Chester, SC Train Wreck, Jan 1894



Serious Accident at the G., C. & N. Crossing at Chester – Six Passengers Injured in the Wreck – Miraculous Escape.

The disobedience of instructions and the infringement of the State law by a railroad engineer yesterday morning at 12:38 o’clock caused a railroad wreck that was only by some miraculous intervention prevented from crushing the lives out of many passengers. The engineer jumped before the result of his deed was known to him, for he knew that under the circumstances a car load of people must be crushed to death, and the last seen of him he was making his way across a corn field and leaving for parts unknown.

It was just at the hour named that the south bound Washington vestibule limited train from Charlotte to Columbia, running forty minutes behind her schedule, while crossing the Seaboard Air Line track at the Chester crossing, just north of the Chester depot, was struck at right angles by a freight train on the Seaboard road running at right angles to her, and the tail end Pullman sleeping car, containing thirteen sleeping people, was wrecked.

The news of the accident was telegraphed to Columbia and Charlotte as soon as possible, and relief trains were sent out from this point. The number of wounded and injured were exaggerated at first, but even when, later in the day, the facts became known, it was found that six persons sustained painful injuries. Fortunately the accident occurred right at Chester, and the Richmond and Danville Railroad Company’s physician, Dr. Devaga, was soon on the scene, taking care of the wounded.

All the passengers on the vestibule train who were awake say that the train stopped at the crossing before reaching it, as is required by law. The two road cross in deep cuts. When the passenger engineer, A. E. Williamson, started off again, to proceed across the other track, he opened his engine up and started off at a rapid rate. As his locomotive came to the cross cut, he saw the headlight of another locomotive bearing directly down upon his train, the train evidently moving at thirty miles an hour. In order to try and save the lives of the passengers on his train, he jerked his throttle wide open and endeavored to clear the coming train. He was literally flying, but he could not clear the other track, as his train was long. The last sleeping car just had its forward trucks upon the cross track when the freight hit is. The car was moving so fast and was so solid that the freight engine did not crash through, but was turned round and ran up the Richmond and Danville track in the direction the vestibule was going for some distance. The Pullman car was broken loose from the rest of the train and knocked way up on the embankment, where it rested on its side, badly crushed and smashed. Had the coaches been an ordinary light day coach, the freight engine would have gone through it, and the loss of life would have been terrible.
All the glass in the Pullman car was smashed, and the tumbled inmates of the car, all of whom were asleep when the crash came, awoke in all kinds of positions and among broken glass and splinters. The vestibule train was in charge of Conductor T. W. Pritchard.

Mr. Thomas Cothran of Greenville, was one of the passengers. His escape from instant death was miraculous. He was sleeping in the berth which was located just where the freight engine struck the car. He awoke in a shower of splinters and glass. He realized the situation immediately, and hearing the screams of the lady passengers, proceeded to extricate them from the smashed car. Mr. and Mrs. Speer of Pittsburg, Pa., were sleeping just across the aisle from him. He pulled Mrs. Speer out; she was bleeding from a wound in the head. One passenger was awakened by hitting the ground outside the car, having been thrown through a window. A lady who was sleeping in the rear stateroom did not wake until some time after the crash. She had been forgotten, and she raised a lively racket to get out out, (sic) though she was uninjured.

The list of the injured, as obtained officially, is as follows:
Mrs. F. H. Speers, Pittsburg, Pa., slight scalp wound.
J. H. Hoffman, New York, wrist burned.
Mrs. M. E. McCarty, Washington, D. C., elbows cut.
G. D. McCarty, Washington, D. C., slightly bruised.
J. T. Wilson, Pittsburg, Pa., back hurt.
Pullman Car Conductor, Davis, head slightly bruised.

The injured passengers are being cared for at Chester by the R. & D. railroad.

The track was cleared by 3 o’clock yesterday afternoon and the running of trains on regular schedule time has been resumed.
Some of the (illegible) of the Seaboard Air Line (illegible) say that their engineer, when he was the passenger train crossing the track ahead, reversed his engine and did all he could to stop. Then he jumped, as did the conductor. From all that can be ascertained, the freight made an effort to stop at the crossing, as it is required to do. The facts seem to be that the engineer was running behind time. He had exactly two minutes and a half to make his meeting point at the next station, over a mile away, get into a sidetrack and let the last passenger of the Seaboard Air Line pass. He knew the schedule of the vestibule, and knew that she ought to have passed the crossing forty minutes before. Rather than stop and lose his position by sending out a flagman to wave down the Seaboard Air Line train, he took the chances, and began to run for the meeting point without paying any attention to the requirements in regard to stopping at crossings. Nine hundred and ninety- nine times out of a thousand he would have gotten through all right. This would be the only explanation of the cause of the accident. It is the theory, based on what facts they can get, of all the railroad men at this point, and the flight of Engineer Gray seems to sustain it.

The State, Columbia, SC 18 Jan 1894


Echoes from the Wreck.

The debris of Wednesday morning’s wreck was cleared away by 3 o’clock that afternoon, and trains are running through on a regular schedule time.
General Superintendent Myers, of the Georgia, Carolina and Northern road, and Superintendent McBee and Master of Trains H. A. Willianms, (sic) of the Richmond and Danville, are now at Chester investigating the cause of the wreck and having the smashed rolling stock removed.
All the wounded except Mr. Wilson, of Pittsburg, Pa., are still at Chester, and are being taken care of by the Richmond and Danville. Mr. Wilson was less hurt than any of the others, and went on to his destination yesterday.

The State, Columbia, SC 19 Jan 1894