Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Deadly Locomotive Explosion Mahanoy City 1878

The total destruction of a train boiler

This is one of the most terrible accidents I have ever read about. It happened at the railroad depot in Mahanoy City, on November 16, 1878.
I was fortunate that a friend gave me the original copies of two Philadelphia news papers.
I hope that some one who has researched the Reading Railroad would be able to supply me with a photograph or drawing of what these little company engines looked like, and I can then post them on the blog.


November 16, 1878

Mahanoy City, The Most serious accident that ever happened on the P&R Railroad occurred yesterday afternoon, when the Engine Gem exploded, killing five persons and injuring from to fifteen others. The Gem was one of five dummy engines used by the officers of the road for their official business. It was about half as long as a passenger car, was placed on low wheels, and was fitted up with an engine room in one end and a parlor compartment, with chairs for four, in the other. It was rebuilt in 1864, weighed eleven tons, and was the special engine of J.H. Olhousen, Superintendent of the lateral roads from Shamokin to Tamaqua and Pottsville. He was riding in it yesterday, and had just arrived at Mahanoy Plane, remained there a few minutes and boarded his engine again, when he decided to send a dispatch on some business of the road, and went into the telegraph office for that purpose. Tat act saved his life. He had not written, more than a half a dozen words when the engine blew up with a tremendous report, and he was knocked down by the shock. He escaped, covered with dirt from the shattered walls and ceiling, but without a scratch. Others however, were not so fortunate. The engineer, Frank Brosius, of Mahanoy Plane, was blown into the air and shot over the roof of the depot against a bank beyond. He was instantly killed and the clothing stripped from his body. Jacob Trout, of Tamaqua, conductor of a coal train, was in the act of stepping out of the door of the telegraph office. He was struck on the upper part of the chest by a missile and pieces of him were blown away, with the contents of his body scattered on the platform. Singularly enough what caused his death saved the lives of one, if not two persons. The explosion started by the steam escaping out of a staybolt, and steam rushing out of the grate and made a hissing, made for a second or two before the noise of the explosion came. Trout heard the noise and started for the door to see what it was. Michael O’Connor, the telegraph operator was attracted by it and glancing out of his window he saw that something was wrong. He instantly dropped on the floor, and escaped uninjured, though his office was wrecked. The same noise attracted the attention of the fireman of the Gem., John Finley, and he jumped to the ground; but had not time to run more than a step or two when the explosion came, hurling him forward some fifteen or twenty feet against a truck. His only injury was a slight bruise on the head, but when a the bystanders rushed up to ask if he was hurt he seemed utterly dazed and realized that something knocked his hat off and he was looking for it.. Around the engine were several boys looking and admiring it, and it burst right in amongst them. Calvin Lutz was instantly killed. George Hagenbush and Willie Wenrick were so severely hurt that they died in a few hours and Charles Conrad, Harry Hagenbush and several others whose names have not been ascertained, were wounded moirĂ© or less severely. A young man named Mader, of Patterson, near Middleport was on the depot platform, with a friend, waiting for a train. He was struck over the eye by a missile of some kind and badly scalded by escaping steam, while his friend who stood beside him was uninjured. Madder was cared for by friends in Mahanoy City, and is today reported to be dangerously hurt. The explosion did a great deal of damage to the depot. Buildings. The roofs of the depot proper and on the telegraph office, which stood about 10 feet away. All the windows were blown in and the wires were twisted and wrapped around each other. On the platform stood a couple of barrels of coal and whale oil, and these were burst open, their contents flowing over the victims, and covering the platform with a horrible mixture of oil, blood and brains. The scene was, and is yet, sickening in the extreme; although the dead and wounded were removed as quickly as possible, and at this writing the disabled engine has been taken away, and the damage repaired as far as practicable. The cause of the explosion has not been ascertained and perhaps never will be. There was so little steam in the boiler when the engine reached Mahanoy City, that the engineer had trouble keeping ups its speed. By the time it reached the station, however, it was making steam rapidly and had accumulated a heavy pressure for the ten minutes it stood there. The fireman says the boiler was full of water, and his theory is that the safety valve became dislodged in some way and held in the steam until it reached the bursting point. He thinks the engine was trying to get it loose when the explosion occurred. The explosion made a horrible gap between the boiler and the fire box on the engineer’s side, destroyed the upper works of the Gem, but did not injure the running gear, nor even tear up the floor of the passenger compartment which was situated over the boiler. All the clocks at the depot stopped at 3:13 p.m., the precise moment of the accident.

From the Newspaper ,The Press, Philadelphia, Monday, November 18, 1878. 3 cents.


Special dispatch to the Evening Bulletin.
Pottsville, Nov, 18- The explosion of the P&R engine “Gem” at Mahanoy City, on Saturday afternoon, was the subject of conversation through the region yesterday. The Gem was the special engine of J.H. Olhousen, Division Superintendent. People living along the line of the reading railroads are familiar with the sight of the graceful little machines, half palace car, half Locomotive, prettily painted without, comfortably furnished within, in which officers of the road go flying from point to point without the delay of waiting for regular trains or the expense of ordering extras. The company has, or had five of these convenient little engines in use. One of these engines is President Gowens private car. But it is so often placed at the disposal of the company’s guests that its recorded mileage is twice that of any of the others. The “Transit” is stationed in Pottstown; The “Stag” at some other point; The “Witch” at Pottsville, in the service of the Coal and Iron Company, and the “Gem” was stationed at Mr. Olhousens headquarters, at Mahanoy Plane. They are all of the same type-are short, compact, set very low, weigh from eleven to thirty tons, and run very fast; but though very convenient, they are neither very smooth nor very safe to ride in. Their low wheels report faithfully every uneven point in the rails, and their light weight causes them to develop a skittish tendency to jump the track when running at full speed. The Gem had a long list of escapades scored to her account but never anything as serious as the disaster at Mahanoy City.
Three clocks in and about the depot, which stopped at the moment of the explosion marked the precise time at 3:13 p.m. when there came from the Gem, standing quietly on the track in front of the depot, the sharp crack of breaking iron, then a rush of steam, and a tremendous deafening roar, as the after sheet of the boiler blew out, the fire box was torn off, and fragment s of wood, iron , glass and men were sent flying through the air. An eyewitness declares that he saw the body of Frank Broscious, the engineer, thrown entirely over the depot and dashed against the mountain side behind it. It was picked up at the foot of the hill, entirely naked and pounded to jelly. The fireman, Robert Finley, was fortunate; he started to run at the first warning.
Threw him quite a distance, but he only received a slight wound in the head. Superintendent Olhousen had at that moment left the engine and stepped into the telegraph office to write a dispatch. He escaped uninjured, as did the telegraph operator, who dropped to the floor at the first warning. The only other person in the office was Jacob trout, a coal train conductor, living in Tamaqua. He stepped to the door just as the engine exploded, and was struck by a heavy missile which mutilated him horribly and killed him instantly. He leaves a wife and nine children. Brosious leaves a wife. All the others killed were boys living in Mahanoy City. George and Horace Hagenbush, sons of an employee at the depot, had been engaged to distribute a quantity of handbills, and were followed by a crowd of boys. They were gathered about the engine, admiring it, as boys will, and were thrown in an indiscriminate heap by the explosion. Willie Wenrich, aged seven was instantly killed. George Hagenbusch, aged 8 died in a few minutes. Calvin Luts was picked up in a dying condition by his own father, but was so covered with blood and dirt that he was not recognized until his face was washed. Horace Hagenbush lingered until yesterday afternoon, when he to died, closing, it is hoped the list of victims. Several others were more or less severely injured, but none seriously, except William Maeder, a young man, who was standing on the platform and who was scalded by steam bawdily and cut on the head. The engine and part of the depot were badly wrecked, and the telegraph office was shattered.
Has not been discovered, and experts who have examined the wreck can only give a guess. The Coroner’s inquest will be held this afternoon and may succeed in throwing some light on the subject. This is the most serious accident that has ever happened on the reading railroad or its branches.


November 18, 1878.

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