Photo posted to History of the Peavine RR Facebook group by Chad Fannin on June 29, 2020. Description from post.
Head-on-collision of N&W trains No.2-84 East and Extra No.204-701 West was probably caused by dense fog results in the death of 2 well respected trainmen.
“Big stalwart trainmen cried as though their hearts would break, for they all knew and respected their dead brother and their big hearts were struck with pity.” the Portsmouth Daily Times.
On August 26, 1907, at 3 o’clock in the morning, two Norfolk & Western Railway freight trains collided in a horrific head-on collision a mile and a third west of the Rarden, Ohio depot. Dense fog was no doubt a major factor in this wreck and was present that morning. Wrecks like this were once a common occurrence in railroad history. They came to be known as a “cornfield” meet, gaining that title because they often happened in the less populated country sides. Single track mainlines such as the N&W’s Cincinnati District (The Peavine), were much more susceptible to having cornfield meets than double tracked mainlines were. Single track mainlines could handle 70% of the traffic that a double mainline handled, if the railroad used three important things; a operating rule book, a timetable dictating the train departure and arrival times with designation of train priorities along with the use of train orders and clearance cards that are be given out by station agents and dispatchers. Orders were given to the conductor and the engineer at the beginning of their trip and could be changed and updated as the trip progressed through the station agents along the line. This way of operation made it possible to move trains in opposite directions on the same track in a prompt, safe manner.
Westbound train Extra No. 204-701 West was a double header coal train that had a lower priority with it orders to wait in Rarden siding for train No. 84 East, which was a second class freight according to the timetable. Train No. 84 had been made into two sections when it left Cincinnati because of so many cars needing movement creating train No. 2/84 East. This was a completely separate train of the same classification with orders to follow behind the first section maintaining proper block spacing per the operating rule book. Also in accordance with the rule book, the first section No.84 was to have two green flags by day and two green marker lamps by night displayed on the front of the locomotive. This meant to any opposing train it passed that there was a second section of the same classification following behind them. When two opposing trains met at a passing siding the crew were required to identify the other train. They would do so by looking at flags or colored lamps on the front and the locomotive numbers. Then they would yell out the number of their train to the other crew as they passed by to identify each other and then the engineer was to give a short blow of the whistle to signify they understood each other. As you can imagine, traveling at almost any speed aboard a loud steam locomotive with the clickety clack of moving cars, along with it being in the dark and dense fog, would make this task seemingly impossible at times.
William Dietz, Conductor of No.84, was to make sure that any train passing saw the two green markers indicating another section was following behind, as per the rule book. If he thought they didn’t know, he should have stopped his train and made sure they knew his classification.
After 84 passed Extra 204-701, they must not have seen the green markers for they pulled out of the siding and headed west. They had traveled less than 1 1/3 miles when within seconds, they noticed through the fog, train 2/84 just as they collided together reducing locomotives into piles of mangled wood, steel and iron.
Killed instantly was the conductor of train 2/84, Robert Gilmore of Portsmouth, and engineer, Julius Purdy of Sardinia, who was the engineer of locomotive No.204 of the extra train.
Engineer William Nichols of train 2/84, at the throttle of locomotive No.709, received a 1 1/2 inch hole in his neck just missing his jugular vein. He later told the newspaper that conductor Gilmore rarely ever came into the engine cab more than once a month but he had that night just before the collision. He figured Gilmore came in so he could warm up against the hot boiler because the air outside was quite cool that morning. He hadn’t been in the cab for more than a half a minute when the wreck occurred. His body was horribly mangled being smashed between the locomotive boiler, the cab and the tender. This is what was written in the Portsmouth newspaper, “It took almost 4 hours to release the unfortunate man’s body from the wreck and when the task was accomplished strong men turned away in horror from the scene before them”. Robert Lee Gilmore was 46 and left behind his wife and 9 children. He had been employed with the N&W for fifteen years moving to Portsmouth only 6 years before his death.
Julius Purdy of Sardinia was only 28 years old. He had started at a young age working as the fireman on a steam shovel for the Cincinnati, Georgetown & Portsmouth Railroad. He then went to the N&W as a locomotive fireman, eventually taking the engineers job on what they called the pusher engine used to help get trains over the steep grades at Beaver Pond, Irvington, Pebbles and Batavia on the Peavine. He was operating the lead locomotive No.204 on the extra train and was killed instantly, his body being pinned to the engine’s boiler by the crushed wooden cab. He was found with one hand still on the throttle and the other positioned on the break lever. It took three hours to remove him from this horrible position.
Engineer Clifford Smith was running the second locomotive No.701 on the extra train and was injured. He later told that only a year earlier he was offered the job of the push engine that Purdy was running in front of his engine. He had told the company officials that he didn’t want the job because it would keep him away from his family for a month at a time. Purdy stepped up and took the position since he was young, unmarried and free from any ties. If Smith would have taken the position, he would have been the one dead that night instead of Purdy.
Henry Arey was one of the firemen, but of which locomotive is unknown. He said as soon as he saw the oncoming train he tried to jump but got caught in the wreckage. First thing he knew he was beneath the engine and had lost consciousness. He was awakened by a burning sensation on his hip and it quickly occurred to him that he would be roasted. By a feat of super human strength he was able to throw heavy pieces of iron off of him and was able to escape.
The location of the wreck was directly across from the Taylor Stock barns, just west of Rarden. The barns are long gone now, but you can see in the attached photo the site of them along State Route 73, which helps give an approximate location of the wreck.
The names of the crewmen involved and the train they were on:
Train No.84 (not involved in wreck)
Conductor, William Dietz
Conductor, Robert Gilmore
Engineer, William Nichols
Train No.204-701 extra west
Conductor, Robert Houchins
Engineer, Julius Purdy
Engineer, Clifford Smith
Other trainmen involved but it’s not known what train number they were aboard:
Fireman, Henry Arey
Fireman, Charles Workman
Brakeman, Fred Keys
Brakeman, Albert Hite
It would be difficult to determine the exact number of wrecks that occurred on the Peavine over the years but would probably reveal they were more common than one would imagine. In the 10 mile stretch from Rarden to Peebles, between the years 1893 to 1928, there occurred four head on collisions that took the life of 7 men. I’m positive there were several more wrecks and possibly collisions in this stretch, some I know of and several I don’t, possibly making this the deadliest section of the Peavine.
June 17, 2020
References & Credit:
-Sandy Gilmore, genealogy of conductor Robert Lee Gilmore.
-Portsmouth Daily Times, Aug, Sep, 1907 issues.
-Adams County Record, Aug 29, 1907
-N&W Operating Rule Book, C&O Operating Rules 1899.