On October 23, 1890, at 5:40 a.m., the passenger train known as the Fast Flying Virginian, pulled by engine 134, wrecked due to a rock slide three miles east of Hinton on the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway. The eastbound luxury train was traveling from Cincinnati to Washington. Its engineer, George Washington Alley, a member of a prominent railroading family, was killed while attempting to stop the train, and firemen Lewis Withrow and Robert Foster were injured.
Alley’s heroic deed, which saved the lives of his passengers, became the basis for a ballad attributed to an unnamed African-American engine wiper who worked in the Hinton roundhouse, although there is no direct evidence of the song prior to about 1900. More than 80 variants have been documented, including those in John Harrington Cox’s book, Folk-Songs of the South, but most details are historically inaccurate. The ballad’s various titles include ‘‘The Wreck on the C&O,’’ ‘‘Fatal Run,’’ ‘‘The Brave Engineer,’’ ‘‘George (ie) Alley’’ (or Allen), ‘‘Engine 143’’ [sic], and ‘‘The FFV.’’ Recordings have been issued by the Carter Family; Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, and the Foggy Mountain Boys; Joan Baez; and Doc Watson.
A historical marker on State Route 3 at Bellepoint in Summers County memorializes the tragic event. Alley is buried in the Greenbrier Baptist Church cemetery in Alderson.
This Article was written by H. G. Young III
Last Revised on November 19, 2010
Cohen, Norm. Long Steel Rail: The Railroad in American Folksong. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000.
Lyle, Katie Letcher. Scalded to Death by the Steam. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 1983.
Frankenstein, Alfred. George Alley: A Study in American Folk Lore. Musical Courier, (Apr. 16, 1932).
Cite This Article
Young III, H. G. "‘‘The Wreck on the C&O’’." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 19 November 2010. Web. 20 August 2014.