Broad Ripple, IN Train Crashes Through Bridge, Jan 1884


Indianapolis, Ind., Jan. 31. - The south-bound accommodation train on the Indianapolis & Chicago air line, due here at 10:30 this morning, met with a terrible accident when seven miles from the city at Broad Ripple. At that point the railroad crosses White River on a truss bridge, two spans, each 150 feet long. The engineer had gone into the baggage car for a drink of water and the locomotive was in charge of the fireman. When the locomotive reached the center of the bridge the fireman felt the structure sinking. He had his hand on the throttle, which he opened, giving the locomotive all available steam. The engine sprang forward with great force, breaking the coupling between the tender and the baggage car. The locomotive kept the track, but the baggage, smoking car, and another coach dropped through and piled up in a mass at the foot of the pier. The smoking car was partially telescoped on the baggage car. The wreck was partially submerged, but the portion above the water immediately took fire from the stoves. The fireman states that when he looked back after the locomotive reached the south end of the bridge, the cars were on fire and smoke obscuring the scene. Word of the wreck reached the city in a short time, and a wrecking train, with surgeons and other assistance was at once made up and sent to Broad Ripple. On reaching the wreck a chaotic scene was presented. The bridge and cars were still burning, and those present were so lacking in presence of mind as to be unable to extinguish the flames or afford relief to sufferers. Officials of the road went to work vigorously and systematically, and in a short time the fire was extinguished and search for bodies begun. Six persons were either killed outright or burned to death. The remains recovered were burned beyond recognition.
A gang of workmen had been making repairs on the bridge, all of whom were slightly injured. The two passengers seriously hurt, SEAMAN and CLARK, were left at Broad Ripple, and the others were brought to this city.
The accident is now attributed to a defective thread on the supporting rods of the bridge, the nuts on the ends of the rod fitting so loosely that the bridge was unable to support the weight of the train. The scenes at the wreck were extremely distressing. The dead were in the ruins of the smoking and baggage cars, and these, one on top of the other were in deep water. A skiff was used for landing the remains of the dead. B. J. WHITE was working under the bridge when the train went over, and says he thinks the rods pulled through the nuts, letting the bridge down. To all appearance, one break occurred within 15 feet of the pier, and another about midway of the span. WHITE'S escape was miraculous. Standing on the ice, the falling bridge and car struck him on the head and drove him through the ice, and down to the very bottom of the river. The timbers did not rest upon him, however, and he swam out more dead than alive, covered with bruises, but able to walk. The newsboy of the train says he could have extinguished the fire with one bucket of water, but it was not to be had. C. C. LOWDEN and J. B. HORTON were in the smoking car. At one end lay a man with his skull crushed and life extinct. Across him, close to a red hot stove, lay LYNN CLARK, a heavy timber binding one leg immovable. LOWDEN tried to find an axe with which each car is provided, but it was in the other side of the car in three feet of water.
"For God's sake don't desert me now," cried CLARK.
"We did not desert him until the flames scorched us and we almost suffocated with smoke," said LOWDEN. "Before leaving I kicked out a window close by CLARK, and left him in agony. Presently the flames burned the timber in two close by CLARK, and he crawled out of the window which we had broken for him."

The Conductor's Account.
"In five minutes after the train went down," said Conductor LOSEY, "the entire wreck was wrapped in flames. In less time than that all were drowned. Frightful screams came from the ruins near the pier, but with two buckets and no boat, we were powerless, and all we could do was to close our ears and pray for death to release our comrades."
A pitch of gray beard led to the identification of JOHN BRAY. A train order in a vest pocket led to the belief that a handful of bones to which were hanging a few shreds of roasted flesh, when the remains of Engineer BREWER. A button or a spared half inch of a suspender or under garment led to the identification of others. It is believed that all the killed have been recovered.

The Benton Weekly Record Montana 1884-02-09