"Engine One-Forty-Three" is a ballad in the tradition of early American train wreck songs, based on the true story of the wreck of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway's Fast Flying Virginian (FFV) near Hinton, West Virginia on 23 October 1890. The train was on its way to Clifton Forge, Virginia, when it hit a rock slide. Early accounts record that the engineer, George Alley, remained on the train to try to slow it and save the lives of its passengers. Alley died at the scene, but the fireman is said to have jumped to safety. The ballad elaborates the story, including a mother (not alive at the time of the wreck), excessive speed (a popular theme in train wreck songs), and a motive (a prior delay, and the engineer's wish to make up time on a train with a reputation for swiftness).
The author of the song is unknown, but is attributed amongst others to a worker at the Hinton rail yard and to a C&O engineer. The best-known version of the song was written down by A. P. Carter and recorded by the Carter Family either (or both) in 1927 (released on Victor 40089B (Smithsonian Collection of American Folk Music - Folkways) and/or February 15, 1929, released in 2009 on JSP Records 2001, JSPCD7701B. However, these may be the same recording. It is also available on the 1993 Rounder compilation My Clinch Mountain Home: Their Complete Victor Recordings (1928–1929). It is also the last song recorded by country music singer Johnny Cash in its entirety, according to his son John Carter Cash.  Cash performed the song for the tribute albumThe Unbroken Circle - The Musical Heritage of the Carter Family, released in 2004. Cash recorded the song on August 21, 2003, only two weeks before his death.
^ abFlippo, Chet (August 19, 2004), Nashville Skyline: Carter Family Riches Recalled in The Unbroken Circle, Country Music Television (CMT), Ironically, John Carter Cash produced the last sessions his parents recorded. "Engine One-Forty-Three," the last song Cash recorded, appears here and was one of the first the Carter Family learned. When A.P. fell in love with 16-year-old Sara Dougherty, she was supposedly singing "Engine One-Forty-Three," and he happened to overhear her and was enchanted by her voice.