The film opens with an overhead shot of the Illinois Central Railroad's sprawling railroad yard in the morning, where all the trains are fast asleep, all except Casey Jones's train, with No .2, an American 4-4-0: Casey Senior/Junior/Western Jones, Sr., which is slow asleep. The shot begins to focus on a single train and eventually cuts to a closeup of the cab window, where Casey is revealed to be sleeping in his engine's cab.
Doffing his bedclothes (he is fully dressed in blue overalls and a stereotypical engineer's cap underneath), he checks his watch and realizing that he is behind schedule, hurriedly readies his engine to depart. Mail is loaded aboard the train and with a toot on the whistle, Casey sets off at a dangerously high speed through the maze of switches and sidings, nearly t-boning two other trains in the process before making it safely out of the yard (much to the switchman's relief).
At first, the trip is uneventful and we see Casey relaxing in a rocking chair in front of the open firedoor, casually stoking it one piece of coal at a time as if it were a parlour stove. Further on, however, the weather turns nasty, flooding the tracks like "the bed of a creek" and all but swamping the train. Eight hours late, but nonetheless undaunted, Casey climbs up on the cab roof and uses his coal shovel as a paddle. Before long, he has cleared the flood and is on his way again.
No sooner is the train back up to full speed, though, then Casey is forced to bring it screeching to a halt: standing in the middle of the tracks grazing, is a large brown cow which finally moves aside after much shouting and whistle blowing on Casey's part.
Unfortunately, a new problem presents itself. A stereotypical villain with a black handlebar mustache has tied a lady to the tracks in front of Casey's train. Unwilling to waste any more time stopping, Casey rushes forward, stands on his engine's cowcatcher, and scoops up the terrified woman just seconds in the moment in which the train is about to run her over. The villain turns to the camera and exclaims theatrically, "Curses! Foiled again!" Casey is in such a hurry now, that he doesn't even stop to let her off, depositing her (rope and all) in the arms of a pleasantly surprised station master as he rushes past the next platform at full speed.
Hours later, night has fallen and Casey's engine is now steaming full-bore through a narrow, snow-covered mountain pass. As the train passes over a high trestle spanning a gorge however, another stereotypical villain who is "not on the level" nearly brings things to an explosive end. Once again undaunted by a seemingly impassable obstacle, Casey's engine now struggles, huffing and puffing, up the side of the gorge and continues on his way.
A short while later, the camera focuses on a backside shot of a group of armed men on horseback as they watch the train from up on a hillside in a desert. Casey is about to get his train attacked by train robbers! The next shot finds the whole gang inside the cab, brandishing their guns and knives menacingly. At first, Casey is so caught up in stoking the boiler, that he is oblivious to their presence. It is in the next moment that he accidentally picks up one of the bandits along with his coal shovel-full of coal that he finally notices the uninvited company when he nearly shovels one of the bandits into his engine's furnace. Even then, Casey is more annoyed by the distraction than anything else and begins to fight the train bandits, hitting them repeatedly with his coal shovel while continuing to stoke the boiler.
After quickly throwing the last of the would-be thieves off the train, Casey checks his watch and is horrified to discover that the train thieves have put him behind schedule once again. Determined to make up for lost time whatever the cost, he opens the throttle so wide that he actually rips the handle from its mount and throws it away.
The scenery outside quickly becomes a blur as the train travels faster and faster. Casey adds more coal to the furnace, and, when running out, also uses his coal shovel and rocking chair, until the ribbing on the engine's boiler exterior is forced off. Casey gives the engine some running repairs while the train roars down a hill.
Just a bit further away, while otherwise occupied, Casey doesn't notice that another train, a slow freight train, double-headed by a pair of 4-8-0 engines is coming toward him on the same track, although Casey is too busy fixing his engine's whistle-topped dome to notice. An elder engineer, with a corn-cob pipe in his mouth, who is piloting his front engine, upon seeing Casey's train coming toward him, screams 'Egad!' in fear, and blows the whistle when he continues to say 'E-e-egad!', just to let the others know that Casey's train is heading toward them like a bullet. The brake-man of Casey's train, upon seeing the double-headed slow freight train, gasps, climbs out of the caboose, and runs up to the engine to tell Casey about the oncoming train, but Casey can't hear the brake-man, who continues to warn about the other train, which is still approaching. As the other train approaches when the train speeds down the mountain, the conductor blows the whistle, and then fails to get the message through from Casey. As the conductor says 'So long.', he jumps off the train, and now in the next shot, a far away view from Casey's train, is still seen on the engine's roof in the next shot. The worker on the other train, upon seeing Casey's train, gasp and jump off their engines with their freight train unharmed and run for cover, and just as Casey sees the other train, he finally gasps 'Egad!' one more time, and the two trains collide with a humongous explosion.
Afterwards, we are taken to a station, presumably the one Casey is meant to terminate at, and, with Casey being late, the Porter fears the worst. Then, much to his joy and surprise, Casey rolls down the hill in the remains of his engine carrying a bag of mail.
A beaten up Casey then shows his watch with pride, it stating he is 'ON TIME-ALMOST'. And the Narrator says 'Next time, take the train!'
- Casey Jones
- Signal Man
Differences between the cartoon and real life
- The Brave Engineer depicts the wreck near Vaughan, Mississippi as a head-on collision with a train steaming in the opposite direction, in an Ozark-like mountain range. In the real accident, Jones' engine struck the rear end of a train which was stopped on the tracks due to a broken air line, and it did not occur in a mountain area.The accident takes place in broad daylight and clear conditions in the cartoon. The real life wreck occurred at night during a rain storm.The Brave Engineer ends with Casey looking a little beat-up after the wreck, but very much alive. In real life, Jones was critically injured and did not survive the accident.
- Casey's engine on the train in the cartoon is numbered 2 and an American Standard 4-4-0. In real life, especially on their fateful trip, Casey's real engine is numbered 382 and a Ten-Wheeler 4-6-0, for a replica of that engine, is currently on display at the Casey Jones US History Museum in Jackson, Tennessee, USA. Casey is depicted operating the engine single-handedly in the cartoon. He in real life has an African-American fireman, Simeon "Sim" Webb, who is with him before the crash in mere seconds.
- Like many classic cartoons produced by Disney and other studios, The Brave Engineer has recently been subject to US censorship editing in a controversial attempt to make it more "politically correct" in the US, by removing weapons such as knives and guns. In this case, a brief scene depicting train robbers brandishing knives and guns has been edited out.
Home video releases
- Walt Disney Cartoon Classics: Disney's Tall Tales
- Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities
- Disney's American Legends
- The scene where Casey is rushing through a tunnel at the end is mimicked in A Cowboy Needs A Horse.
- Casey's train is featured in the short Out of Scale as the model train Donald Duck rides in his train set.
- The end of the scene where Casey is leaving the railyard in a hurry, is mimicked in How to be a Detective, a Goofy Disney Cartoon.
- When the conductor runs up to the engine to tell Casey about the double-headed slow freight train, he fails to get the message through, and jumps off the train, and then in wide shot is shown still standing there on the engine's roof.
- The word "Egad!" is said multiple times throughout the short: when the train leaves the depot, when the rain has made him eight hours late, when Casey sees the damsel in distress, when he realizes something, when the train robbing bandits put him behind schedule, when another train is slowly approaching Casey, when an elder engineer sees Casey's train up ahead, when he blows the whistle in shock, when the brake-man fails to make Casey notice the other train, and finally when the two trains collide into each other.
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