Wrecks and Derailments - Part 2
Unless otherwise marked, the photos on this page were either taken by Maurice Lewman or are from his collection. Drawings digitized by Roger P. Hensley.
Right: M. E. Lewman engineer (age 42) 1972
(Click on the small graphic to see the larger one.)
September 23, 2003
We left part 1 with the derailment and demise of the 3029. We will leave South Anderson northbound about a mile and south of 19th St. The south bound jack knifed because of the engineer's misuse of the independent brake and the result was three cars derailed. As the track deteriorated derailments became an every day thing. As the saying goes, 'cars derailed standing still'. My son was on a north bound with conductor Tom Morris and as they were going through Linwood, two cars rolled out of the train and laid on the bank.
Moving to Alexandria at the NKP interlocking in ca. 1944, a north bound failed to get stopped and ran through an east bound oil train. (Alexandria Photo from the Collection of Paul Siess. See Bibliography.) There were no injuries. I believe the engine had just came from the backshop at Beech Grove. The engine was totally destroyed. (See the article 'A Close Call' and 'Sweaty Palms' for what it was like making that stop.)
Three blocks north of the NKP crossing was the NYC depot and the location of the switches for the two sidings. These switches were staggered, the west track at the north end of the depot and the east track switch just south of the depot.(See article and pictures of the NYC depot on the Stations Page). This wreck happened in the early 70s and the speed was 30 mph. The north bound local was to meet two south bounds at Alex. The local had part of their train in the east siding and the rest in the west siding.
This move required them to use the main and the west siding last. When the local backed in the clear, the west siding was lined for the main but the switch for the east siding was overlooked and left lined for the siding. C.C. Dunmire was the engineer on the first south bound with 150 empty hoppers and I was behind Dunmire with 130 cars of mixed freight. I heard the local tell Dunmire to come on down and shortly the dispatcher told me to stay north of town. Dunmire had gone into the siding and hit the local's train. He had almost stopped before hitting the train and there were no injuries.
Moving north of Alex 3 miles we come to the CO-OP elevator and about 1 mile south of Summitville. The elevator had nothing to do with the wreck, they just happened to be at that location. A north bound coal train derailed at the elevator and it was one of the engineers first trips as an engineer. The engineer was a nervous wreck but was not to blame as the cars just fell from the track. A few months later the engineer was set back to the fireman's position and was killed at North Manchester, IN.
We move to Jonesboro for the next derailment. This involved #40 the north bound passenger train. The siding was 36 cars long and the south switch was about 1/4 mile south of the depot. Some boys had opened the south switch and the crew saw it to late to stop. At that time the speed for passenger was 60mph. The engine turned on its side and the mail car was derailed and a mail clerk was injured.
The fireman Earl Whinery had a story he told me about this accident. One thing you must know about Earl was that he loved to eat and he always carried a lunch box on most jobs. On this day when the dust had settled, Earl came to walking down the main toward Jonesboro and ,yes , Earl had his beloved lunch box in hand. Earl said that he did not remember anything from the time the engine headed into the siding track until he was walking down the track.
We move down to the depot at Jonesboro where on April 13 1968 MD-4 northbound derailed at the house track switch derailing many cars. Luckily the engine did not derail. The derailment happened several cars behind the engine and there were no injuries. At this location there is an S curve, the switch being located at the south end of the S. In the middle of the S was a small bridge giving access to a factory on the east side per the picture. As you can see this side of the factory was surrounded by cars.
I was coming south on a 135 car empty hopper train on a hot August day and just before this bridge at Jonesboro was a kink of about 10 inches. We were running 30 mph and did not have time to stop before the bridge. What made it bad was this bridge had rails along the sides. All I could do was to see if it cleared the engine and it did by about 2 inches. With this, there was no reason to stop so we kept on going and reported it to the dispatcher. This was another case of a close call.
I tell this story to show how quickly a situation, over which you have no control, can cause a derailment. The next story proves this. At Jonesboro there was also a plant that made electrical wiring. While on #75, a through freight, we were switching this plant with a steam engine and was coming out the third time. Rounding the curve, coming to the main, every driver and three of the four pilot wheels on the engine derailed probably because of wide gauge in the track.
At Marion, we were coming south at the Home Belt with 135 cars at about 9pm.
The fireman was running (operating the engine) and a guard light at the junk yard behind the mainline switch showed the switch lined for the Home Belt and the derail was on. Going in the switch at 25mph, when we stopped four units were on the ground and the south end of Marion was blocked by our train and again no one was hurt. I know of two derailments at the RCA Plant at Marion but only three or four cars were involved.
The next derailment was at LaFontaine and is covered in Memories in the Incident at LaFontaine.
At Wabash, there have been several wrecks and derailments. The first one we will discuss happened on April 10, 1969. E.A.-7 engine 2540 had been instructed to pick up another E.A.-7 engine 3388 at Wabash. The first E.A.-7 had been backed up on the north hill after the 2540 had been instructed to pick up the 3388. As the pictures show and as C.E.Downing, the engineer, said we almost got stopped. The engineer and brakeman jumped but the fireman J.C. Simmons did not have time to jump and crawled under the engineer's seat. That and the control stand protected him when the caboose rolled over the cab of the engine.
A few years earlier a northbound was coming down the south hill. Where the hill levels to cross the Wabash River, they derailed, dumping loaded coal hoppers scattering them on the grade. The track supervisor had a trailer sitting at the bottom of the embankment and had coal hoppers all around it but the trailer was untouched.
Around 1974 Bill Hawley was coming south on MD-5 and starting at the depot to the bridge derailed 35 cars, some going fifty feet or more from the main. There were two more derailments that I know of with cars ending up in the river. About 20 cars north of where the rear end collision happened, I was on a southbound. About 10 cars behind the engine, 10 cars jumped the track with no injuries.
Moving up to Spiecher, I was on MD-4 northbound and 6 auto parts cars jumped the track. There was a boxcar door left at the scene for about ten years, I guess to remind me not to do it again. At the north end of Spiecher, as we headed in, about 70 cars behind the engine 5 cars derailed. As we came by Warsaw earlier, the operator reported brakes and sparks. Stopping, the flagman checked the car and everything was okay. The brake was reported two more times and nothing was found but this car was one of the five that derailed.
The next wreck was March 26, 1971, a rear-ender one mile south of North Manchester, MD-4 ran into MD-4A. MD-4A had 85 cars of coal and had stopped at the PRR crossing at North Manchester. For whatever reason the collision happened, when it was over three railroaders were dead. The pictures show what can happen at 30mph. The engine 2851 was rebuilt and put back in service. This changed the way flag protection was provided on the Penn Central.
About 1978 the Chicago Division was closed and the trains that had left Elkhart westbound, going to Indianapolis, were now coming down the Michigan Division to Indianapolis. We were coming south with 11,000 tons and the fireman was running the engine. The track from Silver Lake to North Manchester is a 7 mile roller coaster type of railroad. I was helping the fireman handle the train because southbound trains normally are not this heavy and the fireman was new to the division. At milepost 96 was a small curve and the south rail had a kink in the middle of the curve. This had been reported for a year and nothing had been done to repair the track. After the normal jerk at this location and while we were talking about the slow down at North Manchester, we were by the kink about 60 + cars when the train goes into emergency. After stopping, the conductor calls on the radio and said there were cars derailed not very far ahead. As it turned out, 17 cars ahead of the caboose, 34 cars were derailed and in a pile.
At Silver Lake, when going north, there is a long curve to the right that starts 25 cars south of the depot and 60 cars north, with the depot on the east side. Earl Whinery, (lunch box), and I were coming south on a work train with just a caboose powered by a steam engine. Approaching Silver Lake, I could see the LCL, (less than car load freight) truck sitting between the freight house end of the depot and the main. We also had a clear block which I relayed to the engineer and that the truck was sitting at the depot. Earl asked if the truck cleared. I answered it looks like it will but we will have to be farther around the curve. When we were in a position to see, I knew it was going to be close and jumped across the cab and said I don't think it will clear. Earl applied the brakes in emergency and we stopped south of the depot. It was so close that the trim between the two sheets of metal on the side of the LCL truck was stuck between the corner of the engine cab and took off the marker on the caboose.
Another example of a near disaster every railroader faces every day. Next is Claypool. About a mile north of Claypool a broken rail caused a derailment of about 15 cars. South of Warsaw Tower a southbound derailed including the caboose, turned over on its side. None of the crew was injured on the caboose.
Another derailment on a northbound just south of the interlocking tower at Warsaw, knocked the tower loose from its foundation. The bridge and building gang returned it to the foundation. There were no injuries. Although it did not derail a train the following incident did make the newspaper.
A northbound coal train approaching Warsaw was instructed by the operator at Warsaw that there would be a man with a fusee (flare) two blocks north of the tower. The man was directing traffic and was not part of the railroad operation. The engineer answered that he understood but unknown to the railroad the traffic was being run down a street that the railroad also runs down. The street and track were full of trucks loaded with steel, pickups and autos. There is a slight curve in the track north of the tower and the engineer could not see until about 300 ft. from the congestion. Moving at about 20mph when he saw the problem, he placed the train in emergency but it was too late and the train crashed into the trucks and autos. No one was killed in this mess but a lady in one of the houses opened the front door, saw a pickup truck sitting on the front porch and had a heart attack. All of this because the highway department was painting white lines on Highway 30 for the crosswalk and they wanted to keep the traffic moving.
Next is Milford Jct.
We were coming south on an EA-7 and had just crossed highway 6 and was approaching Milford Jct. This was about 1975 and the track was in good shape. The fireman was running, (operating), the engine, they did that a lot when working with me, and was about to apply the brakes when the train started slowing down and came to a stop. Calling the conductor, Tom Morris, on the radio we asked what was the problem. Tom didn't know but said he would walk to the head end looking for the trouble. We had about 40 cars and a hopper in the middle of the train was the problem. The bolster, the frame of the trucks that the wheels ride in had broken. What this means is half of the truck frame had broken and run off of the axles letting the frame fall down causing the train line to crack letting the air escape setting the brakes. Now try explaining this to the dispatcher and telling him the car was not derailed was an art in itself. Sending the block truck, (the wreck truck), out we pulled the train away from the car. The block truck crew jacked the car up, removed the old trucks and rolled another set of trucks in place and we were ready to go .This took about 4 hours, but was the only solution. Here again was a situation that could have resulted in much damage and injuries.
The next derailment was at Goshen College. The track was very bad almost to the point of derailing again standing still. About 5 cars derailed and after they were re-railed were taken to Elkhart at 5mph. Most divisions have or have had a like number of wrecks or derailments and as stated earlier, wrecks are a constant companion of a railroader.
Maurice worked the Michigan Division from 1947-1981. He then worked on the Bee Line from 1981-1992. From 1947 until august 1950, he worked on the section at Shirley and Markleville. In 1950 he started firing on steam and then on through the diesels. Maurice said, "I had the pleasure of working with C. C. Staley and Ron Buser many times."