Blast from the past!

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Blast from the past!

Postby jwhite07 » Tue Oct 26, 2010 6:30 pm

I just stumbled on this archived article from the New York Times:

http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-fr ... 5B868DF1D3

A contemporary account of the disastrous Fort Point Channel streetcar incident of November 7, 1916.
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Re: Blast from the past!

Postby CRail » Wed Oct 27, 2010 9:32 pm

I love the lingo of the time. "Three drivers in the employ of the T. A. Scott Wrecking Company..."

I understand why hitting the brakes was not a viable solution, as I assume it was a hand brake car, but that doesn't rule out either bucking* or short-sticking** the car. I suppose it's possible that the motorman didn't even have time to do that, but I'd think he would unless he wasn't paying attention (I'm going to assume also that the gates were not illuminated given I'd see no other explanation as to why you wouldn't stop).

I also find it interesting how as much as things change, the more they stay the same. While I can't see a car crew being arrested for manslaughter in such a crash (although Aiden Quinn of the green line "texting" crash was legally charged for that incident), the finger pointing and investigative procedures (shut everything down pending investigation) are pretty much right on.

Very interesting... Thanks JW!

*To buck the motors of a car you kill the overhead breaker (power to the controller and motors), turn the key to reverse, and take power on the controller (either the first point of series or parallel depending on the number of motors the car has).
**To throw the car in reverse and take power without shutting off the breaker simply powers the motors in reverse. This is called short sticking.
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Re: Blast from the past!

Postby diburning » Wed Oct 27, 2010 9:52 pm

I haven't heard of this incident before. What was the result of the investigation? Who was at fault? Also, were they able to raise the car?
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Re: "The worst trolley disaster in the United States"

Postby 3rdrail » Wed Oct 27, 2010 11:31 pm

Famous traction writer William D. Middleton referred to that accident as "probably the worst trolley disaster in the United States", most likely due to the horrendous and violent manner of death for those that perished. Forty-seven passengers perished, may they rest in peace. A gentleman who had reached me through RR.Net had asked me for information about this wreck a while back as his great uncle had been the motorman. I knew a little bit about it already as I had written a small piece about the incident. It was very interesting to speak with him as well as research it further. Motorman George Walsh (not Gerald as reported in the newspapers) was indicted for manslaughter in Suffolk Superior Court but later acquitted. Motorman Walsh was rescued out of the Channel and at initial police questioning, denied that the bridge attendant had set out red lanterns indicating an open bridge. He later recanted, admitting their presence. During the investigation, the question of whether the brakes had been applied properly became an issue, as some believed that had the brakes been applied in a less severe and more controlled manner, that the wheels would not have slid accross the rails as they did with little stopping action. I have my own personal opinion as to a possible contributing cause, however since it has not appeared in any of the documents that I have read, and since there are relatives of the motorman presently alive, I shall keep it to myself. The car, which was proceeding inbound originally from the North Point Car Barn on P St., Southie, was about to cross the bridge at the time at speed, struck iron gates at the edge of the draw and jumped the tracks of the open Summer Street Drawbridge leaving it's rear truck behind, actually flipping end over end as it plunged into the Fort Point Channel. The distance reportedly to the Channel was about twenty feet and the Channel depth was listed as between thirty and thirty-five feet. The 5:30 PM crash involved a closed box car at full capacity (some passengers even riding on the vestibule steps). Tragically, some passengers on board the car were crushed between the bridge and spinning trolley, but most went into the Channel trapped inside the car where they drowned. A Coroner's Report found that many of the dead found trapped inside the submerged car showed signs of extensive bruising, indicating a violent, in vain struggle to escape within the body of the car. The chilling impression that you get from reading these reports is that the vestibule doors may have been jammed with the dead and those trying to flee the car- an underwater version of the phenomenon which killed so many people in Boston's Cocoanut Grove Fire twenty-six years later. In the murky, muddy water there was probably no light and the poor victims most likely had to contend with the disorienting condition of an enclosed box under water upside-down in darkness with no apparent means of escape. The car involved was BERy's No. 393, a twenty-five foot St. Louis Car Co. double-trucked boxcar, built in 1900. (If any of you are familiar with the Seashore Trolley Museum's 396, it was identical to that car, except that it had a closed vestibule. By Massachusetts law, all vestibules had to be enclosed by 1905. I believe that Seashore's car is still open.[??]) Amazingly, the following day, on November 8, 1916, the car was raised from the Channel and held for observation and investigation (I'm not sure if it was held "as evidence" back then.) It was found to have been in good running order at the time of the accident and had actually been inspected two hours prior to it. Some time later, it was repaired and returned to service. Apparently, crews did not want to use it as it was thought of as a bad omen. As a result, it was used very seldom and finally was converted into a wrecker in 1920.
The 94th anniversary of this tragedy will be in about nine days.
A little difficult to read (use the "enlarge" feature by clicking on the page), but here's a copy of an article written about the crash in the "Electric Railway Journal" of the time.
http://i203.photobucket.com/albums/aa26 ... eWreck.jpg
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Re: Blast from the past!

Postby chasse » Thu Oct 28, 2010 8:11 am

This accident erased my grandfather's trolley accident as the worst in history. Several years earlier he had followed the switch from horse to electric cars. He was on a route through South Lawrence, MA and had gotten behind schedule heading north on Broadway. He stopped the car at a stop at the bottom of a small hill, the following car had brake failure on the hill and smashed into the lead car, killing about half the passengers in each car. These were open cars and somewhat smaller than the Boston cars. The local newspaper have recently destroyed all their archives, eradicating 150 years of local history. Unless some local library has microfilmed copies, there may be no record of the event. As a child, I remember there was still talk of the trolley going off the south Boston bridge but no talk of the Lawrence accident.
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Re: "The worst trolley disaster in the United States"

Postby 3rdrail » Thu Oct 28, 2010 11:03 pm

I happened to be looking at later editions of the Electric Railway Journal this evening and found an entry that tends to not exonerate, but perhaps lessen the apparent negligence of Motorman Walsh at the time of the accident. In the ERJ of November 25, 1916 , p. 1104 (2-1/2 weeks after the accident) it goes on to describe the lighting conditions on the draw at the time of the crash. It notes that the draw was maintained and operated by the city of Boston, and that...

" A street arc light is located about twenty-five feet easterly from the draw opening in the bridge, between the tracks, and nearly opposite the gates. This light, if kept burning at night, is of great assistance to the motorman in determining the position of the draw. The motorman in charge of the car claims that this light was not burning at the time of the accident. His statement is substantiated by a passenger on the car, as well as by a person riding in an automobile who arrived immediately after. There is further evidence that later in the evening the light went off and came on again."

What the writer is referring to here is not the red warning lantern but a street light. Historically, the area of the Fort Point Channel has always been within a very dark area. Additionally, the positioning and number of a solitiary red lantern on the Channel side of the draw, was criticized as being poorly positioned, along with the safety gate where it was attached. Reportedly, the lantern would obliterate from view upon the opening action of the safety gate. It would appear as if visibility may have been minimal that evening at 5:30 PM. The sun had set officially at 5:07 PM, twenty-three minutes prior to the crash.

You can still see the original bridge, which is the only known surviving electrically-operated, paired-leaf oblique retractile drawbridge. It was built in 1899. The site of the tragedy is by the northeast end draw of the bridge. If you can't get there in person right away, here's a great, large-scale, 360 drag the pointer image of the bridge- http://www.360cities.net/image/summer-s ... 5.41,109.6
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"The worst trolley disaster in the United States"

Postby 3rdrail » Tue Jun 28, 2011 2:08 pm

Be sure to check out my article regarding this wreck in the current issue of the Boston Street Railway Association's Rollsign magazine (March-April 2011) on newstands and being delivered now ! It's got additional info and photos which you'll find interesting.
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Re: "The worst trolley disaster in the United States"

Postby danib62 » Tue Jun 28, 2011 5:16 pm

3rdrail wrote:Be sure to check out my article regarding this wreck in the current issue of the Boston Street Railway Association's Rollsign magazine (March-April 2011) on newstands and being delivered now ! It's got additional info and photos which you'll find interesting.

Which newstands would those be?
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Re: Blast from the past!

Postby 3rdrail » Tue Jun 28, 2011 6:20 pm

Hahaha!!! That was a joke - a play on the old ad expression "now on a newstand near you !!!" I actually don't know if "Rollsign" is sold outside it's mailings to BSRA members and web site. As you know, it's the periodical of the Boston Street Railway Association. I strongly suggest joining this organization, which will entitle you to the Rollsign as well as any publication that BSRA publishes. If not, you can get Rollsigns on the BSRA's website.http://www.transithistory.org/bsra/rollsign.html
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Re: Blast from the past!

Postby jwhite07 » Tue Jun 28, 2011 7:48 pm

I just got mine in the mail. NICE work, Paul!

One retail outlet I do know Rollsign is sold is at Charles Ro Hobbies in Malden.
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Re: Blast from the past!

Postby jrc520 » Wed Jun 29, 2011 2:45 am

I'll add in Maine Trains in Chelmsford, MA as another one that does sell it - I'll have to go down there...sometime... to pick up a copy.
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Re: Blast from the past!

Postby danib62 » Wed Jun 29, 2011 9:30 am

3rdrail wrote:Hahaha!!! That was a joke - a play on the old ad expression "now on a newstand near you !!!" I actually don't know if "Rollsign" is sold outside it's mailings to BSRA members and web site. As you know, it's the periodical of the Boston Street Railway Association. I strongly suggest joining this organization, which will entitle you to the Rollsign as well as any publication that BSRA publishes. If not, you can get Rollsigns on the BSRA's website.http://www.transithistory.org/bsra/rollsign.html

I figured. I'm waiting for a younger member to ask "what's a newstand?"
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Re: Blast from the past!

Postby jbvb » Wed Jun 29, 2011 9:34 am

Charles Ro in Malden MA usually has Rollsign.
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Re: Blast from the past!

Postby 3rdrail » Wed Jun 29, 2011 3:24 pm

Guys - The BSRA is one of the best historical transit groups in the world and is a bargain to boot ! Regular membership is only $25 per year with all the advantages - bi-monthly "Rollsign", notice of fan-trips, special publications. As a member, you will get a schedule of upcoming meetings for about the following six months listing the entertainment for that meeting. The meetings consist of a short business meeting and break, followed by the entertainment. Just to give you an idea of what's coming up, here's an upcoming fast list of the entertainment:
July 9 - Trolley Videos. Aug 6 - San Francisco Muni's PCC's and LRV's. Sept 10 - Small or starter rail transit systems in the South.
There's always a few extras, a lot of interesting traction talk, and a beautiful setting in which to have the meetings at the Grand Lodge of Masons - Boylston/Tremont opp. Boylston Street Station. Meetings start at 7:30PM, and are held usually on the first Saturday of the month. If you're looking for or travelling to recieve the Rollsign, you can get it delivered to your mailbox plus much more, all for just the cost of membership. There was a time when you needed to be present at a meeting to be accepted as a regular member. I believe that that requirement has been done away with. Just send in the linked application here! http://www.transithistory.org/bsra/membership.html

I have to admit that we go to the meetings based upon the entertainment now, but they're all a lot of fun. My son T-Wire and myself make a night out of it by having our routine great dinner in Chinatown, two blocks away, followed by the meeting. I have been a member since the 70's and only regret not joining sooner !
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Re: Blast from the past!

Postby BostonUrbEx » Wed Jun 29, 2011 3:42 pm

How often do you have fan trips these days, and what do you do for them?

It's not like we can just take a PCC 'round the Green Line or anything these days. :(
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