Cuyahoga Falls, OH Head On Train Collision, July 1940

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"HUMAN ELEMENT" BLAMED FOR RAILROAD WRECK; FORTY-THREE KILLED IN CRASH WEDNESDAY NIGHT.

RIDERS IN COACH ALL MET DEATH.

No One Escaped from Flames After "Doodle-Bug" Crashed Into On-Coming Freight Train.

Cuyahoga Falls, O., Aug. 1 (U.P.) -- The head-on collision of a freight train and a self-propelled passenger car here last evening, which took the lives of 43 passengers, was attributed today to the failure of one of the train crews to go on a siding.
E. W. SMITH, vice-president of the Pennsylvania railroad, said at Pittsburgh that the crew of a motor-driven passenger coach had specific orders to take a siding to permit a 74-car freight train pulled by two locomotives to pass. It didn't and they collided in the center of this town of 20,000 persons at 6 p. m. yesterday.
Pennsylvania officials had been joined by inspectors of the Interstate Commerce Commission in an effort to establish responsibility. The single-track line branches off from the main line at Hudson, O. and runs to Akron, 15 miles away.
"The crew of the motor car not only disregarded their orders to stop at switch No. 1 at Silver Lake and to wait on the siding," SMITH said, "but in continuing on the main track from Silver Lake toward Akron, disregarded another rigid rule, as permission was required from the block operator at Hudson to make this further movement. This permission was not obtained."
He absolved the crew of the freight train.
There were 46 persons in the passenger coach propelled by a gasoline motor, a type of conveyance known locally as a "Doodle-bug." The engineer and the two members of the crew saw that a collision was inevitable and jumped, saving their lives and the other 43 passengers, who included several railroad employes, were killed.
Coroner R. E. AMOS, who had announced several hours earlier that 41 were dead, added two more to the death toll toady. A check of 14 funeral homes in the area revealed that 35 bodies had been identified. Eight still were nameless.
A 44th death was attributed to the crash. MRS. EVA GEORGE, 70, was found dead, apparently of a heart attack, in her home a short distance from the scene shortly after the wreck.
It was the second disaster in less than four months on American railroads. A New York Central express train jumped the tracks at Little Falls, N. Y., April 19 and 31 persons were killed.
The cause of last evening's disaster was clear -- the engineers of the respective trains didn't know they were so close together. Railroad experts said that there were three alternatives: (1) That the Doodle-bug's engineer had failed to obey an order to take a siding; (2) That the chief engineer of the two locomotive freight trains has not followed such an order; (3) That the order had been improperly drawn or had not been delivered. The investigation will decided which alternative is correct.
Less than half of the bodies had been identified. The gasoline tank of the Doodle-bug exploded at the instant of impact, spraying the wreckage and its cargo of dead and dying men, women and children with flaming gasoline. In consequence, most of the bodies were burned, some so badly that they never may be identified.
O. M. LODGE, chief engineer of the "double-header" freight train saw the passenger coach rushing down the rails toward him at more than 40 miles an hour. He slammed on his brakes, and at the instant of impact his 74-car train, so heavy that two locomotives were needed to haul it, was traveling at approximately 35 miles an hour.
THOMAS MURTOUGH, 49, of Orrville, O., engineer of the Doodle-bug, was in a local hospital with a possible fractured skull, and could not be interviewed. Witnesses believe that he applied his brakes before he jumped from his car, just preceding the collision.
H. B. SHAFER, 57, of Mount Vernon, O., the Doodle-bug's conductor, and TOD WONN, 24, a railroad employe, jumped from the baggage compartment. SHAFER'S right hand and right foot were amputated at the hospital later, WONN received only scalp lacerations and a sprained foot.
"SHAFER looked ahead and said to me: 'We're going to hit. Jump.' And we both did."
The passengers, unable to see the freight train, never knew what hit them. County officials who were the first in the debris after the gasoline fire had burned itself out, said they found children smashed under the seats in which they had been sitting, men and women crammed back in their seats under the twisted steel of the front part of the coach which had been pushed back upon them.
The self-propelled coach was thrown 400 feet back from the huge freight locomotives and bits of it were scattered along the track. It was crumpled, like wadded paper, for almost half its length. The leading freight locomotive was not greatly damaged by comparison. The freight train was not even derailed.
The freight train was en route from Columbus to Cleveland and was running three hours late. CHARLES HOWARD, Pennsylvania railroad chief clerk at Cleveland, said the Doodle-bug had been ordered to take the siding at switch three, just north of the Cuyahoga Falls station. It had overrun this switch by a quarter of a mile.
R. E. COLLIER, conductor of the freight train, tapped his pocket and said it contained a written order notifying him that the Doodle-bug was taking the siding at switch three.
W. J. PAYNE, 45, of Akron, a salesman, had stopped his automobile there to wait for the freight train to pass. A piece of debris smashed through his car and hit his knee.
Ambulances gathered at the scene from neighboring communities within an hour, along with a vast fleet of private automobiles. But, with the exception of the three railroad employes and PAYNE, there was no one to take to the hospital. The ambulances were used instead to take the charred bodies to funeral homes.
LOUISE STINAFF, a local resident, was sitting on her front porch reading a newspaper, 150 yards from the scene.
"I heard a blast of whistles," she said, "and looked up to see two trains bearing down on each other with brakes screeching. Then there was a tremendous crash and explosion. I was stunned. A sheet of flame completely enveloped the Doodle-bug and the freight train pushed it 300 feet back along the track."
Her father, F. W. STINAFF, an old railroader, called police, the fire department, and the railroad dispatcher's tower at Akron. The passenger car's gasoline tank had a capacity of 600 gallons and it was believed to have contained at least 300 gallons.
Engineer LODGE of the freight train described the collision thus: "We had just come around the bend when I saw the doodle-bug loom up in front of us. We jammed on the brakes. When we hit there was a terrific explosion. The fireman, (B. E. REYNOLDS) and I stayed with her through the fire and explosion until she came to a stop. Then we jumped through a wall of flame."
L. P. SELLER, fire chief of Cuyahoga Falls, arrived at the scene two minutes after the collision.
"Flames shot out of the windows, darted high in the air," he said. "The fire was like a screen and it was almost impossible to see what it was like inside the car."
"Then, for just a second, the wind parted the flames and I caught a glimpse of the interior. I was sure everybody in there was dead. They must have died almost instantly. I heard no screams at all."
"Some of the victims were hanging partly out of the windows and they were on fire. The freight train couldn't seen to stop and it kept pushing back the doodle. Some of the burning bodies fell out of the windows and were strung out along the right of way. They were all shattered and bleeding and burnt."
"We couldn't do anything at first. Everything was so hot it was impossible to get near the car. We finally played three lines of water on the fire for 20 minutes before we could get inside the coach."
"The interior looked as if a tornado had hit it. All the seats were torn loose from their bases and were piled in a heap in the front part of the car. The same thing happened to most of the passengers. They were jammed to the ceiling at the forward end. We had to use acetylene torches to free some of the bodies. Most of them were so charred they couldn't be recognized."
The freight train was pushed onto one siding, the remains of the doodle-bug on another. The rails were only slightly spread and four hours after the collision, traffic over the line was operating normally.

LIST OF DEAD
Akron, O. -- The dead in the Cuyahoga Falls train wreck:
BALLIFF, A. L., Akron.
BADONSKY, MARY, Akron.
BEDARF, OTTO, 33, Akron.
BILDERBACK, CHARLES, Orrville, O., railroad inspector.
BURKE, ALBERT C., 61, Akron, railroad dispatcher.
CLIFFORD, EARL C., Cuyahoga Falls.
DAVIS, ELMER, Cuyahoga Falls.
DUVE, F. H., Akron.
ELLENBROOK, ADAM, Akron.
ELLIS, MRS. SOPHIE, Akron.
FOUNTAIN, LOUIS, Cleveland, Negro porter.
FAHRNEY, MRS. ELLA ELIZABETH, 33, New Kensington, Pa.
FAHRNEY, MARY JOAN, 5, her daughter.
FRANK, CHARLES W., 47, Akron.
GIBBONS, E. W., Endicott, N. Y.
GILBO, MRS. LILLIAN, Akron.
KIRSCHNER, LEONARD, 4, Akron.
KIRSCHNER, MRS. NINA, Akron.
LETZKUS, LAWRENCE C., Pittsburgh.
LOGANI, MARGARET, 41, Bayonne, N. J.
MOREY, MRS. NINA JANE, Akron.
MORRIS, CAMERON, Cuyahoga Falls.
McKEE, PAUL, 41, Akron.
OREM, ROBERT EDGAR, Akron, an army recruit.
PALMER, FRED, Cuyahoga Falls.
PERRY, LOIS, Cleveland (Negro).
PETERS, HENRY, 22, Akron.
RICE, W. H., Pittsburgh.
SCHREIBER, JOAN, 10.
SCHMITZ, WILLIAM, McMechan, W. Va.
SIMPSON, DOLORES, 13, Charleston, W. Va.
SMOCK, P. H., Cambridge, O.
SQUIRES, C. T., JR., Cuyahoga Falls.
TARLETON, C. E., Akron.
VAUGHN, NELSON, Cuyahoga Falls.
WAY, RUSSELL, Akron.
WILLS, CLEON H., 50, Cuyahoga Falls.
One Unidentified Man.
One Unidentified Woman.

Piqua Daily Call Ohio 1940-08-01

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Comments

Doodle-Bus disaster

My mother Evelyn Armour nee Condon dob 1/17/25 lived in the last house next to the tracks on Steels Court She remembers watching her father help to retrieve bodies from the wreckage and vividly remembers some of the victims hanging out of the windows of the wreckage screaming for help. She also remembers helping my grandfather,Patrick Condon, until he told her to getaway from the carnage.She has told us about the crash many times but memory now fails her but she has told us she will never forget the screams or the smell.

Doodle Bug Engineer: Thomas Murtaugh

The Doodle-Bug Engineer mentioned in the above article, Thomas Murtough [sic] was my mom's maternal grandfather. Tom Murtaugh's hair was still fiery red at 49, but turned snow white overnight. Growing up, I had heard this story numerous times, but never knew he was responsible for the fatal accident.