operator tried to stop #4 but the flagman, a new guy, didn't act on the signal.  The flagman skipped town shortly after the wreck.

Ms. Thorpe also seems to have gained quite an understanding of how train orders worked.  I find this unusual and frankly amazing.  Her understanding of this intricacy greatly adds to the enjoyment of reading her book.

I think the book was well worth the $7.99 it cost me.


"By many measures, the U.S. freight rail system is the safest, most efficient and cost effective in the world." - Federal Railroad Administration, October, 2009. I'm just your average, everyday, uncivilized howling "anti-government" critic of mass government expenditures for "High Speed Rail" in the US. And I'm gosh darn proud of that.
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Posted by SD70Dude on Friday, July 13, 2018 12:27 AM

The porter could have stopped the train at any time by pulling the emergency brake valve in any car, and I am sure he knew their location and operation. 

But consider the racial attitudes at the time, and the railroader heirarchy.  If the porter turned out to have been mistaken (he most likely did not have his own copy of the train orders) and had pulled the air without cause, what might have happened?  Especially as someone who was not a true member of the operating crew, and of subordinate social stature. 

Consider what happened after the wreck that killed Casey Jones.  Sim Webb, a black man, was Jones' Fireman.  When interviewed later Webb gave a different version of events than what he stated in the official report, which exonerated the other train's flagman, who was white.  One theory explaining this discrepancy is that Webb was, shall we say "coerced" into giving a different version in the investigation to shift blame off the flagman.  Race may or may not have factored into this; as the only fatality it may have simply been more expedient to blame Jones.

From your description it seems to me that the story of the porter has been at least somewhat exagerated, but it may well have some basis in fact.  Or it may be artistic license, like the crew's dialogue in Gordon Lightfoot's "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald".  Either way it makes for a good story. 

I haven't read Ms. Thorpe's book yet, but it sounds impressive.

Greetings from Alberta

-an Articulate Malcontent

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Posted by jeffhergert on Saturday, July 14, 2018 3:49 PM

Nashville wreck. 

Other train order accidents on this site. 

Actually, tje site probably should be called Time Table and Train Order Accidents.  Some. like the Nashville wreck weren't caused by overlooked or incorrect (Lap Orders) train orders, but misidentification or forgetting of opposing superior trains.



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Posted by samfp1943 on Saturday, July 14, 2018 10:46 PM


Nashville wreck. 

Other train order accidents on this site. 

Actually, tje site probably should be called Time Table and Train Order Accidents.  Some. like the Nashville wreck weren't caused by overlooked or incorrect (Lap Orders) train orders, but misidentification or forgetting of opposing superior trains.


Another time Table and Train Order accident that would qualify was the August 1914 Head-on near Neosho, Missouri.  It was at speed [apparently, each was at 35mph(?)].  Involved were a Katy RR Sb Passenger train and a Nb M&NA  Passenger {Doodlebug style] Train, of Power car and trailer.  Tole was 30 killed and 25 seriously injured.  In one account I read; the majority of those killed had been on a Church picnick earlier.  Rescue train had o be brought out of Joplin, Mo.

Link @





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Posted by tree68 on Sunday, July 15, 2018 5:16 PM

...but misidentification or forgetting of opposing superior trains.

A wreck on the NYC Adirondack Division ca 1906 was caused by one engineer covering up part of the train order with his thumb as he read it...  As a result, he missed the fact that there was a second section of an opposing train involved...

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