The T&T Wreck of February 15th, 1915

"Tonopah Daily Bonanza" -- February 18th, 1915


Trainmen Injured On T. & T. Road

Box Cars Leave Rails And Are Followed By Engine.
The engine and two box cars of train No. 9 of the Tonopah and Tidewater railroad, coming north to Beatty, were derailed and thrown into a ditch at 7:30 o'clock Monday morning at Morrison's Spur, two miles (4.7 miles on the ROW - Ed.) south of Tecopa, Calif., and 80 miles (86.1 miles on the ROW - Ed.) south of Beatty. With the exception of Engineer "Peggy" McDonald, a Carson raised boy, and Fireman Holm, nobody was injured. The former suffered a broken leg and arm and the latter's spine was injured. The train crew which figured in the accident runs between Ludlow and Tecopa. The two box cars broke loose from the engine. The engineer started after them to couple on and when he reached them the box cars went off a curve and the engine followed. The passenger coach was not attached. The wrecker of the T. & G. road went down from Goldfield and cleared up the wreckage, reopening the line for traffic.
Tonopah Daily Bonanza - February 18th, 1915
Courtesy of the Central Nevada Historical Society
Newspaper photo by John A. McCulloch

Harry Gower in his "50 Years In Death Valley" recounts his view of this accident.

In 1915 I was a member of a T&T Extra gang with locomotive, dump cars and shovel engaged in ballasting track near Baker. One early morning we had a frantic message from the train dispatcher at Ludlow saying "Number 9 in the ditch at Acme; proceed at all speed to render aid." Number 9 was the northbound daily combination train headed for Goldfield and had stopped on the main line at a Wye in the Amargosa Canyon. There, while the passengers strolled along the colorful right-of-way and cursed the delay, the crew, with the engineer and two box cars cut from the front of the train, proceeded up the steeply inclined acme branch line a mile and a half to pick up two loaded cars of gypsum standing on a siding at the end of the spur. There the engineer stopped and the conductor and brakeman climbed onto the loaded cars and , against the customary rules for safety, released the brakes and let the cars roll out onto the spur track by gravity. There they attempted to stop them but dew which had fallen during the night made the rails and wheels so wet and slick that the hand brakes wouldn't hold and the cars kept moving down the grade.

The engineer, seeing the predicament, followed quickly, hit them with the engine and sent them flying as his automatic coupler failed to connect. He opened up wide then and did make the connection after a quarter mile run by which time the engine and four cars coupled together were hurtling down the glassy rails at a speed that the engine brakes and reversed Johnson Bar couldn't retard. The next mile went by in a minute or less, during which time the conductor and brakeman jumped and landed in soft ground without serious injury; the fireman, Gus Holm, unfortunately waited too long and later died from a broken back and internal injuries received on the rocks when he finally did make up his mind to bail out. The engineer rode it out and was up on the tender trying to set its hand brakes when the runaway hit the south curve of the Wye and turned over beside the standing train and horrified passengers. He was thrown back into the cab and firghtfully maimed and burned, but recovered to return to an engine job within a year.

Our extra, speeding from Silver Lake, arrived an hour later, picked up the passengers and injured crewmen and set a fast pace on the run to Ludlow. Our gang with the aid of a Santa Fe wrecker were around there a week getting the locomotive back on its wheels, repairing the track and clearing up the mess. Needless to say, the safety rules were studied and obeyed thereafter.


In the 1918 Employee's Time Table No. 22, Special Rule 11 applies;

11. Trains switching on Acme spur, account of grade ascending northward, will in every instance handle cars with Engine on south end of train and, prior to movement, make rigid inspection of both hand an air brakes. Handling cars by gravity not coupled to Engine positively prohibited. Trains will not exced 12 miles per hour returning from Acme Quarry. And, on account of heavy curvature, 5 miles per hour on north leg of Wye, leaving switch* set for north leg of Wye or end heading toward Tecopa.

[* This should be the Northeast switch of the Wye, that attached to the Acme Spur.]


By having the two loaded box cars ahead of the engine coming down from Acme Quarry, it would seem the intent was to leave them spotted on the east leg of the Wye for the southbound train to pick up. The northbound engine would then reverse and use the north leg of the Wye to rejoin the train and pull out for Tecopa. Whether the final effect of Rule 11 was to haul the loaded cars to Tecopa to await the southbound or to spot them on the Acme spur above the northeast switch isn't understood.


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