Aspen, CO Train Accident, Feb 1893



A Runaway Car Loaded With Heavy Timbers Dashes Into a Car Containing 29,000 Pounds of Giant Powder – The Powder Being Frozen Prevented an Awful Explosion.

From Wednesday’s Daily.
What undoubtedly would have been the greatest disaster of modern times was averted from the city of Aspen by a hair’s bredth [sic] yesterday afternoon at about 3:30 o’clock. When it was learned that a car loaded with twenty-nine thousand pounds of giant powder, standing on the track at the Midland depot, had been partly crushed by a runaway flat car loaded with heavy timbers, all other topics were immediately absorbed by the discussion of the grave matter.

Many persons, ordinarily of calm judgment, who claim to be practically familiar with the great power of dynamite, expressed the opinion that had the powder exploded at that point, backed up as it was by the mountain side, there would have been but few people left alive in Aspen to tell the tale of her great disaster. The most moderate opinion was that had the explosion occurred it would have destroyed every building and living thing within two blocks, at least, of the scene.

At about 3 o’clock in the afternoon a car consigned to the Tomkins Hardware company and containing 20,000 pounds of giant powder, arrived at the Midland depot, having been transferred from the Rio Grande railroad. The car was immediately pushed on to the Compromise tramway track and left standing at the tramway building, ready for the dangerous explosive to be unloaded and hauled off the to powder house located on the Roaring Fork just above the old burying ground.

In the meantime, the employes [sic] of the Durant Tunnel company were engaged in unloading some heavy timbers from a car at the head of Ute avenue, distant from the powder care about 500 yards. In pushing the heavy care about to get it in the proper position they lost control of it, and the car started down grade directly toward the car loaded with giant powder.

It so happened that an empty flat car and two loaded timber cars stood between the powder car and the runaway, and to this fortunate circumstance is due the escape from the explosion which must have occurred had the heavy timbers have been thrust into the powder.

As it was when the runaway came in contact with the cars loaded with timbers the force was so great as to land some of the timbers half way the length of the flat car that stood between.

The sudden jar forced the powder which was in fifty pound boxes against the car’s end knocking it entirely out, several boxes of the dynamite falling on the track where they were smashed and ground to powder by the heavy wheels of the cars passing over them.

The powder care was forced still further down the track, a distance of fully a hundred yards, where its further progress was stopped by some heavy cars the brakes upon which were set tight. When these last mentioned cars were struck by the powder car several more boxes of powder were thrown out on the track.

Altogether ten to fourteen boxes of the powder were thrown out of the car, and nearly a full wagon box of loose sticks were picked up after the excitement had subsided. Why the powder did not explode from the great concussion it received of course is very mysterious, and can only be accounted for on the ground that it was frozen, although the men employed in gathering it up say that they found some soft sticks. However, the general opinion is that the powder was in a frozen condition. As one old miner expressed it, “the powder was froze of the days of miracles is not past.”

The Midland depot employes [sic] had considerable fun over the affair after the danger had gone by. They say Cal Wheeler, the baggageman, when he saw the timber car bearing down on the powder car, too in the situation at a glance, and with one wild yell of “powder,” took to his heels and ran as far as the court house before stopping.

Jerry Howard, the operator, had just stepped to the front door when he heard Wheeler’s yell, and he rushed back into the office and jumped out of the North window. In fact, all the employes, [sic] who had any conception of the true danger, made themselves scarce in short order, and the general opinion is that they acted just as any other mortal would under the circumstances.

Aspen Weekly Times, Aspen CO 25 Feb 1893