“Wreck of the Old 97” is an old folk song which tells the story of a train wreck that occurred in 1903 near Danville, Virginia. The Old 97 was a Southern Railway mail train that was en route from Monroe, Virginia to Spencer, North Carolina. The train was running behind schedule, and after hearing orders from his managers, the engineer, Joseph A. “Steve” Broady, was trying to make up time by traveling at an excessive speed.
They gave him his orders in Monroe, Virginia
Saying, “Steve, you’re way behind time”
This is not the 38, it’s the Old 97
You must put her into Spencer on time
The song describes the disastrous consequences of this decision, as the train derailed and crashed, killing him and several other crew members. The lyrics paint a vivid picture of the chaos and tragedy that ensued.
He was going down grade, doing ninety miles an hour,
When his whistle began to scream;
They found him in the wreck, with his hand on the throttle.
He was scalded to death by the steam.
The song tells a story that is both specific to its time and place, and yet also speaks to broader truths about the human experience. Among many possible themes, it reminds us that overwork and pushing people or oneself too hard can have horrible results which actually are the opposite of what is desired.
We can all still learn lessons from this song today as similar issues caused the recent 2023 train derailment in Ohio when a roller bearing failed.
Cutting corners, overworking employees and trying to get the most out of equipment is not the best way to progress and accomplish goals. It wasn’t 120 years ago as told in the “Wreck in the Old 97” and it still isn’t the best way today.
Dangers of Overwork
When you work too much, it can lead to physical and mental exhaustion, which in turn can lead to a whole host of other health problems.
In addition to the physical toll that overworking can take, it can also have a negative impact on your mental health. It can cause you to feel anxious, stressed, or even depressed, as you struggle to keep up with the demands of your job.
Overworking can also have a negative impact on your relationships, as you may find yourself spending less time with loved ones and missing out on important milestones and events.
Despite all of these negative consequences, many people continue to overwork, often because they feel like they have no other choice. Maybe they feel like they need to prove themselves at work, or maybe they’re worried about losing their job if they don’t put in enough hours.
But the truth is, overworking is not sustainable, and it’s not healthy. It’s important to prioritize your health and well-being, and to set boundaries around your work so that you don’t burn out.
Overwork can lead to mistakes and those mistakes can grow exponentially worse if not addressed within the organizational culture. Especially when heavy machinery is involved.
At the end of the day, the most important thing is to listen to your body and your mind, and to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself. Because when you’re healthy and well-rested, you’re better able to show up for yourself and for those around you.
Keeping the song “Wreck of the Old 97” top of mind
The “Wreck of the Old 97” has been covered by many artists over the years, including Johnny Cash, Woody Guthrie, and Bob Dylan. Each rendition adds its own unique flavor to the song, while still preserving its core themes and emotional impact.
It’s important that we keep this song in our minds as a reminder do accomplish our tasks not in the fastest or the way that is most immediately profitable without taking safety into consideration. We must work hard the right way and the smart way.