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‘The birth of the Joe’ as told by Thomas Jobson, who once worked the rails

Archie Hayden of Hannibal shares a picture of a Hannibal and St. Joe Railroad steam engine, Number 30. The rail line between Hannibal and St. Joseph, Mo., was completed just prior to the start of the Civil War. The line played a key role in getting mail destined for the Pacific Coast to St. Joe, where it was picked up by the Pony Express.


In March 1857, Thomas Jobson left Ontario, Canada, leading a group of laborers to Hannibal, Missouri, the eastern terminus of the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad.

During the same decade, H.J. (Jack) Tisdale came to Hannibal, and once Jobson and his fellow laborers were finished with the construction, Tisdale went to work moving passengers and freight across Missouri via the newly completed rail line.

Many years have passed since these two pioneers made their contributions to the development of the lands west of the Mississippi River, but remnants of their stories survive. Those stories paint a picture of risk taking and bravery, on behalf of their nation.

In 1907, Thomas Jobson wrote his memories of the railroad’s move westward, in a story titled “The Birth of the Joe.” The story was published in several newspapers, including the Macon Republican, Macon, Mo., on March 23, 1907. It had been 50 years since Jobson had moved to Missouri. But his recollect of the people and circumstances of the past were as sharp as an arrow.

“The Hannibal and St. Joseph railroad was completed in 1859,” he wrote. “I am now writing fifty years later and the many changes in those years in the general condition of the country and the improvements in roadbed and rolling stock seem away ahead of what we anticipated in those days.

“The old 40 or 50 pound rail with a poorly constructed road bed of mostly yellow clay that with any rain became like a hog wallow into which the cross ties and track would often be buried out of sight. It was no unusual sight to see the track for hundreds of feet in the cuts buried in the clay and slush from 2 to 6 feet in depth, and the locomotives would, in passing through this mire, become thoroughly coated all over.

“It was no easy task in those days to handle a newly constructed road with no ballast for the track and very light equipment. Our cars were all 20,000 capacity and our engines could not handle more than eight to 10 loads to the train.”

Jobson recalled the earliest engineers on the H&St.Jo: A.D. Clarke, Jack Tisdale and Johnny Bills. They continued to keep people and commerce moving throughout the Civil War, despite the repeated attacks by rebel forces.

Tisdale at the throttle

H.J. (Jack) Tisdale was 27 in 1860, and his wife Lucy was just a year or two his junior. They lived mostly in South Hannibal, in the bustling blue-collar neighborhood to the east of what is now known as Missouri 79. It is known that they had at least one child: A son, George Tisdale, born circa 1864.

A story published in the Brookfield Gazette and reprinted in the Aug. 22, 1916 edition of the Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune, brought to memory an attack on the railroad in 1864, by a band of guerrillas, reportedly under the leadership of a man named Bill Anderson.

“Engineer Tisdale, it is said, was forced at the muzzle of a revolver to set fire to the passenger train.

Soldiers were sent out from Hannibal and a slight skirmish took place, but they arrived too late to prevent the entire destruction of the two trains. The freight train, that was loaded largely with hides, tallow, etc., made a mighty blaze. No lives were lost.”

Another serious incident with Tisdale as engineer took place in August 1870, near Monroe City. Assisting Tisdale in the steam engine was his fireman, Thomas Powers. Powers attempted to jump from the engine upon the wooden platform, which was wet and slippery. He fell backwards under the cars. He was bruised and received a fracture of one arm. Tisdale stayed with the fireman while the rest of the crew returned to Hannibal for assistance. With his wounds dressed, Powers was taken to the Globe House in Hannibal, where he made his home.

Payday was always a special occasion for railroaders. In 1875, the paymaster was Mr. Tandy, who was assisted by Mr. Remington. Tisdale was engineer on the pay train, and Mr. Cole was conductor. The dispatch of the pay train was noted in the Aug. 9, 1875 edition of the Hannibal Clipper.

One of the worst train wrecks in local history occurred in mid-March 1881. Tisdale was the engineer on a passenger train that left Hannibal and hit a broken rail one mile east of Bevier at 2:18 a.m. Several cars left the tracks, but injures were considered to be minor. The H&St.Jo dispatched a wrecker from Brookfield. A medical crew boarded the train as it left Brookfield. Tragedy struck when a 100-foot timber bridge gave way as the train crossed Brush Creek. A portion of the train fell into the ravine below, each car falling onto the next. Among those killed in the second wreck was Dr. Woods, the company’s surgeon.

The final rail tragedy to befall Jack Tisdale took place in May 1883. The St. Joseph Gazette Herald reported on May 26, 1883:

“Jack Tisdale, engineer of passenger train No. 3, Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad, was killed about five miles east of this city at 2 o’clock this morning. The evidence before the coroner’s jury this morning was as follows: Tisdale and the fireman were standing at opposite sides of the gangway, between the tender and cab looking for a hot box, and when the fireman raised up and turned around Tisdale was missing. The fireman immediately whistled on brakes, stopped the train and informed the conductor that the engineer was missing.”

The crew reversed the train’s route, and Tisdale’s body was found lying at the bottom of a ravine. He was 50 years old.

His widow continued to live on the South Side, working as a seamstress to make ends meet. She died in 1908, and his buried beside her husband at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Hannibal.


Thomas Jobson, who settled in Macon, was nostalgic in his remembrances of those who he worked beside during those pioneer days of railroading.

“In our memory we have a feeling of pride that we could live in a day to work alongside such men as manned the road in the sixties. Among the conductors was that prince of good fellows, Count J.S. Harris, and running opposite to him on old Numbers one and two, were Captain Cutler, Abe Hager and Charley Morse. The engineers were A.D. Clarke, Jack Tisdale and Johnny Bills. Coming on down the years we remember Jack Walsh, George and Charley Dimmick, Tom Clarke, Cy Stalh, conductors; Engineers, Mike Silk, Pap Smith, Ben Hales, John McCarthy and William Allshouse.

“It was A.D. Clark who occupied the cab of the old Missouri in pulling the fast mail in 1859 between Hannibal and St. Joseph to connect with the Pony Express for a fast transfer of mail to San Francisco on the Pacific Coast.”

He ended his remembrances with a short verse:

“We must soon follow and join the old friends. We cannot but hope that all will be well, and in the words of William Cullen Bryant's Thanatopsis, we will all be ready ‘To wrap the drapery of our couch about us And lie down to pleasant dreams.’”

Harmon J. (Jack) Tisdale is buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Hannibal, Mo.

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