The film opens with an overhead shot of a sprawling railroad yard in the morning, where all the trains are "fast asleep". The shot begins to focus on a single train with Johnny, an American Standard 4-4-0 (#2), where Casey is revealed to be "slow asleep" in his engine's cab. He quickly awakens and realizes that he is fully behind schedule and ends up hurriedly readying the engine to depart. Mail is loaded aboard the mail car on the train and with a toot on the whistle, Casey sets off at a 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 with the Narrator shouting loudly.
At first the trip is uneventful. Further on, however, the weather becomes nasty, flooding the tracks and all but swamping the entire train. Eight hours late, but nonetheless undaunted, Casey climbs up onto the cab roof and uses his coal shovel as a paddle. Before long, when the flood has cleared, Casey is on his way again.
No sooner has the train been back up to full speed than Casey is forced to bring it screeching to a halt: a large brown cow is standing in the middle of the tracks grazing. After much shouting and whistle blowing on Casey's part, the cow clears and the train speeds onward as Casey starts shoveling the coal into the furnace.
Yet another problem presents itself: a stereotypical villain with a black handlebar mustache has tied a lady to the tracks in front of Casey's train where Casey screams in terror. Unwilling to waste any more time stopping, Casey rushes forward, stands on Johnny's cowcatcher, and scoops up the terrified woman just seconds in the moment in which the train is about to run her over. Casey is in such a hurry now, that he doesn't have time to even stop to let her off, depositing her (rope and all) in the arms of a pleasantly surprised stationmaster as he rushes past the next platform at full speed.
Nightfall has come and Casey's engine is found steaming full-bore through a narrow, snow-covered mountain pass. As the train passes over a high trestle spanning a gorge however while Casey is stoking the boiler and blowing into the firebox to make the train go faster, another stereotypical villain nearly brings things to an explosive end. Once again undaunted, Casey's engine struggles, huffing and puffing, up the side of the gorge and continues on his way.
A short while later, a group of armed gangsters on horseback watch the train from up on a hillside in a desert and charge down toward the train. The gang is soon in the cab, brandishing their guns and knives menacingly at Casey, who, while shoveling coal into the furnace, is oblivious to their very presence. It is in the next moment that he accidentally picks up one of the bandits standing on his shovel-full of coal that he finally notices the uninvited company for almost shoveling one into the engine's furnace. Even then, Casey is extremely annoyed by this new distraction than anything else, and begins to fight the train bandits, hitting them repeatedly with his shovel, while continuing to stoke the boiler with coal from the coal tender. After quickly throwing the last of the would-be thieves away from the train, Casey and his train continue onward when Casey checks his watch and realizes that he is put way behind schedule with the thugs. 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 night time changes to day as the train speeds, and the scenery outside quickly becomes a blur as the train travels faster and faster. When running out of coal, Casey throws in his shovel and rocking chair, and soon a myriad of structural problems arise which Casey addresses with frenzied skill and speed and bravely gives Johnny some running while the train is roaring down a hill.
While otherwise occupied, Casey doesn't notice that another train, a slow freight train, double-headed by Zeb and Zeek, a pair of 4-8-0 tender engines, (#77 and 5) is coming toward him on the very same track in the opposite direction. Casey is blind to anything but his repairs and is too busy fixing the dome to take notice, and as the other train approaches him, Casey's engine's dome falls off and is fitted back by the brave engineer. The other engineer, an elder one, with a corn-cob pipe in his mouth, even on spying Casey's train, and in fear of Casey's blind and furious approach, screams in fear, and blows Zeb's whistle to alert the others that Casey's train is heading toward them like a bullet in shock. The brake-man, upon seeing the double-headed slow freight train, gasps, climbs out of the caboose, and runs up over the mail car, toward Johnny to warn Casey about the oncoming train, but Casey can't hear him. As the other train approaches, the brake-man blows the whistle, but Casey scoffs 'So what?' As the conductor says 'So long,' he jumps off the train, and in the far away next shot, a view from Casey's train, he is back on the train and is shown still standing there on Johnny's roof. The workers of the double header, who are approaching on their other train, all gasp in terror, and quickly abandon their train as well by jumping out of Zeb and Zeek's cabs, and run for cover, and just as Casey now notices, he finally yelps in surprise before the two trains begin to collide with a violent chain reaction of large explosions in a cloud of black smoke.
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 Johnny carrying a bag of mail. A beaten-up Casey then shows his watch with pride, which states he is 'ON TIME—ALMOST'. And the Narrator says 'Next time, take the train!'
- Casey Jones
- Mrs. Jones (doesn't speak)
- Signal Man
- Jerry Colonna - Narrator, Casey Jones
- The King's Men - Singers
Differences between the cartoon and real life
- The Brave Engineer depicts the wreck near Vaughan, Mississippi as a head-on collision with Casey's train steaming one way and another train steaming the other way, in an Ozark-like mountain range. In the real accident, Jones' engine had struck the rear end of a train which was stopped on the tracks due to a broken air line, and didn't 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.
- The cartoon shows that Johnny is carrying the number 2, and being an old American Standard 4-4-0, or an American type steam locomotive. Such steam trains of this most common wheel arrangement were used on American railroads during the 1800s and 1830s until 1928, and were given the name "American" in 1872, because of all the work they did on every railroad in the United States. In reality, since his real engine, on the fateful trip, was number 382, a Ten-Wheeler 4-6-0, Clinchfield Railroad 4-6-0 #99, which is dolled up as No. 382, is currently on display at the Casey Jones Home & Railroad Museum in Jackson, Tennessee.
- The two other locomotives, that are double-heading a slow freight train toward Casey, are Zeb and Zeek, a pair of Mastodon 4-8-0 engines numbers 77 and 5. And when the workers jump off the train and run for cover, Casey, still fixing his engine, crashes his train into the oncoming train with a large explosion and in a cloud of black smoke.
- Casey is depicted operating the engine single-handedly in the cartoon. The real-life Casey Jones had an African-American fireman, Simeon "Sim" Webb, who was with him until mere seconds before the crash and was not in the 1950 cartoon.
- These types of engines, that Casey pilots, are very different and have different wheel arrangements, such as the 4-6-0s having ten wheels (four leading, six driving wheels, and no trailing wheels), and the 4-4-0s having eight wheels (four leading, four driving wheels, and no trailing wheels).
- 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.
- Disneyland, episode #4.2: "Four Fabulous Characters"
- The Mouse Factory, episode #2.18: "Trains"
- American Folk Heroes
- Disney's Rootin' Tootin' Roundup
- Mickey's Mouse Tracks, episode #38
- Donald's Quack Attack, episode #87
- Sing Me a Story with Belle: "Stick To It (Don't Give Up)"
- The Ink and Paint Club, episode #1.57: "From Zero to Hero"
- 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.
- "Egad" was a catchphrase of Colonna's radio alter ego Professor Colonna on The Bob Hope Show.
- Portions of this cartoon were included in the DTV music video version of "Friendship Train" by Gladys Knight and the Pips (which was released on the home video compilation, DTV: Rock, Rhythm & Blues), as well as the Disney Sing Along Songs release of "Casey, Jr." (as seen on Disney Sing Along Songs: Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah).
- On The Disney Channel, one of the Mickey Mouse-themed Disney Channel IDs of the 1980s and '90s shows Mickey taking a ride on a Mr. Toad-style dark ride, themed to trains and the Old West, which is called "The Brave Engineer".
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