The Steel Drivin’ Man
Storytelling, banjo pickin’, and river games are all part of the 17th annual John Henry Days, celebrating Talcott’s most cherished legend.
(page 1 of 2)
“John Henry, he drove 15 feet
The steam drill only made nine
But he hammered so hard that he broke his po’ heart
And he laid down his hammer and he died,
They took John Henry to the graveyard
And they buried him in the sand
And every locomotive comes a roaring by, says ‘There lies a steel driving man.’”
John Henry may have died more than a century ago, but every year he comes back to life as part of John Henry Days in the small town of Talcott in Summers County.
Talcott has a population of a little more than 600 people, but come July, thousands of people fill the streets in celebration of John Henry, whose story dates back more than 100 years to when he helped build the town.
This summer, the John Henry Days festival will again transform Talcott as families and neighbors reunite and children run back and forth along the river from July 13 to 15, 2012. Mark your calendar, as friendly residents welcome visitors to gather ’round for old-time railroad songs and games and to enjoy the many food and craft vendors.
Besides funnel cake, what brings so many people out each summer? The legend of the man himself, of course. “The community looks up to John Henry. He’s a very important part of our history,” says Dolores Moorman, volunteer and treasurer of the John Henry Days committee.
So the story goes, John Henry was a slave who worked on the C&O Railroad in the 1870s, says committee president Bill Dillon. He was 6-foot-2 and weighed 200 pounds. People say John Henry was the best man on the job, which was driving steel by hand, with nothing but a hammer and a steel rod. His story begins when workers found themselves stuck at Big Bend Mountain while building the railroad. The mountain was too tall and wide to go around, so a one-mile-long tunnel was cut through the mountain instead. Steel had to be driven into hard rock—a dangerous and laborious job, Bill says. When the drill company introduced the steam drill, John Henry was reluctant to let a machine take his job. “A $100 wager was made between John Henry and the drill company to see who could drive more steel,” Bill says.