Salisbury, NC Train Wreck, Aug 1884
Wild Work on the R. & D.
From the Charlotte Observer:
The passenger train on the Richmond and Danville railroad due here from the north at one oâ€™clock yesterday did not arrive until six in the afternoon. The delay was caused by a wreck of freight trains near the Yadkin river bridge. The wreck was not only a pretty extensive one, but was one of the most startling that has occurred on this well regulated road in many years. It was caused by the running away of a freight train that had been left alone at Salisbury, and which, when well clear of the town, went bowling along the track at a rapid and constantly increasing speed, to overtake a freight train that was just a short distance ahead of it.
Early yesterday morning fright train No. 19 left Charlotte in two sections, one section going ten minutes in advance of the other. Captain A. B. White was the conductor of the first section, and Captain Albright was in charge of the second. At Salisbury section 1 went on north and section 2 had to wait 10 minutes before starting. Taking advantage of this delay, Conductor Albright and Engineer Smith left the train and went to their breakfast. They put the firemen in charge of the engine and told him to remain until they returned. The pay train was in the vicinity, and learning this fact, the fireman concluded that he would jump down from his engine, go and get his pay, and hurry back. This resolution was fatal. When the fireman returned his train was speeding along the track and rapidly disappearing in the distance.
While the engine had been standing on the track at Salisbury, the valves had been leaking and the cylinders gradually filling with steam. When the fireman left, the engine was almost ready to start, and scarcely had he gone before there was enough steam in the cylinder to turn the wheels. This done, locomotion was easy. At each revolution of the wheels the steam valves opened wider until the train was running under full head. Four cars were attached to the engine and the train left Salisbury at a rapid rate. In the meantime section 1 had reached the water tank just beyond the Yankin river bridge and was at a standstill, unconsciously awaiting the crash.
Conductor White was at work on his papers in the caboose, the last car in the train. Suddenly the thunder of the approaching train broke upon his ears, but before he could move the engine of the runaway train plowed through the caboose, splitting the car into fragments. The crash was terrible. The runaway train had attained a speed of fifty miles an hour at the time the collision occurred, and the wonder is that the wreck was no greater than it was. The caboose flew to pieces as if a bomb had been exploded in it and the front of the engine was buried under the wreckage against the next car. The crew of Whiteâ€™s train at once gathered at the scene and began the work of rescuing him from the wreck, which was soon accomplished. The poor fellow was not dead, but he was shockingly mangled. In the left side of his head there was a great gaping hole through his skull, and on the right side was a large fracture. His arm was broken and he was badly mashed about the chest. He was conveyed to Salisbury as quickly as possible and all that medical skill could do for him was done. The doctor spoke of his case in a very grave manner, and passengers who looked upon his mangled form tell us that they do not see how he can possibly recover.
The wrecked engine was brought back to Salisbury and the track cleared as early as possible for the passage of the south bound mail train. A number of people saw the runaway engine and cars going down the grade on the approach to the Yadkin bridge and they say it was a thrilling sight. It was the fastest train that ever went over the Yadkin bridge.
The Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, GA 21 Aug 1884
Transcribed by Jenni Lanham.