Port Huron, MI Suffocates In Train Accident In Tunnel, Oct 1904




Grand Trunk Train Breaks in Two and Coal Gas Suffocates Crew and Others Bringing Aid.

Carrying out an oft-repeated declaration that he would never send one of his men where he would not go himself, Superintendent of Terminals ALEXANDER S. BEGG of the Grand Trunk Railway, a brother of MRS. J. H. COPLIN and MRS. A. MARKER of this city, was suffocated yesterday morning in the St. Clair tunnel extending from Port Huron, Mich., under the St. Clair river to Sarnia, Ont., into which he went with other railroad men to rescue from death by coal gas the crew of a freight train which had broken in two and become stalled.
Six men met death in the tunnel, suffocated by gas. Three of them died in attempting to rescue others.
At 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon MRS. COPLIN, who lives at No. 107 Baker avenue, received a telegram announcing her brother's death. MRS. MARKER, whose home is at No. 118 Clover street, was at once notified and the two sisters last night awaited details of the accident at MRS. COPLIN'S home. They had sent a dispatch to Port Huron asking if the funeral was to be held at his home there or at his former home, Galion, O., and were awaiting a reply so they might attend.
Train Breaks In Tunnel.
A dispatch received from Port Huron last night told of the accident, as follows:
A coal train broke in two while passing through the tunnel and three of the train crew were suffocated while part of the train lay stalled in the tunnel; the engineer lost his life when he returned and endeavored to push the stalled cars back to safety, and two other rescuers perished in vain attempts to penetrate the gascous[sic] atmosphere of the great tube.
The dead are: A. S. BEGG, Port Huron, superintendent of terminals; Engineer JOHN COLEMAN, Port Huron; Conductor J. B. SIMPSON; Conductor D. T. TINSLEY; Brakeman THOMAS McGRATH; Brakeman D. A. GILLIS, all four of Sarnia.
The train, which entered from the American end of the tunnel, was made up of seventeen coal cars. When it broke, Engineer COLEMAN realized that the accident had happened, and with the three cars that were still attached to the engine, steamed out of the tunnel into the Sarnia yards. He hastily detached his engine and went back into the tube for the stalled cars. When his engine reached them he attempted to push them back through the tunnel and out of the American portal. The grade proved too steep, however, and the engine and cars rolled back into the gas-laden tunnel. The engineer was suffocated at his post in the engine cab. His fireman, FRED FORESTER with great presence of mind, jumped into the partly filled water tank of the engine, where there was enough air to preserve his life, although he is in a serious condition to-night.
When news of the broken train reached the American side of the tunnel, Superintendent BEGG, accompanied by two other employes, started in on foot, hoping that the train was near enough to the entrance so that they might rescue and carry out some of the crew. They had gone but a short distance when the coal gas became stifling and BEGG succumbed. The other two rescuers succeeded in crawling to the portal of the tunnel on their hands and knees.
Meanwhile preparations were being made at the Sarnia end of the tunnel to rescue the imprisoned train crew. An engine with a party of rescuers entered the tube and had proceeded but a short distance when they found JOHN HALEY, a track walker, lying unconscious on the track. He as taken out and again the engine plunged into the gaseous atmosphere. The rescuers were overcome, however, by the gas before the train was reached, and Brakeman McGRATH died. Switchman BLAKE, who was a member of the party, after a time made another attempt to penetrate the gas, and by this time succeeded in making the stalled engine, coupled it to the cars and ran the train out into the daylight. SIMPSON, TINSLEY and GILLIS were found dead in the caboose. Fireman FORESTER was in the water tank of the engine nearly two hours before he was rescued and his escape is little short of miraculous.
Saw Brother Last at Funeral.
MRS. COPLIN and MRS. MARKER last saw their brother alive at Kingston,Ont., at the funeral of their brother, GEORGE BEGG, in February. MR. BEGG had never been in Syracuse but his daughters, MRS. ALEXANDER McFARLAND and MISS LAURA BEGG of Port Huron, were here a year ago visiting their aunts. MISS BEGG is now a student in college at Port Huron and is visiting her sister there. He also leaves a widow and two sons, ALEXANDER BEGG, attending medical college at Drake University, Des Moines, Ia., and GEORGE BEGG, who is at home.
MR. BEGG was about 60 years old. His home was originally at Kingston, Ont. He enlisted in the Federal Army when the last call for troops was issued during the Civil War and served three months. He then went to Galion, O., and entered the employ of the Atlantic & Great Western railroad and even then while he was a conductor, MRS. COPLIN stated last night, he always asserted that he would not send a man any place he would not go himself and when ever there was any danger to be encountered he started himself rather than send on of his brakemen.
From Galion, O., MR. BEGG went to Macon, Ga., where he occupied a position as superintendent of trains many years for the Southern Railway. Five years ago he went to Port Huron and entered the employ of the Grand Trunk road.
MR. BEGG was a thirty-two degree Mason, a Knight Templar and a member of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine.
MRS. COPLIN and MRS. MARKER expect to start West this morning.

The Post-Standard Syracuse New York 1904-10-10