Bakersfield, CA Streamline Train Hits Oil Tank Truck, Mar 1960



Bakersfield, March 2 -- The death toll rose to 14 today in the thundering crash of the streamlined San Francisco Chief and a giant oil truck. Rescue workers freed two more bodies from the tangled wreckage 15 hours after the disaster. Forty-five others, 14 from the Eastbay, were injured as the train rocketed with a terrifying road into the truck. The vehicle exploded in flames on impact.
The bomb-like blast of the collision rocked the countryside. The truck disintegrated in a ball of fire.
Nine cars of the Chicago-bound Chief which left Richmond at 11:59 a.m. yesterday, hurtled off the tracks and lay like twisted tin toys over a field.
The screams of the trapped, injured and dying pierced through the steady roar of the flames.
The dead included ten passengers, three crewmen and the truck driver. The crash occurred at 5:08 p.m.
One man was trapped for almost eight hours and was finally brought out alive, but horribly injured.
Mass Of Wreckage.
The Santa Fe train's four Diesel engines, two baggage cars and the first three chair cars were tangled together in tragic geometric design.
Passengers had very little warning of the impending crash. Some felt a slight jar. Others thought they head a whistle and felt the grinding of brakes. One man said he saw the truck approaching the crossing.
Then: "The next thing I knew we were going through a blaze of fire," said passenger MRS. LUCILLE BONETTE of Kansas City, Mo.
This was the rest of the train passing through the flames of the wreckage which had already boomed through the first cars.
The gleaming streamliner made nine stops after leaving Richmond in the morning.
It sped through Bakersfield at about 85 miles an hour.
The tank truck-trailer carrying 8,000 gallons of fuel oil headed for the Allen Ave. crossing about one-half mile north of the Rosedale Highway.
Then: a thundering blast as they collided.
"I was coming out of my barn when I saw a huge flash and flames shooting a hundred feet into the sky," said farmer FRED BLAKELY. "A piece of rail came flying through the air."
Truck driver JOHN GARRETT, 46, of Bakersfield, driving a truck owned by Oglesby Brothers Petroleum Transportation Co., either didnn't see or failed to heed a reflectorized warning sign at the railroad crossing, said investigators.
He might have realized, in the final seconds what was happening.
Turned Too Late.
Witnesses told the investigators that the truck driver turned his vehicle in a direction parallel to the tracks as the thundering Chief bore down.
"It sounded like a sonic boom," said BLAKELY. "Clouds of black smoke boiled up."
"I ran about 300 yards to the passenger car nearest me. Children inside were crying. The passengers broke windows and carried children outside to me."
"It was horrible. Just horrible."
Inside, it was worse.
"The train started to twist and jerk and seats flew through the car. Most of us were thrown around like rag dolls ..." That's the way Airman 1/c DONALD SUTHERLAND, 25, remembers it.
Through Flames.
Lounge car attendant EDGAR POLLARD said:
"I felt a couple of short jolts. I think the engineer tried to apply the brakes. Then there was the crash and flames along each side of the car."
EDWARD MITCHELL, another attendant.
"I was thrown to the floor -- hard. I knew it was bad. There was a nurse in our car and she was a real Florence Nightingale...."
MRS. DELMA CASEY, 23, of Waco, Tex., a passenger who had visited her parents in San Leandro:
"There was one woman bleeding awfully bad but I never found out what was wrong with her."
"Our coach turned sideways and the front end of it hung over some sort of a bank right alongside the track ..... "
Goes A Mile.
The sleek train went for a mile after the crash before it ground and twisted and jerked to an angonizing halt.
Six coaches slid into a ditch. All were knocked into grotesque positions.
Then fire trucks raced to the scene as word of the tragedy was flashed throughout the city of 100,000.
All available ambulances sped to the disaster.
A call for every doctor and nurse in the area went out.
Physicians climbed over and around the wreckage, feeling for pulses that would mean a life spared.
Rescue crews rushed cutting torches to the scene to pull out trapped passengers.
Cranes and bulldozers rumbled to the wreckage, to gently move it in search for dead and injured.
Hundreds Gather.
Floodlights turned the gathering dark, and later night, into a false day as dozens, then hundreds, gathered at the site of destruction.
Police deputies and the highway patrol held back the crowd.
More than 250 pints of blood were collected and reserved for the injured at Mercy, Kern and Memorial Hospitals in Bakersfield.
Among the dead were Engineer L. A. SNYDER and Fireman A. H. BRAWLEY, both of Fresno.
Some of the cars were left hanging over a 30-foot embankment. Rescue workers had to climb from below to reach them.
The scene of carnage was also a scene of wreckage. Huge pieces of steel -- both train and truck -- were a hundred feet or more from the main bulk of the train.
Truck In Pieces.
The truck was bits of black metal scattered here and there over the countryside.
Offers of help came from everywhere for the 83 persons aboard the modern streamliner.
It took a dozen fire companies two hours to finally quench the raging flames that followed the roaring crash of train and truck.
The train was carrying three bodies en route to burial back east. They were thrown loose and momentarily confused the count of those killed in the crash.
A train was dispatched from Los Angeles and picked up 51 of the passengers who chose to continue their trip. Many of the passengers who were not injured, stunned by the disaster, declined to continue.
The wreckage was cleared from the tracks, and the rail repaired, by 10 a.m. today, opening the important Santa Fe line again.
The doomed train was to have reached Chicago at 2 p.m. tomorrow, Central Time.
Santa Fe's last major crash was on Jan. 23, 1956, when 29 were killed and 142 injured in a wreck near Los Angeles.

Bakersfield, March 2 -- Here is a list of persons identified as among the dead in the passenger train crash yesterday:
L. A. SNYDER, engineer, Fresno.
A. H. BRALEY, fireman, Fresno.
JOHN CARRETT, truck driver, Bakersfield.
HARLEY E. WATKINS, 54, Bakersfield.
ULYSSES HICKS, 47, of 1538 Broderick St., San Francisco.
MRS. GREETJE FARJON, 63, of Curacoa, Netherlands-Antilles Dutch West Indies.
M/Sgt. PATRICK J. BRENNAN, Camp Irwin, Calif.
ED HAYS, 29, Houston, Tex.
ALICE JORDAN, 69, Cabot, Ark.

Oakland Tribune California 1960-03-02


I lived a few miles from the

I lived a few miles from the wreck site and I would like to make a few comments about the above discription of it...and what I know to be true.

#1... The train did not speed 85 mph through Bakersfield. It was headed south into Bakersfield from Fresno.

#2... The crash caused the engines to derail... and they stopped in quite a short distance. The entire wreckage was scattered less than half the distance stated above. The two rear cars did not derail and were sitting not far from the intersection where the wreck occured.

#3... There were no passenger cars hanging over 30 foot embankments. Along that stretch of the railway the ground is very flat farmland, and the tracks are only slightly higher than the surrounding fields to allow good drainage for rain.
There is now, and was then, what are called Barrow ditches along side the railway... Dirt is borrowed from the ditch to raise the rails to above ground level. But no where along that area is there ditches as deep as mentioned....most are only a few feet lower than ground level. There are deeper ditches ... but none at the site...
I don't mean to nit-pick, or detract from the horror and destruction caused by the accident... As a young teenager...witnessing the dead and injured bothered me for years. My father still lives close to there, and when I drive by to visit brings back most unpleasant memories.