Cope, one of the most efficient locomotive engineers in the employ
of the Nashville & Chattanooga railroad, and a highly respected
citizen of Tracy City was born in Grundy county, May 8, 1861, and
is a son of W. M. and Pinney (Sanders) Cope…
Only one of his brothers (was) involved in the railway and that
was J.P., a railway fireman, who was deceased prior to the writing
of these events…
When a boy, Matt Cope commenced working on a switch engine as fireman,
later was brakeman, but afterward returned to firing, and when the
Nashville & Chattanooga railroad bought the Tracy City branch
from the Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad Company, he became
an engineer, and is still serving in that capacity, being one of
their most faithful and trusted employees….
Fraternally Mr. Cope belongs to the Knights of Pythias, the Royal
Arcanum and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers.
(From the Compendium of Local Biography, Grundy County, Tennessee.
Compendium Biographies written 1898.)
Matt Cope Dead
Passes Away Peacefully
Friday Afternoon at 12:50 O’clock
Promotion came to him rapidly, however on account of his efficiency
and adaptability to the work, and while still little more that a
boy, he became an engineer. When the TCI&RR Co. sold out to
the NC&StL Ry, Mr. Cope continued in the service and was one
of the most trusted and competent men in the employ of that company
until the end of his working life, which was on March 14,1916, when,
on account of declining health, he (was) forced to leave his position.
He was placed on the retired list January 1st, 1917
During his long tenure of service as an Engineer, Mr. Cope witnessed
the passing of many of the old timers of the Tracy City Branch,
some of whom died peacefully in their beds, others of whom were
killed in the course of duty. Geo. Colyar, who died in 1908, was,
for many years his conductor; William Bolton, killed at the Depot
platform, March 1, 1877, was a lifelong friend and co-worker with
Mr. Cope, as were also James Rust, Ben Finch, Elisha Hardin, Jim
Wilson, John Sansom and many other of the older railroad men who
have gone before. During his long career as an engineer Mr. Cope
had numerous close calls for his life but was never seriously injured
and it is a matter of note among the few survivors of the early
days that, no matter what the emergency, he always stuck to his
cab. And through it all, he was modest and unassuming, kindly and
genial and “on the square” with everyone and these are
some of characteristics, which endeared him to the hearts of all.
He will be sadly missed by his family and his friends all along
the Tracy City Branch but it is sweet solace to know that he was
a Christian, did his life’s work well and was ready to go.
And his soul is mounting higher,
To the home where ‘twill abide.
Like an engine, surely, strongly,
Going up the mountain side.
In the faraway days of his early experiences, the life of a railroad
man on the Tracy City Branch was full of an eminent and ever-present
peril. The rails were of iron and easy to break. The engines, small
unstable affairs, caricatures of the huge, finely equipped moguls
of today, were prone to the eccentric tricks of jumping the track,
turning over and any other unexpected thing. Air, as applied to
cars, was unknown then and the safety of the trains on the precipitous
grades of Cumberland Mountain depended solely upon the use of steam
and the hand brakes. The cars of less than half the capacity of
those in use now, were coupled together with link and pin.
* * *
One dark rainy winter night, a train of coal cars left the Tracy
City yard with Mr. Cope in the cab of Engine number 93. The train
proceeded to a point beyond Sewanee without mishap, where a wreck
occurred. The train was pieced together and the downward journey
resumed. The brake rigging had been stripped and the engine was
held closely to the train to ease it down the heavy grades. Four
brakemen, helpless with broken brakes, were scattered over the train.
The conductor, Jim Simpson and fireman, Levi Sitz, were in the cab
of the engine with Matt Cope. The descent was being made smoothly
it seemed, when some member off the crew discovered the head car
of the train was about three car lengths from the engine. Matt Cope
tried to regain his position against the train and the engine received
a jolt, which loosened everything that was not already loose. The
engineer realized then that their only hope was to beat the train
down the mountain. He put on all steam. Rushing, roaring behind
him was that mass of iron and wood and coal. There was certain death
behind, if overtaken, and ahead of him there was – he knew
not what. But it was a chance and he took it. There were moments
when he could have slowed for an instant and jumped to safety but
jumping was the one thing, probably, of which he did not think.
There were lives in his hands and company property so he gripped
the throttle and stuck. The engine reached the valley and the flat
tract a little in advance of the pursuing train… There might
have been some luck mixed in with the adventure; certainly there
was a large element of nerve, and maybe a Being greater than all
was watching the race from out of the darkness above. In any event,
several old-timers in Cowan recollect that the little old “No
93” went through that station, chased by its own train, at
a rate of speed never dared by No’s 98 or 99. Mr. Cope did
not stop at the depot, as was customary. He did not even hesitate.
But at a point a mile or so beyond, out on the main line toward
Decherd, he stopped, backed up on the now-mollified train and pushed
it into Cowan. This instance is only typical of the many such escapes
experienced and lived through by Mr. Cope.
(Taken from a newspaper clipping; no name or date -- submitted
by Stacy Burgos)
* * *
The following item was taken from the March 15, 1917, edition
of Mrs. Grundy (the name of the news paper) from the files of William
Ray Turner and reprinted in the Grundy County Herald, date unknown.
Funeral Service for Mr. Matt Cope, Retired Engineer for
the NC&StL Railway
Mr. Cope, age 55, a veteran engineer of the NC&StL Railway
died at his home in Tracy City, Friday afternoon March 9, 1917,
at 12:50 o’clock surrounded by the members of his immediate
family. His death came after a lingering illness of many months
and was from a complication of diseases involving stomach and intestines.
Mr. Cope was a member of the Episcopal Church and the funeral ceremony
was conducted by Rev. Boyd, rector of the Tracy City Episcopal Church.
The brief and impressive burial service of that church was said
at home and at the gave Sunday afternoon. The floral offerings were
profuse and splendid. Beautiful wreathes of all-white flowers literally
covered the grave. These were given by railroad men, the loges of
which he was a member, and friends. A design from the Brotherhood
of Railroaders, bore the initials “B. L. E.” in gold.
The deceased was an honored member of various lodges. He belonged
to the B. L. E., R. A., I.O.O.F. and K. of P.
A Special train was run up form Cowan Sunday in his honor, and
it was crowded to its full capacity. The active pall bearers at
the funeral were six locomotive engineers. They were: Messers I.
J. and S. O. Kinningham and J. A. Porter (retired) of Cowan, and
Messers T. J. Crick, G. B. Marler and W. H. Eller, of Tracy City.
Those honorary were selected from different lodges of which he was
a member. They were: Messers Louie Hassler, Henry Schild, T. B.
Roddy, Ed Roberson, Dallas Hargis and Thos. Weaver.
Mr. Cope is survived by his widow, Mrs. Mollie Heffner Cope, and
two daughters, Miss Wilcie of Tracy City, and Mrs. Murray Bradley
of Brewton, Ala; a grandson, Raymond Bobo, and Brother, Amos, of
Tracy City and brother Harris Cope of Sequatchie Valley.
A floral offering in the form of an engine driving wheel, emblematic
of his trade, and tendered by the Nashville Brotherhood of Locomotive
Engineers, was withheld on account of a flow in the design, a spoke
being broken. This was to be placed upon the grave at a later date.
Submitted by James Bell Jr.