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1892: Bluffton's worst railroad accident

By Fred Steiner

Imagine an out-of-control and fast-moving freight train colliding into the rear of a mixed passenger and freight train stopped at a station.

That scene describes Bluffton’s most horrific railroad accident and it happened here 130 years ago, in 1892.

The accident killed one person, and caused damages in today’s money amounting to nearly $800,000, almost forced the railroad out of business.  

A portion of the story from an October 1892 Bluffton News follows. 

"However, on Saturday evening, at about 6:15, standard time, the citizens of Bluffton given an opportunity to witnessing the awful destruction incident to the collision of two trains within the corporate limits of their own village.

"At the hour named section two of local freight No. 17 crashed into the rear end of section one of the same train, which was standing on the main track, with the rear end just two car lengths east of the depot, or opposite the water tank.

"Section one had pulled in several minutes previous and being very long, had cut in two at the Main street crossing to allow teams to pass.

"Agent Hesser had climbed into a box car used as a caboose, and was handling out some freight to Conductor Gorry, when he heard a train whistle and thinking it was a stock train on the L.E. & W. which was to take a load of stock off the transfer for him, inquired of the conductor regarding it. 

"The conductor looked up and the sight of engine 23 pulling section two and bearing down upon his train at a high rate of speed, met his eyes. He grasped his lantern and ran toward the oncoming train signaling it to stop, but as was afterwards learned, the engineer was unable to control it and on it came. 

"At the first word of warning agent Hesser leaped to the platform, which he no sooner struck than engine 23 crashed into the rear end of the passenger coach. 

"The force of the collision was such that the passenger coach was driven entirely through the box car immediately in front and partly through the next one. The other cars in section one were driven forward and the gap at Main street was closed with such force that two flat cars loaded with stone were almost demolished and the engine pushed several hundred feet forward, although uninjured. 

"The engine of section two came to a stand-still about one hundred and fifty feet from the point of contact, with its nose hard against the rear end of the passenger coach, but still on the track. 

"The first car back of the engine and tender was a stock car containing 66 hogs, 44 sheep and 2 calves. The momentum of the 16 loads and empties, of which the train was composed, back of this were so great that when the collision occurred, the rear end of the tender was elevated and it shot back over the floor of the stock car, or rather the floor of the stock car shot under the tender and the tender being low and narrow, it was completely enveloped by the stock car, which rested with its forward end against the engine cab."

Read the entire story and view photos of the accident at 

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