Bits of Stone for July 8, 2012
Engineer Bose Bryson had better luck when Laurel Creek trestle failed
Bose Bryson, engineer Gordon A. “Daddy” Bryson’s son, was more fortunate than his father who was killed June 30, 1909, when his Little River Lumber Co. engine failed to make the curve at Jakes Creek, just above Elkmont on Little River. In 1904, Bose was the engineer on Shay No. 4 which fell through a trestle on Laurel Creek. He apparently escaped injury.
Little River Railroad laid an estimated 130 miles of temporary rail during its 40 years of lumbering operations in the Great Smokies while cutting more than 500 million board feet of lumber. Because of their temporary status, tracks were often damaged by heavy rains.
A cutline under the photograph of “Daddy” Bryson’s wreck published in an earlier column contained a typographical error. The correct date of Daddy’s crash and death is June 30, 1909.
Bose Bryson apparently left Little River Railroad soon after his father’s death. It is reported that he greatly resented the popular ballad written about his father’s fatal crash.
Carolina Special was still operating three decades later
Nearly three decades after the New Market crash involving the Carolina Special on Sept. 24, 1904, I made the first train trip I can remember. It was on the Southern’s Carolina Special with my father, A. H. Stone. We went to visit my Stone grandparents in Sanford, N.C. My mother and very young sister Margaret were not up to making the trip.
I recall that when my Dad and I reached Greensboro we had to spend the night before catching the train the next day to Sanford. I was about 6 years old. When we checked into the hotel, the clerk asked if we wanted a room with a shower or a tub (they hadn’t learned to combine them back then). My father, realizing I was already homesick because it was the first night I had ever spent away from either of my parents, left the choice to me.
Living on Sevierville Road where there was no city water available, I thought I knew too well what a tub was. It was a cold metal clothes wash tub in which I took a Saturday night bath with some slightly heated water from a kettle on the wood-fired cook stove. Not knowing what a shower was and thinking it couldn’t be more uncomfortable than a tub bath, I chose the shower. A learning experience.
To give readers an idea of a one-generation change: When I entered first grade that year, only two of the 30 pupils had been outside Tennessee even though Blount County’s eastern border is with North Carolina. I had been to visit my grandparents and Bill Cross, whose father worked for ALCOA, had moved here from Baden, N.C. A generation later, my son Neal had wiggled his toes in the Pacific and seen the Atlantic the same day by the time he was 3 months old.
After two staged head-on steam engine train collisions they were outlawed
Before too much emphasis was placed on safety, at least two staged head-on collisions of steam-engine pulled trains were held. The first was in Ohio for the Columbus & Hocking Valley Railroad, the Classic Trains special issue on train wrecks reported.
The big one, promoted for a year and attracting 50,000 spectators, was staged by the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, best known as the Katy. Dreamed up by passenger agent William Crush, it was held at a remote spot near Waco, Texas, which was named for him. Built for the event were four miles of special track and a depot with a 2,100-foot platform so that 10 trains could unload passengers simultaneously for the event.
Some 200 yards away a grandstand for VIPs, a press box 100 yards away for photographers, a circus tent where sandwiches were sold and eight tank cars filled with free water were available. There were politicians, medicine shows, lemonade and soda stands. Liquor was not sold as it was assumed everyone would bring their own. However, a temporary jail was built.
Assured it was completely safe and that at the speeds planned the boilers would not explode, the event was free except for a $2 train ticket from Waco. On the big day a total of 33 trains arrived at 12-minute intervals.
The two crashing trains were each one-mile from the collision point when the throttles were opened and the crews jumped from the runaway engines. The engines collided, both boilers exploded and three people were killed. They included a boy who had climbed into a tree near the tracks, a man standing between two unharmed women and a woman. Many suffered burned fingers from grabbing souvenirs of hot metal. A driving wheel from one of the engines went 2,500 feet. Six were injured.
Because of the deaths, Crush, who worked for the Katy for 57 years, was fired but rehired the next day. The Katy board was elated over the success.
This train wrecks issue is filled with many interesting and unexpected causes of crashes but we have covered enough to whet your appetite if you are fond of steam trains. The “whys” of the many wrecks are most interesting reading.
Train safety has made tremendous improvement with modern equipment
The issue also points out the great increase in safety on railroads. Of course, a contributing factor in recent years has been the result of the railroads getting out of the passenger business but that was just one of the contributing factors to the progress. Charts show U.S. railroads have increased their revenue ton miles of freight from 81 billion in 1891 to 1,530 billion in 2009.
The number of employees was 784,000 in 1891, reaching a peak of 2,076,000 in 1920 and declining to 220,000 in 2009. Modernization of equipment, more efficient engines, better handling methods, a decline in passenger service and decline in short lines contributed to the decline.
The method of determining employee injuries confuses that category some but it was 26,140 in 1891, reaching a peak of 176,923 in 1916 and declining to 4,295 in 2009.
Train employee deaths was 2,660 in 1891, reaching a peak of 4,534 in 1907, declining to an amazing low of 16 in 2009. Interestingly enough, all of the figures reached a temporary high during World War II when railroads played such an important role in our nation’s war effort.
Dean Stone is editor of The Daily Times.