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]

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