1896 DS&S explosion

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History of Freeland, Pa.
Additional reading

For additional reading on the D.S.&S.

What's on this page:
  • 1896 Boiler explosion articles in the Freeland Tribune and the Philadelphia Times
  • D. S. & S. featured in the Impeachment of Federal Judge Archibald

Here are two articles concerning the explosion of D. S. & S. Locomotive # 4 (a full size Locomotive # 4, not the miniature # 4 at Eckley).

Freeland Tribune, March 12, 1896

A Crew on the D. S. & S. Railroad Hurled into Eternity

Read it in this good electronic version of the Freeland Tribune.

Philadelphia Times, March 12, 1896

[The Philadelphia Times article is reproduced here and has been edited by Charlie Gallagher for corrections to the electronic text.]

Terrible Accident on a Railroad in Luzerne County.

The Engineer, Fireman and Two Others lose Their Lives.


While the victims of the terrible accident seek refuge In the Engine to escape the biting cold the Flagman remains in the rear car to protect the Train from a collision.
An awful explosion throws him to the ground and when he realizes what has happened he finds that four of his companions are blown to pieces, that there is no sign of the Engine and that the Conductor is imprisoned in the debris The injuries to the latter likely to prove fatal.

Special Telegram to The Times. Hazleton, March 11.

By the explosion of a locomotive boiler four men were instantly killed and another fatally injured on the Delaware, Susquehanna and Schuylkill Railroad this afternoon.
The victims are John Chambers, engineer; Jonas Stewart, fireman; Michael Boyle, and Frank O’Donnell.
The accident is the worst in the history of the road, and created intense excitement both here and at Drifton, where the main offices of the company are located.
The scene of the accident is in the ravine between Gum Run and Derringer, and near where the Pennsylvania tracks cross those of Coxes.
The only inhabitants of the place are the two telegraph operators, who alternate each week in the tower.
A more desolate place for a railroad disaster to occur could not be found anywhere and this fact added much to the horror of the situation. The train left Oneida Junction at noon, with orders to place the cars at Derringer Colliery. At 2 o'clock it passed the tower at Gum Run.
A fierce snow-storm was then blowing and all of the brakemen, except William Tulley, sought the engine cab to escape the biting cold. Tulley was the flagman, and remained on the rear car to protect the train from a rear-end collision, and, in so doing saved his life.

A Terrible Sight,

While he was crouching on the bumpers trying to keep warm the cars came together with a sudden bang, throwing him violently to the ground.
A moment later a roaring noise, which seemed to shake the mountains, startled the entire valley.
Flying coals, pieces of iron and debris filled the air, and the brakeman for a moment thought that a volcanic eruption was taking place.
The frightened brakeman pulled himself together, regained his feet and looked about for the engine and his companions.
The sight that met his gaze sent a thrill of horror through his veins.
Death and destruction surrounded him and he realized for the first time what had happened.
At his feet lay a human limb, while at short distance away was a mangled body. His first impulse was to hasten to the relief of his companions, but his duty required him to prevent a collision from a following train.
A hasty glance told him that the chances of any of the men being alive were remote.
The engine had disappeared, and most of the cars were piled in a heap of broken debris.
He was alone with the dead, and was about to let the dead and dying remain where they were and go back to flag any approaching trains, when the telegraph operator came running up the track.

He Begged to be Killed.

The two men then began the work of rescue.
Not a sign of life was noticeable at first.
A low moan from a pile of debris attracted their attention finally.
The voice was recognized as that of Conductor Timney.
He was covered with spars and bars and a huge beam crushed him against the rail.
To release him an axe had to be secured.
This occasioned a half hour's delay, while one of the men ran back to the tower. Messages were then sent to Drifton notifying the officers of the explosion, and a special train carrying physicians was dispatched to the scene.
In the meantime young Timony lay moaning and groaning under the weight. He begged the man to kill him and end his suffering, but the lone rescuer could do nothing.
Pieces of iron were carried by the force of the explosion into Derringer, a mile distant.
The tower at Gum Run was transformed into a temporary morgue and here the physicians set about arranging the bodies for return to their families.
In the meantime the report of the explosion became current in this city, and at Freeland the wildest excitement prevailed.
A Violent Storm was then Raging.

But despite this fact many persons braved the elements and drove to the scene of the disaster.
The telegraph wires were blown down by the flying debris and the fury of the storm made communication by telephone impossible. Everybody who had a relative working on the road was kept in suspense until the engine bearing young Timney to the hospital arrived.
The wives, children, sisters and mothers of the unfortunate men besieged the main office of the company for information anxious to learn the fate of their loved ones.
No words of encouragement could be given them, and the most pathetic scenes were enacted.
Before the relief train arrived from Drifton a number of men who had felt the shock at Derringer and nearby settlements reached the scene.
Timney was then released and carried to the tower.
He was later conveyed to the hospital on a special car.
He is so badly injured that he cannot recover.
The other members of the crew met awful fates.
They were carried through the air along with the flying boiler, and were horribly crushed and mangled.
When the explosion took place all of the men were in the cab immediately over the boiler.
The massive cylinder took an easterly course, striking the first car and jamming it through those following, while the boiler raised in the air and sailed down the ravine three hundred yards, where it embedded itself in the earth.

The Bodies Horribly Mutilated.

The body of Engineer Chambers was found near the rear end of the train, one hundred feet from where his engine stood.
He was terribly mangled.
Part of Fireman Stewart's body was found on the mountainside and his leg in another direction beyond the cars.
Boyle and O'Donnell's bodies were so badly mutilated that recognition could be made only with difficulty.
The overhanging tree branches which line the road were bespattered with blood and bits of human flesh.
The cars were piled up promiscuously, while only the wheels and axles of the engine remained.
The cylinders and gearing of the iron monster were nowhere to be found.

The Cause of the Explosion Unknown.

The exact cause of the explosion will perhaps never be known.
The crew in charge of the train were regarded as the most reliable and experienced in the employ of the company.
The engine was not in service long enough to be defective and this fact complicates the problem surrounding the affair.
It may possibly have been that the feed pipes between the boiler and tank were frozen or that the injector failed to perform its work there and allowed the water to get low in the boiler without the knowledge of either Engineer Chambers or Fireman Stewart.
This seems improbable from the fact that both were reputed to be extremely careful.
That the fireman was derelict and neglected keeping the water up to the proper gauge is another theory advanced, but even this does not answer entirely, because they had filled the tank before leaving Oneida Junction.
Conductor Timney is so badly injured that he cannot speak, and, as he was the only one in the engine at the time who is alive, nothing definite can be learned at present.

Another D. S. and S. item in a totally different context:

The D. S. & S. was featured in the Impeachment of Federal Judge Archibald.

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