Altoona, PA Mining Car Train Wreck, Jul 1906


Runaway Car Dashes Out of Darkness and Leaps Like Beast Upon Them.


Brakes Released by Some Unknown Agency, Heavy Car Rushes Down Steep Grade and Hurls Itself Into Group of Merrymakers.

Altoona, Pa., July 5.---A runaway car, flying like the wind down a mine-branch track that runs between Puritan and Portage, just before midnight, jumped the track a short distance west of Portage and crashed into a party of 20 foreigners who were holding a celebration along the track. Thirteen were killed. Several others were injured. The car was smashed to kindling wood and the tracks were torn up for 100 feet.

The car was loaded with a motor consigned to the Puritan Coal company and had been left standing on a siding near the mine shaft. Mine officials give it as their opinion that striking foreigners loosened the brake and started the car down the precipitins spur, although another theory is that malicious boys sent the car off.

Momentum is Frightful

The disaster happened on what is known as Martin's Curve, on a track four miles long, that acts as a feeder for several mines located between Portage and Puritan. The incline is very steep and it is the custom to run cars down to Portage by gravity. The car had gone three miles before leaving the tracks and had gained a frightful momentum. It hit Martin's Curve while going at full speed and left the tracks at a sharp angle, turning half way around and plunging into the crowd of merrymakers. The party had been drinking and singing for several hours. One foreigner who returned to Portage to have his injuries dressed declared that the party were singing a last song prior to retiring for the night.]

When rescuers arrived they were appalled by the frightful sight that was presented. Two of the unfortunate foreigners had been decapitated. The lower portion of the bodies of four men were visible, while the trunks were crushed into a shapeless mass, pinned down by the twisted steel and broken timber. One man whose head and a portion of his body protruded from the wreckage was alive when the first of the rescuers arrived at the scene, but they were unable to remove the weight that pinned him to the ground and he died in a few minutes.

Victims' Heads Crushed Flat.

In the course of an hour a portion of the wreckage had been removed and disclosed a horrible sight. Directly under the car were at least seven bodies and they were ground into the earth, the heads crushed as flat as though they had been placed under a steam hammer.

All of the dead men were Arabians who lately had been imported to work in the mines near Portage. Many of them were young, at least nine of the killed being under 21 years old. They lived in a shanty near the scene of the disaster. A Portage undertaker was directed to take charge of the remains. Several of the bodies, ground to a pulp, were shoved into a wheelbarrow and taken to the undertaker.

It was impossible to see the car in its headlong flight down the incline until it was within 20 feet of where it left the tracks. It cleared the tracks, plunging several feet into the air and alighting squarely upon the Arabians. The awful suddenness made escape out of the question.

Mine policemen are making an investigation with a view to ascertaining who started the car and the coroner of Cambria county is also investigating.

Indiana Evening Gazette, Indiana, PA 5 Jul 1906