Outrunning the Train
In the early 1900s, two interesting articles appeared in local newspapers about creatures who had managed to outrun the train.
On April 5, 1904, the Monroe Journal reported that ‘Red Buck’, “the auburn-haired youth who collects money and yarns for the Charlotte Observer had learned that “a hound owned by Dr. Wooten, the loose tongued hunter of Davidson College,” Fleet by name, “ran by the side of a Seaboard Air Line passenger train from Charlotte to Monroe, a distance of twenty-six miles…Fleet was tied by a long line to a post in the baggage car. When the train started he fell out, and the baggage-man, thinking that he was killed by the fall, gave him but little thought until Dr. Wooten came in just before the train stopped at Monroe to transfer his dogs to the Wilmington car. ‘Mister’ [he] said, ‘one of your dogs jumped out just after we left Charlotte and was killed. I couldn’t help it.’ Frantic with grief over the loss of Fleet, his best driving dog, the doctor grabbed the swinging line and gave it a sharp pull, but it did not come. The train slowed down for the station, and Dr. Wooten jumped out. What do you reckon he saw! There was old Fleet, as sound as a gold dollar, trotting on three legs, sniffing a hot box. Old Fleet is living today, but is so old and so deaf that he is no good. The Davidson hunters keep him to bring up the memories of the past.”
Two years later, Wilmington’s Semi-weekly Messenger published a similar article about a young mule. Trainmen on a train running from Winston Salem to Charlotte “saw a tiny mule, with head in the air and tail erect, coming down a lane, running for dear life toward the flying cars. ‘Stop my mule!’ shouted a man, who was in hot pursuit…Maud (for that was her name) had taken her place close to the cab, and was running to catch the engine, which was 40 cars ahead…The engineer, who had seen something of the commotion, looked back, saw Maud, and pulled his throttle wide open to go by the little beast and let her see her folly and return a wiser mule… But the engineer had reckoned without considering the old saying that a mule can run faster and longer before she is four weeks old than ever afterwards…Therefore…Maud tucked her head, bowed her back, kicked once and then settled herself for the greatest race ever ran by mortal mule…On and on the two went, with the honors in Maud’s favor. At Davidson, a number of students, who heard the whistle blow, had run down to see if any pretty girls were on board…As the little mule passed the youngsters in baggy trousers and dinky caps she turned sideways and kicked out twice, but never lost any time from the race…She had already gotten within 13 cars of her goal…But at the southern end of Davidson…she came to the side track at Charlie Grey’s oil mill and ran down that instead of sticking to the main line…The incident seemed to anger her, and instead of being discouraged she went to her task like a real soldier and ere long had regained her former position. As the train entered the town of Cornelius, Maud was going by cars like the fresh fox leaves the hound. Seeing this the engineer, fearing that Maud would try to cross in front of him, stopped the train to save her. The contest had been fair, and the mule had won…when the trained slowed down one of the … brakemen…climbed from the train, gathered Maud in his arms and dropped her in Pat Stough’s yard…About two hours later Mr. Tom Deaton, the owner of Maud, came down the road…When the news of the famous race was noised, everybody wanted to see Maud. For five miles she had outrun a fast freight…Many people…could not believe the story of it, but all doubts were dismissed when Mr. Charlie Knox and Dr. W.H. Wooten took one of their best old fox dogs and trailed the colt from the Deaton lot to the Stough yard. All minds were at rest.”
Nancy Griffith lived in Davidson from 1979 until 1989. After a career as an archives and special collections librarian, she retired to Davidson in 2015. She has published a number of books and articles on local history, and has just completed a history of the Ada Jenkins Center.