Monday, September 22, 2014

Two Different Views of the 1934 Lawrenceville Truck- Train Accident

Which Side do You Want to Hear?  John Hamilton

“Well, now, remember there are two sides to every story.” Bet you’ve heard that line before, and as it turns out sometimes it’s true. In some cases it is true even when both sides are telling the same story with the same set of facts.

Such is the case of a truck-train accident that happened early in the morning of Tuesday, September 18, 1934, at State Street and the CCC&StL Railway. The south-bound Egyptian Flyer passenger train met a Ray Miller freight company truck at that grade crossing that resulted in the death of two people.

State Street through Lawrenceville at that time was also known as U.S. Rte. 50, and the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis was also known as the Big Four Railroad. It was about 5:30 in the morning and the crossing, replete with warning signs, did not have operative flashing warning lights. The truck was headed west, had stopped about a block away to check the oil, and was proceeding across the tracks at about 6 miles per hour. The train was headed south and was moving at about 30 miles per hour.

The train hit the trailer of the rig and sent the tractor to the west side of the tracks and the trailer slightly to the east and enough under the steam locomotive to derail it, the coal tender, and three trailing cars. Witnesses and the train’s engineer confirm the engine light was on, it’s bell was ringing, and it’s whistle had been sounded for the crossing a block north and for the crossing where the accident occurred.

In this accident two men died. One was the fireman on the locomotive. The other was a young man who was riding in the freight truck.

The “two sides of the story” comes not in the strict details of the accident but in the reporting of those details. In the Lawrenceville Daily Record account, recently brought to our attention by Historical Society researcher Kevin B., the human side of the story is stressed. There is an in-depth account of the horrible scalding death of George Mobley, train fireman, and the futile attempts to rescue him during the first moments of the wreck. Although he had recently moved his family to Danville, his Mt. Carmel connection was also pointed out, as was his widow’s request that the body be sent to that city for burial.

The passenger in the Ray Miller truck wasn’t killed instantly. He was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital in Vincennes and died the next day, as reported in the Daily Record’s following edition. How ironic that the young man wasn’t employed by the trucking company but had sought permission to “ride along” to see if he wanted to seek employment as a truck driver for the firm.

The other side of the story would be the Interstate Commerce Commission’s official report. The ICC report of the accident tells of the deaths, but not in human details, It tells of the track curvature from the Embarrass River bridge to the crossing site. It tells the measured distances of key points along the line and of the line of sight from the point of the engineer sounding the whistle to the crossing point of impact. It tells that the crossing had the required signage but perhaps didn’t stress firmly enough that although warning lights were installed, they were not operative between the hours of midnight and 6:00 a.m.

Another irony is that the watchman preparing to go on duty was standing on the platform of the railroad station, a block and a half south of the crossing, but didn’t actually witness the collision. He wasn’t to go on duty until 6:00 a.m.; the accident occurred at approximately 5:35 a.m.

Both the Daily Record and the ICC official report tell the same set of circumstances. However one might come away with different feelings depending upon which account one reads.

A new Lunch and Learn series will begin this fall at the museum. (Remember how much fun you had at the wedding show, ladies?)  The first luncheon will be October 1 at 11:30am  at the museum and  is called  'Bitz of Glitz--What's in your Jewelry Box?'   The program including lunch will last about an hour.  Tickets for soup, salad, and dessert are $10@ or you may bring your own lunch.  Two collectors of vintage jewelry will be sharing their passion and collections so you won't want to miss this event!  Call 618-943-4317 or 618-945-9573 to make reservations...seating is limited. (The Committee tells me they  have to know how much soup to order from Pea-fections of Vincennes  so please call now if you are planning on eating......)