Train story among favorites in quot;Old Henry#039;squot; court

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 12, 2000

Following his retirement Old Henry held court every weekday in the plush surroundings of Greenville's leading motel restaurant emporium.

Henry was not a judge, however he might

more rightly have been termed an entertainer.

He rarely lacked for an audience either, because he had an uncounted number of legendary tales in his repertoire. These he dispensed sparingly, generally limiting each day's discourse to one or two of his rare anecdotes.

One morning he told a favorite of his, one in which the father of the late Hank Williams was involved as a train engineer with the W.T. Smith Lumber Company at Chapman.

It went'something like this:

"Me and my pardner was hired on to ride the train back and forth, from the logging camp in the woods to the sawmill, where they turned them logs into lumber and slabs. We used the slabs mostly for firewood at home, and the company sold the lumber.

"What we done was to keep the mules and the men fed and watered at the logging camp end. We brought the feed, food and water from the sawmill end of the run.

"Well, sir, one night we was headed back Chapman – way – me and my pardner, settin' astride of a water-tank car when we noticed a wierd glow of light down the track, the way we was headin'.

"Mr. Williams, he was driving the engine, and facing in the wrong direction to see the glow – actually, he was backing up, but, man, he was backing up about as fast as that train would run, because we was running late, and everybody wanted to end the day's work.

"Me and my pardner did our best to scramble up to the engine – to warn Mr. Williams about the light we had seen.

"Then we looked around suddenly and noticed what made the light – it was a wood trestle bridge over about a eighth of a mile of water, and it was on fire – I mean it was et up with fire. What made it so bad, was that we

was supposed to cross that bridge.

"We knowed we was dead for

sure – never could make it across that water, we thought. "We froze to the car, afraid to move, knowin' we was done for.

"Just as we raced to our certain fate, Mr. Williams happened to look back. We

was too close to stop – so Mr. Williams poured the coals to her, and pulled the throttle wide open.

"God knows what saved us. We roared acrost that burnt bridge

and I seen this: the rails just curled up up like bacon rind in a frying pan as the engine shot over the burning embers.

"All ot a sudden, the whole bridge, trestle and all, collapsed into thc water. But all the cars had made it across before they came to an instant halt. The back wheels of the engine had land-side track under them – but the front part of the engine was hanging out over the water."

Henry and his partner were scolded long and loud by the top bosses for not geting word to the engineer in time.

Then they were reduced in rank by the brass from train-riding to walking water-jacks, on the mill end of the run.

But the pay remained the same – one dollar a week for the six long, arduous working days that each week contained.

You see, that episode happened during the days just preceding the Great Panic.

Henry said he was just a shirt-tail youngun – near 16 – at the time of the accident, that everyone else involved was dead and gone, and that he and God alone knew it to be a true story.