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Casey remembers "The Great Train Wreck" of 1973 (photos courtesy of Melva)

The plan was simple:  A cherry picker would set up at the far end of main street, where the L&N Railroad line crossed Kingston Springs' main thoroughfare. The cameraman would be hoisted by the cherry picker, rented from a Nashville tree service, thirty feet above the street.  From the other end of the street, the citizens of Kingston Springs would march behind Vince, armed with his guitar, while they all sang in unison to the chorus of God Save Kingston Springs..."Detroit is damned, Chicago's gone, Cleveland baby, bye-bye, so long, the L.A. Freeway ain't the way and it ain't free..."  Vince had carefully copied and printed sheets of lyrics, just to remind the folks what they were singing and why they were singing.

It was to be our grand finale to "The Kingston Springs Suite"; one that would be remembered.  The morning was crisp and sunny in early October,  still hanging onto summer's last fling.  I had risen early at my new honeymoon house on 31st Avenue in Nashville, where my bride, Beth and I, had moved after our September wedding in Vince and Melva's front yard.  In keeping with our "creative method", before leaving Nashville that morning,  I sampled several licks of what they called "strawberry mescaline" (more likely LSD mixed with strawberry Kool-Aid).  By the time we hit the interstate, the affects were coming on, and by the time Beth and I reached the outskirts of Kingston Springs, the drug was in full bloom, adding a beauty to the Harpeth Valley unlike any I had ever seen.

A bright sheen covered the town as the morning fog lifted off the October dew, and the trees wore their brightest clothing for this special day of filming in Kingston Springs.  We had waited two years for this, and the anticipation was obvious in Vince as I pulled into his driveway promptly at 9 a.m. and Vince hurriedly handed me a clipboard with a schedule of the morning's events. The crowd had grown close to a hundred people by 9:15, milling around in front of the Oakley's grocery store and the filling station at the end of Main.  In spite of so many past obstacles, Vince and I were finally reaching a milestone with the Suite.  Armed with the townspeople on film, Vince would finally be able to bring Kingston Springs to every performance of the Suite.  For myself, it was with a certain amount of relief, that we gathered in Kingston Springs that morning to implement the last phase of our master plan.  In our mind the filming was already complete.  With the cherry-picker firmly in place on the railroad tracks at the end of main street, Vince lined up the local citizens, all there and all ready to become part of this historic movie. Though we were shooting what today would be known as a video, the folks of Kingston Springs regarded our filming as a full blown "movie",  and Vince did nothing to dispel that idea. Mr. Newsome, "Uncle Soul",  was there, bringing up the rear with his wagon and team of horses.  There were good ol' boys Bobby Benfield and Tommy Dolton, Robert and Virginia Harris with the Kingston Cardinals; Mr. Sam, the Railroad Man; Nana Oakley, ready for their cameo during the choruses, "Detroit is damned, Chicago's gone, Cleveland baby, bye bye, so long...!" Mr. Beard sat on the porch of his long closed general store at the end of main street, choosing his century old place as overseer  of this Kingston Springs kingdom.  Everything was in place for this perfect beginning of the end to "The Kingston Springs Suite".   Filming would begin Main street at 10 a.m.  The buildings and citizens of Kingston Springs had never been brighter.  The ghosts of days gone by, of the old hot springs, the hotel, the blue and gray, Cherokee braves, and the echo of every songwriter who ever graced Vince's front yard, swirled through Kingston Springs and through my mind.  The "pink mescaline" had put me in such a relaxed mood, even the overly officious directions of Vince, armed with a clip board and song lyrics, couldn't put a damper on the excitement we all felt.  This would be Kingston Springs' finest moment, caught on film forever for posterity to proclaim, "We were here...!"

At 9:48, from my strategic position in front of Oakley's Grocery, I noticed a sudden change come over this crowd of Kingston Spring's finest. Acting as one being, the crowd, not twenty-five yards from the L&N railroad tracks and the cinematographer's camera and tripod, grew silent and their stare looked off into the distance, trying to capture a silent sound and place it here, on the asphalt of Main Street.  Like the thousand year old instinct of a canine, their ears picked up a distant sound, and like the wolf, their heads all turned to the West at the same time.

Following their eyes and ears I quickly realized the focus of their gaze.  Everyday, since the beginning of their earthly time here in Kingston Springs, they had heard the L&N freightliner from Memphis to Nashville, highball past the old civil war embankments, around the curve and roar through town at exactly 10 A.M.  It had become a part of their bodily clock to avoid the tracks during this time.  They had heard the sound of this L&N monster round the curve into town a thousand times before, but never with a truck blocking the tracks at main street. As the crowd  quickly focused on the sound, someone shouted, "Get that camera guy off the cherry picker!" The driver of the cherry-picker, a Kingston Springs native who worked for a tree trimming service, jumped back into the cab of the truck and quickly lowered the "crow's nest"., allowing the cameraman to make a hasty escape away from the tracks." Move the truck," screamed Vince, wildly waving his clipboard, as the driver tried in vain to release the truck, helplessly anchored into the asphalt by balancing forks. In a frightening moment  the L&N freight was rounding the curve for its full speed assault on the Kingston Springs Crossing.  Someone in the crowd hollered, "Jump", and the terrified driver dove from the cab and sprinted for the safely of the crowd.  Round the curve the L & N engineer was greeted by the sight of the cherry-picker, smack dab in the middle of the tracks, with a crowd of people lined up on the right. The engineer, in a desperate attempt to stave off the oncoming accident, hit his brakes and whistle at the same time. The shrill sound of the railroad air horns mixed with the grinding of steel brakes on steel tracks shattered the peace of the Kingston Springs morning, and in my LSD state of mind, with clipboard in hand, time slowed down to less than a minuscule crawl.  In slower than slow motion, the crowd drew a communal breath as thousands of tons of railroad engine, cars, and freight, hurtled down the track and met and became one with a green machine on the main street of Kingston Springs.  Like a giant howling canine, the L&N Diesel, mounted the little dog of a cherry picker against it's will. The engine lifted the fluorescent green machine off the asphalt and on it's diesel nose, as the shiny green machine combusted into a thousand pieces of steel and fiberglass right before the timeless eyes of Kingston Springs, Tennessee. The crowd stood transfixed not twenty yards from the tracks, as silent witnesses to the L&N freightliner full of goods, bound for the East coast, joining the cherry-picker, in writing the final verse to "God Save Kinston Springs". 

In a matter of a few exploding seconds, tons of freight train picked up the cherry picker, and in a cloud of smoke and fluorescent green plastic,  blew it a hundred yards down the track; coming to rest just yards from the Harpeth River Railroad Bridge. At the very spot of impact there remained, not ten yards from the tracks, the revered camera, loaded on it's tripod, untouched by the mayhem that had just occurred. The Nashville television stations and the Tennessean and Banner newspapers would describe the accident as "..a major derailment...a disruption of Eastern Seaboard bound freight.....a loss that could exceed a hundred thousand dollars in produce loss and spoilage."  For Vince and Casey, it felt like the voice of God speaking..."And so ends the Kingston Springs Suite."  We had no answer to God's voice.  For once, Vince had no answer.  All the clipboards, guitars, and pills in Nashville, couldn't rescue "The Great Train Wreck", but like everything else that Vince Matthews attempted, The Kingston Springs Suite was a big dream and it's final scene was bigger than life.                                                                                                                     

Jim Casey 2015