My Dad Was Killed in a Car Train Accident
Yes. That is the actual image of the car train accident that claimed three coaches lives in 1965 on the third weekend in October
On the third weekend in October 1965 my dad Bill Majors was killed in a car train accident along with Bob Jones and Charlie Rash. All three men were coaches for the University of Tennessee football team. The upstart Tennessee team had just tied the defending national champion Alabama two days earlier.
Our house was no more than two to three hundred yards from the railroad track that runs behind West Town Mall and into the city. Dad was picked up last in a carpool agreement the coaches used because owning two cars was difficult for men on a coaches salary in 1965. My mother Lynnie needed the station wagon dad bought partially with a signing bonus he received from the Buffalo Bills.
When I coached youth football with the Frank R. Mullins Youth Football league, I ended up coaching the son of the last person to see my dad alive. He was a paper boy who would see dad at the mailbox waiting on a ride. They usually spoke as dad glimpsed at today’s news and smoked on a cigarette. Godwinks like this happen routinely to me here in the south. He said he heard the news the next day and gasped at how the men were killed that morning, his days and thoughts where shattered. He remembered my dad’s kindness and crossed the tracks on his bicycle confused many more days reaching for a better life on early Knoxville TN mornings. Rain or shine.
My dad is literally one of the best looking men I’ve ever seen in my life. Most of what I have are pictures. Memories of my dad from a 3-year-old’s mind who’s been on too many hazy roads are non-existent. I’m in the middle of my fifth decade and can barely remember why I walked into a room many days. Certainly there must be some ram memory limit that goes with drinking, concussing and what’s interesting enough to remember. The brain is only so big. Huge holes of my memory are suddenly created then miraculously refilled at a later, less convenient time and others are just plum lost forever.
Uncle Larry told a few stories about how he drew strength from his older brother Bill and about how Bill carried himself. Bill told Larry to keep your fingers and nails clean and to read the newspaper so he could speak with intelligence about current events in crowds. Do not show up early for non-official game or event. No. Show up just in time or a little late, pressed and dressed to impress. Then you stroll across the front, just so, and find a seat not to far from the front near the end of the runway. There were other things uncle Larry told me. I just can’t remember them and some of these memories may have defects.
The car train accident was considered a state tragedy as the team, school and state tried to grip the reality of three dead men leaving behind seven fatherless boys, three widows and a dazed ass kicking football team. I know this because when I turned 18, I got too much money for an lad my age. The state set up a trust fund that yielded 60,000 for me in 1980 money.
My dad was just 26 years old when life ceased for him. His dad, Shirley Majors was never the same after the accident many people have commented. Coach Dickey wasn’t sure if the TN Football team should or could play the next game against Houston in TX not far from Bob Jones hometown.
Here’s the thing. Football is the untidy game of grit, wits and collision played and coached by intense people who are entitled to wager the effort they worked so recklessly hard for. What about the Houston team, their coaches, players and fans that paid good money to see a good game?
Mother told me that coach Dickey asked my grandfather if he thought the game should be called off. My grandfather who was broken more than anyone because his chosen child was dead, answered “Your not asking me are you?” Shirley Inman Majors or Grandmaj was head coach of the Sewanee Tigers at the time. His input was considered crucial in such a dreadful circumstance. There was no answer. Let’s play ball.
My mother remarried not too long after the accident to a home town Kingsport TN man Lynn Tunnell. He was a ex-life guard / marine with a chemical degree from UT. His skill set got him a job with Eastman Chemicals in Kingsport which hauled us up North for a while until he landed a job in Dalton GA. Dalton had carpet and chemicals that color them. Dad got good in sales and we made our home there. My new dad was ramrod straight like Grandmaj and I was a trouble maker for some reason.
No one talked much about the TN accident in Dalton and I never really thought about it much as a child. It’s like no one ever says your name after you die. Except when we went to Grandmaj and Grandmere’s to spend the week or weekend. There were reminders in that house on the walls and even a bust of Bill that was used to make the real bust UT displayed on campus.
It was very weird seeing my dad’s head on a stand in Grandmaj and Grandmere’s Sewanee University home. I stared at that head all the time when I was in Sewanee. There were no pictures of the car train accident. There were football’s, jerseys, pictures and my dad’s head on a stand. Erie!
Then there was the trophy case in Volunteer Hall that had a picture of the three dad’s that died with some words below it. We went to TN ball games to see my uncle Bob play quite often. Back in the 70’s, Volunteer Hall was the football players dormitory and housed the basketball gymnasium. My dad had season tickets to UT football games and still does.
I found myself staring into that trophy case every time I got a chance. Then we would go home and no body would say anything. It’s not like anyone should say anything, It was just weird to look at this enshrined man who I never really knew and wonder. What does death mean? Who was my dad? What would it be like to be with him now?
Bill’s older brother Joe had recently graduated law school at Vanderbilt University and thought he should try to get compensation from the Railroad companies. The train was running late and awfully fast through a dimly marked and untrimmed crossing.
Turns out the railroad tracks were there first, so most roads are built over existing railroad tracks, like the crossing at Cessna Dr in Knoxville. It’s an Eminent Domain like thing without the taking your land part. The rail road tracks were there first and the city ran pavement across existing track not visa a versa. The rail road companies argued that it’s the public’s duty to keep the crossing safe. Uncle Joe did the best he could with a terrible situation.
Many un-named people have died in similar way to my dad and his fellow coaches. So many, that now, trains are allowed to go no more than 45 miles per hour through cities and most busy tracks have automatic crossing guards. There are still plenty of cross marked crossings but most have little traffic either by the trains or cars. Stop, look and roll down your windows when crossing these tracks. Cab drivers and buses do.
My mother faced an immediate and dim reality. She had married an assistant college football who made a survivable income but nothing more and now even that was gone. Going home and riding over those rail road tracks every day lonely and desperate needed a respite. So we took a trip to Texas to see her sister.
What happened there was retold to me by her sister when I got older. I was probably 16 or 18 years old, when Aunt Toby said that it broke her heart to see me cry myself to sleep every night asking where my daddy was and when was he coming home. Mother could only muster “He’s not coming home anymore son.” My mother never told me my father had been killed in a car train accident.
There’s no instruction book for dealing with unexpected messy death or raising a child in lieu of. What would you do? Should something different or better have been done?
You’ve been married for four years to a famous football name son and he’s been killed on the way to work where he barely makes a living wage. What book is there on that? I can’t fault my mother but I do know this affected my psyche because it’s so easy to see how happy I was when with my dad. The few pictures in existence of us together show a very happy boy.
Not many weeks or months before the accident, my dad had returned money he borrowed from his parents for a down payment to buy that house on Cessna Rd. I’d venture a guess that Daddy Bill didn’t like those railroad tracks being so close to his children and wife.
When my dad got cut by the Buffalo Bills, he had to find a way to support his family. He was well known and respected around Knoxville and people thought he would be good selling insurance. When your selling something like insurance, you have to be a believer, or better yet, a subscriber yourself. So dad took out insurance on himself and there was some money for us to live on when he passed.
Someone said to me once that dad never really liked selling insurance and soon found himself coaching on the University of Tennessee sidelines. The job didn’t pay so well, but he was happy and comfortable doing his job. Plus, he thought, like any decent coach does, that he would move up the ranks and be a head coach someday making more money. The Buffalo Bills called my dad back up after injuries caused a hole in the roster. Mother said he turned them down flatly remarking that he would never put himself into that situation again. Getting cut by a pro football team is a particularly cold blooded variant of the sport.
Later my wife decided I needed life insurance to support her and the children if I were killed. I turned her down flat more than once. The reason might seem crazy but planning for my death is not an option. I will not plan for my death. My dad did, and was dead not more than year or so later.
The best place to put “my dad was killed in a car train accident” is: My father payed the ultimate price so I could live. That’s the only place I can put the accident and the fact that I have had more than a few brushes with death on hazy roads.
I will live a long life and die after there is nothing for me to do. Matter of a fact, so will my children and the mother of my children. I refused to check organ donor for my renewed drivers license, just days ago. My organs won’t be worth having. I’m not gonna die in a car and planning death in any way is not gonna happen.
Well. Maybe when I get really old.
My Dad Was Killed in a Car Train Accident
updated 8.6.17 3.31pm