Off The Beaten Path: Casey Jones & the Bird Dogs

casey wreckThere are a couple of museums devoted to Casey Jones, railroad engineer famous in folk and children’s songs but also among railroad buffs – one is in Jackson, Tennessee, and the other in Water Valley, Mississippi.  If you haven’t thought about Casey Jones since the Choo Choo Charlie candy commercials of the 60s I’d understand, although some will remember that the Grateful Dead included him in their repertoire. And I know that among devotees of the Class B lifestyle are at least a few ferro-equinologists!

The Tennessee location is particularly interesting because it’s the site of the Jones familygrace home, circa 1900, complete with period furnishings (don’t miss that bathroom!). This gives some interesting insights into family life at the turn of the century and the black-and-white documentary film is done in a marvelously ‘retro’ style itself.

The site down in Water Valley is where Casey held his union membership and worked for the Illinois Central line. As a result it’s much more focused on the railroad industry and the collection of memorabilia is just terrific.

Square books_resizedEach of these locations offers some strong ‘added value’ stops that, taken together with the railroad side of things, make the side trips worth the miles. Very near Water Valley is Oxford, Mississippi, home of Ole Miss and home to Square Books, a nationally-recognized independent bookstore on the old town square. And the square in Oxford! It’s the genteel South with excellent dining at City Grocery, another nationally-noted destination. Not to be missed is BTC in Water Valley (“A Small Town Grocery with Big-City Food” – and their cookbook is fantastic) and Big Bad Breakfast (“Lard Have Mercy”!) just north of the Square in Oxford.

I recently made the trip from Oxford up to Jackson, Tennessee, and the Casey Jones Bird dog signmuseum, reprising a trip I made when my kids were much younger. In Grand Junction, Tennessee, we stumbled across the National Bird Dog Museum, a marvelous book-end to the Coon Dog Cemetery I reported on in a recent Roadtreking RV Podcast.

We’ve never been treated so hospitably at a place that was actually temporarily closed for renovations and got a personal tour led by Tonya Brotherton, the executive director. Circa 1900 dog travel kennel? Check. Authentic one-hundred year old bird dog (stuffed)? Check. Reverence for hunting dogs? Oh my. Like no place else (except maybe a certain corner in north Alabama). Well worth stopping for the Walk of Champions sculpture garden and the charming staff who are a kind of “Southern” that I thought had gone out of the world altogether.
dog sculpture_resized

Bird Dog Foundation, Grand Junction, TN: www.birddogfoundation.com
Square Books, Oxford, MS: http://www.squarebooks.com/
BTC Old Fashioned Grocery, Water Valley, MS: http://btcgrocery.com/
City Grocery, Oxford, MS: http://citygroceryonline.com/restaurant.php?city
Big Bad Breakfast, Oxford, MS: http://citygroceryonline.com/restaurant.php?bbb
Water Valley Casey Jones Museum, Water Valley, MS: http://www.caseyjonesmuseum.com/
Casey Jones Village, Jackson, TN: http://www.caseyjones.com/