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‘‘Billy Richardson’s Last Ride’’


A popular train song commemorates the death of a locomotive engineer in the Kanawha Valley of West Virginia. Billy Richardson, an engineer on the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway from 1878 to 1910 (C&O), was known to run fast and on time. People along the C&O recalled that Richardson would wave and whistle as his train sped by, his long beard flying in the wind. The affable engineer developed a habit of leaning far out of the right cab window.

Richardson’s usual run was from Hinton to Huntington and back. On December 14, 1910, he was running west toward Huntington. Passing through Scary, near St. Albans, Richardson blew the whistle and stuck his head out the window to look back. The mail crane, a track-side device from which trains snatched mail bags on the fly, hit Billy Richardson in the head, pounding his left temple. The fireman, Cecil Lively, brought the train into Huntington on time. Richardson died shortly after reaching the hospital there.

Not until 1926 was the engineer memorialized in song. Norfolk & Western engineer Cleburne Meeks, who as a boy in Fayette County stood in his backyard every other day to wave at Billy Richardson, wrote the song lyrics to ‘‘Billy Richardson’s Last Ride.’’ Carson J. Robison wrote the tune in 1926, and Vernon Dalhart recorded the song for seven different record companies.

Written by Jim McGee