Railroad Stories: Train's Lonesome Whistle Was Familiar

Lonesome whistle of the trains was common, everyday sound.

| Good Old Days

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.

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