TRAIN DISASTER IN TOWN
A Freight Train Crashes Through the C.W. & M. Railroad Bridge at this Place. The Engine and Five Cars in the River, but No Loss of Life. The Wreck takes Fire and Burns all Out of Water including Two Large Tanks of Oil.
From The Journal, Thursday, July 19, 1888; reprinted in NMHS Newsletter, February 1989.
As the north bound local freight on the C. W. & M. railway was crossing the bridge over the Eel River just below town last Saturday afternoon about 4 o’clock, the bridge suddenly gave away and fell into the river carrying the engine and a part of the train with it into the water below. The alarm soon spread and it was at first thought the passenger train due about that time of day had been wrecked. The passenger train had crossed the bridge about twenty minutes before the freight in safety.
A large crowd soon gathered on the banks of the river and viewed the most disastrous wreck that has ever occurred near the place. The entire span of the covered bridge, over 100 feet in length, with the engine and five cars, laid across the water, broken and splintered, presented a horrible appearance. The cars and engine which were nearly all submerged were covered by the timbers and roof of the bridge so that only the distorted and broken bridge could be seen with here and there a piece of the train sticking out. The bridge had evidently fallen very suddenly, the whole structure going at once. A man who saw the train enter the bridge says that he first noticed some timbers falling out of the middle of the bridge and then it all fell with a crash that was plainly heard in the southwest part of town.
In the wreck were the engine and five cars as follows: two large oil tanks filled with crude petroleum, one box car filled with lime, another box car with local freight and a flat car load with stone. The engine was laying on its side near the north edge of the river and must have been nearly through the bridge when it fell. The other cars were telescoped and jammed together in the water forming, with the broken bridge timbers, a connecting link between the banks of the river. The heat of the slacking lime in the car soon set the dry pine timbers on fire and the whole wreck out of water was soon one mass of flames which were communicated to the oil tanks which sent up volumes of black smoke. It did not take the wreck long to burn up.
Fortunately and miraculous as it may seem there was no loss of life although the engineer, Ben Radabaugh, fireman Garrison, and brakeman, Stone, were on the engine when it went down and were carried to the bottom of the river with all the timbers falling on top of them. When the place where the engine rested was seen, it seemed little short of wonderful how they escaped. All were more or less bruised but engineer Radabaugh was hurt the worst of all. The other two were able to get around without assistance while he at first appeared to be badly injured. They were covered with sand and mud from head to foot and were carried down to the bottom of the river.
The brakeman was the first to get out. He said that there was no chance of escape and it seemed but a second from the crash of timbers till they were in the water. He found himself in the bottom of the river with his feet fast in some of the timbers and had almost given himself up for lost when he became disentangled and arose to the surface. He had hardly gotten his head out of the water till he saw the fireman come up a few feet away and in a few moments they saw the body of the engineer down in the water, and by their united efforts succeeded in getting him out of the water completely exhaust and in a semi-conscious condition. By this time help had arrived and the engineer was taken to the home of Daniel Strauss nearby and a physician summoned.
An examination failed to disclose any broken bones or external injuries save a few cuts and bruises, but his body had been severely strained and he was very sore. He improved very rapidly and was able to be taken to his boarding house at Warsaw on Monday morning. He told a Journal reporter his experience which was about as follows, which shows him to be a man of great presence of mind under very trying circumstances:
It was dark in the bridge and there was no avenue of escape had the opportunity presented itself and when the crash came it seemed but an instant until he was in the water. He had no distinct recollection of how it happened but the first he remembered was finding himself being mashed into the mud on the bottom of the river by something heavy lying across his abdomen. He did not know what it was but he proceeded to dig the mud away from around his body with his hands and finally succeeded in getting loose from the weight. His body rose up a short distance and caught on some part of the engine. Then he gave himself up as lost and made up his mind to die then and there, but the escaping steam whirled his body around and loosened him and he went on up and was rescued by the fireman and brakeman. He thinks he must have been in the water nearly three minutes and when he came up his clothing was torn nearly off his body. The conductor and the other train men were on the rear of the train and escaped.
The bridge was a wooden truss of over 100 feet resting at each end on pilings. It was built about eight years ago and stood for several years as an open bridge. About two years ago it was sided and roofed and has, we are informed, been considered a safe bridge by the company, although there are reports to the contrary. The stress on the bridge was a severe one as the train had stopped at the water tank at the south end of the bridge and in starting up went very slow across the bridge. The engine, which was one of the new locomotives recently bought by the company, was the largest and heaviest on the line and followed by two large oil tanks containing thousands of gallons of oil and other heavily loaded cars going at a low rate of speed that it was the load that the bridge could not withstand while a lighter train might have passed in safety as did the passenger train which passed over a few minutes before. Some of the broken timbers were badly rotted and while the wreck was a very disastrous one and will cost the company several thousand dollars, it may be considered very fortunate when we contemplate the condition of the bridge and think that it might have been a heavily loaded passenger train instead of a freight.
The wrecking crew arrived early Sunday morning and began clearing the wreck away and prepared to put up a temporary bridge. The banks of the river were crowded all day long with people from town, the surrounding country and neighboring towns who came to see the wreck. Work has steadily gone on ever since and the greater part of the wreck has been rescued from the river. It will be an immense job however to get the engine out and it will be some time until trains can run over the bridge they are building. In the meantime arrangements have been made with the Wabash and C. & A. roads to run their trains around by way of Laketon Junction and traffic is going on with but little delay.
We have not heard what the loss is estimated at but everything considered it will amount to several thousand dollars and the company can congratulate itself that there was no loss of life. Considerable property burned up that might have been saved. When he first arrived on the ground, Chief of Fire Department Thomas offered the assistance of the department but was told by the conductor that they could do nothing. Afterward when the fire broke out, it spread so rapidly in the dry timbers that before the department got on the ground nearly everything out of the water save the heavier timbers was burned.
The two oil tanks have sunk to the bottom. The wreck will cost the road not less than $30,000. It will be nearly a week before they will have a bridge ready for travel. The road will probably inspect its bridges. The road will probably inspect its bridges more carefully in the future. Passengers on the evening trains on Saturday were transferred around the wreck. Martin, the photographer, was on hand and took several views of the wreck. One of the brakemen who was on top of the rear end of the train and saw the bridge go down, jumped off the car. A brother of the wounded engineer, also an engineer on the same road, arrived Saturday evening to take care of the wounded man. Dan Strauss hospitably threw his house open and refused to let the engineer be moved before Monday though he wanted to leave before. Superstitious people who believe there is bad luck in the number “13” will probably attribute the wreck to the fact that the engine was numbered “13.” The wreck has been visited by hundreds of persons and just after it happened the town was nearly depopulated as everybody rushed down to see it. This is the second wreck this spring for Radabaugh but not the second in his career as an engineer, which business he has followed for many years and worked on many roads. One of the large oil tanks burst in the fall and allowed the oil to run out over the water. When it caught fire and floated down stream in a blaze, the sight was very picturesque. Engineer Radabaugh is a married man and lives in Toledo. He refused to have word sent to his wife. He is a member of the K. of P. lodge and the members of that fraternity administered to his wants while here.
The wreck has been visited by hundreds of persons and just after it happened, Billy Haney tells us a fish story, the truth of which is vouched for by a number of friends. He says he caught a seven pound buffalo fish in the river near the dam one day last week with a hook and line. This is the first fish of that species we have ever heard of being taken from Eel River,