Stephen F. Austin State University

Jefferson Train Wrecks (August 2013)

Jefferson Train Wrecks (August 2013)

Jefferson Train Wrecks
- By Jeff Campbell

"Cos he was going down a grade making 90 miles an hour
,The whistle broke into a scream.
He was found in the wreck with his hand on the throttle,
Scalded to death by the steam."

These lyrics are from the song "Wreck of the Old '97", a song recorded by Jefferson, Texas native Vernon Dalhart. The song, recorded in 1924, became the first nationwide country hit record and made Vernon Dalhart a star. Although the wreck of the Old '97 happened in Virginia, it's appropriate that a Jefferson native recorded a song about train wrecks. The little town on the Bayou has a history of dramatic train accidents both before and after Dalhart's recording.

The first major railroad accident in Jefferson took place in 1903.Two Cannonball Engines, the pride of the Texas and Pacific Railroad collided head on just outside of downtown Jefferson. The cause of the accident was found to be a mix up of orders. Luckily the train engineers and crewman were able to jump to safety and avert any fatalities. It was also a stroke of good fortune that the wreck occurred outside of the downtown area, which could have caused property damage, injuries and loss of life.

Another Jefferson train wreck occurred in 1946. On November 6th Texas and Pacific Engine 661 wrecked between Jefferson and Payne, Texas. Fortunately this wreck only involved one train but unfortunately there was a fatality involved. The train fireman drowned in the mud by the tracks before he could be rescued. Injuries were suffered by the engineer, the brakeman and another Texas and Pacific employee who was riding in the tender's doghouse. The wreck and the following 55 car pileup were due to a broken rail.

Texas Archeology Steward Bob Vernon, who has engaged in significant research into East Texas wrecks, shared additional history on the curve where 661 wrecked. It seems that Texas and Pacific Engine 600 wrecked on the same curve earlier in 1946. The daughter of the fireman was the only injury when she was engulfed by pounds of dirt filling the cab.

A year later later, in 1947, Texas and Pacific Engine 907 wrecked entering Jefferson from the east. The train entered a 35 MPH curve at the rate of 72 MPH. Eerily similar to the recent accident in Spain. The ensuing derailment killed one person and injured over seventy.

Recently the news has been populated with stories of train wrecks not only in Spain, but also Quebec and most recently in Switzerland. It seems train wrecks have been going on ever since man first rolled steel wheels on steel rails. Pic compliments of Jefferson Carnegie Library