Accidents were Common: (Pine Plains and the Railroads)
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Vol. 4: Pine Plains and the Railroads

Bicentennial Publication


By: Lyndon A. Haight
1976

§12 Accidents were Common


There were many accidents, some resulting in fatalities. One accident in the Pine Plains area occurred at Salt Point in 1904, as described in the July 13, 1904 Poughkeepsie Daily Eagle:

"TRAINMAN CAUSES A RAILROAD WRECK

Deliberately throws open a switch allowing P&E passenger train to crash into freight at Salt Point."



Conductor Marcy May Die.

"Superintendent Charles Hicks, of the Poughkeepsie & Eastern Railroad, is anxious to find a trainman named E. Kellerhouse, who disappeared Tuesday afternoon after throwing open a switch on the railroad at Salt Point, allowing a passenger train going at the rate of eighteen miles an hour, to collide head-on with a freight train standing on the siding. As a result of the trainman's actions, Conductor M. D. Marcy is lying at Vassar Hospital at the point of death and two of the company's locomotives are badly wrecked, entailing a loss of several thousand dollars. At the hospital late Tuesday night it was stated that Mr. Marcy was unconscious and suffering with a fracture at the base of the skull. His condition is very serious. His wife and daughter are with him.

"The collision was between passenger train No. 8 and freight train No.7. The former was drawn by locomotive No. 7 and consisted of a combination baggage and smoking car and a day coach. This train was in charge of conductor Marcy. The engineer was Isaac Germond and his fireman was Purdy Miller. Train No. 7 left Poughkeepsie at 4:05 o'clock Tuesday afternoon and was due to pass the freight at Salt Point.

"The freight train was composed of about fifteen cars and was drawn by engine No. 1. George Lown was the conductor, James Delaney the engineer and Philip Slimmer the fireman. The freight train was due in this city about 5:05 o'clock and had arrived at Salt Point about twenty minutes past four o'clock. After the train arrived at the station it was backed in on the Salt Point siding to await the passing of passenger train No. 7, due there about 4:30 o'clock.

TRAINMAN'S INSTRUCTIONS

"After the freight train had backed on the siding Conductor Lown ordered trainman E. Kellerhouse to go to the lower switch, wait for the passing of the passenger train and after the train had passed to throw open the switch to allow the freight train to pull out on the main track. Kellerhouse walked down the track to the switch and awaited the arrival of the passenger train from this city. The train came along at a speed of about eighteen miles an hour. No attention was paid to Kellerhouse and the railroad men supposed that he would follow out his instructions to the letter.

A TERRIFIC CRASH

"When the passenger train was about thirty feet from the switch, Kellerhouse was seen to make a rush toward the switch, throw the lever and let the passenger train on the siding. His actions were hardly explainable. The engineer and fireman on both engines saw that a collision was coming arid all four jumped to safety."

The news item goes on to say that the passengers "knew not what was coming" and that Marcy struck his head on a partition when the crash came. No passengers were injured. Marcy was brought to Poughkeepsie by a special train sent from there and the tracks cleared in a few hours. The news account further says:

KELLERHOUSE DISAPPEARS

"Immediately after the accident, search was made for Kellerhouse, but he had disappeared. It was stated that he had stopped long enough to tell someone that when he saw the passenger train nearing the switch he thought the switch was adjusted in such a manner as to allow the train to run on the siding. He then sprang forward and threw the lever, supposing that he would be putting the passenger train on the right track."

Another long-remembered accident occurred on the Connecticut Western Railroad, on the night of January 15, 1878, at 10:00 o'clock. An excursion train broke through the west span of the bridge over the Farmington River near Tariffville, causing the death of 13 persons and injuring 70 others. This was known as the "Moody and Sankey" train wreck and also as the "Tariffville Disaster." The train was en route from Hartford with passengers who had attended the Moody and Sankey revival meetings. The two locomotives, the baggage car and three passengers coaches of the ten-car train went through the bridge.

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A winter wreck at Winchell Mountain. (V04-43.GIF)

In December 1916 there was a head-on collision in a cut west of New Hartford, the result of a misunderstanding of train members. Two firemen were killed and three other crewmen injured. One of the firemen, who was stoking his fire, was thrown headlong into the open firebox.

Nate Blodgett tells of an odd accident in which a trespasser was killed. Nate had received orders before leaving Poughkeepsie to be on the lookout for a body along the track. The engineer of a preceding train, while oiling his engine at Salisbury, had noticed blood and a fragment of clothing on his engine. He had telegraphed this information back to Poughkeepsie and asked the next train crew to be on the lookout. Nate was riding in a copula of his caboose; as they neared Stanfordville his crew spotted something between the tracks. Before the train could be stopped it had gone by the object. Nate left his caboose and walked back to find a headless and limbless body lying between the rails. Some feet away one of the trainmen discovered the head near a telegraph pole. He went over and, lifting it by the hair for a good look, remarked, "Nobody I know." The story is that the man had been a laborer working on the building of the CNE water tower at Stanfordville, who had been discharged for insobriety. He had boarded a train for Poughkeepsie, had been put off because he could not pay his fare, and was on the tracks walking to Poughkeepsie. Whether he fell or went to sleep on the tracks no one ever knew.

Nate also tells of an incident which occurred while he was walking alongside his train on the east end of the Poughkeepsie Bridge on his way to the telephone booth which furnished a connection with the Poughkeepsie yards. He saw the roof of a B&M freight car blown off into a yard below the bridge, barely missing him. He reported that the wind over the river was often so strong that trainmen on top of the cars had to crawl hanging onto the catwalk to avoid being blown off.


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