As a child, people always asked me if the sound of the trains' lonesome whistle near our house ever woke me up. But I never even noticed them - they were so familiar to us.
My family and I lived in a house only a few yards from the railroad tracks where the Westbound Southern Railway passenger train, No. 15, wrecked. I was only 4 years old at the time, but as I got older, my father told me all about that fateful day.
It was a foggy Monday morning, Sept. 19, 1949. The westbound first-class passenger train, the No. 15, was carrying approximately 40 passengers and several crew members. The train consisted of diesel-electric units 4134A and 4352B, a mail car, a passenger-baggage car, a coach car, a dining car, two express cars and four sleeping cars.
J.E. "Jake" Smyre, a railway mail worker, reported in his statement that the crew members began to suspect trouble when they realized that they had made the run from Catawba to Claremont, S.C., in four minutes. The same route that normally took them a little over five minutes. Reports also show that Jake stated that the train left Salisbury at 3:10 a.m., and around 5:20 a.m., the train was within three blocks of the depot in Newton, S.C., but when they came to Rowe's Crossing, they failed to make the horseshoe curve and jumped the tracks.
When the two engines jumped the tracks, they t00k with them the Railway Post Office car, two storage mail cars, a Railway Express car, a baggage-passenger car and the dining car. Six pullman and coach cars remained on the track, upright, and rolled to a stop near the depot. People appeared from everywhere to offer assistance doing whatever they could.
My father, who worked for the Southern Railway, along with my mother, shielded me from seeing the bodies of the injured and the dead. There were three members of the crew who were killed, two cooks and the fireman, who died at the hospital the next day. In addition, 34 passengers were injured. At some point, we heard that two of the surviving crew members had to have their legs amputated from injuries sustained in the wreck.
A 2-month-old baby, who had been thrown from the car, was found unharmed, sleeping soundly, lying in a field some distance from the train. Her mother and 2¬year-old sister were taken to the hospital and admitted for treatment.
Reports showed that the cause of the wreck was due to excessive speed on a curve. The throttle was said to have been frozen at 94 miles per hour. When asked about the speed, the engineer stated that he took pre-cautions to slow the train down when the fireman warned him that they were moving too fast. But he was blamed anyway, and was dismissed from duty.
The wreck did not affect my desire to ride trains, how-ever. I figure there could be an accident no matter how you travel. My interest in railroading grew over the years. I was saddened over the loss of passenger trains in my area.
Alma Isaac Kiziah
Granite Falls, N.C.
Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.