I have posted the following to BALLAD-L.
In John Harrington Cox's 1919 JAF article, "John Hardy," he quotes ex-Governor (1893-1897) William. A MacCorkle (1857-1930) (*not* "McCorkle," which has become the norm in folklore publications, an endless repetition of an error in Cox's article) from a 1916 letter written by the latter to H. S. Green (Charleston, WV):
"He [John Hardy] was a steel-driver, and was famous in the beginning of the building of the C. & O. Railroad. He was also a steel-driver in the beginning of the extension of the N. & W. Railroad. It was about 1872 that he was in this section."
The Norfolk & Western had several extensions. One, the Clinch Valley Extension from Bluefield to Norton, VA, was begun in 1887 and completed in 1890, about the same time that the Columbus & Western extension from Goodwater, Alabama, to Birmingham was under construction (1887-88).
MacCorkle, like many others in the VA-WV area, was convinced that John Henry and John Hardy were the same person. Thus, his comments about John Hardy's having been a steel driver are followed by statements that he was "a gambler, a roué, a drunkard, and a fierce fighter." This confusion was found in the literature until Johnson's and Chappell's books on John Henry were published. They produced substantive evidence that John Henry and John Hardy were different men, John Henry a steel driver, John Hardy a sport.
My pointa here are
(1) that MacCorkle thought that John Henry (the steel driver, not the gambler) had worked on another railroad *after* the C & O job. Obviously, he didn't think that John Henry died after a contest with a steam drill at Big Bend Tunnel,
(2) that a one-letter mutation of C & W that will lead either to C & O or to N & W, the two railroads with which MacCorkle associates John Henry with, and
(3) that an N & W extension was underway at the same time as the C & W extension in Alabama.
It all adds up to a suggestion of a scenario in which the Alabama story of John Henry and the C & W went north to West Virginia/Virginia, got mixed up with the John Hardy story, and mutated to produce the belief that John Henry had worked on both the C & O and the N & W.
What is new (to me) here is the part about the N & W. Until recently, I hadn't paid enough attention to MacCorkle's story to appreciate the relationship between "N & W" and "C & W."