Twenty-seven railroad cars squashed together in a massive pileup Monday morning (March 7, 1966) about a mile north of Neely’s Landing. Two crew members were hurt and two workers were injured later during the clean-up operations, the Missourian story said.
“It’s one of the worst train wrecks I’ve ever seen,” a railroad worker of 44 years commented.
Frisco on regular run
The 76-car Frisco freight train was on its daily St. Louis-to-Memphis run when the cars in the middle derailed almost directly in front of the main cut of the Westlake Rock Quarry, a 200-foot bluff to the west. The Mississippi River was about 150 feet to the east, but no cars went into the river.
Conductor and brakeman injured
Engineer J.H. Davenport lost contact with his crew after the pileup. He found that the conductor, A.L.Bailey, and the rear brakeman, R.L Becker, were injured and “shook up.” He phoned for help from the home of Sylvester Hitchcock at Neely’s Landing. The two injured crewmen were taken to the Frisco Hospital in St. Louis. Neither was seriously hurt.
Massive cranes came from St. Louis and Memphis
Two wrecker crews worked with giant cranes mounted on railroad flatcars to clear the tracks. A crew from Memphis, with a 250-ton crane, worked the wreck from the south. A St. Louis crew, working with a slightly smaller crane attacked from the north.
Bulldozer shoved, pushed and rammed
Gerald Ford of Neely’s Landing used a bulldozer to help push the freight cars off the tracks. As the steel cable on the crane pulled one end of the cars, the dozer shoved, pushed and rammed the other end.
What caused it?
It was working this wreck that I stumbled onto a technique that came in handy over the years. Nobody would comment on the cause of the derailment, so I tried getting the workers aside and asked, “You’ve seen a lot of these things. When you’ve pulled apart ones that looked like this one, what did you find?”
The engineer said he thought the cause might have been a spreading of the rails or a break in the rails. One of the crewmen said that one of the wheels might have frozen and jumped the tracks.
Cable whipped back on workmen
I learned from experience to be wary of cables. One of the first things Dad taught me when I was a kid hanging around his job sites was to always step on, not over, a cable on the ground. That way you’d be thrown to the side instead of being cut in half if someone suddenly took up the slack without warning. I saw enough tow cables go whipping around to always stay a cable-length away when they were under load.
It was a cold night
This must have been one of those nights when Frony said, “Let the Kid handle it.”
I was going to comment that we didn’t have any access problems at the scene, but the last paragraph of the story says that a Frisco official grabbed a Missourian photographer (me) as he was taking a picture of the wreckage. He warned the photographer and a Missourian reporter not to get too close. Another reporter who did not have a press card was told to leave.
Frisco was better than the B&O
That’s still better than the treatment I was used to getting when the B&O Railroad would pile up a train in southern Ohio. Their railroad bulls were of the ilk and era of the days when hobos were rousted from the trains by clubs and worse. To add to the problem, they had law enforcement powers and were quick to threaten you with arrest for trespassing on their right-of-way. Derailments were common because their tracks were in miserable shape, with rotted ties and spikes that were loose or missing.
I thought I had them when a trainload of new automobiles piled up south of Athens, Ohio. Before I headed to the scene, I stopped by the county courthouse to see who owned the land alongside the track. I called the farmer to ask if I could cut across his field and shoot the wreck from his property. “Sure,” he said. “You’re welcome.” Then, just as I was starting to put the phone down with a sly smile on my face, he finished his sentence. “You do remember, don’t you, that the Hocking River is flooding. You’re going to have to be about nine feet tall if you’re going to stand there.” Drat!
Train wreck photo gallery
Some of these images are redundant, but I figure Keith Robinson and his train buff buddies will find details in them that the rest of us will miss. Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side to move through the gallery.