Yesterday's News

Train wreck in 1906 left crewman dead

By FRANK BOYETT, The Gleaner
March 12, 2006

Being squashed and scalded by a hot locomotive is not the most peaceful way to die, but Benjamin Thomas had little say in the matter.

Like Casey Jones in the famous folk song, Thomas was scalded to death by the hot boiler and escaping steam after a train wreck occurred March 14, 1906 about a mile south of Corydon on the Illinois Central line. Thomas was the fireman on the train -- the man who fed the boiler -- but it really wasn't much of a train. It was simply a locomotive and its tender traveling backward with a caboose attached. (The tender was the little car immediately behind the locomotive that held the locomotive's coal supply.) It was en route to the Wilson Station vicinity to relieve another train that had broken down the night before.

The locomotive had the bad luck to hit a broken rail, which caused it to turn a somersault.

"Running at a high rate of speed (the) engine left the track and turned over, catching fireman Thomas under the boiler, crushing his hip," The Gleaner's headline read, noting that Thomas was "badly scalded (and) endured horrible torture under (the) hot boiler for an hour and a half."

The "high rate of speed" referred to was all of 30 mph.

"His thigh was caught and crushed to a pulp, and not until a number of men from farms in that vicinity dug him from under the engine was he relieved from the horrible position," The Gleaner reported.

"After being mangled by the engine that lay on his body for an hour and one-half, and having his flesh burned by the hot boiler and scalded from head to foot by the escaping steam, Thomas displayed remarkable gameness until his life ebbed away at 11 o'clock Wednesday night." The accident had occurred at 9:30 that morning.

Thomas realized what was happening to him and asked in a barely audible voice that his elderly mother be brought from the family home in Evansville to sit at his death-bed.

"She arrived at 2:15 o'clock (in the afternoon) and went immediately to the bedside of her dying son, where she remained until he expired," The Gleaner reported. "Thomas was about 30 years of age and the son of a widow. The family formerly lived in Union County and the young man was well-known about Uniontown and Morganfield."

The engineer of the train, Fred Mitchell of Princeton, was thrown from the locomotive as it turned a somersault and "was painfully bruised in the fall and scalded by the escaping steam, but the physicians are hopeful of his recovery.

"The big engine was thrown from the track by the tender, which was derailed by a broken rail. Its trucks (the wheel-and-axle assemblies) left it and it rolled over into a ditch alongside the track. The caboose did not leave the track, which was fortunate for Conductor Bombaugh, who escaped uninjured."

News of the tragedy spread quickly.

"It was only a few minutes after the fatal wreck until the people of Corydon and the vicinity had flocked to the scene and were working desperately to relieve the injured men. The southbound passenger train was due at about that time, and it carried a large number of Corydon people to the wreck. Shovels and other implements were brought into play and no energy was spared to rescue Thomas."

The curve where the wreck occurred had also been the scene of a fatal train wreck in 1890.

"The curve where the accident occurred is where the late James Watson, a prominent citizen of Corydon, was killed in the wreck of a south-bound freight train of the Ohio Valley Railroad Co., which owned the road at that time. It is about one and one-half miles below Corydon, being halfway between that place and the Highland switch."

75 years ago

Clifton Lovelace was sawing honey locust firewood at Loeb and Lieber streets when the blade exploded, according to an article in The Gleaner on this date in 1931. A piece caught him in the neck, severing his jugular vein, and the 29-year-old died as he was being rushed to the hospital.

"Lovelace with his brothers in law, James and S.I. Rednour, was cutting kindling with a saw powered by an automobile when the blade struck a knot and burst into pieces, one of them striking Lovelace in the right side of his face and neck."

50 years ago

A proposal by the state Highway Department to build a new road connecting Madison and Green streets stirred controversy in 1956 because it would intersect the grounds of Henderson High School, according to coverage in The Gleaner.

The Highway Department proposed building an underpass so students at what is now South Middle School could easily travel from the building to the playing fields, but the city school board was not mollified. The Highway Department later dropped the idea.

25 years ago

The life and times of professional gambler Clem Greenfield were recounted by Judy Jenkins in one of her 1981 columns from The Gleaner.

A Sebree native, Greenfield said he made a comfortable living, but was not what you'd call a big-time gambler. "I made my living from the crumbs of the big shots," he said.


Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2006 HCH&GS