"If such a contest took place, it seems to me that it would have made the newspapers. " - Q
You might think so, but then consider that the location, if it was Dunnavant, was *really* out in the sticks at a time when Birmingham, 15 miles away, was still pretty small. Also consider that there are no surviving copies of several newspapers for dates that might have carried something about it. The local Shelby County newspapers pretty much neglected Dunnavant, which was relatively far from the centers of population of that county, being in the far north, near Leeds, itself not a very large village in Jefferson County. The Shelby County newspapers, as far as I have been able to peruse them, are remarkably silent on the construction of the C & W RR line through that county in 1886-87. More notice of that is found in the Birmingham newspapers, but even there articles on the C & W are few and far between. And think of this - would newspapers at that time and place be much interested in the games of common laborers, especially black ones? Oral reports tell us that contests among steel drivers were frequent, in the Birmingham area and elsewhere, that champions were highly regarded, and that betting on them was commonplace. I've looked at many pages of Birmingham newspapers for 1887-88 without spotting a single mention of any steel-driving contest.