Abilene, TX Train Wreck, Apr 1955


Reporter-News Staff Writer

Workmen for the Texas & Pacific Railway Co. hoped Wednesday morning to restore the firm's east-west rail service through Abilene by mid-afternoon, following a wreck in which 39 cars derailed and piled up at 11:05 p.m. Tuesday. No one was injured.

R. C. Parker, Dallas, T&P assistant vice president, said damage was "roughly $150,000."

Freight traffic was completely halted, but the T&P maintained passenger service out of Abilene by hauling west-bound customers and baggage to Merkel for departure. East-bound passengers boarded trains at the depot. The wreckage extended westward from about Merchant St., west of the depot.

A burned off journal on a tank car loaded with coconut oil caused the derailment of the eastbound train, Parker said.

"In other words, a hot box caused the wreck," he said.

Parker explained the journal is the portion of an axle on the outside of the wheel on which the weight of the car is carried. The bearing became hot "for some reason" and burned in two and the car dropped down on the rail. This caused the car with the faulty journal and 38 others behind to derail, he said.

Parker said the train was going 40-45 miles an hour at the time of the wreck. Those aboard were the engineer, fireman and one brakeman, all on the engine, and one conductor and one brakeman, both in the caboose.

The speed limit for trains in Abilene is 45 m.p.h., the city manager's office said.

The investigation is continuing and hadn't revealed why the bearing burned in two, Parker said.

Sixty - nine cars behind the 39 derailed cars did not derail. The 25 cars and engine which were in front of the car which caused the wreck also did not derail.

The "hot box" started a small grass fire, which was quickly extinguished by Abilene firemen. There was no fire in the wreckage.

The portion of North First St. adjacent to the wreckage area was blocked off by Abilene policemen while the workmen removed the wreckage. Two big cranes were brought in from Big Spring and Fort Worth.

Only nine of the 39 tank and box cars were empty when they derailed.

A large portion of ground was covered with a thick layer of what Parker described as "crude tank bottom," cheap grade of petroleum product. Two tank cars of the liquid spilled.

Several box cars containing plaster board split open. Some of the cars upended. Wheels were ripped loose, thick steel twisted and cars smashed like matchboxes during the crash. A portion of track was destroyed.

"We hope to have the road open again by 3 p.m. Wednesday," Parker said.

The official said some trains might get out before 3 p.m., but none had left as of noon.

Parker was unable to recall any wreck in Abilene as extensive. The most recent one he could recall was in the late 1930s when a number of tank cars derailed at Tye.

The Abilene Reporter News, Abilene, TX, 13 Apr 1955