Author Topic: Remembering Kingsland wreck  (Read 2543 times)

indrr

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Remembering Kingsland wreck
« on: September 19, 2010, 02:22:43 PM »
From today's Journal-Gazette, http://www.journalgazette.net/article/20100919/EDIT10/309199954
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Mass-transit tragedy
Interurban crash a century ago killed 41, shattered lives
Ed Breen

To get a close look at a piece of the past, go to Google Earth on your computer. Peer down from the sky high over Wells County. Now zoom in on Section 33 of Jefferson Township, just south of the Allen County line, 16 miles south of downtown Fort Wayne, to be precise. Home in on the junction of highways Indiana 1 and Indiana 224. You now have a sky view of Kingsland, a community that was once more than it is now.

Now move down just a bit, to the southeast of Kingsland. You will find what archaeologists call a "disturbance," evidence of something out of the ordinary. There's a tree line that makes a sort of diagonal from northwest to southeast and a narrow strip of land parallel with the tree line. It's neither a plot of land nor a clump of trees – more like a broad, long-gone pathway.

That would be the abandoned right-of-way of what was once the Fort Wayne and Wabash Valley Traction Co., an interurban line that ran south from Fort Wayne through Ossian and Kingsland to Bluffton and points south.

And it was just north of the Kingsland highway intersection that a century ago this week – Sept. 21, 1910 – the greatest collision of the interurban era took 41 lives and made front-page news around the nation.

It was shortly after noon on that Wednesday when Train 56, a single-car interurban, headed north out of Bluffton carrying a full load – an estimated 55 passengers, a conductor and a motorman – and headed for Fort Wayne. Most of the passengers had boarded in Bluffton and were headed for an Allen County fair.

The fair, in fact, was such an occasion that the interurban dispatcher in Fort Wayne had ordered an additional Fort Wayne and Wabash Valley Traction car to head south to pick up the overflow crowd waiting at Bluffton.

By 1910 these interurban cars and tracks criss-crossed Indiana, so this activity between Fort Wayne and Bluffton was not out of the ordinary.

Historian Jerry Marlette reckons there were 2,400 miles of interurban track in Indiana by 1920. In 1916 alone, 7.2 million Hoosiers rode the electric-powered single-car trains from cities and towns around the state to and from Indianapolis. Two-hundred and eighty thousand of the cars either came or went from Indi- anapolis in that year. You could hop on an interurban at any of a dozen points in Fort Wayne at 8 a.m. and be in Indian- apolis for lunch. With a little creative scheduling, you could go from Fort Wayne to New York City and never ride on anything but an interurban.

The interurban – those single-car trains with a trolley that extended up to the overhead electrical power line along the right-of-way – was both mass transit and rapid transit long before planners and bureaucrats began talking about such things. Fort Wayne's first electrified railroad – a street car – ran in 1891; the last streetcar run in Fort Wayne was June 27, 1947. In between was a half-century of Hoosiers going pretty much where they wanted when they wanted in comfort and safety before the automobile drove the interurban to extinction.

So there was nothing unusual about this September Wednesday along the Fort Wayne and Wabash Valley line. The traction company had been formed in 1904 and had built a mesh of lines linking Fort Wayne to Logansport, Peru, Wabash, Marion and Bluffton.

Ron Moser, a Fort Wayne resident who was born in Bluffton and has an interest in both railroad and Wells County history, has tromped around the area just north of Kingsland.

"There's nothing you can see today," he said. "The interurban line is gone and the best view of it is from that Google picture. About the best I can tell is that the site was several hundred yards north of Indiana 224."

But by mid-afternoon a century ago, that place was a frightful mess of death and destruction. The wire service report of the accident, published in newspapers around the nation the next day, described it thus:

"The spot where the wreck occurred is isolated and it was an hour and a half after the collision that physicians arrived on the scene from Bluffton and Fort Wayne and the actual relief work began.

"The dead were laid in rows in a grove nearby. The bodies were horribly mangled. Legs and arms were severed and heads in some cases nearly cut from bodies.

"Relatives of the dead arriving at the grove were hysterical, making the work of the doctors doubly difficult."

Reporters interviewed a man named John Boyd of Marion, who may have escaped as the only uninjured person on either train that day.

"Boyd owes his life to the fact that he was compelled to hang on to the rear step of the north bound car, unable to get in a place on the platform owing to the crowd. As the car was taking the curve, Boyd says he got a long look ahead and saw the southbound car coming head on. He jumped from the car," the newspaper account said.

" 'There was a splintering crash,' " he was quoted as saying. "A dull grinding as wood and iron resolved themselves into a mass of wreckage and mingled with human blood and flesh and bones. The big car seemed to climb upon the frailer and heavier loaded car and from its pilot to within six feet of the rear swept over the crowded coach making it almost clean. That anything alive could have survived that terrible sweep of splintered wood and twisted steel is a miracle. Following the crash, there was a period of appalling stillness and then the shrieks and groans of the wounded and dying rose upon the air."

So what went so very wrong that day?

The simple explanation: Human error.

The fully loaded northbound car – Train 56 – was doing what it was supposed to do. Motorman Charles Van Dine and conductor E.A. Spillars had taken command of the car in Bluffton and were headed to Fort Wayne.

The southbound car – Extra Train 303 – had only motorman Benjamin Corkwell and conductor Delford Wilson aboard.

Each crew knew the other was on the track, and orders had been issued to Van Dine that he was to meet Corkwell's car at a siding identified as "106" about a mile south of Ossian. One car would be shunted to the siding; the other would pass. Simple as that.

A detailed account of what happened next fills a state investigative report. Bottom line is that numbers and times and locations were confused by one or the other, if not both, of the crews.

Both trains were going 50 to 60 mph when they approached Kingsland.

The only person with a hint of what might happen was the Fort Wayne dispatcher, W. H. Friemeyer, who had been in contact with both cars when they were halted. Both were now in motion and he was helpless to contact them.

So, at full speed, they met. And the collision was horrific.

Historian George K. Bradley, in 1983, pieced together the most detailed account:

"Seconds later the air was filled with a resounding, earsplitting crash. The smaller car was telescoped more than halfway by the heavier car. And its floor slid over the lower floor crushing everything in its path, pushing baggage, seats . . . and bodies . . . to the rear of the doomed car. Forty-one people were instantly killed or succumbed later from the disaster. The two Wabash Valley train crews were injured but survived, although just how is not quite clear.

"There were as many different stories as there were survivors. Several are a matter of record and some must have been agonizing.

"Dispatcher Friemeyer, losing touch with the cars, must have realized what was happening, kept searching and finally, in despair, asked the Ossian agent if he had seen Train 56. Getting a negative reply he asked him to phone the Erie Railroad tower operator. This man reported the wreck to the agent who passed the news to Friemeyer."

The wreckage of Train 56 was burned at the site and the remains of Extra Train 303 were hauled back to Fort Wayne in the dark and stored out of sight until it was rebuilt months later.

Financially, the Fort Wayne and Wabash Valley Traction Co. was ruined. It paid about $300,000 in death and injury claims before it was reorganized the next year as the Fort Wayne and Northern Indiana Traction Co. A lengthy state investigation by the Indiana Railroad Commission was inconclusive at best. No charges were filed and none of the crew was fired.

But what of Bluffton? What of the lives lost and ruined?

The newspaper account from Bluffton on Thursday, Sept. 22, explains:

"Bluffton awoke this morning to a fuller realization to the horror of yesterday's tragedy.

"All of the dead were brought here last night. Nineteen Bluffton people were killed and the bodies of these were removed to their homes. Other bodies are in the morgue. The town is in mourning and business is practically at a standstill. There is hardly a home here that is not affected, either through the loss of members of the family or dear friends.

"Bluffton yesterday afternoon saw two score and more laughing people, home folks and visitors in the town, depart on one of the big swift-going cars of the traction company for a day of pleasure at the Fort Wayne fair. A few hours later two funeral cars, heavily freighted with forty broken, mangled bodies came slowly back and with them came hysterical crying men and women, weeping for lost ones.

"Bluffton today is bearing a heavy burden of grief."
Nathan Bilger
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JollyGreenSlugg

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Re: Remembering Kingsland wreck
« Reply #1 on: September 20, 2010, 09:04:51 PM »
Thanks for this article Nathan. I've searched for information about this incident and your article is the most comprehensive I've read. A century on, may they rest in peace.

Matt
Aussie fan of Midwestern interurbans

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Re: Remembering Kingsland wreck
« Reply #2 on: September 21, 2010, 07:32:10 AM »
The article in the Ft. Wayne paper is essentially correct, except that the orders to car 303 were simply to run extra to Bluffton; no siding was mentioned. 

The company’s standing orders required extras to clear scheduled trains by at least 5 minutes.  In the Kingsland case, Extra 303 needed to take siding 105 north of Ossian to clear Train 56 (car 233) by 5 minutes.  It did not do so.  It also passed siding 106 south of Ossian and collided with 233 on tangent track at the north end of the S-curve.  One of the newspaper reports stated that siding 106 was visible from the wreck site.

Car 303’s Corkwell and Wilson claimed that their orders were to meet 233 at siding 107 south of Kingsland.  Their copies of the orders were later found: Corkwell’s were in his coat along with his log book; Wilson’s father turned Wilson’s copy of the orders over to the Railroad Commission.  Both sets of orders said to run extra to Bluffton, agreeing with the dispatcher’s logbook.

From what I have been able to find so far, 38 people died the day of the wreck: 34 at the site and 4 on the way to or at hospitals.  Another 3 died within 10 days.

At least another 4 people received treatment at hospitals, and 1 did not seek treatment, so there were at least 46 passengers on 233; slightly over its rated capacity.  Two of the people mentioned above told newspapers that they were standing on the rear platform, and that there were others on the platform, so the car was presumably over its seating capacity.

We don’t know how many people did not seek treatment, or were treated and quickly discharged, so never mentioned in newspaper accounts.

Craig Berndt



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Re: Remembering Kingsland wreck
« Reply #3 on: October 07, 2010, 11:13:38 PM »
From Yahoo Groups -- Midwest Interurban

http://finance.groups.yahoo.com/group/MidwestInterurban/message/7402
Quote
The Wells County (Indiana) Historical Society will present a program on the Kingsland Wreck on Monday, October 18, 2010, at 7:00 PM at the Wells County Historical Museum at 420 West Market Street in Bluffton, Indiana. The public is welcome and there is no charge. The speaker is Jim Sturgeon.
 
Charlie Myers


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Re: Remembering Kingsland wreck
« Reply #4 on: October 08, 2010, 07:44:35 PM »
The Bluffton paper did a longer article on the wreck.  I've got a pdf copy of the entire newspaper.  It's too large to post here (5.6Meg), but I can forward it to anyone interested.

Howard

mlb

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Re: Remembering Kingsland wreck
« Reply #5 on: October 09, 2010, 11:08:00 AM »
WHEN I WORKED FOR THE ERIE I WOULD WORK IN KINGSLAND SOME DAYS. THE DAY SHIFT TOWER OPERATOR WAS A MAN NAMED DAN MICHAEL, DAN WORKED WELL INTO HIS SEVENTIES POSSIBLY 80. HE WAS BORN IN 1895 AND GREW UP IN THE AREA. HE COULD DESCRIBE A LOT OF DETAILS ABOUT THE WRECK AS HE ACTUALY SAW IT AS A KID. I CAN'T REMEMBER MANY DETAILS OF OUR CONVERSATIONS AS THAT WAS 40 SOME YEARS AGO. I DO REMEMBER HE COULD SHOW YOU THE LOCATION ON THE WRECK NORTHEAST OF THE TOWER. DAN DIED AT 1O3 IN 1998. HE WAS A NICE MAN AND ENTERTAINED A YOUNG RAILROADER WITH MANY STORIES. KEITH HARRIS MIGHT REMEMBER DAN DURING HIS DAYS IN THE AREA. JUST THOUGHT I WOULD SHARE THIS WITH YOU.

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Re: Remembering Kingsland wreck
« Reply #6 on: October 09, 2010, 11:40:09 PM »
YES, I REMEMBER WORKING WITH DAN, BUT NEVER MET HIM. MOST OF MY SHORT TIME ON THE ERIE WAS ON THE WEST END.

KEITH

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Re: Remembering Kingsland wreck
« Reply #7 on: October 10, 2010, 12:15:09 AM »
Strange enough, was that just days after the Kingsland wreck, another in Tipton on the UTC claimed 6 lives including a person who was to be married that night. Very similiar situation with one car trying to make an extra siding. Check out this link for the whole story. http://www.gendisasters.com/data1/in/trains/tipton-trainwreck-sept1910.htm
Jay
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Re: Remembering Kingsland wreck
« Reply #8 on: October 11, 2010, 04:41:04 PM »
Strange enough, was that just days after the Kingsland wreck, another in Tipton on the UTC claimed 6 lives including a person who was to be married that night. Very similiar situation with one car trying to make an extra siding. Check out this link for the whole story. http://www.gendisasters.com/data1/in/trains/tipton-trainwreck-sept1910.htm
Jay

From Gen Disasters.com...

1)  All Indiana Train Wrecks
http://www.gendisasters.com/in/trains.htm

2)  UTC - Tipton
http://www.gendisasters.com/data1/in/trains/tipton-trainwreck-sept1910.htm
Quote
Too much text to quote

3)  FW&WV - Bluffton/Kingsland
http://www.gendisasters.com/data1/in/trains/kingsland-interurbanwreck-sept1910.htm

Quote
Kingsland, Indiana
Interurban Train Wreck
September 21, 1910
INTERURBAN DISASTER DUE TO BLUNDER

Motorman Deliberately Violated Orders and Forty Perished in Resultant Crash.

FORT WAYNE, Ind., Sept. 22. -- The authorities of Wells county and officials of the traction company today are making a rigid investigation to attach responsibility for the collision of two traction cars on the Bluffton line of the Fort Wayne & Wabash Valley Traction company yesterday, in which forty persons were killed and eight injured.

Today Frank I. HARDY, superintendent of transportation of the traction company, stated that disregard of orders caused the wreck and that B. T. CORKWELL, motorman of the southbound train, probably is the one to blame.

The disaster, rated as the worst in all interurban history, occurred at a sharp curve, near Kingsland, six miles from Bluffton. The line is operated under a block system and until the railway makes public the orders issued the crews, it will not be definitely known which motorman was negligent.

The southbound car, the one going to Bluffton, was manned by Conductor DEL WILSON, of Ossian, and Motorman B. T. CORKWELL, of Fort Wayne. The northbound car, which was crowded to the steps with sightseers, was in charge of Conductor E. A. SPILLER and Motorman CHARLES VAN DINE, both of Bluffton. The four trainmen were injured, but all will probably recover.

It is said that CORKWELL was to wait at Greensboro, a station between Kingsland and Ossian, for the northbound train, but that, instead of doing this, he tried to meet the other car at Kingsland.

The crash came soon after the northbound car had left Kingsland. The cars were telescoped almost their entire length.

Out of forty-five or fifty passengers, but one man has so far been discovered who escaped entirely unhurt. Most of the deaths were instantaneous.

The spot where the wreck occurred is isolated and it was an hour and a half after the collision that physicians arrived on the scene from Bluffton and Fort Wayne and the actual relief work began. The dead were laid in rows in a grove nearby. The bodies were horribly mangled. Legs and arms were severed and heads in some cases nearly cut from bodies.

Relatives of the dead arriving at the grove were hysterical, making the work of the doctors doubly difficult.

Conductor SPILLER, of the Bluffton local, was not seriously injured and his presence of mind averted another accident. When SPILLER saw the extent of the catastrophe he ran back toward Kinsgland and stopped the Indianapolis limited, which was coming at full speed. Had it not been stopped it would have crashed into the struggling and dying mass of humanity left in the wake of the crash.

JOHN R. BOYD, of Marion, Ind., was probably the only passenger aboard the ill-fated car who escaped without any injury. BOYD owes his life to the fact that he was compelled to hang on to the rear step of the north bound car, unable to get in a place on the platform owing to the crowd. As the car was taking the curve, BOYD says he got a long look ahead and saw the southbound car coming head on. He jumped from the car.

“There was a splintering crash,” he said today, “a dull, grinding as wood and iron resolved themselves into a mass of wreckage and mingled with human blood and flesh and bones. The big limited car seemed to climb upon the frailer and heavier loaded car and from its pilot to within six feet of the rear swept over the crowded coach making it almost clean. That anything alive could have survived that terrible sweep of splintered wood and twisted steel is a miracle. Following the crash, there was a period of appalling stillness and then the shrieks and gorans of the wounded and dying rose upon the air.”

Bluffton's Burden of Grief.
BLUFFTON, Ind., Sept. 22. -- Bluffton awoke this morning to a fuller realization to the horror of yesterday's tragedy on the Fort Wayne & Wabash Valley traction line, when two cars collided, killing forty persons and injuring eight others. All of the dead were brought here last night. Nineteen Bluffton people were killed and the bodies of these were removed to their homes. Other bodies are in the morgue. The town is in mourning and business is practically at a standstill. There is hardly a home here that is not affected, either through the loss of members of the family or dear friends.
Bluffton yesterday afternoon saw two score and more laughing people, home folks and visitors in the town, depart on one of the big swift-going cars of the traction company for a day of pleasure at the Fort Wayne fair. A few hours later two funeral cars, heavily freighted with forty broken, mangled bodies – came slowly back and with them came hysterical crying men and women, weeping for lost ones. Bluffton today is bearing a heavy burden of grief.

Among the dead are citizens who played a prominent part in Bluffton's affairs. The Bluffton dead are:

SEYMOUR ROBINSON, democratic candidate for auditor of Weil [sic] county.
H. D. COOK, grocer.
FRED TAM, liveryman.
O. P. ZIMMER, hardware merchant.
J. W. TRIBOLET, real estate.
W. D. BURGEN, real estate.
L. C. LUSTUS, general manager Bluffton, Geneva & Celina Traction line.
ERNEST CROUSE.
E. W. BOWMAN.
THOMAS GORDON.
LLOYD BROWN, newspaper man.
WILLIAM BEERS, policeman.
JOSEPH SAWYER.
HAROLD NELSON.
RALPH WALSER.
PEARL SAYLOR.
MRS. HIRMAN FALK.
MYRTLE FALK.
JOE _________, Greek piano publisher.

F. A. PARKHURST, MISS MARGARET TREBOLT, whose father was killed, and MRS. W. D. BURGEN whose husband was instantly killed, are in hospitals at Fort Wayne. PARKHURST and MISS TRIBOLET are dying. No arrangements yet have been made for the funerals of the victims.

Lincoln Evening News Nebraska 1910-09-22

Submitted & transcribed by Stu Beitler  Thank you, Stu!

Gene

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Re: Remembering Kingsland wreck
« Reply #9 on: October 12, 2010, 11:28:09 PM »
 I am not familiar with the Kingsland area. Can one get to the wreck site? How easy is it to find?
 Gene

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Re: Remembering Kingsland wreck
« Reply #10 on: October 13, 2010, 02:15:56 AM »
KINGSLAND IS WHERE NS NEW CASTLE DISTRICT CROSSES HWY 224. THE WRECK SITE WAS NORTH AND EAST OF THE ERIE TOWER. THE TOWER WAS LOCATED NORTH OF THE 224 CROSSING AT THE ERIE DIAMOND, WHICH WAS SOUTH OF THE SIGNALS FOR THE NS SIDING. THE WRECK SITE IS ON PRIVATE PROPERTY. NO PUBLIC ROADS ARE NEAR THE PROPERTY.

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Re: Remembering Kingsland wreck
« Reply #11 on: October 13, 2010, 10:20:52 AM »
 Ok, for those of you who know where it is, can you show a location via Google Earth? I have looked at Kingsland on Google Earth but don't really know where to go from there.
 Thanks,  Gene

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Re: Remembering Kingsland wreck
« Reply #12 on: October 13, 2010, 06:20:34 PM »
Gene:

On Google Earth, put the measuring tool's crosshairs on the US224-NS RR crossing.  Go north on the NS tracks .5-mile and you are at the wreck site.  Running southeast from the site is a string of power poles that define the interurban right-of-way. 

Photos of the wreck show that it occurred on tangent track at the north end of the S-curve.

Craig Berndt

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Re: Remembering Kingsland wreck
« Reply #13 on: October 13, 2010, 06:35:50 PM »
 Is it about where the farmers pond is on Google? I don't see any remnants of an S curve. Not wanting to sound thankless, but am in fact very thankful of the info shared here.......but telling me where the Erie tower was doesn't help. Never been up in that area. I see the utility poles going North.
  Gene


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Re: Remembering Kingsland wreck
« Reply #14 on: October 13, 2010, 11:02:02 PM »
It happened here:

Nathan Bilger
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Re: Remembering Kingsland wreck
« Reply #15 on: October 13, 2010, 11:43:08 PM »
  **Is it about where the farmers pond is on Google?**   Not wanting to sound thankless, but am in fact very thankful...... Never been up in that area. I see the utility poles going North.
   I thank you for the red line and understand that is the ROW.
  Gene

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Re: Remembering Kingsland wreck
« Reply #16 on: October 14, 2010, 06:21:09 AM »
  **Is it about where the farmers pond is on Google?**   Not wanting to sound thankless, but am in fact very thankful...... Never been up in that area. I see the utility poles going North.
   I thank you for the red line and understand that is the ROW.
  Gene
Roughly, yes. Craig is the expert, so based on his description, it would've happened a little north of that pond.
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rrnut282

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Re: Remembering Kingsland wreck
« Reply #17 on: October 19, 2010, 05:42:50 PM »
Went to the Wells County Historical Society presentation on the wreck.  The researcher (Jim S) said impact was 2300' north of the curve on the tangent parallel to the former LE&W (NS) track.  (I'm only saying what he said, not arguing with Craig) 

Other interesting tidbits:  car 233 was moved off the tracks and burned only 4 hours after the wreck.  Try that today.  303 was towed under cover of darkness and repaired and re-entered service later.   Costs and payouts helped bankrupt the FW&WV Traction Co.

The motormen and conductors involved had less than perfect employment records with the line.  One had almost 100 demerits at the time.  Didn't know how many it took to get fired.

I asked if he knew the weights of the cars involved.  He said he saw it in one of the transcripts he researched, but didn't have it with him at the time.
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Re: Remembering Kingsland wreck
« Reply #18 on: October 21, 2010, 05:33:23 PM »
It's a tough subject to research, and I researched as much as I could in a short time.  I'm definitely not an expert.

Jim probably meant 2300 ft. north of Kingsland, which would be correct.  2300 ft. north of the curve is at a county road crossing.

I found the coach data for my presentation.  I also made a list of the 42 people who were killed outright, or died within 10 days.  According to what I found, after the 10th day, no one with wreck-related injuries died for at least 1 year. 

I found the histories of violations of the motorman and conductor of coach 303 in the Indiana Railroad Commission's investigation report.  The motorman was seasoned but not careful.  He could have been a good operator.  The commission said that the conductor was incompetent and should not have been in charge of a train.  In spite of that, the FW&WV kept him as a conductor for another 6 months, during which time he amassed a huge number of demerits, some for missing sidings, just as at Kingsland.

Craig

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Re: Remembering Kingsland wreck
« Reply #19 on: October 25, 2010, 04:19:15 PM »
It was crowded there in the museum, so Jim might have indeed said 2300' from the junction.  One thing he did emphasize twice was that the collision was on the tangent North of the curve.  You must have read the same reports that Jim summarized.

He said there was a direct quote on the front page of later newspapers where the President of the Bluffton, Genva & Eastern said he thought Corkwell was asleep.  He said the banker who survived was crippled and Corkwell ended up in a mental hospital, if you want to add them to the number of lives ruined that day at 1218pm.
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