ENGINEER'S EXPEDIENT

This is a narrative given by an engineer who saved himself and his train by some quick thinking.

Between Buckley and South Prairie, Washington, the Northern Pacific (now part of Burlington Northern) track winds along a mountain-side at considerable elevation. The grade here is 80 feet to the mile (every mile the track drops 80 feet - 1.5% steep for a mainline railroad). On this winter's night (January 2, 1892), about 8:55, I was skimming along down the upper stretch of track. It was quite cold, and snow covered the ground and shrouded the forests. We had been drifting along at a good speed when I made a reduction to about 25 MPH because of a projecting bluff around which the track curved. We had just rounded the point when I released the air, and the train quickly regained its former momentum of about 40 MPH, when three coach-lengths (probably 250 feet) ahead, to my consternation, that the rail had been removed!

There appeared to be but one chance, and I grasped at it like a drowning man at straw. Applying the emergency air and then instantly pulling the throttle wide open with the hope that the terrific shock and strain would break the train in two, in which event, the engine and what cars happened to cling to it would dash into the trap and then on to destruction down the hill, while the rear portion would be brought to a stop by the air brakes. It will be understood that running downgrade, each car in the train will crowd forward on the car ahead, the slack being taken up by each car. Applying the emergency brake under these conditions has the effect of pulling the slack out, and the sudden opening of the throttle and the resulting forward bound of the heavy engine creates a strain that is bound to break one or more of the weaker couplings of the train.

The train had broken into three parts, the two rear PULLMAN cars had stoped almost instantly, the next four stopped 40 feet ahead with the first wheels of the first car off the track. The engine, mail, express, baggage, and an unoccupied tourist car had rolled down the hill. Somehow, all of the engine crew and mail and baggage handlers escaped serious injury. The engineer said he told the fireman to jump as soon as he saw the missing track. The engineer could not remember anything after placing his feet out the window to jump himself. He was found about 20 feet down hill of the engine. No one ever found who had removed the rails, but it was thought that some train robbers had done it with the intent of robbing the express and mail cars, but after seeing the wreck they caused they "slunk away in the night".



Adapted from "A Treasury of RAILROAD FOLKLORE" - 1953
2004 by Joseph D. Korman