More Than Just A Stop Along the Way by Bonnie and Bill Neely

About halfway between Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee, along Highway 40 is a very special place we discovered, thanks to the excellent Tennessee Department of Tourism. The Casey Jones Railroad Museum, which reopened in its brand new location here in 2009, was moved to the superb location, easily accessible to travelers who need to break their trip. The Museum itself is a treasure trove for train buffs and fascinating to parents and children alike. We always thought Casey Jones was a myth, but he was a real person by the name of John Luther Jones who moved to Casey, KY, and as a child was obsessed with trains. He went to work on the M&O railroad at age 15. He worked his way up becoming fireman, then an engineer at age 26 for IC railroad driving the run from Chicago to New Orleans and was known for always bringing his train in exactly on time. He lived in Jackson, TN, with his wife and three children.
However, on the fateful night in 1900 when he was driving the famous 382, the train he was to take over from another engineer arrived 45 minutes late, and Casey was trying to make up the time. The night of April 29, 1900, was misty, but he travelled fast and was just 14 miles from his stop early on April 30 and only five minutes late. The track was always clear at the Canton, MS, station because other trains were switched to other tracks at the station there. However, unbeknownst to Jones, another train had a break-down. The caboose and several cars were blocking Casey’s track. When he saw it, there was no chance to stop, but his quick reaction slowed his train to 35 miles an hour while he ordered his fireman to jump off to save his life. Casey sounded a warning to all the others on his train, knowing he could not help himself. He died in the unavoidable crash, which turned his engine over, but no other people or cars were hurt seriously.
Jones might have been forgotten over the years, but his fireman made speeches everywhere he went for many years afterward, praising the hero who saved so many lives. And Wallace Saunders, a black engine wiper in Canton who witnessed the wreck, wrote and sang the famous Ballad of Casey Jones, which children and adults have sung over the next century. The Casey Jones Railroad Museum has an amazing collection of Jones memorabelia, which used to be crammed into the home of the Jones family but is now beautifully displayed in cases which tell the story of his life. In 1950 the United States issued a Casey Jones commemorative stamp with the celebration in Jackson.
The Casey Jones Railroad Museum also beautifully depicts and explains the importance and impact of the great railroads to the history and economy of Tennessee, with the tracks becoming a major artery for facilitating delivery of goods to other places all over the continent. The first important delivery of products was bananas, which formerly had been available only at coastal harbors, where ships brought them from the tropics. When these tracks northward were complete, train cars were packed with ice on top of the banana cars, and as the ice melted it dripped down onto the wheels, creating a mist as they turned, thus keeping the bananas fresh.
Lawrence Taylor has been the able and fascinating director of the Casey Jones Railroad Museum for 32 years, and he was the main impetus in getting the $650,000 grant, which enabled this museum to move to this ideal location. The Jones home was also moved to its site right next door, so visitors can see all the late 19th century furnishings, even a bedspread which Casey’s wife crocheted. The gift shop has more train gifts and toys than you ever imagined, all excellent souvenirs which were carefully selected by Lawrence for the store. You’ll want to buy lots of gifts and collectibles for yourself and your loved ones.
But this train museum is just one of the great places to visiti at this stop! You’ll find a village of gift and art shops and even a church. But the place you MUST not miss is the Brooks Shaw and Sons Old Country Store, one of the most unique and fascinating finds of all our travels! Here we just planned to eat lunch, but we stayed for hours at this step into a nostalgic past. First, the food is the BEST Southern buffet we have ever enjoyed, all made from scratch with freshest vegetables, meats, and fruits. The Hobo Stew is a delicious soup of many fresh vegetables and chicken, simmered to perfection. The fried green tomatoes and corn pone (looks like pancakes) are truly Southern country fare. The pulled pork and fried chicken and fish are perfect! And the homemade banana pudding and fruit cobblers are incredible! The vast array of Southern cooked vegetables are each deliciously prepared with excellent seasoning and care. We have NEVER had a better country style meal!
You may not be there at meal time, but no problem. Enjoy the old-fashioned ice cream and soda fountain where the “soda jerks” will make up any treat you remember from your almost forgotten past, a taste that will trigger happy memories…guaranteed! And someone knew you wouldn’t want to miss the great Old South fare of the restaurant, so wander through the old fashioned candy store (where you cannot resist a sack full of the candies you remember from childhood), and you’ll find a separate take-out department with all the best restaurant selections, so you can take what you want to have at home or in your RV. (Yes, there is RV and truck parking. ) Be sure to take along some of their incredible fried pies
Wander into the original country store where you can stand by the old pot-bellied stove and select any number of old timey replicas for your kitchen or home. Be sure to buy some jars of home canned pickles and yummy jams. You’ll find hand-made household items and gifts for sale in other parts of the store too. And you can watch one of the best wood craftsmen, H. Dee Moss, carve some of his beautiful Wildlife In Wood. And be sure to buy one or more of the cookbooks and other delightful books you’ll find. We chose the very special The Old Country Store Cookbook, which is dedicated to “mom’s home cooking and pop’s old country store” and has photos of the family who created this great place.
This Old Country Store was lovingly created as a family effort to carry out the dream of Brooks C. Shaw, who started collecting antiques when his doctor told him to find a relaxing hobby after he had some heart problems, and the collection became so large he decided to share it by creating this site. He died soon after the project was begun, and members of his family have continued to help it grow and thrive for decades beyond and keep his memory and dreams alive for thousands of passers-by to enjoy. You MUST plan to stop several hours here, or better still, make this a destination to stay at the Casey Jones Motel and see more of the town of Jackson. Peruse the website for the many other things to see and do here. What a great place!!!