Train Wreck July 1889 near Thaxton's

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Thu Nov 4 08:30:59 EDT 2010

A Terrible Wreck

Roanoke, Va. July 2,1889:

The east bound N&W passenger train, which left this
city at 12:06 am, was wrecked at Thaxton’s, 22 miles distant from
Roanoke. The baggage, express, smoker, passenger and 2 Pullman cars
burned, having taken fire from the explosion of a gasoline lamp in one
of the coaches. The train went into the chasm created by a washout a
few moments after 1 o’clock this morning, while running at a speed of
40 MPH. It is impossible to give you a correct list of the dead and
wounded on account of the meager information obtainable, but one wire
being in use between this city and the scene.

The killed as far as can be discerned are:

Patrick Donovan, Lynchburg, engineer
Charles Bruce, Roanoke, fireman
L.B. Summers, Abingdon, mail agent
A.S. Frances, Marion, mail clerk
Nathan Cohen, merchant, Roanoke, en route to Germany to visit his parents
W.C. Stead, Cleveland, Tennessee, en route to England
J.W. Beale, Cleveland, Tennessee, en route for Paris
A.M. James, Roanoke, traveling engineman of the road
J.W. Linsay, Roanoke, train dispatcher
Dennis Melon, Roanoke, janitor, N&W offices, en route to New York to be married
and a little niece of Mrs. Judge Thompson of Staunton

It is believed that 15 or 20 others perished, as there were nearly
seventy passengers on the train: The dead were horribly cremated.

The injured are:

Bishop Alpheus W. Wilson, of Baltimore, wrist cut and
body slightly bruised, but not dangerously injured
Mrs. Judge Thompson of Staunton, bruised and deranged with grief
and many others seriously or slightly hurt.

Fourteen thousand dollars were found in the pockets of Mr. Stead
after he was dragged from the wreck. Bishop Wilson lost his clothes, a
gold watch and three hundred dollars in money. None of the passengers
in the sleeper saved any money or clothes. The list of casualties is
necessarily imperfect. The railroad company is doing possible for the
sufferers. The track is washed out in places near the wreck for one
and a half miles. Many think a waterspout visited that section just
after the watchman passed over the track.

At the place of the accident, the water had undermined the roadbed
and caused a washout about 80 feet long and 50 feet wide. The water at
this point was 8 to 10 feet deep. Into this watery gulch the engine
made a frightful leap while running at the rate of 40 mph, carrying
with it the entire train. As the engine struck the bottom the rushing
of the water into the locomotive exploded the boiler. This fact
greatly augmented the catastrophe. Debris was thrown in every
direction by the force of the explosion, injuring some of those on the
train by flying fragments, and scattering firebrands, which ignited
the woodwork of the coaches.

In a separate article in the same paper, it was reported the
“honorable” Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania died at his home on
Wednesday the previous week in his 91st year of his age. Honorable and
Cameron somehow don’t seem synonymous to this observer.

Bob Cohen

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