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Accidents happened

July 3, 2011
By DON WILLIAMS , For The Leader Herald

Railroads have been a subject of concern in the patchwork of Adirondack history. We have shared the tragic stories of a train and horse and buggy collision at a Mayfield crossing and the Mountain Lake tragedy. Old newspapers have recorded other railroad accidents in the days of horse-drawn transportation. The Delaware and Hudson Railroad shares the eastern border of the Adirondack Blue Line and provides a north-south transportation line. There was a time in the 19th century when many of the roadways and tracks were unprotected and the slow-moving horses and wagons had to share the crossings with the fast-moving trains. It was an accident waiting to happen.

Late in the 1800s, a family of four from near Granville had gone to Fort Edward by horse and wagon to sell baskets and berries. On the return trip, they had to cross the railroad tracks at Dunham's Basin; it was known as "the deadly grade crossing." The crossing had been the scene of previous fatalities. There was no flagman stationed at that place. It appears the man, his wagon and the train "were left to fight it out."

While the family was crossing the tracks, the fast express train, known as the "flyer," struck the wagon with father, mother and the two children inside. The newspapers of that day revealed the horrible accident in detail. The occupants were thrown a considerable distance with the father instantly killed and "horrible mangled." The mother, also "mangled," lived for just a few moments. The children were seriously injured but expected to live. The poor horse was killed and the wagon demolished.

The family was taken by the south-bound train to Fort Edward where the deceased were taken to the undertakers and the children taken to Clark's Hotel where the doctors could care for them. The little girl only had a cut on the side of her head and some bruises. The little boy had a broken leg and had to have some stitches put in his head wound before he was taken in serious condition to Albany Hospital.

In 1897, another tragic D & H accident took place. It was at Cummings, just north of Putnam, during a bad winter blizzard. The fast freight train from Whitehall was supposed to pull off on a side track at Cummings to allow the south-bound "flier" to pass. Unfortunately, a draw bar broke and the freight was left partially on the main track. A flag man was sent out to stop the flier, but could not be seen in the blinding blizzard.

The fast flier with a mail car, a baggage car, smoking car, coach, drawing room car and a dining car struck the freight train. The fireman jumped out and saved himself in the soft snowbank, but the engine tipped over and crushed the engineer. To add to the tragedy, it was discovered his 8-year-old son had come to work with him that day and also was killed.

Later, another railroad accident of a different kind was reported. A 22-year-old Whitehall boy who was a brakeman was knocked down by a train in the local railroad yards and killed. That accident and the other two illustrate that the benefits we received with the coming of the railways came with a price. Safety has been a concern from that day and it has been some time since any Adirondack railroad accidents have been reported.



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