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Determining the Facts

Reading 3: A Ballad

West Virginians have a rich cultural tradition of folk music and have produced many ballads about train disasters. Train lore reflects the whole country’s romance with progress and speed. Songs about brave railway men highlight the importance of railroads in our nation’s development and identity.

THE WRECK OF THE SPORTSMAN

Far away on the banks of New River
While the deep shades of twilight hung low,
In the mountains of old West Virginia,
On the line of the old C & O;
Down the valley the old Forty-Seven
Was winding her way ’long the stream.
The drivers were rapidly pounding
While the engine was trembling with steam.

Haskell firmly held the throttle,
Anderson’s fire glowed with red,
And they thought of no danger awaiting
Down the line on a curve just ahead.
In the dusk of a fair crimson sunset
Near the path of the old Midland Trail,
'Twas there that the fast-flying Sportsman
Was wrecked as she swung from the rail.

'Twas there in the dark shades of twilight,
While the bright crimson sky was aglow,
That Haskell and Anderson of the Sportsman
Gave their lives to the old C & O.
Just west of the station called Hawk’s Nest
The engine turned over the fill;
The boys were found down near the river
By the engine they loved, lying still.

That night there were loved ones waiting
In Huntington for those boys--in vain,
For God, the Supreme Crew Caller,
Had called them for another train.
The years full of tears may be many,
And sad broken hearts ever burn,
While they think of the "Wreck of the Sportsman,"
And the loved ones who’ll never return.

Questions for Reading 3

1. Describe the setting or background of the ballad. How does that relate to the action described?

2. What is said about the character of the railway men? Were they hardworking? dedicated? reckless? skilled?

3. Are the men described in the ballad heroes? Why or why not? Why does the ballad emphasize how much the men loved their work?

4. Are steam train engineers still recognized as major figures in our history? Are they part of our national identity? Why or why not?

Reading 3 was excerpted from SCALDED TO DEATH BY THE STEAM by Katie Letcher Lyle. Copyright © 1991 by the author. Reprinted by permission of Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, a division of Workman Publishing.

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