The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #60595 Message #3907099
Posted By: Joe Offer
22-Feb-18 - 03:23 AM
Thread Name: Origins: The Wreck of No. 52
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Wreck of No. 52
The front page of the Danville (VA) Bee for May 4, 1933, is here:
It's a long article. The grammar leaves something to be desired and I'm not going to try to correct it, but this is a terrific piece of writing. I'll transcribe it, but I'll have to do it a bit at a time because it's a very long article:
WRECK REPORTED CAUSED BY CHILD
SPIKE IS SAID TO HAVE BEEN PUT ON TRACKCondition of Engineer Allen Described as Serious at Hospital Where He is Suffering From Scalds - Fireman Woodson Shows Improvement - Six Others Less Severely Injured When Engine and Long String of Cars Bearing Livestock Leaves Rails Near Ruffin - Train Running Fifty Miles an Hour When it Left Rails
The Bee learned on good authority this afternoon that information has reached the Southern Railway Company that the derailment of fast freight train No. 52 at Ruffin, N.C., yesterday - the Southern's worst wreck since the Barnum and Bailey show train disaster - may have been caused by a child laying a spike upon the track.
No confirmation as to the credibility of the report was ascertainable. Division Superintendent DeButts is not here. Mrs. George Allen, wife of the injured engineer who is here from Spencer to be with her husband was cognizant of the report however.
Mr. Allen's condition was described this afternoon as still quite serious. He is scalded about the face, ears, neck, both arms and both legs and in addition inhales some of the steam injuring his throat. Dr. Julian Robinson said that the affected area was quite extensive and that while there is no sign of complications that there is the possibility of a pneumonia or kidney condition. Mr. Allen's strong constitution however, is a valuable factor.
Mr. Woodson's condition was appreciably improved this afternoon. His face, left hand, left and right ankle are scalded. Woodson is quoted as saying that the train was running at about fifty miles an hour when the engine suddenly left the metals, plunged off the track and rolled over taking most of the train with it.
Reports that a spike placed on the rails may have caused the derailment were given further credence this afternoon when Ruffin authorities reported that the imprint of a spike had been observed on one of the drive wheels of the overturned locomotive.
Officials at the Southern Railway Company today were trying to determine whether fast freight train No. 52, known as a "bean train" and carrying livestock and perishable foods which was wrecked a mile south of Ruffin yesterday afternoon at four o'clock was deliberately derailed by a spike or was due to some other non-malicious cause.
An investigation was being conducted by special officers of the company and at the divisional superintendent's office nothing was given out which would indicate that an official decision had been learned. A spike showing that it had been run over by the drivers of the locomotive is in the possession of the officials. Some of the railway men hold that it is mute testimony of deliberate train-wrecking.
Eight men were hurt in the piling up of 27 loaded cars, two of them seriously. Engineer George J. Allen, of Spencer, N.C. (formerly of Danville) and L.O. Woodson, fireman, also of Spencer are in Memorial hospital severely scalded about the face, neck, and legs with steam which poured from bursted pipes as the heavy Mogul type of engine turned over on its side 20 feet from the front porch of a negro cabin. Of the two, Allen is the most seriously hurt. They are in the hands of Dr. Julian Robinson, Southern Railway Company surgeon. Conductor G.H. Miller, of Spencer, N.C., was also injured and was treated for his hurts but is not a patient. The five other men known to have been hurt are those who rode the chicken cars to attend the birds en route from Tennessee to New York ar: W.J. Beard, of Watertown, Tenn.; J.A. Lefevre, of Cookville, Tenn.; James Chapman, of Atlanta, Ga.; H.A. Lackey, of Columbia, S.C.; and Claude Bryant, of Cookville, Tenn. These men were bruised and had cuts about the face and head and were treated by Dr. Wharton at Ruffin.
Three wrecking crews were taken to the scene of the wreck described by many of the older Southern employees as the worst for many years in the Danville division and toiled all night amidst the carcasses of slain steers, pigs, and chickens. The southbound track was opened just before six o'clock and truck line traffic was being maintained. It will be midnight tonight before the northbound track is open, owing to the vast amount of chaotic debris piled high.
Fears that hoboes now freely riding Southern trains might be found in the debris have not been confirmed, but late this morning it was said at the scene that they might yet be found as the derricks had not torn loose the vast volume of material. But for the Southern's new rule - sending a special agent with all fast freights to keep them clear of hoboes, a heavy death toll might have resulted. At Spencer the train was combed for hoboes and those found on it were told to get off. Four eluded vigilance and are understood to have swung off at Reidsville.
No estimate of the loss could be given at the divisional headquarters today. This will not be possible until the claim agents have filed their reports and checked them with bills of lading. Much produce was being sold at the scene of the train wreck and many people were getting hogs and steers at low prices. Many early vegetables, especially potatoes, were to be had for a song. The Southern carries its own insurance, it is said, setting up reserves for that contingency.
Hundreds of Danville people went to the scene again today to witness the Southern organization put to the severe test of opening the trunk line as quickly as possible. Rows of dead animals were to be seen and throughout the night suffering cattle were either pole-axed where they lay or revolver bullets ended their life. Eleven of the 27 cars carried stock or poultry.
Wrecking crews from Danville, Spencer, and Monroe were at the scene. The heavy hooks on chains were lifting the shattered cars and pitching them to one side. A few cars of lumber and merchandise were in the train and thousands of chickens. Many of these escaped when the coops lining the sides of those cars burst burst open and many were seized and carried away by unauthorized persons before the Southern's organization could take charge. Two race horses were in a forward coach and were pulled out of the debris yesterday skinned and cut and possibly of no further service to the track. There was a report that a stable man in the car had not been found.
The engine and the tender lay on their side clear of the track and will not be touched for the time being.
The engineer and the fireman talked freely last night despite their suffering but there was little they could say. "It all happened so quickly" Mr. Allen said. There was no time to jump even if they had wanted to. Woodson was found half buried under the avalanche of coal which swept forward as the engine hit the dirt. Thus pinioned with the engineer steam poured back on them. The train was making good time when it piled up.
The wreck was of monumental proportions and many of the older Southern employees said that it was the worst in point of damage that they could remember. What actually happened may never be known, though an enquiry will be made to determine the cause, if possible, and the engineer and fireman will be questioned as soon as they are well enough. The opinion of railway men who first arrived at the scene coupled with that of some of the train crew was that as the engine rounded the Stacey curve the tender left the metals and plowed along the ties carrying first one and then the other until the whole train out of control piled up. W.J. Beard of Watertown, Tenn., one of the chicken attendants who was well forward in the train said that at first there was the loud noise of something bumping along the tracks then he felt the trucks of the car he was in, leave the tracks and in a second or two the whole car rose up in the air and the air was filled with rending tinders and breaking metal. "It was simply hell" he said "to be caught in that car with the noise of the injured animals all about. It seemed like an eternity before I could get out."
Neither Engineer Allen nor Fiureman Woodson left the cab. Possibly they did not have time to, so quickly did the wreck take place, consequently they were thrown against the side of the cab and sprayed with the live steam from bursting pipes and burned by ashes from the firebox.
As the heavy engine plowed into the dirt on its side, three foremost box cars piled up into each other forming a mass of splintered debris as high as a two story house. The cars behind did not "hump" into the air as is usual. They broke out of line in zig-zag formation the coupling pins snapping like hairpins. When this was done the terrific force of the rest of the fast moving train closed up the wrecked cars in the orderly fashion of folds of a concertina each car standing side to side in a serried row and mashed almost flat.
The wreck happened beside the highway and the automobile driver who brought the injured engineer and fireman to the hospital, saw the wreck happen from the distance. By the time he reached the scene the wheels of some of the upset cars were still spinning, dust hung thick in the air and there was a wild din of dumb animals in misery.
Seeing the condition of the men in the engine he did not wait for possible other casualties. Negro families living in cabins, a few yards from where the inferno broke loose, were to (sic) frightened to give a coherent account of what happened.
Early arrivals at the wreck scene found scenes of indescribable confusion. Many animals with broken backs, hogs, cows, and heifers lay about the track side groaning. Far forward, close to the engine the frightened whinneyings of pinioned horses could be heard. Down in the depths of the wreck came the dying groans of cattle and the lusty squawking of chickens added to the bedlam.
Ruffin sent first word to Danville and wrecking crews were organized. Another call went to Greensboro, N.C. Dr. C.W. Wharton, of Ruffin, hastened to the scene and found five men bleeding from cuts about the head and face. There were chicken car attendants including: W.J. Beard, of Watertown, Tenn.; J.A. Lefevre, of Cookville, Tenn.; James Chapman, of Atlanta, Ga.; H.A. Lackey, of Columbia, Tenn.; and Claude Bryant, of Cookville, Tenn. They were all able to stay about the wreck.
The first fear was that some hoboes might have been killed, but as hour by hour the debris was lifted and cast aside no sign of further human injury could be found.
Sergeant R.S. Harris, of the North Carolina highway patrol force, and Patrolman W.B. Kelly, hastened from Reidsville on hearing that motorists were causing a traffic jam on the road. Harris on arrival abandoned the task of directing traffic and turned to the more humanitarian task of putting groaning animals with glassy eyes out of their misery. With a box of shells in one hand and a hot revolver in the other, he went from car to car putting a merciful bullet in the brain of cows, heifers, and hogs that he could see were mutilated and caught in the wreckage. He dealt similarly with the dying animals on the roadside.
W.G. Marley, Southern Railway special officer in Danville, hastened to the scehe and had a big job. Before he got there it is undoubtedly true that many of the dead hogs and heifers were carried away. Three dead hogs were seen loaded on a truck driven by a negro which happened along at the wreck. Figures could also be seen disappearing into the woods with generous handfuls of chickens. About a thousand chickens released from the coops and undamaged stalked around the scene of carnage pecking about the tracks. Harley sent for reinforcements to assist in the preservation of property until the adjusting agents could arrive on the scene. Just before dark and officer fired a wide shot at one negro who is said to have been warned not to touch any of the chickens but who apparently could not resist the temptation. He left the scene of the wreck at once without any chickens. One negro was heard to say "I knew de Lawd would send me something."
The Southern organized the wreck-clearing in the usual methodical way. A lineman clambered up a pole with two wires and telephone service to Danville was at once established on a portable set. Division Superintendant H.A. DeButts was in Richmond but his representatives hastened to the scene.
All officials who were approached were reluctant to say anything about the wreck, and would neither speculate on the cause nor estimate the damage in the absence of checks on bills of lading and more definite information on the number of dead cattle.
There was no merchandise in the train, but several cars had vegetables and there was a generous supply of new potatoes scattered about the tracks.
The distress cries of two race horses imprisoned in the front car brought ready human response. Bystanders assisted members of the train crew with crowbars and saws to cut holes through the mass of wood. As sections were cut away the two horses could be seen quivering and bleeding. Finally when a hold large enough was cut both horses scrambled out into the light of day. Their legs were not broken, but they were cut about the body and their legs were barked of skin.
As word of the spectacular wreck spread moire and more cars arrived and at nightfall there were thousands of people at the scene. Lurid flares lit up the scene and above the din of the derricks lifting wreckage and casting it aside to clear one track rose the cries of injured animals. Every once in a while a pistol would bark.
A negress, whose name was not learned was in hysterics most of the night. Her cabin is on the opposite side of the road. She heard a "terrible noise" and looking through the window she saw the railway locomotive leave the track and the whole train bear down on her cabin with a road. The engine turned over about twenty feet from her front porch.
More than a hundred railway men worked all night. As headway was made in the wreckage electric torch beams combed the uncovered area for human remains but none was found. Three hoboes left the third car which was reduced to splinters at Reidsville, N.C.
The engine No. 4893 was still on its side in the dirt this morning. It plunged clear of the tracks and the wreckers' first task was to clear the line to let through traffic.
Trains No. 33, 34, and 38 were rerouted by way of South Boston and Durham and other trains were held at Greensboro. At six o'clock this morning the Southbound track was clear and trains could pass but it was expected it would be all day before the northbound tracks have been cleared and rebuilt.
So....the wreck took place on May 3, 1933, on the Southern Railway at Ruffin, North Carolina. Ruffin is 14 miles southwest of Danville via U.S. Highway 29. The worst injuries were to the engineer and firemen, both from Spencer NC (home of the huge Southern Railway yard and roundhouse and shops - now a terrific railroad museum).
That's all, folks!
I couldn't find a photo of the Wreck of No. 52, but here's a photo of Norfolk & Western No 611 on its way through Ruffin in 2009:I saw No. 611 at the Southern Railway Shops in Spencer NC in the Fall of 2016. No. 611 was in Spencer for repairs, but it is based at another terrific railroad museum in Roanoke, Virginia. This is a great area for train buffs.