East Buffalo, NY Locomotive Explosion, May 1890





Buffalo, N.Y., May 12. -- About 2 o'clock Sunday afternoon Lehigh Valley engine No. 961, GEORGE PEARL, engineer, and HENRY J. O'CONNOR, fireman, started for East BUffalo with a train of twenty-seven cars. The train was moving slowly and has crossed the Lake Shore tracks at the Buffalo Creek junction when the locomotive exploded. A roar was heard like the discharge of a battery of heavy artillery, the earth trembled as though with an earthquake, and the air was filled with flying fragments of iron, steel, brass and timber, accompanied by a cloud of mingled steam and dust. Engine 961 had disappeared, and all that remained of its sixty tons of mechanism were the six driving wheels, the truck and wheels at the forward end.
The tracks were ripped from the ties and bent out of shape, the ground was torn up for some distance, and broken telegraph and electric light wires dangled from their posts in a tangled mass. Desolation and ruin had been wrought in the twinkling of an eye and two lives had been sacrificed, for there was no trace of either engineer or fireman.
What was apparently a human body was seen flying through the air at an elevation of 100 feet, and was observed to fall on the Lake Shore railroad at least 1,000 feet west of where the explosion occurred. The body of the other unfortunate man took a northeasterly course at a high elevation and dropped into the creek 500 feet away. In the ditch to the west was the shattered twenty-five-ton boiler, on the other side, 100 feet distant, was the crown sheet, battered and twisted out of shape, and across the adjacent slip the dome and a huge fragment of the boiler lay upon the coal-dumping pier of the Buffalo, Rochester and Pittsburg railroad, 400 feet away. In striking it had crushed into the timbers and sent great splinters in all directions. A switch shanty alongside the track was badly wrecked. Soon a search for the missing engineer and fireman was begun. The body of PEARL was found in the creek. It was brought to the surface and hoisted to the coal dock. Its condition was shocking; apparently every bone was broken, the head and face were frightfully mutilated, as was also the trunk, nearly the entire abdomen being torn away.
O'CONNOR'S body was found between the stumps of two trees alongside the lake shore tracks. The head was crushed, the face disfigured beyond recognition, and in the left side was a great gaping hole. The man's shoes had been wrenched from his feet and his garments reduced to shreds. The legs and arms were apparently fractured. The bodies were placed on a flat car and brought to the Exchange Street station and were removed to the morgue preparatory to taking them to the homes of the dead men. The cause of the explosion it is not likely will ever be definitely known. Superintendent Broadhead said:
"It is one of those mysterious affairs which no one has ever yet been able to satisfactorily explain."
Its immense force first suggested what is called a dry explosion but this theory was dissipated by the fact that a building several hundred feet from the track was struck by a volume of muddy water that it is believed came from the exploded boiler. The tank of the tender was not quite full, from which it was concluded that water had been pumped into the boiler but a short time before it exploded. The engine was a sixty-ton consolidated Baldwin and had been in service about ten years. It was overhauled in the shops about three or four months ago.

Decatur Morning Review Illinois 1890-05-13