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Jack Woodrick:  "Hell Fired Jack"

 



 


Webmaster's Note:  The following article is taken verbatim from the Meridian Star dated May 15th, 1900
because of the age of the original document, some words were unreadable on the copy.  These words and passages are marked [Illegible]. Additional biographical/genealogy information follows below this article.

 

“HELL FIRED JACK”

Reminiscence of the Early Days of the M. & O. R.R.

Jack Woodrick and Engine 45

The difficulties and thrilling experiences of the primitive engineer.
The body of a fireman used for fuel.

By J. J. Hayne

In Railroading, more than perhaps any other line of business, time has brought its changes so far as improvement of track equipment and machinery is concerned and yet strange to say that the engineer of the present time would find himself lost, totally unfit for the position if the old fashioned engine that first did service on the M & O [Mobile and Ohio Railroad] were brought back in use and the rules governing railroading in the early days had to be conformed with.

It is the days of the early fifties [1850s] of which I speak. In those days such a thing as railroad telegraph service was unknown and trains were run by printed schedules, each engineer being provided with one which was framed and hung in the cab before him, showing the time for arrival at and departure from each station on the line.

There were no coal burners then; no air brakes; no patent couplers; no sleepers; no vestibule coaches and to... [illegible] ...freight train... [illegible] ...was running... [illegible] ...of 20 miles an hour to a stand still of 3/4 of a mile with every man at his brake with all his strength.

Pine wood in four foot lengths was the fuel used and in distances of ten miles the entire length of the road there were wood yards kept by citizens living contiguous.

It was the rule then when freight trains lost their schedules by accident or otherwise that they had to take the first side track and lie over until the schedule hour the next day, and when there were bad accidents delaying traffic for 12 hours or more the accumulation of the trains going in either direction would exhaust the supply of wood at the platforms, the capacity of each of them being about 6 cords, and this brings me to the thrilling and perilous run in which Jack Woodrick, of Meridian, now 70 years of age figured.

It was spring of 1854 that a terrible washout occurred at Narkeeta [Narkeeta was formerly located in Kemper County, Mississippi.  It is now said to be extinct.], then know as Gainsville Junction, for there was a branch road running out to Gainsville. It required several days to repair the break and of course the trains in either direction failing to meet coming trains at the stations designated as meeting points on the charts would take the side track, and the accumulation when the line was opened would exhaust the wood yards and it often became necessary for the train crews to have to stop and cut wood sufficient to carry them on to the next yard.

For three days there had not been a train going north to pass Shuqualak [Shuqualak is located on U.S. Highway 45, about midway between Columbus and Meridian.], where I then resided. Finally about noon of the third day a distant roaring could be heard coming from the south; closer and closer it came until the... [illegible] ...came

At Shuqualak it was found necessary to do a lot of switching, and yet at Macon the passenger train (which had the right of way at all times) had to be met. There was just 25 minutes left for switching and getting to Macon, ten miles north. Jack had passed the wood yard at Wahalak [Wahalak was originally located a few miles east of its' present location approximately 1/3 of the way between Shuqualak and Scooba on the M&O road], trusting to the one at Dry Creek, near Macon to carry him through and pulling out with 12 minutes to his credit, he reached the wood yard to find the platform was empty and the hand of his steam gauge fast lowering. Something had to be done and quickly. There was no time to stop and cut wood, for to have remained there would have caused the wrecking of both trains and the loss of many precious lives, so the first thought that struck him was to pitch his fireman in the furnace, pull the throttles wide open and trust to luck and take the consequences, and in this way he reached the Macon switch just in the nick of time, for the passenger train had started.

This was the fastest time ever made by a heavy freight train over the M&O R.R. It was 10 miles in 11 minutes and with one stop. So reckless was the speed over the then new and uneven track that the ponderous box cars appeared to the brakemen who were at their brakes on top as dancing upon their ends and every minute seemed their last, and one of them had his nerves so wrought up that his hair turned white within less than a year there after and for the balance of his days he appeared as one with a full fledged case of the palsy. “Jack” himself, however, appeared as cool and unconcerned as though nothing out of the ordinary had been done.

A Negro slave who was being carried to Macon by his master to be sold upon the block described the thrilling ride thus: “Fo de Lawd, de train run so fas’ dat de trees ‘long de road look’ lack er solid bode fence and de rails on de fence look’ lack toof picks.”

But even before this memorable incident Jack Woodrick enjoyed distinction of being the most reckless, daring engineer that ever pulled the throttle. He had rules of his own not put down in the laws of the company he served, and one of them was to never blow on the brakes when such a small obstacle as a cow or an ox was on the track ahead, but pull the throttle wide open and strike the beast with such force as would throw it from the track rather than down and under the wheels, and it is said that in this way he never had a “run off” in encountering a cow or horse.

But this rule, while satisfactory to him, kept the stock claim agent busy adjusting with owners, for “Jack’s” licks in nearly every case proved fatal, and it is said the road had more stock to pay for on his account than all the rest of the engineers combined, but this was offset by the saving to machinery by preventing “run offs” in such cases.

Nor did Jack’s self will stop here, for upon another occasion when the south bound crews, seeing that he... [illegible] ...loaded wood yard was reached, an in this way he reached the wood supply on time.

And when desperate time had to be made, the officers, though ordinarily prejudiced against Jack because of his daring disposition and trying to dissuade him by being rather uncouth in their conversations with him never failed to select him for they knew he would carry out their orders; and on one occasion it was necessary, in order to get a letter through to headquarters in time to have a distance of 208 miles made within four hours, “Hell Fired Jack” was selected to pull the engine. It is needless to say he reached the “landing” on time, and I learn with four minutes to his credit.

Some idea of how long ago this has been can be formed when it is known that the road had just been completed to Corinth; but Jack’s connection with the road dated back to the first locomotive that went over the line, and he continued with it in the highest standing, until the “color blind” test was inaugurated a few years back, “sidetracked” him.

But his career was a brilliant one and he rests from his perilous labors full of honors, for it is a cherished portion of his reputation that he never had a collision or killed a member of his train crew or a passenger, but “Kings have but their titles for their glory, an outward horror for an inward toll” and we find Jack today an humble citizen of our city, pursuing the even tenor of his way, and though past the three score and ten mark in age, earning a livelihood by his own exertions, cheerful, healthy and happy and still gracefully wearing the cool, independent air that characterized him in the days when he fairly “split the wind” with his engine, the old “45” and when he made daring and perilous fly with a heavy train from Shuqualak to Macon in eleven minutes.

He is the link connecting the present with the famous generation of railroad men that are gone and I revere him for the noble part he played in the days of my childhood when every moment was full of hope and every passing hour a blissful, happy dream.

During these primitive days of the Mobile & Ohio railroad, the following named officers were in charge: Milton Brown of Tennessee, President; L.J. Fleming, Chief Engineer and general superintendent; P. Frecmius, assistant superintendent; John W. Goodwin, engineer and superintendent.
 


Biographical Information:

"Jack’s connection with the road dated back to the first locomotive that went over the line

"Hell Fired" Jack Woodrick (in cab of engine) with (probably) a fireman.

Lorenzo Jack Woodrick was born in 1827 in New York according to the U. S. Census. Family history indicates that he and his brother came south with the railroad. He married Margaret M. Walker from Noxubee County in Macon the 13th of September 1860. Together they had four children, John, Joseph, Sarah and Ann.

Joseph Alexander Woodrick married Beulah Lowe Short in Macon, Mississippi on 20 January 1887 and moved to Meridian, Mississippi.


Jack is on the left.

Sarah Woodrick married John Newton Dobbs, who owned a dray [a heavy-duty 4 wheeled wagon] station in Columbus, Mississippi.

Ann Woodrick married Cicero Walker in Lowndes County, Mississippi in 1890.

After Jack's wife, Margaret, passed away and was buried in Noxubee County, Mississippi, Jack moved to Meridian to be near son Joseph and family.

"Hell Fire" Jack Woodrick died on 7 June 1907 and is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery (the location of the grave was unrecorded) Meridian, Mississippi

Little is known about Jack's ancestors, it seems that the spelling of his last name changed after moving south. The spelling is more than likely Woodrich but connections to family "up north" can not be made.

Submitted by Shelia Butler Lawrence, Great, Great Grandaughter of Jack Woodrick.

If you have information for Ms. Lawrence or would like to inquire further about "Hell Fired Jack", please contact the

 

Page Last Updated:   Friday, 22 September 2017

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