Saturday, January 19, 2019



Nos. 81 and 84, Both Through Trains, Meet at Full speed Near Norlina—Locomotives Splintered Yet Sleeping Coaches are Left on Rails

By W. Bost

            “Norlina, Nov. 19—Nos. 81 and 84, the fast through trains of the Seaboard [Railroad], tore into each other’s crew below Granite this morning at 3:54 o’clock and both have a toll of eight lives. [Granite was the first crossing south of the VA line. It no longer exists.]
            Drawn by the Union Pacific type of the mightiest passenger engines, they charged each other a few yards this side the Virginia line, upon the high fill about half a mile beyond Granite. [Fill was material such as dirt or rocks used to level the ground for the track to cross.] Each with a weight of 216,000 pounds, pulling a string of ten cars, bore down up the grade and met where the strain was the heaviest. Railroad men estimate a million and a half pounds behind each engine when they came hurrying to the center of the fill. There is no piece of mechanism, however small, left on these beauties of iron and steel. The very numbers by which the machines are identified have been effaced.”
            Amazingly, although the front of both trains was totally demolished, passenger cars remained on the track, completely intact. No passengers died or were seriously injured.      
            “Leaning low to take the grade upon one of the sharpest of curves, the engines met apparently well steamed. The very sight shows the fury of the plunge. The six-foot drivers, lying close to each other, mark the spot of earth upon which the lunge of the locomotives took place. They had a steam poundage of 200. They were keyed for a pull over the two hills. They met at the maximum of pressure down grade. The wheels alone are left of the wreck. They are but little hurt.”
            The demolition of the engines was so complete that it was impossible to see how they ended up placed as they were found. However, two men “declared that they saw the Beckham boiler rise to a height above the pine trees and fall fifty yards from the culvert over which the two trains appear to have met.
An Early Seaboard Airline Railroad Engine
Taken From Seaboard Airline Railroad History
            “Both trains, very long and heavy, must have gone furiously at each other. What prevented demolition to every day coach … no man can say. Not a passenger was actually hurt and some of them thought that the brake had merely dropped and that passengers on the Pullmans were aroused by the excitement of outsiders rather than damage to insiders.”
The Northbound’s Blunder.
            Engineer Beckham, in charge of northbound train No. 84, was supposed to have pulled off the track at Granite, a short way to the south of the accident. Engineer Faison, in charge of southbound train No. 81, had the right-of way. So, instead of meeting at Granite, the two trains met on the track a half mile from Granite.
            The misunderstanding probably occurred because of a misreading of the orders, leading the northbound crew to believe they were to continue to Grandy.  “Whether he read the orders for meeting at Granite or Grandy, nobody now knows. The officials do not hesitate to say that their operator at Norlina, young Watson, gave the orders correctly and that they were read wrong by the northbound crew.
Engineers Beckham and Faison, killed in accident
News & Observer (Raleigh, NC) 20 Nov 1912
            “The body of the engineer [Mr. Beckham] was beneath the wreckage of two engine gears, the twelve big drivers and four trailers, a baggage coach and piles of timbers. The bursting of the steam pipes turned the water into the fill and flooded the place.….”
People Flock to Place.
            “The killing of only eight persons was the marvel of the people and there were a thousand there at any period of the day. Twenty-seven automobiles were seen in the road at one time, and the fields abounded in horses and buggies.
            “Two hoboes escaped. They are worth while to show the element of miracle that crept into every play. They declined to give their names, but took up collection and, walking to Norlina [Warren County], paid their way to the next point. They were riding the blinds between the first and second day coaches. They were battered against the wall, but barring dirty faces and bruised foreheads, they were none the worse for wear.
            “The railroad men declare that the steel cars saved the passengers. Their weight kept them on the track and their strength prevented telescoping. Crashing on a curve, one sees no explanation for their standing up. But all were left intact and taken back to the stations.


(By James A. Parham.)
            Norlina, Nov. 19.—…
Where the Collision Occurred.
            “…north of Granite station, which is about seven miles north of Norlina on the Seaboard’s trunk line from Richmond south. The scene is about one and a half miles south of Roanoke river and nearly twelve miles south of La Crosse, where engineer Faison receipted for his last order. Granite is the nearest station to the State line on the North Carolina side and the next station, less than five miles distant, is Bracy, in Virginia.”

[Taken From The Farmer and Mechanic (Raleigh, NC) 26 Nov 1912]

The Track and Curve.
            “Going north from Granite the track is straight for a half or three-fourths of a mile. Right on a fill perhaps twelve feet high, the track begins a fairly sharp curve which extends through a rather sudden cut. It was right about the beginning of this curve that the engines plunged into each other. Mr. Beckham’s engine was just ready to take the curve or was taking it, while Engineer Faison was on the curve just ready to leave it, and had just passed through the cut. The collision occurred right over a small culvert in the center of the hill. On account of the curve and the cut, a very sudden stop would have been necessary to avoid the collision at best, after the engineers could possibly have seen each other’s engines. Moreover, the shafts of light shot straight forward from the headlighter of the engines evidently crossed each other as the two approached almost at the very second the collision occurred.
Masses of Wreckage.
            “The two engines and tenders and three cars—all combination passenger and baggage or express—were demolished completely. The engines were of the Seaboard’s heaviest type, weighing 108 tons each. Both boilers exploded, both were completely stripped of engines, tenders, trucks, smoke stacks, steam chests, cabs, bells—nothing left but tubes of sheet iron, shredded and torn at both ends with sheets of iron sealed off from the sides …. They landed on opposite sides of the track. The engine driven by Mr. Beckham was carried by the contact and the explosion fully 100 feet back down the track and fell at an angle of about forty-five degrees with the track, its nose apparently and strangely having struck the ground first. It settled on its right side, which was buried a foot or so in the ground. The other boiler, that drawing train No. 81, settled nearly upright in running position and close beside the embankment and parallel with the track. Its back was split lengthwise by the explosion.
            “… This huge mass contained also the flattened, crushed remains of a tender, supposedly that of the northbound engine, which was battered and crumpled like an old tin pan, while the other tender, in the same condition, lay on the opposite side of the track. Fifty feet from the track lay one of the huge cylinders from one of the engines. Three hundred feet in the forest, on the east side lay large Y-shaped iron pipe that would weigh hundreds of pounds. It apparently had been blown over the tree tops and had fallen, without striking trees and half buried itself in the ground.”

Expressage Scattered.
            “Most of the chests and safes and strong boxes from the express cars were left intact, but the packages of merchandise, many of them, were demolished. Scores of dead chickens were scattered among the debris, while dozens of fowls that escaped with their lives, gaining liberty, were hanging around the scene of the catastrophe looking for food. Dozens of boxes of fresh fish and lettuce and other vegetables were demolished and scattered; also pork, beef, sausage, millinery, clothing, etc. etc. One dog was killed.”
[News &Observer (Raleigh, NC) 20 Nov 1912]

Wreck Hurls Woman Into a Man’s Berth

Her Head Makes Clean Hole in Thin Partition—Headache Her Only Injury.

            “Boring a clean hole through the partition between two Pullman berths, a middle-aged woman hurtled into the berth in front of her when the two Seaboard trains crashed into each other Tuesday morning near Norlina. In the berth which the woman so unceremoniously entered was Lee Reinheimer, a cigar salesman, from Richmond, VA. Mr. Reinheimer was too courteous to ask the woman her name.
            The only unpleasant result of the woman’s plunge was a headache. The partitions between compartments of a sleeping car are made of light, but tough, material. The partition was not knocked down in the crash that sent the woman through it, but a space the size of her head and shoulders was jammed through. Her entrance was the first Mr. Reinheimer knew of the crash. He was slightly hurt, having a sprain on the little finger of his right hand.
[News & Observer (Raleigh, NC) 21 Nov 1912]

William Jennings Bryan, Biography
Of Engineer Beckham, Killed in Wreck
To Mr. Bryan Monday—Fine Basket of Tomatoes—Nebraskan Orders Flowers

            “ … Hon. William Jennings Bryan* … was detained here for several hours on account of a wreck on the Seaboard near Norlina…. Yesterday morning he expected to leave Raleigh for Savannah on the 5:40 a.m. train, but the serious wreck near Norlina, in which Engineers Faison and Beckham were killed detained him in Raleigh all day, and he did not leave until last night.”
            “On Monday morning, shortly after 11 o’clock, Engineer Beckham called at the home of Josephus Daniels to see Mr. Bryan. He was a great admirer of the Nebraskan, and called to pay his respects and carry a basket of fine tomatoes. “I thought I would like Mr. Bryan to have something nice,” he said to Mr. Daniels, “and as good tomatoes are scarce at this season I brought you these.” Then he remained for a visit to Mr. Bryan, chatting pleasantly and happily, and left with hearty good wishes to Mr. Bryan, expressing the hope that he would one of these days see him in the White House.”

            “’I am greatly shocked and distressed,’ said Mr. Bryan when he learned of the catastrophe which resulted in Mr. Beckham’s death. ‘His splendid physique, his cordial manner and his geniality pleased me greatly, and as he bade me good bye yesterday morning, I little thought he would so soon be called from a world which he made happier by his cheerfulness.’”
            “Mr. Bryan ordered some lilies of the valley sent to Mrs. Beckham with expressions of deep sympathy to his wife and family. Later in the day Mr. Bryan called in person with Mr. Daniels at the home of both the brave engineers to add his sympathy to that which was felt and expressed by the whole city.”

*Willliam Jennings Bryant was an orator and politician. He ran three times for the Presidency of the US. He is well known for his participation in the Scopes Trial in which he opposed Clarence Darrow, arguing against evolution.
[News &Observer (Raleigh, NC) 20 Nov 1912]

Monday, January 7, 2019

Moving Picture Health Car
Every County Had One

In 1916, movies rattled into rural North Carolina communities in the back of a souped-up Studebaker “auto-truck” called the Moving Picture Health Car.

Warren Booker, working for the Health Department, and W. C. Crosby, working for the Education Department, had created an all-in-one vehicle that could deliver lights and movies to any location, and the Moving Picture Health Car was born. Their goal was to bring health education and entertainment to poor, isolated farm families in North Carolina.

The truck was outfitted with a movie projector and a canvas screen. A gasoline engine coupled with a generator provided sufficient power for lights and the “moving picture machine.”  A Victrola offered a musical interlude to begin the entertainment and supplied suitable dramatic accompaniment to the silent films. Black-out curtains darkened the hall. A switchboard allowed the show to be run from a central location, and there was a fire extinguisher. Camping and cooking equipment were included for roughing it.

Taken from The Health Bulletin, Vol. XXXI, No. 2; May 1916
The car had a two-man staff. H. E. Hamilton, a “mechanician,” took care of maintenance and kept the Health Department up to date.  Roy Tatum, knowledgeable about medicine, instructed the audiences in good health practices.

In the November 27, 1916 News and Observer, Booker reported that it took  twenty to thirty minutes to set up for a program.  This included hanging the screen and running the cable through a door or window to the motion picture machine in the hall.

It was a big deal when the car rumbled into small out-of-the-way crossroads communities bringing “real” motion pictures and offering “intensely interesting” health information. The promise of dazzling lights and moving pictures flickering across a canvas screen inevitably drew a crowd. It was magical for isolated people, some of whom would have no electricity until after World War II.

Fairview, a tiny Wake County community, got an early look at the Health Car show. According to the April 3, 1916 Greensboro News, it was the “first moving picture show ever given in the country in this State.” The show ran for over two hours.

Each show featured five or six reels of film—about sixteen to twenty minutes each. An opener might be an uproarious slapstick comedy, a film depicting a scenic landscape in a faraway land, or perhaps a western with fast riding cowboys and lots of action. This was followed by several movies offerings health information. The conclusion was usually a comedy—maybe Charlie Chaplin in The Tramp or Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and Buster Keaton in The Butcher Boy.

The purpose of the Health Car was to teach disease prevention, sanitation and hygiene. Programs highlighted topics like tuberculosis, typhoid fever, venereal disease, oral hygiene, and cleanliness. One film focused on a campaign against flies and included directions for making a fly trap that were distributed to the audience.

The lessons were embedded in dramatic action stories. One popular show was The Man Who Learned.  The herky-jerky, black and white, silent film projected onto canvas with scratchy Victrola music as the background taught a lesson about typhoid prevention through sanitary milk production. The story was gripping and the Victrola played music appropriate to the scene—intense, foreboding, or jubilant as needed.

The audience is enthralled by the action. Hearts are thumping. Eyes are wide. At the end, the important lesson has been learned.

The shows were a rousing success. Care-worn farm women in faded dresses, men in shabby bib overalls, and children bouncing with excitement and anticipation arrived at places like Pikeville (Wayne County), Mount Mourne (Iredell County), or Lemon Springs (Lee County) on movie night. They came in wagons hauled by mules or worn-out horses. One man declared it was better than a Methodist camp meeting.

The car circulated around the state visiting each of the 45 counties that existed at that time. It remained in one area for three weeks, visiting up to twelve locations each week. The vehicle carried enough films to present a fresh line-up for each return visit.

The price of the truck was $750; its extra engine and generator went for $360. It cost $90 a week to operate the car, which was paid for by the communities hosting the exhibit—usually by the local government or generous donors.

 People turned out in huge numbers. One report placed daily attendance from 450 to 900. There were times when the evening productions were moved outside because no venue of adequate size was available.          

In 1917, the state legislature appropriated $25,000 to provide a Moving Picture Health Car for each county. The cars would turn rural schools into community centers, provide health information, and bring communities together in ways they had never been before.
The cost of an outfitted car was $3,000 with $2,000 paid by the county. By late 1920, every county had a movie car.
African Americans had little access to modern innovations like movie cars. However, in 1919, black teachers joined the North Carolina Tuberculosis Association in the sale of Tuberculosis Christmas Seals to finance a movie car. Every county had a quota, and, in almost every county, the quota was met. Over $5,000 was raised; this was used to purchase a Dodge panel truck, a Delco lighting system, and an Atlas projector. A new movie truck hit the road.

Dr. E. T. Ransom operated the car on a circuit of one week visits around the state. Each week, he presented six to ten programs. In addition, local doctors were sometimes brought in to treat people who came to the show. In some instances, Dr. Ransom also made home visits.

During the first six months, Dr. Ransom visited twenty-five counties and recorded an attendance of 34,148. The car met with such enthusiasm that a second car was added the next year.
A hundred years ago, it took a vehicle loaded with equipment, driven miles over terrible roads, with electricity furnished via generator, for a farm family to see a movie. Today, we can watch whatever we want, in real time, on devices we hold in the palms of our hands. We’ve come a long way since days of the Motion Picture Health Car!

Sunday, January 6, 2019


            The town of Plymouth (Washington County) has had more than its share of legends of buried treasure. The following story appeared in Norfolk: The Marine Metropolis of Virginia and the Sound and River Cities of North Carolina by Geo. I. Nowitzky, published in 1888.

            “Black Beard, the notorious pirate who made Plymouth a frequent resort, it was generally presumed, buried a great deal of his quickly acquired wealth within the limits of the town to keep it from being as quickly lost; and about the time that everybody concluded it was buried beyond all hopes of being found the Civil War came, and with it not alone the army, but also more reports of secreted treasures.
            “Among the many stories of this nature, and the one most generally believed, is that a sutler (a person who followed an army and sold provisions to the soldiers) who sold the Federal army very few goods for a great deal of money, fearing that the soldiers would sometime raid his premises, concluded to secrete his gains in the quaint old grave-yard, and before he found use for it or thought it wise to recover it, he was taken sick, died and was also consigned to a grave-yard.
            “This led to one of the most stirring episodes connected with the history of this historic town. Two gentlemen, well known as able jurists and statesmen, concluded that they had discovered a clue to the whereabouts of the sutler's buried treasure, and naturally concluding that it was doing no good where it was, and brought to
light might be made useful, with the assistance of a mate of a steam-boat which made Plymouth one of its landings, organized themselves into an expedition for the special purpose of unearthing this treasure, which they had reason to believe was buried in a part of Grace church-yard which at that time was not used for cemetery purposes.
            “The night selected was dark and dismal, and as they walked down to this resting place of the dead and alleged safe of the sutler, the only way they could keep up their spirits was by reflecting what a vast amount of good the money, now useless, would do by relieving the wants of the poor and distressed, and educating worthy fatherless children; and, to their credit, be it said, that each made a firm resolve that half of the restored wealth should be used for these purposes.
            “No time was lost, for as soon as they reached the little cemetery the digging commenced. It must have been a weird scene; the light (all that could be forced from an ordinary stable lantern) had just sufficient illuminating power to shed a faint, ghastly glimmer on the time-honored tombstones and vaults; a fitting one, however, to act as an accompaniment to the dull but continued thuds of the pick. It is generally believed that the same dim substitute for the sun never had its rays forced back by the reflecting force of the sutler's hoarded gold.
            “But this appears to be the only effort in which this party has ever been unsuccessful; for one of these gentlemen has been Governor of the great North State, is loved by all her people, and to-day worthily represents the greatest nation on earth (ours) at an imperial court, vested with unlimited power, as the rank Minister Plenipotentiary signifies. The other is also well loved and trusted by the people, for having represented his District in Congress once, his constituents urged him to accept the position again, and his return by an overwhelming majority proved his popularity. As for the mate, the last time I heard of him he was still treading the deck of a steamer that displaces the waters of Chesapeake Bay, the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal and legendary Roanoke River.”

[Taken from  Norfolk: The Marine Metropolis of Virginia and the Sound and River Cities of North Carolina by Geo. I. Nowitzky: 1888.]