Opelika, AL Train Wreck, Sept 1892
A Frightful Wreck
A Wild Freight Train Collides With A Lightning Express.
Engineer And Fireman Killed--Flames Add To The Horror Of The Wreck--A Graphic Description Of The Terrible Catastrophe.
Opelika, Ala., September 27.-[Special]-The most terrible wreck ever known on the Western Railroad of Alabama occurred this morning at 2:30 o’clock at the small trestle across what is known as Barrett’s branch, about two miles ad a half below here, in the direction of Montgomery. Not only were cars wrecked and burned to ashes, but the precious lives of two brave men were laid upon the sacrificial altar, and many others injured more or less seriously.
How The Accident Occurred.
About 2 o’clock freight train No. 2, from Montgomery to Atlanta, in charge of Conductor Woodall, reached here, and was to sidetrack and allow the northbound cannon ball train, due here at 2:40 o’clock to pass. The engine was cut loose from the front end and went around to the rear and coupled to the conductor’s cab. Several cars were uncoupled and these were switched off to another track.
Running Wild Down Grade.
There is a heavy grade in the direction of Montgomery, and the remaining cars, twelve in number, heavily loaded with freight, moved off, undiscovered until the had gained such a speed that it was impossible to overtake them. Nobody seems to known why the brakes were not set on these cars, and the failure to have them set is the cause of the accident. The cars had hardly passed the switch, and started down the main line before the whistle of the doomed train was heard way down the road.
The trainmen were horror stricken, for they knew
A Catastrophe Was Inevitable.
In a few moments a brakeman belonging to the freight crew ran down the road in the direction of the flying cars. He had been gone but a few minutes before a light was seen to spring up, and the witnesses knew that the collision had come and the fire had added its terrors to that of the wreck. The terrified brakeman soon returned and told the story. Dr. C. B. McCoy, local surgeon of the road, was summoned, and in a few moments, in company with a number of citizens, went to the scene.
An Awful Sight
Met their eyes when they arrived. The engine of the passenger train had left the track, which was on an embankment about twenty feet high, and the baggage and mail and five freight cars were tumbled pell-mell upon it, and the whole was one mass of seething flames. The groans of the injured men were pitiable indeed.
It appears that the engineer, Mr. Lew Willis, and the fireman, his brother, Mr. Thomas R. Willis, did not see the rapidly approaching runaway cars until they struck the engine, which left the track and turned over down the embankment. Engineer Lew Willis was killed instantly, his head being crushed and his legs baldy mashed.
Fireman Tom Willis was not instantly killed, but was badly cut and crushed. One arm was almost pulled from the socket of the shoulder, and he was firmly held by the overturned engine which had caught his arm.
The Wreck On Fire.
As soon as the first shock was over the passengers set about to rescue the injured ones, as the wreck was already caught on fire. The body of the dead engineer was taken out, and it was found necessary to cut off the arm of the fireman before he could be extricated, as the flames were rapidly approaching. In an unconscious condition he was brought to town and taken to the residence of his mother, where he died in about an hour.
The Narrow Escapes.
The conductor, Captain Zach Martin, of Atlanta, was in the baggage car, and was considerably bruised, but was not seriously hurt.
Baggage master Bob Harrison, of Atlanta, received a severe cut in the head, and several bruises on the body, but set about rescuing the baggage, and succeeded in saving all but three pieces.
Perilous Situation Of The Postal Clerks
The postal car went down, so that it seemed impossible for Messrs. Landrum and Carter, the postal clerks, to escape, and the rescuers had commenced cutting into the side of the car to release them. They crawled down to the lower end of the upturned car, and kicking out the panel of the door, came out badly bruised, but with no bones broken.