Monday, July 2, 2012

Logging Engineer: George "Piney" Williams

Before getting to the modern, scenic railroad era, here are a few vignettes of logging-era locomotive engineers. These are all taken from Phillip Bagdon's excellent Shay Logging Locomotives At Cass, West Virginia.

George Tecumseh Williams (1872-193[9]) was by far the most famous of Cass engineers. He first came to Cass in 1902, and by 1904 was assigned a regular engine on the Cass Hill, the same hill that the tourist line follows today.
Piney Williams (far left) with Number 11 Engine around 1915
As the man who brought the logs down from their mountain spur lines to Cass proper, Williams was the face most associated with Cass Shays. Many children, who looked up to locomotive engineers as heroes, were outright admirers of Piney Williams and his engines.

Considered by Superintendent E. P. Shaffer as one of the company's most valuable employees, Williams was known for the corncob pipe he always had on hand, despite the company's no smoking policy. If he ever lost the pipe overboard, he was known to stop the train right where it was to look for it. Once, after a derailment, his first thoughts turned to his pipe: where did it go? He soon found it, the stem at least, still clenched in his teeth where he had bitten through it.

Of course, Williams had a a wild streak as well. He was known for drinking and fighting with the loggers in East Cass, and once a logger bit off part of his ear (recalled by Clyde Galford, the last Cass logging engineer). At least once, Shaffer laid off Williams for a few days on account of his drinking. In 1917, he was arrested for the murder of Thaddeus Hall, a C&O brakeman who was supposedly seeing Williams' wife. In court, inconclusive evidence led to Williams being cleared of charges. 

Fame and notoriety have raised Piney Williams into an almost legendary figure of Old Cass, and like any good myth, it is hard to tell where fact ends and fiction begins. For instance, near the end of his career, the story goes that he suffered a stroke while bringing a loaded train down the mountain. Piney, heroically battling against the crippling attack, managed to bring in the train safely. The stroke actually occurred while he was switching cars in the mill yard at Cass.

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