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1958 Sardinia Crash
Posted to Facebook History of the Peavine Group Page January 3, 2019 by Chad Fannin. Description from post

Hello, I’m Chad Fannin. This is my wife’s FB. Seen the post about the Wreak in ‘58 at Sardinia. Thought I should post this.

“60 years ago tonight”

Working the night shift at the processing plant where I’m employed as a operator this past evening of April 3rd 2018 there was a strong line of thunderstorms moving across Mid and Southern Ohio that ended up causing damage to some of the region. Thunderstorms are always a big concern at my facility and most other chemical, oil refineries and gas processing plants across the country. Power outages and surges can cause many problems, such as process shutdowns, equipment damage and electrical failures. Even with the worries and concerns at hand for me, my mind kept thinking about the night of April 5th 1958. That night 60 years earlier at 2:05am was the collision of N&W Eastbound train #94 and Westbound #99 at Sardinia OH on the N&W’s Cincinnati district. This was one of the worst accidents that had ever happened on this line, taking the lives of 3 men. Engineer and Fireman of train #94 and Head Brakeman of train #99.

I wasn’t born when this happened but yet, I have relived this event many times through the stories that my Grandfather Ed Fannin had often told me many times before he passed away. He was the Flagman that night on Train #94 and he often shared this story with me and others and every time he told it was as if the accident had just happened. The feel of the impact, the climbing through the wreckage, what he saw, was told as if he had just left the scene. You could always tell this event had a somber effect in his life and he always spoke of it as so it would always be remembered and not forgotten.

Train #94 had left Clare yard in Cincinnati at 12:30am April 6th heading east, it was Easter Sunday morning. Their had been several big thunderstorms that had passed through that evening which always tends to put railroaders on a higher alertness. When their train reached Batavia it went into emergency causing the breaks to set-up making the train come to a stop. Conductor Denver Hackworth on the rear started walking forward and Head Brakeman Bill Hoerr started walking back to find what had caused the trouble. They found a L&N RR hopper car that had a leaking air valve and they had to use a pipe wrench to close the rusted valve so the cars air could be cut out of service and they could continue on not affecting the air on the rest of the train. They had phoned the dispatcher while they were stopped of the trouble they had and then proceeded to head east toward Sardinia. There, they were to meet train #99 as they waited in passing siding, they were only delayed in Batavia by the stop 20 minutes.

The west bound train #99 had left Portsmouth at 11:15 pm on April 5th. One thing to know is that both trains were made up of newer EMD GP9 diesel locomotives. One of the engines on this train was brand new and had a factory representative riding along with it. The crew of #99 had a meet and greet with the representative before they left and then he moved back to ride in the new locomotive. As they started on their trip they too encountered several large strong thunderstorms with high wind, rain down pours and lots of lightning. They had arrived and switched into Rarden siding then waited on train #86 to go by. After it passed they got a clear signal to proceeded ahead. Signals in use at this time were a round metal board with a three light crossing pattern to indicate green, yellow or red, the bulbs being a amber color. This signal was developed by the Pennsylvania RR in 1915 and adopted by the N&W for its CT control system. Lights on these signals were changed to color lenses starting in 1958 as a result of this accident. When they approached Mineral Springs the block single was clear but then went out then back on to clear several times, on and off. When they got up to it, it was on and stayed on clear so they continued ahead being much more cautious then usual. The next block signal did the same thing and it to finally stayed on, so they proceeded to the next block signal which was not lighted and completely dark. They stopped at this signal and called the dispatcher. Remember this was before radio so all communication was done with a telephone that was placed along the line in certain locations and the train had to be stopped so a crewman could get off to call. The dispatcher told them to go ahead and proceeded to the next block at Lawshe and then wait in the siding for train #4 and to call him if the signal was out. They did this and the signal was on and working. Train #4 passed them and they received the clear signal to proceed ahead. Every signal they got on the trip until they reached the west end of Sardinia siding was a clear signal. The Engineer and Fireman both claimed even the one on east end of the Sardinia siding was clear. If it was working properly, it should have been approach medium, warning them that the next signal would be to stop. Frank Theiss the Engineer hired in 1922 and Ed Bratton the Fireman hired in 1926, both Veterans of the Cincinnati district and had operated trains through Sardinia hundreds of times. To both their amazement, when they started to the west end of the siding they seen the headlight of #94 and a red block signal meaning they should be stopping. They were traveling at around 50 mph. Frank put the train into emergency and yelled “MY GOD THE BLOCK IS RED“ then starting blowing the horn and never stopped blowing it, but it was to late....

In the cab of train #99, Engineer Leon Shock had earlier in the trip moved to the second unit of the train to try and get relief because of a bad infected tooth causing him a lot of pain. At the locomotives controls was the Fireman, Firman Spence who was also a certified engineer and in the Fireman’s seat was the Head Brakeman, Bill Hoerr who was doing the Fireman’s duty’s. As they came around the corner into Sardinia at about 20mph they seen the head light of #99. Bill said to Spence “looks like we’re going to have a good meet” meaning that they would enter the siding and then train #99 would proceeded passed them and they would not have to wait around very long to get back underway.

Then in a panic Bill realized that #99 was approaching at a alarming speed, he yelled out “HEY SPENCE, IS’T HE GOING TO STOP!!!!“ Spence never said a word, just grasp the controls and stared ahead at the headlight of the fast moving approaching train.

Both trains collided just as #94 was starting into the siding causing locomotives to be turned on there side and heaved off the rails by several car lengths. Fuel tanks were ripped open and leaking all over and had erupted into flames. Conductor Hackworth in the caboose of train #94 stated to my Grandfather “I think we’ve hit a Gasoline truck” not yet knowing the extent of what all had happened. The coal heating stove was thrown from one end to the other and spread the burning coals all over the wood floor of the caboose and was starting to catch it on fire. As Conductor Hackworth was rushing to the front of the train my Grandfather rushed to put out the fire and then went to the front as well, not having to protect the rear of the train because they were in yard limits.

The Railroad, in their investigation claimed all signals were in proper position for #99 to stop at the west end of the siding. They blamed the Engineer and the Fireman of train #99 for causing the accident by not obeying signals and Fired both of them after the investigation was complete, even though they both stated that they saw a clear signal at the east end of the Sardinia siding and had told the dispatcher of the trouble they had encountered earlier in the trip with the signals, which they said could have been caused from the storm.

Many, many other people claimed that storms could have caused a faulty signal too, but the Railroad never gave into this thought...........

This old signal maintainer log from that time period list many times the troubles they had with the Peavine signals, including them going out and back on for no reason.

So here in 2018 as I waited the other evening for a chance that lightning or bad weather that could knock out or shut down the tens of millions of dollars, modern process plant, with all its back-ups systems and emergency batteries thats supposed to keep it running, how easy it could have been 60 years ago for lightning to cause problems with the railroad signal system, causing this accident and not 2 veteran railroaders missing there signal.

My Grandfather always said that if his train, #94 would have not had a emergency stop in Batavia that took 20 minutes, they would have been safely in the siding at Sardinia and that this wreck would have never happened .

Rest In Peace
Engineer of #94 Leon Shock
Fireman of #94 Firman Spence
Head Brakeman of #99 Bill Hunter

Chad A. Fannin
Location: Sardinia, OH Date: 2/16/1955
Source: Chad Fannin Personal Collection
Photo ID: 1857
Photo Link: Click Here To See Original
Categories: Sardinia Train Wreck, 1958 |  Tri County Highway (East Sardinia) Crossing |  Accidents | 
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