Old 38 versus Old 97

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In the famous "Wreck of the Old 97" song is a line "This is not 38 but it's old 97, You must get her into Spencer on time".

Were both these locomotives ten wheelers (4-6-0)? Does the line above mean that if the engineer was piloting 38, there'd be no problem making up an hour, or the opposite - there'd be no hope of making up that kind of time? In other words, what were the wheel configurations of these two locomotives, and how were they different?

I'm interested because I'm recording the song for my vanity recording project, and I like to have at least some idea of what the lyrics mean.

I found an illustration on the web of a Baldwin AT&SF Tenwheeler ca. 1899, and its smoke stack and light look to be similar to the photograph of the wrecked 97.

I checked the Class E 4-6-0 Roster page and noticed that the left column has a 4 digit number. Is the 38 or 97 designation derived from this number - e.g. last two digits? Or is the 38/97 number a scheduling designation? Or is it the number painted on the tender? Can there be two or more different locomotives designated with the same number - i.e. old 97 in the Southern Railway, and another 97 on the AT&SF?

So much to learn, so little time.

All responses will be gratefully appreciated.

Regards ......... Glen

-- Glen Lees (lees.glen@sympatico.ca), February 17, 2004


The numbers "38" and "97" were Train numbers on the schedule, not locomotive numbers. Mail train #97 was an important mail train from Washington DC to Atlanta, GA. The mail contract was lucrative ($140,000 per year) but the Southern had a substantial monetary penalty for each minute the train was late. Hence, "you MUST bring put her in Spencer on time."

As to locomotive numbers, yes, different railroads could and still have the same numbers for their own power. A Southern Railway 4501 could be a Union Pacific 4501, with no relation to the type, mfg, etc.

As to motive power assigned to the trains 38 and 97, it could have really been any type of power, though of course, some locomotive styles were of course better suited and called upon with more frequency than others.

For the complete story of the Wreck of ol 97, check out www.tarheelpress.com, click on railroad briefs and scroll down to Southern Railway.

-- Matt Bumgarner (stealthnfo@aol.com), February 17, 2004.

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