Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Postal Train Wreck

The Postal Train Wreck

As a commuter to Boston, every day for the past twenty-six years, I have often thought back over the many aspects of the railroad that connects Canton with Boston and Providence. The Viaduct and Junction have always held a certain fascination for me. I occasionally see a train buff down at the siding photographing the Acella as it speeds through at 100 plus miles per hour. And, with the great speed and congestion along the routes it is always comforting to know that advanced switches and sensors ensure our safety on each trip into Boston.

This was not the case on the morning of Monday, August 8, 1898 when residents awoke to the sounds of a deadly and devastating crash at Canton Junction. Hundreds of residents rushed to the scene of the fatal crash that involved Train 70; the Boston Bound Mail Train. The train carrying fourteen mail clerks and comprised four cars left New York City at 11:30 PM Sunday night. As the train approached Canton Junction in an instant the cars slammed off the track. The train plowed towards Canton Junction and the speed caused them to quite literally dig into the stone track bed. Three men were killed and fourteen mail clerks were injured.  The clerks described being “tossed around like dice” in the railroad cars. It took some time to rescue the clerks, and the dead men were extracted late the same day. 

The Canton Journal reported from the scene and the New York Times picked up on the story the next day.

The morning was clear and when crossing the Viaduct engineer Sheldon could easily discern the signals, which indicated a clear track. Apparently there was no warning to the doomed men. As a rule with a clear track express trains slide over the bridge at fifteen to twenty miles an hour and on reaching the straight track the throttle is opened and by the time the depot was reached the speed is practically doubled. This appears to have been the case this morning.. It seems doubtful if steam was shut off before the switch was reached. Those in the cars felt no application of brakes and the few lookers-on were too horrified by the sudden catastrophe to be able to recollect just what was the condition at the moment the engine left the rails.

The rails turned the locomotive from the straight track and the momentum being too great to allow the heavy machine to be so abruptly turned from its course, it plunged diagonally across the switch and dived like an immense plow into the space between the tracks. The road bed was excavated to the depth of a yard for some fifty feet, the planking in front of the baggage-room carried away, and leaving the forward truck in front of the depot, the machine fell on its side and with well nigh everything stripped from boiler and frame, lay blowing off steam just north of the depot on the outbound track. The first car of the train followed the engine till its fall, when it also turned on its side, falling over on the turn-out west of the outbound track and slid by the tender cutting off the top of the cab and catching one of the unfortunate men on the engine under its forward end, crushed him into the ground beneath it. The other two men were found beneath the ruined cab. In this car were five mail clerks, who were thrown around, to use the expression of one of them, "like dice in a box." All were more or less injured and their wounds being temporarily dressed, were taken to Boston on a train at 6:30 to the hospital, where they were attended to and with the exception of Buckland sent home. The latter remained at the hospital, but is not thought to be dangerously hurt. The trucks of all the cars, the gas tanks, brake cylinders and all the rigging underneath the cars stuck in the trench dug by the locomotive in front of the baggage door and only the forward locomotive truck passed that spot. The second car laid right side up diagonally across the three tracks, while the third formed almost a right angle with it, the front end lifted high on the wrecked trucks lacking only a few inches of driving into the shelter roof of the station. The fourth car alone remained on its trucks, but the forward one was broken to such an extent as to require heavy chains to hold it together and was terribly strained. The track and interlocking signals were torn up and scattered in every direction.

By all accounts this was a horrific crash. The three dead were dug out several hours after the crash and after being viewed by the medical examiner, were taken by a local undertaker. The train crash was duly investigated and a faulty switch was discovered at the point where the Stoughton Branch joins the main-line.  Railroad historian Ed Galvin devoted a full chapter in his seminal A History of Canton Junction which he published in 1987. Galvin's book features additional photographs and a complete  discussion of this fatal accident.

The Canton Journal also remarked upon the huge number of people who came to view the "ruins" and observed several "cameras" in evidence.  This photo was probably taken Fred Endicott or W. Ames - both of whom were there that day and were members of the Kanton Kamera Klub (KKK). The KKK was a group of local men who took great delight in discussing and taking photographs of Canton landmarks and everyday life. The train wreck is another example of history passing through and we have witnesses who still speak to us one hundred and eleven years later.

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