Two Seaboard Trains In A Fatal Collision

Passenger and Fright Crashed Together Near Columbia.


Four Killed Instantly and Their Bodies Crushed. Several Others Badly Injured – No Passengers Hurt.

Four persons were killed and three were injured in a head-end collision on the Seaboard Air Line between northbound passenger train, No. 66 and an extra freight 14 miles North of this city, at a point midway between Weddell and Blaney, at 7:16 o’clock yesterday morning.

The dead are: A. A. Smeck, engineer, and Will White, the colored fireman of the freight train, both of whom lived in Hamlet and Postal Clerks H. A. Pattillo of Osteen, Fla., and M. C. Watkins of Putnam Hall, Fla. Those injured are; John Robertson, the engineer, and Dan Dan Douglass, the colored fireman, of the passenger train, both from Raleigh, and Express Messenger D. E. Hinton, whose home is said to be in Boykins, Va. The injured men were brought to this city on a special train a few hours after the accident, the white men being taken to the Columbia hospital and the colored fireman to the Taylor-Lane hospital.

Engineer Robertson is probably the most seriously injured. His left shoulder is fractured and dislocated and hi right wrist is fractured; his left leg below the knee is also badly fractured. Express Messenger Hinton is less seriously hurt, having only a dislocation of his left shoulder. Douglass, the fireman, is scaled and badly injured about his back. None of the passengers suffered any injuries.

The bodies of the dead were brought to this city and taken to the undertaking establishment of Funderburk & Matteson and prepared for shipment to their homes.

Seaboard train No. 66 left the Columbia yard at 6:25 yesterday morning, running exactly 55 minutes late. This train had orders to pass the “Florida Special” at Weddell about 11 miles from here. Extra freight, No. 658, which left  Hamlet Monday morning at 8 o’clock as regular freight No. 3, reached Blaney, a station 20 miles north of Columbia, at 6 o’clock yesterday morning, there to allow the Florida Special to pass, and the orders also were for the freight to allow No. 66 to pass at Blaney.

The freight crew had been on duty for more than 25 hours and when the Florida Special passed them, then engineer, who had been asleep, awoke and inquired of the fright brakeman if No. 66 had passed, and was informed that it had passed. The flagman signalled the train out on the main line, and they left Blaney at our near 6:45 o’clock. The operator at Blaney came out of the station as the freight was leaving to ask  the conductor to have some shifting done, but the train was too far to sign down so the operator went to his instrument and reported to the dispatcher here that the freight had left Blaney. The dispatcher replied that No. 66 had left Columbia and that they would go together. The operator could not stop the freight.

And the collision came – it was 7:16 o’clock, No. 66 came down a high grade and the freight came around a short curve, also down grade, and they met at the bottom, in a cut. It is supposed that each train was running about 25 miles an hour. THe passenger engine, No. 54, was pulling eight heavy vestibuled cars and the freight engine, No. 658, was pulling 12 or 14 loaded freight cars.

The two engines crashed together and were thrown partly up on the side of the embankment on the same side of the track. The mail car, the first car next to the engine on the passenger train, was splintered, and Mail Clerks H. A. Pattillo of Osteen, Fla., and M. C. Watkins of Putnam Hall, Fla., were instantly killed. Fireman Will White, colored, on the freight, was pinned under the debris and also instantly killed. Engineer John Robertson and Fireman Dan Douglass of  the passenger were pinned under their engine, but Mr. Robertson managed, with his arms and one leg broken, to drag himself to the top of the cut, and attracted the attention of the onlookers. They immediately went to work and extricated him in about 45 minutes, Dan Douglass called for cold water to be turned on, as he was being scalded. He was directly under Mr. Robertson. He was finally got out, but badly injured, as was Mr. Robertson.

Engineer A. A. Smeck of the freight train was found under the mail car about dark yesterday afternoon. Express Messenger Hinton of Boykins, Va., had his shoulder dislocated.

The wrecking train arrived from Hamlet about 8:30 or 8:45 and began clearing away the wreckage and at about 2 o’clock, the remains of Mr. Pattillo and Mr. Watkins were dug out from under the trucks of the mail car and the trucks of the tender. Both were horribly mangled, and almost unrecognizable.

Dr. A. W. Burnet of Camden came down on a train that was made up at Hamlet. He took in charge the wounded men and when a special from Columbia reached the wreck, he brought them back here and they are now at the Columbia hospital. They were met at the station by Mr. VanMetre’s ambulances and were taken in charge by him. At 12:40 a special train was ordered out by the railroad commission, on which were the members, Messrs. B. L. Caughman, J. H. Wharton and J. H. Earle, and their secretary, Mr. D. P. Duncan, also two representatives of The State and a number of other including the Seaboard surgeon, Dr. W. W. Weston, Dr. E. C. L. Adams and Mr. A. F. Funderburk. This train arrived at the wreck at 1:10 p.m. The Seaboard officials that were there are Superintendent W. J. Jenks, Trainmaster W. A. Gore, Roadmaster Dan Young and Division Passenger Agent W. L. Burroughs of this city; Southern Express Route Agent W. J. Waren, Agent Weeks of Camden; Assistant Postmaster McCreight of Camden and Transfer Clerk R. H. Snellgrove of Columbia.

The representatives of The State learned from those who lived in the neighborhood of the wreck that when the collision occurred it was very foggy and impossible to see at any distance and that the crashing together of the trains could be heard at a great distance, probably six or seven miles.

Conductor W. M. Whitehurst of train No. 66 lives at Richmond. He escaped without any injuries at all.

Engineer John Robertson, who was badly injured, lives at Raleigh, is married and has four children. He has also six sisters and two brothers. His two brothers are also engineers, and arrived in the service of the Seaboard for 12 or 15 years. His mother and father are dead.

Dan Douglass, the injured colored fireman, lives at Raleigh.

Mail Clerk Pattillo is, as stated above, from Jacksonville.

Mail Clerk Watkins is from Jacksonville, and was running as substitute on this trip.

Engineer Smeck lived at Hamlet. He came into the service of the Seaboard about three years ago, formerly having worked for the Pennsylvania and Reading. He is married and has four children. His age was about 42 years.

Fireman Will White, colored, who was killed, lived at Hamlet and is married.

Conductor G. B. Sondley of the freight train escaped without injury.

Sam Sparrow, colored, the porter on No. 66, was going out from the day car to the sleeper when the crash came. He was thrown out on the ground but escaped with only a few bruises.

None of the passengers on No. 66 were injured but were shaken up and shocked when the two trains met.

It was interesting sight to see the immense wrecking cranes work, clearing away with each life quite a large amount of wreckage. THe wreckers worked swiftly and yesterday afternoon they hoped that the main line would be opened for traffic between midnight last night and early this morning. It was a horrible picture to see the dead bodies under the debris and how horribly they were mangled and disfigured. Trucks, iron rods, heavy beams and other stuff were piled on top of them. They never realized what had happened. Death was instantaneous.

The two engines that were completely demolished were two of the Seaboard’s best compound type. Number 54 is a high grade passenger engine with six drivers and freight engine No. 658, eight drivers, was one of the comparatively newly bought ones.

A Scene of Destruction

The two engines, one freight car and the mail car were piled in an almost inextricable mass of splintered wood, twisted and broken iron and a confusion of trucks. Both engines lay on their sides several feet away from the track with their fronts deeply telescoped, looking not unlike two mighty monsters that had met in fatal fight and expired, still locked in the death grip. Seemingly every part of these engines that could possibly be bent or broken had been torn from its fastenings by the powerful impact. Driving rods that could withstand the strain of the heaviest loads and the highest speed three times over had been snapped and twisted like willow switches. Trucks upon which rose the weight of the entire iron structure were torn from their strong pinning and swept aside like toys. Ponderous driving wheels were torn from their bearings and the cabs of both engines were crushed like shells.


1906.01.31 - Two Seaboard Trains In A Fatal Collision
January 31, 1906 State (published as The State) Columbia, South Carolina News Article Issue 5355 Page [1]


Everything else that could be broken was mashed or twisted into a shapeless mass.

On the other side of the track were the express and mail cars, the latter except for the heavy timbers of its bottom and the fragile top, was reduced to such small pieces that it is no exaggeration to say that most of it could have been used for kindling in an ordinary stove. On top of this heap of debris, entirely away from its running gear, rested the express car with its front end torn entirely away, and down almost at the bottom of it all, buried in the dirt and the debris, pinned down with weight of heavy timbers, were found the mangled bodies of the poor mail clerks, Pattillo and Watkins, one on top of the other, and across their bodies lay the now broken table upon which they were assorting their local mail; many of the letters still remaining on top of it, all showing that they had been dashed into eternity in the twinkling of an eye and without an instant’s warning of their fate.

But even deeper in the huge pile of splintered wood and tangled iron rods was found the remains of Engineer Smeck five hours later. He had evidently jumped as the crash took place, but not in time to escaped. He leaped clear of his engine and into the soft sand at the side of the track, but he had hardly struck the ground before he was ground into the sand by the ploughing cars as they piled on top of each other, as was shown by the fact that he was still in a crouching attitude when he was found.

A Marvelous Escape.

Of those who lived through it all, the negro fireman of the passenger train had a most marvelous and thrilling escape. He was hurled forward from his sea in the cab and buried beneath the monster engine, held down so fast on all sides that he could not move, with the boiling water from the broken pipes pouring around him in scalding pools and the gas tank of the cars not ten feet away, which had taken fire and was shooting out long tongues of flames. As soon as the first shock of the accident had passed the passengers in the coaches ran forward to assist those in danger. Mr. W. L. Burroughs, traveling passenger agent of the Seaboard, who was a passenger on the train, was, with another passenger, the first to reach the engines. They could hear the cries of the suffering fireman as he begged for help, but at first could not locate him. With buckets of water caught from leaking tanks of the tenders they kept the fire from the gas tanks from firing the wreck and Mr. Burroughs climbed down through the mass of wheels and steel to extricate the negro from his dangerous and miserable position. It was found, however, that the man was held fast and could not be released. Effort after effort was made by Mr. Burroughs and his fellows, assisted by a porter from one of the Pullmans, to get him out, but without success. Finally a spade was found and the embankment was dug away until a tunnel was cut to the suffering fireman and the ground under his body dug away so that he could be lowered below the pieces which held him. Straps were then taken from trunks in the baggage car and buckled around his body and Douglass was pulled out of danger by main strength.

Engineer Robertson was also buried beneath his engine but was not pinned down by the broken parts. As badly injured as he was, he managed to crawl out where he could be seen and could call assistance.

After getting the particulars of the accident, General Superintendent Hix wired the following official statement of the wreck:

“Train No. 66 in collision with extra 658 south, at 91 mile post, 4 miles south of Blaney, S. C., at 7 a. m. today, one half mile tangent, demolishing two engines, three freight cars, mail and express and combination car, killing two mail clerks, engineer and fireman of extra 658, slightly injuring Engineer John Robertson and colored Fireman Dan Douglass of train 66. No passengers injured. Cause of accident due to men in charge of freight train overlooking train 66.

“The men Responsible for this accident are old employees and run over this locality daily.

(Signed) “C. H. Hix.”
“General Superintendent”

The railroad commissioners after their return from the wreck in the afternoon held a consultation but decided not to give out any statements as to their view of the affair or what action they would take, except to say that an official investigation would be ordered, at which testimony would be taken to the place the responsibility.

Coroner Walker went to the scene and viewed the wreck and gathered what evidence he could and the names of those who can tell of how the collision occurred. He will empanel a jury this morning and have them view the bodies of the dead men and will then adjourn until his witness can be brought here.

The only two Columbia people on the train were Probate Judge W. Hampton Cobb and Mr. J. E. Thomas.

1906.01.31 - Two Seaboard Trains In A Fatal Collison.

January 31, 1906 State (published as The State) Columbia, South Carolina Legislative Acts/Legislative Proceedings Issue 5355 Page 5

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