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Old Time Trains


The Horseshoe Curve Wreck

by R.L.Kennedy


The troublesome steep grade and sharp horseshoe curve located north of Cardwell was to become the sight of the worst wreck in the history of the Bruce Branches. It was here on the morning of September 3, 1907, that a Special passenger train destined from Markdale to Toronto came to disaster.

This Special train originated early in the morning at Markdale leaving there at 7.34 a.m. and arriving at Orangeville at 8.55 after making eight stops. Destined for Toronto it was carrying passengers to the annual Exhibition. It's four cars were hauled by engine 555 a high-drivered (69") Ten-Wheeler (4-6-0). At Orangeville, three coaches were added to the train, leaving there at 9.05 a.m. and arriving Caledon at 9.20 am. Shortly thereafter it started down the steep grade approaching the horseshoe curve where it came to grief, jumping the track, overturning the engine, and destroying four of the wooden cars.

Seven people were killed and 114 injured (out of about 600) in the wreck, which was caused by high speed. Passengers would guess 50-60 mph prior to the wreck while eyewitnesses near the site estimated the speed as being too high for the curve at perhaps 35 mph. The engineer would later deny this, claiming to be doing 15 mph. (No event recorders back then!) Sectionmen working on the line felt the train was running far too fast for the curve and noted its passing as 9.25.a.m. rather than the 9.32 slightly farther away as claimed by the engineer.

It was necessary to flag the regular passenger train following them. A special train came from Orangeville to bring medical help.

It was said that the crew had gone to Owen Sound the night before, (to turn the engine and for repairs,) and that they had been seen freely drinking liquor at an establishment there. They left Owen Sound at 3.20 a.m. for Markdale, leaving there with the passenger train at 7.34 a.m. Later, a witness who walked with the engineer and conductor from the hotel in Markdale where they had breakfast, testified they were sober.

The run to Orangeville was said to have been made at such a high rate of speed that two men got off the train there, convinced it would be wrecked.

Engineer George Hodge (age 23) and conductor Matthew Grimes (age 31) were arrested and charged with criminal negligence. At a Coroner's jury evidence was presented that the engineer had not run a passenger train before bringing their train from Parkdale the day before. Further that he had only been an engineer since January, having five years experience as a fireman. He had run freight trains over the line and was aware of the curve, which he took safely at less than 25 mph which speed was posted on a Slow Board before the curve. He admitted ignorance of a bulletin posted about the running of trains down the grade, something he was required to know about.

Grimes had been a conductor for three years with nine years total experience, presumably six years as a brakeman. He denied the train was running too fast. His brakemen were Arthur Hudson age 27 with 12 years service braking and switching, who stated there had been no fast running at any time; and Arthur Haid, 22, with only two months seniority, who also stated they were not speeding.

The jury returned a verdict of guilty against the two men for causing the wreck by running the train at excessive and dangerous speed. The CPR was faulted for putting incompetent and inexperienced men in charge of the passenger train over such a rugged line. Note: The grade is four and a half miles long averaging 1.8%, but reaching 2% for 6/10th of a mile. There is a horseshoe curve of 11 and 12 degrees on a 462 foot radius on this grade.

Special Instructions 1898 governing operating down steep grades.


Map by James Filby

In spite of the verdict by the Coroner's jury, at a criminal trial in November 1907, incredibly, both were found not guilty! This did not stop the lawsuits, it was another year before the CPR was finished with the matter when they lost the last case in which a passenger (D. Stewart) was awarded $11,500, a large amount in those days when even death's were paid out at a much lower figure.

Clearly, the engineer did not have his train under control. This may have been due to his inexperience, not having run a passenger train before. It may even have been caused by his falling asleep at the throttle, due to the lack of any rest, after taking the engine to Owen Sound the night before. What became of the engineer is not known, however conductor Grimes returned to work and lived to a very old age.

Four photographs: Region of Peel Archives/Cannon Collection.

555 lays wrecked on its side, while much of the wooden passenger equipment is destroyed.

Train consisted of combine 1650, and six coaches of which 133, 534 and 880 were also destroyed.

The wreck attracts many onlookers.

The cleanup attracts even more!

Abandoned grade Horseshoe Curve

Abandoned line at Cardwell

Patterson-George Collection
A "High Ten-Wheeler" similar engine to the 555. Shown here in 1930's leaving Lambton shop track, believed to be heading for North Toronto Station, possibly to handle a passenger train heading up the Horseshoe grade.

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