1910 - FATAL CRASH IN TROLLEY LINE MAY END ITS CAREER. Pittsfield Alderman Order Two Branches Closed. Dalton to Oust It? ALL OF 57 INJURED EXPECTED TO LIVE.
Senator Crane Complained to the State Board of Faulty Service Two Weeks Ago.
Pittsfield, Feb. 9. - A whirlwind of public indignation that has already resulted in summary official action and that may sweep the Pittsfield street railway out of existence is the sequel of the accident today in which a big double-trucked electric car of the company ran wild down a steep grade at Dalton and crashed into a railway bridge abutment at the foot, killing one passenger and injuring fifty-seven others.
Two Branches Closed.
Two of the branch lines operated by the company were closed by order of the Pittsfield Board of Aldermen at a special meeting held tonight. In Dalton, a special town meeting called for Feb. 21 will consider a proposition looking toward the ousting of the Pittsfield Street Railway Company from Dalton for poor service and inadequate equipment.
Hit Roosevelt's Coach.
It is not only because of today's accident that public sentiment runs high. The road has figured in a number of accidents in the past and one, when a car operated by the company ran into a coach on which President Roosevelt was riding in Lenox, several years ago, brought it into unenviable national prominence. President Roosevelt was thrown from the coach a distance of twenty feet, but miraculously escaped injury, though the secret service man at his side, William Craig, was instantly killed.
The wreck received official recognization at the hands of the Massachusetts Railroad Commission, Charles W. Bishop being despatched[sic] here at once to make an investigation. Tonight he is in conference with a number of the most prominent manufacturers in Pittsfield and Dalton, the local street railway situation, rather than the wreck itself, being the subject under discussion.
Brakes Were Defective?
Of the seventy-five passengers who were in the car when it started its breakneck coast, fifty-seven were injured, all being under treatment in the House of Mercy here. The passenger killed was Miss Bessie Ryan of Hinsdale, 22 years old. Miss Mary Burns, who sat next to the dead girl, had her scalp terribly bruised and crushed.
The accident happened in the town of Dalton, a mile and a half west of Hinsdale center. The rails were slippery with frost and the combined application of the air brakes and hand brakes according to a statement issued by the company this afternoon, failed to check the speed of the car when it started downward after breasting the brow of the steep grade. There is considerable doubt, however, as to whether the brakes were in working condition.
Passengers Try to Jump.
The car left Hinsdale for Dalton and this city at 6:15 A. M. It reached the grade, at the foot of which the wreck occurred a few moments later. Motorman Thomas Murray was in charge of the car and Edward Blake was conductor. The motorman said started down grade the air pressure registered was [illegible]. He threw the air brake, but the car failed to stop. He struggled with the hand brake with no more success.
Blake, alarmed by the increasing speed of the car, ran forward and both men struggled with the hand brake, while the passengers, becoming alarmed, stood up in their seats, trying to force open the windows to jump.
The grade is a half-mile long. At the foot is a sharp curve where the cars pass under the Boston and Albany bridge. The car, coasting the distance to the foot in the fraction of a minute, and, leaving the tracks as it struck the curve, crashed into the abutments of the railroad bridge with a crash that brought the occupants of neighboring houses to the spot.
Car Is Shattered.
A few of the passengers were able to jump from the car before the crash came. Most of them were on board when the car went into the stone bridge , and their cries mingled with the sound of splintering oak and wrenching iron work as the car was wrecked.
The car struck the stone pier a glancing blow, and to this act alone many of the passengers owe their lives. those of the passengers owe their lives. Those whose injuries were confined to bruises and shock crawled out of the car and aided in the rescue of those less fortunate.
Miss Ryan was sitting in the third seat on the right side. She was caught between two seats which the collision drove together and her head was crushed. Death must have come mercifully quick. As the passengers sought to free themselves, from the car word of the wreck was telephoned into Dalton and Pittsfield.
Relief Car Jumps the Track.
From Dalton, Drs. Mackay and Maheady rushed to the scene, A telephone call to the railway officials had apprised the company of the accident and a relief car was hurriedly filled with physicians and sent to the scene. This was followed by other cars, loaded with mattresses, to bring the injured in. One of these cars jumped the track on its way to the scene and considerable time was lost in getting it back.
The first car to leave the scene, bound back into Pittsfield, carried twenty of the most seriously injured to the House of Mercy, where ten physicians were waiting. The passengers were taken to the operating room at once.
Medical Examiner Cole was notified and went to Dalton immediately. He viewed the body of Miss Ryan and gave a permit for its removal to her home in Hinsdale. He interviewed the conductor and the motorman. It is said that Murray told him that the brakes refused to work and said that there was sand on the car to use on slippery rails.
Senator Crane Indignant.
In all, twenty-five persons were taken to the House of Mercy for treatment. None of these are expected to die. A number, however, are so severely injured that they will be kept at the institution for some time.
In Pittsfield the news of the accident spread fast. The complaints of poor service by the company have been registered repeatedly by those affected, and Mayor MacInnes immediately called a special meeting of the Board of Aldermen to take action.
One of those who have been most persistent in protests to the company is United States Senator W. Murray Crane, in whose home town of Dalton the accident happened. He was notified by telegraph of the wreck. His formal statement, after ascertaining the facts in the case, was as follows:
"The State railroad commissioners should take the railway out of the hands of the present management and should put some one in charge who will run it properly."
Protests to Board.
Senator Crane also expressed his sympathy for the family of the dead girl and all who were injured, but said that it was fortunate, considering the conditions under which the accident occurred, that matters were no worse. He said that within a fortnight he had protested to teh[sic] railroad commissioners against the improper equipment of the road, and that the operation of the road ought to be taken out of the hands of the present management.
The order adopted by the aldermen tonight orders the discontinuance of the Lake avenue and Country Club branches. The first branch starts at Curtin's store and is a mile long. The Country Club line runs from Pittsfield's main park south to the southern terminus, a distance of a mile and a half.
In Dalton, the unusual spectacle of a wealthy town requesting on street railway to take up its tracks and have another street railway to lay its tracks and enter many be witnessed within another fortnight.
Called Special Meeting.
At a special town meeting called for Feb. 21 an effort will be made to oust the Pittsfield Steel Railway Company. At the same time a motion will be made to have the Berkshire Street railway, which runs from North Adams through Pittsfield to Great Barrington, place its cars in Dalton's streets. The Berkshire lines now run adjacent to the town.
The first statement issued in behalf of the company came from General Manager P. C. Dolan, and Director Bartholomew [illegible]kle, who stated that the car was thoroughly tested before being sent out and that it was the one of the best cars owned by the road. The officials understood, according to the statement that the brakes failed to work on account of the frost making the rails slippery.
Crew Stuck to Posts.
The statement had been made, however, by both Motorman Murray and Conductor Blake that there was no sand on the car.
In a statement issued this afternoon General Manager Dolan said that "both brakes worked perfectly."
It is the opinion of such passengers who were able to state their experience that the car was traveling at a speed of more than fifty miles an hour when the accident happened. The motorman and the conductor are both praised by the passengers for he heroism they showed in sticking to their posts. Murray knew that the crash was inevitable and he had time to jump, had he wished. He chose to stick to his post.
Blake too kthe[sic] same chance. He must have realized that is chances of saving his own life were slim, but he stood with Murray and made every effort to stop the car with hand brakes. That both escaped with but slight injuries is considered miraculous.
Long Series of Accidents.
Murray is of the opinion that his efforts and Blake's slowed the car down some and that the passengers are exaggerating, innocently enough, the rate of speed at which the car traveled. He said that he attempted to stop for a passenger just before going up the hill and he thought then that he got little response from the brake.
He also says that he felt no response when he threw the brake and reversed the power. He had 120 pounds of air on just before the top of the hill was reached, but it seemed to have no effect. Murray had his nose hurt and his head scratched and cut.
Miss Ryan, the dead girl, was a daughter of Mrs. Richard Ryan of Hinsdale and was employed in the finishing rom[sic] of the Crane mill at Dalton. She leaves, besides her mother, seven brothers and sisters.
There have been many accidents on the railroad in the past few years. In the last two months, axles on the cars have broken no less than six time. That none of these breakdowns were attended with serious results was simply a matter of luck.
The Boston Journal
February 10, 1910
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