Sharing a Little Piece of History

Prescott, Arizona History

1909: Passenger Train Boiler Explodes

Posted: 03 Jan 2021 06:28 AM PST

It was nearly 3:30 pm August 17, 1909 when engineer Joseph Reese put his hand on the throttle, and Engine No. 11 began to pull a heavy six car passenger train out from the Iron Springs Depot. Little did he know he was a mere two minutes from disaster. “With a roar that could be heard for miles which echoed and reechoed in the mountains like the crash of heavy thunder,” the Journal-Miner related, “the gigantic boiler on the big mountain engine pulling the passenger train up a heavy grade let loose, catching the unfortunate trainmen in the cab. Scalding steam escaping from the rear of the boiler poured over [fireman JH] Wolfe and [telegraph line inspector FE] McCrea, injuring them in a terrible manner.” The firebox door blew-out, striking Wolfe in the leg, breaking it in two places. Despite his painful agony, he was still able to jump from the train. McCrea had been sitting outside the cab watching the telegraph poles go by. He “was hurled from the engine after he had been covered by steam. Engineer Reese was hurled through the cab window and was picked up unconscious.” Fortunately, the main force of the explosion was kept to the boiler and the engine itself. Aside from having their nerves completely frayed, none of the many passengers were injured. Dr. John W Flinn was a passenger on the train when the blast occurred. “With the other passengers, he rushed to the front to ascertain the cause,” the paper reported. “When the seriousness of the accident was learned there was great excitement among the passengers. They were soon quieted, however, and the horror of the scene soon gave way to cool and prompt action.” “The linen from the Pullman was ripped out and torn into bandages, vaseline and oils in hand bags and suitcases and other necessary articles that could be used to apply to the wounds of the men were contributed by the passengers. One woman even had some medicated cotton which was used in dressing the wounds.” “The physician [said] it was certainly pleasing to find so many people to volunteer anything within their power, and to the crew of the train, he [gave] high praise,” the paper said. Back at the Iron Springs depot, US District Attorney JLB Alexander witnessed “a big puff of smoke…and then [he] was convinced what was the matter.” He along with others began walking down the track to the scene of the accident. Meanwhile, news of the incident “was flashed to Prescott in a twinkling and within a quarter of an hour, a relief train carrying Vice President Drake, company surgeon McNally and other officials was hastening to the scene of the accident at record speed,” the paper detailed. “Defying death, the daring engineer sent his train carrying aid and succor for his injured comrades rocking and swaying around sharp curves on the mountain track at a rate of 30 miles an hour…[making the] eight miles in 15 minutes.” The injured men were quickly taken back to Prescott where the special train stopped as close as it could to the hospital. Drs. Flinn, McNally and Southworth and “the able corps of nurses and sisters attached to the hospital” administered over 40 hours of medical attention. “The scene was a pathetic one in the extreme,” the paper stated. “The deep moans of the injured and the frightful burns McCrea and Wolfe bore told only too plainly the fearful story of the accident that took place.”

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