Newton Hamilton, PA Train Wreck, Sept 1858

Etching of Train Wreck

Railroad Accident at Newton Hamilton.

We copy the following particulars of the accident which occurred on Wednesday last, from the Harrisburg Daily Patriot and Union of Friday:

The train was the fast express, which left Philadelphia at 11 o'clock on Tuesday night, under control of MR. CHARLES KELLER, one of the most careful conductors on the road. After leaving Harrisburg, the motive power was furnished by the passenger locomotive "Belle," WM. D. GOTT, engineer, and SOLOMON HOFFMASTER, fireman. At forty minutes past six o'clock on Wednesday morning, Newton Hamilton was passed, the train moving at the rate of about 28 miles an hour. A short distance above the station there is a switch. The eastern end of this was in proper order, but when the locomotive was within a few yards of the western end the engineer discovered that the switch was misplaced, and that in an instant he would be off the track. He seized the rope of the whistle, and gave the signal for "down brakes." The order was compiled with, but before the speed of the train could be checked in the least, the heavy engine was bounding from cross-tie to cross-tie, followed by the train of five cars.

The scene was frightful. On either side of the track rose an embankment, and the locomotive having ran off upon the right hand, was throwing itself with desperate force against the mountain. Cylinders, levers and fragments of the engine house were scattered around, as the velocity gradually diminished, and the tender, express, baggage and smoking cars were grating against the embankment. At length the halt took place. One of the rails of the track was twisted upwards and entered the boiler. The shock threw the fireman, MR. HOFFMASTER, amid the wreck, and the steam escaping from the orifice just made, rushed out upon him, scalding his arms, thighs, back and face. Simultaneously the express car ceased its bounds, and fell heavily against the mountain, crushing beneath it the express agent, JEREMIAH KANE, whose duty obliged him to attend to the brake, on the side of the car from which he was precipitated to the ground and crushed. But he was not instantly killed, and lived until two o'clock the same afternoon.

The greatest excitement prevailed among the passengers, although none of them were injured. It would naturally be supposed that the mail agent, who was in the front end of the mail car, would have suffered. He escaped unhurt. The engineer had time, after sounding the signal whistle, and seeing the open switch, to brace himself against the ensuing shocks. He escaped with a few injuries to his limbs, some cuts and bruises, and a complete jar to his system. Through the whole affair he never deserted his post, and it is a marvelous fact, that the box upon which he had been seated but a moment before, was found crushed to atoms, after the accident, under the baggage car, while the house around him was torn to fragments. We have never heard of a more narrow escape from death.

And now comes the singular part of the narrative. The morning was very cloudy, as will be remembered, and the engineer was cautiously looking out ahead. He saw the switch tender standing beside the misplaced switch, waving a white flag (a signal that all is right,) but his own eyes enabled him to perceive that this was false, and that the switch was open. He sounded the whistle, and that very instant, the man with the flag, evidently discovering his own terrible mistake, threw down the signal and ran away at the top of his speed to a place of concealment. Since then, we are told, he has not been seen. It was partly through his negligence that the accident occurred, but the principal one upon whom the censure falls, is the conductor of a freight train that had previously passed over the track, and whose duty it was to have left the switch in proper order. We have the name of this conductor in our possession, but as the company ere this have no doubt taken cognizance of the neglect it will serve no good purpose to give it publicity.

Immediately after the accident, the telegraph was put in requisition, and wreck cars were soon on hand from both Altoona and Mifflin. At 9 o'clock A. M., a train arrived, in which the passengers were carried to their destination, and at 2½ o'clock in the afternoon the track was entirely cleared. The passengers expressed inidgnation [sic] loud and deep against the switch tender, and if he could have been found, after the affair, there is no doubt but that summary measures would have been taken to teach him care in future. Heretofore however, it is but just to state that this man has had the greatest confidence of the engineers and officers of the road, and has held his position for several years, with credit.

The deceased JEREMIAH KANE, was an attache of Adams Express company, and resided, we believe, in Pittsburgh. His brother, who is a messenger upon the railroad, was with him when he died. He was about 28 years of age, and so far as we can learn, a man of family. HOFFMASTER, the fireman is of this Borough, and was immediately visited in Newton Hamilton, where he was conveyed, by his wife, who received intimation of the sad affair by a telegraphic despatch [sic] from the engineer. He has been married but a short time.

The peculiar circumstances of this accident has induced us to give a full account. It is impossible for a railroad company to employ no servants except such as are faithful. As a general rule, the Pennsylvania company has a very steadfast and competent corps of employees. The censure, in this case, rests upon the conductor of the freight train, and he, we opine, will not again have an opportunity to cause an accident on that road.

The Huntingdon Globe Pennsylvania 1858-09-15