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|November 27, 1890, a Saturday, is one day that will long be remembered in the annals of local railroad history. It was on that eventful date, which no less than four accidents occurred on as many railroads serving Buffalo.|
The night was just into its first hour when the first mishap occurred. The Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway's "Special Chicago Express" was due out from the William Street depot at 12:40 a.m.
Approaching the East Buffalo crossing at grade with the Buffalo Creek Railroad, the passenger train was nearly through the crossing, but had its last sleeping car rammed by a Buffalo Creek locomotive hauling a coal train.
The sleeping occupants were suddenly awakened as the sleeper was knocked off the track. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries, only minor bumps and bruises. But, had the "Express" been traveling at a faster speed, no doubt that this could have been a serious disaster.
Just after sunup, that November morning , two gangs of trackmen, one group from Holland, New York and the other from Protection, New York employed by the Buffalo, New York, & Philadelphia Railway were working on a former trestle, about one and a quarter miles from the Holland, New York station.
Originally some 20' in height, it was filled in with dirt during the recent summer. The changing weather, and passing of trains, caused the dirt fill to settle so that in some places the ties were resting on nothing but the stringers. While the section boss from Holland posted a warning signal flag on his side of the embankment, his counter-part failed to take the necessary safety precaution at the opposite end.
At around 8:30 a.m., northbound scheduled freight train #19 was approaching. Noticing nothing amiss, because there was no warning flag, the train proceeded. The locomotive and first 30 cars made it across, but not the last six freight cars and the caboose. Riding in the caboose were conductor Samuel Lock, and two brakemen, one named Martin Wickers.
In a split second, the caboose was rolling over and over down the embankment into a group of railroad workers standing below, who had no chance of escape. Tossed about violently in the tumbling caboose, the conductor and brakemen, although severely injured, survived.
Of those standing below, John Looby, Jefferson Geer and Joseph Silloway were killed. The Buffalo Morning Express article, November 29th, 1880, states: "The cause of this accident is supposed to have been that some of the new ties placed in the trestle were covered with ice, or not properly fastened, and that the swift motion of the train threw them out of place. The track thus spread or lowered, and the cars leaped it. The wreck was cleared at about half past one in the afternoon. The trestle was repaired and subsequent trains having passed over the structure in safety."
At around 10:30 a.m. at the East Buffalo yards of the New York, Lake Erie & Western Railroad (Erie Railroad after 1895). Steam locomotive #56 was in the repair shop having just gone under maintenance. Hostler, Morris Connell was to take the engine to the roundhouse. Having some difficulty opening up the throttle, once succeeding, he realized that he could not close it!
Speeding along at 20 mph and onto the main track, Mr. Connell jumped off. Down the line, some distance ahead, locomotive #144 and engineer Frederick Gerlach, was standing with a box car and platform car (flat car) while workmen were tossing railroad ties along the right of way. The men saw the approaching engine, and figured that it would stop in time not realizing that it was a "runaway" with no one on board.
With a terrific impact, #56 rammed into the platform car, which telescoped the box car, while railroad ties went flying in every direction. The injured included John Cossrove, James Halltery and engineer Gerlach. Francis Cavanaugh wasn't so lucky and was mortally injured by flying timber.
That same afternoon, the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad "Atlantic Express" was scheduled to depart the Exchange Street Depot at 2:20 p.m. It was running about 45 minutes behind schedule. The conductor was Edward Storey.
Engineers Harry Watkeys and William Cook were at the throttle of locomotives #291 and #564 respectively. In tow were one express car, one mail car, two baggage cars, three passenger coaches and three sleeping cars.
Making up for lost time, their throttles were opened wide, and by the time the William Street crossing approached, the train was tearing over the rails at the lightning speed of 40 mph. At "The Forks" (Union and Broadway) about five miles east of the city, the tender of locomotive #564 suddenly leaped the track, and the entire train was thrown into the ditch.
The Buffalo Morning Express article states: "There was the usual commotion among the passengers, the cars being well loaded, and one large, fleshy woman, in the excitement of the moment, threw herself bodily through one of the large windows in one of the sleepers without sustaining any injury. Notwithstanding the terrific speed of the train, and the violence with which the coaches were ditched, not a single passenger was seriously injured."
"A wrecking train under charge of Barney Mulvaney was immediately sent to the scene of the accident. The sleeping cars, strange to say, were but little injured, and were soon replaced on the track. The passengers got into them and were returned to the city. The trucks of the other cars were badly broken, and the tracks were not cleaned up until Sunday morning. The various trains were run by way of Lockport"
Back in Buffalo, some of the passengers recounted the horror of their experience. Had the ditch where the wreck had occurred been deeper, no doubt, some lives would have been lost.
The Buffalo Morning Express article concluded by stating: "In regard to the cause of the accident there were two opinions among the passengers." Mr. Taylor, of the Continental Hotel, said "to his thinking the breaking of a flange of one of the wheels of the tender of engine #564 threw it off the track." This was also the theory of the officials of the railroad.
The opponents to this opinion held that the patent switch at the "Forks" was misplaced , and that they saw the operator in charge at that place, whose name is David Russell, "flying into the woods." The railroad men laughed at this idea. Russell was at work yesterday morning and denied seeing the switch misplaced. He said "I did not flee to the woods."
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