Article From the Spring 2004 Issue of
The Journal of the New York Museum of Transportation
100 YEARS AGOÖ
To loosely paraphrase Shakespeare, you can live a whole life doing things right and nobody notices, but screw up once and it gets written down for posterity. "Posterity" at NYMT includes a set of and-written journals of accidents, derailments, injuries (and worse) on the Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh Railroad. Beginning in the late 1890s and extending to 1932 when the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad took over operational control of the BR&P, these large books tell us about life on the rails a century ago. In 1904, the average U.S. wage was 22 cents an hour, and the countryís 8,000 automobiles had 144 miles of paved roads to drive on. Only 8% of homes had a telephone. Transportation was still firmly in the hands of the railroads and their armies of operating employees, who regularly faced danger in the execution of their duties. Letís look back 100 years to the winter of 1904 and see what kind of things were wreaking havoc on this well-managed and profitable local railroad.
Scanning through the entries, we find evidence that equipment and hardware werenít always up to the task. There are several items like the January 9 entry, "Train broke intwo [sic] and ran together". In this case, freight train #56 broke a coupleróprobably from slack actionóand as the brakes were applied, the rear part of the train rammed the front part. No injuries were reported, but someone in the accounting department sharpened his pencil and noted that there was $1,085 worth of damage to BR&P and Lehigh Valley cars, as well as caboose 45. Other equipment failures include a truck breaking down under Lehigh Valley freight car 61572, the tire coming off a wheel on steam locomotive 9, and a broken wheel flange on BR&P freight car 9039.
An unspecified caboose was in the wrong place at the wrong time in the early morning of January 15 at Springville, NY on the Buffalo line. Passenger train #2, the overnight train from Pittsburgh (which had split into separate Buffalo and Rochester sections at Salamanca, NY) "backed up and struck hack". A hack is a caboose, which apparently didnít suffer any damage worth reporting, as the only note is $4 damage to the sleeping car "Eden".
Much more serious was the next dayís 3:00 a.m. accident at Du Bois, PA. Freight extra #265 "pulled out on northbound track, crossed over and [was] struck by southbound No. 7" (the overnight passenger run to Pittsburgh from Buffalo and Rochester). The freight loco, 265, was an Alco 2-8-0, and #7ís loco was Baldwin 4-4-2 161. Damage in the amount of $1,723 was recorded to the locomotives, baggage car 2, and coach 49. Tragically, one of the firemen, E. R. Magnuson, was killed.
A few days later at Beitter Jct., a hostler had to report that "getting engine ready, engine 42 backed into turntable". By that we assume he means into the turntable pit, something sure to raise the ire of the roundhouse foreman and make a lot of work for the wrecker crew, in January weather too.
Some accidents arenít so different from the kinds that befall us today. Snow and ice in rail flangeways caused several derailments and there were a number of reported injuries slipping on ice when brakemen were getting on or off cars and engines. Also, at Butler Junction, PA, a man was injured: "Taking washout plug from engine 253, struck it with hammer and small piece broke striking him in eye". Safety glasses are still important in our modern work settings. When freight train "No. 31 struck Erie RR train" at Mt. Jewett, PA, Erie caboose 4091 took most of the damage. This kind of inter-railroad calamity doesnít happen so much today, since there are so few different companies to run into each other.
Some things really were different back then. On February 8, there is an unusual injury report from Buffalo Creek, NY involving freight train #50ís rear end crew. "Conductor had brakes set on caboose to grind flat spots out of wheels and wheel broke". Two scalp wounds were reported among the three crew members in the caboose. Curiously, we find no reference to this incident in the separate journal of derailments. Either the caboose never actually derailed, or the wounded crew were too embarrassed to do any further reporting. We can only picture the overheated wheel breaking apart, with red-hot fragments flying through the wood floor to ricochet among the frightened trainmen!
Picturing accidents isnít too hard given some of the descriptions in the journals. On February 9 in the freight yard at Adrian, PA, "car dropper" Joe Halbovina met an untimely end. "Roping cars over scales and rope broke. Both legs crushed; died in a few hours". Death was ever-present on and near the rails, as a sampling of the journals confirms: January 23, Ernest, PA, brakeman D. A. Barkey lost his life: "going in siding engine pilot caught rail and pilot torn off. Man was riding pilot". February 13, Bradford, PA, Fred R. Smith, switchman "switching and got caught between cars". March 26, Du Bois, PA, Wm. Eiganauer, "school boy", aged 12, "struck by train".
Passengers came into their share of grief in all the mayhem, as described in a February 20 occurrence at Ashford, NY, the junction where the Buffalo and Rochester lines separated. In
the 1942 BR&P track map of Ashford, the mainline to Rochester runs vertically (and north is "up"). The line from Buffalo can be seen curving down from the upper left, with the two lines meeting just south of the station (the cross-shaped figure on the map). According to the records, passenger train #5, southbound from Buffalo "left Ashford at 7:48 p.m. No. 1 switch was wrong and the light on the switch showed almost white when it was set for siding and the Engr. Went down no. 1 and did not discover the mistake until he saw cars ahead of him, but he was too close to stop, and ran into the cars. Damage $623". There were nine injuries listed among the passengers. While we canít determine exactly where the number 1 track was by looking at this map from 40 years later, there probably were yard tracks similar to those shown south of the depot, into which train #5 strayed, eventually ramming freight cars there.
February continued on the BR&P with the usual broken axles, wheels, rails and miscalculations in switching cars. The line finished the month in grand style, though, on February 27 as the third section of freight #54, coming downgrade into Dent, PA, south of Bradford, "got away from the crew and was running about 15 miles per hour when they crashed into 2/54 [second section of #54]". Locomotive 283, the Baldwin 2-8-0 on third 54, was "badly damaged" along with seven freight cars in that train. Second 54ís caboose, number 51, was a "total wreck" and four of that trainís cars were listed as damaged. The total value of the deal came to $3,275. Thanks probably to a lot of hysterical whistle blowing on the part of third 54, the crew on second 54 must have bailed out of the condemned caboose, as there are no injuries or deaths reported.