Monday, August 2, 2010

All Aboard!!!... The Cannonball Express is now departing for Adventure, Action and All Points West!

It's hard to talk about America's Westward Expansion without talking about the role of the locomotive. Without railroads, there wouldn't really be cowboys. Cowboys really got started after the Civil War, driving herds of cattle from Texas north to railheads in Kansas (mostly Abilene and Dodge City) where they could sell the cattle to buyers from Chicago. The cows were then immediately loaded onto trains and shipped back East to be butchered for the ever-growing populations of Eastern cities.

And, of course, without those cattle drives, towns like Abilene and Dodge wouldn't have been filled with rowdy, drunken cowboys from Texas. And without those rowdy, drunken cowboys, they wouldn't have needed the likes of Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson or Wild Bill Hickock to keep the peace.

Trains were one of the primary targets for the James-Younger Gang and the Hole-in-the-wall Gang.

Of course a train is only as good as the men who maintain and operate it. Enter Casey Jones. Oh the real Casey Jones (John Luther "Cayce" Jones) was a well-known engineer, renowned for his skill at playing tunes with his train whistle; also an avid baseball enthusiast, he played whenever he could. But he entered the national consciousness one fateful, foggy night- April 30, 1900- when he crashed his train, the Cannonball Express, headlong into a stalled freight train and died at the controls, still clutching the whistlecord.

Apparently, that sort of thing got ballads written about you in 1900, and Casey became the symbol for all railroad engineers for all time.

In 1958, Casey Jones became the subject of a TV Western aimed at Children and starring a young Allen Hale Jr. . Dell comics issued this comic book tie-in, Four-Color #915.

Although Casey never got a whole Dell series, like Annie Oakley or Gene Autry, there's plenty of action packed into this ten-cent beauty.

From 1958's Four-Color #915, here's Casey Jones in "The Great Mail Race"...

The artwork by Bill Ziegler has a fascinating, illustrative quality to it.