John Henry


“John Henry.  Back in the railroad days, railroads were king, and that’s how you would get around the country, and um, and ya know, so railroad workers were really celebrated and there’s this one huuuge guy who could, um, drive a railroad tie, ya know how you have to put the pins in the railroad tie?  His name was John Henry, and um, he was huge, and soo strong, and he could drive railroad ties faster than anybody– he was legendary for doing that.  And um, so, but with time, machinery caught up and technology and everything, and a steam driver was made and everybody was like, “Ohh nobody can beat John Henry.  So I don’t care what kinda machine you make, he is just amazing.”  And he was like, “I’m not gonna let any machine beat me.”  And so he, um, they had a contest, they brought the steam tie driver out, and they went right alongside each other, steam driver and John Henry, and um, it was crazzy, never seen anyone work as hard as John Henry.  And he, uh, just kept drivin’ em in with his huuge sledge hammer, just one after the other, he could do it in one hit, ya know just drive the whole tie down in one hit.  And he, uh, he beat the steam– he beat the contest, he beat the steam driver.  And I guess he was a real guy, but I guess it’s a legend that he beat the, uh, the machine, the steam driver.  But he worked so hard, sweated so much, put so much out of uh– just gave his whole self to beatin’ the steam driver that he, he had a heart attack.  Just too much for his heart.  And he died.  But everyone was so impressed cause he did beat him, he did beat the steam driver.  I think they made a statue, I always heard the story, I’m sure there’s books and things out there.”





This was told to me by my dad’s buddy, Evan Rennie.  I had actually heard this story when I was young, but it was nice to get a refresher.  This tale follows the track of a typical legend.  The main figure possesses a mythic power (strength in this case) and is determined to succeed.  I thought John Henry’s death at the end of the tale presented an interesting twist.  If anything, his death helps grow the legend even more.  He went out doing what he loved to do: driving railroad ties.