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Frank Blaine

Canada's 'Casey Jones'
by R.L. Kennedy

Famous people are some times made famous more through the actions of others than by their own efforts. Locomotive Engineer Casey Jones was famous, but it wasn't the wreck alone that gave him such notoriety. It was a roundhouse labourer who sang a little ditty about Casey and his wreck that led to the engineer's fame.

Songwriters picked up the little ditty and made Casey famous, while reaping the cash rewards themselves. Indeed, neither Casey's family nor the original composer got fair compensation. Neither was the wreck that killed Casey Jones unusual; in fact, it was quite common in that wrecks were frequent on the early railroads. Railroading was very dangerous in those days; 5,000 men were killed on duty in that year alone! It wasn't even spectacular, as only Casey was killed.

How many readers know the name of Canada's "Casey Jones"? How many know that he existed? Hands up, I thought so ...

If you were on the September 16, 1990 Bytown steam excursion to Brockville, you were closer than you knew to a hero. Buried in a cemetery there is a man who can be described as Canada's Casey Jones - for he, too, lost his life in a train wreck by staying with his engine, hopelessly trying to stop it. That he might be considered a hero is evidenced by the monument on his grave which was paid for by the passengers on his train, in recognition of his sacrifice.

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The Blaine Monument
Photo: Doug Birchill
Click here for full size picture and inscription text.

Frank W. Blaine was the engineer of Grand Trunk Railway Train No. 2, "The Montreal Express." Born in Ireland on December 20, 1853, he entered service in 1874 and was promoted to engineer in 1881.

Running through heavy fog at 02:20, approximately one mile west of Napanee, Ontario on September 21, 1906, he confronted a westbound freight train which had just come out of a siding. Aware that there would be a head-on collision, he told his fireman to jump, but he stayed with his engine in an attempt to reduce the speed of his train as much as possible.

The crew of the freight engine jumped and survived. Why they had come out of the siding after having been in the clear isn't known since it was later revealed that they had room for their 53-car train plus 150 feet to spare at each end. Perhaps they simply ran out the other end, unable to stop due to the lack of visibility.

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Many people were injured in the collision, but Frank W Blaine, "The Brave Engineer", was the single fatality. When searched for in the wreckage, his severed arm was found with his hand still gripping the handle of the brake valve.

The Brockville Recorder reported, "He looked squarely into the face of death, instant and violent, reversed his engine and kept his hand on the brake."

The newspaper said it all in its final tribute to Blaine:

"Yet it cannot be said truly that he lost his life, for he gave it, and gave it knowingly - he paid it to purchase safety for others, and he got what he bought in that awful market."

Rest in peace.

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